The Press Saturday, May 2nd 1998
Cherie Blair's Diary, in the Observer, got to the heart of the story: "I'm just an ordinary girl who stoically takes the ups and downs of life like anyone else. And it's perfectly normal, I think, for me to smash an entire Royal Doulton 60-piece dinner service and send terrified children fleeing for sanctuary because I happen to have this case which I LOST.
"Well, sort of. My man's being sacked. Everything was going to well: the charges against poor Martin Neary seemed pitiful. Frank Field showed a previously unknown concern for the victims of injustice by rallying to the defence of the poor underpaid Westminster Abbey organist; Murdoch press faithfully denounced the Dean as worse than Hitler, fees rolling in: and then he gets the Psalm 45.
"The appeal seemed hopeless until realised case would go to before Queen who would hand judgeship of it onto dear Cardinal Irvine. Hurrah! Piece of cake."
Of course this stuff is meant as satire, and actually written by the features editor. But one does wonder sometimes: the same day the story appeared, the Sunday Times carried an interview with the Dean's estranged foster daughter discussing his character. What would have happened if this kind of pressure had been put on the participants in the Lincoln scandals? So far as I can tell there is nothing half as interesting going on at Westminster Abbey. What has changed is the degree to which the press is prepared to respect any kind of sanctuary; and of course the personal attention of powerful people like Frank Field and Cherie Blair.
What has not changed is the degree to which the press naturally assumes that a dispute of this sort is between two men alone. I know why we do it: it is often the only way to make a complicated story comprehensible, especially when we don't understand it ourselves. So Dr Carr automatically becomes Dr Neary's opponent, and, in most of the coverage, the villain of the piece. Before we get too carried away, it is worth noting one difference between the Abbey case and the Lincoln one. In Lincoln the Dean was a minority of one on the chapter when the fighting broke out; and however many allies he imported, he always worked his back to his original position. In the Abbey it appears to be Dr Neary who stands alone against the chapter. I haven't noticed anyone from inside the Abbey quoted in his defence, however many friends he has outside. This may be because they are afraid that Dr Carr will come round and break their legs if they speak up but it is also possible that they approve of what he has done.
Anyway, it didn't make a very promising backdrop to Dr Carey's appeal for intercommunion. You have to wonder why he does it when he knows what the only possible Catholic response will be. The first time it looks like a blunder; the second time, like a man beating his head against a brick wall. The fifth time, you start to wonder whether he knows something about the wall that the onlookers don't. Perhaps he believes that great things will develop from the small scale disregard of the ban which allowed Tony Blair to take communion for many years in North London. In this context an Anglican bishop said to a Roman Catholic friend of mine the other day that "it was the ordinary people who brought down the Berlin Wall" but I don't see the parallel myself: if the Vatican had been running East Germany the wall would still be there.
In a way, the real barrier to intercommunion is the gulf of incomprehension which prevented Dr Carey, or Mr Blair, from understanding how much the ban matters to the people who disagree with them. But I think that the speech was probably part of a worked-out foreign policy towards Rome. It had the incidental merit of demoting to the second story on the page the Times's coverage. Of the Lambeth Conference preparatory report on sex. Polygamy beat homosexuality to the top slot in the list of shocking things proposed. This is surely right, both for journalists and for the poor conference. We are all getting bored of homosexuality, whereas polygamy is hardly practised in even the most exciting cathedrals.
Of course you never know what will prove exotic when religions travel around the world. Saturday's Financial Times had a wonderful article about the troubles confronting Hare Krishnas in India. It turns out that the middle classes there regard them with almost as much suspicion as they do in this country. "In the 1970s film Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Indian film star Dev Anand plays an airline pilot who rescues his sister from the corrupting influence of Western hippies in Kathmandu. In a key song — still often played at Indian discos and parties today — dazed-looking Westerners, apparently high on marijuana, dance around singing 'Take another drag, take another drag, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama'."
The sect has fought back. The peg for the article was a visit by Madana-Mohana Das, formerly Maxim Osopov of St Petersburg, who was calling on foreign journalists in New Delhi to invite them to a multimedia temple the sect has built for six million dollars or so. "Along with idols of the deity Krishna, it boasts 'the Bhagavad Gita Experience', an animatronics show with robots depicting Krishna and Arjun, warrior hero of the Gita. These had been made by the Los Angeles-based company that created rides at Disneyland. Still being built at the temple is another attaction: a 'Journey through the Vedic Cosmos' which will have seatsh that move and shake along the screen to give a sensation of space travel."
At this point the write adds a wholly mysterious remark. "I wasn't laughing any more." I'd have been holding the doorpost with both hands myself. Still, none of this is remotely as weird as the Daily Express's contribution to the archives of divinely inspired vegetable, A woman in Hull found a cross-shaped cavity in her potato as she prepared a fish and chip lunch. The mark is quite clearly there in the photograph, but what I can't get out of my mind is the caption: Good Fry Day.