Some sins remove you from the guest list. Others just don’t matter

We tend to forget the crimes of people when we really want to meet them.

Share

My friend Mary Killen, who writes the “Dear Mary” etiquette column for The Spectator, received a real chin-stroker in the post this week.

My friend Mary Killen, who writes the “Dear Mary” etiquette column for The Spectator, received a real chin-stroker in the post this week. “Now that Conrad Black is out of prison,” writes her correspondent, “is it acceptable for me to invite him to lunch at my club?”

Anyone who witnessed Lord Black on Newsnight giving Jeremy Paxman the full, maximum-strength, blow-drier treatment (“You’re a fool! A sanctimonious FOOL!”) and threatening to smash his face in might wonder how enthusiastic any club would be to welcome the fuming ex-jailbird to lunch (I pity the waiters); but it raises an important issue. 

Black, like Ms Killen and incidentally myself, was brought up a Catholic. Catholic doctrine is full of the possibility of resurrection and redemption, the grace of God washing your soul clean of sin and all that Papist launderette metaphysics. You can be redeemed and “re-born” as long as you acknowledge your transgressions and are truly sorry for them (though Lord Black doesn’t seem to have the word “contrition” in his lexicon), and you definitely won’t go to hell. Does it work like that in the secular world? 

Convicted felons in America are much more likely than their British counterparts to be allowed back to ordinary life after paying the penalty for their crimes. Americans take a more existentialist view of human potential than we do; they think people should be allowed to try on a personality, like acquiring a new hobby, and if it lands them in jail they should admit they screwed up and then everybody can move on.

Before he became famous, the US writer O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) was convicted for embezzlement and sentenced to prison; it didn’t affect his later sales and his face appeared on a 10 cent stamp. Malcolm X’s political career didn’t suffer because he was once jailed for breaking and entering. 

Here, we pay lip service to the idea that people can be redeemed after they’ve done something wrong and been put away. Our two most high profile ex-jailbirds, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, did their time and reappeared in public life, one to publish his prison diaries, the other to describe how he’d got religion. Archer claimed that the numbers who accepted invitations to his parties hardly shrank after he was released. But neither man has a cat in hell’s chance of political office.

They’re ok, though, to invite for lunch. These men, remember, were both imprisoned for perjury. The British, being skilled at social deception, are more forgiving of liars than they are of financial crooks like Lord Black. A whiff of mendacity about your guest wouldn’t hurt your enjoyment of a meal at the Athenaeum; a whiff of thievery, however, would have everybody checking their wallets.

Not the moment to get stuck...

What’s the best music to have sex to? According to a professor of “music psychology” at London University, the best accompaniment to the midnight rodeo is Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. He conducted a survey of 2,000 music lovers “between 18 and 91”, asking for their recommendations. I can’t help feeling some were pulling his leg. Is there a woman in the universe who’d enjoy making love to the theme from Star Wars (No 20) or to Tom Jones singing “Sex Bomb” (No 19)? Can anyone perform the blanket hornpipe to Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” (No 8) without thinking about drowning? And why listen to music at all when having sex? So much can go wrong.

At university, I lived with a chap called Rob who always stuck Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on while making love to his girlfriend.  Through the wall you could hear, during the climactic track, “Brain Damage”, the needle sticking on the line “And if the dam breaks open many years too soon…”, offering a nagging and unhappy image of premature ejaculation while simultaneously requiring the poor chap to cease what he was doing and change the bloody record.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk Twitter: @JohnHenryWalsh

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings