THIS spot on the back page will be forever associated in the minds of many older Catholic Herald readers with Patrick O'Donovan, that most intimate and engaging of Chroniclers. Through the late 1970s and until his death in 1982 Patrick, a much admired and widelytravelled journalist on the Observer, charted the idiosyncracies of life, secular and clerical, in a fashion that always made his subjects seem alive, and forever interesting.
One topic that he occasionally touched on in Charterhouse was his own parish church of St Gregory the Great in the Hampshire town of Alresford. One of the first post-conciliar churches, this building today seems to me rather akin to a dormer bungalow with its vast "upstairs" window concentrating light on the altar. The brick and slate exterior of the modern church is curiously out of keeping with the sleepy quaint country town feel of Alresford with its brightly painted, beamed houses lining a main street that is as broad as its name suggests.
My reason for being in Alresford was to admire a new set of Stations of the Cross at the church, commissioned by Patrick's widow, Hermione, and dedicated to his memory and that of all deceased parishoners.
Local artist Lyn Constable
Maxwell has created the 14
stations. Modelling in clay, her works were then made into plaster moulds and cold cast in a fibre glass resin that has the look and texture of bronze.
The contours and the feel of bronze sculpture is there, and the three dimensional aspect gives the works a particularly poignancy as Christ makes His way to Calvary. The changing expressions on His face, and on that of His mother, the drama and the emotion of the event, all these are captured by Lyn Constable-Maxwell with simplicity and originality.
The interior of St Gregory's assists the artist in her task. She describes the wood-clad walls and ceiling as a "sauna bath,"
but as the backdrop to her
Stations, they combine with the intimacy of this tiny church to concentrate the eyes (and the prayers) of the congregation on the 14 stages in a way that I have rarely experienced before.
A PRESENT-day contributor to the Catholic Herald is cartoonist Mark Haddon whose drawings have been illuminating the Frank Field/Desmond Albrow slut on page four since the start of the year.
This month sees Hamish Hamilton launch two new books by Mark, both aimed at children. The first, Toni and the Tomato Soup, has as its hero a girl who reminds me very much of an old school friend in their all-exclusive passion for tomato soup. Toni thankfully realises the error of her ways when her capacity to eat that rather artificial liquid gets out of hand.
A genie grants her one wish and Toni chooses, in a fashion
that would have pleased the late Andy Warhol, to have her world transformed into a vast sea of tomato soup. When the bathroom taps start running red and the goldfish swims round in a bowl that looks more like a cricket ball, she begins to doubt her good fortune. . . but I won't spoil the punch-line of this yarn.
A picture book for very young children Toni follows on from Mark's first venture, Gilbert's Gobstopper, which has, 1 gather, made him a cult figure in Denmark after its publication there. However, the demands of Scandanavian alliteration transformed Gilbert's birthname in Holger. And if that sounds the sort of name you could only pronounce when you have a hot potato in your mouth, try out their version of gobstopper for size herligehold-kaest belsjel Turning his attention to children beginning to feel the need to read for themselves, Mark has produced A Narrow Escape for Princess Sharon, due out later this month in Hamish Hamilton's Gazelle series. Her Most Royal Glamourousness Crown-Princess Sharon the
Delightful is a name to conjure with even in this column that in the past has been graced with details of high society. Mixing the culture of a generation that has grown up with its rolemodels taken from Neighbours and EastEnders, with the folkloric heritage that colours my memories of childhood stories, Mark produces that much heralded, but seldom delivered creation the modern day fairy tale.
BEFORE I let that opportunity to develop on soaps pass me by, I have been fascinated in recent weeks by their treatment of clerics particularly Catholic priests.
Most obvious amongst them in its small screen interest in Catholic matters has been Coronation Street where a grieving Catholic mother turned for advice to a priest in the confessional after her dead son's wife had decided to accord him a non-Catholic burial. The TV cleric advised her not to get over-upset about such things, and was generally helpful, constructive and decidedly ecumenical in his leanings.
Moving on to Brookside, which regular readers will know is one of my few indulgences, a devout Catholic (rather overly and unbelievably pious in some of her attitudes it has struck me in the past) has been abandoned by her brutal husband and has found solace with another separated man. In trying to reconcile her emotional needs with her faith, she turned to a Catholic priest twice, and each time was given a sympathetic, accurate, but unwelcome reminder of the Church's teaching on remarriage.
It strikes me now, several weeks after the event, that she has apparently got over this crisis remarkably quickly having decided to follow her own conscience. But I will not forget the Ash Wednesday episode when she tried to explain to her non-Catholic lover the significance of the feast, and gave a beautiful and very sensitive explanation of its importance as a time of purging.
It is encouraging to see such examples of Catholicism being accurately portrayed for what it actually is rather than as a stereotyped and distorted set of rules which prevent all personal freedom as is often the case in the weekly blight of sit-corns where recourse to a minister can only mean a slap over the wrist about sex.
SOAP opera stars, and sometimes even priests, are often accused by their detractors of acting like prima donnas, or standing apart, above, ordinary people. I think such an attitude reflects rather more on those who feel put down, but one group that has got my back up of late is the medical profession or the higher echelons of it.
It is one of my pet theories in life that if you are white, middleclass and articulate, you will get most people to sit up and take notice of you. This is particularly true when it comes to trying to deal with the medical profession. But it can be a struggle sometimes!
I have in the past couple of weeks spent long hours hanging on a telephone line in the hope of one consultant finding time in his busy schedule to explain to me a course of medical treatment he is administering to a close relative. When it comes down to it, he is simply too grand to bother to deal with me.
Its not that I doubt that doctors do an excellent job, especially in the acute situation of surgical and medical wards in our hospitals. But their lack of communications skills is appalling.
How many people, particularly the elderly who still feel a gratitude to the high officials of a free national health service and are thus reluctant to cross them, are simply palmed off, told half-truths and left dejected and confused by the protective web that is spun around such medical prima donnas.