Easter rabbit on Norman's passion

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The Independent Online
In search of spiritual sustenance, I travelled to London for the four days of Easter. These comprise Holy Thursday and Saturday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but not 'Easter' Monday, a forlorn date which has no liturgical significance, except to devotees of St Stanislaus. The Poles might therefore celebrate his feast day with some pretence of respectability, but we seize upon it only as an excuse for skiving off work and normal human intercourse, and that by courtesy of a Victorian Act of Parliament meant to secure the votes of bank clerks.

At St Etheldreda's we had Byrd on Maundy Thursday and the Victoria (contemporary of Shakespeare) Passion on Friday. On Saturday, to the strains of Vaughan Williams and Palestrina, we lit the paschal fire, baptised a baby, renounced the devil and all his works, and celebrated the resurrection of the Lord. On Sunday morning, to round things off, we had Haydn's Nelson Mass, written, I presume, to celebrate the Austro-British alliance against the French evil. It is quite splendid.

On Monday I paid a visit to the Colony Room Club in Soho. No odour of sanctity prevails here; indeed, the late Francis Bacon threatened once to resign his membership if the carpet were replaced (as per instruction of the DHSS), impregnated as it was by many a souvenir of this and that incident and redolent of happy memories.

One comes here in the hope of a little bohemian conversation. Enter Norman Balon, proprietor of the Coach and Horses, who is, in the manner of publicans, checking out the competition. Immediately, he turns the conversation to the subject of supermarkets, with special reference to the new Tesco in Oxford Street, availability of trolley service, how much they charge to take the groceries out to the car, that sort of thing. All join in enthusiastically, some being strong for Safeway, some for Sainsbury, and so on. It is worse than a sermon preached on some abstruse point of doctrine. Are we too old now to generate scandal?

Fortunately not. After half an hour or so the talk switches to ladies' conveniences, provision of. Norman wishes to advertise the fact that he is installing superior facilities in his place, at vast expense, naturally. 'I've always hated seeing women having to queue up for a pee,' says he with deep sincerity. (We are, of course, astounded by this revelation. You can know someone for years and never suspect what charitable instinct lurks beneath an apparently indifferent exterior.)

'I think it's a bloody disgrace,' adds Norman forcibly, and I am reminded of Flann O'Brien's project for mobile ladies' loos, also generated by humanitarian instinct, to be conveyed around Dublin on the then existing tramlines.

Thence the conversation meanders, via the more familiar subject of venereal diseases, to the recent conception of a child upon a tombstone in St Ann's churchyard. Will the child, if told of the circumstances of its conception, feel embarrassment, we are invited to speculate. 'It will be mortified, more likely,' I snarl, 'to discover that its parents met in the Coach and Horses.'

IT IS difficult to avoid theology at this time of year. We take a particular interest in it in Ireland, most considering themselves to be expert on the subject, as of birthright. Many, of course, are mistaken. I found myself seated, at one of Oliver Caffrey's luncheons in Kildare last week, next to a delectable creature who expressed a desire to venture into the ecclesiastical business. She had her eye on a property in Wicklow, she told me, which particularly appealed to her because contained in its grounds was a disused medieval chapel. She wished to restore it to its original function.

I expressed the heartiest approbation. One's first instinct would be to do up such a place, if sufficiently remote from the main house, as a residence in which to deposit unruly or malodorous guests; how much better to rededicate it to its true purpose; and how did she intend going about it? 'I am going to have the Latin Mass said in it,' she declared.

'Excellent,' said I. 'Tridentine or post-Vatican II? In either case, of course, you will need permission of the bishop. Have you sought it?'

'I don't need permission from a bishop,' said she blithely. 'I'm a Protestant.'

I confess I was momentarily taken aback. 'You will still need a priest,' I reminded her.

'I have a priest,' she said. 'He's raring to go.'

She attacked her roast beef while I concentrated my gaze on the rain-lashed ornamental gardens out the window. 'I fear,' I murmured, 'that if he sings the Latin Mass, Tridentine or otherwise, without permission of his bishop, even in these enlightened times, he will soon cease to be a priest.'

She remained unfazed. There is a lot of freelance religion about these days. I know many thousands are coming over to Holy Mother Church and I wish them well (we are not the Garrick Club); still, many do not anticipate the need for instruction. It is not as easy as it sounds. The rewards are immeasurably greater than those of entry into any club (even the Chelsea Arts), but the possibility of being blackballed is commensurate.

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