Thoughts on churches

  • The Observer, Sunday 13 January 2002 
  • There is nothing like a row among Christians for sheer malevolence. Bishop Nazir-Ali, said to be the leading contender to succeed George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, found himself all over the front page of the Times yesterday because, as the paper rather piously reported, there was a 'whispering campaign' against him. But thanks to the Times, it wasn't sotto voce but more a scream from the rooftops.

    The allegations against the Bishop of Rochester included the suggestion that he once had been a Roman Catholic, hardly an unforgivable aberration in a Christian. There was, of course, a less visible and uglier subtext, for Dr Nazir Ali is from Pakistan.

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Christmas in Scotland

THIS year the Herald has, after a period of some years, resumed publication on Boxing Day and January 2. The decision arose not from officiousness but from movements in the market-place which could not be ignored. As we made our preparations, it became clear that New Year is not what it was. Most people would rather have Christmas Day off than January 1.

Christmas is often regarded as the English festival and New Year the Scots. The reality is more complicated but their modern mingling is not surprising because essentially they are the same midwinter festivals that somehow became separated from each other. The English Christmas, Christian but always with its pagan undertones, has merged with Scotland's Auld Yuill, more frankly irreligious.

Read more: Christmas in Scotland

On the correct rules of hat wearing

AN unexpected pleasure of the week was to tune into Gerald Scarfe's ironic BBC2 essay on the subject of class and its totems. People, it seems, are still prepared to pay large sums of money for the titles of old feudal baronies. Indeed, it was revealed elsewhere this week, some of the hard-pressed Lloyd's names are selling superfluous titles to raise the wind.

We heard too of the earl outraged to hear that the applicant for the post of butler, having made a fortune buttling in America, had sent his sons to Eton where, egad, they might meet the earl's own offspring. The butler was shown the door.

Read more: On the correct rules of hat wearing

A museum in Cromarty.

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 29 Jan 1993.

The museum of my youth was a dead fish on a plate. The visitor was invited to stare at inanimate objects behind glass. Fustian prose described them. Cromarty Courthouse is as much state of the art as its resources permit: it is animated and animating. But it is not trivialised a la Disneyland: it imparts a great deal of information elegantly and painlessly.

The first surprise, after you have negotiated the narrow steps, is an animatronic figure of Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660). He was a bigwig who lived in Cromarty Tower. He was a royalist, a soldier, a scholar and, above all, an eccentric.

Read more: A museum in Cromarty.

On plans to charge for the Botanics in Edinburgh

FOR a blessed half hour this week I sat on a bench at the herbaceous border in the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Myriad plants were in bloom below the high hedge marching gracefully above them; their subtle colours soothed the mind and emptied it of care.

I have been coming here, on and off, for most of my life. We played childhood games on the daisy-strewn turf and ran about the magically mysterious rock garden, occasionally to the kindly rebukes of the keepers.

Read more: On plans to charge for the Botanics in Edinburgh