Universal Unions

A huge amount of nonsense is being talked about gay marriage. On one side are those who appear to think that their own beliefs can dictate the private lives of people who do not share those beliefs, while on the other are those who seem to think that the religious have no right to express or hold opinions.

It is a shame because the solution is very simple.  The state should not take a view on whether people marrying are of the opposite or same sex. The law of the land should just allow any two people who wish publicly to commit to each other to do so. It is called civil marriage. The churches and other religious institutions should continue to say what they think about this. Some denominations will bless gay civil marriages, just as some denominations permit the blessing of unions of people who have been married before. Other groups, including the Catholic church, will want no part in this.  Which is also fine. Gay Catholics can then either move to another church, stay Catholic but live lives of promiscuity, stay Catholic and be celibate, or stay Catholic and hope to meet the right person one day but accept that the church to which they belong will never bless that union.

For the rest, it is easy. If you are not a Catholic the Catholic church cannot speak for you. And if you are not a Catholic you cannot speak for the church.

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The opera The Death of Klinghoffer has received a new production at ENO. This work by John Adams and Alice Goodman, about the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and murder of its elderly wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer, was in part publicised by way of its allegedly controversial content. Audiences were promised that there might even be protests. As far as I know, not a single performance of this stupefyingly dull work got even a heckle. Bogus controversy always buffs the dully uniform.

I find some of Adams’s music to be wonderful, but in large doses it turns the brain to mush. Klinghoffer certainly had this effect on its designer and director. A replica of Israel’s security fence dominated the set and towards the end enclosed the widowed Mrs Klinghoffer. All Jews (even ones targeted before the erection of the fence) are thus supposedly hemmed in by Israel. And what of the Palestinian terrorists? One of their leaders gets an asinine aria about a bird. Goodman claims that Klinghoffer ended her career as a librettist. I can see why, but it is not for the reason she fears.

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The Royal Institute of British Architects was the venue for an evening remembering the late Vaclav Havel, hosted by the Czech ambassador, Michael Zantovsky, and Sir Tom Stoppard.

After a request to turn off all mobile phones, the first voice was a recording of Havel himself speaking. Songs, readings and excerpts from his plays followed, interspersed with archive and recent documentary footage. Along with Stoppard’s tribute, these snatches of film were the pinnacle of the evening. Even to think of Havel is, I find, to feel a lifting sensation. At the end there was recent footage of him swimming alone towards the camera and then a cutaway of a pond with water-lilies. From underwater Havel suddenly popped up and addressed the camera: “You may now turn on your mobile phones. After all, life must go on.”

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Fighting totalitarianism is something everybody says they would do when they live in freedom. But it is remarkable how few people even notice, let alone object to, incursions within their own orbit. One victim of a totalitarian mindset in our own country, Ray Honeyford, died recently. It was in the early 1980s in the Salisbury Review that this quiet Bradford headmaster committed the error of saying something that was true but nobody wanted to hear. He believed that pupils at his school, even if they came from the Indian subcontinent, would be better able to study if they spoke English. For this he was hounded from his profession and vilified as a “racist”. Three decades on, the suggestions that brought such vitriol down upon him are the policies of the major parties in all European countries.

At the National Theatre a few weeks after Honeyford’s death I watched the opening night of a wonderful show about free expression called Can We Talk About This? (see Anne McElvoy’s review on page 70). 

  A couple of years ago at the outset of his project I encouraged the director to consider highlighting the Honeyford affair among others. The show did so, wittily and concisely, but this vindication comes too late, of course, for Honeyford himself.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"