The Press Saturday, November 28th 1998
I used to think it was rather distinguished to have been thrown out of Bedales, but I now realise that there are much more unlikely expulsions to collect: Dr Irene Riding was thrown out of the Lambeth conference for homophobia. At the time one noticed her simply as an agitated blonde woman of a certain age who was doctoring her spin in the press room. For one ghastly moment I mistook her for someone else, and fluttered round asking people if I had just been talking to Anne Atkins. But now I know far more about her., thanks to the property pages of the Sunday Telegraph. She is selling her delicious Devon farmhouse to fund her campaign against liberalism and the ASB. "My vocation is now to keep screaming the Ten Commandments at people" she told Lewis Bessemer.
The £375,000 she hopes to get for her house is all the money she has in the world: "at one point Lloyds said I owed them £1.2m but I doubt I was ever worth that much. Now I think it is a great relief that I don't have to get up every morning and see what's happened to the stock market and work out how to protect my money. I've lost a fortune but I still count my blessings."
Most of the money from the sale of her house will go into a new campaign "telling people we've got to do something about this dreadful millennium prayer: the one that doesn't even mention God." This will need a half page ad in the Daily Telegraph rather than the quarter page ad she ran last time — and which, she says, drew 12,000 replies. That's even more than Victoria Combe got for her series on cakes. In fact it's about 100 times more letters than Victoria got for writing about her experiences on an Alpha course. One had always rather dimly supposed that Daily Telegraph readers preferred "maintenance" to "mission": it's still surprising to find that they do so by a margin of 100 to 1. Are these, I wonder, the people who sit on PCCs?
The Guardian had a rather more inspiring story of conservation: the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has awarded a prize to Bob Davey. The churchwarden at St Mary's, Houghton-on-Hill in Norfolk, who has not only discovered 11th century paintings in a ruined church in Norfolk, but protected them — and it — from Satanists. The church is all that remains of the village, of which the last cottages were demolished in 1925: it stands on a Bronze Age mound that was probably a Roman temple, and for the last two years Mr Davey has stood watch over it at times when Satanists grow excited, such as cross quarter days and the solstices. With the help of the territorial army he has managed to put an end to the desecrations there: he has even recovered the font and piscina, which were being used as a bird bath and bulb trough in a priest's garden.
Another gloriously old-fashioned story in the Sunday People, where "stunning secretary Jennifer Newbold has been forced to resign her job at the Christian-run Temperance League — for posing topless." It's wonderful to see that a story like this, using words almost unchanged since Cranmer's time, can still draw the public: "Fuddy-duddy bosses told Jennifer, 20, that she had to keep her heavenly 36D-22-34 body under wraps. But the sexy blonde, who says she leads a good Christian life, was determined to show off her God-given assets in the hope of making it as a glamour model."
The story is illustrated, but what really caught my eye was one phrase: "who says she leads a good Christian life". Topless modelling is probably the only profession left where that assertion helps your career. "Glyn [her husband] has been with me on shoots and never gets jealous. I get all the sexual satisfaction I need with him. We have an adventurous sex life which is not confined to the bedroom. Our lovemaking is generally very sensuous." And this, too, is the sort of thing a modern bishop is meant to say when his appointment is announced, sometimes even before he tells us which football team he supports.
In fact the Sunday Telegraph was stuffed with religious news this week. The review front was a long and harrowing account of life as the daughter-in-law of Sun Myung Moon. Her husband, weighed down by the pressure of being the eldest son of the Messiah, took to cocaine and alcohol in a big way and beat her repeatedly. None the less, as her memoirs point out, "Moon enjoyed the patronage of Republican power brokers drawn by his deeply conservative message on family and marriage and, perhaps, by his lavish hospitality."
When I took a Moonie freebie around the Far East in the early Eighties, it seemed a little more complex than that. (The trip was passed to me by the Spectator on the reasonable grounds that I had no reputation to lose by accepting it. There were about fifty American journalists whose motives may have been a little more complex.) The main link between Moon and the American Right was not his views on marriage and the family — even then, I suspect that most conservatives thought that marrying a thousand couples at a time was carrying enthusiasm for the institution too far — but his clear views on communism and the moral imperative of selling expensive weaponry to combat it.
It warms my heart to see a journalist without guile or cynicism.. Just look at Ruth Gledhill, in Wednesday's Times, where she got to ask the questions the rest of us don't dare: "Who, or what, has had the greatest influence on your career?"; "Who would you most like to interview?" and "For what would you most like to be remembered? — to which the answer was "As great dancers and entertainers. We want to bring our enjoyment of dancing to people around the world, and we hope that we can be an inspiration to anyone who watches us" For she was not interviewing mere mortals, but ballroom dancers, about their use of the Internet. If bishops want that kind of treatment, they're going to have to lift up their cassocks and twirl.