Night Trippers Of Blighty
Before I write separately about the election, allow me to share some unalloyed good news. I've been in London this week to give a talk on behalf of Open Doors UK, the organization that serves and advocates for persecuted Christians worldwide. This was very special for me, not just because the folks at Open Doors are really kind and courageous, but also because the first place I began my research for Live Not By Lies was in Bratislava, where I saw, in a secret subterranean chamber, an offset printer that the underground church used to print samizdat for a decade. The printer had been given to them by Open Doors, and smuggled in, piece by piece, then reconstructed in the secret room by a second Open Doors team. Open Doors, an Evangelical organization, took huge risks to help their Catholic brothers and sisters. I photographed this on the wall of the Museum of the Victims of Communism in Kosice, Slovakia, a couple of weeks back. It's a fellow from Open Doors (left), with a Slovak Christian friend, inside the secret chamber, with the offset printer.
Open Doors mattered then, and it matters today. I was deeply honored to have been invited by them. Of course I talked about lessons from the underground church experience in the Soviet bloc.
But I came early to meet Martin Shaw, the mythologist, recent Orthodox Christian convert, and racounteur extraordinaire, who came in from deepest Devon to spend some time with me, and let me interview him for my upcoming book on re-enchantment. Hanging out with Martin was really one of the highlights of my year. He is instantly lovable, full of great stories, well told, and a delight to gallivant with. There were pubs and pints, and more pints, and Lagavulin, and steak, and bangers, and then wine. And stories! When this book comes out, people are going to be talking about the Martin Shaw parts for sure. Take a look at his website for more information. Just going down to the corner store for milk with Martin would be an adventure. And, he is courageous: his Christian conversion has cost him a lot, professionally and personally, but he had to follow the truth where it led him. I know that I have made a friend for life these past days.
Last night at the talk, I looked out at the audience and saw a number of friends. There was Father Daniel French, in from Salcombe, and Father Calvin Robinson. The historian Tom Holland was there, as were Susannah and Alastair Roberts, and Carl and Catriona Trueman (Catriona this time without her legendary shortbread, but a man can't have everything), the Rev. Helen Orr and her awesome son Godfrey, Niall Gooch, with whom I've been Twitter friends for over a decade, but had never met till last night, and others. If you can tell the worth of a man by his friends, then I am very rich indeed.
After the talk and reception, Tom Holland took Martin, Niall, and Self to the Academy Club, a private drinking club in Soho, co-founded by the late Auberon Waugh. It was the perfect clubhouse for writers. Martin and I had been lodging in the Carlton Club, a posh High Tory bastion in Mayfair, where our hosts generously put us. But this was ... not that. Even though Auberon Waugh was a scintillating reactionary, the Academy was shabby genteel to the very floorboards, elegant without being posh, and glorious, just glorious. I felt instantly at home there, and if I lived in London and could get in (I suppose Tom is a member), would go there every day. Here's a shot I took of Niall (@niallgooch, a great Catholic conservative Twitter follow) at our table:
I wish you could have been at the table to hear Tom and Martin go at it, talking about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, St. Cuthbert and the Anglo-Saxon saints, Chaucer, and the like. Two great Englishmen who really love their country, and who really know their history, their legend, and their myth. Niall had to leave early to catch a train back to Dover, so he missed the second bottle of wine that Tom brought to the table. Man, I could have sat there all night. Tom told the story about how he saw what he believes to have been an angel in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Martin spoke at length about Gawain, and how his own Christian conversion gave him new insights into the myth. I realized as I was sitting there taking it all in that both of these men love life to the marrow. What a gift it is to be in the presence of two great talkers who express their love of life with skilled storytelling. I told Tom that being around him revealed to me why he's such a good historian: because he genuinely loves the world, and loves the story of the world (history). My son Matt is a history undergraduate, having a hell of a time finishing up his final semester. He's also a big Tom Holland fan. Tom generously recorded a video message of encouragement to Matt, in which Tom affirmed that Matt has chosen a great vocational path, that of historian.
I suppose if the club didn't have to close, and ergo kicked us out, we would still be there, talking the night away. As we trundled down the narrow, rickety staircase to the Soho street below, one of the bartenders turned to Martin and said, "You look just like Dr. John the Night Tripper!" And so he does.
I don't suppose Martin could get away dressing like Dr. John in the West Country, but they are kindred spirits, fo' sho'.
I took the photo at the top of this entry on the Soho street before we said a sloshy goodnight. Patrick Leigh Fermor's great travel volume A Time Of Gifts is one of my all-time favorite books. If I had a book by that title, these last two days in London would get their own chapter. I am so grateful for all of it. For all of it. We walk on gilded splinters.