Catholic Herald, 10 November 1989
It was the sort of day that caused Jane Eyre to reflect that there was no possibility of taking a walk. Cats and dogs and a force seven gale. It was also the day the new Inter-Church Travel brochure plopped through the letter-box. (There’s a goblin somewhere who has my name on a rich variety of mailing lists: cosy underwear, china renditions of assorted wildlife, a rather well- known encyclopaedia, and once something very nasty which I forwarded to the Home Secretary, probably spoiling his breakfast.)
Legging it through the Inter-Church material was exercise enough –in glorious paper sunshine, from the Californian Missions to Oberammergau via Malta, Turkey and the USSR. By the time I arrived, breathlessly, at page 54 and the Majestic Alps, I was drooling.
Funny how once the fledgelings have flit, and the Old Man is contentedly chuntering between woodwork and the potting-shed (or their equivalent), Gran suddenly realises she’s got wings! For years she minded the pots, kept an ear cocked for the cry in the night, saw to the laundry and packed a thousand lunch boxes.
Now all that is as dimly remembered as the pains of childbirth. Be warned world, there are a lot of liberated grans about, emptying their piggybanks and applying for visas (grandpas too of course, but their wanderlust is more likely to have been sated by years of leaving home at dawn in the role of provider. Sounds old-fashioned doesn’t it?)
If the Chronicle forbears with my ramblings until next spring, there are traveller’s tales in store. A little group intent on exploring The Holy Land is currently hatching in my neighbourhood.
The first meeting took place a week ago in a mood of excited anticipation. Four of the manageable flock of 20 have been to the land of the Bible before, including our leader, who can not only spell Wadi Natroun but knows where it is.
The names of Jerash, Jericho and Jezreel rang through the suburban sitting-room like the shofar at Yom Kippur, arousing a thrilling tingle. Serious lists of maps, footwear, medicaments and inoculations are to be compiled and circulated.
The reading list alone will be a formidable hurdle. The four who have been before were generously tolerant towards the ingénues – a tolerance one hopes will survive 14 days of close quarters. Watch this space closely for further developments.
It is unlikely that the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins will feature on the reading list. I don’t think the gentle Jesuit ever went abroad but correct me if I’m mistaken. (You will.)
Pied Beauty would sound a little off if declaimed from Mt Ararat, it is so very English.
The great mantle of Newman fell on Hopkins’ early life, and it was Newman who received him into the Church. When Hopkins died 100 years ago aged only 46, his poetry was virtually unknown. It was not until Robert Bridges, custodian of the manuscripts, published them in 1918 that the poet acquired a wider readership.
In this centenary year there has been a spate of publications, OUP alone producing five titles of verse, extracts from letters, journals and sermons.
I have not yet seen Margaret Ellsberg’s Created to Praise (OUP £15.00) but the blurb tells us that in it the author “explores the poet’s sacramental ideal of language that united the vocabularies of both his poetic and priestly vocations.” Golly.
Paddy Kitchen’s biography Gerard Manley Hopkins – A life (Carcanet £6.95) was reprinted to coincide with the centenary. It is straightforward, perceptive and very readable.
The language of Hopkins (I wish I’d never heard the spoonerism of his name; Mopkins is well nigh irresistible) defies glib analysis. Utterly absorbed in finding exactly the right word to describe a petal, a raindrop, or some minute event or manifestation of nature, he then takes off and soars to the heights in a paeon of praise .or lamentation.
A “difficult” poet, he said himself that his poetry should be heard, like music. A commemoration performance of Hopkins’ life and work is doing the rounds. I have no timetable for these “performances” directed by Clive Swift and written by Kate Glover. But do watch out for it and hear it if you can.
Two actors and two actresses embrace a multiplicity of roles, hanging selected Hopkins’ works on a biographical coathanger. Hearing the poems properly read in the setting of a thirteenth century village church was a memorable experience. Hopkins’ last words were “I am so happy” – which he said three times. What a stark contrast to Kim Philby’s father’s last words – “God, I’m bored.”
Poppy with pride
The mention of super-rat Philby reminds me that Poppy Day is here again. My memories of the Second War are few, vague and mostly second-hand; my children’s even more diluted – thank God for that.
I have no wish to display the kind of oblique discourtesy shown by Fr Medcalf to the Bishop of the Armed Forces as reported by himself in the CH dated October 27. But to actually boast of discomfitting a (presumably invited) guest in his sanctuary plumbed a new low in rude behaviour.
The cause of peace was never advanced by the absence of charity. As long as there are memories, however blurred, I shall wear my poppy with pride.
Those particular “Thoughts from an English Parish” have provoked correspondence. One of the cheery sides of being a regular Chronicler are the letters from readers. I’ve heard broadcasters. wonder “if there’s anyone our there”; every journalist hopes that someone somewhere is tuned in.
Just in time for this month (if you have your Herald delivered to your home on a Friday and if not, why not?) was a letter from a reader in London alerting me to a memorial mass. This will be said for Sr Mary Benignus at Coloma College, West Wickham, Kent on November 11 at 11:30 am. All former students are invited to attend.
Mother Benignus, who died in the summer of 1988, came from Co. Kerry and trained as a teacher at Coloma College of Education before the Second War, when it was still in Croyden.
She later became principal, and it was thanks to her energy and imagination that the college expanded and moved to Wickham Court – an historic building older than Hampton Court.
Her work for Catholic education was recognised when she received, in 1970, the papal award Pro Eccsesia et Pontifice. All ex-students will surely want to be there to celebrate her inspiring spirit.
My notebook reminds me that I intended to discuss the privatisation of the water industry, Rod Strange’s riposte to A. N. Wilson’s depiction of an Eminent Victorian, the Synod and the ordination of women and the horror of the abortifacient pills. Hey ho, other pens in other places.
Let me leave you with these teasing couplets:
We have enough for mankind’s needs
But not enough for mankind’s greeds.
Or how about:
If the Church allowed the Pill
Do you suppose the pews would fill?