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BARBICAN LIFE


A View from St Giles’


Katharine Rumens displays her Latin expertise (or is it Latlish in some places?) in her account of celebrations of Lancelot Andrewes’ involvement in the production of the King James Bible


Katharine Rumens Rector, St Giles’ Cripplegate


Thank you Bishop Lancelot Andrewes for a lovely party in this 400th anniversary year celebrating your contribution to the King James’ Version of the Bible (videlicet: ‘Vitalis Babicanorum’ Ver MMXI.) It was an honour to meet some of your many esteemed friends in a place steeped in learning and history. Yours as always


An awe-struck successor. W


e presented ourselves one by one at the porters’ lodge. There is a lot to be said for


wheely luggage, and there is quite a lot similarly said by long gravel paths which challenge the poor and needy who have to negotiate it. “Listen! Here’s comes another one without a valet to carry her case.” Accommodation sorted and keys understood the party began. These particular festivities at the alma


mater began as all good festivities do: with a sermon. It was a pity I arrived late (wrong sort of gravel) and that the comfortable pews had been taken by those acquainted with the chapel furniture. Few can perch sideways on a plank designed for the slight of stature for an hour and ten minutes without getting restless. A primitive self- improvement manual is adamant there is an intimate connexion between posture and mental attitude. Sluggish minds betray themselves in every movement: they sluggishly cross and re-cross their legs and sluggishly shift about a bit. Such fidgeting is a clear indication of ‘foolish ideas and scatter-brainedness.’ No doubt Lancelot who drank-and-kicked-the- cat- a-lot sat up ram-rod straight in all circumstances. (It seems I have grown less fond of him than I was when I started this.)


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The sermon was dead good though, and Andrewes segues into Latin and out again with enviable ease. Nota bene I have decided that pro tempore I shall adopt this as my seasonal affectation disorder. It is as a tribute to that I slide between the classical and the vernacular. Cave!


Over little damp sandwiches one of the scholastic types told me why Andrewes learnt so many foreign languages. It was his dad what made him do it. Each school holiday dad said, “Here lad I want no trouble from you. No gambling on the ferrets, no running away to sea and no playing knock-up ginger. Watch your language and by the way learn a new one while you’re about it, else you’ll feel the business end of my silk slipper.” I now realise l’enfant Andrewes was merely bowing to parental pressure; in his formative years his formidable intellect was honed by external forces. Had it been up to him, he would have ended up on the buses. Perhaps the incentive was a new bike if the language were an especially tricky one like Romansh. (I’m liking him more again now.)


Ohe! jam satis, you want to know about the party. The invitation said academic dress: scarlet. This was kindly explained to those of us given to scatter- brainedness and poor posture. Only the really bright were to parade their better ‘O levels’ and beyond. And even then (such are the contortions of any institution) when they say scarlet (scarlatum) then they don’t mean scarlatum; they mean a touch of scarlatum on blackum. Only the flattering front facings of their gowns are scarlatum. Try to get the hang of this: if this needs explaining you shouldn’t be partying in these circles anyway. Thank goodness for sacerdotal black: it does not reveal that my theological


education was spent engaged with what we call the hidden curriculum. We got there in September in time for the Christmas shopping term which, as it progressed, was made busier by writing for, and performing in, the pantomime. Then it was Lent, and the rain came down and the mist came up; quod est demonstrandum: time to travel. I took half a term out to go and look at colour theory in the Sinai which, even way back then, seemed to be pushing it. Finally, to round off the year: the Shakespeare term. Heaps and heaps of rehearsals and all those lines to learn. No, you don’t end up with scarlet down your front when you’ve been so often absent from the library.


Back at the very grand do we conversed our way through many courses, the candlelight playing kindly upon us however black our garb. Tempus fugit and by now it was the following morning, and although the hospitality carried on, some of us took the opportunity to plough our way back over the gravel wastes to our rooms. They are the ones you now pay £9,000 a term (or is it a year?) for. Mutatis mutandis: no sellotape scars on the walls, no cigarette burns on the bedside table and no curtains kept up with safety pins and an old coat hanger. Standards are high and students have got fussy.


The same attention to domestic detail was to be found in the lavatories. The notice in the loos read, ‘In consideration for others please do not remove the lavatory paper.’ It is reassuring to know that our future leaders are being educated with exquisite politeness, although ipso facto, this is not necessarily that good a preparation for Prime Minister’s question time. Discuss.


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