24 DECEMBER 1977, Page 6


In a week short of newspapers and magazines, the Spectator will appear as usual. Don't miss our New Year issue which will be published on Thursday 29 December. galloped it for several days until the pony, feeling tired, collapsed, looked heavenward and expired:


His father died when he was twenty And left three houses, which is plenty.

Of course, the kidnappers and scippatori or bag-snatchers reflect the less agreeable (no doubt some English boobies would call it unacceptable) face of Roman society, but I find them a small price to pay. Enjoyment of life has never been secure, and would almost certainly be less enjoyable if it were. Woman now carry their money in their bosoms, which I find rather appealing.

But it is only in very recent history that properly brought up young women have judged it prudent to walk anywhere unaccompanied, and they had no reason to suppose the dispensation would last.

A new Roman vice is cat-stealing, which many Englishmen may find obnoxious. My hostess went to enormous trouble to import an expensive Siamese cat in a crate from America, but it was stolen within hours of arrival. I found this incomprehensible until I visited the Cafe Greco in the Via Condotti, where Romans of the better sort go for a morning Paradise — grapefruit juice, champagne and — who knows? — a possible glimpse of Paul Johnson. Paying the enormous bill, I noticed a charming cat curled up beside the cashier, and decided to practise my Italian by complimenting her on it. She looked startled and indignant, 'Non é un ghatto, d un capello', she. said — roughly translated: 'It is not a cat, it is a hat' — and put it on her head.

The entire city of Rome, with its ruins, its palaces and, above all, its churches is a monument to the sort of historical continuity which we exiles can only glimpse at rare moments. It is only in Rome that one can understand the Catholic church's betrayal of those who once put their faith in it. In Rome, as I say, history and continuity breathe out of every stone, and it is hard to imagine that by altering the forms of service, the language and the doctrinal emphasis of the Catholic church they have changed much. The ancient churches with their stupefying monuments still stand, the bells still go ding-dong. When the new and unpleasing forms of service are transplanted into a modern, brick-built church in Taunton, when new and unpleasing doctrines are announced in the ugly, flat language of the uneducated, lower middle class, it is hard to imagine that anything remains, Only one public building in Rome commemorates the present pontificate — a modern extension to the Vatican gallery, housing the Profane Gregorial collections from the Lateran. Needless to say, it is utterly disgusting. But it is swamped in the splendour of the Vatican palace, a small boil on the Venus de Mile's bottom. If only that well-intentioned foolish old man could glimpse the devastation he has caused everywhere else.