7 FEBRUARY 1981, Page 28

Low life


Jeffrey Bernard

With the exception of the delightful viaar's daughter a few years ago and the obligatory performances in the sch'ool choir even longer ago, I haven't ever really concerned myself with ecclesiastical affairs, but now I find myself deeply concerned about Cardinal Hume who said, as I read it, 'There are times and occasions when it would be marvellous to have a wife.' Well, I've had four of them and all I can say is that there are times and occasions when it would be marvellous to be a cardinal. He went on to say that he believed celibacy to lie essential for Roman Catholic priests so that they could devote their lives to serving God, but he would sometimes like to have a wife 'to support and to help and to whom one could talk confidentially and in intimacy about what was a worry, what was an anxiety and what was burdening.'

Well, yes. I know what he means. The theory's fine, but in practice I have found it easier to effect the help and the intimate and confidential chatting after the divorce has come through. Now, I mean no disrespect to the good Cardinal and appreciate the fact that our minds are as far apart as heaven and the gutter, but I don't think he'd find it that easy to own up about the worries, burdens and anxieties that assail us non-celibates in the cold sweat and pitch darkness at 3 a.m. That's when! wish I were a cardinal — I would even settle for verger. I also, rather strangely perhaps, quite look forward to sexual redundancy and celibacy in the foolish belief that with all that out of the way life might be easier. Unfortunately, I can't even give up smoking.

Now, someone I do wish most fervently would give up almost everything is the rather ridiculous Anna Ford, who is as far as I am from the Cardinal's ideal. To complain about being regarded as a sex object — it has always been one of my dearest ambitions to be so regarded — and then to affect a sort of Garbo 'want to be alone' in a place like Langan's Brasserie, daily packed with media trendies, smacks of humbug. Instead of getting herself to a nunnery post-haste in the first taxi with its yellow light on, she is now going to write a book about men. What men? I mean what sort of men can she know? I would guess it to be a shade of odds-on that Michael Parkinson and Mark Boxer are the prototypes. Those the British take to their hearts and make 'stars' are a source of constant amazement to me. Angela Rippon was a vaguely fanciable news reader until she showed a leg on the Morecambe and Wise Show and then suddenly became a star and Anna Ford was an ex-hack and news reader until she complained about being a sex object. I reckon them, with their modest ability to read aloud, to be two of the luckiest women in the world and they owe it to being sex objects.

But, we are not made from the same mould as the Cardinal. Take Eva. Six years ago she said she would like to try being a journalist and she was and is well equipped to be a good one. I fixed it for her to write a long and therefore well-paid-for piece for a posh paper on the subject of celibacy. She'd been through a bad patch arid had tasted it, but claimed she liked it. Anyway, the piece never got written since she couldn't get near her typewriter. A man always came between her and the wretched machine.

What does surprise me though is the fact that I'm not the first layman who ever. wanted to be a cardinal. The extraordinary Walter Annenberg, who continued being an ambassador while publishing the Daily Racing Form in the USA, was fond of dressing up as a cardinal at dinner in the privacy of his residence. I think I'll get me to Berman's and hire a cardinal's outfit. Of course, I'd be tempted to make public appearances to minister to the flock in Soho, but at least I don't need to practise taking confession. That is something I already do daily in the Coach and Horses. Sad to say my sinners are only celibate when they're in the nick.