Archbishop, If you will…

I did not expect, on this cold yet sunny day, to be writing a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury; but upon opening my copy of today’s Mail on Sunday, my eyes were met with the headline “Archbishop: Britain split and crushed by Brexit and austerity”. The Archbishop, it appears, feels as though his job entails the same tasks as that of a political commentator. Given that the Archbishop insists upon interjecting in the lives of the non-religious, I feel that it is only fair for me to give “The Most Reverend” a piece of my own mind in return. Given his Christian nature, I am sure he will forgive me for doing so.

The Archbishop’s article begins by claiming that “we are facing our biggest challenge and shake-up to society since the Second World War”. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is the imminent arrival of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (or “Brexit”, to use that ugly term). The Archbishop says that he is neither “Eeyorish” nor “blandly optimistic” about Britain’s post-Brexit future, and appears to focus on the rocky social climate surrounding Brexit rather than the negotiations or possible implications to the economy. Of course, Archbishop, the first thing the conflicts surrounding Brexit needs is the running commentary of the Church (I hope the reader can sense my sarcasm).

However, all was not bad in his public address. I shall give the Archbishop credit where credit is due, despite my disapproval of his interjection as an official man of the cloth. He expressed his concerns with growing inequality, and his words on the tragedy that struck Grenfell Tower, which he described as “a metaphor for our collective failings, shows us that that we need a moral revolution in housing that centres on people”, were rather moving. He was also right to point out that austerity “is crushing the weak, the sick and many others”. Those words will resonate with a large proportion of the general public. The Archbishop, however, made the age-old mistake of commenting on politics whilst trying to remain apolitical. His written piece was quite clearly an attack on the Conservative Party, but it appears that the Archbishop knows he can only push his luck so far in the realm of politics.

The Archbishop finished his article with a flurry of Christianity (as one would perhaps expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury). His closing statement made it clear, at least according to him, that “it is the duty of the Church and of all us to reimagine what it means to be this remarkable nation in the 21st Century”. The Archbishop is correct to point out that Britain is “suffering from a lack of such common values”, as he was right to say the things he said about Grenfell. But the last thing this country needs is more interference in political matters from the Church (as an institution). Of course, Archbishop Welby is not the first of his line to stick his oar in clouded waters. Again, I shall give Archbishop Welby credit, and praise him for not going as far as his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who called for Sharia Law to be introduced in the United Kingdom for those who wanted it.

Despite the fact that I have many agreements with the Archbishop, we simply cannot have the Church constantly trying to put its foot in the door of politics. The Archbishop can vote as he pleases, he can favour whichever economic system he pleases, and he can be as nostalgic about the Christian days of old as he likes, but he cannot do so on his own terms; and his religious position should not, by any means, give him a national platform to comment on such issues. His opinion must remain an ordinary opinion. If Archbishop Welby wishes to influence government policy he shall have his opportunity at the polling station; he can go one step further, if he wishes, and abandon his Holy post and stand for Parliament. It must also be said that both the Mail and the Archbishop have, perhaps, overestimated the power of Welby’s position. Many people, based upon the reactions I have read online, have expressed concern at the political nature of the Archbishop’s public address, including some Christians who are in absolute agreement with him. Like many other people, my heart sinks when I see an “official” religious figure making political statements (especially when they are doing so in the national press!). Call me cynical, but before I had even read the Archbishop’s piece, I was ready to throw it into the fire of eternal damnation.

Pardon Me, Sir – On the Limits of Manners in London

You’ll excuse me, I’m sure, for my lack of blog posts. I have been busy preparing for, and then finally settling in to, University life in the great city of London. London is, of course, notorious for the hustle and bustle of its somewhat grubby – yet somehow attractive – streets. The question is then, I suppose, how is a Home Counties boy settling in to a place where street manners are somewhat non-existent? Or if they do exist, I am yet to fully experience them.

The Brits, I am told by American friends, are considered to be perhaps a bit too polite for their own good. I too, on reflection, would say that manners is most certainly our niche. In my hometown of High Wycombe, and many other places around the UK, you can hardly go anywhere without having a door held open for you, or being on the receiving end of a quick and light-hearted apology as you accidently knock into somebody on the street. Being from Buckinghamshire, a place where “excuse me” seems to be every babies first words, I have found London quite the culture shock in this sense. I wouldn’t be so harsh to say that manners are not appreciated here, but they are certainly not expected.

My journey to rudeness began inside my local Primark, where I turned a corner and almost bumped into one passer-by. “I’m sorry” I said with a smile, expecting the young chap to return the sentiment. However, he simply glanced at me, and continued with his trek through the store. At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. But now I have been in London for a few weeks, I have come to learn that this is quite the norm. London being London, and busy streets being busy streets, taking the time to apologise for harmless occurrences such as the one above is simply not expected of you. They say that ignorance is bliss, and my inner Buckinghamshire trooper of manners refuses to let the ritual of apology go without a fight.

I hope, dear reader, that you will not misinterpret this as a slur on London nor its noble people. There is, as far as I can tell, a reasonable explanation for this. It could be argued that London is simply so busy that if everybody stopped to apologise, hold open doors, say hello or wait for a fellow pedestrian, nobody would get anything done. It is, in essence, a cultural and environmental phenomena. Living in London, as well as mixing more with others from all over the country and the world, has truly made me realise that every area of the UK is different in some small way. I have come to the conclusion that people from the Home Counties are quite keen on their manners, and this is one of the very few things I will not apologise for!

However, this is simply no excuse for some behaviours I have seen during my time here. London is the only place I have witnessed an old lady, walking stick in hand, almost toppled over by a group of men in suits during rush hour. Partaking in such an occurrence in Buckinghamshire would probably have you named and shamed in the Bucks Free Press. But perhaps rudest of all is the Lewisham air itself. The borough of Lewisham has some of the most polluted air in London, and I dare to even consider what is happening to my insides as I breath in the ghastly poison during rush hour. I now picture myself as a fermented egg (though I am sure that is somewhat of an exaggeration).

Some things are still off bounds in London, I am pleased to say. I am yet to see, hear or smell anybody pass wind in a public place (although I am finding the small possibility that Londoners don’t find farts funny somewhat disturbing). Surprisingly, I have even seen the odd person yell “thank you!” to the bus driver whilst exiting from the busses side. There is something sorrowful about laying eyes upon a London bus driver – they so rarely experience that infamous “thank you, driver” mantra from exiting passengers; a social ritual that,for some biased reason, I have come to solely associate with High Wycombe.

All in all, London is an amazing city, and it is most certainly an experience living here. But I am feeling rather nostalgic about the small town manners of my hometown, something that I have failed to appreciate (or even recognise) until London became my official residency. I have a few years left until I return home for good, but until that day, I’ll fly the flag of the swan high… And I’ll keep on apologising for anything and everything.