About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Dukan Diet on Holiday

 Oh dear, oh dear.  How to combat the temptation to treat holidays as a separate moral universe in which all dietary rules no longer apply.  Especially when you are going to France and will be endlessly assailed  by sights such as these (pictured).  It's not Greggs, is it?  This is top notch patisserie.  Patisserie to die and go to heaven for.  These are the things angels eat, when they aren't playing their harps and debating how many theologians you can fit on the head of a pin.

But hang on a moment--France is the home of the Dukan diet.  Surely I have not travelled this far in the company of Dr Dukan, only to be abandoned to the ravages of irresistible baked goods?  Surely he has some wisdom to share.  I looked up 'croissants' in the index.  Nothing.  He goes straight from 'crisps' (bad: 'full of fat and calories... dangerous if you want to prevent cardiovascular illness and cancer') to 'cruise diet'.  This means 'alternating protein', by the way, rather than what to eat on board ship, or when out on the pull.

So the Dukaneuse on holiday will have to fall back on those good habits instilled by months of following Dr Dukan's advice.  Eat sensibly, exercise, remember your oat bran, forget your escalators, and above all, eat 200 hundred croissants every week while on holiday in France!  I'm sorry, that was a typo.  It should have read, have one day of pure proteins a week.  With a bit of luck you won't come back two dress sizes larger.

I'm supposed to be packing.  I find holidays stressful, to be honest.  Worry, worry, worry.  Passports.  Bow doors of ferry.  Will house-sitter set fire to new washing machine?  Will new washing machine set fire to house-sitter?  The answer is to drink wine and lose yourself in a good book.  Here's a suggestion: Lazarus is Dead, by Richard Beard.  A compelling exploration of the nature of faith and doubt, of how we know the unknowable.  Plus it's funny and the end made me cry.  Enjoy.  With a glass of wine and the patisserie of your choice.

Sunday 21 August 2011

WEEK 33--Guest at a Civil Partnership

I've lost count of how many weddings I've been to in my life.  Dozens and dozens, almost all in churches of one kind or another.  I've been to a handful of Registry Office weddings, and more recently, non-religious ceremonies at other venues.  This was the first Civil Partnership ceremony I'd been to, however.

Now then, Civil Partnerships are not church weddings.  This is a minefield.  I myself was caught up in a real dilemma here.  After much deliberation and heart-searching, I decided the occasion warranted my best millinery efforts.  So I bought a fabulous hat, wide as a cartwheel,  to go with my charity shop dress.  Then I was told by the best woman that there was a 'no hats' dress code!  Flip, I thought.  (Well, the first letter was the same.)  I immediately sought a special dispensation from one of the grooms.  This was granted, and all was well.  But you see what I mean?  It's a total minefield.

Having been on a lengthy journey from my Evangelical roots, I was able to enjoy the ceremony in an uncomplicated way.  (Apart from the logistics of wearing a cartwheel in a confined space, which admittedly was complicated.)  I'm aware that not everyone is at ease with Civil Partnerships.  A13 year old I know, for example, told me that she found the idea 'Rather unnerving.'  So do many in the Church.  The C of E has not yet found a way to bless same sex unions officially .  Unless you happen to be in the Diocese of Southwark, where I understand unnerving things do go now and then, and you occasionally get the feeling you're not in Kansas any more.

Still, for the friends gathered on Saturday to wish the couple well, it was a supremely happy day.  It always strikes me as a bit odd when people say that Civil Partnerships 'undermine the institution of marriage'.  You could argue that two people publicly committing to a lifetime of faithful love kind of enhances the whole idea.  I'd nominate cheating on your spouse as a more pernicious undermining influence, but there you go.

For those of you wrestling with similar issues to my own, let me just say this: however extravagant your hat, in all probability you will still be eclipsed by the outrageousness of the grooms' gay friends.

Sunday 14 August 2011

WEEK 32--An Overnight Stay in York Youth Hostel

An old primary school chum, Angela, has just celebrated her 50th birthday in the York Brewery.  Good food, good ale, good company.  It's official--the girl can organise a piss-up in a brewery.  If you yourself have difficulty in this department, get in touch, and I will pass on her details.

A spot of organising was required on my part, too, if I was to be there on the night.  I didn't fancy driving there and back in an evening, so I looked into overnight accommodation.  Don't ask me to organise your brewery piss-up.  By the time I got round to looking for budget hotels in York, everything was booked solid.  So the good old YHA it was.  I have stayed in Youth Hostels before, but never by myself, never booking it myself and all that stuff.  I'm reassured to think that if I am tragically widowed, I will at least be able to go away on a mini break without getting lost or kidnapped or locked out of my room.  Well, there's no real guarantee is there?  I've been locked out of rooms before and had to go down to reception in my pyjamas, tra la la, how hilarious!

Anyway, dorm of 8 bunks, very reasonable price, comfortable walking distance from the town centre.  I arrived and checked in and made up my bunk, as you can see, in a nice verdant duvet cover and pillow slip.  Then I got changed and headed into to town for a mooch and a sight-see, before the bash.

York is the perfect pottering town. Oodles of history, tea rooms and quirky shops.  I had a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of extremely good lemon cake at Georgina's, and later on, an extraordinary liquorice ice cream from a chocolate shop in the Shambles.  Weird, but wonderful.  I sat eating it in a little square listening to the buskers and thinking life was good.  I then meandered to York Minster for choral evensong.  I was late, because they clearly don't know in York that choral evensong is at 5.30pm not 5.15pm.  I'm sure they will rectify this.  After the service I admired the statue of Constantine outside the  Minster, where he appears to be waiting for the nail polish on his right hand to dry before he embarks on his left hand (see below).

With a bit more time to kill I wandered down towards the river.  It rapidly became clear why the hotels were all full: stag nights and hen parties.  I won't detain you with a description, merely pause to suggest that if 'Vomit-Skating in stilettos and half a dress' ever becomes an Olympic event, the Gold medals have Great Britain written all over them.

After the party I was driven back to the Youth Hostel by a kind friend of Angela's, was not locked out, phew, and all seemed peachy, until I crept into my dorm to find a great big Spanish bird in my bunk.  We had a hissed exchange over who's bunk it should be, before I found myself flailing around in the dark trying to make up the top bunk and locate all my kit which she'd moved.  Quite a challenge, after a couple of the brewery's best.  I was pretty grumpy at the time, but it's got steadily funnier since.  After discussion with the nice bloke on Reception as I checked out, I think I know what must have happened.  The cleaners had mistakenly stripped her bed, and she'd come back to find someone had apparently taken it over.  'Unless she's just bonkers,' I said.  'Well, we do get a lot of bonkers people here,' he conceded.

So, how do I rate my first ever solo stay in a Youth Hostel?  Hmm.  Let's just say, I was glad I'd taken earplugs to block out the gentle concerto of snores, farts and smoker's coughs.  Good value, provided you are prepared to take the rough with the smooth, and a cracking breakfast.

Saturday 6 August 2011

WEEK 31--Lecture on the St Chad Gospels

I don't wish to imply that I've never been to a lecture before.  Heck, when I was an undergraduate, I went to several every term.  I'd sit there with my mate Sue, and we'd see who cracked first and wrote the note which said 'Lunch?'  This meant Norwegian mushrooms and vintage cider at one of Durham's pubs, with the knock-on effect of no afternoon lectures.  That's what happens when students are given grants.  They don't study. In these days of student loans it's completely different.  It really is.  Study, study, study, no pub.  Would my son lie to his mother?

Nor are you to think I'm just scrambling around again for something new to blog about.  I've chosen this for a reason.  I am addressing a syndrome which has no handy name, but which we all recognise.  The old 'living in Stratford and never going to the RSC' scenario.  You know what I mean.  Admit it, you only ever visit the Tower of London when you've got foreign guests, don't you?

Here in Lichfield we have a truly magnificent Gospel Book, which as I may have mentioned before, is OLDER THAN THE BOOK OF KELLS.  It's currently on display in the Chapter House alongside its mate, the Lichfield Angel (a Saxon carving, probably from St Chad's tomb chest), and the star items of the Staffordshire Hoard.  Sorry folks--the exhibition has sold out, but if you're quick, you can still catch it at Tamworth Castle (27th Aug--18th Sept).  I believe there are still free tickets left, but you do have to book.

Obviously, I've often seen the St Chad Gospels.  They still get paraded round the cathedral on High Days and holidays.   But I've never really taken the trouble to learn much about them.  Hence today's lecture.  It was delivered by Prof William F Endres, an expert from the University of Kentucky.  Last summer we had a team from Kentucky over here, digitising the Gospel book (i.e. taking lots of  images with very high-tech equipment).  Prof Endres was here to share some of their discoveries.

A long overdue scholarly book on the St Chad Gospels is being planned, which ought to scotch forever the idea that the St Chad Gospels originated in Wales.  And it is to this work you should turn in due course for a proper analysis.  But here are a couple of things which captured my imagination:  the first is the possibility that the scribes who wrote this exquisite text may have been women.  Another is that some of the ornamentation, which appears to be unique to the St Chad Gospel (a twisted rope motif) bears an uncanny resemblance to the filigree work on some of the Staffordshire Hoard items.  And finally, there are hints that the St Chad Gospel may have influenced the style of the Book of Kells.  (Than which it is, of course, OLDER.)

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Dukan Diet--The Final Phase, Stabilisation.

My 100 days of consolidation are up.  I am now entering the final phase: Permanent Stabilisation. 'Go back to eating what you want six days out of seven, while keeping the consolidation foods as your safety base and platform.'

Ta dah!  This is the point on most diets where you think, yippee!  I'm thin!  I've done it and can now eat like a hog.  This makes about as much sense medically as thinking, Yippee, my broken leg has mended, I may now fling myself back down three flights of stairs with impunity!  We know this, but we do it anyway.

This is why diets don't work.  We go back to our old ways, those slippery paths that led us down into the Slough of Obesity, and bingo!  Or perhaps binge-o.  On goes all that weight again, bringing some chums with it.  But the good doctor is on the alert for his ladies who have battled so valiantly, scoffing their oat bran, renouncing escalators, walking 20 minutes every day in their Parisian high heels, eschewing junk, embracing low fat protein faithfully, once a week.  He will not abandon us to the misery of yo-yo dieting for the rest of our lives.  We must continue to obey him.  And here are the 5 things he expects of us in our newly stabilised life:

Actually, I can't be bothered to type it.  Buy the book and look on page 155.  Briefly, eat the sensible food he's trained you to eat, have one pure protein day a week (he says Thursday, but Thursday is karate day for me and I need my energy levels, so I go for Wednesday), and 'Live your life as if lifts and escalators did not exist'.  And the final measure, he assures us 'is simply a treat: you must stick to three tablespoons of oat bran a day for life.'  Yes, yes!  A treat!  (Stockholm syndrome has taken hold of me, I fear.)

But here's the real question, the only question: Does it work?  Here's the answer: Yes, if you stick to the rules.  That's been my experience so far.  I can get into my wedding dress.  I tried yesterday.  Getting out again was more of a challenge, to be honest, partly because of a judo-related arm injury.  I didn't tap out quickly enough when a large bloke was locking my elbow.  Not tapping out (submitting, that is) quickly enough is a form of judo vanity.  Men don't like to tap out if a woman is strangling them.  It dents their pride.  Or else it's an oxygen-deprivation erotic thing.  I must ask.

Anyway.  The other reason is that the dress is a little more snug than it was in 1984.  This is because I am a little more... ooh, what's the word--hour-glassy? densely packed? muscular? fat?--than I was at 22.  I weigh about 8-10 pounds more than I did then.  I suppose I could have aimed lower, but they say, don't they, that after 35 you have to choose between your backside and your face looking good.  For most of us, perhaps especially clergy wives, it's the face that's more on display.  So the face wins.  Don't get too thin, or you'll look scrawny round the wattles.

Still, my new weight has stayed within 3 pounds of my target.  A variation accounted for by the vagaries of being female at this interesting stage of Project Womanhood.  I keep thinking aargh!  It's all piling on again!  But then it comes back down.  I assume that if I carry on following his rules, this will carry on being the case.  Be sensible, don't be a pig.  Keep active.  Eat your oat bran.