CHURCH MUSIC in St Mary Mag’s, Oxford, was one of the many aspects of that city-centre church’s life which had an intriguing eccentricity about them in my youth — though this was long after Colin Stephenson’s reign and recollections in Merrily on High.
Subsequently, at the Church Times, a colleague, Betty Saunders, told me that she had lodged with the parish stalwart who, in Fr Stephenson’s Anglo-Catholic classic, powders her nose with her glasses on. Ceremonially, St Mary Mag’s had paled in comparison with the extremity of the Walton Street church where the Mothers’ Union members wore veils.
In return for a long evening in the Northgate Hall, I once invited Christian Union friends to All Souls’ Day at St Mary Mag’s. The big surprise was not the popery, for which they were prepared, but the fact that the service began abruptly with tremulous voices singing “Rest eternal” rather than words of welcome, such as: “If you want to join in, the introit and other propers are in vanishingly small type in the back of the pale-green hymn-book.”
So, a marathon Byrd singalong was not on the cards then, but the second recent such event there has raised funds for the church and proved itself worth all the effort involved as it marked the composer’s quatercentenary.
About 80 singers took part over 16 hours, I learn from the Oxford Mail (for which, naturally, my former colleague toiled). City and university directors of music conducted the marathon in shifts. Expect undergraduates’ achievement in counterpoint papers, if they are still required to sit them, to soar.
Meeting ‘The Hat’
FURTHER recollections of Posbury (Features, 30 September, Letters, 7 October): never too late for the ecclesiastical-dress fanatics.
Mike Lawlor (a CT neighbour at the Charterhouse) was welcomed to the convent of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary by Mother Hilary, “resplendent in her brown starched cornette and brown habit bearing a striking red cross, who kindly showed me around, and we said a prayer together in the lovely little chapel.
“When I asked her about wearing such an elaborate habit, which must have been time-consuming to starch and maintain, when other communities had simplified theirs, she said: ‘But this is all there is’ — putting me nicely but firmly in my place.”
Visiting another community, he mentioned Mother Hilary. “Yes,” the leader said. “I used to meet her at Mothers’ Conferences — where she was always known as ‘The Hat’.”
The date is fixed
EVERY cloud has a silver lining. Just as a nervous breakdown put the General Synod’s dramas in perspective in 1992, final notice, before Christmas, to leave the home that I had lived in since joining a (would-be) yuppie flatshare long ago saw off any possible suspense about the debate that bestowed on the CT such a heavy virtual mailbag. Would I end up in an Airbnb? That’s what the Editor was expecting.
But, no, somewhat to his and my surprise, I am in a bungalow. So, imagine the chagrin when a celebrity Facebook friend, with notable timing, declares to his ample followership: “Bungalows are sad.” Not as sad as a doorway in the Strand, Father, if you want my opinion.
And it does all depend on your point of view. None could have been happier, surely, than my van-and-man people as darkness fell. The words “30 to 40 metres of books” must, in the world of budget removals, be much like schisms: however openly they are spoken of, there is still surprise when they happen. I thought wistfully of “A note from you, A call from us, The date is fixed, No worry or fuss.”
After the removers had milked the many unmerited apologies offered at the departure end (three flights of stairs), their lives were all sunshine again as they wheeled the boxes in.
LENT is a time for homely, if hackneyed, analogies from the pulpit, in the confessional, and in the special reading that proliferates. “Decluttering” and “moving on” are up there with the best of them.
A whole week of Lent could be devoted to the spiritual lessons to be derived from the things that other people, mostly, bring in to your life, but which you then you, ultimately, are left to deal with.
The greatest homiletic potential probably lies in my secondhand twin-tub washing machine, which arrived one afternoon at the time when everyone else was abandoning them. It was tried out once: the water, we learnt, became “live” when you switched on the power; so that was that. Now it is gone. If I can link that to the blessing of the font on Holy Saturday, we have Easter cracked.
THOUGH I often spoke to Ronald Blythe (Obituary, 20 January) about “Word from Wormingford” on the phone, and he invited me to Bottengoms, I met him only once, when I was still at school: he gave a talk at a rather exotic residential “curriculum extension weekend”. I was overawed and tongue-tied, because he was described as a “famous writer”.
In the office, we were impressed by the fact that, on his manual typewriter, he could type right down to the bottom edge of the paper, a mystery that even trained secretaries on the staff never solved.