I OUGHT to enjoy standing in for Charterhouse: to me one of the real pleasures of life is to ruminate, via a typewriter, on the shape of things that are. or might be — in other words, just writing, There is how ever a catch. When I pick up my Catholic Herald in the church porch, his Chronicle is — almost — the first item I aim for; whether number one is ''The Herald Says" or the John Ryan cartoon must remain a secret. And the trouble is that I would much rather be turning to that back page for the real Charterhouse than for tnyself. I unashamedly miss him.
Fair enough, even he should now and then be allowed a holiday. But whert he is under the weather the sense of holding the fort, and so formidable a one, even for one week, truly daunts me.
How mans other readers are. I ask myself. counting the issues till he is well again?
I doubt if I shall ever know; the correspondence page deals with more serious matters than personal preferences, Or. I tentatively console myself, does silence for once really mean consent. even approval?
It certainly did some years ago when I was on tour in m), official "parish" in the far west of the United States. At each state capital it had been arranged that I should be interviewed on television — at first quite an ordeal for a British diplomat bred to take to the hills at the mere glimpse of a pressman.
But by now I had begun to fancy myself as an old stager, facing the camera without any of those earlier inward butterflies. And my family and I were enjoying Helena, Montana. which is the capital of a particularly beautiful and exciting state; even its principal avenue has reverted from its sanitizing. by postfrontier wives. into the humdrum respectability of a mere "Main Street'', back again to its original wild-west designation of "Last Chance Gulch". which I suppose conjured up too many lurid implications for Victorian ladies.
It is not only children and dogs that always steal the show. So do wives; and I rashly mentioned that mine was with me. Instantly she was conscripted as a draw for the "home-maker" viewing sector. Her success was monumental even before she took over the camera from me; her ribald commentary into what she had not appreciated was an already live microphone gave her a headstart with all the housewives listening while watching me being faded out.
The eclipse was total, and earned a true showbiz accolade. For when we enquired how this impromptu husband-wife duo had gone down with the viewing public. the verdict spoke for itself — "Well, we let you folks preempt Lassie, and no one's phoned in to complain!"
But I'm not in), wife: and Charterhouse isn't Lassie! And in any case, we have lately had far, more significant television to study.
The Royal Wedding was a day of brightness in all too dark a world. as well as a technical prodigy for the whole world. If the preliminaries at times demonstrated the unacceptable face of paparazzi journalism, the day itself retrieved all.
1 hope I'm not being what our Aussie friends so graphically call a "wowzer" in referring to an occasional but more discordant note in the prelude to so happy a national occasion.
This was the deliberate injection of a quality' of real unkindness into the souvenir industry which is a normal byproduct of it.
Some of the souvenir ceramics, for example, should they survive for future generations, will serve as laboratory specimens of the strain of malice and negation which seems to run through these closing decades of the century. A stunning girl marries a young man of more than average good looks, and of achievement in proven courage and selfdiscipline. which I can only assume are themselves a stimulus to the sin of plain envy.
This happy conjunction of attributes has galvanized some possessors of greater skill than moral quality into artistic and literary excesses which cannot wholly be explained by a vulgar but legitimate determination to "cash in _on" a unique occasion. Ohiets d'art meanly and grotesquely caricaturing the physical features of the young prince, and various other "souvenirs with a snigger', were cleirly meant to offend and hurt; they certainly can't make bride or groom happy, even if shrugged off. The same applies to various "literary" exploitations, dignified by window-displays and signing sessions in bookshops which ought to have known better.
As one of their staff lamented to me — "That's where the money is." And if that's the way the money goes. any ensuant "pop goes the Weasel" is presumably some one else's worry.
It has always seemed to me that this Manichaean i'uxtapositionof evil with good is not only a heresy but a vast impertinence, a major confidence-trick pulled on a preponderantly decent human nature by a strenuous minority of activists deployed by "The Enemy" himself.
Their output is out of all relation to their numbers. Even in Brixton and Toxtcth, by attributing crime solely to circumstance, with no element of free will, they perpetrate 'an affront to the huge majority of decent young people there who. confronted with the same frustrations, say to themselves "No I won't!"
The same paradox was pointed out to me in an even more deplorable and infinitely symbolic context — the brutal assault on our. Pope John Paul H. The author was one of those marvellously energetic Anglican ladies, akin to but subtly different from the more self-effacing Catholic Martha-version.
She was mourning to me that "Your Pope" ads perhaps the only unreservedly good. happy and wholesome international phenomenon of a rather shocking century. "And so of course he had to be brouaht down."
Cutting down to size — what Arthur Koestler calls reductionism — is of our time. Yet its political application can backfire when what is revealed behind the public image is not mediocrity but the shared humanity of greatness.
The athletic and photogenic Pope of the TV screen was intended to be reduced to mere vulgar flesh-and-blood, preferably dead.
Instead his struggle back to health has infinitely endeared him. Nowhere has this poignancy been more movingly conveyed than in a throw away line in a radio report front the Vatican by Peter Hebblethwaite.
The Pope. he explained. is anxious to have behind him the second and corrective operation on his intestine.
He detests being the slave of "that little bag — he is a very fastidious man." Far from diminishing him. this sick-bed realism adds humanity to the spiritual titan. and an intensity to my own prayers for him, shared I don't doubt by millions of minds just as abruptly refocused.
It has increasingly seemed to me that the violence so freely diagnosed as the malady of our age is a single iceberg displaying many, different pinnacles. There is the ideological violence of the terrorist. the acquisitive violence of the footpad — an older and better word for "mugger" — and the sartorial violence of the skinhead. punk and buckle-andchain boys.
There is the acoustical violence of the disco, the visual violence of film and television. even the architectural violence of the brutalist school of construction.
The common factor of them all is concentrated in the affront to the heart and spirit of mankind delivered by the so far unexplained assault on its most towering human symbol.
Yet he has shown. wounded, not the idol's feet of clay but the brave and vulnerable Ilesh and blood of all Adam's children.
Another vision of that brotherhood shared through suffering was granted me not so long ago when. with many thousands, and by the kindness of friends, my wife and I joined in the four hundredth anniversary of Blessed Edmund Campion. one Elizabethan martyr whose innocent spirituality even Protestant polemists have lamented.
At Stonor the warm old redbrick house had given him shelter. The improvised altar in front looked out across to the green slope — and at least one barrel-chested oak-tree, I swear — where the martyr himself had often walked.
Down the tailor-made contours of the hill the littlest of the hundreds of children there were engaged in non-stop roly-poly. until the Elevation at least.
And when communion was given, in total stillness apart from some wholly appropriate plainchant, next to me the lady pilgrim from a far country looked around with eyes brimming with tears. "Just see all these young people, on their knees in the grass, at peace after four hundred years in this beautiful England of theirs.
Not all our fellow countrymen sense as she did that, like Campion's heritage. what is finest in our present is firmest rooted in our past. The pilgrims that day were adding something to their present which will magnify and embellish the future for their posterity too.
That future and its prospects of peace have been the theme of a very different public manifestation these days, Just before the Royal Wedding took over the national press an "open letter" appeared in The Times as a paid, and very expensive advertisement.
It was addressed to President Reagan of the United States. In effect it summoned him to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries, in particular those of the Third World.
Despite its rather peremptory procedural approach its ultimate aspirations seemed impeccable. So were the credentials of many of its signatories, who included several distinguished Catholics, clerical and lay.
There was also a broad spectrum of other denominations, not to mention identifiable agnostics, atheists and the odd exCatholic too. All that was missing — apart from one or two unexpected Catholic absentees — was Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark in the night. For the word "unilateralism*" at no point appeared.
Yet the fifth of the six invocations to the United States Government called upon it "to adopt, jointly with the Soviet Union, a programme for the full withdrawal of all military bases on foreign soil — —". Here I can only resort to a piece of fashionable jargon which Philip Howard, The Times' resident pest-control officer for stylistic vermin, would certainly condemn.
But surely between the words "adoptand "jointlythe several
score signatories have perpetrated an authentic "quantum-jump"? The sentence incorporates the built-in presumption that intention equates with achievement.
My mind goes irresistibly back to the late great Canadian humorist. Stephen Leacock, in his imaginary account of Kaiser Wilhelm. in an emigrant-ship conveying him into exile after World War One.
Perched on a barrel in the steerage, but still in his dreamworld, he hails a passing deckhand with the command "'Let wine be brought!" "Yes, let it!" comes the answer.
There is surely a unilateralism of its own in berating the one party to a conflict with whom, unlike the other. there is a chance of his listening to your exhortations, Similarly, to condemn terrorism yet justify armed liberation movements "where political struggle have failed" calls for some further definition of terms. At what point, and within what time-scale, does failure become an absolute? Or are the frontiers of failure relative, just one more handy variable? Certainly. while sharing many of the open letters' concerns about our world's imponderables and injustices, I cannot but wonder if much of its own positiveness is any less a "value-judgement" (more jargon!) than the assertiveness attributed in its text to the United States itself.
Perhaps the poverty and injustice endured by much of the Third World would be alleviated and abbreviated if we, in our world, could bring ourselves to think of ourselves not as the "Affluent Society" but as the "Profligate Society".
After all, it does look as if. out of sheer self-disgust and shame, we may even this year have condescended to reprieve at last from extinction the sperm-whale, old Moby Dick himself!