WHAT DOES the Duchess of Norfolk do in her spare time?
The answer to that is fairly simple: she hasn't got any. At least I can't help thinking this must be the case, judging by what she was telling me last week about her recent activities and preoccupations.
Virtually all of these are centred for the moment, and have been in a more general way for a long time past, on the progress and development of St Joseph's Hospice, Mare Street, Hackney, London E8.
This very day her husband, Miles, is laying the foundation stone of what is planned as a substantial extension to the Hospice's present site. It is to be called the Norfolk Wing.
The importance of this development can hardly be overestimated. For what is about to be built on to St Joseph's is a building that will enable the marvellous work carried out at the Hospice to be duplicated and multiplied all over the world.
What is the work? It is the provision of life in the face of death; happiness in the midst of horror; companionship at the moment of potentially devastating loneliness; relief from the holocaust of terminal illness in a way that goes infinitely further than the mere killing of physical pain.
Yes — the expression "infinitely further" is no
exaggeration. Because the treatment available at hospices like St Joseph's — which was a pioneer in the field — transports patients into a haven of relief and serenity which, some years ago, would not have been believed possible for those suffering from an incurable disease.
The secret is that a further and intangible ingredient has been added to expert specialist treatment relying on the most advanced medical techniques. What is this ingredient?
A glowing warmth
IN ANNE NORFOLK'S own words "St Joseph's is very far from being a sad place. The over-riding feeling is of serenity, happiness, even gaiety. We all know that when we are dying we shall want to feel love and happiness close around us. It is this which is St Joseph's supreme gift to its patients."
She will be using these words in the course of a short appeal she will — as mentioned here last week — be delivering in person from the altar steps at all Sunday Masses this weekend (that is, beginning on Saturday evening) at Westminster Cathedral.
The core of her message is that the Hospice's main work is "to provide specialist care for the incurably ill and the dying, to relieve pain and to give them peace and tranquility at the end. St Joseph's has become a compelling interest in my life and I go there whenever I can. I hope that some of you who do
not know it will visit it and find what I have found there .
"Did you," she goes on to ask, "see the pictures of the visit to St Joseph's by the Archbishop of Canterbury last March? He spent a whole morning there, walking round the wards. He based his Easter message on what he saw. And the patients, who belong to every religion and some to none at all, gave him such a warm welcome — all of them responsive, relieved of pain and apprehension and facing the future with serenity."
"Facing the future with serenity": A staggering thought.
ANNE WAS telling me more about it all on Tuesday of this week at the preview of an exhibition in London of her excellent watercolours. (Did you know she was a highly skilled artist?) She passionately hopes that the last £200,000 will come in before Christmas so that the future of this vital new extension to St Joseph's will be assured. She has no inhibitions — why should she? — in begging everyone to ring, or write to the Appeals Office at the Hospice (Tel. No. 01-533 -031) with a donation or an enquiry.
The point of the new wing, as she stresses, is to ensure that the work of St Joseph's can be carried out all over the world since the extension is not to contain more beds for patients, but a residential training unit.
The art of looking after the sort of patients who come to St Joseph's — for an average stay for only a month — is so highly specialised that the training can, at the moment, be obtained only in very few places.
Don't meanwhile miss her exhibition at the Cafe Royal (68 Regent Street, London W I) until November 10 from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.
It is an eye-opener. Her watercolours are of scenes ranging from the beautiful Hambledon valley, near where she lives in Oxfordshire, to exotic Tobago. Several of them are the subject of Christmas cards which are on sale at the exhibition.
Another way of helping, and enjoying yourself at the same
time, would be by attending the special preview of the Broadway musical Camelot which will be performed at London's Apollo Theatre on November 22.
Tickets will be at normal prices unless you want to have supper with Princess Margaret afterwards at the theatre, and that will run to £50 per (inclusive) ticket.
God the caretaker
EVEN IN this enlightened age not all parish priests take kindly to the idea of their congregations being addressed by women. The Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, however, has no hang-ups on the subject.
He is the charming and urbane Canon Oliver Kelly who recently did us the honour, at the Catholic Herald, of lunching with us in our boardroom.
Among the many encouraging things he had to tell us was the fact that more people now attend more Masses, Sundays and weekends, at the Cathedral than ever before even though there are many less priests in residence than in former years. It only goes to show what can be done when the will is there.
One evening recently, he was telling us, he was taking his usual stroll round the Cathedral before closing it up for the evening when he found some boys amusing themselves by playing hide and seek in and out of the confessional boxes. Being a good humoured man he did not mind all that much and was soon in conversation with the young men.
"Who are you?" asked one of them. "I'm the Administrator," replied the Canon. "And what do you do?" "I look after the Cathedral," the Administrator explained. "Oh," said the youth. "You mean when God isn't here?"
The tree of life
PERHAPS THE young man's question was deeper than intended. Metaphysicians of yesteryear never tired of debating the possibility of divine and other existence continuing while not being actually obvious to the senses of an observer.
By the turn of the century the question, centred on the presence of a certain tree in the main quad, came to be debated as between the dons of Oxford's famous Balliol College.
At length Ronnie Knox decided to take some of the unwonted heat out of the argument by encouraging the substitution of an exchange of limericks for syllogisms with allegedly undistributed middles. Thus he wrote:
There once was a man who said "God Must think it exceedingly odd If he finds that this tree Continues to be When there's no one about in the Quad."
Someone — but nobody can remember who — replied:
Dear Sir, Your astonishment's odd: I am always about in the Quad. And that's why this tree Will continue to be, Since observed by Yours faithfully, God.
A valuable `fix'
NOT LONG ago over lunch Sir Ralph Richardson remarked to me that it was essential to have a really good book or two at one's bedside or near one's favourite armchair. Thus a quick "fix" could always be certain of being available.
It was thus I decided to send him a copy of the recent autobiography by his fellow actor and contemporary Laurence Olivier. (He received it safely, I am glad to say, unlike J. W. ("Jack") Lambert of the Sunday Times who got a note accompanying a bulky parcel asking for the favour of a review of Sir Laurence's book. The parcel, on being opened, proved to contain a volume called Who
was Who in Nazi Germany).
The obliging Sir Ralph soon sent me back a note whose cheerful message evoked his marvellous, fruity voice.
"What an honour to become a 'herald' to fellow Catholics!" he wrote. "Your Editor has sent me a copy of Laurence Olivier's Confessions of an Actor . . . Now I sound a trumpet to declare good news!
"This is a handsome volume, filled with many fascinating photographs. It is quite a lengthy book, it has a long tale to tell. Passing through many lands, with many adventures, and, as it goes, confessing with much frankness the ups and downs of the author's life both as a man and as an actor.
"Laurence regards the past with a keen eye and a cool detachment which gives the prose a pace of music. He speaks with the modesty and charm with which he was born."
Thus speaks a man equal in giant stature to the fellow artist whose work he appraises. The book, Ralph adds (published by Weidenfeld) is priced at £9.95 Net. "A net in which you could be glad to have been caught. Something to read at once, and then keep on your shelf as a treasure."
An ever-available "fix" in fact.