Stuart Reid Charterhouse
It is a source of some sadness to me that from time to time I find myself in disagreement with my sisters and brothers in the Household of the Faith. Take the Pope’s visit. I can’t get myself into a lather of indignation about the alleged incompetence of the planning or the deficiencies of the booklet put out by the bishops of England and Wales last week to mark the visit.
That’s not to say that I do not have misgivings. It is perfectly true, as this newspaper observed last week, that there are elements of political correctness in the booklet.
There is, for example, quite a bit of huffing and puffing about environmental issues, and we read that – roll of drums – the Vatican is the world’s first carbon-neutral state.
Actually, I side with the Pope rather than with James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips on climate change, but I do not much warm to the way the subject is presented here. It is part of a pitch that risks reducing the Catholic Church to little more than a community of believers who are on the side of good stuff and against bad stuff.
Cluster munitions and child abuse get the thumbs down in the booklet, and so does anti-Semitism, but democracy, human rights and economic and social development are good, and in pursuing these good things (so the pamphlet insists) the Church has much in common with the British Commonwealth. I never thought of that.
There is theological correctness, too. In the section on social teaching there is no mention of war – a subject that would have evoked quite a bit of sympathy – or (it goes without saying) of such pressing matters as abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stemcell research and explicit sex education for kiddies.
All the same, I feel great sympathy for the authors. Their brief was pretty well impossible. It was to make the Church attractive to the great British public, to make it seem as relevant as voluptuous Josie’s Big Brother bath and Jordan’s £5million television deal. But that’s an impossible task. The Church offers the world love and mercy, and peace that passes all understanding, but at the same time sets her face against the world and its values and therefore against all that our digital age stands for. The Church can’t be marketed. Nor can the Pope.
In a sense, however, none of this matters. Hardly anyone is going to read the booklet. The type is small and the setting tight, and it goes on and on. No one would call it an easy read. Some might even find it impenetrable.
Yet I think that there is too much despair in some quarters. I have high hopes of the visit itself, especially now that the Government has appointed Chris Patten to oversee the operation. Lord Patten made a good job of handing over Hong Kong to the Chinese, and I see no reason why he should not make an equally good job of handing Great Britain over to the Pope.
In the end, though, the success of the visit depends not on the bishops or on the Government but on the loyalty and enthusiasm of ordinary Catholics. Let’s show we mean business.
Anyone know any good oil jokes? We could do with some right now. I know only one. I can’t remember now whether it came from my Irish great-grandmother, but it goes like this: Why did the Irish get all the potatoes and the Arabs get all the oil? Because the Irish had first choice.
It goes without saying that there is little to laugh about in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment, but the righteous indignation of some of the Congressmen who grilled Tony Hayward last week was funny. They wanted tears, remorse, and a blanket apology to the “American people” from Hayward, but all he gave them was a stone wall.
Quite right, too. Not only is BP still investigating the spill, but there are countless lawsuits in the pipeline, and Hayward would have been insane to offer a firm judgment on anything relating to the matter.
True, Hayward’s manner and delivery are not appealing, but then Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, is not a cuddly toy, either.
When it comes to value for money, meanwhile, Deepwater Horizon is not a patch on Katrina. I remember with some fondness the desperadoes in New Orleans who fired on the helicopters coming the rescue them. But, like Katrina, Deepwater will be forgotten soon enough. Within a couple of years, we’ll have to go to Google to remind ourselves what it was all about.
Marigold and Paul Johnson gave a very jolly party on Monday to mark the publication of Paul’s new book, Brief Lives. Alas, I did not do very well as your social correspondent. I was pleased to see Lady Antonia Fraser curtsey to Princess Michael of Kent, but since I was not introduced to the Princess I did not get the opportunity to do the same myself.
I saw General Sir Mike Jackson across a crowded garden, but lacked the courage to ambush him. He is a soldier I have admired ever since 1999 when he disobeyed an order from his Nato commanding officer, the American Wesley Clark, to move against Russian troops at Pristina airport. “I won’t start World War III for you,” he is supposed to have said. Good man.
As many readers will know, Brief Lives has been pretty widely reviewed already, and some reviews have been a bit on the humorous side. Well, why not? Brief Lives is funny, and a cracking good read.
I have dipped into it with great pleasure, and I pass on what the Americans call a tidbit: General Francisco Franco was not only much smaller than you expected but regularly did Littlewoods Football Pools, and occasionally won modest sums. He also wrote letters to the Daily Telegraph and signed them Thomas Babington Macaulay.
The only thing that troubles me about Paul Johnson right now is that he does not like my beard, or at least so he told Mary. Apparently he doesn’t like any beards. I have an uneasy feeling that Paul’s judgment in these things is sound. Last time I had a beard, in Australia in the early 1960s, a well-oiled stranger in a pub asked me why I had a beard. “You a bloody pooftah?” he asked before I could think of an answer.