Monthly Archives: December 2015



I love this reading from Micah 5:1-4. It is so dismissive about Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah. The least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.”

A busy day: it is Natalia’s birthday party but first we go with Albert to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see the Book of Mormon. It is ridiculous, disrespectful, and of course no one would ever dare write such stuff about Muslims. But in the end the Mormons come out quite well out of it. At least they believe in something. The song “I Believe” is powerful. In the evening we all sit at a long table hired that morning after a drive to Rayners. It is fun to sit there with Natalia’s friends. Mary has worked herself to the bone preparing everything and everybody else, making the table look beautiful.


I travel down to Gosport: a grey windy breezy day. Even so, nice to cross the harbour in the ferry. I transfer all my kit from poor decaying old Naomi to Greenfinch – my charts, lifebelts, bits of crockery, a couple of small wine bottles, the heavy life-raft and small outboard engine and the tank is done.

Both boats are in the yard, Naomi at the far end. Beyond here the boats are abandoned, decaying. At the end of this trying work, I sail in Greenfinch and have a whiskey outside. It is extraordinarily mild so I sit at a café eating a jacket potato and look at the deserted marina.


The tiny changing room of the swimming club at the Serpentine is packed, everyone is getting ready for the Christmas Day swim. I worry that the handicap they have given me is too good: I don’t want to win under false pretences. We do a bit of shopping at Peter Jones. The tea is welcome.

In the morning I go to Mass. The two large trees are up but no lights yet.

“The father asked for a writing tablet and wrote ‘His name is John’. And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe.” (Luke 1:57-66)

THURSDAY – Christmas Eve

I like Christmas Eve daytime. It is basically my one day of shopping in the whole year. I go shopping with Natalia to John Sandoe books in the Kings Road where I buy most of my presents, not least for myself. This year: Robert Massie’s Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. And then to Peter Jones to buy the remainder, and then lunch, more shopping with Mary, and then waiting for Midnight Mass, getting there by 10:30 to get a seat, two-thirds of the way back and then Matins starting at 11.15. We are in church for three hours, one of the best moments of the entire year. I love listening to the sung proclamation: “When all the world was at peace and Tiberias emperor in the X Olympiad…”


I was worried at the Serpentine race but in the end my handicap is not too generous. By half way I have overtaken the very slowest but I soon try and aim in the last ten yards to overtake more and just miss out on third place – so glory exudes me.

I love the opening of the stocking, although all our children are now over 18. I go to the last moments of the Mass in the chapel on Horseferry Road, just to pray at the shrine to the Blessed Virgin there which I love. And then a quiet lunch at Abingdon because Natalia visits Sophie we only open our presents at 11:00 after Downton Abbey and finally see out Christmas Day at just after Midnight.


I enjoy going to the 10:30 Mass in the Cathedral on Boxing Day. The Christmas trees are up, flowers on display, but the great crowds of Midnight Mass gone and after the day of rejoicing, immediately after, we hear of the first martyr.

I love it that as they stone him, Saint Stephen says ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit!’ What calmness…

Third Week in Advent


We go on Saturday evening to the carol service at the Ramblers’ Church in Walesby. Up the muddy path to the lonely church on the Wolds, lit only by candlelight with about two hundred people crammed inside. The rood screen blazing with candles as centuries ago all rood screens would have been.

MONDAY – St John of the Cross

A long day of meetings in the City – a nice change. During Mass I think of this mystical poet and his crises of faith and doubt or at least of happiness. I think of Tolstoy: “Those who say that doing good causes them to feel unhappy either do not believe in God or what they do is not really good.”


Interesting that because the concept of the Immaculate Conception is so old, this is one of the Marian doctrines that Islam shares with the Catholic Church.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, said Mary.” (Luke 1:26)


We drove to St Olave’s School for their Christmas Eucharist and carols – a beautiful service delivered with great verve and aplomb by their chaplain in the round. The school choir in superb form. The priest tells us he loves everything about Christmas: shopping, carols, lights, presents, etc. I am not so sure. I would be continent if it was just like Easter: a beautiful Mass and being with the family.

Monty the dog enters into our life from Battersea Dogs Home.


We drive up for a carol service at Holy Rood Market Rasen. The church ablaze with candles and very beautiful. I do a reading. All the gang there, I am blessed with such good people.


A not-so-great day with Monty in Lincs. The home told us he is a beagle; I think he is more wolfhound.


We have driven back to qualify for the Christmas Day Serpentine Race so I go to the Tate exhibition on Art and Empire. I find this great quote from Burke on his stature: “I wish to be a Member of Parliament, to have my share of doing good, and resisting evil.”

Second Week in Advent

SUNDAY – 2nd Week in Advent

I had started to read Tolstoy’s A Calendar of Wisdom. In the last years of his life he put tremendous effort in the project of collecting the thoughts of the greatest minds for each day. It is a marvellous book.

Unpublished throughout the period of the Soviet dominion it was only first translated into English in 1997. Every day is headed not by a thought but it emerges in the readings. Tuesday’s is on “misconceptions”. For instance, from Pascal:

“One of the evil properties of man is that he loves only himself and wants goodness only for himself. Woe to him who loves only himself.”

The reading from Baruch 5:1-9 today is poetry:

“Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you. Put the diadem of the glory of the eternal on your head.”

MONDAY – St Ambrose

I go to the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch. Much as I admire the sheer spirit of the Israelis. I notice that no one mentions the plight of the Palestinians as every week a new settlement appears in their midst. Yet the great heritage of the Jews cannot be gainsaid.

After a cold swim in the Serpentine I go to Mass and listen to this from Isaiah 35:1-10:

“Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult. Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. Let it bring flowers like the jonquil. Let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it.”

TUESDAY – The Immaculate Conception

There is a debate on allowing EU access to criminal data. The Shadow Home Secretary says security must come first.

I said to him isn’t the first bastion of a nation’s security the civil liberties of its people.

The reading is the story of Adam. In my heart of hearts do I believe it? Not really. I doubt.

Today’s Psalm: “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders.”


I bicycle though the park on a lovely bright blue winter’s day to the residence of the Russian Ambassador. It has a slightly sinister feel if you think what must have gone on here in Soviet times. Yet a pleasant enough conversation. I am now chair of the All-Party Russia Group in an attempt to seek better relations. They could not be worse.

Isaiah: “Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars, if not he who drills them like an army calling each by name.”

At Father Pat’s service we sing ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est’. As I walk over the Wolds in the dark on Thursday evening I look up and see a bright moonless winter’s night with a thousand stars in a sudden V-shaped break in the clouds. I sing ‘Ubi caritas et amor’ into the silent night.

That Wednesday evening we go to the Knights of Malta carol service. That’s the second, this time by candlelight.


I char the Public Accounts Commission. I enjoy it as it is the only select committee I now chair and it only meets twice a year.

During the long car journey, over four hours, I read Tolstoy. It is a lot more inspiring and calming than the usual read of The Times. I love this quote from Ruskin: “One of the main obstacles for any positive change in our lives is that we are too busy with our current work or activity.”

Peter stopped fishing at a lake. Paul ceased being a priest. They all left their jobs because they thought it was necessary.


I walk through Willingham Woods after doing a surgery. The light on this clear day just before 4 pm is one of those strange beautiful yellows illuminating the high trees. I remember no jokes during my speech at the supper club but I suppose it went well. I have no power and little influence at Westminster. There is only one thing left: to speak one’s mind.


Our village church is locked on a grey rainy day so no Psalm to read.

I rely on Tolstoy – “Kindness defeats everything and can never be defeated.”

First Week of Advent

SUNDAY – First Sunday of Advent

“…on earth, nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the nations and its women.” (Luke 21:25)

And still men live in fear.

MONDAY – Saint Andrew

The chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Cathedral is particularly fine, mosaics of Constantinople opposite that of the burgh of St Andrews in Scotland, fine woodwork, and here I sit at the 10:30 Latin Mass. A beautiful experience.

“The Lord saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and he said to them: come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-19)


Our debate on bombing Syria is to be tomorrow and I make a stab at a free vote in the Leader of the House Questions. No answer, of course.

Collect: “Look with favour Lord on our petitions.”

Our reading from Isaiah is familiar. I read it out at the Midnight Mass in Westminster Cathedral on Christmas Eve last year.

“A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse… on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight.”


Our debate on Syria – nine hours long. I speak, only five minutes but long enough. I am full of doubts and say we should only act in self-defence. A minute before he sits down the Foreign Secretary replies directly to me.

Then we are at Mass – Father Pat asks for two minutes’ silence for those about to vote. A child cries at the back of the crypt chapel and overhead the sound of helicopter rotor blades.

THURSDAY – St Frances Xavier

An eight-hour meeting in the City on top of eight hours in the chamber yesterday. A change of gear and in the evening I read a lesson at St Mary’s Cadogan Street in the carol service for Aid to the Church in Need.


After so many hours on Wednesday I don’t feel up to any kind of speech on private members bills so just make a couple of interventions.

“The deaf that day will hear the words of a book and after shadow and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” (Isaiah 29)

Appropriate as today we debate the Pavement Parking Bill, blocked by the Government to allow blind people to walk on pavements without bumping into things.


A busy morning getting Theo up racing in the Serpentine and the wonderful sung Latin Mass of Saturday morning in the Cathedral. Then off to see ninety-year-old Auntie Betty.

“On every lofty mountain, on every high hill, there will be streams of water courses.”