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A View from St Giles’

The Dickens bicentenary and the Olympic Games being held in London make for a worthy juxtaposition in the mind of Katherine Rumens as she also ponders on the 350th anniversary of the Act of Uniformity which was when 2,000 Church of England clergy were made redundant!

Katharine Rumens Rector, St Giles’ Cripplegate


h what a year! It’s quite the best of times what with this wery weritable feast of anniversaries. Not only are we celebrating that

Portsmouth literary citizen Charles John Huffam Dickens turning a sprightly 200, we are also going to the races. The Olympics are a slightly older institution with roots reaching back down into 765BCE. Even the most news-averse must have picked up by now that this year the torch is running its way to London.

There is athletic activity everywhere. Open the front door and you find the Little Nell netball team doing press ups on the terrace and Mr Pickwick’s Goswell Street sculling team training on the lake at daybreak. As the year progresses we can look forward to buying our freshly imported official souvenirs from Dombey and Son. They will be on sale at what are now known as ‘major transport hubs’, formerly called stations. Meanwhile for those whose rigorous training schedules take them to Yorkshire, rooms can be reasonably rented at Dotheboy’s Hall. Bookings to be made through Mr Squeers, who is in town and ‘attends daily, from one till four, at the Saracen’s Head, Snow Hill.’ That’s nice and handy for us being on the doorstep. If you have difficulty tracking down Mr Squeers, try asking for him at the Police Station – he’s often there helping the police with their enquiries.

Miss Havisham has energetically crotcheted a new cover for her discus, but we don’t hold out much hope for her being selected for Team GB. A combination of her atrocious time keeping and an insistence on always wearing a wedding dress have meant that when eventually she does turn up for training those lacy frills impede her throw. Finally, on a more cheerful note, the Artful Dodger and his gang have successfully auditioned for the Opening Ceremony. Their well-rehearsed- twirling-wipes routine qualified them for a place in the Morris Dancing extravaganza. Fagin is their unattractive and erratic coach.

Roll on the summer: not only will there be tourists blocking the pavements,


but also this rich assortment of humanity in stove pipe hats and shiny waistcoats strutting around being bicentennially characterful.

Many of these figures are old familiar friends to those of us over 11 who, in light-hearted moments, regularly re-read all Dickens’ novels. In my day you weren’t allowed to graduate from the infants’ class until you had learnt the Pickwick Papers off by heart and backwards. All that is now required of our children is to read one Dickens novel by the age of 11. A mere four hundred pages of closely printed 19th century prose; how slipping are standards! There is no time to be lost in reversing this slippage. Years ago, a BBC film invited us inside Buckingham Palace to see life royally lived. My friend Mary’s mother was not impressed to see Princess Anne reading a book at the breakfast table. This may have reflected the maternal no-reading-at-table rule at that time in force at Mary’s house. Perhaps we have to be more tolerant of former observed giddy limits and encourage reading both in the company of quality and at mealtimes if our 11 year olds are to get through Dickens, Dostoevsky, SATs and Sanskrit before they are allowed into big school. (However the giddy limit still applies to the pretentious who insist on reading a novel while being swept along in rush- hour crush the length of a tube station platform.)

All these years later, Mary’s mum has quite forgiven Princess Anne. Her affection for all members of the royal family is evident in her collection of patriotic biscuit tins. She is looking forward to some elderly flag waving in June. We’re going to do a Big Lunch. It’s on a Sunday so that will suit us down to the ground. We’ve got lots of folding tables to lend to ourselves and enough cutlery for several sittings. This makes for an encouraging start, but there are only 100 days to go and we have not yet placed our order for bunting. Apres dejeuner I expect we will leave the washing up and go to watch the pageantry rowing at non- Olympic speeds up and down the Thames. We will then turn our athletic, patriotic, literary minds to 350th

anniversary of the Act of Uniformity which was when 2000 Church of England clergy were ejected. Drastic measures against those who didn’t assent to the then latest prayer book and those who had not been ordained by a bishop. It’s the sort of thing we still get hot and cross about: that rebellious streak of non-conformity.

One of my predecessors was ejected. He was the puritan Samuel Annesley, father of Susana Wesley and grandfather of the horseback preacher John and his horseback hymn writer brother Charles. Two of Annesley’s critics unkindly thought he had little learning and was 'dull, yet industrious.’ Perhaps they were just jealous of his popular sermons collection, ‘The Morning-Exercise at Cripple-Gate’. We are not told how the ejection happened: did the churchwardens sneakily change the locks after dark, or was it just a meaningful letter from the bishop?

So here’s to our thoroughly exercising Diamond-Dickens-Olympic-Ejection year.

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