Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Bishop and the Trout

I was talking to the Bishop of London yesterday . He boarded the train at Charlbury , ( escaping his in laws at Finstock ; the next village to Charlbury ) and I was heading for Oxford. I have been giving support to the Bishop in his campaign to get Government to provide funding to the many rural churches which want to provide better facilities ( loos and kitchens , as he says ) to enable them to be more effective community hubs. The village church in England has always been at the centre of the community ; whether for Church goers or not. As we lose village facilities like post offices , police and shops then the Church could play a much larger role. I know of one Church where there is a sub post office , and one which is used in a police support role. But often funders will not support the Church , either because they think " faith " is too difficult , or because they think Churches have oddles of heritage cash.

We also talk of the appalling stance of Government and politicians generally to crime. Always talking about punishment and retribution and ignoring the fact that most crime is committed by people who have been in prison ; so devoting resources to rehabilitation and to support for ex offenders is a much more effective way of cutting crime. Of course this would not please the Daily Mail so nothing much happens . And disgracefully the Government which had pledged to reform probation and establish an offender management service capitulated to the entrenched interest of the current prison and probation service who are lamentably failing in their jobs. The third sector could do so much better at this but pathetic funding regimes and lack of interest mean little is happening .

The Bishop says he was shocked when he discovered recently that the London Probation service have 45,000 people on their books. What is needed is a root and branch reform . This is not exactly rocket science; if you ensure someone coming out of prison has a job and a home , support for drug problems or tackling mental health troubles ,then a return to crime is less likely.

But I'm just a wet liberal . Far better to pander to Daily Mail prejudices and do nothing but build more prisons and bring in yet more laws .More ASBOs . A new law on binge drinking ( today's crack pot news from the Home Office ). More young people in the criminal justice system . Is there anyone with a brain left working in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office ?

The Bishop is a splendid chap; witty and erudite , the proper bearing for a high Prelate of the Church as by law established . A truly Trollopian figure in a Church where most Bishops nowadays wear trainers and jeans and expect to be called by their Christian names. Long may My Lord of London continue in his Episcopacy .

I leave my Lord Bishop at Oxford as O am taking my 2 nephews out to lunch at The Trout Inn at Godstow ; a charming 18th century hostelry next Godstow nunnery on the banks of the River Isis. Alexander ; the aesthete and vegetarian , is reading English at my old College , Christ Church . He has already won a national Poetry prize and was one of the team of 4 from the College that recently triumphed as champions of this year's University Challenge. He has just taken finals and we confidently expect a First . Julian is the butcher version , a hearty at Keble College reading History and German. He has recently been elected as Captain of Boats for the college rowing team . They has a disastrous Eights week just recently and Julian indicates he will lick them into shape I'm sure this is true. Bubbs do not like being associated with failure . We are a family of talent , brain and over achievement ( and the occasional eccentricity ).To celebrate his election he was stripped naked by the rowing 8 and impaled by croquet hoops in the front Quad , much Pimms and beer having previously been consumed . He shows me the hoop bruises. Well , well .

We have a great lunch . I discover the Cotes du Rhone is rather magnificent so we have 3 bottles , then stagger back to town through the marvellous open space of the Port Meadow. Get back in time for Evensong in my College Chapel ( it is also the Cathedral for Oxford ) and we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the BVM. Alexander comes with me . Not Julian ; he is an atheist. And probably had an appointment with a croquet hoop .

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