A heaven fit for architects and planners, not children

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The Independent Online
I HOPE if you go to church today your service is better than ours was last year. We were in Suffolk for a week, and the beautiful little church just up the estuary from us had a sign announcing a "Family Service" at nine on Easter morning.

So under threat of no Easter eggs, I frogmarched my seven- and eight- year-old stepchildren along the beach to the church, where we took our place at the appointed time, adults on pews and about 30 expectant-looking children sitting cross-legged on the floor.

The vicar looked like William Waldegrave in a cassock and started the service by announcing that he was up from London on holiday, was taking only this one service, and gave the impression that he could not wait to get back to his own much better class of parish.

A three-year-old girl made a peeping noise and the vicar stopped mid- sentence to glare ferociously. He then announced that we should sing a hymn which none of us had heard of, and which it soon became clear was only ever sung by choral students at Clever College, Cambridge. We gamely tried to mutter our way through the complex 16th-century rhythms, but the general effect was of the low moan of an African funeral, observed with disdain by the white-man preacher.

The children were becoming restless with this family service. Would the vicar try to captivate their attention with the story of Christ rising from the dead? Not a bit of it.

"When one passes from the countryside into the wide streets of a country town, one feels at once liberated from the constraints of the narrow hedgerows, at once a feeling of peace envelops one."

The children frown in incomprehension and the adults follow suit. Does this man really get a sense of peace going from quiet country lanes into ruined country towns, with their uniform shops and aimless youths? A small boy gurgles and the vicar frowns but continues: "I have a friend who is an architect ..." ("I bet you do," thinks the congregation in unison) "who specialises in converting Georgian and Victorian houses, and giving them a tremendous feeling of light and space." The children look at me: is this man from a zoo?

"Without God in your life," drones the vicar, "you think you are all right. You think you are happy within your country lane, in your house. But God is like the architect, he brings space to your country town, light to your house."

My stepdaughter whispers, "Can we go?" "I'm afraid not," I reply. My stepson does a somersault into the girl in front. She laughs. A small boy gurgles. Another kills the vicar with a machine-gun noise. The vicar at last finishes and surveys the adults with contempt. Here he was, inspiring their children with the glorious vision of a heaven built by Nash and internally torn to pieces by Richard Rogers, with country town pedestrian walkways and a monstrous award-winning metal Sainsbury's looming over everything. And the stupid adults couldn't keep their idiot children attentive. At the end of the service, he spits out the words: "There will be an egg and spoon race in five minutes." But no one stayed. We all hurried away to reward our small companions with extra Easter eggs for sitting through such rot.

AT THIS time of year, we must spare a thought for two people who are being unjustly persecuted. First, Jonathan Aitken, who is being pilloried for representing British interests abroad. Britain is not much good at manufacturing things any more, except arms and lavatories. Armitage Shanks is still going strong, and we do a cracking trade in weapons to Middle Eastern dictatorships. Mr Aitken should be congratulated for helping to keep Britain Great.

Second, Virginia Bottomley, who knows what's best for the health service. We must hope that in the coming year she is made Secretary of State for Education so she can rationalise the universities. She could amalgamate the very expensive Oxford University with Brunel, and the similarly spendthrift Cambridge could be merged with Essex, where Virginia herself was once a student. Millions would be saved by moving the Cambridge dons from their impossible-to-keep-warm ancient colleges to the beautiful Sixties high- rise blocks of Colchester.

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