THERE is a thesis to be written on the role of cold water in the construction of upper-class masculinity: Ice baths and the English imagination, perhaps. James Bond is the most famous recent practitioner: taking cold showers after hot baths enabled him to overcome the effects of 60 unfiltered Turkish cigarettes and half a bottle of hard booze every day.
But, before him, there was the more attractive figure of Lord Peter Wimsey, who on his wedding night was “scrubbed like a puppy under the scullery pump” by his devoted butler after the heating failed and before he went up to his bride. In that instance, the cold water failed to quench his ardour at all.
And some long way down the line of descent of upper-class Christians comes the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, former Minister of Emmanuel Ridgway Proprietary Chapel, Wimbledon, a man who separated himself and his followers almost entirely from the Church of England because he was so horrified by its sexual immorality.
Mr Fletcher made the front page of the Daily Telegraph the day after Boxing Day, when five of his former congregants discussed his ways of enthusing the congregation. Gabriella Swerling’s story, though a very late entrant, may have scampered away with the reward for the paragraph of the year: “It was only after Victim A was stood naked in the bathroom of one of the Church of England’s leading evangelical preachers, the Rev Jonathan Fletcher, that he became aware that this would not just be a cold bath, but an ice bath. Nor would he be alone.”
The ice baths, some taken fully clothed, have now been added to the record of behaviour which Mr Fletcher described as “light-hearted forfeits” when they first came to light in the summer (News, 5 July). These, according to the church’s own statement, included beating with gym shoes, and “one-to-one massage, ranging from partially clothed massage to massage where both men are said to have been fully naked throughout and to have taken turns to massage each other. Again, this conduct seems to have become a regular part of the relationship between Jonathan and certain men over a period of time.”
Cold showers and beating with gym shoes were a formative part of my own education at an otherwise excellent prep school in the late ’60s. Being beaten with a gym shoe was extremely painful and humiliating, as it was intended to be, when I was eight. I cannot imagine what might cause an adult to submit to it. But the oddest thing of all is the description of these activities as “light-hearted”.
They were, after all, intended to teach lessons of the first importance: how to bear bravely both pain and the certain prospect of pain; how to transform humiliation into an inward acceptance of authority; and, not least, the importance of competent criminality and of not getting caught. Some of these are genuine virtues, and all of them are improvements on resentment and self-pity. But they are none of them light-hearted, even in re-enactment. And, even aged eight, we all knew that some of the masters enjoyed beating us very much more than they should.
AND so to lighter things. Gavin Ashenden announced his departure from the Church of England in the Mail on Sunday: “Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that in some important respects Britain is starting to resemble Soviet-era Eastern Europe. Freedom of speech is slowly being eroded; those who refuse to be ‘politically correct’ risk accusations of thought crime and Christians are being unfairly persecuted. . . I now believe only the Catholic church has the courage, integrity and conviction to hold the Christian ground.
”If we give way any further, we risk another Iron Curtain. Only this time, it will separate the Christian East from the Marxist West — and we will be on the wrong side.”
Let’s all hope this performance earns him a lucrative gig on the TV network Russia Today, expounding the Christian virtues of President Putin.
SINCE I no longer write leaders for The Guardian, I can now safely mention them in this column, and their Christmas one had come a very long distance from the Dawkinsian orthodoxy of 20 years ago. “The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again. But the theological roots of that liberal vision in a Pauline notion of universality — ‘all are one in Christ’ — is rarely examined by progressives. In an era when Christian ethics are being so brazenly twisted to serve nativism and attacks on minorities, that could be a mistake.”
THERE are two celebrated writers named Rowan who live close to one another in Cambridge, but only one is the former editor of Erotic Review. Rowan Pelling, for it is she, had a lovely piece in praise of late baptisms in the Telegraph. Her son is 11, and she feels that she can put the ceremony off no longer. “It’s the best excuse for a big, jolly mid-life party without having to remarry or tell the whole world your precise age.”