Welcome to Off The Fence, the weekly propaganda unit attached to our quarterly print magazine: Issue 10 is on sale, and you can scoop up a copy from the webstore, or you could also buy a subscription for the ludic aunt, tedious nephew or jolly mother-in-law in your life all right here. Please reply to this email if you need any help. We should also mention that all orders placed before Tuesday will arrive for Christmas.
There has been a boxful of chatter throughout Westminster about the journalists who attended Mrs Johnson’s illicit soireés, and we’re all really, really flummoxed about how to go about identifying those furtive hacks. But anyway, we thought we might give you a dispatch from a legal bash in SW1, so it’s our pleasure to reintroduce our editor-at-large, the Rev. Fergus Butler-Gallie.
Carrie On Christmassing
I attended a Downing Street party. Well, after a fashion. It wasn’t one of the infamous 2020 parties, Jacob-Rees Mogg did not joke about police investigations and nobody had to sit through a quiz. Instead it was the ‘Advent and Christmas Reception’, when clergy and assorted religious hangers-on – especially those who are deemed sympathetic to the government – are invited to a bash at Number 10. O come all ye party faithful and all that.
Who, then, were these clerical big hitters, there to be served lukewarm mulled wine and completely unidentifiable balls of mystery meat as a sign of Advent cheer? Canon Giles Fraser was there, sat in the corner, sketching notes for a column for Unherd about Boris and faith. He had a big clipboard and was clasping a felt tip pen, ‘They’ve taken my phone!’ he cried plaintively. GB News favourite Calvin Robinson, soon to be ordained, stood silently in a corner, the presence of his theological college principal possibly keeping him from too much shock-jockery. The Archbishop of Canterbury attended too, indeed he gave a speech introducing the PM, although even he had to wait with the gaggle outside until an aide finally recognised him and whisked him past the security check.
While he was stuck in the queue to get into Number 10, I overheard him engaging in a frank exchange of views with the Tory cleric and Twitter personality, the Reverend Marcus Walker. Rev. Walker leads the ‘Save the Parish’ movement, an attempt to stop the Church of England diverting cash from ordinary churches to pay for desk staff at Lambeth or glitzy evangelical church plants. The primate of all England rather testily reminded the ever-jolly Mr Walker – who is Rector of St Bartholomew the Great – that he too had been a parish priest, and ‘Not in some posh London church’. All is calm, all is bright.
Finally, the Prime Minister arrived, flanked by his wife and the most recent of his sons. We were treated to the normal bluster. ‘It’s, er, um, er a great JOY to, er, welcome people from all, er, churches. We’ve got Baptists and Catholics and Pentecostals, we’ve even got people from the um Church of er…’
‘England?’ someone helpfully suggested from the crowd.
He told us how the Archbishop sometimes lets him jog in Lambeth Palace garden. Presumably Buckingham Palace has tactfully told him to go elsewhere. Maybe he’s a COVID risk or maybe he just did a ‘Paula Radcliffe’ in the shrubbery. We’ll never know, mercifully. Anyway, he related how sometimes he and Justin Welby are jogging in opposite directions, and sometimes they jog in the same direction and that’s fine. As far as analogies for church-state relations go, it wasn’t exactly complex, but this is the time of year for ‘God and sinners reconciled’ and all that.
I did have the joy of ruining Boris’ headline joke, as he attempted to reassure us that he wasn’t going to cancel one of the headline Christian festivals this year, which was the exact moment most of us set email reminders to pull the plug on our upcoming carol services. He told us that ‘Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ told us that he was, er, Alpha and um Omega NOT er, Alpha and…’
‘OMICRON’ I shouted, remembering what little I have left of Biblical Greek.
‘You’ve stolen my joke!’ He looked genuinely hurt, like a child who found a stocking full of cat shit on Christmas morning. I suppose that gags are, after all, the only things he’s good at. Perhaps the ensuing restrictions are his revenge for this slight: in which case, my apologies dear reader, a bleak midwinter beckons for us all.
Jokes about the alphabet of a dead language aside, we were, theologically speaking, given pretty thin meat from the PM. Then again, he is rumoured to be some sort of Greek pagan, believing in the whims of the fates. A latter-day Agamemnon, Menelaus, Castor and/or Bollux etc. Personally, I think he would have made a good Mormon patriarch – trekking chaotically across Deseret with his hundred wives and scant regard for the rule of law. But back to the party. A few other senior clergy were spotted: the Bishop of Fulham was there, there was a rumour the Bishop of Coventry was too, but even my celeb-spotting knowledge would probably be stretched if I was forced to pick him out from a line-up. So I can neither confirm nor deny whether he was present. Perhaps someone could check Hello or Tatler? I chatted briefly to the Bishop to the Archbishops, who admitted that even she was somewhat flummoxed by her job title. A great and mighty wonder indeed.
The ever-diminishing set of members of the Tory party who are to be found at prayer had been slung an invite to balance out the professionally godly. Fiona Bruce (the MP, not the weirdly foxy occasional vase-valuer), whom the PM appointed to be the person he ignores with regard to the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, was briefly acknowledged during the speech. Danny Kruger, the member for Devizes, was there too, a figure unique amongst the 2019 intake of MPs in knowing that Bethlehem Down is a carol, not a sequel to the Channing Tatum film White House Down.
At the end of it all, Wilfred Johnson was brought on, initially screaming but then placated by the presence of a massive red button, which it was his job to press. A cleric next to me suggested it might have launched some nukes in the general direction of Paris but instead it lit the Christmas tree. The infant was applauded with gusto by the bishops and canons. Appropriate for Christmas you might think, but it all rather felt a bit like a medieval court scene as the heir was presented to the assembled barons and clergy. A bit Good King Wenceslas but with, to quote that carol’s greatest line, more than one ‘very sod’.
While the group of school children who had been brought along to sing carols to the assembled company doused the floor of the one functioning loo in pee (well, it was either them or the Baptists), I left a copy of The Fence on a side table down a state room corridor and wended my way back to my church. Hosanna in excelsis!
You can follow Fergus on Twitter here.
Fuck Off Bradford City, You Ain’t Got No NFTs
The age of the football-club-as-community-hub is dwindling, that much is true, as ticket prices soar, and speculators engage, and so the sport moves away from those it was originally intended to entertain. But hey, there have been some success stories! Look at Clever Brentford! Plucky Bournemouth! Steely Burnley!
Well, get ready for Crypto Bradford City, who – as the indubitable Tariq Panja reveals – are about to be snatched up by The Two Worst Blokes On The Planet. As per the Washington Post, Preston Johnson and Eben Smith are leading the so-called ‘WAGMI United’ group in purchasing this 118-year-old institution, on the promise that NFTs will bring them to the top flight and beyond – somehow. We would only encourage you to read the full report (linked above) if you fancy staring right into the abyss, but we thought to close on the same note as the Post: a quote from Smith, a former derivatives trader. ‘Our hope is that it works. There’s not that much downside if it doesn’t.’
Some Fat Advances
Who among us doesn’t turn gooey-eyed for a well-adjudicated list? Those fancy dans over at Vogue House turned up in style last week with the ‘50 Best Works of Literary Journalism of the Past Century’. It’s a sterling appendix to be sure, featuring two of the best books – full-stop – of recent vintage (The Forever War by Dexter Filkins and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, in case you’re hankering for our verdict).
Of course, listings are mere play for SEO-hungry hacks and their auxiliary cohort of content strategists, so allow us to introduce you to the Greatest List of Them All: a perfectly chosen number (a hundred!), for you to knock off during the January lockdown we’re all kind of resigning ourselves to.
God Bless Us, Every One!
Right now, we are very close to summiting our quiet little Everest of 1,000 subscribers to the print magazine. We are at the magic number of 937, and it would fill our hearts with resplendent joy if we were to hit four figures by the end of the year.
There are currently 2,700 of you signed up for this newsletter, which means there are around 1,800 who could, perhaps, oblige us. Sometimes, we look at who reads these mail-outs, and then a revolutionary urge grabs us, and we think of the thrill of doing a full, Suzanne Moore-style breakdown of the biggest cheapskates in the media.
But then we realise that’s not sensible – deranged, even. But, we would like to say: come on! 200 pages of the best young writers in the game; scintillating fiction, meaty investigations, and a lot of very, very stupid jokes, for the miserly sum of twenty-five pounds, delivered to your pretty little doormats four times a year. You spend more on less. And the more you give, the better we get.
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It’s a Royal Knockout!
News has now broken of the Queen’s decision to cancel her Christmas lunch party, although only after the Sun went ahead with their front page saying it was going ahead. Could this be a possible long planned and cold-served revenge for that paper’s long-standing failure to engage in the normal back and forth with the Palace when it comes to breaking other stories Who knows.
Anyway, it’s got us reminiscing about Royal festive occasions past. A key part of the royal Christmas is the drinks reception at Windsor, when it is custom for the family themselves to dole out the drinks to the staff, choristers and courtiers who have just provided them with Festive cheer. One chorister recounted how, at one event during the early 80s, the Queen herself was pouring measures of gin only for the Queen Mother to bustle along, tap her hand away mid-pour and bellow: ‘Oh Lilibert, do let Margaret do that. She does the proper measures.’ Now all the nonagenarian monarch has to look forward to is a locked in Christmas with her slimy second son and, courtesy of her doctors forbidding her booze, no hope of a stiff one.
Michael Crick is one of the most curious figures in British journalism: a founding member of the Channel 4 News team, he now finds himself roaming the country for the Daily Mail. And he’s struck again, humiliating the failed Tory candidate for North Shropshire in this brilliantly awkward interview.
Crick is a tireless doorstepper of the old school, and perhaps his most memorable (and painful) encounter came with the UKIP candidate, Godfrey ‘Godders’ Bloom: enjoy the trip down memory lane here.
There are no links this week, because we are going to deluge you with them in our review of the year, which will come out in a fortnight. If you have any questions, queries or postal issues please do get in touch before Tuesday. And if you’d like to make our holidays extra special, please do subscribe in the link just below.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas,
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