Sunday 31 March 2013

Easter in England

Sir John Betjeman once began an essay with the words:
St Pancras was a 14-year-old Christian boy who was martyred in Rome by the Emperor Diocletian. In England, he is better known as a railway station.

John Betjeman was a writer of light verse which I think will live and which excels Praed and Frederick Locker Lampson. But as well as his verse he has left us other monuments in the buildings that he successfully campaigned to save from demolition, in the black days of the 1960s and early 1970s, especially St Pancras Station. Coming in from Luton the Searcy's Champagne Bar on the platform transports you to from the mundane railway travelling world to something very glamorous and nineteenth century, an infinite distance away from the British Rail offices which used to take up the station or the 1970s. 

Actually the whole of St Pancras seems glamorous as befits an international railway station and like so many places in England it seems to have become a 'shopping centre' (dread words as Wallace Arnold would have said - am I becoming Wallace Arnold in my middle age? It might be so.)

Everyone in London despite the crisis seem to do themselves in great style but I am not sure whether we should worry that people have become more materialistic. I think the 1970s were very materialistic and selfish, which is why we had all those strikes. And they also hated the past and knocked down lovely buildings. 

Hard, on Good Friday, to eat a frugal haddock and I succumbed to a glass of champagne with my Godless friend and ordered cheesecake.

A wonderful full English breakfast the next morning (how I love the full English,  especially the black pudding) in a greasy spoon in the Old Brompton Rd beat our expensive dinner at Searcy's. Somerset Maugham said:

It is not true that you cannot eat well in England. You can eat better in England than in any country in the world so long as you eat breakfast three times a day.

You can eat very well in England now, unlike in his day, but it is still true that breakfast beats everything else hands down. This truth is immutable.

Then Tenebrae at the Oratory, Latin psalms sung interspersed with readings that were part of Holy Week everywhere before the Second Vatican Council and which were continued at the Oratory at the insistence of the congregation. Beauchamp Place after more than twenty years (when I was a sixth former in London for the day that street was the epitome of style), shirt shopping in Jermyn St (go to Harvey and Hudson, people, for the real thing), then lunch and exquisite conversation with Ruth Dudley Edwards. 

The restaurant where we had arranged to meet was closed, happily, and we eat in the wonderfully inelegant India Club which has not changed since I was there thirty years ago or since Nehru was eighty years ago. The food was nothing special, the prices ridiculously low and the general setting (formica tables and radiators with peeling paint) was how everything was when C.R. Attlee was Prime Minister  and we gave away India at the cost of up to a million people killed, all because Nehru and Jinnah were old and in a hurry for power. I told Ruth, who loved the place, 'This is what we are fighting for.'  Lunch with three large bottles of Indian beer and one of cider came to £28.

I knew of and esteemed Ruth for many years for her revisionist view of Irish history (exactly the one I had always held) and her strong opposition to the Irish peace process. She is better known, however, as a writer of detective stories and she would make a very good detective herself in one of her own books, a post modernist twist I must suggest to her. If Martin Amis can appear in his own novel, why not Ruth?

My sister's house and home pleasures. Last night I watched the first episode of 'Sherlock' - the first TV programme I have watched for many years. Wonderful - but the internet has made it incredibly hard to watch TV for 90 minutes. I find myself identifying closely with Sherlock Holmes, because my brain span too fast for TV, but I am not a psychopath.

Easter Sunday on the North Essex coast. Mass. I cannot forgive Pope John Paul II for altar girls but my niece Emily is terribly good and very solemn. Dreadful guitar music and communion ministers. If only every church had to celebrate a Mass in Latin each Sunday. Too much grinning and someone went up and gave the priest an Easter card at the end of the Mass. (Romanians celebrate Mass with much more dignity and solemnity.) Still a happy occasion. 

The English taking their pleasures not sadly at all, in fact we are a very happy race, but quietly and unostentatiously. I walked two miles along the North Sea in 35 minutes at a pleasant stroll. 1930s architecture which seems from another epoch in former colonies like India and Zanzibar seems so very recent in provincial England. The Easter Egg hunt. Sunday lunch. Afterwards High Society on a DVD which actually rather bored me even though I suggested it. But Sundays in my youth were boring and so is I suppose is family life - and boring is just an unkind word for peaceful. England outside London is very peaceful.

Monday at St Alban's - not only is the cathedral wonderful, despite the tragic restoration by a clown, but the whole old centre is enchanting. A wonderful place to live and only twenty minutes from St Pancras (am i growing middle-aged?). But the abiding feeling is how desperately sad the Reformation was, which cut England Scotland and Wales off from their religion and their culture.  The next most sudden and arbitrary change was mass immigration after 1950 but the Reformation was a far bigger change and one that permanently maimed our country. 

Yet would we have had representative government in the eighteenth century had we remained Catholic? We developed common law while England was Catholic but who knows? Had freedom come to the world not from England but from the French Revolution things would be much worse even than they are now though the EU is the triumph of that Revolution over Anglo-Saxon ideas of freedom.


  1. Tenebrae, along with most of the Divine Office, dissappeared from churches worldwide when the Latin went. it was to be dumped at the Oratory too in the 90s but the laity intervened

  2. I'm very happy though you've known a lot of psychopaths you're not one. Having always loved Sherlock Holmes I could never abide any that came after Jeremy Brett until 'Sherlock'. It's great. I don't know why I've been blessed this way but I've never been to Mass where there were alter boy girls, female anything, lay ministers. I was at a "Guitar" Mass only one time. I was thirteen. I hope laity will increasingly intervene. I pray.