Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years, indeed millennia. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, life isn’t always fair, and maybe it was my fault. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned, but overbearing, education regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, (oh, dear, is a simple kiss to blame?) teenagers suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch and a teacher actually fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. I once had to physically restrain an unruly student who attempted to headbutt me. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job they had themselves failed to do in disciplining their unruly children and the result is anarchy in so many classrooms. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer paracetamol, sun lotion or plaster to a pupil, but could not inform the parents when a pupil became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became not just contraband, but virtually illegal. Churches became businesses with slick advertising and good dentition and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home, but the burglar could sue you for assault because you protected yourself and your own. Firing a weapon in defence is, it seems, a criminal act. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realise that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap and was promptly awarded a huge financial settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion, his daughter, Responsibility and his son, Respect. He is survived by three stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else is to Blame, and I’m A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realised that he was gone. They played The Parting Glass at the ceremony. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

A Gentleman’s Game

I don’t normally write about sport. The English, minus the Agincourt archers, are to do battle today for the World Cup in a game which one famous, sadly deceased, journalist once described as ” the game you invented and the rest of the world whips you at”.

But, not today. The Kiwis are out for blood in the final and we shall see in a few hours’ time whether they have the bowels to see off the England squad and get their hands on the Cup.

Cricket, unlike baseball, is a gentleman’s game. Etonians play it well – I was in the First XI the day we beat them through sheer Midlands brutality, facing their fastest men. I was a nasty spin bowler and caught their captain out  at mid-on with an incredibly lucky catch, overarching and backward. I still remember the thud as I hit the ground.

Sport is like war. It’s strange how we have replaced our thirst for battle with a thirst for victory in the arena. But, rightly so. There are no widows or orphans, No fire, demolitions or rape. Even chess, the most benign of conflicts, rouses passion in its adherents .Yet there is never blood on the chessboard,  Queen’s Indian defence notwithstanding.

It may be that even the Australians, the semifinal losers, will gather in Melbourne bars to see if the  bastard colonials get their asses’ whipped and the pride of the Pacific will be restored.

On the obverse side of the coin, today is Juillet Quatorze when French armed forces parade down the Champs Elysées, the final march being from the Légion Entrangère. They have to be last because the pace of their march is slower than all the others. Here, as of now, there is thunder, sheet lightning, as if the horses of the gods are girding for battle. Quite the metaphor. As if the gods are at war.

I used to love the fireworks. On a hilltop in St Germain, we could see the displays from at least seven different locations, including the spectacular one on the Champ de Mars where half a million gather.

I miss Paris.

Back to the Future

Some memories from long ago, which is, of course  the old man’s privilege, surfaced today. But the memory was so sharp, so vivid, so as if yesterday, It made me wonder. A friend mentioned Hildegard of Bingen – I haven’t given thought to her for half a generation – I wanted to remind him of the Kabbala, but, I did not. A rabbi whom I have met might do better. Another friend of a friend, a New Yorker whom I met in Jerusalem  again just popped her head above the parapet, reminding me of Susan, whom I loved, and she loved me. All rather maudlin, but I was reminded of the fact that we ourselves live in the chronos, not the kairos – much as we might like it to be different.

I took a group once to Westminster Central Hall to hear a man called John Wimber, who spoke for ten minutes, sat down at the piano-he used to play for the Righteous Brothers – and the fire fell – this bit is just for those who know – but the memory in massive detail remained with me.

Allow me.

Insects and Grass

Cave paintings, Chauvet, France about 20,000 years old

A musing, a voyage of the imagination. Take it with me if you will. Suspending disbelief, let’s just suppose that without speculating on the reasons, every human being on planet Earth no longer existed. In every city, on every continent, every island, beach resort, town, village, hamlet and farm all that human activity just…stopped. No more brand loyalty, political posturing, buffoonery, warfare, enslavement. Nothing.

Climate is clearly shifting and in so doing is changing our demographics, our thinking, our sense of unease. A carboniferous change, man – made, or not, is the presumed cause and mankind with Promethean hubris seems determined to try to stop it. Today, Parisians have received orange weather warnings; Lyon has a projected temperature of over 40 Celsius. Severe storms are projected in my little corner of Heaven; air conditioner is working overtime, the air outside suffocating. A recent visit to Kuwait, searing and inhospitable, reminded me of how much worse it might get. An even more recent foray, hoping to miss the storm and pay the bills – ten seconds in torrential near-tropical rain plus flash flooding, winds enough to tear any umbrellas foolish enough to have been opened to shreds and branches littering the streets like slain giants, right here at home.

One hour later, all is sweetness and light – there’s a metaphor here for those who follow British politics – no need necessarily to call the police if you happen to hear what my late wife called a “wee domestic”.

Let’s just pretend that as a result, the species Homo Sapiens was unable to protect its existence and simply faded away into obscurity by some indeterminate mechanism. All our culture only exists as artefact, slowly decaying like ancient cave paintings.

We share this fragile little blue-green space with perhaps just under nine million different life-forms, according to an exhaustive study undertaken some eight years ago; apparently the most accurate estimate yet of life on Earth. Three-quarters of them, mostly insects, inhabit the 30%, which is dry land. Species have become extinct before we’ve even heard of them. Over nine-tenths of marine species have yet to be classified. Most things stay out of our way and the ones that either can’t or don’t are confronted with speciocide, butchery or enslavement. If we leave, what will happen to them? When we’re gone, will Nature heave a sigh of relief and set about creating a new republic of insects and grass? And, how long will it take for every trace of our existence to be obliterated from the Earth, to go back to Eden when the sun was high in the heavens on the fifth day?

Up High

When I lived in Paris, I sat in little pavement cafés – un flâneur – a strolling watcher. Here, up high – the traffic is lighter, the people politer but, they come and they go…

From my balcony, the world passes.

Early morning. Dark skinned ladies dressed in bright green sweep the streets with old-fashioned straw brooms, grimly picking up the detritus of the night, spent cigarettes, wrappers, leaves and whatever has been abandoned from clandestine assignations in the little park opposite.

Later,  large women fed on a diet rich in fat, carrying heavy bags of shopping, ignore the pedestrian crossings and march on sturdy shoes across the roads – the cars mostly stop to let them pass. Young girls from the art school twitter like starlings, emulating their avian sisters who wheel and scream overhead like fighter pilots, curving so close to the building I can hear the rush of air.

Gym-buff boys in Nike T shirts swagger arrogantly, eyeing up the Russian girls with their baby blue eyes.

The old man with the shopping trolley – his lameness clearly visible, peers myopically, trying to get himself and his meagre possessions to wherever he takes his afternoon nap. The fat gipsy woman, eyes vacant but wearing a clean white skirt, sits in the shade, clutching coffee, accepting a few coins.

A wedding party, men stiff in suits and bow ties, the women in gloriously flowered dresses, bedecked with gold, spill out on to the sidewalk from the pretty church across the street.

As night falls, the fat black Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches growl menacingly in reluctant obedience to the traffic lights.

Finally, late, very late, the streets are as quiet as a mausoleum – the odd trickling taxi – yet the incongruous sight of a young couple, backpacked, yet pushing a pram with a spaniel puppy  who sniffs the trees curiously, tethered on an extensible leash, seem in no hurry to find their way home.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

 

Outliers

I spend most of my time alone. This gives me endless opportunity to think, especially late at night when the ideas come. It’s never a bad thing to listen to people you don’t agree with; iron sharpens iron, after all. So, I have found myself listening to and watching everything from Pope Francis, Bethel TV, and its detractors,  Nadia Bolz-Weber and hers, Derek Prince, Henri Nouwen, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Fr Séan O’Leaoire….it’s a long, long list. Each of the above is worth a look – it’s a smorgasbord worth sampling. One problem with that is that in so doing, I am intellectually forced to confront and wrestle with a multitude of different opinions, mentally incinerated in a firework display of my own ignorance. I think we’re quite binary, monochromatic little creatures at heart, we like the idea of coming down on one side of the line or the other. Chaos – in the sense of unpredictability – and uncertainty bother us, because we have to navigate a minefield of different notions, apparent certainties, gut instinct and other people’s views. Sometimes these views are expressed with great force; why do preachers feel the need to shout at their congregations, imams wave their arms and thunder at the worshippers, and so on?  It is because, at heart, they believe that they have an obligation to try to convince people that they are right, and thus, by definition, others are not and they have a responsibility to correct the errors of the ways of those less ‘woke’ than they are. Shouting just reinforces the message.

The Age of Reason, the Enlightenment was a quantum leap, but it had one fatal flaw, in that it supposed that Reason was man’s highest, most important and ultimately final achievement, to the extent that it trumped all other cards in the pack. The spiritual, the mystical quietly took a back seat and, with breathtaking hubris, the drivers of Reason floored the accelerator, taking us all with them into a brave, new, uncertain world. Reason brought scientific and mathematical advancement – in our day, growing exponentially. When I was at university, the Standard Model, the bedrock of modern physics was a speculative gleam in most researchers’ eyes. But, Reason has a ceiling, beyond which we seem unable to travel – it suggests that there is no such thing as the Unknowable and by dint of study, logical application and research, we will ultimately overcome any trivial obstacles that hinder. Our knowledge is such that we now know – but don’t understand – that eighty-five percent of the Universe as we perceive it is made up of dark matter and its younger sibling, dark energy. Such concepts are, at present, beyond reason. I asked myself the question – will we ever understand the ‘how’ of the universe, in all its totality? I think the answer is ‘perhaps’  – or better – ‘perhaps not’. The goal is unattainable as of now, the twilight in which we stumble around isn’t bright enough to distinguish between woods and trees. Furthermore, if we don’t understand the ‘how’, comprehension of the ‘why’ is light years away.

I’m not much of a belonger, whether it be to the golf club or to a congregation. In a statistical sense, I’m an outlier – the graph misses me out. I asked myself why. Perhaps it’s because if I join such a group, there are rules, some of which are irksome, some quite unnecessary. Some require special clothing, like priests, Hassidic Jews or the Amish, some require abstinence from certain foods, some require or at least encourage specific patterns of hehaviour (I used to call them ‘spiritual farmyard noises’). Being a Jew has 613 of them, being a ‘Christian’ has rather fewer. This isn’t to suggest that I’m an anarchist – for whom rules are irrelevant – of course not. Societal groups need rules, some written but most not, in order for people to live harmoniously together and act in such a way that benefits the majority. Another reason might be that I don’t really want to share; the concept of community both fascinates and appals me. I’m an only child – we don’t share – which applies to our opinions as well as our material goods. I was once asked by an evangelical friend “what was God doing in my life”, to which I would have loved to reply “none of your business”, but out of some misplaced sense of conformity, I mumbled something unintelligible and he went away, safe in the knowledge that he had done his Christian duty.

My copy of the Jewish Study Bible was left in France and a while ago, I replaced it. In reading, I discovered how little I really knew about the historical background of the faith that has sustained me for so many years and why pale Jewish scholars scurry about in Mea She’arim, eyes weak with endless hours of study. Hebrew words have different meanings and the layers, like onion skins, peel away so very gradually. Why bother? If you think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, it’s time to choose an alternative destination and a better mode of transport.

 

Waiving the Rules

 

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Mermaids were a favourite up front.

Somebody living in the People’s Republic of Cloud Cuckoo Land has objected to the fact that ships are referred to as “she”. Because it’s sexist, innit. In fact, the English language gets the word “ship” from the Middle High German “schiff”,  a neuter noun and the feminine designation, lost in the mists of antiquity, was perhaps derived originally from the idea that a ship was a motherly place of safety for those in peril on the sea. Weathering the storm, binding the restless wave and whatnot. This romantic tradition is changing. Since 2002, Lloyd’s List, stuffed to the gunwhales with actuaries who found accountancy too exciting and which began reporting shipping news in 1734, has referred to all vessels as “it” and many news sources have adopted this new convention.

Happily, most mariners have not.

It’s a wee bit sad as little snowflakes whimper when gender neutral identity is put before common sense. It was thus immensely cheering to catch a glimpse the other day of a piece in the Royal Navy News, the staple read of the jolly Jack Tar and having the useful secondary function of being of some use in the bathroom afterwards.

With no apology to the anonymous seafarer who wrote it, I have plagiarised it shamelessly and tidied up the grammar, spelling and punctuation, while adding a few clips and snippets of my own.

The Royal Navy is proud of its new fleet of Type 45 destroyers. Having initially named the first two ships HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless, the Naming Committee has, after intense pressure from Brussels , renamed them HMS Cautious and HMS Prudence. The next five ships are to be named HMS Empathy, HMS Circumspect, HMS Nervous, HMS Timorous and HMS Apologist. Costing £850 million each, they meet the needs of the 21st century and comply with the very latest employment, equality, health & safety and human rights laws. The new user-friendly crow’s nest comes equipped with wheelchair access. Live ammunition has been replaced with paintballs to reduce the risk of anyone getting hurt and to cut down on the number of compensation claims. Stress counsellors and lawyers will be on duty twenty-four hours a day and each ship will have its own on-board industrial tribunal. The crew will be 50/50 men and women, carefully balanced in accordance with the latest Home Office directives on race, gender, sexual orientation and disability. Sailors will only have to work a maximum of 37 hours a week in line with Brussels Health & Safety rules, including during wartime. All the vessels will be equipped with a maternity ward and nursery, situated on the same deck as the LGBTQ Disco, open every night, cross-dressing optional. Tobacco will be banned throughout the ship, but cannabis will be allowed in the wardroom and messes. The Royal Navy is eager to shed its traditional reputation for “rum, sodomy and the lash”; the rum ration is to be replaced by sparkling water from a reputable English spring. Saluting officers is to be abolished because it is elitist and is to be replaced by the more informal, “Hello Sailor”. All information on notice boards will be printed in thirty-seven different languages as well as Braille. Elevators will all be equipped with a Shabbat button and all food on board is both kosher and halal. Crew will now no longer be required to ask permission to grow beards or moustaches; this rule applies equally to women crew members. The MoD is working on a new “non-specific” flag because the White Ensign is considered to be offensive to ethnic minorities. The newly renamed HMS Cautious is due to be commissioned soon in a ceremony where Captain al-Hook from the Finsbury Park Mosque will break a petrol bomb over her bow. She will gently glide into the water as the Royal Marines Band plays “In the Navy” by the Village People. Her first deployment will be to escort boat loads of illegal immigrants across the Channel to beaches on England’s south coast. The Prime Minister said, “While these ships reflect the very latest in modern thinking, they are also capable of being upgraded to comply with any new legislation coming out of Brussels .” Her (or should it be ‘their’) final words were, “Britannia waives the rules.”

And, finally:

Kirk: ‘Maintain warp 9, Mr Sulu.’

Scotty: ‘I’ve given her all she’s got, Captain, an’ I cannae give her no more.’

The Blizzard of Aaahs

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Extinction Rebellion’s ‘die-in’ at the Natural History Museum, London, watched over by a blue whale named “Hope”.

The whole of the Western world’s attention has been focused on a sixteen year old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg. She suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of mild autism; one in every thousand worldwide. In common with other autistic people, those with Asperger’s have difficulty reading other people and are frequently perceived as socially awkward and prefer repetitive behaviour and routines, which can be difficult to change.  However, they may, like Greta, see positives in having, as she puts it, a ‘differently wired brain’. They often have intense and highly-focused interests, and find that pursuing them becomes fundamental to their wellbeing and happiness. This said, she’s an absolutely stellar candidate to spearhead a movement like Extinction Rebellion the protest movement that brought half of London to a standstill last weekend and the loss of billions to local commerce since its inception in November 2018. Whoever thought the name up is worthy of a job in Madison Avenue. The apocalyptic, precipitous first word is beautifully matched with the second – a magnet for disaffected youth, who want to tear down existing structures but aren’t quite sure yet, being a little bit undereducated, what to replace them with. She has been compared, unrealistically, to Malala Yousafzai, the campaigner for female education who was recruited by BBC Urdu at her mother’s instigation, to write an anonymous blog as an eleven year old living in fear in the Swat valley. Subsequently, she was shot in the head by the Taliban, won the Nobel Peace Prize and a place at Oxford. Their only superficial point of similarity is that they have both suffered as a result-in one case, of a genetic and environmental disability -the other from physical trauma.

Greta has been fêted around the world in the eight months since she started skipping school each Friday to protest in Stockholm. I asked myself ‘what if I had done that?’ I once skipped school and got caught. I had to mow my housemaster’s lawn every week for six weeks and I didn’t get to start an anti-lawnmower protest movement or a petition to ‘leave the poor grass alone’. She met the Pope last week and has addressed the European parliament and the World Economic Forum in Davos. She met a fistful of British MPs who were mightily impressed, the significant absentee being the PM who was in a Cabinet meeting. Apparently, she travels by train whenever she can, to reduce her own (quite modest) carbon footprint. Mr Jeremy Corbyn fawned avuncularly over her, such was his glee at finding someone of sixteen who might be capable of voting for him – he wants to give it to all of them, it seems. Had I been given the vote at sixteen and I took the trouble to exercise my franchise, I think I might well have voted for the lady with nice breasts or the man in the top hat belonging to the Monster Raving Loony party.

The serious point to make here is that both girls’ popularity has been developed and fuelled by the Great Satan of our times, the barnacle of Social Media which has attached itself to the ship of a third or more of the planet. It warrants capital letters because it is as much of a demigod as Diana of the Ephesians. Out of a tiny acorn, a mighty oak can grow with bewildering speed and wizardry, in spite of the fact that it relies upon a simple but effective logical fallacy, the more people get behind an idea, the more righteous the idea becomes; a blizzard of affirmative likes, emojis and“aaahs”. The Nazis used it to considerable effect; the difference being that propaganda is a wilful child in the hands of people who  have no idea of its power, whereas the Nazis knew exactly what they were doing.

In 2016, The UK held a referendum on whether to leave the EU, as everybody in the world who hasn’t been living under a rock, knows. The Vote Leave campaign won, not by reasoned debate, not by gentle explanation, not even by spurious and quite misleading financial incentives but by a social media campaign, deliberately orchestrated by someone paid to do it, the political strategist Dominic Cummings, brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie “The Uncivil War”. The result tipped Leave into the winners’ enclosure and the rest, all muddle, recrimination and plot is still with us.

Yes. Of course we all need to be aware of as many facts as we have at our disposal to deal with climate change – if it is possible. Of course, we applaud activists who campaign for education for all; it is after all, a basic human right to have access to educational material. What is manifestly not right is the cynical manipulation of quite worthy issues in cyberspace to snowball them into vast, unstoppable behemoths of social and political unrest. Big Brother is watching you and pushing the snowball down the hill.

Sursum Corda

Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 01.23.04I’m not usually much moved, or even much impressed by ritual. The effeminate clothing of cardinals hiding their hypocrisy in plain sight, with theatre, incense and mood music to manipulate the emotional waves on which we all sometimes reluctantly ride, is not, as the Russians might say, my ‘glass of tea’.

I don’t much do happy-clappy. Not any more. I don’t do Calvinistic holiness preaching which is tantamount to a sin management program where one emerges as if a flail has been applied to the soul. I don’t do whiter than white, beaming profiteers with Gulfstream jets and a nice line in collective hysteria.

Then there is Pesach – not in a vernacular sense, as in ‘pass over’ but ‘to have compassion’, or, perhaps, ‘the sacrifice of mercy’ having stark, inescapable parallels with the Easter narrative in the Gospels.

This I rather think I do do.

There are as many Haggadot or stories told (the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of Pesach including a narrative of the Exodus) as leaves on a tree. Yet, despite many creative differences, the overarching principle of deliverance and salvation is gripping, so much so that the story is commanded  to be passed down from generation to generation. There is even a section in the Haggadah prayers which enjoins the participants to ‘lift up their souls’ almost a Sursum Corda, and having an almost identical meaning – a cry of encouragement to escape the surly bonds of earth and reach for a mystical space beyond reason or comprehension, flying with the wings of a dove.

No, there is no escape – we who find ourselves reluctantly grafted may not care much for lamb and bitter herbs or for the ruinous effect of fresh blood on our beautiful mahogany doorposts and lintel but the story of our redemption and the feast of unleavened bread is inextricably intertwined in memory and tradition, opening doors to the sacred.

Ten years ago, I wrote this:

“Throughout civilisation, people have explored ways to experience the sacred, the ‘other’. Some have followed Huxley’s exploration of mind-expanding drugs, no matter how dangerous it is, Christians sometimes go to church no matter how tedious it is, Hindus plunge into the Ganges no matter how ghastly, overcrowded and foul it is, Muslims do the Hajj to Mecca no matter how far away and expensive it is.

“So it is that monks kneel and chant, that Jews eat a Pesach meal, Polynesians dance, and Quakers sit still.” writes Joseph Martos in “Doors to the Sacred”. Trivial locations, activities, ‘things’, yet all can be sacramental, symbols of something else, mysterious and hidden, yet waiting to be revealed, out of which flows a sense of the sacred.”

Electing to find a way to the quiet, amidst every howling wind that throws us around as if in a frail boat about to capsize requires both courage and humility. Courage because stepping into the unknown is perilous and humility because in so doing, we lay aside our own small ambitions and again see through the eyes of a child, one who asks “why is this night not like other nights?’

Chag Pesach sameach and a happy Easter to any who stumble across this, believer, pagan or agnostic. It makes no difference either to me, or to God, wherever you may find him since, paraphrasing Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, it is ‘the jagged edges not the smoothly sanded shiny bits of our humanity is what connects us to God and to one another.’

 

Paris Burning

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 01.57.08Eight hundred and fifty years ago, a building was commissioned on the Ile de la Cité in the IVth arrondissement, the island jutting out into the Seine like the prow of a boat, with the marshland, artisan shops and markets of Le Marais to the north and the fledgling University of Paris on what is now the Left Bank.  It took a hundred years to build her. She survived desecration during the Revolution, a  Nazi plan to destroy her during WW2 and she was damaged by stray bullets during the liberation of Paris in the summer of 1944. Her twin towers, the calves of a giant, have stood guard for centuries.

She is home to Emmanuel, a gigantic medieval bell weighing in at over 13,000 kg, three massive thirteenth century rose windows on three sides and an organ of incomparable beauty with over eight thousand pipes. The great west entrance shows the Last Judgement, sinners transported into hell and the righteous to heaven. All around were visual messages for illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who did not follow the teachings of the church.

On April 15th 2019, during Holy Week, she burned.

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 01.53.15The wooden ceiling  and spire collapsed, folding gracefully like a mournful ballerina into the nave. The crown of thorns relic, the Roman nail and the splinter from the Cross were saved, as was the cope of St Louis – the saintly king who set out from Poissy  for the Crusades.

The French journalist and historian Franck Ferrand wrote in ‘Le Parisien’:

Notre-Dame, c’est la paroisse de la France, la paroisse mère de Paris. Elle est à l’épicentre de toute notre histoire. C’est là que tout se passe et au-delà du symbole religieux, c’est un symbole de civilisation. Lors de chaque événement national, comme la Libération, c’est à Notre-Dame que le ‘Te Deum’ est chanté. Voir flamber Notre-Dame, c’est toucher la France en ce qu’elle a de plus sacré, de plus universel. C’est d’abord le chef d’oeuvre gothique de notre pays.”

“Notre-Dame is the parish of France, the mother of the parish of Paris. She is at the epicentre of our entire history. This is where everything happens and beyond (all) the religious symbolism, she is a symbol of civilisation. At every national event, such as the Liberation, it is at Notre Dame that the “Te Deum” is sung. Seeing Our Lady ablaze is touching France in that she is (the) most sacred, most universal (symbol) It is the pre-eminent Gothic masterpiece of our country.”

Paris holds a special place for me. Wandering its streets, listening to the thrumming engine of the city, finding quiet, unadopted corners far from madding crowds, the unique smell of the Métro, the grandeur of Haussmann…

I have spent many hours peeping around serendipitous corners, finding little parks where flowers bloom in spring and eating bavette saignante at the tiny, family-owned restaurant a stone’s throw from Place Vendôme.

To witness the media frenzy as the world watched the destruction of her beating heart is ineffably sad. People sang the “Ave“, some, perhaps many, quietly weeping.

This image reminded me of the morning in November 1940 after German bombing destroyed St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry. An unknown man found two charred beams in the shape of a cross in the smoking rubble and he bound them together. It now forms the altarpiece of the ruins. I was married there.

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Yet all is not lost. The roof may be gone, but the towers survive and the glory of the latter will undoubtedly be greater than the former.

This, in conclusion, an excerpt from Choruses from ‘The Rock’, by T S Eliot.

“I have loved the beauty of Thy House, the peace of Thy sanctuary,
I have swept the floors and garnished the altars.
Where there is no Temple there shall be no homes,
Though you have shelters and institutions,
Precarious lodgings while the rent is paid,
Subsiding basements where the rat breeds
Or sanitary dwellings with numbered doors
Or a house a little better than your neighbor’s;
When the Stranger says: ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”