The Church's grey men are out of touch


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The Independent Online

Repent isn't a word we use much. It's not as fashionable as "sorry", that devalued bit of emotional sticking plaster trotted out by everyone from Tony Blair to David Cameron when they want to win a few electoral brownie points. Repentance suggests that a sin has been committed in the first place, not an act of aggression like a war waged on a lie that can be tidied away with an elaborate apology. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, is a verbose fellow who likes to air his thoughts on a daily basis. He's not a neat and tidy spiritual leader, more an unfocused work in progress. Should a beleaguered church with a declining membership in the UK be led by a chap who publicly says he's thinking through divisive issues like same-sex marriage? Or should he man up, be brave, and offer unequivocal spiritual guidance even though it risks losing traditional members?

Last week, Dr Welby (who belonged to the evangelical wing of the Church) told an audience of born-again Christians that they must "repent" over the way the church has treated gay people. He declared that most people under 35 viewed such attitudes as offensive, on a par with racism: "The Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia... and we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong." Welby voted against same-sex marriage in the Lords, and when younger, opposed homosexuals being allowed to adopt children. He says his mind is "not yet clear" on the issue of gay marriage, and he struggles with conflicting thoughts.

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall thinks the Archbishop is hypocritical: the Church holds services for pets, but still refuses to bless the long-term partnerships of same-sex couples. What the Church of England needs is a clear direction, not a load of woolly waffle about "repentance". By the way, those under 35 aren't "a younger generation", but a huge section of the population, people with children, partners, homes, jobs and responsibilities.

The Church is run by a bunch of grey men in fancy costumes: look at any picture of the Synod and weep. They fail to represent modern Britain in any meaningful way. Welby says he wants Christians to focus less on what they are against, but sometimes in life I find that really useful. I am profoundly against inequality in any shape or form – so I find a Christian leader's refusal to accept gay marriage repugnant.

The Church must adapt to a changing society. This is not a sign of weakness, but of strength, otherwise it is shrinking its horizons, focusing on a literal interpretation of the Bible and refusing access to men and women because of their sexual orientation. Jesus would have been appalled.

Big babies

I am not that interested in the state of Michael Douglas's marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones, but it was exciting to see a real star dining in the same restaurant as me in Nice on Tuesday. His portrayal of Liberace in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra was riveting – easily one of my cinematic highlights of the year, and it's depressing that American studios are so cowardly this film didn't get a cinematic release there, so denying him the Oscar he deserves.

He was wearing a white linen suit, dining with five young ladies he didn't appear to know, a beacon of elegance, unlike most of the men encountered on the Croisette. Holidays and warm weather turn men into giant babies, in oversized T-shirts, baggy shorts and clompy trainers, the kind of kit chosen by a boy of 10. Cameron was the perfect example: thank goodness he ditched the Mickey Mouse towel and put a suit on when he returned to London to lead the debate on Syria. Sadly, most men can't do leisurewear. They've been infantilised in the name of fashion.

Hot dinners

Against all the odds, the woman who refused to mould her mash and stack her veg in a pyramid (me) has made it through to the MasterChef finals! Thanks for all your supportive texts, tweets and emails. From Wednesday on BBC1, I face some demanding culinary challenges from John Torode and Gregg Wallace, designed to test my short temper to the max. If you thought the 150 tuile baskets I baked for a dinner in Cambridge were difficult, wait for the complicated cuisine some top London chefs foist on me in the coming days. Ever tried to coat frozen mousse on sticks with hot chocolate? A recipe for disaster.

Moving up

Rundown estates of bungalows surround our shabbier seaside towns, unloved and hard to sell. With names like Zephyr Avenue and Zodiac Close, they sum up the aspirations of working-class 1950s Britain. In 1986, more than 27,000 bungalows were built, but by 2008 only 300 were constructed. The planning minister, Nick Boles, has come up with another of his big "ideas" (ie, a feeble attempt to garner some headlines during the summer recess), claiming that bungalows make perfect housing for an ageing population, and Eric Pickles's department has published new rules ordering councils to build homes that are suitable for pensioners with limited mobility.

Bungalows are the worst answer to our changing demographics. These colonial imports take up a lot of land, with gardens front and back and garages to the side, and the traditional design is more suited to small families if they are properly converted, with a new bedroom in the roof space. Councils should be snapping up existing bungalows, as they are undervalued, and modernising them – a cheap way of cutting housing lists. We can't afford to commission more of this kind of housing in the future; land is too precious. Older people seek community and friendship, not a little detached house that increases their isolation. They could live on the ground floors of new, low-rise garden developments, with accommodation for single people and essential workers upstairs. Integrate young and old, and give them communal spaces such as laundry rooms, gyms, village halls, green spaces and allotments to share. But don't build colonial bungalows!

Dressing down

New mum goes to Waitrose, buys two pizzas and a couple of bottles of wine. Hold the front page. I wear something with pockets for my keys, cards and list (usually lost by the fruit section) for a trip to a supermarket, but the fashion police have decided that Kate was wearing an expensive Ralph Lauren striped top, popping to Waitrose in Anglesey. That Breton look is standard high street attire, but our future queen is doomed to have a swanky label attached to any T-shirt she grabs for a quick shopping trip. Last Friday, she made an unannounced visit to the start of an ultra-marathon on Anglesey, and once again every aspect of her wardrobe came under the microscope. Have we learnt nothing from the Diana disaster?