For some reason mrs maytrees and I received an invitation to an England and Wales Bishops' Conference Christmas party earlier this week. The party took place in the reception room of Southwark's Catholic St George's Cathedral not to be confused (although it often is) with the Anglican Southwark cathedral which is also a stone's throw from Waterloo train station. The party atmosphere was happily upbeat.
Archbishop Vincent Nicolls's short speech reflected well I felt the mood of those present essentially by suggesting the Catholicism in this island had had a confidence lift as a consequence of the visit a few weeks ago of His Holiness the Pope. Many agreed that although before the Visit took place we were a little apprehensive but such is the quiet dignified and obviously holy man that is Pope Benedict XVI, that his presence made a positive impact on us all. This was despite the pre-Visit backdrop of adverse media comment about the Catholic Church generally and child protection issues in particular.
Archbishop Peter's talk was rather more fun. The venue was his home after all so possibly he was more relaxed. He recounted a tale of a catholic parish in rural Ireland in the 1960s well before the Euro and economic bailouts when Irish punts and English pounds were interchangeable.
In those days he said the parish priest announced not only the takings for the month but also how much people in the pews had given. On one occasion he announced that Mary had put fourpence ha'penny in the plate, Marie sixpence Moira five pence, Paddy five pence Tom eleven pence and then after dramatic pause Peter O'Flaharty ten shillings. There was a gasp from the congregation but one person piped up "but he's a protestant" to which the parish priest rejoined "I wish to God you were all protestants."
Meanwhile mrs maytrees and a Chinese lady and her husband we were conversing with, had spied some delicious looking individual sized steak and kidney pies being circulated by a waiter but there was only one pie left by the time his tray came in our direction. The Chinese lady was brilliantly forward and spoke to the waiter in a way which I simply could not pull off. By the end of the evening we had had several steak and kidney pies (which were really tasty) as well as mince pies and assorted other goodies which given my rather English woodenness when it comes to speaking generally, I doubt would have been available for us to feast on without her talents.
A surprisingly good evening.