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Issue 10: Winter 2010 £10 Finch’s uarterly Review Reader Survey p2 New Columns aviation and polo p14 & p27 German in High Heels p21 Nicky Haslam’s guide to being the ‘Perfect House Guest’ p19 Richard Eyre on Feydeau p32 IV Germa sordidus et olidus, sed etiam habet multas res smashingae Bryan Ferry on Manet p36 eels Ecce, mundus est It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year He’s no Angel Gabriel, but inestimable emissary Nick Foulkes is the best possible mortal to deliver FQR’s Christmas Message “All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician and ridiculous to the philosopher.” nd before you start getting cross, don’t blame me: I could never come up with something half as clever, as epigrammatic and as sweeping as that. This was the work of Lucretius, whose bestselling De Rerum Natura made him very much the Richard Dawkins of his day – his day being somewhere around the first century BC. Perhaps, like me, Lucretius was forced to attend chapel rather too frequently while he was at school. I seem to remember going to chapel a few mornings a week, with chapel practice on Saturdays and then the full monty on Sunday night. However, much as the chaplain and masters tried to wean me off Christianity by exposing me to long and tedious sermons, they only succeeded in inculcating a mild and vacillating agnosticism. By contrast, whoever it was who went to work on Lucretius did a fine job of religion aversion, prompting him to pen such lines as, “Muchextolled Religion has too frequently given birth to criminal and impious deeds; as when at Aulis the chosen leaders of the Greeks, the chief of men, foully stained the altar of the virgin Trivia with the blood of Iphigenia.” I say, steady on, old chap, all this talk of bloodstained altars, impiety and virgins is a bit early-Seventies Hammer House of Horror. (Talking of which, you could always get me a copy of Dracula AD 1972 for Christmas). I think that the chief problem with muscular A Winter 2010 atheists is that they protest too much. I know that religion has always been a teensy weensy bit controversial: the Crusades; the Spanish Inquisition; The Thirty Years War; the Albigensian Heresy; the Partition of India; settling differences of opinion by burning people at the stake and our current difficulties with the bearded gentlemen in the hills of Afghanistan are just one or two of the more contentious moments – but I am sure you can think of your own examples. Nevertheless, I do find that ramming one’s atheism down someone else’s throat is just as tiresome as having someone trying to convert one to Roman Catholicism at a dinner party or, for that matter, someone doing as I am now and dragging religion into Christmas, a time when we should traditionally abandon ourselves to gluttony, greed and bickering with loved ones in front of the television. But bear with me if you can. One of the enduring ironies is that while the modern state of America may have had its roots in religion with the Pilgrim Fathers, it has seen fit to expunge Christmas and replace it with the generic term “Holiday”. And I think that is a shame. You see, I feel that religion – at least, the Christian faith as we practise or fail to practise it in the Old World – has an enduring value and charm as a social custom; it is more or less harmless. I have no idea what the statistical information on this is like, and I am of the firm opinion that the best sort of journalism uses as few facts (invented or even true) as possible, so I am going out on a limb here, but I would hazard the absolute foggiest of vague guesses that in the developed world, religious violence kills rather fewer people than, say, cardiovascular disease or malignant neoplasms. And while not entirely harmless, driving under the influence of religion, with, say, a St Christopher medallion affixed to the dashboard, or some form of religious symbol dangling from the rear-view mirror, is probably less of a risk than getting behind the wheel of one’s motor vehicle ❄ after a couple of pints of refreshing methylated spirits, a festive pipe or two of “cracked cocaine” or even a magnum of Cheval Blanc 1982. Indeed, the Church has very strong ideas about alcohol consumption – next time you take Communion, just try asking the padre for a refill. Cycling around London with its beautiful ecclesiastical buildings (if you have not visited the church on Farm Street, you must) or watching the Easter Parades in Spain, I am charmed by the sense of being linked to a common history. Sadly, I may not be able to convince myself of the existence of a supreme being created in part by Walt Disney and in part by Holman Hunt, but it does not mean that I cannot appreciate the historical legacy left by those who had a rather clearer idea of these things than I do. esides, even when they change hands, sites of religious interest become palimpsests of human experience – whether as the cathedral of Constantinople, a mosque, or now as a museum, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is still, whichever way you look at it, an impressive piece of work. Traces of religion are everywhere: our year is still demarcated by religious festivals and, in a world that is increasingly fragmented, Christmas remains an experience that we can all share and relate to, even if only as the narrative glue binding together the strands of the modern Decameron that is Love Actually. You see, for all its bad press, religion has actually done a fair bit of… well… good. I am not thinking here of going out and converting the heathen (a handy term for those who believe a different set of fairy tales than we do, and who don’t drive Bentleys or don’t shoot with Purdey or Holland & Holland guns), but rather of the buildings, the paintings, the poetry and the music. It may seem to be stating the obvious, but without Christmas, B 1 igh H n s in H there would be no ‘White Christmas’ along with Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ and Wizzard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday’, while Bing Crosby’s joyful masterpiece is surely one of the greatest gifts that the Feast of the Birth of our Saviour has bequeathed humanity. And if you remain unmoved by the warm tones of “the Bingle” reminding you of glistening tree tops and the Christmases you used to know, then consider the learning and scholarship. As anyone who has ever seen the film The Name of the Rose or tried to read the book of the film will tell you, the Dark Ages were, well, rather gloomy and, to put not too fine a point on it, a bit shit. In fact, the only places where any sort of learning was kept alive, in Europe at least, were the monasteries. Indeed, had it not been for farsighted clerics like Sean Connery in his monk’s habit preserving ancient learning, we would still be living in wattle-and-daub huts instead of spending Christmas in Mustique with our smart friends. Maybe Lucretius would not agree, and I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself, anything that takes me to a nice, sunny part of the world at a gloomy time of year can only be a very, very good thing… Merry Christmas. ❄Yes, it remains a sad indictment of the unfairness in our society that some people have to drive themselves rather than employing a driver in a peaked cap – and it is this sort of blatant injustice that I am sure David Cameron is working night and day to correct with his fairer, bigger society and in this he has the backing of FQR and, in particular, our proprietor Charles, who, in order to show solidarity with the plight of the chauffeurless at Christmas, has sent his driver on holiday and made his wife operate the controls of the ancestral Bentley. Nick Foulkes is the editorial director of the FQR Group of Publications and Editor in Chief of Finch’s Quarterly Review

Finch's Quarterly Review Issue 10

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