WHEN. LAST week, I came clean and announced that we had had to junk the old photograph of Charterhouse himself, the present leering old sinner was put in the place of the former bland and ecclesiastical countenance. And if anyone again says, "Well, you can't make a silk purse out of a cow's ear," I shall scream or something.
I said that the new pie had been taken by a friend. Jane Bown of The Observer. Now she has just published a book called The Gentle Eye. It is published by The Observer. It costs 112 and it is a thing of beauty.
Jane is the most extraordinary person. Your average photographer — of either sex — is a macho figure in battle fatigues or wind cheater, hung about with cameras as the more simple sort of Islamic guerilla is festooned with bandoliers and guns. And his manners are worse — "Look this way. Pope,' or, "I've come 10,000 miles to photograph this ceremony and no ... priest is going to turn me off an altar."
But Jane trots onto the scene looking like Mrs Tiggy Winkle or a midwife with her little bag of unmentionables. Usually she then disappears, not physically, but she erases her personality so that the subject relaxes and forgets the camera which most distinguished people feel compelled to regard as an enemy.
Her people, except when posed for portraits, give what is good or bad in themselves away. She has never tried the heights of photography which are the photographing of wars and high fashion. There is no violence in her stuff, unless it be the violence of hunger and of old age. But the most extraordinary clarity of compassion and understanding comes from her use of those horrid little boxes which for most people only produce happy snaps or the lower half of that awful man we met in Bognor.
do not know whether she is mourning the human condition or celebrating England.
We have been on many gin-les together. And no one can call me unobtrusive or self erasing. More than that a reporter and a photographer work at different speeds. I might want to linger when she is done. Or she may still be snapping away while I have the story safe in a notebook. But since neither of us drives a car, we are usually tied to the same hired motor. And yet it works. I settle to read or she switches off
and thinks of her large and very successful family and beautiful house in Hampshire.
I thought you might like to see some of the work of the person who has let my cat out of my bag and judge her honesty from other, more familiar images.
I have kept the good news until last. The Gentle Eye is also published by Thames & Hudson, in paperback (16.97). And the exhibition of her work in the National Portrait (its the depressed looking building behind the National Gallery but its intoxicating inside) will be there until 29 March.
OUR SEPARATED brethren recently held their Harvest Festival here. I peeked into their church to have a look. No, that is not fair. I seem often in and out of our overrestored old church, to pinch a hymn book, perhaps, or attend someone's memorial or even to preach. But the place had been turned into a marvellously redolent potting shed. You couldn't see the place for the veg.
We seem to ignore this festival. It is true that the Irish who poured into England and Scotland and Wales in the last century almost to a man avoided going anywhere near the land again. But surely the Catholic estate owners could help, and all those suburban gardeners with their tangles of corgettes and thickets of artichokes, could do something to give thanks for the prospect of another year of overeating.
But they have many festivals which we largely ignore. There is Remembrance Sunday and Battle of Britain Sunday which even if our boy scouts do march to church on Remembrance Sunday, neither they nor the senior citizens clanking with medals and all. apparently. the owners of antique bowler hats, offer any sort of.incentive to war. Rather the opposite. It seems to be more an act of reparation, though I could do without British Legion banners lain on the altar.
Then there is Mothering Sunday when you are meant to give herself flowers. There is Si George's Day and St David's Day and 1 expect there are a lot more. Our rector always has the correct flag streaming from his tower. He must have a flag locker like a battleship's. We, ourselves, have not even got a pole to fly the yellow and white on the Pope's birthday. And perhaps it is better But surely we ought to pray for those cut off in battle with the most solemn requiems that we can command. And at the opposite end of the spectrum of emotion we ought to thank God for the harvest.
This is the time when women go mad in Anglican churches. Oh! such a piling up of suspiciously dry sheaves of corn. Every niche and windowsill is loaded with "produce". Great loaves are baked into traditional and quite inedible shapes. There are corn dollys for decoration whose exact significance has been forgotten and probably just as well. There are beans, potatoes hut, above all, here there be marrows. The celebrant preaches out of a hillock of edibles past their best — mostly marrows.
They are large, wooden and only suitable for the cottage hospital which probably no longer exists. There are masses of dahlias and whoever said that all of Dame Nature's colours are exquisite did not see my dahlias. Even the ladies who do the flowers in our church seemed to recoil from their curiously poisonous and prehensile look. Monsters from the Deep, they look.
I know we have the great wheeling cycle of the Church's year. The more you learn of it, the more majestic it appears. But we used to have "Church Ales" when there was pre-Reformation jollity in the nave and goodness knows what went on in the churchyard. Now some of our parishes have "clubs" where the ancient traditions are profitably maintained.
I'd love to have a ceremonial word with God about my weeds, especially the ground elder, ask Him to go easy on the runner beans next year, make the cabbage less obviously health giving, hold His band over my lawn and slow it down, hurl his thunderbolts at the daisies, put a murrain on the bird that ate my one fig on my barren fig tree and could He not provide a glut of some other fruit than apples.
The house smells beautifully of them, so many are we given — all windfalls. But I can only face one of these salubrious things a day. Not for nothing do the C of E country churches have gorgeous compost heaps.
There is one of those subtle and sweet poems that comes from out of our past. so English, so eloquent. It runs: "Harvest home! Harvest home!
Merry, merry, merry. harvest home!"
(Trod.) No, I did not write it myself as a send-up. I just leave it like a marrow on your doorstep.
ROME IS the most exhausting city. It is possible that even today gentlemen with fine boned faces and with decorations and white moustaches and their ladies in clouds of black lace go to some ancient albergo (a small but not necessarily inferior hotel) and occasionally take their hired car down to the Vatican or up to the Quirinale and love it all and get back to Lancashire with Papal Tummy and Roman blisters and feel they have been on a privileged pilgrimage.
But I seem always to be in a hurry there and feeling frustrated because no-one will say anything. I was there recently for the Queen's visit. But there was also the Synod going on in another part of the Vatican discussing some of the more distressing aspects of family life. It was reported with some care in the national press, but briefly and I don't blame them. It hardly made scintillating reading. It amounted to the fact taht the Pope said "niet".
It was back to Humanae Vitae again. The large press centre that
stands on the threshold of the Vatican city was crowded. Familiar faces loomed out of the apparent confusion. (All press operations look and are confused). A press conference was given in the large lecture hall by a Cardinal (Ricketts) from Peru who seemed to make one sentence in Spanish last 15 minutes. He was helped by an archbishop from Italy and a pleasant bishop from India who seemed to think the birth control problem would be solved if living standards were raised.
. It was good to see that it was all still going on but this was not my story. Predictably the "liberal" reporters and observers were cross. There were dark suggestions that "interjections", i.e. debating points made after a set piece speech were being selectively reported. There were dark suggestions that even an interjection by the Archbishop of Dublin had been suppressed and that Cardinal Felice was trying to get back to Pius IX.
There is a sort of paper bar in this place. There is a long counter where the hand-outs are piled for the press to help themselves. On this day of the Synod it was loaded. So many speeches in so many languages heaped up to make a few inches in some foreign newspaper! Must cost a packet but must not complain. From gossiping around I get the same impression as most. Most of the bishops are basically
loyal to Hutnanae Vitae and its ban on all forms of artificial birth
control. But a large number are aware that the laity are not so loyal and the bishops have surveys in their briefcases to prove it. So they seek a sort of rewrite job on H.V, It's a disorderly sort of situation.
The Synod has no legislative powers. It can only advise and Pope John Paul II does not seem to be in a giving mood. Both Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock reflected some or the disquiet of the great Liverpool Congress. But it has now again become a thoroughly unhappy situation.
I fled the press conference and went back to the alternative but less controversial chaos of reporting the Queen.