Virginia Barton

Desert Island Knapsack: Across Europe with just six pounds in all

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Charterhouse Chronicle, Catholic Herald, 11 August 1989


In August 1895 my great-aunt set out on a month’s walking tour of Europe. In her Journal she wrote: “For the instruction of the novice in Multum inparvo packing, I may remark that my worldly goods for a month were contained in a knapsack weighing just over six pounds.” Six pounds!!

AArt-Advertisement-Botanical-Fruit (1024x801) little later she adds: “. . . three things are quite indispensable on such a tour, soap plasters for blisters, toilet vinegar, and antipyrene. Let us add also Eno’s fruit salt and ginger lozenges if there is room …” Dressed in a serge suit, great-aunt carried an indestructible umbrella and wore “large blue spectacles” – an example of late Victorian shades perhaps?

I’m telling you all this for two reasons. First to encourage the keeping of Journals. The 94-year-old jottings in my possession are full of fun and reach their apogee when my eccentric relation puts her nightie on top of the serge suit, to keep the draughts out during a sea crossing on deck.

I hope my chuckles reached whichever stamping ground she’s tramping over nowadays.

Second, lots of readers will be packing their August holiday knapsacks. Chances are these will weigh more than six pounds – with or without ginger lozenges.


Czech chat

No mention of books in the famous knapsack, but a slim volume may have been concealed in the umbrella. Because in Coblenz the great-aunt reads Czech poetry aloud to her companion, a hapless creature always wanting to stop and rest, or wash her hair. Unless you happen to be Czech, such a book is unlikely to while away the delay at Manchester or Gatwick, so here are some other suggestions for holiday reading.

One must have something solid for those wet days, or that unexpected bout of fever when you forgot to take the antipyrene. (I know someone who takes the complete set of Vatican II documents whenever he travels.) Blanco White is serious enough. By Martin Murphy (Yale University Press, £19.95) it is a biography of a peculiar fringe figure of the Oxford Movement, born in Spain, ordained priest but died a Unitarian.

Riveting stuff.

Or you could take almost anything by Flannery O’Connor. I am grateful to the Bishop of Oxford for recommending this extraordinary author.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, O’Connor died in 1964 aged only 39. A Catholic (quite a rarity in the Deep South), she had the rare and alarming skill of penetrating to the very heart of her subject in the relentless search for truth.

Or what about a necklace of short stories threaded upon pure gold spun from the Northern Lights? (Ugh Virginia, how you do exaggerate.)

The Masked Fisherman (John Murray, £12.95) is a collection of gems by George Mackay Brown. I have enthused over this writer before in the Catholic Herald and make no apology; I love his work.

None of these titles should be dropped in the sea, splashed with suntan oil, or buried in the sand.

The Russia House by John Le Carre (Hodder and Stoughton, £12.95) is my choice for the beach bag next August, by then it will be out in paperback.


Book boom

There were books a-plenty to buy, or browse through, at Plater College the other day. During the last weekend of July the Society of St. Gregory held their summer school in the Catholic Workers’ College in Oxford.

Your chronicler was re-visiting Plater with pleasure; in June the new chapel was opened, now it is the focus of the site and seems as if it had always been there. Over a hundred members attended the summer school, extra-special this year because the Society of St. Gregory is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee.

It is possible that the Society is as new to you as it is to me. (I usually blame the fact that I am a convert for such lapses; albeit 30 years ago … ) A description of the Society’s aims and purpose must of necessity be brief, but the address for more information is in the Catholic Directory.

The SSG was founded to provide a forum for debate in music and liturgy. It aims to further the study of these subjects and promote active participation in accordance with the teachings of the Church. The Society aims to provide facilities where the liturgy and sacred music may be studied, to organise meetings for instruction, and to publish the books and pamphlets likely to be needed by the people concerned with the subject.

Music and Liturgy is the title of the journal published by the Society every quarter. The June volume, apart from the customary insert of a useful Liturgy planner, contains the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter on the 25th Anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution (where else has this been published?), some reflections on the Hours, comment on a controversial Lady Day Mass etc. etc.

The Society also runs an Organ Advisory Group. This valuable service will advise churches and schools in the purchase or repair of organs. (Incidentally, 1990 is Learn to Play the Organ Year!)

As well as the annual summer school there are composers’ workshops and study days in various places. As far as I know it is the only society of its kind in this country.

Given the absolutely crucial and central place of the liturgy in our faith, I would have expected every single parish to have at least one representative member in the Society.


Composers’ Mass

Cardinal Hume was the chief celebrant at the Jubilee Mass. In a powerful sermon (this too deserves publication)’ he emphasised that it is in the liturgy that we encounter God. He spoke of renewal as against reform and urged more of that sense of awe and glory, indivisible from a proper celebration of the liturgy.

The congregation of composers, instrumentalists, scholars and other members will no doubt ponder on his words when they return to their parishes with the new music and new ideas.  These hard-working people (no slouch this summer school – service lectures, workshops, rehearsals and discussions filled every waking hour) have an influence on the words and music that will percolate through to the pews in the years ahead.

In a field where clergy and laity meet on equal footing, and where new faces will find a sincere welcome, membership of the SSG seems to me a must for every thinking parish. Perhaps one parishioner could be funded to go on a  fact-finding journey?


P.S. The competition for the best collective noun (preferably alliterative) for “Jesuits” continues until the end of August. A rash of racy replies has been received. Just the J’s declined to join the jape. 


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