A Swiftian circular argument

wmNone for ages, then three at once. Like buses. Funerals I’m talking about. And what a trio: the 20-year-old murdered in Jerusalem, then two from the same extended family with strong church and business connexions—big funerals.

They don’t half take it out of you. Or rather me. The 20-year-old’s last week was excruciating for personal reasons, nails hammered in wounds still raw, but the most difficult that I’ve ever had to do, Hugh excepted, was about 10 years ago, very soon after ordination. A thirty-something-year-old mother of four dropped dead as she was preparing supper. No warning, just kerplunk. I was just about doing OK at the funeral until, during my address from the pulpit, my eyes rested upon the four year old weeping into her teddy bear. Ye Gods.

It’s not easy to process all this—at least I don’t find it so. I asked for some advice from an experienced colleague about coping mechanisms and he said that he imagined the emotion passing down his body into his feet and thence into the earth. He’s something of a Buddhist Christian, and I see that that might do the business for him, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure what does. Sleep possibly.

All jobs have their stresses. I don’t pretend clergy stress is worse than that of any other occupation. After all, we have a free house even though the kitchen is dire, a non-contributory pension (for how much longer?), about £24K a year (no, we don’t get to keep wedding and funeral fees), and, as has been so frequently pointed out to me, we only work one day a week. This remark retains its freshness even on the 137th hearing. So amusing.

Notwithstanding, parochial ministry brings stress of an unusual and peculiar intensity of emotion. Funerals illustrate one aspect, but there’s the stress that comes from the disconnect between the expectations of others, for example that the Vicar will always be smiling and willing to agree with whatever loopy and self-serving notions that fall on his ears, and the demands of the organization and—dare I say—demands of the Gospel to confront hypocrisy and injustice. Like a former Vicar of Chesterfield and Archbishop of Cape Town, Geoffrey Clayton, I was determined when I was ordained that nobody should ever say of me “our nice new Vicar.” Nobody ever has. Or will.

Is this the reason why there is so much fallout from parochial ministry? They are leaving it in droves for such as chaplaincies (much better pay, defined hours of work, protection against exploitation) or civil employment. One of the curates ordained the year before me stuck it for about 18 months, then said she wanted her weekends back.

Anyhoo, it’s time for a palate cleanser, a tart lemon sorbet to mop up the funeral emotion and start the salivary juices flowing again.

I see that novelist Ian McEwan is in the soup for suggesting that before long all the old people who voted Brexit will be dead so we can vote again to stay. Let’s take it a step further. Does it not strike you as a waste of NHS resources that so many old people have expensive hip replacements and then die soon after? Maybe the surgery is too much for them. Maybe they’re shoved downstairs by some avaricious trout who wants their money or house or whatever. It may be practice for the surgeons, but would it not be better to spend the money on getting young people back to work? And what about all the mobility scooters? Would it not be better to force the occupants to go to the gym three times a week and tone up, shed flab and strengthen the heart? There is no better medicine than human sweat. It might be cheaper.

But wait a minute—they might live longer. We can’t have that. Such a drain on the national purse. Maybe we should be forcing cream cakes down people’s throats to send them to the starry heights sooner. Or feeding them antibiotics so that they’ll be carried off by superbugs, leaving only the genetically resistant to repopulate the earth. This is a most attractive notion. It grows on me. A government commission should surely be set up. I shall chair it.

Bearing in mind how I began this piece, you might say “but it will mean more funerals for you”. I doubt that. More and more funerals—sorry I mean Celebrations of Life—are in the hands of non-religious celebrants. Well, I say non-religious, though I gather that they have prayers and very often the Our Father. It’s important to retain a bit of folk religion even though Christianity is actually a middle-eastern religion and it might be more English to go for the pure pagan. Have you seen The Wicker Man with Christopher Lee? There’s something to think on: why wait for people to die?

I’ll get my coat.

Posted in A great future behind me, Pastoralia | 3 Comments

Hannah Bladon: life abundant cut short

_95649795_mediaitem95649794Hannah Bladon was killed in Jerusalem on Good Friday. Here is my eulogy delivered at her funeral today, 

I met Hannah soon after I came to Burton in 2014. We were waiting for mass to begin in St Paul’s. Although we’d never before set eyes on each other, Hannah, characteristically direct, came over and made some intelligent remark about the liturgy. I was dumbstruck. The thought that a young person in today’s Church of England might be interested in liturgy was intoxicating.

We chatted some more. Within seconds it became clear that this was a most unusual young lady: bright, intellectually supple, intellectually resilient, intellectually fearless and completely open-minded. I had to reach for the sal volatile before I fainted, for this was almost too much for my system. An intellectually supple and open minded Anglican. Can you imagine such a thing? I said so and we dissolved into laughter.

It seems that not only did I instantly take to her, but she also took to me. I think this is the reason I have the heart-rending honour of speaking to you on this desperately sad occasion. I thank everyone who has told me about Hannah, but particularly Stella and Max.

Not only intellectual resilience

Hannah was born with a dislocated hip undiagnosed for 18 months. Treatment involved hip traction, the wearing of heavy boots, and frequent hospital visits. But never a word of complaint. In fact it was those visits, usually accompanied by Granddad Colin that resulted in ‘granddad’ being Hannah’s first spoken word.

Hannah knew what she wanted. Parents wonder is this determination or pig-headedness? She was the first player to sign for Burton Ladies rugby club juniors. Even though she was quiet and slightly built, you learned to underestimate her at your peril, as her opponents discovered. She was a winger—nippy, a different sort of resilience. She was the first girl to come off the pitch with blood on her shirt, but soon bounced back.

In Jerusalem Hannah was up at 5 am to get to the dig site by 6. Her friend said that Hannah would arrive back in the evening filthy and exhausted—often too exhausted to shower—and go straight to bed. One of the people Hannah worked with was Bob Henry, a retired chemist from Alabama. Bob flew home at Easter, but when he heard about Hannah he was devastated, and flew back to Israel to meet Stella and Max when they went to bring her home.

Hannah knew justice, mercy, humility

Prophet Micah advises us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Hannah did not need to be told any of that. Her last act of kindness on the day she died—one that according to friend Christina was common for Hannah—was to give up her tram seat to a young mother. She was not political, but believed all people should be equal. She had a profound sense of justice for the underdog. She did not think she was special. She lacked self-confidence. She never expected to get the HSBC scholarship that enabled her to go to Birmingham University in 2015. She never expected her application to the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be successful. The assessors could see what she did not: what a wonderful ambassador she could be.

An upward trajectory

Hannah was a member of a local archaeology group, and had a great interest in history. During the dig that was completed on Maundy Thursday, she excavated a vase of a type not previously known to have existed at that time. She was interested in the past but did not live in it: she used the past to inform the present for the future. One of her lecturers in Jerusalem described Hannah’s career as being on a ‘steep upward trajectory’, and said that he would have given anything to work with her when she’d completed her doctorate. Others have said that whatever came out of Hannah’s mouth was worth listening to—certainly my experience. Her impact on others was recognized by Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister ,who mentioned Hannah in his Remembrance Day address on 1 May, and by the Archbishop of Canterbury who was with the Bishop of Lichfield and the Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem a couple of days ago. The Bishop told me that he sensed that Hannah was regarded with awe by her colleagues.

Drains and radiators

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people can be divided into two categories—not sheep and goats, but drains and radiators. In pastoral ministry one comes across a lot of drains. They suck the life force from you as they enjoy ill health, or enjoy finding fault. They try to draw you into their jaundiced world view. They are full of ordure. Hannah was no drain. She radiated energy. She loved a discussion. She had, as I’ve said, a sense of justice that made her dogged and protective. All these characteristics say something profound about the family. Quite clearly they recognized the extraordinary young lady that Hannah was. To their credit never once did they try and mould her into something less challenging, as many parents would have done. They marvelled at her.

In conclusion, some personal remarks

Let me offer you all some advice. You will not know what to say to Stella and Max, to Colin, June and Malcolm. There is nothing you can say that makes any sense. The best thing that people said to my wife and me when our son died was ‘there’s nothing I can say’. Don’t say ‘I know how you’re feeling’ because you don’t. Don’t say ‘time heals everything’ because it doesn’t. Don’t say ‘she’s in a better place’ for I suspect that she’d rather be up to her armpits in sand. Much better to do something than to say anything, so give them a cuddle and weep with them. Often. And when you meet them in the street, don’t go out of your way to avoid them, but take them for a coffee. Or a gin.

And finally to Stella, Max, Colin, June and Malcolm. Grief at the loss of an adult child is in my experience fierce, bitter, and overwhelming. It is malignant and insidious. It blots out heaven. Your psyche has suffered the most violent attack imaginable. You will need all your energy to look after yourself, so do not waste it on other people. Be kind to yourselves and to each other, indulgent even. Have no expectations. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s good for you—they’re just trying to make themselves feel better. Learn from dogs. When a dog is injured it retreats to its basket and there it stays until it feels better. After 18 months my basket remains the place of safety where I find solace. And when you’re in your basket, you will weep for the loss of that glorious creature whose life was taken in a random act of violence by a sick man.

Posted in Pastoralia | 4 Comments

Sacramental assurance

247f11754cd5847ddbc149fb2acdc2beI’m intrigued by the frequency with which different people receive Holy Communion. Some receive daily, some twice or thrice weekly, some weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Some receive only three or four times a year. I suppose it’s a matter of personality, tradition and upbringing. Even theology too. But I can’t help my mind wandering. So bear with me in this gentle meander.

First, let’s consider those who receive three or four times a year. Clearly they don’t feel the need of the sacrament in that form any more often. Perhaps they are pure, holy and incorruptible,. Maybe there is nothing more to be said. Or perhaps the sacrament that they receive so infrequently has been so powerfully consecrated by a minister so virtuous that its efficacy is so very long-lasting, despite the havoc wrought by gastric acid and intestinal and hepatic enzymes. If so, I can see how three or four times a year would suffice.

Or perhaps it could be that the gastric acid and digestive juices of this group are weak, thus having little effect on the mystical power inherent in the consecrated bread and wine, which are thus largely unaffected by natural secretions. There is another possibility, namely that these people are all recovering alcoholics and so not permitted wine more often than three or four times annually. Of course they shouldn’t have it at all unless, as in the case of a former King of Saudi Arabia, the alcohol turns into fruit juice as it passes the cricopharyngeal sphincter. Frankly, I think this argument is stretching things a bit, and it seems to me that one could never establish the truth since if one asked such people of their boozing history they would almost certainly tell fibs.

At the other extreme there are those who take the sacrament daily. How might this be explained? Perhaps they are very, very wicked indeed and need constant mystical reinvigoration. Or maybe the priest who consecrates the elements is a very naughty boy or girl with as a result such weak powers that the efficacy of the sacrament is ephemeral. Or maybe these priests have been ordained by a bishop who is not a member of the right club, or has the wrong sort of genitalia. Or maybe, just maybe, these people have such powerful gastric secretions and intestinal enzymes that the spiritual power of the elements stands no chance whatsoever.

A research project calls. It would involve volunteers of course, together with physiologists, lab technicians, geneticists and theologians: a multidisciplinary project to elucidate a tricky issue.

Posted in Biology & theology, Theology | 5 Comments

Sounds exactly like duck

_95649795_mediaitem95649794I knew Hannah, the young woman who was killed in Jerusalem yesterday (Good Friday). She was blessed with three great qualities of intellect, namely vitality, suppleness and rigour. She was therefore good fun. Think of her parents.

Before that news broke I’d been finding this Holy Week particularly difficult. Maybe last year I was in some kind of bubble separating me from grief over Hugh. This year, however, the constant reminders of someone dying so that others may live have been extraordinarily hard to bear. I am brought back again and again to 2 Samuel 18.33. I begin to type “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” and before I get to the first Absalom tears gently drip down my cheek. Added to this, a friend’s daughter died last year and she, the mother, is in bits, not helped now by Hannah’s murder, for she knew her better than I did.

I wasn’t going to write about this stuff any more. I was informed in no uncertain terms about nine months ago by a woman who attends a neighbouring church that it was time I stopped wallowing. After all, she said, she’d buried two husbands. I’m not surprised. I was told by a former student a few months ago that every family had to deal with stuff like this, the implication clearly being that it was time to move on. So, like I say I kind of decided to keep schtum. So why haven’t I? Therapy for me I suppose, given recent events. And nobody is forced to read this.

I’ve no energy for other people. Violence swims about in my mind, seeking whom it may devour. When I hear moaning minnies complaining about their aches and pains I have the devil of a job in not propelling their dentures down their throats. I’m quite likely to tell them some home truths. This may be a very good thing but isn’t what they’re expecting, and it’s professionally risky for the last thing clergy are expected to do is tell the truth. The good news is that I treasure more than ever my family, and the colours that I see increasingly dimly with my one functioning albeit somewhat glaucomatous eye.

I’d hoped that the muse might have returned by now. Two of my regular readers (half of them, so) have been kind enough to hope so too. Occasionally I think of a topic that might serve, the more ridiculous the better, but then I think “what’s the point?” People seem terribly worried by the possibility of North Korea kicking off. I just don’t care. Bring it on, you mad bastard.

I recommend Inside Grief edited by Stephen Oliver (ISBN: 9780281068432), so far the only book that I’ve found authentic. It doesn’t assume that the dead offspring is an infant.

Lady_WhiteadderI must confess to having been shocked and wounded by the remarks I relate above. I’d been chugging along as best I could, then wham, those comments have preyed on me, vampires sucking the blood clean out of me. My only response to them is two words, which I regret not having used in context. The second is “you”. The first—and some of you may recall an episode of Blackadder with Miriam Margolyes—sounds exactly like …

Posted in A great future behind me, Pastoralia | 10 Comments

Remembrance Sunday 2016

thiepval-memorial-missing-2One of our joys at St Modwen’s is to be a kind of safe haven for people who wander in and out. Some of them are of no fixed abode. All of them find it difficult to cope with society—and I’m not referring to the members of the regular congregation. Some of the occasional visitors sleep in the churchyard. Some should be getting psychiatric care, but instead have what is laughingly called care in the community. Some of them are ex-servicemen who have been so badly maimed by their experience that they have never recovered. It’s this group I’d like to consider today: members of the Armed Forces who return from their service and find themselves unable to cope in a society that is foreign to them.

I try to imagine what it’s like after service life to adapt to the humdrum, to cope with relationships 24/7, to find a job, to deal with jobsworths and bureaucracy, and all whilst coming to terms, or not coming to terms, with the horrors that they witnessed. I try to imagine what it’s like, after having been trained to be alert, to use one’s instincts, and to exist on high circulating levels of adrenaline and testosterone, to find that none of these things is valued in an almost anaesthetized society in which boys are chided for being boys, and men find it more and more difficult to express their masculinity.

The truth is I can’t imagine what it must be like. It makes me wonder what servicewomen and men see when they return to civil society.

They might see sleaze, corruption and greed being rewarded. They will note the rich getting richer. They might notice a significant proportion of people, who are not getting richer, who are effectively ignored. They might have the perception that resources are allocated on the basis of notions of political correctness dreamt up by people who live behind electric gates in Weybridge or Godalming or the Cotswolds, people who should be made to spend time living and watching and listening in the area where I live. They will, in short, detect a good bit of rage. That will do nothing for their well-being.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the vicar of Hartlepool articulated this rage. He said “the shipyards have sunk, the coalmines have collapsed, the steel works . . . have rusted and the chemical works have dissolved. The jobs that came were lasses’ jobs. And even they didn’t last.” It’s the kind of rage that contributed, dare I say it, to the results of the US election last week. It’s the kind of rage that speaks of growing injustice. In the face of this, returning servicewomen and men might well wonder what they were fighting for.

I applaud the lengths to which the services go to prepare people for return to civilian society. But it seems to me that we need to do some serious thinking about the nature of that society. In the meantime, we can all play our part in helping those who find it difficult to cope, most especially by working to rid society of injustices that enrage. In truth I’m surprised that we don’t see more casualties wandering in and out of St Modwen’s in their vulnerable confusion. So I thank our church people, and urge us all to be mindful and compassionate. Maybe we could emulate the Japanese who, I understand, say to those who have recently left the forces “thank you for a job well done, thank you for your service. Now we need you to let go of that part of life and to start afresh. We will help you.” That is a public ritual of thanks, of grieving, of letting go, and of starting afresh. But it’s no good without justice.

Let me say how impressed I am with you young people here today. I applaud your willingness to join the cadets and other organizations. You will learn about compassion, sharing, recognition of different gifts, the common good, teamwork. You will learn about service and leadership. In an age when so many groups for young people have closed down because of risk-averse political correctness, it’s good to see you here. We need more like you.

It would be wonderful to think that the need for Remembrance Sunday commemorations would slowly fade. The evidence is otherwise. NATO and Russian forces are gathering on the borders of the Baltic States. Middle East madness escalates. Who knows what North Korea will do? And close to home, don’t imagine that the political situation in Ireland is by any means settled. Thumping people on the head to get them to do what you want has never worked in the past and yet it seems that we imagine it will in the future.

The first reading told us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly. There is some chance justice might begin to prevail if we do that. But there is no chance that there will ever be peace unless there is justice first.

Posted in Pastoralia, Theology | 2 Comments

Homecoming

Eden valley 2

Eden Valley looking to Blencathra. No, I think it’s Wildboar fell.

A homily for Proper 19, Year C

Here is Jesus talking to the religious jobsworths and nitpickers, the people who put duty before compassion. He uses two stories about people losing things, searching for them, and finding them.

Is this a message for me to spend my time in places of ill repute, talking to the lost, rather than propping up this strange manifestation of the Evergreen Club? I have sympathy for this view but it makes me a bit uncomfortable for it seems to imply that I am not lost, and am making judgements that they are.

Yes, we must feed the hungry and tend the sick, but maybe there are other messages here that we need to apply to ourselves as individuals. What is Jesus telling those who put rules before people? Is he hinting that they themselves have lost something? Is he trying to tell them that in their punctiliousness to keep rules and tick boxes, they have lost themselves, their humanity, their sense of joy and fun – all lost amongst regulations; lost amongst their amour propre, their pride.

Luke’s two short stories come immediately before the story of the man with two sons, the gracious father, and the so-called prodigal son. Another story of lost and found. In the father and two sons story, both sons are lost: one lost in recklessness and wilfulness, the other lost in envy and resentment. Both of them have a twisted relationship with their father. Sometimes we are like the son who goes off, deliberately sticking two fingers up at some authority figure. Sometimes we are like the son who stays at home, begrudging others’ successes, others’ good fortune, and angry with our friends for having things we lack. In sermons, my guess is that we hear more about the son who went a-wandering and a-squandering, probably because the church was much into trying to control people rather than help them develop. Jewish commentators, on the other hand, concentrate just as much, if not more, on the stay-at-home, sulky son.

If we’re honest, it’s easy to think of ways in which we are like one or other of those sons. But I think that it is our calling to move beyond that. We will find eternity and peace (a quality of mind, and nothing to do with idleness or sitting having pious thoughts) when we become like the father: compassionate, forgiving, welcoming home.

And that – homecoming – is what this is all about. It is about what Christianity is all about. Homecoming, forgiveness, shalom, reconciliation, salving, HEALING. Coming home to the Divine – or rather recognizing that it is there in the middle of us all the time. We can identify what we have lost, and make our way back home, through what the church calls repentance, re-turning, RETURN.

Getting lost is a good thing. Keeping young people attached to apron strings, or parents’ purses, always ends in tears. We need to be lost in order to realize what it is we need to seek, or re-seek, or re-turn to. And it’s not a matter of going back in time to things we used to love, or to things that take us back to our childhoods, but rather a matter of going home to our real selves, to that inner sanctuary of the soul that we shut out through wilfulness, recklessness, pride, self-importance, resentments. We can’t see that inner self, that bit of the Divine within, unless we have been lost, and have ditched ego, amour propre, and the dignity on which we are so keen to stand.

T S Eliot, Little Gidding

         We shall not cease from exploration

         And the end of all our exploring

         Will be to arrive where we started

         And know the place for the first time.

In my pastoral ministry, I find that nearly all our spiritual sickness comes from a sense of guilt or shame about the past. Such guilt and shame often—not always—come from our not having accepted ourselves for the maimed humans we are. Guilt and shame come from our thinking that we are in charge of our natures. We are not. We are simply bags of hormones and emotions, and constantly at their mercy. I don’t think there is any such thing as free will. We are, every one of us, potentially able to do the most horrid things to other people. If we haven’t ever committed such atrocities, it’s just because we haven’t been in circumstances that have tested us. Deliver us from the evil part of ourselves. When we acknowledge our shame, longings, guilt, we feel a great liberation, a great sense of coming home. RE-TURNING.

The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep, finds it, places it on his shoulders, and brings it home. Look at sheepdogs. They don’t run barking after the sheep. But, as the sheep wander off, they watch, then run like hell, and get in front of the sheep. Then they lie down across the path where the sheep were wandering. So when the sheep come up to them, they are gently turned in the right direction.

That is the challenge for us: to care not for our own cosy club, but for the lost. First, observe and think; second, run like hell; and third, be found lying about. And the lost includes our selves. We are no use to anyone else unless we recognize our own need for homecoming.

John Henry Newman

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me.

 

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

 

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone.

And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I 
have loved long since, and lost awhile. 

 

Posted in Inner kingdom, Pastoralia | 1 Comment

Rail Europe

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Werfen. The cable car was magicked on

A Great Rail Journey trip to Austria is in the offing for 2017. London, Cologne, Rhine, Munich (whether via Stuttgart or Nuremberg I know not), then five nights Innsbruck. It’ll be our third GRJ jolly. The first was 11 years ago to Meiringen, with trips to Lucerne, Jungfrau, and Brig (through the old tunnel). It was delightful. The GRJ guide was a deputy lay clerk at Lincoln Cathedral, so there was an abundance of gossip to be had.

Our second was to Venice and Bled. The Venice Carnival was on: not my cup of tea – sinister in fact, but the snow in Slovenia made Bled quite magical. We went out by Paris, Turin and Milan, but returned through Villach and Salzburg so I was able to point out the castle at Werfen used in Where Eagles Dare. We were beside ourselves with excitement.

Actually, that stretch of the line was not injun country. Back in about 2004, also in winter, a friend and I did a do-it-yourself trip taking in Lindau, Salzburg and Linz, so we’d seen Werfen before. The trip was memorable for two main reasons: first, the journey through the snowy Tirol in a carriage with a glass roof, and second, the stop off in Passau on the way back. Passau: setting, architecture, history. I must take Susan. There is so much loveliness in central Europe.

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Lindau

Susan and I had our first DIY train holiday in north eastern France: Strasbourg, Metz, Reims, Laon. Then it was Prague and Nuremberg. Next came northern Germany taking in organs in Norden and Stralsund as well as Weimar and Erfurt—we loved Erfurt. Then Lindau and Augsburg (Christmas markets featured), and finally Koblenz and Limburg with more Christmas markets.

There’s one other trip that’s worth a mention—to Kiel. A Dublin work colleague and I were off to a meeting about an EU grant application, and we decided to do it by train. Our arrival at Waterloo (as it was in those days) at 5.30 am was greeted by the announcement that the first train of the day to Brussels was cancelled. Yours truly, being not entirely ignorant of trains and timetables, marched up to the gentleman behind the Eurostar information desk, who quite clearly was still having wet dreams, to ask what he was going to do about this. Upon being told of our destination, he said, quite correctly, that Keele was in Staffordshire. Given that we were being met at Kiel Hbf at 6 pm that evening, I wasn’t in the mood for a leisurely discussion about whether or not we should trudge to Euston for a train to Stoke on Trent or Crewe, then a taxi to Keele. In complete silence I lunged over the counter, he took a step or six back, I grabbed the Cook’s continental timetable from him, turned to the appropriate page and demanded that he book us on that one to Brussels, that one to Cologne and that one to Kiel. Whereupon, also in complete silence, he did. We parted company.

We’ve reached that age when going on an organized holiday is more attractive than a DIY one. I costed both and really they’re pretty similar, so someone else doing the bookings and organizing the trips is worth paying for. Mind you, just as I’m not old enough to play golf, I’m not old enough to go on an organized coach holiday. I don’t think I ever will be.

What is it about rail travel? Spending the first 18 years of my life in sight of the Settle-Carlisle line? Langwathby school next to the station? Penrith Grammar over the road from the West Coast Main Line? Or was it the fillums? The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest (coo, Hitchcock liked trains), Some Like it Hot. Ah, the wonderful, wonderful train scenes on Some Like it Hot. All of the above.

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Kutná Hora

Before we settled on Austria, the Norwegian coast was a possibility. That turned out to be too long and too expensive. I have a yearning to go to Spitsbergen but that’ll be difficult by train. The Glacier Express came to mind too, but you can do that on YouTube. Places I’d quite like to visit include Kutná Hora (the other side of Prague)—it looks lovely on the pics, Karlovy Vary, though I’m not bothered about taking the waters, Bratislava, and oh yes the Italian lakes, and … and … and … We shall see.

I’ve recently discovered the novels of Barbara Pym. With great joy I’m immersing myself in them. Reading through this blog before pressing the ‘publish’ button makes me realize that in comparison they are full of excitement.

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