Unplanned Permanence


Whilst doing the washing up after supper last night it dawned on me that the fish slice I had just used to flip my egg-in-the nest was the actual fish slice my mother was using in the 1950s when I was a teenager. In perfect working order after a lifetime of flipping pancakes and eggs. A Prestige Skyline. And a fine fish slice it is, better than any others I have had the pleasure to use. I must have inherited it in 1990 when my mother passed away but I had totally taken it for granted until I realised what I was using daily was an actual antique. It’s still in use because it is incredibly well made. I have had others which have usually snapped or bent irreversibly. Apart from some of my old books, little else has survived the test of time of possessions that get to be used regularly in our house. I do have a hammer I was given to me by American GIs who lived next door during the 1950s when East Anglia was awash with servicemen from the USA and who gave us everything when they left. But that’s about it. And I do use it.

But it did occur to me that blogs, like this one, will outlive me. I think. Unlike bank accounts and I suspect Facebook accounts, which close with the demise of its owner, I imagine blogs will carry on into perpetuity. At least I hope so. As long as the internet remains. The manipulations of fashion are mostly what drives people to update whatever it is that they want but as the quality of things increases surely owners of cars, computers whatever, will be less inclined to purchase the latest version as the current model works fine thank you very much. But computers is one arena which alas compels one to catch up all the time. Computers are like standing on an escalator. You go where it goes and when it goes. Everyone knows how persistent computer manufacturers are to get you to upgrade your operating system even though, for instance, my last iPhone upgrade slowed my old iPhone 5 down to a crawl. It’s since caught up in speed but I am wary now of hitting the upgrade option when it pops up. I’m trying step off the update treadmill but it requires determination and cool thinking but I still feel I am a like a Luddite for choosing not to.

I have never ever bought a new car and still believe rightly so that the older cars, if you get the right one, are vastly better than newer cars which are overly computerised and are less serviceable by your local garage. I know of cars which have just died because the computer seized up. It just calls into question the notion of endless new car models and planned obsolescence which was an idea that began in the 1920s in the USA when car sales reached saturation point and getting people to change cars even if they didn’t need to, became a priority. So cars could suddenly be had in a range of colours and sizes and then marketed like mad by the Mad Men of Madison Avenue. You’ll find some people still who have kept the same vacuum cleaners and fridges since the war and have no reason to change. Cars too.

Human beings have a limited lifetime and although there is a small wealthy percentage who advocate cryonic preservation most of us will pass away and quite thankfully leave this world behind. But occasionally the dead don’t disintegrate once dead, and here in Spain they are called the Incorruptibles. 



This link is to the story of a Lebanese Christian saint (St. Charbel Makhlouf) who died in 1898. These incorruptible (as opposed to artificially preserved) men or women are often saintly souls and in Catholicism are revered as Saints or Blesseds. There are many accounts of incorruptibles (in all religious faiths) but of course only when a grave is opened does this come to light. Often what attracts people to the tombs of saints is a luminous living presence, something which I’ve often experienced in the Muslim world at tombs of the dead. Although I did find the tomb of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral very affecting when I visited it in the 1960s. 

St. Charbel Makhlouf (above)

Of course in the northern Anglo Saxon Christian tradition visiting tombs of saints or even the graves of relatives is not common and likewise in the more puritan parts of the Muslim world. In the Catholic world All Souls (Halloween) was always the day you visited your dead relatives placing flowers on the graves or nowadays by their bricked up niches. Only recently was the idea of Halloween imported into Spain as a commercial money spinner. Before it had always been the day every Spanish family took flowers to the cemetery. Now it’s like America with pumpkins and ghoulish masks. But All Saints day is different from All Souls’ Day which is set aside for prayers for all souls, whether in heaven or purgatory. All Saints is supposed to celebrate the souls of saints who are in heaven because of their dedication to prayer and devotional living.  

father-brownThe recent BBC series Father Brown, a TV adaptation of the original novels by GK Chesterton throws up some interesting issues around this subject. Apart from being simply a whodunnit, the series is also a lot about Catholicism but I’m sure it’s mostly watched and enjoyed by religious believers of all stripes as well as agnostics and atheists. But what overrides the religious issues is that it is all about God, whether you agree or not that God exists. Father Brown, the eccentric sleuth, is sympathetically played by Mark Williams, who, when he exposes the murderer, first councils him or her to confess and is usually merciful in his judgment of people. He always puts God first and the law last so ends up in some awkward situations. To non-Catholics the idea of confession seems absurd as to believe a priest can absolve you of sins just doesn’t add up but I must admit the more I see Mark Williams in action the more it makes sense for certain troubled people to unburden themselves to another person in the confessional booth. Especially before dying. After all psychiatrists and councillors perform the same function but charge for the service. The only oddity about the programme is that it is hard believe that anywhere in the Cotswolds is there a village with so many Catholics.

One question I would love to ask Mark Williams if ever I met him is whether acting the priest hasn’t made him into one or whether he couldn’t just change jobs to be one, if his Harry Potter work ran out. We are all knowingly or unknowingly very concerned with our impermanence and whether one aspect of ourselves is in fact most definitely permanent.  After all eternity is by definition a permanent condition. 

About Ian Whiteman

see www.cwdm-portfolio.com
This entry was posted in Catholicism, Comment, Father Brown, Fish Slices, Halloween, miscellaneous, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, tv, typography / design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Unplanned Permanence

  1. Iljas Baker says:

    “The only oddity about the programme is that it is hard believe that anywhere in the Cotswolds is there a village with so many Catholics.” Alas, not the only oddity. The other is the fact that there are so many murders in such a small part of rural England. I’d be moving somewhere safer such as Glasgow or Chicago.

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