1 April 2018


Last Friday, it chanced that I was lunching with a couple of friends in the Gay Hussar, at the top end of Greek Street, when I felt that strange sensation of recognising a member of the party at the next table. As I was finishing the Hot Cherry Soup, the penny dropped. It was Jacob Rees Mogg, MP. He was tucking heartily into the Smoked Swan's Breast on Scholet, which is always a safe bet. Accidentally, our glances met; and in a couple of moments, our two groups were chatting amicably. You know how such things happen. Jacob explained that one reason for his presence was to give the restaurant, as custom prescribes, a copy of a book he had just published. I should explain to transpontine readers that in the Gay Hussar, traditionally the eatery of choice for those of a particular political tendency, one contributes a copy of one's own publications to the already large collection of the literary endeavours of other members of The Party over the decades.

Conversation settled into Jacob's memories of his old School. Seeing that we were all clerics deservedly enjoying a leisurely day off, he mentioned Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, Rector of the Catholic Parish Church round the corner. "Just within these four walls" he said, "let me tell you something I've heard about when Fr Alexander and Archbishop Nichols were at School together ... ".

"Hang on" said an Ordinariate priest sitting to my left, "I didn't know Nichols was at Eton". Jacob glanced quickly round to check that no stranger was eavesdropping. "No," he said. "They managed to keep it out of his Wikipedia entry. Wrong image. But he was, and he was in the same House as Fr Alexander. More than that, he was Fr Alexander's fag. Rather a cheeky fag, in fact."

I mused silently on how elegantly, just as an Etonian would, the Archbishop had handled the Scalfarigate question on the Beeb that morning, and the waiter refilled our glasses (I suspect he hoped we might soon be gone, because it was past 3 o'clock). When he had left our tables, Jacob continued "I don't think he's ever really forgiven him." "Forgiven him? What on earth for?" we all cried. "Well", said Jacob, "I think the reason is ... well ... to be blunt ... I think Fr Alexander caned Vincent quite a lot, especially whenever he got lippy ... that's why the Cardinal's so cautious nowadays in everything he says ..."

Ah, School days, happy days, the happiest of our lives! Yes? Quanta et qualia fuerunt illa Sabbata ...

Did you know that the good old Anglo-Catholic Hymn I'll sing a song to Mary, the Mother of my God ... goes beautifully to the tune of the Eton Boating Song? I got that idea from the late Fr Melrose of S Giles, Reading. I bet it rejoices the heart of Eton's devout and Royal Founder St Henry VIII.

Num risistis? Eheu!

A very holy and happy Easter to all readers except Mr Scalfari. Hi there, Tucho!


ccc said...

This is obviously a case where two countried are separated by a common language.

I have no idea what this is saying, and if I were to interpret it in an American way, it wouldn't be pretty.

ccc said...

And at the same time, I get that it's some sort of joke.

Pete said...

I have duly updated Vinnie's wikipaedia page

Belfry Bat said...

Dear ccc, I was also bemused; but then, a recollection: Monty Python has also introduced me to "fagged out" as ... perhaps a corruption of "fatigued".

Ecce nunc eadem vicipaedia.

the Savage said...

Let me try to translate this April Fool’s bit of nonsense for an American ear. The Gay Hussar is a London restaurant long known as a favourite establishment of left wing Labour politicians. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a parodically upper class and right wing Catholic Tory MP - think a young William F. Buckley. Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke is a robustly orthodox London priest, and, like Rees-Mogg, a fairly posh Etonian. (Maybe the US equivalent would be somebody like Fr. Rutler?) Vincent Nichols is most definitely not an Etonian, but comes from a humbler northern English background, and is more of a “company man” sort of bishop. So the idea that his meally mouthed response to the Pope’s alleged denial of the existence of Hell and the immortality of the soul was the result of excessive caning by Fr. Sherbrooke while serving as his “fag” (a junior student acting as a servant) is rather ridiculous (as is the premise of the presence of Rees-Mogg and two ordinariate priests at the Gay Hussar in the first place. More likely they would be found at the Goring Hotel.)

Fr John Hunwicke said...

On the contrary, Ordinariate clergy and their wives can often be found in the Gay Hussar. Once I met a certain Benedictine Abbot and a couple of his brethren there. It is real part of old 1960s London, and I commend it warmly and sincerely to visiting Americans.

Mr Savage misses the point that Good Friday is a Day of Fasting And Abstinence, so that the clergy, and Mr Rees Mogg, would be very unlikely to have been tucking into Hungarian-sized middle-European meals, with meat, at 3.00 on Good Friday.

I am also unsure that I agree with Mr Savage's description of Cardinal Nichols. I think he was in the tricky position of being a pastor having to clear up ... on Good Friday morning ... the appalling mess with which some individuals in Rome had landed him. I am far from certain I could have done better.

Banshee said...

I don't know anything about it, and I don't even know what's in it; but Hot Cherry Soup sounds like something worth ordering. I think I have a date with a recipe search.

Re: Scalfari, I am pretty fond of St. Macrina the Younger's deathbed talk with her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa. But I always got the idea that the fire of God's love burning people up was more of a "happening for eternity" thing, because logically someone's soul that's made in the image and likeness of God has to be an immortal soul. Also, the general resurrection.

So the annihilationist thing is silly, and probably Scalfari didn't understand what he was listening. Mostly I have learned that I have to define terms better, so as to avoid inadvertently going Annihilationist. Anyway, Macrina's argument from automata is the part I was really paying attention to, because it was very cool and ancient-machine-ish.

(It is of course possible that Pope Francis didn't understand or explain the theological point very well, or even that he was talking about something else entirely.)

Fr John Hunwicke said...

For American ears, may I translate Mr Savage. "Posh" means upper class, because, before the sad post-war period when our American cousins and friends bullied us into giving up our Empire so that they could form a new Empire of their own, Brits used to go out to rule the East by liner through Suez; and the cabins which did not have the sun overheating them were priced considerably higher than the much hotter south-facing cabins. So stewards used to chalk P O S H [= "Port out, Starboard home"] on the luggage of the upper classes. (This, of course, was in the happy days, Magisterially applauded by PF in Laudato si, before our American cousins and friends invented "Air Conditioning".)

I shall not enable any comments which in any way dispute any statement made in this Comment of my own.

John Vasc said...

I am most grateful to Fr H. for the clarification. I realized of course that nobody who has read the New Testament - let alone a bishop - could ever reasonably claim that: “The image of fire and brimstone and all that has never been part of Catholic teaching ...In fact, you know, there’s nowhere in Catholic teaching that says any one person is in Hell.”
Our Lord has spoken ex extenso on this issue, but of course, He was not even a bishop, let alone a Cardinal: and perhaps He too was misreported? Possibly those passages of the Gospels were written on a 1st April...
I would be sorry to think that nobody at all is in Hell: that would seem rather disrespectful to the Devil, and leave him with little to do.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Mr Banshee

I am sorry to have to confess that what you will find on the Gay Hussar menu is Cold Cherry Soup. And, of course, Smoked goose. As any fule no, we are not allowed to eat swan since the Crown claims ownership of all swans.

What a lot of confusion I have created. Shame upon me.

Joseph Wood said...

But in the confusion, we learned so much! I lived in England for seven years and knew nothing of this (resentment over Suez and the superssession of empires, the crass replacing the tasteful, was a familiar theme, but the true political slant of the Gay Hussar is a revelation). And wherever he went to school and however he treated his fags, may Fr. Sherbrooke be blessed: anyone who leads processions of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady through Soho is heroic on either side of the pond.