Friendship

The experience of lockdown is different for everyone. I feel hugely lucky to be here (Devon), untroubled by concerns over ‘staying local’ for exercise. The side door leads through the churchyard into open country.

And working from home is something I have been doing for almost a decade – but before the pandemic this was something I chose to do. It is not quite the same when there is no alternative. Above all, I miss London and I miss friends.

In the Weekend FT Rebecca Watson’s closing paragraph in her piece Alone together: friendship in a pandemic (behind the FT paywall) resonated very strongly,

The world will not return to normal, instead the pandemic will yield. There is a difference. Friendships will not simply revert to what rather once they were: but that need not be a bad thing. I find it easy to live to a schedule: what I am doing and who I am seeing next rising to meet me before the previous event is over. When it safe and possible, I will want to see my friends. But when I do, I will try to appreciate the moments as they happen, fortified by the memory that for a time they couldn’t.

When it is safe and possible, likewise.

Epiphanies

I have been reading Enuma Okoro in the Weekend FT. Her New York Diary – a reflection on Epiphany and epiphanies – was wonderfully thought provoking. Sadly it is behind the FT’s paywall.

For better or worse, I left faith and religion a long time ago. Although I started to train as a priest I never reached journey’s end. We were warned that the second year would be difficult. It was in fact surprisingly easy to find a different way. Nonetheless, I have always been captivated by the journey of the Magi. Whether in the art of the Renaissance – I first saw Gozzoli’s beautiful fresco in the Medici Chapel some 50 years ago – or in T S Eliot’s retelling – a cold coming for Birth or Death.

And this morning I was struck by Enuma Okoro’s reflection,

The Magi were said to be priestly people, astrologers who could read the skies and stars and signs. One of my favourite parts of the story is that the wise men travel home by a different way because they have been warned that the old way is no longer suitable. Now they know what they know, and they have seen what they have seen, the former way home can no longer lead to preserving life. They were not the same people returning as those who left.

And as we set out on our different journeys in 2021, she puts it perfectly

The reality of 2020 still sits before us all. . . Knowing what we know, and seeing what we’ve seen, none of us can really be at home with ourselves and with the world as before . . . it seems clear that most of us want to return by a different way. Whether we wanted it or not, the past year has allowed, if not enforced, the unearthing of things — in our relationships, in our life choices and negotiations, and in the journeys we’ve found ourselves on.

Our challenge what we are going to do about it.

17 December 2020

There are times living in a number of different worlds is far from comfortable.

There is the world out there – the real world. This morning’s photograph is a good illustration of quite how beautiful it is in this part of Devon, and last night, late, I lay in an entirely silent house listening to owls call across the valley; then there is the world of work – even now this remains pretty well all consuming. I have just spent the first part of the morning drafting a note for trustees on a salary increase for the Chief Executive; there is my interior life (not necessarily for this blog); and lastly there is the political world that shapes so very much of our lives.

I cannot control the first but that doesn’t matter. Certainly I whinge about the Devon weather but in this part of the world weather comes over like an express train, so it is mainly all down to clothing. I have some control over the world of work, as I choose when and what (unlike so much of my working life as a lawyer) – and if I want to watch a film on Curzon in the afternoon, no one stops me. But the political world is the one that not only can I not control but much of the time at the moment it fills me with despair. The pandemic, Brexit, social care, Windrush, Grenfell – the list seems endless.

There are some actions I have taken. I gave up on Twitter in the early summer, I try to limit my news intake (not always successfully), and I listen to a lot more music. My latest crush is Sara Correia’s 2020 album of Fado.

And then there is condensed reading – possibly not quite the right description but each morning starts with John Naughton, Jonty Bloom, and The Monocle Minute. Jonty Bloom’s Why “Sovereignty” matters this morning is a short and perfect piece. I found Jonty Bloom thanks to John Naughton and Memex 1.1 – from him each morning a Photo, Quote of the Day, a musical alternative to the morning’s radio news, a Long read, and more. Here is John Naughton today. And then there is The Monocle Minute – although I am not into Japanese present wrapping . . .

Finally there is always coffee – probably more than is good for me but not even I can drink Negronis before 6:00.

And my music choice – Sara Correia and António Zambujo

Nos miseri homines . . .

It was pure chance that the weekend before last I happened on the 2017 Christ Church Annual Report. A few days later came the most welcome news of Martyn Percy’s reinstatement as Dean.

In its report on his reinstatement, the Church Times noted,

The row exposed tensions that exist at Christ Church between the cathedral and the academic establishment.

It was ever thus – although there is undoubtedly much more to this than ‘tensions’.

Rows at Christ Church (though rarely quite as public as this most recent one) have invariably been about reform. There have been few periods in its history when reform, of one sort or another, has not been the subject of bitter debate.

Reflecting on this, I re-read Martyn Percy’s piece in the 2017 Report. He begins with the 150th anniversary of the formation of Christ Church’s Governing Body, which recognised its unique status as both college and cathedral. His message is reform. He pulls no punches.

The challenge remains constant: to continue to be shaped by the past, to adapt to the present, and so shape the future.

He continues,

The story of Christ Church is current and unfolding. The changes in governance we celebrated are a timely reminder to us: that within our institutional DNA, we recognise we are a body that knows how to self-improve. Reform is not an event.It is a process. It is more like steady evolution than a one-off revolution. Yet it is a labour that requires constant attention. It also requires some degree of faith – in the past, the wisdom of the body in the present, and the teleology of the foundation as it faces forward.

The dust hasn’t yet settled on this latest row. It will, because it always does. And the battle for reform will continue, as it must. And there will casualties, as there always are.

Martyn Percy’s tweet last Sunday evening – in which he spoke of being marked by the words of the opening hymn at Blackbird Leys Church of the Holy Family earlier that day – speak both of the personal costs of this struggle, and the continuing challenge.

Lord of all our past traditions, Lord of all our future days.

But for the time being – and I hope for some considerable time more – we have our Dean back.