I had arranged to meet Fr Colin Spikenard, and Jill his wife, at the Italian restaurant just over the river and looking back across to Hiram's Hospital. Not Michelin Five-Star, but good real Italian. We all knew we would be happy in the Sole di Capri. It is not without a hint of a bit of a dash of a suggestion of the Bay of Naples (very Pauline, all those genitives, yes?).
"What", I began, "about Barchester's new bishop?" Jill scowled, and intimated that sustenance came first. I don't tangle with Girton women, least of all those from 1960s Cambridge when a girl trying to get in had first to surmount the hurdle that there was only one women's place to every nine men's places. So I settled down to the menu. Nothing flash; good old Sixties standbys. Parmigiana di Melanzane, I thought, and then the Saltimbocca. Fried courgettes. We got all that settled with the somewhat non-Italian waitress, and then wrapped ourselves round the alcohol. Jill took her nose out of her glass and snarled "Armitage", paused, and then sibilated "Shanks". She had a point. Armitage Shanks was twenty years junior to Colin and myself at Staggers (one knows one's getting old when bishops start to look as if they've only just got rid of their acne), but his reputation was well known. Very High Church, but mainly preoccupied with the career of Armitage Shanks. One can pinpoint the exact day on which he "changed Integrities" and so merited his first mitre. Jill then said the sort of word which nice girls used not to utter, but after all, she had been at Girton and so she probably knew all about its etymology.
Since his wife, uncharacteristically, appeared only semi-articulate, I turned to Fr Colin. Perhaps I should have mentioned that he is pastor of the Barchester Ordinariate Group. He had run a very good show as Vicar of S Gregory's, Barchester. "Bulldozers", he said, and stabbed one of those cocktail-sticky things at a green olive in a bowl. I was glad about that, because I prefer the black ones myself; but I felt that I was not getting very far very fast with either of them. "Did you go to see him?", I asked. "Yes I did", said Father. "At first, all he would say was that he would rather have S Gregory's bulldozed to the ground than have it go to the Ordinariate". There was a pause while another olive (again, green, mercifully) went unde negant redire quidquam. "I said that the entire congregation was coming with me ... the church would be empty ... but that just made his eyes go sort of bulgy. So I said that all we asked was to be able to hire the church for an economic rent when his Anglicans weren't using it ... if he found any Anglicans to put in it ... no, I didn't say that last bit ... and then he played his smart card ... the Bishop of Hogglestock agrees with the policy ... thinks it would be Divisive for Ordinariate congregations to have their own places for worship ... even more Divisive than the Ordinariate having its own Chrism Mass ... we can have 3.00 on Sunday afternoons in the Sacred Heart ... as long as we remember that we can't use incense because it would set off the fire alarms ... ... and not to try to get into the Confessionals because they're used as stores for the unwanted produce left behind by the Bring-and-Buy sales ... ".
We paused while the waitress, in her deft Slovak way, put our starters in front of us. Jill stuffed one of her whitebait into an evidently hungry mouth and then, in clear, angry tones, said "And now he's handed S Gregory's over to the Evoes". "For a church-plant", her husband added, "and if they can't fill it he's going to sell it to the Moslems". Focusing, as one does, on details of Churchmanship, "Shia or Sunni?", I enquired. The quip was not well received, especially by Jill, who has not, I suspect, read Nostra aetate with much religiosum obsequium.
I assimilated a mouthful of my egg-plant, thankful that I hadn't ordered church-plant, and pondered the profounder implications of this intelligence. Would the planning authorities insist that the minarets were pastiche Butterfield so as to match the original fabric? Would that make it the first Anglo-Catholic mosque in the world, as well as the first mosque in Victorian polychromatic brick?