I cannot remember a prettier Easter, or a more frustrating one. This was no time to be in town. But there is a way of strangling self-pity at birth: military history. That brings a sense of perspective. Better to be locked-down in a London flat than charging across a D-Day beach.
Bulletins from those lucky enough to be rusticated all make the same point: how well everyone is behaving. Over most of the countryside, there seem to be more volunteers than there are duties to perform. When the call came in Dorset, one mildly octogenarian Brigadier sprang into action. Appointing himself GOC North Dorset, he chose his battalion commanders and staff officers while instructing his wife to repair any ravages his uniform had suffered from the young at fancy dress parties. Someone had to break the news. ‘Actually, Brigadier, you are in the vulnerable age group that the volunteers are there to protect.’ The old boy reluctantly returned to civilian life: what a shame. I bet his Home Virus Guard would have been the smartest in all England.
The local clergy are also seizing the chance to strengthen their position. The volunteers do not lack padres. If only the Bishops had some of that spirit. The virus struck during the solemnity of Lent. That has inspired two of the greatest religious poems: ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward’. Christians, plus reverent non-believers such as me, should have the B Minor coursing through their souls as they strive for personal language not utterly unworthy, especially during the three-day transcendence, from Passion to Glory. Transcendence, Passion, Glory: most Bishops prefer to sound like an HR department from a third-rate business school. In the farthest-flung regions of Christendom, many an illiterate peasant would declaim ‘Christ is Risen’ with more fervour than the average Bishop could command. Some of our Bishops even want to forbid the clergy to comfort the dying. What a pity that Health and Safety were not on duty at Golgotha. They could have saved every-one a lot of trouble.
From solemnity to banality. During the lockdown, what would we have done without mobile phones? Also in Dorset, that most inventive of counties, friends have set up a poetry circle. You send in a piece of verse — which does not have to be your own composition — and then receive what amounts to an anthology. I have contributed Mark Alexander Boyd’s one known English poem, a couple of short Housmans, and a quatrain from the ‘Good Ship Venus’: Lent is over.
There is one curious phenomenon, which might sound Lenten, but not so. I have always believed that the austerity is a matter for the intellect, not the palate. But without making any effort I have been drinking about half as much as usual, with no ill-effects. Glasses charge with much more enthusiasm when there is company. The best wine I have drunk recently was a Morey-St Denis ’17 from Dujac, an increasingly formidable domaine. In the 1960s, it was bought by Jacques Seysses, one of the great Burgundian growers. I gave it four hours in the decanter. It could have done with longer. I look forward to trying it again, soon, in company.
I also came across an overlooked bottle: a Berry Bros Good Ordinary Claret. Has there ever been anything which describes itself so accurately? This one had been lurking for years and I was expecting to pour it away. No need. It went well with the harvest of the grill: my cooking skills at full stretch. The Bekaa Valley has its great Temple of Bacchus, adjacent to both vineyards and a Hezbollah encampment, which seem to co-exist. There is another shrine to Bacchus at the corner of Pall Mall and St James’s Street: Berry Bros. It is currently locked down, though functioning by mail order. We can only hope that its Lent will soon be overtaken by resurrection.
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