Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ecumenical Matters

Two brothers can't both inherit the farm so traditionally the second-born joined the church. I sometimes think I was cut out for the life of a clergyman (except for the inconvenience of having to get out of bed before midday on a Sunday... oh... and belief in God - I hear they are rather keen on that). 

The first priest I remember is the Reverend Thomas. My mum sang in the church choir and he came round ours for afternoon tea once. There were lots of bookshelves in the house I grew up in and his ecclesiastical eye immediately alighted on a dozen or so Dennis Wheatley novels (sample titles: The Devil Rides Out, To The Devil a Daughter, Gateway to Hell) They all had yellow spines with black writing which really made them stand out. I was a voracious reader as a child and I don't recall any books being prohibited by my parents (except when my dad told me I couldn't read the Silmarillion until I had finished The Lord of the Rings - still rankles). Those Dennis Wheatley novels always came with a stark warning from my mother: "Reverend Thomas told me I should burn the lot!" That made them seem particularly appealing.

After the Reverend Thomas moved out of the vicarage, we got a groovy trendy vicar in the village. I can't remember his name, but I do remember that he allowed alcohol to be smuggled into a youth club party in the village hall and one kid drank a bottle of vodka and had to have his stomach pumped.

I'd not had much contact with the priesthood in Norwich until I struck up an unlikely friendship with Father Peter - an active octogenarian who often pops into the pub with bottles and glasses he has found on the pavement outside. "Do these belong to you?" Occasionally, he would sit outside with a pint of bitter, smoking his pipe and drafting a sermon. Over the years, we got to know each other. I was touched by the little pieces of personal information he would sometimes share. Like the fact that his real name was Julian - but that he had been bullied at school in the 1930s because the name was too feminine so he had adopted his middle name. I told him that I shared a name with the famous Saint of Neocaesaria and naturally this led to a long discussion of thaumaturgy.

Last week, he came into the pub around closing time, much later than I had ever seen him in there before. He ordered a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale (which I knew to take from the shelf not the fridge - Catholic priests can't stand cold beer) and offered to buy me a drink. 

"I'll take a half of Ghost Ship."  

"Make it a pint." (this is the formal reply whenever a bartender says they will take a half - remember this.)

I detected a sadness in his demeanour and spoke with him whenever I got a moment between service. Turned out the church for whom he had worked for half a century were moving him out of his city centre flat and into a nursing home for priests in a village 15 miles south of Bury St Edmunds. With no pub! And worse... he was only allowed to take two of his five bookcases. What a way to treat a man. It's not like the Catholic church is short of a bob or two. I began to think about what I would do if I had to cut my book collection by three fifths. I suppose I could always start by burning a few Dennis Wheatley novels.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Selection

David Cameron is determined to interrupt my naptime. This morning was my first lie-in in nearly a week and I was particularly anxious to get plenty of rest today as tomorrow I intend to stay up all night watching the election results come in. However, Cameron has other ideas. In a last ditch attempt to secure my vote he has sent out an army of canvassing leafleteers to shove economically narrow-viewed propaganda through my letterbox. 

My letterbox is currently fastened shut with blu-tac in an attempt to stop it banging metallically against itself in every gust of wind. Our postman has been informed of this and happily re-secures it with a firm tap before whistling his merry way upon his round. But Cameron's faceless minions do not stop for a friendly chat. No doubt they have targets to meet. They hurriedly thrust their glossy lies into my life and leave me to the torture of the arrhythmic clang. Should I rise, pyjama-clad, unlock the door, fasten the letterbox, relock the door, pop the propaganda in the recycling and return to bed? I'll give it an hour, see if the wind dies down. 

The Conservative Party have no chance of getting my vote but they have secured the support of local hotel group that I shall call LIA (For those of you who like riddles - LIA is an easily solveable caesar cypher) in case any of what follows is libellous: 

The 'Beaches' hotel on 'Eerlham' Road
The LIA business model is to buy up hotels and remove all the features that make them pleasant environments and providers of local employment. When they took over the Beaches Hotel (sic - still worried about libel) near where I work they removed all the curtains and replaced them with whitewashed windows for that really classy look. They sacked all the onsite staff, replacing receptionists and night porters with keycode panels on the exterior and room doors. They stopped doing food and drink altogether. Breakfast chefs and waiters and bar staff all laid off. 

The resultant unstaffed hotel was cheaper but unpleasant. I started getting miserable looking customers coming into the pub invariably wheeling hand luggage. They would complain (to me - remember there is nobody onsite to complain to and they would repair to the nearest pub to wait for the manager to answer his mobile phone) that they could not gain entry using the keycode panels or that when they had finally gained access the rooms had not been cleaned sufficiently by the zero-hours-contract cleaning staff employed by a separate company. One guest showed me a picture on his phone of a healthy crop of toadstools that he claimed to have seen growing in the corner of the shower.  "Staying at LIA?" I would ask. "Can you recommend anywhere else nearby?" they would plead. "Sorry," I would reply, "LIA own all the guesthouses around here, now."

And then the prostitutes moved in (not just hearsay, here is the Eastern Daily Press report). With rooms for rent for as little as twenty pounds a night and no staff it made a logical and hopefully a safe base for them. I doubt these were young businesswomen keen to take economic advantage of their bodies for a short time in order to fund a better life. There is a good chance where there is organised prostitution (according to the article a woman was arrested and cautioned for controlling prostitution for gain) that there is some amount of exploitation going on.

This all actually happened. It is not some convenient metaphor for Britain under the Conservatives. But the owner of the LIA group has plastered his hotels with Vote Conservative signs and I deplore what he has done to the local hotel economy in the name of profit. And I deplore the ideological choices the Conservatives and their Liberal partners have made in the name of deficit reduction. 

Who gains?