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BARBICAN LIFE


reported that the Soviet trade minister had told his British counterpart, ‘We don’t want to increase our trade with you. Your goods are unreliable, you’re always on strike, you never deliver.’ That year, the Queen’s Christmas message included these words: W


e must not let th present or th


cause us to lose faith ou remember th saying "th in th


e uncertainties of th . Y


pessimist fears th from easy to be ch wh


en th e optimist proclaims th


e best of all possible worlds, and th at th


ings around us suggest th opposite; but to give up th mean, as it were, to switch off h


e difficulties of th e future


e e


at we live e


is is true". It is far


eerful and constructive e


e effort would ope for a


better tomorrow. She could well be dusting down that


Interior of the istine Chapel – Photo credit I. Sailko


1990s. Incredulity was writ large on his face. We diverted him, by making him read the Greek on the nearby hoarding. ‘The Word of God’ is a new Vatican project. We were surrounded by nuns in a variety of habits – let him notice how different they were from each other. Some were in white saris, some wore long skirts. We have travelled a long road, I


thought, handing in my handbag to the scanning machine. My husband had moved into the


Barbican just after the Winter of Discontent in 1978. I recall someone who had come to visit us carrying a copy of the Washington Times, which


Lemon tree in the Vatican. Photo credit Charles Gillams


speech ready for this coming Christmas. It seemed inappropriate to mention the next bit of vocabulary in the presence of Michelangelo’s Pieta. I postponed Big Bang, to later, and concentrated on the beauty of the sculpture. Next door, the Sistine Chapel held us spellbound – and on our way to it, every bit of the ceiling was decorated with painting of breath- taking quality, not to mention the intricate gilt work. Being told to be quiet in Italian seemed to sound less offensive. It is interesting how saying something in Latin gives it gravitas – the Queen spoke of her ‘annus horribilis’ which somehow made it OK for her to be upset – the Pope can call an organisation whose job it is to secure converts, the ‘College of Propaganda’. Nobody minds. The line of saints stands still, heads held high. Saints have many uses - In 1979 on


the day of her election victory, Margaret Thatcher quoted St Francis of Assisi to the press, just outside Downing Street, but ended with her characteristic practicality ‘there is now work to be done’. Th


atch erism was a


new word, which came to mean many things - the poll tax, privatisations, the Falklands War, the 1980s boom times – record expansion of the City of London, with deregulation, and a total transformation of the London Stock Exchange… Big Bang as I mentioned. Just as we were warning people about the consequences of the collapse of the Glass-Stiegall Act, (look where it has led us) Thatcher was beginning to talk to the IRA leadership whilst publicly prohibiting the broadcasts of Gerry Adams, after major IRA attacks on London. You sh


all have my diplomacy,


on my terms… John Major and Tony Blair worked on good foundations – the Irish Peace Process eventually bore fruit. A landmark event. Didn’t I have a friend who was killed in Northern Ireland? I said yes, I did. ‘You must have been very happy’. So must her Majesty have been happy – so many of her soldiers had paid the price, and it loomed as a daily threat for so much of her reign. After that, I lost my audience –


Charlie was looking with interest at the lemon tree in fruit, in the Vatican gardens, and my son had appropriated the guidebook and was looking up St Paul – wasn’t he also buried in Rome ? He was. But Paul (previously Saul)


was a Roman citizen, and he was allowed to be beheaded, rather than crucified. Not connected to the apostolic succession, he was nowhere near the Vatican – instead, he is buried in the outskirts of modern Rome, though still attracting pilgrims from all over the world. He was the ‘apostle of the gentiles’, at metro stop ‘Basilica di San Paolo’ at the end of the line. Our guidebook gave it two stars; it was worth five at least. Spacious, welcoming, quiet, it was close to the Non Catholic burial ground, where the poet Keats still lies. Its cloisters were a haven of calm, wrought in precious stones on marble pillars. What do these places stand for?


Rest, hope, renewal. Rome is a pilgrimage, before it is anything else, for the vast majority of its visitors. Next to the Church of St John Lateran, in a


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