Sunday, 4th February, 2024

[Day 1420]

Meg and I had a better night’s sleep for which I think we are truly grateful after the disturbed sleep that we had the night before. We got ourselves up, washed and dressed and sitting down for the Lorna Kuenssberg politics program which runs from 9.00am and was characterised by a moving interview with the mother of the teenager murdered recently by other teenagers. We knew that our University of Birmingham friend was away this weekend but nonetheless we decided to pop down into Waitrose to see if there was anybody there that we recognised. But as it was a Sunday in February when no doubt everybody is spent up, Meg and I drank our coffee practically alone apart from one other family evidently treating their young children to a treat. But we made a point of getting back by 11.30 because there was going to be a programme on the TV which we thought we would find very interesting. Last week when we returned home from our coffee excursion, we dropped into the second half of Episode 2 of a programme called ‘Pilgrimage’ and found this so interesting that we thought we would make a point of watching the third and final episode this morning. A group of eight celebrities had been formed into a group and in their number were a couple of Catholics, one Jewish female, one Muslim female, a gay black of largely agnostic views and I do not know about the rest. They had started their pilgrimage in Orsieres in the Swiss Alps but were walking the Via Francigna, which in mediaeval times had started off in Canterbury with Rome being the ultimate destination of the pilgrimage. Whether there were any tensions within this group was not shown in the broadcast episodes but the programmes did concentrate upon the mutual help and support which members of the pilgrimage offered to each other. Of course, for everybody concerned, this was not just an (arduous) physical journey but a quasi-spiritual and emotional journey as well. In this respect the series was reminiscent of the film ‘The Way’ which detailed the pilgrimage journey from the French Alps to Santiago de Compestela in northern Spain. These films show some stunning scenery as well as the ancient towns and villages along the route and to some extent can be seen as a travelogue. The final episode was extremely compelling, including some of the final scenes. Having arrived in Rome, the group as a whole was granted a private audience with the Pope – no doubt, a street-wise and savvy media group within the Vatican realised the good propaganda value of this audience. The pilgrim who was the gay black person of no religious convictions was determined to make the most of his opportunity to have direct words with the Pope and explained that as a gay man, he did not feel at all welcome within the Catholic Church. The Pope’s words to him were both diplomatically skilful as well as indicating Pope Francis’ direction of travel on trying to modernise the modern Church. The Pope picked up on the phrase ‘as a gay man’ and indicated to the pilgrim that one should concentrate not on the adjective ‘gay’ but on the noun ‘man’ and these words were incredibly well received and a source of emotional support to the group as a whole. Meg and I checked that the series as a whole is still available on the BBC i-Player so we think that next Sunday we will probably start to watch the series from the very beginning and watch all three episodes on succeeding Sundays.

Meg and I lunched on beef at midday in which we cook the whole of a joint in the slow cooker and then cut it in half so that one half gets frozen in our freezer whilst the remaining half sees us through the week. We made a mash of parsnip and carrot which we feel always goes particularly well with beef, particularly as I always make an onion gravy to go with it. We try to keep our consumption of meat within strict limts these days and tend to eat meat three days a week, fish two days a week and a meat-free, vegetarian type meal for the two days a week. Ths afternoon, Meg and I thought that we would indulge ourselves in a rather different kind of quasi-documentary and this was a account over several hours on Channel 5 on the progress of the Great Fire of London of 1666. Of course after any catastrophe, there is always a search for a scapegoat but in this case it was not the baker on Pudding Lane where the fire is known to have started. In the febrile atmosphere of the time, there was a search for people to blame and the Dutch (with whom we were in maritime conflict at the time) and then the French (as they were Catholic) were the first suspects. The authorities at the time found a Frenchman fleeing the blaze by the name of Hubert whose mental health was poor and who ‘confessed’ to starting the fire by throwing a fireball into the premises of the bakers. The baker himself and the members of his family all attested to the fact that poor Hubert was to blame who was subsequently hanged at Tyburn, the traditional site of public executions at the time. Of course, there are echoes of this even today when there are hints of this in the ‘hue and cry’ over asylum seekers arriving by boats which can be seen as a cynical way of deflecting criticism from other aspects of immigration policy, not least when legal migration has reached an all time high.