Thursday, 11 December 2014
I initially published this article in August 2014 but it was brought to my attention the other day by a friend of mine, who may or may not be included in the narrative, who asked who the persons described might be. Naturally, I am not going to reveal names and some of the names of churches are made up (but most are real). One of the names given is real, because that person has no interest in liturgy, does not read my blog and would not necessarily mind the description I have given of him (or her), but the rest are either chosen at random, rearranged or have some significance, though that significance may be purely personal or become apparent to them in time. My attention being turned to this article the other day reminded me of one of my mother's typically acerbic answers to the many questions I put to her over the years about my relationships with other people. I said, now many years ago: "mummy, why don't people like me?" And she said: "because you can't keep your mouth shut." Of course, it did not occur to me upon my friend's enquiry about this article that my indiscretion or bluntness had anything at all to do with it and that his or her asking me about it was just frank curiosity. The article is very much the same as before but has been expanded somewhat that I may reflect upon my indiscretion I have also included accounts of three other friends excluded heretofore from the narrative.
As the years have gone by, friends of mine have come and gone. When I was at school, from about the age of 8 years, my best friend was Alex. We were a match of opposites. I was intensely religious, he was largely indifferent to religion (he eventually embraced atheism); in fact one day, during a Religious Education lesson, somebody expressed an opinion on Mark's Gospel at variance with the teaching of the Church so I raised my hand and bluntly told the teacher that anybody who dissented from Church teaching must leave the school. Alex turned to me afterwards and said: "you would say that, wouldn't you!" I was always instinctively conservative; he was very liberal. I was interested in history and languages; he was interested in science and mathematics. The only thing we really had in common was a sense of intellectual superiority. When we achieved our A Level results and went our separate ways, he to study Mathematics and Philosophy at Cambridge, I to study Divinity at Heythrop, we fell out of contact and both of us met new friends at university. Years later, but still some years ago, we met again through Facebook. I remember meeting him at Charing Cross railway station in my best suit - the idea was that I would go for a "more successful than I really am" look - and we went for tea at Browns. Over the course of several months, I met him and his girlfriend (who disliked me intensely), and it was, for a while, very good to catch up, even if I did at whiles perceive the wisdom of our parting. The friendship waned, however, after one evening. Alex had broken up with his girlfriend and, in a spirit of experimentation, we decided to go to a gay bar in Greenwich. Perhaps it was a bitter blend of boredom and beer but he made several homosexual advances towards me, which I rejected, and then invited me to his flat. It was raining, I had no umbrella and I was very much put out so I did the right thing and embarked upon my train homeward. Later, after ignoring his phone calls, I wrote to him saying that I wasn't offended per se but to myself thought that maintaining even the veneer of friendship was too much of an effort. I cut him off and since that evening he has made no attempts to contact me.
When I went to Heythrop in 2006 I met Lewis. Lewis was wonderful. His mind was marvellously subtle; he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Church history and spoke four languages fluently. He was also very attractive. He was a year ahead of me but we took Latin and Greek together and sometimes he would make an appearance at Corpus Christi in Covent Garden (though that was seldom). He was clearly homosexual so during my "traditionalist" days a grievance but lulled to sleep came between us. I was obedient to the Church's magisterium and not only accepted my being queer but protested the fact - in other words, I would not be ordained however much I wanted it and however much that might impede my own future happiness. I was also, in those far off days, still under the delusion that homosexuality was not so rife among the clergy as is now seen to be. But Lewis seemed to flout the rule and, for his piety, that cross would remain to drag him earthwards. When he graduated (with a first) he went to do a Masters degree in Celtic Christianity at an overseas university so I joined Facebook to stay in contact. He used to read my blog and, being a Roman Catholic (indeed in holy orders), took offence at some of the more intemperate posts. I used to send him a Christmass card and write to him occasionally; he would in turn write back with prayers and blessings. I last wrote to him at Epiphany 2014 and received no reply. Whenever I think of our antient friendship I am assailed by the feeling that I didn't do enough. I loved him dearly.
I met David through a mutual friend. I never much liked him though he claims to have loved me with every inch of his manhood. I found him repulsive and cheap from the start and only met him during concourse of other folk, occasions which gave him opportunity to flirt shamelessly with me. He was completely oblivious to my disdain. You see, his idea of flirting was a few neolithic lurches towards the object of his desire. He invited me to his flat for dinner on at least three occasions. I declined two of them but to save face I consented to the third. Dinner was an Iceland pizza with chopped up brie and salami! My stomach turned. Two hours to get there, four hours of this, two hours back. There wasn't enough wine. The whole evening was an unmitigated fiasco. He wanted sex. I declined. One year, before Christmass, he wrote to me crying penury so I sent him a cheque. On another occasion he met me at the church of St Magnus the Martyr and brought along his new special friend. Even among the "fags of St Mags" he didn't quite fit in; though one of the more senior members of the congregation was smitten with his histrionic, ostentatious boyfriend. It wasn't encouraging to be so privy to their pasty affections so I sneaked off quietly with another friend. He wrote to me that evening whining that I had left him "all alone." Weeks later I asked about the boyfriend whereupon he said that they had broken up, a "tragedy" (or travesty) for which I was apparently to blame; although it transpired that he found cause to blame our mutual friend too. Needless to say, I felt no pity. Eventually, he came to understand that I no longer wished to continue our association. The last I heard, he wished me dead.
Nina was one of two lady friends in my life. She was beautiful, urbane and witty and dispelled a number of prejudices I had had hitherto about women; though I daresay the extent to which she exercised any real influence there was mitigated by the fact that during the term of our acquaintance religion very seldom came up in conversation. I met her in 2007. We worked together at Morrisons and both of us had similar hard-luck stories to tell. The only reason, in hindsight, that I worked there for nine years was because of my own indolence. She had been a dancer for two years on cruise ships but had had an accident and so she came home to take up part-time work and start another degree. When I told my mother about her, she asked me if I liked her to which the reply was a curt "no!" Nina and I had very similar non-liturgical interests such as ballet and Alexa Chung and we both read Vogue magazine. We enjoyed the same films, the same contemporary music, vintage dresses and she met my Irish grandmother on one occasion (whom she described affectionately as "amazing"). But, at the same time, we were very different. She was outgoing and sociable and had a number of (mostly lady) friends. I was...well, I am me; hamfast and standoffish. Certainly few of her lady friends cared for me much and I never felt so lonely as at Nina’s 25th birthday party. She left Morrisons about a year before I did to take up a dance and drama teaching position. About a year ago she was offered a job in Canada and I haven't seen her since. Whenever I reflect upon our time together I am struck by how superficial it all was. In hindsight, Nina had a wonderfully beautiful face but very little personality.
I met Francisco at a dinner party in 2009. He was the only liturgical man I ever met of my generation for whom I have had any patience. When I first met him he was an Anglo-Papalist, with portraits of pope Benedict XVI and Carolus Rex side by side in his flat. Like Lewis he was deadly attractive but nothing ever reared its ugly head. We had a few laughs. Indeed, now that I think about it laughter was the principle feature of our acquaintance. We often met each other in one of the many queer churches of London; places, I have come to understand, of assignation, but certainly occasions given not so much to immorality as a lot of hysteria. Homosexuals together, especially religious ones, tend to act more affectedly homosexual for some mysterious underlying purpose. But on one such occasion, when I admitted to Francisco my childhood dream of becoming a Roman housewife, he suddenly stopped laughing and said that I was "weird." I was shocked by his bluntness and took offence perhaps more because I had been drinking than the fact that it was by no means a gratifying observation. The hysterical laughter was forever after stilled. I did always suspect that I liked him more than he liked me. Maybe because he was beautiful I made the mistake of putting myself out more. He was liturgically rather sensible but more diplomatic than me and willing to compromise where I would depart in wrath. He had the remarkable ability to build bridges where my talent seemed to lay in their destruction. Not that maintaining the bridge did the people of Nargothrond much good. When the dragon finally came they took to throwing down the stones of their pride too late and, for all his bridge-building, Francisco's fate was not dissimilar to theirs. We remained congenial, despite the weird comment, until he moved overseas but I think he departed a defeated man and, like me, took little further interest in Western liturgies. He now worships with the Russian Orthodox. I haven't heard from him for at least two years.
I met Dr John in 2004. I was 16, he was conservatively in his late sixties. That year I had started going to Corpus Christi church in Covent Garden. I remember my first evening there very clearly. I wasn't entirely sure where the church was so I wrote down the directions from Charing Cross on some note paper and went up to the church on a summer afternoon (three hours early in fact) in June. I had finished my GCSE examinations and was a vivacious little tradunculus looking to spend my summer in piety and tradition. It was weeks before anyone spoke to me and then someone from the choir asked me on the way out if I could sing; and I do sing quite charmingly. Not wishing to commit myself, I declined his invitation to join the choir, the sound of which was like unto wailing. Nevertheless I joined in the conversation outside the church. John was there. When everybody else had departed he invited me to Ponti's for coffee and we had a very pleasant chinwag.
Until that evening I had thought of myself as the only homosexual in the Church. How naïve! John was a theatrical costume maker and art historian. He had escaped Old Mother Damnable in 1994 during the first major influx of Anglicans into Rome but was still "Anglican-at-heart," as he said. In the early days of our friendship I met a few of his more colourful friends and learned a lot about his fascinating life. He had such wonderful stories to tell and had met some very interesting people. He had had tea with Quentin Crisp in 1977 and told me an amusing story about his first meeting with Dame Margot Fonteyn. When I told him about my Irish grandmother, he said: "I think I probably knew her," and indeed they had met. They were at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane when they saw Judy Garland inebriated in a corner. "We were both invited to a dinner party in her honour," he said. "But we agreed we wouldn't go if she was to be in that state." And they didn't. She died soon afterwards. At some point I confided to John my secret, unrequited love for Formosus. Formosus was a young man in the retinue of Fr W.C Mick. He wisely told me to give up daydreaming, and I did try.
In 2007 there was a high Mass of Requiem for Soulmass at Covent Garden and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to convert my rather liberal Latin teacher to the traditionalist cause. I was genuinely surprised that she came. You see, I was so traditional in those days that in addition to wearing my best Charles Tyrwhitt black suit and silver pocket watch for the day, I had also been to the low Mass of Requiem in St Wilfrid's chapel that morning and I was naturally desirous of converting my esteemed Latin teacher to the same frame of mind. What better way of spending one's Soulmass than in traipsing across London for low Masses? I don't remember what she said about the Mass, if indeed she expressed any view at all. John was there with his friend Algernon and, as usual, we all went for tea and cakes, this time to the Patisserie Valerie in Bedford Street as Ponti's had begun to "serve me at breakfast," so John reasoned, and this was clearly not to his liking. There John regaled us with his accustomed wit and Algernon, the only man I ever met who can make the word "yes" sound like "ears" was telling us about the Stuarts. When I went back to college my tutor summoned me to his office, whereupon he said: "Maudlin is worried about you, Patrick," "Oh?" said I. "She is concerned that you're becoming involved with older men." I ought not to have been so dense. No wonder John kept touching my hand and admiring my beauty! We had been to Rule's earlier in the year for my 19th birthday. When I told Lewis that, he said: "it must be true love!" I thought he was joking. Eventually, I stopped going to Maiden Lane as I no longer wished to countenance the impious rites celebrated there and our meetings became less frequent but I still visited John occasionally at his flat in Chelsea. I invited him to visit Blackfen once but he complained of the distance and disparaged the ugliness of the church. When I started going to St Magnus the Martyr he became rather waspish. "You can't go there," he said. "Nobody joins the Church of England!" Even so, he is deeply involved with the Society of King Charles þe Martyr and I think that some of the articles about bl. Charles on the society website were written by him.
These days I see him much less frequently than I used and ought. He has been very good to me over the years and has given me a number of small treasures; an 18th century print, a signed book and celebrity autograph.
I met Martin at Holy Cross church in the palmy days of Heythrop. Like Alex, we were a match of opposites, though we shared some interests such as a latent love of drag queens and a general fondness for battle-axe women. Our common childhood heroine was Dame Edna Everage. He was a talented musician but was actually rather stupid (in an oblivious sense) and I have sadly to admit that I found him endearing except for his optimism and gaiety. We were in town together in the early summer of 2011; we had been to see Lloyd-Webber's The Wizard of Oz, and had each worn red suede shoes for the occasion. We went thence to the Green Carnation and had a jolly good piss up. As we left, he mentioned something about what had happened to me recently (that is to say, my having left the Roman Catholic church); I said; "oh, shut up about that, would you?" I can't really describe the look on his face at that; it was as if he knew that to press the point was a bad idea. I became sullen and wouldn't speak for most of the journey home. Then, upon arrival at the station, we disembarked and he turned and kissed me on the lips. It was as surprising as it was perfect. I'll leave what happened next, if anything, to your imagination, but it transpired that he was moving away with his family to Bath. I have seen him once since then though we exchange Christmass cards. To my knowledge he plays the organ now in some Anglican parish. Like so many other friendships, ours simply waned with distance and time.
I first met Columb at St Margaret Clitherow's. When I first met him I found him rather dull; he had a voice not dissimilar to my Fundamental Theology tutor at Heythrop, the man who forever dried up what little interest I had in theology. Nevertheless, he was a good man. To my other friend, I said that in many ways he reminded me of a good priest we both knew at Covent Garden. When, for liturgical differences, I went elsewhither for Sunday Mass, Columb stayed in contact with me by telephone; his preferred means but by no means my own. I went to his house for dinner on St Stephen's Day some years ago for the first time. I was amazed by his knowledge, experience, his down-to-earth, I daresay Hobbit-like good sense, his complete lack of pretence, his thoughtfulness and consideration, his altruism. The oft-repeated phrase "what you see is what you get," sprang to mind, that and a good many other turns! His house in Highgate was full of books, old prints and paintings. I felt uncomfortable and not a bit confused with the paintings of William III and the Young Pretender that he had in his living room but there were hundreds of Christmass cards from various friends and well-wishers, surely an indication that he is well-liked and respected. I went on visiting him for about three years but as time went by I sensed that he wanted to be more than just friends. He told me about an old romance he had had in his youth with a man who has since died; stories like this interest me not in the least so I looked away. He then took me into his bedroom where I saw several photographs of naked men. Among them was a photograph of myself (the one at the top of this paragraph). By this time he had over-imbibed and kept saying that he thought me beautiful, and such things. He put his arm around my waist so I backed away and changed the subject. I thought enough was enough. I changed my 'phone number and decided that I didn't really think that my charity in visiting him in his loneliness was worth this. I last saw him at Baker Street underground station some months ago and I think he saw me because he stopped but I hastily boarded my train and went my way.
I don't remember the first time I knew Crassus but I knew of him for years. I think I first saw him at St John and St Elizabeth; or was it at Spanish Place? We became Facebook friends. I spoke to him for the first time in the crypt of St Magnus the Martyr. I was surprised one Sunday to hear a very distinct baritone voice coming from the organ loft. Afterwards we went to lunch with a mutual friend. Nothing much else happened betwixt us for another four or five months. Then in January we were both guests at a splendid Old Kalendar Christmass dinner party hosted by an esteemed mutual friend of ours. He shook my hand and gave me a very unpleasant look; there was a look of hideous lust in his eyes. He was very rude to one of the guests. The wine was copious, of course, and so his company was at least tolerable. He wrote to me the next day saying that he was enchanted by me and was desirous of seeing me again and so, thinking that I could use him for his influence and money, I consented to accompanying him to breakfast at St James' Court on the occasion of Mary Stuart's anniversary and thence to Westminster Abbey for the Royal Stuart Society commemorations. We said the Angelus in the nave, prayed by St Edward's tomb, shook our fists at the statue of Oliver Cromwell by the Palace of Westminster and then returned to his flat for lunch and to watch Brian Sewell's Grand Tour series on DVD. His personal insecurities, lust and grandiosities became manifest throughout the afternoon. He shewed me his collection of pornography, his vast collection of pseudo-Baroque tat, and insulted my family not to mention making several inappropriate passes at me and trying unsuccessfully to get me drunk. He begged me to spend the night with him; I refused and made up the excuse that I was making brunch the next day for my long-suffering mother (I would never treat my mother with such deference). Even so I remained on speaking terms and thought his aristocratic pretentions amusing. I do not blame people for being queer any more than myself, but it does bother me when men would fain have us believe they lead godly, celibate lives when, in fact, they do not. When I told my esteemed friend, he of the Christmass Party, what had happened on that Saturday he remarked: "perhaps he has a papal dispensation to be gay?"
I next saw him a few weeks later. At Spanish Place, where a parishioner recognised me from my blog, we attended a concert of poorly-integrated Irish music sung by a not-very-prestigious choir. We went afterwards to his flat for a cocktail party. Expecting Miranda I was greeted by Caliban. He expected me to help set things up, help host the party and wanted to shew me off as his new boyfriend. I was outraged! He served cheap Prosecco bought from Tesco when I had expected vintage champagne; you know, to at least match his pretence and hauteur. A terrible host, more than once I felt obliged to circulate the room with the bottle. I met his mother, a charming lady with a noticeable accent, and my thoughts went back to our last meeting when Crassus said condescendingly that I was like a young Kenneth Williams. I thought, but didn't say, "well, unlike your mother, my Irish grandmother took elocution lessons to get rid of her accent!" We were watching George V's Delhi Durbar on YouTube when, in the midst of the dwindled party, he asked whether I'd have felt more comfortable sitting in his lap. I said, "certainly not." I stayed until all left – a mistake since it seemed to substantiate the illusion that I was really together with him. No wonder his sister and the rector of Spanish Place ignored me that evening! He put his right hand on my arse and tried kissing me, asking whether I would consent to spending the night with him again. For the last time, I said no. I went home and was resolved never to speak to him again. Of all my friends and acquaintances over the years I never once met one so hypocritical, so rude and so downright bloody awful. Crassus, Knight of Magistral Grace and social climber.
Edward was a dear friend and I, for my part, still count him so. I met him at the London Abattoir (or Oratory) and found him very sensible. We became close and eventually he introduced me to his partner Piers. We had so much in common; a mutual love of ballet, of Tolkien, of liturgy, of dogs, of fine food and wine (and ale), and of history - real, local history and the history of country churches. Unfortunately, he embraced Unitarianism and we became estranged as a result. I could not conceal my disdain for his new found religion any more than my contempt for his pastor. He cut all ties recently. Oh well. I suppose, if you bite into a soft centre you can't put it all back in.
You might say that this article illustrates my profound and fantastical inability to keep friends. Or that the word "friend" has been largely misapplied here and that few of them really were friends in any meaningful sense. Having spent a number of years reflecting upon them, I now realise that most of them were interested in one thing; sex. But real friendship is supposed to transcend all that. There is a real crisis about friendship in our times because of promiscuity and easy recreational sex. It seems that everybody is looked upon as a potential bed-fellow and it's becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between platonic friendships and stimulants of sin. Of course, my thoughts here illustrate my own significant interpersonal problems and a complete lack of discretion. In one case I do not repent at all of what I have said, even if I know that it has been read (fortunately unlikely). In others, most others actually, I regret sincerely that things ended as they did. But are you surprised by it? Perhaps it is my doom to go through life with few real friends. I am an intolerant person and after a time certain things about people, whether it be their lifestyles or personal beliefs, tend to eat away at me until silence becomes unspeakably irksome. It is not in my nature to keep silent. Where I have offended good people, much better people than I could ever hope to be, I am deeply sorry. A shame, for me anyway, that any of us could be so sundered in these latter days; since I value friendship more than I can say.