11 March 2008

Shouting like Trumpets from all the Roofs and Pinnacles

Gargoyles, strictly speaking, are waterspouts. The word 'gargoyle', ludicrous though it sounds, is cognate with 'gargle', ultimately coming from Latin via the French word gargouille. Most of the fellas you probably think of as gargoyles are in fact their purely decorative cousins, more properly termed 'grotesques'.

So your man in the picture here, looking like a rather innocuous lion, is in fact a pedigree gargoyle, playing a useful role in society by, well, gargling.

Yes, I'm sad to say that thirsty gargoyles -- or dry ones, if you like -- are merely grotesques.

Anyway, this fella here is doing sterling work channelling rainwater from the chapel's roof in Cambridge's Ridley Hall, an Anglican theological college around which I've been orbiting over the last day or so; my host of last night is a student there.

I arrived in Cambridge rather later than I expected yesterday, having had all manner of ticket issues first at Victoria and again at King's Cross, causing me to miss my train by moments. Still, eventually I arrived to be greeted by a beaming face was the first to welcome me to my Mancunian home when I arrived there back in 2001 and that hasn't changed a bit since I last saw him on his wedding day, nearly three years ago.

Over a nostalgic pizza in his house I chatted with him and his mischievous other half, reminiscing and being regaled by tales of old pranks, browsing through the wedding photos as he dispelled my confusion over the A, B, and C issue.

Far from standing for anything, A, B, and C refer to Church of England resolutions in connection with the issue of women priests: Resolution A allowed parishes to bar ordained women priests from celebrating communion or pronouncing absolution in the parish, Resolution B allows them to prevent women priests from working as incumbents in the parish, and the so-called 'Resolution C' allows them to seek a special 'extended episcopal oversight' if they disagree with their own bishop's decision to ordain women as priests.

The elasticity of the Church of England never ceases to amaze me.

So this morning we were up early to head into college where I was introduced to the famous Book of Common Prayer in the fascinating little chapel, with Church Fathers and Reformers depicted in stained glass on either side. Tea followed in my host's room, where I met the lad he shares with and briefly discussed the importance of the Apostolic Fathers -- the disciples of the disciples -- as a source of Christian knowledge.

Into town then for a wander around bookshops and coffee in a former church, complete with a chapel that's still occasionally used, there to be asked awkward questions, and to frown, and to grapple with things, before returning to the hall, passing a multitude of gargoyles and grotesques, cursing myself all the while for not having brought my camera.

Lunch was fun, though the aftermath was moreso, as I lounged in Ridley's common room over tea with a few of my host's friends, discussing Eamon Duffy's views on the Second Vatican Council, the fate of Calvin's sermons, Vincent McNabb's wry observation that most of us simply aren't very good at sinning, why Anglicans who were happy with women priests might be less so with women bishops, how one goes from being an economist to becoming a curate, and the dangers of buying more books than one can ever reasonably hope to read.

After a couple of hours, filled with tea and clever chat, I slung my bag into position and strolled off with my host towards the station, taking our time as we went, allowing me to deploy my camera at daffodils, gargoyles, and even the one-time local of an old mentor of mine.

I was sorry to say goodbye to my host -- and indeed hostess, who turned up while I was at the station -- but am looking forward to seeing them before too long. A lot will have changed next time we meet.

And then, having said goodbye it was time for me to board my train to Stansted and fly home, to be picked up at the airport by one of my two oldest friends.

It was a marvellous trip, and a much-needed break. I can't wait to be back. In the meantime, though, there's work to be done.

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