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Press: Dawn Foster had a rare and wonderful integrity  

23 July 2021

Alamy

Dawn Foster speaks at the Media Democracy Festival in London, in 2019

Dawn Foster speaks at the Media Democracy Festival in London, in 2019

MY FRIEND Dawn Foster died last week, at the age of 34, of causes related to her long-term illness. I met her first as an angry young woman in heavy spectacles, glowering at me,and anyone else in her line of sight from the comment moderators’ desk at The Guardian. If I had had to read that poisonous rubbish all day long, I’d have been furious, too.

Later, I realised that she had a rare and wonderful integrity. Ideas were not a game to her, although she could play with them when she wanted to. She was a serious, bloody awkward, Roman Catholic. For all her fierce political hatreds, she was enormously kind in practical ways, and she really tried — and often succeeded — in forgiving those who had trespassed against her.

We disagreed about Jeremy Corbyn, trans rights, Anglicanism, and no doubt other things; but I loved her and admired enormously her courage, her lack of self-pity, and her generosity of spirit. No one I’ve known had more cause for self-pity or yielded to it less. Her upbringing in a chaotic extended family was hellish (her stepfather was a convicted murderer), and her chronic illnesses on top of that would have felled any lesser woman, and perhaps every man. 

The Guardian, I thought, treated her very badly. She was the only working-class woman intellectual whom they had on the staff. Instead of treasuring her, training her, and promoting her, they kept her for years on the soul-destroying grind of comment moderation. Later, she worked her way on to the Society pages, writing about housing, and was briefly an opinion writer. But she could have been properly paid, trained in the craft of reporting, and become so much more. She would have made a wonderful religious-affairs correspondent, it occurs to me now.

 

AND so to the rest of us. Allison Pearson had a rant in the Telegraph about the Church of England, whose lead was about Dr Joanna Penberthy, a bishop of the Church in Wales (News, Press 11 June). Why had she not been sacked by Justin Welby? Pearson is herself Welsh, but the obvious answer would have interrupted her flow. Never mind. On with the show: she quoted Dr Penberthy’s tweets — “Just think of the lies of #Boris Johnson. Never trust a Tory” — and glossed them: “It was the most appalling comment imaginable from a person whose job it is to bring comfort to all of God’s children.” Are there enough onions in the world to do justice to this sorrow?

Never mind the facts: just wallow in that delicious mess of self-pity and self-righteousness. This is what she is paid far more than any Archbishop to supply, and her employers are getting nearly as much value from her as they once got from Boris Johnson.

 

OVER at The Guardian, a unique story about Pentecostal Christianity did not once mention sex: “70 years after the Windrush generation brought its faith as well as its hopes and dreams to the ‘mother country’, [the England football team] also highlights the distinctive contribution that black British Christians such as [Bukayo] Saka are making to the national story. Alongside Saka, [Marcus] Rashford has talked about the example of his devoutly Christian mother, Mel, and said that ‘the faith we have in God is shown by the people that we are’.

“In a biography of Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, Raheem Sterling is described reading the Bible before a training session, as the usual dressing room bustle and banter goes on around him. In interviews (with [Alastair] Campbell among others) Sterling has said the importance of his faith is ‘massive’. Chris Powell, a former England international and member of Gareth Southgate’s coaching staff in the tournament, was another black Christian presence in a collective that won the country’s hearts through its humble approach and the famous commitment to social causes of players such as Rashford.”

It must be a disappointment for the Myriad project (News, 16 July) that these young people are all Pentecostalists: footballers are about the only people who have living rooms large enough to host 30 people for a church.

 

THE big religious news of the week, though, was Pope Francis emerging from hospital to slap down hard on the Latin mass. The New York Times had the best, I thought, or straightest, summary of what his letter actually said: other papers covered the initial, outraged conservative reaction.

The Financial Times had the most enjoyable take, though. It exposed some months ago the tangled dealings of the Vatican Bank in the London property market which led, eventually, to Cardinal Giovanni Becciu’s facing criminal charges from his own Church (Press, 25 October 2019). Now it turns out that one of the flats in these transactions — yours to rent for £30,000 a week — was the scene of parties so noisy and prolonged that neighbours complained to the council of the “hellish noise”. Perhaps this was a rehearsal for the Truly Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

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