Boston Irish (June, 1976)
I DID once go to South Boston, the Irish quarter by tradition, many years ago. It must have been long since because it was St Patrick's Day and in the parade of bands and prancing girls and societies and soldiers, there were open cars carrying politicians. One of these carried Senator John F. Kennedy sitting beside his wife. He was wearing a green plastic bowler hat ... The crowd was enormous and appeared to be largely Puerto Rican.
Hangovers (November, 1976)
"YOU WANT a Bloody Mary," the barman said ...
For the benefit of our more decent readers, I must explain that this drink is often regarded as a cure for a hangover. In fact it is not. There is no cure for this disease, except time.
I have always regarded the hangover as one of the minor proofs of the existence of God. You must work that one out for yourself.
With the Royal Irish Rangers
CHARTERHOUSE has been to stay with the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers — in Berlin. It is a regiment from Northern Ireland, the only infantry one that survives. It seems to have achieved something that Ireland itself has not yet achieved. The Catholics and Protestants live easily side by side — give or take a Sunday night fracas.
But the Very Next Week ...
BUT THEN ... there came the news that after Saturday night closing time, about 50 of the Rangers of the 2nd Battalion had brawled in the garrison town of Tidworth. They had come out of a pub, obviously swash, and had fought the military police and done such damage that one newspaper called it the "Battle of Tidworth".
Of course such things happen. Everywhere. But I felt a bit foolish after last week and I know a lot of good people who must be broken hearted.
ONCE WHEN I was at school, some of us older boys — many, many years ago — got into a mood of Enthusiasm and went round houses asking if there were any lapsed Catholics. We were hot for souls. The total result, as far as I can remember, was one fit of hysterics and a complaint to the police. The present Cardinal was far too young to be one of us.
HOLIDAYS are a little death. They are riddled with guilt and angst. Will the travellers' cheques last out? That balcony does not look safe. Why are all the churches closed and why has that priest on the altar not heard about the daily miracle of Gillette? Why have the tea bags got strings on them? And why does my husband get drunk here and not at home?
Paying the Priest
YOU MAY ask for a Mass or prayers and you are not obliged to hand over a twopenny piece. Similarly, except in general terms, the priest is not obliged td accept your request or your money. How much should you offer? Well, in 1838 the Vicars Apostolic met and decided that five shillings was the proper stipend for a Mass. (These were the territorial bishops who ruled districts or segments of England until the hierarchy was restored in 1850.) Five shillings at that time was at least a week's wages to a slum dweller. I have no idea why those sturdy and masterful men, who were the plain, no-nonsense bishops of that time chose such a vast sum ...
These offerings look like sales to our more musty enemies, they are not. They are useful, reasonable charitable and self comforting. Nor are they now exorbitant. The sheer expense of it all never turned a soul away from the Catholic Church.
Writing on the Wall
THERE USED to be beautifully turned squibs against Renaissance Popp in Rome which were tolerated even when they hurt. They were a sort of political safety valve. But to-day, alongside "I.R.A. rules, OK" —a loathsome and ugly non-sentence — or "Up Pompey", which of course refers to the Portsmouth team, or the "Saints", which is Southampton and I do not know why, they occasionally slip in an aphorism of startling truth or beauty.
Someone reported a new one to me. If you read it carefully, I think you will find that it is almost profound. It is justified by the state of the world and the industrial morality of Britain. It is sad. It reeks of a sort of cheerful despair. It goes thus: "God is alive and well. He is not dead. He is working on a much less ambitious project."
And 1, for one, would not blame Him.
Standards in Public Life
MOST MEN and women practice a selective public indignation based upon double standards ... It is usually fairly easy to decide what is morally correct in our private lives, but continually and increasingly difficult in our public and corporate life.
We blind ourselves with cliches, we comfort ourselves with fashionable causes, we leave on one side those issues which are unfashionable. South Africa presents an acceptable issue: Cambodia does not.
It is not an easy thing to maintain the standards of private morality in public life. The demonstrating student, being more free, may well be more evil than an armed policeman. But you cannot write that without seeming to put yourself on the side of oppression, and, perhaps worse, to put yourself outside the barriers of fashionable ideology.
It is all very difficult, and perhaps it is best to leave it all alone. Except that to leave such matters to a mob is just as bad as leaving them to a General Amin.
MEDIEVAL saints used to pray for "the gift of tears". I cannot find quite what it meant. Certainly there are plenty of accounts of good men bathed in tears. Churchill was much given to weeping. Wellington wept quietly on the evening after his victory of Waterloo. Weeping was once regarded as no disgrace, rather as a sign of sensibility. Now it is an embarrassment and a disgrace to shed tears. And yet there stands the most arresting verse in all of scripture — "And Jesus wept".
A Personal Appraisal
ON THE whole I consider myself a fortunate person — absit omen. Taxis lay themselves at my feet. My most neglected flowers do best. Aeroplanes are unaccountably delayed when I am late. When I move house, which seems rather often, I never have to go house-hunting: the right house falls, figuratively of course, into my lap. Waiters are polite. Ticket collectors believe me when I lose my ticket. When I fell off a ladder there was a small Jesuit for me to fall onto ... No one has ever hit me in anger. Admittedly I am bad about money, though I am the sort of person who ought to be rich.
Nuns pray for me. I sometimes feel that I know every priest in England. Prelates are polite to me ... I put all this down to a naturally careless dispoMtion. I am not good at controversy ... And I was once magnificently snubbed by the late Cardinal Heenan. At table, I had said lightly that we would soon have to reopen the question of Anglican orders. He said: "Now Patrick, let's talk about something you know about." It was a classical snub, but I may be right after all. I HAVE a recurrent nightmare. It consists of being lost in a strange city without knowing where my hotel was. Now it has actually happened — and in Lourdes.
I went out to dinner with a friend I had met by chance in the Grotto. Actually he is the Master of the Queen's Music and this is after all a gossip column. I suppose there are taxis in
Lourdes, but I have not seen any. So 1 walked home and realised that I did not know the address or even the name of my unpretentious little hotel.
I walked in mounting fear and rage for over an hour through parts of Lourdes that no living person has seen before. There were whole districts abandoned to hotels, their streets brilliant with cafes where pilgrims hot from the nightly candle-light procession were drinking Belgian beer or fizzy orange. There were even places which did not sell rosaries.
The only thing I knew was the way from the Domain to my hotel. My French is fractured — indeed, it was never whole. But I hate asking the way and it sounds so silly to ask the way to the Grotto, late at night, in Lourdes..
Despair! I went up to a group on the pavement. In careful French I posed my shaming question. I was answered by some young priest in undress from England in cheerful terms (could he have seen through my French'?) and was pointed in the right direction. Actually, the restaurant, I discovered, was about 300 yards from my hotel.
Tricks of the Trade
ANYWAY, I do occasionally lose my temper. This is part of a journalist's technique. When all else fails you fall into an ungovernable passion and so, often, get your way in face of unreasonable officialdom. Only one thing worries me. Anger is a grave sin. How much graver it must be if you do it on purpose The other side of the coin is the Idiot Boy approach. It used to work marvels with Colonial Governors when such dignitaries still flew feathers from their hats. This involves saying: "My paper has sent me here. I can't think why. Do you think you could help me?" Come to think of it, that was a lie, and perhaps another sin.
But then God himself is a great reporter — if his revelation is anything to go by. Without meaning any disrespect, I suggest you listen next time to the Words of Consecration in the Mass. It is so brilliant and brief an account of what happened that my back hairs still prickle ... I still think it more stylish in English than in Latin.
His Own Kind
THE CHURCH in Britain has always been rich in writers, poets and scholars. It has also been a firework show of journalists.
But look again at us little minority — the Catholic lay splendour. Although quietly, we have kept our heads down for centuries, we have made a contribution to the splendour of Britain. In poetry, in music, in making honest writers uneasy about their premises. Above all there has been humility where others expected pride, a love of this kingdom where black souls expected hatred and treason, and a quiet sense of prayer where others expected rage and intolerance and an over-reaction to deprivation.