YOU CANNOT believe a word you read in the news-. papers. The Catholic Herald in a rather small "box" said i was on holiday and kept up the unworrying fiction for several weeks.
But I have not been treading on poisonous anemones in the halcyon waters of the Caribbean. I have not been dropping feathers and tourists off the top of the leaning tower of Pisa to see which hits the ground first (a most serious experiment).
No titled folk have offered me the use of their West wing. I have not been. on pilgrimage to Cornpostella. I did not dine regardless in Paris. I have in fact been boringly ill. This meant I spent rather a long time in hospital.
Because I am richly insured, I go to private hospitals where privacy is the reward and the patient's discipline is kept to a minimum.
Mind you there is the inescapable guilt. On their death beds some monks used to take their brethren out of their beds which were horrid anyway — and lay them on ashes on the floor.
Here you might get champagne. I do not ask for that, indeed I seek and I am strictly a face to the wall sort of invalid. Not for me the heaped up grapes.
But hospitals are fascinating places. Here man does the inevitable in all manner of ways. Here patience surplants courage. Here squalor is immaterial. And here love Finds its supreme test.
I find them fascinating places because of the splendour and terihilita and misery of the human condition. There was a day this time where I toved with the idea of dying myself. Why this should have happened I am not quite sure. I was not in agony or even degrading pain, but it was quite interesting. I felt sad rather than frightened. But then on th's trip to hospital, all manner of intriguing things happened. Anyway they intrigued me.
Private hospitals have greatly changed. They are no longer the haunts of faded Arabs. Nor are they exclusive to the unimaginably rich. Nor do politicians get them on the very cheap.
They have become a part of the luxurious decay of Britain. Such comforts are against the strict principles of egalitarianism.
They have here and there been added to the fierce and effective discipline of the great British teaching hospitals. That is to say that members of certain Unions and organisations when sick, can now get the comfort as well as the almost daunting and disciplined care that the British devoted women invented.
It all went with clean sheets and the training of women to be unsentimental and unfinitely careful with their compassion and to tuck in the ends of the beds.
So the private hospital is not now filled exclusively with the rich, the privileged and the nobly old. It has a lot of people in it. Some of them hold jolly parties for what in hospitals is far into the night.
Even radio three can sometimes be heard through an open door. Some sit for hours in a sort of sacred silence beside the sick and the nurses seem as overworked and as cheerful as ever they were. It is a great improvement, but it has its drawbacks. There was a child playing in the corridor whose game seemed to consist of crashing into my door at irregular but frequent intervals. Its mother and a friend were taking tea in the room opposite.
,At last l opened the door and asked them to lower the general shock level. There was a hideous silence. And as I went back, one of them said, "It's only a child".
My afternoon was wrecked by a mixture of guilt and of possible replies that, thank God. I did not make.
The best visitors in hospitals are priests. even those you may not know. They seem to know just how long to stay. One stranger priest came in and said: "1 have Himself on me if you would like Communion."
Another came to bring the Sacrament. We talked, gossiped for a while and then he opened his brief case to set out the kit for Communion. The oddest thing happened. Out billowed a cloud of incense. It filled the room and it looked downright dangerous.
It may have come from the comparatively new sort of incense that lights like tinder and burns-like a quiet firework. Even though it should have been rather alarming, we laughed and went on with the Great Business. Though a nurse subsequently gave a thoughtful sniff when she came in about her business.
Latin lovers: the other sort
THE Catholic Herald has been reporting a small attack of democracy within the Catholic Church. Two peers and two MPs have offered to pay for an election about the form of the liturgy. They are men who. as Catholics, have had to show positive, physical courage to oppose and denounce the IRA. It's not a safe thing for a Catholic to do.
But they want to raise money for a census to be taken among Catholics to see if, in this realm. the people in the pews approve the disuse of Latin in the liturgy of the Mass.
Now I must confess that this is not an issue that stirs my heart though I believe one should obey the observances of the Church.
Nor have I the faintest idea how a representative Catholic body is likely to vote on the issue. My stolid conviction is that they will never get the chance to vote.
The other day I was at the communal Mass in a great monastery. It felt it was happening about dawn. All the community of priests and monks not necessarily the same — were there. Many of them were at other work. The priests who celebrated wore hooded. untied albs and stoles. The monks wore their habits.
Mass began among the monks' stalls in the massive choir behind the high altar. All very quiet and clear with the priest who was assisting reading the lesson from the monastic lectern and the different presiding priest, each day, giving a brief instruction. Everyone took it in turn.
Then, without processional pomp. they walked to the other side of the high altar. There was a clattering of oak as they set back their stalls and then they took their places in a half circle round a free standing altar in front of the great altar.
This, contrived so that the priest may face the people.