There is concern about a school in Birmingham which, it is asserted, is being targeted by Muslim extremists. A teacher was quoted, earlier in the week, saying that “there is some gender segregation in religious assemblies”.
About fifty years ago “gender segregation” came to an end at All Saints’, Margaret Street, in London’s West End. For many years the congregation had divided, male and female, on either side of the nave in the front part of the church. This had been one of those examples of ‘correctness’ which the Catholic revival in the Church of England, the ‘Oxford Movement’, had sought to encourage. In the early 60’s I went with my aunt to the celebration of Candlemas on 2nd February. Although the custom of separation had been given up I seem to remember that she was the only woman sitting on our side of the church. The choir school was still going, and the boys wore very short cottas, eton collars, and purple socks to match their cassocks. Choir schools and daily sung services had also been part of the Revival. And now? Even the English Cathedrals are struggling financially to keep their choirs. In any case fifty years of ‘pop music’ have left the British unable to sing, so even if they can find the money, the Cathedrals can no longer find the boys to fill the choir stalls.
But for a moment, back to that February day at Margaret Street. As we hovered after Mass a tall lady in a long fur coat hurried down the centre aisle saying loudly, ‘Has Mr Gorse gorn?’ (For the younger generation and overseas readers, you should know that in English as spoken by the upper classes at that time, words like ‘lost’ and ‘cross’ and ‘gone’ were pronounced to rhyme with ‘mourn’ or ‘lawn’ – a cross between the two … ) A few years later my aunt sent me the Notice of Death from the Daily Telegraph of the said Mr Gorse, and the date and time for his funeral at All Saints’. But she could not resist writing in the margin, ‘Mr Gorse has finally gorn.’