le Chronicle HARD BY the romantically placed offices of the Catholic Herald stands the stonily magnificent Armoury House, headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company. At a dinner there the other night I was delighted to bump into Bamber Ciascoigne.
1 mention this because I had already started to read his
enthralling book (just published) called Quest for the Golden Hare. You will almost certainly remember that between the end of 1979 and the spring of last year, quite literally millions of people became little less than obsessed with the finding of a certain piece of buried treasure.
The almost freak-genius Kit Williams had been the devisor of the treasure hunt, clues as to which he hid in his famous book Masquerade. He was also the creator of the actual golden hare that was buried. But someone had to act as an independent witness to see fair play: an "honest broker", that is who, alone from the author, knew where this coveted object lay secreted.
Bamber ,Gascoigne's role naturally became known and he received no less than 30,000 letters from "masqueraders". They apparently revealed some almost incredible "case histories", strange preoccupations, weird theories and general bits of philosophising about life. Many people's lives were definitely transformed by the experience. How can one account for it?
Some of those seeking the "treasure" said bravely that it was all a symbolic search for truth and love.
Don't fail to read his book.
DO YOU ever read those excellent occasional articles by Philip Howard in The Times on "New words for old"? Even the very title is catchy as was that of a hook by Philip's father, Peter, a leading light in Moral Armament for many years. His book was called ideas Have Legs.
Peter himself was a long legged, lean and athletic man. Extremely likeable. He wrote for ages for the Express group but spent all his latter years promoting the cause of Moral Armament.
Last week, Philip Howard reminded us that proTEST does not mean the same thing as PROtest. The former means to affirm something solemnly; the latter implies opposition.
In this connection the word Protestant used to be much misunderstood among Catholics. (Perhaps it still is?) Old fashioned Catholic parents and teachers insisted that Protestants were people who "protested against Transsubstantiation". I once got a ticking off from my aunt for telling her I had heard a different version.
In 1529 that strange Emperor Charles V who died, it may be remembered, by catching a chill at the rehearsal for his funeral wanted to universalise Catholicism throughout the empire and to check the tide of Lutheranism. A vocal minority at the Imperial Diet, at Speyer, however, made a formal "protestation" of faith in the new religion. It was a strictly positive rather than negative affirmation.
The historic association of Protestantism with Luther has resulted in resentment by many Anglicans at being called "Protestants" without any further qualification. The point may well come again in this year of the centenary of Luther's birth.
My part in the Coronation
PEOPLE the "oldies" that is, like me! have been asking each other "where were you thirty years ago on Coronation Day?"
Wynford Vaughan Thomas was doing his stirring stuff, as we know, outside Buckingham Palace in a scene he describes all too modestly elsewhere.
My own involvement with the whole affair inside Westminster Abbey came about by accident. The Earl Marshal of the day, Bernard, Duke of Norfolk, had set up an office in Belgrave Square to attend to the million and one details preparatory to the great day. He was a genius at organising such things, as 1 came to find out.
A friend who had been "seconded" from the army in the Coronation office happened to ask me one day if I would like to be a "helper" in the Abbey in the person of a "Gold Staff Officer". What was involved was duly explained to my innocent self and I hurried off to some such emporium as Ede and Ravenscroft's to hire "court dress": cut-away velvet coat, knee breeches, black stockings and a sword!
I didn't stop feeling foolish until I found so many others identically attired dotted at strategic points all over the Abbey. We had to be there soon after dawn, as far as I remember, my vantage point and duty area being the upper tier of the north transept.
There had been many mishaps during the full dress rehearsal during which the Duchess of Norfolk had stood in for the Queen. But all would be "well on the day", the beaming Duke assured us in final exhortation to the troops from his place in front of the throne. The lashing rain, naturally, was not a marvellous omen and many people arrived a bit bedraggled. Some ladies asked me where they could leave their wet shoes. This irritated our slightly pompous leader, an important General if I remember rightly, who couldn't have been more charming when all the nervous strain was over.
My own first bit of trepidation came when I noticed that Hannan Swaffer, whom I had shown to his seat, had finished his first (extra long) hip flask and was starting on another. Ile then complained that he couldn't see anything from where he was sitting. An attempt to move him provoked another explosion from our general.
Then the charming Paul Gallic° arrived and asked most politely if he could possibly sit next to Rebecca West. This I managed to arrange when the general's back was turned, having noticed that it would only mean asking Mr Justice Seymour Karkminsky, a good friend of mine as it happened, to
sit in what was in fact a much better seat near the front.
There was a sudden invasion of "Mrs Mopps" who, having finished their last minute cleaning stints all over the church, were directed to the north transept to try and see something of the actual ceremony. The General was furious at first but then directed that all seats that might have been taken by Gold Staff Officers should be given to the cleaners.
One of the ladies in question fainted and 1 was asked to summon a Red Cross official. This was done by use of one of the telephones that were linked to each other all over the Abbey and gave out green flashes when demanding an answer. When no Red Cross person came I reported the sad fact to our commanding officer who merely said: "You're hopeless Noel." (By that time the lady was fully recovered having been helped I think by Hannan Swaffer!
The Queen, of course, as her splendid if very solemn self, was
the star of the occasion. But everyone remembers the lady who nearly stole the show in her open carriage, regardless of the torrents: the huge and happy Queen Salote of Tonga, opposite whom sat the little tophatted man whom Noel Coward described as "her luncheon".
Some of my "brother officers" and I sneaked out on to a perilous turreted terrace to see the cortege sweeping away from the Abbey back towards Wynford Vaughan Thomas. It was spectacular from such a giddy altitude. We were enjoying the fun when our "pompous general" burst upon us and ordered us immediately inside as there were still many "duties to be done". How he enjoyed his day bossing us all around!
When it was all over, a fellow Gold Staff friend said, in his beguiling stammer, "P pity you, she wasn't just crowned quietly in Cu Ca Caxton Hall . . . it would have disappointed that pompous old ass so much!"