Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas one and all!


'He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute' (St. Augustine).

Dear readers, may God's Love, become incarnate in a newborn Child, abide in your hearts this Christmas and always.

I also offer you with these thoughts from Paddy Roberts singing 'Merry Christmas You Suckers' from 1962.

And this engraving "Christmas in the Jungle " from ' The Graphic ' (London, December 1878).

I hope Burma, where I shall be in two or three days, will be more or less like this picture.

The City University Club is the best bargain in clubland and gives you reciprocal rights at many West End clubs. I therefore stay at the Naval and Military which is one minute from Piccadilly Circus and, like the old Windmill Theatre, never closes, not even on Christmas Day. It is wonderfully cosy and central but the military portraits and books are not quite me. Unlike clubs in the 1980s, when I first joined a club, it has tieless men, women, Americans and even (hmm) children, but it is a very good pied a terre. But I want one day to get elected to a club of my own. Perhaps I should found one.

I think St James's is the best place in the world for a holiday - club life, club food, shopping in Jermyn St, the National Gallery. The Charing Cross Rd nearby and the British Museum and clever friends. Farm St and Westminster Cathedral too. Perhaps after all these years I shall become English again, by making frequent visits home - or is that 'home'?

London in the December drizzle was spell-binding. I love the British Museum, the greatest modern wonder of the world, full of astonishing beauty and pleasantly imperialistic. A reminder of more civilised ages, by which I mean the 18th and 19th centuries, when the collections were formed. Then dinner at the Gay Hussar with a bunch of Facebook friends, some of whom I met for the first time, some not for decades. I recommend this as a fascinating way to spend an evening, and very Twenty-First century.

South Ken in the sunshine on Sunday. I love SW3, the perfect antidote to the dull town where I was raised. Mass at the Oratory was wonderful - why can't every church have sung Latin Mass? Of course belief is much easier with Latin. Of course I love the way they say 'Holy Ghost' not 'Holy Spirit', preach from the pulpit, the priest stands with his back to the people, no sign of peace - and the priest in his sermon referred to 'my spiritual mentor, Mgr Gilbey'. I wish all of English life could be like the Brompton Oratory. And yet is there something slightly precious in it?

The Admiral Cod - but Sloane Rangers are one with Babylon and Nineveh. Even Diana herself is forgotten. The beautiful lady I am with was there in the 1980s and so was I.

Dinner at the Phene. Wonderful food as always. It too was a Sloane hangout in the 80s, now a gastropub, dread word. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge lunched there on Tuesday, the waitress said. I dined with two ladies whose lives have been absolutely packed with incident and I wonder whether I truly lived at all.

Finally Essex at 6 pm on Christmas Eve. A Children's Mass with my family - meaning clapping, communion distributed by nuns, children at the altar, 1970s hymns. I cannot forgive Pope John Paul II for altar girls but suppress these thoughts for the sake of the season, or try to. The Mass is full of life and warmth.

It is a great joy to spend Christmas Day with my family in all its very British mixture of excitements and dullness. To me middle England seems very exotic after many years in Bucharest. It is also clear to me that England (by which I mean Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is the greatest country in the world, because of her decency, wisdom, humility, irony, her wide streak of fantasy, her love of anomalies and eccentricity.

When I was young I thought the English tradition had died away some time in the early 1960s, but of course it did not. Dr. Who, for example, which I watched on TV tonight, is quintessentially, triumphantly English. 

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