I have been spending the last six days and nights by my mother’s bedside. I am much relieved that her final days are comfortable and peaceful. My prayers are with her. The other day she woke with a start and exclaimed, “Everything is so lovely here!” I reassured her that we do try to keep her bedroom nice and comfortable, spick and span. “No, not here! I mean up there,” she said, pointing at the ceiling. “Up there… where I am going… it’s beautiful!” Shivers down my spine. My Lord the Bishop, with a wry smile, then observed that directly above her head was the trap door giving access to the loft, reached by one of those retractable aluminium ladders: “I think your mother has just located the Stairway to Heaven.” Make of it what you will.
But down to the matters in hand and the stories fuelling the gossips of Barchester this week. We’ve had ‘Song for Europe’ for some time past, when aspiring drivellists put doggerel to music to animate the French et al with movement and colour (‘Boom bang-a-bang’ ring any bells?), and now we have ‘Prayer for Europe’, an ecclesiastical palliative for the undecided soul. My Lord the Bishop thinks (and I agree with him) that the continent is in much need of prayer these days, being beset by insane multi-culti philosophies, idiot politicians and an unprecedented invasion by all and sundry (though this latter phenomenon might alleviate the servant problem which vexes Mrs. Beaton so).
Mr. Slope believes the only way to counter these dark forces is to actively promote ‘Muscular Christianity’ and spends much of his spare time at the YMCA, where he has made particular friends with a policeman, soldier, cowboy, construction worker and Apache warrior. It keeps him off the streets. I believe a clear distinction must be drawn between the continent as a whole and the entity that rules from Mordor-am-Brussels. Some accuse the Church of England of taking sides in the coming referendum, but I would argue the text of the prayer does no such thing. No surprise that the Revd. Mr. Vesey Stanhope is worried about his residential status in Italy should Britain vote ‘Leave’, as is his daughter the Signora. Self-interest of course. To this I say ‘Fie!’ Geography dictates we shall always be part of Europe: sanity dictates we get out of the bureaucratic behemoth while we can.
The guest speaker at the Barchester Flat Earth and Pink Unicorn Society’s evening lecture this week was a Mr. E. Miliband, a strangely animated young fellow from London. He warned that should we Brexit on 23rd June the environmental balance of our planet would collapse, icebergs would career down the Thames and the polar caps would melt instantly the vote was counted. Two minutes later he claimed Britain was too small and insignificant to go it alone. (Query: How can something small and insignificant cause catastrophic environmental disaster?). I was rather distracted by the poor man’s teeth, which put me in mind of Easter Island, so I cannot claim to have followed his argument. He was also at pains to deny his party pandered to anti-Semitism, at which a man on the back row in a bilious brown uniform and jack-boots shouted, “Here, here!” Dr. Livingstone, I presumed.
When I heard Frau Merkel was having trouble with her ottoman I immediately dispatched a bottle of fabric conditioner and wire brush which bought mine up a treat. Alas, like Mr. Slope so often does, I had grasped the wrong end of the stick. It seems the Sultan is not honouring his part of the bargain – the one which enabled refugees to be returned to Syria in return for wagon loads of cash and guaranteed open-season on the cultural heritage of Europe – and everyone is so surprised. Perhaps if she had thrown in the title deeds to a couple of Tyrolean goat farms she would have kept him in line. The moral is, I think, read your history books, lock up your daughters and take off the rose-coloured spectacles.
Testing, testing, testing! Those cunning education wallahs in Whitehall have issued a new diktat, rather like Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be tested. Whilst knowledge of the highest mountains and rivers in the Empire might not seem essential for three-year-olds, it can do no harm, and one agrees with the vigorous (and no doubt fragrant) Mrs. Morgan that measures are ‘jolly good things’. At Dr. Wortle’s School (soon to be an academy) where I am one of the managers, we are keen as mustard to embrace the new philosophy – after all, our Latin school motto is best rendered ‘Don’t feed the pig, just weigh it’. The only cloud on the horizon was the unannounced visit of the county inspection team – Ofsod I think they call themselves – led by Dr. Findfawlt, who quizzed me on how we teach Scripture. “It really won’t do, Mrs. Proudie, it lacks detail,” he said, peering down his nose and pointing at the policy document.
“We like to keep paperwork to a bare minimum,” I replied, wondering where this was going and what was wrong with it.
“Well,” he said wearily, there are only three brief statements on it: (1) Christianity is good; (2) Islam is a bit horrid; and (3) Don’t fret about any of the others. It simply isn’t inclusive and might give offence.” The penny suddenly dropped – ever since Mustafa Fatwah joined the Board of Managers he had been sounding off about religion, and as sure as eggs are eggs he must have pointed this out to the inspectors. That man is a Trojan horse! I assured Dr. Findfawlt that the school was willing to make any suitable adjustment required – “How about ‘Jesus is the only way?’” I suggested helpfully. For this I was suspended as a manager – can you credit it, me, a bishop’s wife! I have never been suspended in all my life. Our marriage is not like that.
Goodness! Look at the time! One must fly, for the clock now stands at ten to three and there are hobnobs still for tea. Until next week dear friends, farewell!