Janet (j4) wrote,

This 'house believes...

I've never had the opportunity for a celebrity haiku before, but last Saturday (29th October) furnished me with the following:

Michael Portillo
Swinging a black umbrella
After the funeral.

It's kind of a cheat, really, because it wasn't exactly an unexpected sighting; he was one of the speakers at the memorial service for Maurice Cowling, at which Peterhouse choir (combined for this occasion with Jesus choir) were singing. Though to be fair to myself as novice celebrity-spotter, I didn't even know who the memorial was for (much less who the speakers would be) until we got to Great St. Mary's.

Portillo was (as you'd expect) an entertaining speaker, furnishing the congregation with some amusing anecdotes about Cowling as a tutor ("I will never forget his final words to me: 'bugger off'"); Peregrine Worsthorne was less listenable, maundering on at great and incoherent length. Michael Bentley (a fellow member, with Cowling, of the Peterhouse school of history) was more bearable and mercifully short, though gave an overview of Cowling's work which was slightly baffling in that it seemed to be largely praising the denseness and obfuscation of his prose (as signifiers, apparently, of some kind of Greater Mystery).

The general theme of most of the speakers -- as of Cowling's work, from all accounts -- seemed to be railing against Liberalism as the root of all evil. Talk of "turning back the tides of Liberalism" is talk that I'm not used to hearing in my somewhat rose-tinted bubble; and it made me raise my eyebrows a few times, and grit my teeth a few times more. Probably good for me, then. There's things I want to say about my irresponsible side's sneaking romantic admiration for some of the trappings of Toryism (and that side's corresponding guilty discomfort when seated on the hard moral bicycle-seat of Liberalism), but I can't articulate them anything other than flippantly at the moment, so perhaps I'll wait until I can phrase them more intelligently.

There were moments of respite from all the right-wing rhetoric, though: somebody from CUP read a mildly interesting extract from John Henry Newman's The Idea of a University, which our illustrious Vice-Chancellor quotes in and out of season, and which I keep meaning to read (and I have no excuse since it's all on the web); and of course the choir sang, and while the choice of music may well have had political overtones, I can't hear them when I'm listening for harmonies. We did Tallis's If Ye Love Me (again), and Psalm 90, the one with all the obvious and well-known bits about death in it.


At the risk of sounding like some strange combination of a gossip column writer or a grumbly old woman, though, I was dreadfully disappointed with the way the choirs dressed. We'd been told "wear black", which isn't particularly detailed advice, but surely it's obvious: it's a memorial service, you're not a key participant as an individual, you wear something smart and subdued. You'd think. But instead (with one or two exceptions) we had a motley ragbag of black asymmetric skirts, puffball skirts, off-the-shoulder jumpers, sparkly tops with shoestring straps, pinstripe trousers, velvet jackets with bright silver buttons, hipsters, trainers, stilettos, glittery sandals, knee-boots, bared midriffs, and goodness knows what else. However cool some of them may have looked individually, the overall effect was just messy -- and wholly inappropriate for the occasion. I may just be an old square, and feel free to ignore me ... but for god's sake, it's not that hard to find a pair of black trousers that don't show your thong, your belly-button piercing, or your muffin-roll (or all three), or a black skirt that doesn't scream SIENNA BOHO CHIC GOTH L@@K!, and a plain black shirt/t-shirt/jumper. Is it. (Yours, etc., Disgusted of Romsey.)

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