Stuart Reid Charterhouse
Southwark Cathedral was in festive and caring mood for the Mayor of London's Christmas carol service last week. There was a large but tastefully decorated Christmas tree in the sanctuary and signers were on hand to accompany the carols and readings.
Those in the congregation who were deaf, and were unable to follow the order of service because they had ' left their reading glasses at home, at least had the consolation of knowing that they were not excluded. The rest of us, meanwhile, enjoyed a most extraordinary show, as the signers made baby-rocking gestures, or suggested flights of angels by waving their hands like Hawaiian dancers.
We sat with an English Hindu couple from Kent. The man had Krishna markings on the bridge of his nose, and engaged my wife in small talk about "paradigms("whatever they are," as my wife said later).
But do not run away with the idea that this was just another gig for London's vibrant, multifaith (and hearing-impaired) community. It was nothing of the sort. This was a traditional Christmas.
The Greater London Authority apparatchiks had wanted there to be absolutely no mention of Christmas, but the Mayor put his foot down. It was to be a Christmas carol service.
And so a carol service it was. and with a bonus: Boris broke ranks with the cathedral authorities by reading the opening of St John's Gospel from the King James Bible rather than from the New Revised Standard Version Bible as printed.
That's not to say that the New Revised etc is all bad, but the King James is better, not least for being close to the Douay (which predates the King James by thre-e years — 1609 vs I611).
I much prefer the cadences of the older versions, and the blue-blazered Daily Mail reader in me noted with satisfaction that the King James version (like the Douay) gives us "the life was the light of men" rather than the Revised Standard's "the life was the light of all people". Come on. people: women are men too.
After the service we struggled through the photographers and fans to congratulate Boris on his brave defence of tradition. "If a Conservative Mayor of London can't pull that sort of thing," he said "what's the point of being Mayor?"
Quite so. But did the Mayor of London perhaps have a message for the readers of The Catholic Herald) He had, as it turned out, and it was a message of comfort and joy.
"I cannot remember a Christmas when there has been such foreboding about the state of the economy." he said in a message delivered later by a faithful retainer. "and so I want to remind any anxious readers of the words of Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now: 'Some day this war's gonna end.' Some day this recession is going to end, and in the meantime we need to help the poorest and neediest of London to get through it."
Then Good King Wenceslas yielded to City Hall:
'That's why we are freezing our share of the council tax, giving older people the right to travel free for 24 hours a day, and maintaining cut-price travel for those on income support.
Then the Good King returned: "But I hope it is not naive to imagine that the downturn will also promote a sense of duty to our neighbours. And so I want to conclude by reminding all Catholic Herald readers who happen to feel guilty about their huge bonuses that they can readily palliate their guilt by donating them to the Mayor's Fund for London, a new charity dedicated to disadvantaged young people in the capital city.
"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."
At the party that followed the service, as the
the scoffed mince pies and glugged mulled wine. Stanley Johnson, Boris's father. asked me ill had ever found out whether Boris was baptised a Catholic.
It was what my youngest son would call a "surreal" moment. 1 said that my inquiries had satisfied me that he had indeed been baptised a Catholic — when I'd asked Stanley about it in the summer, he said he couldn't remember — and furthermore that I had written as much in The Catholic Herald.
Oh, said Stanley cheerfully. "But I think he was confirmed an Anglican at Eton." Too late, mate. Boris is one of us. But he is not a bigot; he is not one of those embarrassingly shrill and narrow-minded Catholic apologists who carry all their worldly possessions about with them in a plastic shopping bag. Old Boris sees the other fellow's point of view. Witness his recent, rollicking After Rome series on BBC Television, about the clash between Church and Mosque. But did he give the Muslims too easy a ride? Call me paranoid and prejudiced if you like, but it seemed to me that Boris depicted the RCs at the time of the Crusades as a bunch of hypocritical barbarians whose only purpose was to kill, rape and pillage, while the Muslims came across as more or less blameless coves who sat around all day doing algebra, reading Aristotle, eating dates, reading to one another from Candide, and performing miracles with ceramics.
Personally. I think it was more complicated than that.