Meditation and Reflection

Mrs Proudie's Portrait of the Week: Welby, Whittingdale and the Holy Roman Empire


Mrs Proudie of Barchester has been graciously fellowshipping on this blog for the past six years. Her scintillating wit, eloquence, insight and originality are quite brilliant and far too good to restrict to the comment threads, so henceforth she will have her own weekly diary column – Mrs Proudie’s Portrait of the Week – pondering contemporary ‘events’ (dear boy) which concern her for one reason or another. This debut post is the fruit of a week’s toiling. We’ll see how this goes. Please be courteous and kind to her.


Goodness! Perhaps one should begin by saying ‘Many are called but few are chosen,” (Matthew 22:14) for that has indeed come to pass, thanks to His Grace (though I don’t think this makes me a Call Girl, not at my age). I am invited to gird myself with pen and sharpener, ink and parchment, and dash off a weekly missive – the world as viewed from Barchester. As my Lord the Bishop put it (and I agree with him) who am I to refuse the chance to be the Julie Burchill of Barset?

One feels deeply for poor Archbishop Welby this week, with family skeletons wheeled out of the closet for all to see. Does one ever know one’s father? Does one want to? It might console His (present) Grace to know he is not alone; fresh from the boulevards of Paris, Bertie Stanhope tells a saucy tale concerning President Hollandaise who, having read the pioneering works of the Abbé Mendel on frogs, is convinced he is the offspring of Napoleon Bonaparte. Hardly credible I know… but the continent is another country – they do things differently there. I digress. Archbishop Welby has handled his paternal revelations with dignity and grace, and those who cluck are but foolish virgins.

At Signora Vesey Neroni’s soiree last Saturday the hot topic was the EU – or as we in Barchester prefer to call it, the Holy Roman Empire. In, out, shake it all about. Dire warnings abound; if Britain leaves the sky will fall in, prices will rise, Burnham Wood will come to Dunsinane and nobody will want to speak to us ever again. Now the IMF have waded in we must be on our (La)garde! Signora N. is determined to remain (in Barchester, alas, as much as in Europe), whereas Archdeacon Grantly is for leaving. ‘Ignore the Cassandras,’ he roared above our prattling, ‘we are and have always been a trading nation! We can do it again!’ Such fun. One is grateful to Mr. Cameron for writing to each and every household setting out his case – without it the footman wouldn’t have been able to light the fire.

According to The Jupiter, the Prime Minister is in hot water over certain offshore investments and whether or not tax has been paid and declared. My Lord the Bishop thinks it manufactured outrage, complete stuff and nonsense and that no crime has been committed. I must say I agree. If one cannot trust a Bullingdon Clubber, whom can one trust? As the story unfolds it appears increasingly unwise for anyone to cast the first stone, least of all Comrade ‘Three income streams’ Corbyn of Her Majesty’s (Dis)Loyal Opposition. After 33 years in Parliament Comrade C. admits to having no savings – a true socialist, he can’t be trusted with his own money.

Signora Neroni, an avid reader of penny dreadfuls and other tawdry periodicals, has a fascination for footlights and greasepaint. At tea yesterday she asked for my thoughts on the sudden and unexplained death of David Gest, whose body was found in a room at Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, on Tuesday. Having had little to do with clowns or the big top, I confessed my mind was a blank. ‘Allora!’ exclaimed the Signora, ‘Mr. Gest was not a circus performer, Mrs. P. He was once married to that celebrated chanteuse and Queen of the demi-monde, Liza Minelli, and famous in his own right for shows such as Celebrity Big Brother. Scotland Yard is ‘on the case’. Of course I still had no idea, not being over familiar with the Italian community or indeed a devotee of the electrical magic lantern. I nevertheless expressed sympathy and confidence in Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ ability to sort things out. Well, no man is an island, and one death diminishes us all, so I shall say a silent prayer to St. Jude the Obscure and dispatch a box of hobnobs to the ex-widow.

One of Countess de Courcy’s daughters – Lady Augusta I think – is accompanying the royal tour of India as lady in waiting to HRH. Quite a wheeze using the photogenic Cambridges to prepare the way for re-establishing the Raj – wonder who thought of it? Some Foreign Office Camel Corp wallah no doubt. Lady Augusta reports the Prince is doing his bit to preserve wildlife by shooting it, thus following in the footsteps of his dear papa. But why traipse all that way to see the sub-continent when it has been progressively re-created in England’s dark, satanic mills, according to Mr. Trevor Phillips, the inventor of Islamophobia? He admits it’s all gone horribly wrong – how do you solve a problem like Sharia? Blessed are the penitents. I love a Damascene conversion, even at the eleventh hour, don’t you?

I must confess, dear readers, I am having palpitations and my bosom heaves with indignation! Whilst wet-wiping the gargoyles in the cloisters this morning, I overheard Mr. Slope and Mr. Bunce deep in conversation. To my horror, the former described me to the latter as a ‘dominatrix’! I have stopped Slope’s hobnob ration with immediate effect, and would like to reassure my readers that I have never met Culture Secretary Mr. John Wittingdale in any capacity, least of all with a whip.

Ah, listen… the Cathedral bells chime, time for Evensong, so for now dear hearts, adieu!