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Diary: Ian Marchant

18 March 2022


Write on

I KNOW of no greater pleasure than uploading the manuscript of a new book on to Gmail, after two years of hard labour, and pressing “send”. It’ll be back in a week or so, after my editor has read it, and then I shall pick up my cudgels again; but, for now, I am free.

Free, but at a loose end. What do people who aren’t writing books do? I’ve sat about in Elda’s Colombian Coffee House with my chums; I’ve taken a leaf out of Malcolm Guite’s book, and sat outside smoking my pipe in freezing February sunshine; and I’ve begun the long, tedious process of making my study look like a place where humans might live rather than a disgraceful hutch for sociopathic guinea pigs. Tidying up is never fun; so what better moment to sit down and write a Diary column for the Church Times?


Boo, hiss

I’M AN inveterate Spotify user. I don’t listen to music when I’m actually writing, but I very much do when I should be writing. My current Top Twenty Most Played Songs playlist includes work by the Beach Boys, Hall and Oates, Bobby Womack, Nico — and Joni Mitchell.

Spotify don’t earn much from music, but they earn a lot from podcasts; so, when Joni and Neil Young took their work off Spotify because of vaccine disinformation spread by the libertarian “comedian” Joe Rogan, Spotify backed Mr Rogan. I felt that I had to take my £9.99 pcm subscription elsewhere — that’ll teach ’em!

I spent a few days researching alternatives, and posted the results on my blog. Then it was bye, bye, Spotify. I listened to Joni’s “Hissing of Summer Lawns” on an alternative streaming service, and felt that I had struck a blow for common decency, albeit a somewhat small one. I looked forward to writing about it for the Church Times.


Silenced witness

THE next day, I got a call from a producer friend at Radio 4 who had read my blog. Did I want to be on The Moral Maze to talk about Mr Rogan and “free speech”? Sure, I said. I had to do a quick audition tape over the phone.

On the Mr Rogan thing, I knew what I wanted to say. Speech should be free, except for one constraint: you shouldn’t say things that would hurt or endanger your neighbours. But then the producer wanted to speak about another issue, that of the supposed “cancellation” of the writer Kate Clanchy. I had to admit that I knew Kate, but that I guessed I could talk about her case, at a pinch.

The next morning, the producer called me back to say that I was on, and that his colleague would contact me later with details of how the broadcast would work.

And then I had to go to the dentist for a filling. Desperate to avoid having any work done, I told the dentist that I was to be a witness on that evening’s episode of The Moral Maze, and so I wouldn’t be able to have my face numbed. He brushed aside my concerns and, by the time I came home, I couldn’t speak in a way that anyone could understand — to my wife’s great amusement.

It had only just begun to wear off by five o’clock, when the producer called to say that I had been “bumped” in favour of someone who felt much more confident talking about the Clanchy case. I said to the producer, “Thash showbishnish,” while inside I was thinking, “but I’ve told my dentist I’m going to be on”. And also — let’s be frank — that the episode might make an amusing paragraph or two for the Church Times Diary.


Words on the wind

BUT now that Russia’s kleptocrat President, Vladimir Putin, has ordered his forces into Ukraine, amusing paragraphs don’t seem so appealing to write. Writing itself — my vocation for the past 35 years — seems all but pointless. I posted on Twitter, “We need to remember the past, pay close attention to the present, and imagine a better future”, which is the theme of my new book, I guess; but never had “tweeting” seemed more ephemeral — like the tweet of a sparrow on the roof, blown away in the wind almost before it happened.

On a morning of despair, our Rector, Prebendary Steve Hollinghurst, sent out an email invitation to compline at St Andrew’s; and it suddenly felt as though there was something to look forward to on a day of little hope. God hears that tweeting bird, even if none of us does.

So, a dozen of us gathered in the candlelit church, to sit in silence, to sing, to say some psalms, and, above all, to pray for the people of Ukraine.

“Living God, deliver us from a world without justice and a future without mercy; in your mercy, establish justice, and in your justice, remember the mercy revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What do the people of Ukraine — and indeed the people of Russia, who live under the elevator heel of a gangster regime — need more than justice and mercy? I walked home by failing torchlight in a sleet shower, and picked up my pen.

Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.


Thu 07 Jul @ 03:48
“Where is the evidence that greater severity equates to greater deterrence, or a safer society? We need to curb the… https://t.co/o2i5neMaOG

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