Richard Ingrams’s Week: So Blair has turned into the trendy clergyman after all

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The Independent Online

Although he has been a Roman Catholic only for a year or so, Tony Blair already feels confident to speak on behalf of millions of what he calls "ordinary Catholics" throughout the world.

Thus in an interview for a gay magazine with The Independent's Johann Hari, Blair takes issue with the Pope's old-fashioned hostility to homosexuals which he says is out of touch with today's forward-looking generation.

Whether they agree with him or not, the church's leaders are unlikely to welcome Blair's highly publicised pontifications on matters religious.

They must be aware that their new convert is in the eyes of the majority of people in this country a discredited figure held personally responsible for the deaths of British servicemen and women following the invasion of Iraq, an operation he justified with a number of patently false statements.

Blair has never once showed the slightest sign of remorse for his actions and continues to insist that he did only what he thought was right. It's hard to see how he reconciles that self- righteous complacency with membership of a church that calls on its followers to confess their failings and make amends. Perhaps Blair would regard such an approach, like the attitude to gays as yet another old-fashioned tradition which means little in the modern world and which ought to be jettisoned. As also the church's teaching that the relentless pursuit of wealth and possessions (as exemplified in Mr and Mrs Blair) is contrary to Christian principles.

For me who spent many happy years helping to portray Blair as a trendy young clergyman as sermonising in the pages of Private Eye, it is quite funny to find him now doing the same sort of thing, only this time for real.

It's a bad time for sloganeering

A single ticket to Heathrow on the Heathrow Express from Paddington will cost you £15 – £1.60 more than it costs me to travel 45 miles to and from London on a travelcard which also covers unlimited travel on buses and the Underground. If you choose to take the expensive £15 route to the airport you may notice that the trains are nowadays all plastered with the logo of the Royal Bank of Scotland complete with the slogan "Make it happen".

Make what happen exactly? They don't say – leaving anyone who thinks about it for more than a second or two that the words are utterly devoid of any meaning. Yet "Make it happen" is the result of many hours of deliberation by highly paid advertising people and the Royal Bank of Scotland will have given them thousands of pounds to come up with this, the final product of their labours.

We now know that the Royal Bank of Scotland is a disastrous enterprise, until recently being run by Sir Fred Goodwin, in my opinion a fantasist with megalomaniac ambitions.

We didn't realise that until quite recently. Even so it might be a helpful exercise in future, when seeking to evaluate any organisations, to look around and see if it is wasting large sums of money on pointless advertising campaigns.

The "Make it happen" slogan on the Heathrow Express is a good example; someone at the bank have approved it. But we, the public, don't really need to know anything more about RBS and its executives. Don't touch them with a barge pole.

Listen for the sounds of spring and all you hear is silence

"If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring," George Orwell once said, "why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia?"

A good point. But we have to face the fact that spring is not what it was. I have traditionally marked the start of spring from the day I first see bees in the crocuses – something that happens towards the end of February.

This year the crocuses were all there on cue but where were the bees? There was not a single one to be seen. Michael McCarthy wrote recently in this paper about missing the traditional sounds of spring, notably the call of the cuckoo, left – the sound which for centuries has heralded the return of spring, inspiring poets and composers. But it can't be heard any more.

On the Berkshire Downs where I live there used to be flocks of peewits in springtime flapping over the fields, making that distinctive cry which gave them their name. They disappeared.

This year I noticed a more significant silence: there were no skylarks. Usually at this season you can hear them almost all day long even if you can't see them. I have been listening, but in vain. The only sound is the sinister whistling of the kites circling over the house like the Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings.

The cuckoo and the skylark between them inspired two of the most famous pieces of English music: Delius's On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. Well, I suppose if we can't hear the birds any more we can still listen to the music. But it's not quite the same.

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