In Which Dominic Goes to Durham…

One of the symptoms of caste identity in United Kingdom society is innate suspicion of people with names like Dominic.

By their arrogance shall we know them, we of the Trevor, Fred and Bill world; and, to be honest, after so long an exposure to our quaint Royalist culture, we expect nothing less.  Little over a century past a time when we were expected to stand aside and tug our forelocks, when we were not even owed an explanation for the actions of our masters, it should be no surprise that their accounts of, not to say excuses for, their imperious behaviour should be faltering, at best.

Hence, I have tried to stand back from what will inevitably become known as Durhamgate.  Explanation for those not ‘in the know’:   In March Dominic Cummings, ‘advisor’ on Government policy here in UK, drove from his London base a distance of …..miles, flouting, some will maintain, the quarantine rules.  He was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 at the time, and his objective was to remove his four-year-old son to his family home in Durham, where other relatives were available to care for the child should he and his wife both fall ill.

In the subsequent media frenzy various other accusations have stemmed from ‘reliable sources’ of ‘drives to Barnard Castle’ (a town about thirty miles from Durham) and ‘stops to refuel’ etc. but again I refuse to become exercised by these, as the gutter press (in which I include the BBC) are known nowadays for inventing whole tranches of ‘news’ when the occasion suits them.   By and large, the press objective is to obtain a Resignation to complete their current witch hunt before they move on to the next one.

Personally, I have no extreme feelings one way or the other.   Why?  Mr Cummings is not a politician, but he has fallen in with the bad crowd.   Whether he likes it or not, his has become the broad back the EU remainers have picked for their blame game, and any trick or device to discredit him is therefore fair.   Secondly, there are two views that attach to Boris Johnson, one that accepts him as a decisive leader, another that dismisses him as a bungling fool with a Churchill complex – if the latter be true, any steadying hand within the machine of government must be welcome and necessary – disruption must only serve a political agenda. Not the health and safety of the country.

The police view is that our Dominic did nothing wrong.  I won’t comment further on that because we have all, at one time or another, been subject to the vagaries of our wonderful boys in blue.    Dominic, however, is a good Catholic name which at once implies honesty and explains the depth of his love for a small boy (I refer to his son, of course).   

It is also worth bearing in mind the goldfish bowl that London life offers any public figure.  I was struck by the monumental hypocrisy of the press behaviour as they scrupulously observed ‘distancing’ rules when Dominic gave a press conference on the Downing Street lawn – distancing rules that are conspicuously absent whenever he should be unwise enough to emerge from his London home to undergo the daily gauntlet of aggressive cameramen and garrulous ‘interviewers’ who block his path and invariably stray within inches of his face.

‘Not our responsibility’ the press insist.  Very convenient, considering how many of those pictures appear in their newspapers.

I can wholly understand that not all the weight of personal decision for making that trip to Durham was borne by Dominic himself,   Without making any detailed judgement of character his wife, Mary, does not look like a woman to be trifled with:  I can see how she would want her infant son protected from the media coyotes, and would be heavily in favour of finding solace and space.

So, these being the reasons for my ambivalence; should Dominic Cummings stay in post, or should he go?   On the one hand, something needs to end this media culture that states if you put your hand on someone’s knee in 1999, or said something contradictory ten years earlier, you are to be humiliated, ruined, and driven from public life.  On the other, did he really break the rules seriously enough, or raise questions in the mind of the idiot public that are sufficient to confuse ‘the message’ of distancing and self-isolation (whatever those rules really are).

On balance, I think he should stay.  I may not doff my cap the next time he drives past on his way home, but neither do I think he should apologise, because that implies fault and his position is that he did nothing wrong.   I do think his role in shaping government policy should be examined closely, and that is a process that may well now happen under cover of Downing Street in the middle of the night – something at which British politicians excel.

We are all too po-faced when it comes to pillorying the behaviour of others:  let him who is honestly without sin cast the first stone…

Blue Sky Thinking

This weekend the churches in UK will remain closed.  The tradition of congregating for an Easter Sunday Service will not happen.  

Now I have no particular axe to grind, but something so earth-shattering that it hasn’t happened since the twelfth Century shouldn’t pass unnoticed.

The reason, of course, is COVID-19, and it makes perfect sense.  Congregations tend to draw their numbers from the age group still reckoned to be most vulnerable to serious attack from this virus, those for whom social distancing is particularly important.

Canterbury Cathedral

Closure of buildings, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York assure us, does not diminish the significance of the Easter weekend.   The church is inside those who believe, the worshippers, rather than the shelter within which they worship.  Communications have rather improved since the 12th Century, and the church is able to come to its congregation on-line.  

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will lead the Easter Morning Service from his London home.  It will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four, and available live from the Church of England’s website:

https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-online

This is more portentous than a mere historical milestone.  It is a chance for the church to measure the response of its parishioners, because I am prepared to bet the Archbishop’s audience will far exceed the average 1500 who attend his cathedral.  Why?  Well, not because an act of prayer from one’s own home takes less ‘effort’, but because it is more accessible to those conscience would be pricked by the pollution of a journey and the fear of infection.

If any good is to come out of this benighted little bug that besets us, it is in the chances it offers to re-think many outdated concepts.  Up and down the land more businesses are learning new ways of working that do not involve the daily trek to an office; more retail groups and sole traders are using the enforced leisure to improve their presence online, more fatted calves of the communications industry are reassessing their schedules, and we ourselves are discovering a renewed blueness to the sky.  The air is fresher, sunrises can once again be seen from the cities.  The whole world is taking a very deep breath.

And no, the church does not escape.  As its ancient buildings get older, they become increasingly frail, while the cost of their maintenance escalates.  Their congregations dwindle.  Yes, group worship in a full church is an uplifting experience, but the sad truth is cold stone and empty echoes in chambers where the dead outnumber the living.  As the priesthood gets older, fewer young people seem eager to study theology.  You can’t get the staff nowadays!

So why not take the message of Coronavirus to heart?  Why not redirect the vast resources devoted to renovating old gargoyles or replacing lead on roofs to helping the poor and the disadvantaged?  Keep the few great cathedrals, yes, but why not subsidize housing on the rest of the church’s estates to provide homes for those just starting out in life, or those with special needs?

Every act which benefits the lives of others is a prayer.  Isn’t that the true measure of belief?   Isn’t that what a church should be for?

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