ONE OF the most delightful and fascinating men I have ever met was John Vaizey who died, at the tragically young age of 54, just two years ago. His publisher, George Weidenfeld, has decided to reissue some of his earlier work under the title of Scenes from Institutional Life and Other Writings,
The Scenes relate to John Vaizey's youthful years in
hospital as a victim of osteomyletis. I have never read a more moving account of anyone's sojourn in hospital.
The grim and grisly detail of the humiliations, intense sufferings and not often attractive human facets of being a paralysed hospital patient in wartime Britain has made this account to be rightly described as a minor classic.
John's victory over emotional (self-induced) death as the only means of bearing the physical and mental pain fairly tugs at the heart-strings. His eventual triumph is all the more glorious. His experience in hospital, ghastly though it was, provided the basis for one of his later and lasting concerns, namely the relationship between individuals and institutions.
His experiences help to build up an argument powerful enough to enable him to utter the cry from the heart: "The time has surely come to cry 'halt!' to the doctors, the duly authorised officers, the judges — 'you must not put people away!' — that must be our cry. These places are all fantastically more expensive than ordinary life and their results are harmful, socially and psychologically. Why do we go on doing it?"
There are, of course, reasons, but John's thesis had a prophetic ring. We now realise more vividly than 40 or more years ago that the "institutional" side of life has had to be considerably and sensibly softened if humans are to be treated as humans by their fellow mortals.
John Vaizey went on to become a brilliant economist, prolific author, sparkling conversationalist and stimulating companion. Despite his illness lingering on, and bringing back intense pain and trouble intermittently in later years, he took a double First in Economics at Cambridge but subsequently became "irreducibly an Oxford man."
I became a friend of his at the Garrick and Beefsteak Clubs, having had the honour to propose him for the latter. I was very shocked when one of his supposedly close friends was distinctly hesitant about giving him his support perhaps because of his erstwhile socialism — but eventually his page in the candidate's book was black with names. Indeed he was universally popular and had all the qualities of good clubmanship in the very best sense of that word.
His last job — which he was able to combine with writing and other commitments — was to be Principal of St Catherine's in Windsor Great Park. This was, and is, a royal foundation which combines being a very active conference centre with providing a "sylvan retreat for London University students."
It is housed in Cumberland Lodge and I went there a few years ago to a party of John's to 'launch one of his books. It brought back long-lost memories of going to the same house for tea parties with the granddaughter of the great Lord Fitzalan. He had been our last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and spent much of his retirement in the beautiful "grace-andfavour" surroundings of Cumberland Lodge.
I last met John and his highly talented, art critic wife, Marina at the London house of the world's first four-minute miler, Roger Bannister, a close mutual friend. The latter has since become Master of Pembroke College, Oxford.
John died soon after that last meeting — a terrible shock to his many friends. I miss him dreadfully, as do the countless others who feel his early death as an irreparable loss.
I can't too highly recommend this reissue of Scenes. It is a powerful, tear-jerking cautionary tale which should be widely read. It is complemented by some other writings in a lighter but always meaningful vein and topped off by appreciations by some friends of John Vaizey — the one and only.
THE PRE-Christmas Festival of Carols at the Church of the Assumption and St Gregory, in London's Warwick Street, was as successful as ever. For some time now this fascinating, comparatively small church, tucked away off Regent's Street, has been looked after by the extremely popular (and eminent canon lawyer) Fr Frank Davis.
It was an appropriate venue for yet another such musical occasion as it has an excellent choir and a strong musical tradition perhaps going back further than any other Catholic Church in London. For Warwick Street parish was founded as long ago as 1730 and was immune from most of the sanctions of the Penal Days by virtue of being the chapel to the Bavarian Embassy.
It became noted for its High Masses accompanied by a full choir with an especially fine complement of violinists. There were packed congregations of fashionable men and women anxious to hear the renderings of classic often Palestrinian Mass compositions. When we got our "freedom" and the hierarchy was eventually restored by means of what some called the "papal aggression" (in 1850) we seemed to lose our nerve as regards the accompanying of Mass by choirs with an orchestral backing.
Those, in fact who, in recent times, find objectionable the accompaniment of Mass by contemporary musical instruments other than the organ can at least reflect that there have been respectable precedents for such a practice, as well as remembering — as we are now, at last, being urged to do — that the post Tridentine form of the Mass is much closer in most respects to the Mass as it was said in the early centuries of the Church's life.
The medieval Mass was a very different affair, incorporating many startling innovations. Palestrina's polyphany was then added to the brilliance of such musical accompaniments to the Latin liturgy was one of the most potent factors in ensuring the survival of the latter and discouraging the many "reformers" who wanted to restore the Mass of the Roman Rite to something more akin to its primitive form.
TRAGICALLY PREMATURE was the death last week of David Guthrie-James, or David James as he was more commonly known to his many friends, constituents and admirers.
It was sad that he did not live to see another birthday — Christmas Day, on which he was born in 1919.
David James, having sailed before the mast after leaving Eton, was a natural for naval exploits when the war broke out. After the fall of France he served for two years in the RNVR in motor gun boats harrying German coastal defences and shipping as he slipped in and out of Felixstowe. These, he afterwards said, were "grand" years.
Unfortunately the grand years were rudely interrupted when his MGB was sunk and David James was rescued from freezing water to become a prisoner of war. His attempts to escape were brave and drainatic but, unfortunately, unsuccessful.
He eventually became a notable publisher and author and, from 1959, Conservative MP for Brighton, Kempside, a seat he lost to Labour by the freakish margin of seven votes in 1964. But he was back in Parliament by 1970 as member for Dorset North.
He was a considerable authority on matters concerning Ireland, as well as many other subjects. He was a vivacious but often rather nervous companion, his conversation being staccato and urgent, accompanied, often, by a combination of chain-smoking and graphic gestures.
His charm was immense, his sincerity solid, his Catholicishn highly balanced and intelligent.
I AGREE with Max Beloff's description of the Oxford Illustrated History of Britain that it is "a book to intrigue the mind and gladden the heart."
It sold, I believe, 150,000 copies in hardback and is now available (for only £9.95) in paperback.
His editor is the learned Kenneth Morgan of The. Queen's College, Oxford, one of whose excellent previous books, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 I have just been rereading with great pleasure.
But his History of Britain is his masterpiece to date and it brings our island story right up to the mid-1980s.