Once described as a ‘professional miserablist’, the journalist Simon Jenkins writes regularly in The Guardian, trenchantly and controversially. As far as fashionable opinion and values are concerned he is a natural dissenter and in his respect for the past, a traditionalist. His role as chairman of the National Trust is evidence of that. I always read him; generally with interest, sometimes with pleasure and occasionally anger. He is very good at pressing a point of view to such an extreme that he is in danger of losing the argument. (I have a similar tendency!).
But in today’s Guardian he is in an unusually mellow mood, rhapsodising about the importance of churches, the contribution they make to public life and to personal wellbeing, coming into their own at Christmas time as many people revaluate them, honouring their ministry as the quiet conscience of the nation and their buildings with their hospitality of spiritual space
Christmas is his other theme; he describes it as a time when the noise of public life is silenced, family life is acknowledged, family quarrels are suppressed.
He then comes up with this arresting idea, ‘ children and old people acquire a brief moment in the spotlight’. That happens in our family experience. Everybody is valued for themselves and as themselves, but the children are special – and especially the youngest ones, for whom Christmas is a mystery and a delight. But what about ‘the old people’?
As one of them, I wonder if I want to be spotlighted, even for a brief moment. Partly I do, even though I would have to be worthy of the moment, not blinking with surprise, but accepting that I still have a role in our growing family and that I am able to perform reasonably well whilst the curtain is still up. The truth I suppose is that whilst my working life was hardly bathed in floodlight, it had its own prominence, the show was on the road, and I knew how to be part of it.
I sometimes miss it.
Another part of me doesn’t want it at all; for the unusual light might reveal the strains and cracks in the make-up, the fact that I have forgotten some of my lines. There is more enjoyment now in being a bit-player and following and perhaps watching-over the lives of our dear family.
But should it come, I would accept the ‘brief’ moment, surrendering even that to the children, and that means – apart from my wife and I, the whole family are our children. To them – and to you who may be reading this – ‘Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year!’