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B A R B I C A N L I F E


A View from St Giles’


Katharine Rumens Rector, St Giles’ Cripplegate


N


ow I am back, and there are no more skittish reports of my fallow sabbatical summer. Clergy – the watchful,


competitive lot that they are - ask me what I did. The most recent enquiry was from a brother who needed to tell me that he had used his time to complete a PhD. Sorry reverend doctor, I only have some unfinished paintings at the moment. Surprisingly, in spite of all that


leisure, sabbaticals don’t count as holiday. Come the autumn I allow myself a week off. I’d sort of thought I’d go to Rome, but as it turns out I have to fly to Philadelphia to take part in a memorial service. I do plan to be here consistently throughout December; it being what others call ‘a busy time of year for you vicar.’ As you do, I offered to transport


local delicacies to USA. There is a request for a friend of a friend who once lived in Primrose Hill. He has very fond memories of UK – not least of the full page advertisement he came across in the national press: ‘Nothing sucks like Electrolux.’ This rapidly did the rounds among our North American cousins who find us quaint for good reason. He had asked for a Christmas pudding. I wished to make it clear to the underemployed young woman at the upmarket food outlet in Terminal 5 that the pudding was for someone suffering from seasonal nostalgia. She said she liked Christmas pudding, but I think that was brand loyalty. It is only those who can’t stand up to their friends who find themselves lugging weighty puddings through several time zones. We board late because the pilot is


held up on the M4. Initially we find this rather novel, but less so later when we lose our take-off slot by an hour. What to do for seven and a half hours in steerage? I do fusion tv: an episode here and an episode there of


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Broadchurch and Downton Abbey. I lose patience with both: small screen Dorset lacks a sense of suspense and it takes just too many ever-rolling streams to establish that Lady Edith’s suitors are either too old or too married. Once we arrive, immigration is not a


speedy success. I mistakenly get stuck behind a Russian with funny paper work and no English. I thought he looked such a safe bet when joining his queue. In my turn I am slightly slowed down by importing live food. There are the necessary preparations


for the memorial service which won’t happen ‘til the end of the week. Meanwhile, we are giddy with excitement. The costumes are coming! I am grateful for having got up to the middle of series 3 so can keep up with the hot news. ‘Don’t miss Costumes of Downton Abbey – an original exhibition inspired by the drama series that has taken America by storm.’ Yes, there are convincing signs of the


impact of the storm. One afternoon we visit a show house – big, suburban mock Tudor. It’s been done over room by room and everything is for sale. Some of the interior designers are on hand, which helps me understand why they have chosen to reduce decently proportioned rooms to hobbit warrens what with low-slung ceiling features and built up alcoves. It’s because the designers themselves tend to be on the shorter side and don’t take up much space. I nearly take an eye out on some twig-constructed chandelier which hangs low over a table, but it would be heightist to comment. Twigs, which fit in a treat in a hobbit hole, happily do not feature in the don’t-miss-Downton- inspired library. There are some books here and it’s all very subdued, being painted a scholarly grey. The room was originally a library used for showcasing hunting rifles. Call me old fashioned, but I still like my library to have an element of the ‘liber’ about it. The designer tells us she envisioned the


original owners of the house ‘entertaining Lord and Lady Grantham of DA’. Every now and again it might be a kindness to point out that the Granthams are not real people. From mock Tudor to the real thing


and back in London I find myself being a human signpost at Lambeth Palace. They like human signposts at Lambeth Palace: it’s because the corridors are so long, without a human signpost or two people might just curl up all lost and dispirited. The other signpost on my corridor is


serious and very slightly high powered. It is still early and there are not many people to point in the right direction. He is texting. I pass the time looking at the ranks of former Archbishops whose portraits hang everywhere. Still feeling a little unreal with jetlag, I muse which one did the wedding. ‘Which wedding’ asks the texter, who knows more about Downton Abbey than first seems apparent. ‘Matthew and Mary’s.’ He stops texting to look up, ‘They live in Yorkshire so it would have been the Archbishop of York.’ We read names and dates. There he is: Cosmo Laing who was Archbishop of York before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. He sits, a pale man in patrician profile with a big mitre. He looked very different on the telly. Once you let it get out of hand, you


find there is a mighty lot of confusion of fact and fiction about. I met a GP from the Midlands the other day who introduced himself as Linda Snell’s doctor. A very difficult patient one would have thought.


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