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Of Hippos and Heroes, Tuesday 24 March

On her arrival from Cape Town this morning, Kai my wife gave me a present of a multi-coloured cloth hippo, the size of a box of tea, made by an abused women’s collective in the karoo. She knows I like hippos, and I shall add this one to my small collection that’s gathering dust on a Highgate window sill. One of these hippo figurines – a small, blue plastic thing with bristles for its base – is for cleaning one’s fingernails. I have no need for it at the moment, however. And that’s because I’ve never had such clean fingernails in my life. They may be chewed down the quick, but they’re pristine.

My remote teaching could have started better. I didn’t add one of my Year 7 groups correctly onto HERO yesterday, so the class (heroes all) have sent me their work on individual emails, which I shall now have to view one by one … and mark one by one. Serves me right. My heart is gladdened by the sight of Walter, my new hippo companion, who sits on my desk, a cheerful symbol of the beautiful things that can happen when the vulnerable are afforded justice.

Of Church and Churchill, Sunday 29 March

A sonnet for the self-isolating. William Wordsworth, who liked to wander outside, lonely as a cloud, thought too much liberty could be a bad thing. He wrote:

“Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy;”

Rather than officiating at the 9.00am service at All Saints Church in Galle, Sri Lanka, I marked “Passion Sunday” by sitting blithely and happily listening to the service on Radio 4.

Brian, a self-isolating friend, called to say he’d celebrated Holy Communion on Zoom, which raises the question, “do you have to be present to partake of the presence?” Some argue that the Eucharist is an ordinance given to all believers by Jesus to remember his sacrifice for us, and to symbolize the new covenant. And communion certainly does involve memorial – we are told by Christ himself to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But from Ephraim to Augustine, all early Christian thinkers see it as something far more than that. It is, rather, a mystical, spiritual medicine that vivifies as it heals its partakers. Virtual church (I gather St Pixels is hugely popular) can be uplifting as it brings people together to remember and give thanks, but it’s literally not the real thing.

Of Neighbours and the NHS, Tuesday 31 March

On our daily walk, Seamus and I came across local examples of neighbourliness – shops offering NHS personnel discounts of up to 50%, free delivery for those who are self-isolating etc. Kai and I ordered some home-made pasta sauce from our local, independent pizza shop. They gave us the opportunity to “pay it forward” and cover the costs of a couple of pizzas for someone working at the local hospital.

In an article in The Guardian this morning, George Monbiot lists how “communities have mobilised where governments have failed” – survival packs in Johannesburg townships, virtual coffee mornings and counselling in Belgrade, balcony bingo in Dublin etc. The pandemic has turned us into better neighbours, he asserts, and he suggests that some people, especially the elderly, might actually “feel less isolated that they have done for years, as their neighbours ensure they are not alone.”

About the author
Father Robert Easton
Former journalist and academic publisher, Father Robert has spent his professional life absorbed by the written word, and he hopes that a short, daily blog will keep him occupied, and connected with the Highgate community that he so loves. He lives in Brighton with Kai, his beautiful wife, and Seamus his scurrilous dog.