Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

As a political scandal rolls on, people always seem to fasten on the wrong reason why the minister concerned should resign. It is surely good news that John Prescott and his team were playing croquet at Dorneywood on a Thursday afternoon. What has happened to our traditional admiration for finishing the game and beating the Spaniards too? Admittedly, Mr Prescott is not taking on any latter-day Spaniards, and his aides made everything worse by saying that their game was constantly broken into by mobile telephone calls, important emails and other rubbish. But the fact that he can be relatively out of mischief for an hour or two is to be applauded.

Trouble only starts with John Prescott when he tries to do anything. He has no useful role in the constitution since, to adapt Bagehot's famous distinction, he is neither dignified nor efficient; but if he has his uses in harmonising No. 10 and No. 11, I don't think we should begrudge the £800,000 a year. Public patience seems exhausted, though. The croquet is a metaphor for something we no longer like. In Alice in Wonderland, the heroine finds herself having to play croquet under the shadow of the frightening Queen of Hearts (who looks a bit like Mr Prescott), using a flamingo as a mallet and a hedgehog as a ball: '"I don't think they play at all fairly, " Alice began in a complaining tone, "and they all quarrel so dreadfully one ca'n't hear oneself speak. . .".'

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. The lesson from Acts records the astonishing scene in Jerusalem when the apostles, though Galileans, started to speak 'with other tongues', using the languages of the Jews who lived in the city 'who came out of every nation under heaven'. These included 'Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene. . . '. The boundaries of the various places named were fluid, but Medes, Parthians and Elamites spread over much of what is now Iran; Phrygia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia and Pontus roughly correspond with modern Turkey, and Mesopotamia with Iraq. It is sobering to think that, today, no Christians living in these places would be wholly safe (though the situation in Turkey is not appalling). Even moderate Arab states, like Egypt, where the Coptic Church is having a very rough time, are fierce in their persecution of Christians.

So, increasingly, are the Palestinian Muslims.

As for Jews, in almost all the places mentioned in Acts, they are far more threatened than they were 2,000 years ago.

The Revd Lynda Barley, the 'head of research and statistics' for the Archbishops' Council (Church of England), says that the roadside shrines erected to people killed in car accidents show that we have recovered our mediaeval preference for expressing ourselves in images rather than words: 'Faith is bubbling under the surface of modern-day Britain, ' she thinks. She may be right, and there is certainly something about these shrines which is touching. But it always seems a pity to me that the bunches of flowers stay wrapped in their non-mediaeval cellophane. Instead of decaying naturally, they deliquesce in their bags, a sad, modern sight.

Last week I attended a surreal occasion at the British Library. The Newspaper Publishers Association had organised a gripping exhibition for their centenary of 100 years of front pages, and the viewers of Newsnight voted the Daily Telegraph the winner for its coverage of 11 September 2001, beating among others the Sun's 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster'. …

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