Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pause for Thought
The Zoe Ball Show
BBC Radio 2
Saturday, August 20th, 2011

There's a scene in David Lean's movie Dr Zhivago that I have had to suffer all my life.

At one point in the film the hero struggles through a war-torn Siberian landscape until he reaches his childhood home - abandoned and encased in snow and ice. There he is reunited with his lover. They fire up the stove in one room and make it habitable. In the midst of all this chaos - the Russian Civil War and the depths of winter - they have a brief interlude of peace.

Zhivago finds the desk he wrote on as a child. He opens the drawer and discovers there, laid out in order, a sheaf of white paper, a pen and a bottle of ink.

He writes a poem.

My mother always talked about "Zhivago's Drawer". She would describe its order, its simplicity and its adequacy. She would then open the door to my bedroom which looked like any teenaged boy's bedroom and not at all like Zhivago's Drawer.

She would make reference to my school bag with its crumpled homework assignments and mouldering apple cores. Again, not Zhivago's Drawer.

And over the years I have muttered about "Zhivago's Bloody Drawer" countless times as I see what a mess my Income Tax return looks or the list of tasks which I have meant to get around to but haven't.

As a younger priest I would arrange to spend four or five days at the Trappist monastery north of Montreal, after Easter and after Christmas - not everybody's idea of a riotous good time - but I was attracted to the simplicity there. The balance and order of two lines of monks gliding in to worship in the wee hours of the morning, the Salve Regina sung at the end of the day with a single candle at the feet of a statue of Our Lady.

Please, God, before I die,
give me that small place of order and harmony
at the centre of my soul.


*nb. "bloody" edited to "wretched" in the actual broadcast.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pause for Thought
The Richard Allinson Show
BBC Radio 2
Sunday, August 14th, 2011

I don't have time for side streets. People I know swear by them.

Why are you going this way? It'll take forever. Take this side street, then left at the post box past the yellow dog and over the bridge.


I'm going to end up in the middle of a field dotted with cow pats - lost and late. Give me the direct route any day. Simple and straight. If it takes a few minutes longer I can budget for that.

Edinburgh is crammed with tourists right now. They wear impossible colours and silly hats and walk slowly down the High Street. Many of them are wearing shorts. Some of them have knobbly knees.

They speak an amazing collection of languages - I can only guess at a few of them. I have time, you see, to guess because I always seem to be stuck behind a long queue of tourists ambling down the high street. They are on holiday. I am not.

They spend an awful lot of time taking pictures of the small closes - the quaint little alleyways - which open out on to the High Street. I've walked past plenty of these in the last eight years. I don't know where they lead. I've never walked in to one because I've generally had other things to do - like walking straight down the street from A to B.

Everything I know about history tells me that it's not made up of straight lines. Nor are the lives of the older people I love. Nor the lives of the saints or the people in the Old and New Testaments. There are always these side streets which open up because of disasters or misfortunes or even opportunities.

Angels and burning bushes seem to figure prominently in the Bible stories.

And I look forward, frankly, to clearing my slate well enough that I can follow a few of these side streets. Not just on holidays but in the midst of busy life when I feel the nudge.

And the next time I see a tourist in a ridiculous hat walk in to one of Edinburgh's little alleyways. I just may follow him in to see where it leads.