I am not quite sure what I am ... although one or two of the head masters with whom I crossed swords in my three decades teaching and chaplaining in a Public School could probably fill up that lacuna very adequately. Possibly my wife, too, could provide an analysis. Wives so very often can. But stay: what am I talking about?
Evelyn Waugh was once described as a man who thought of himself as being, in the eyes of God, an English Country Gentleman of ancient and recusant ancestry. In fact, he was the son of an parvenu Anglican publisher quite well down in the Middle Class. I feel it is one of the characteristics of the last century and a half ... say, since the time of Disraeli ... why is it him that I mention? ... that we construct our sense of self-identity, not from our actual and family backgrounds, but from what we have discovered for ourselves; and not infrequently in reaction against our real individual inheritances. Is that something to do with the cultural disintegration of this period?
I would describe myself as a Latin Catholic, deeply rooted Classical Antiquity, but at home in ancient Rome while only a sympathetic visitor in ancient Athens. Classicism baptised makes me profoundly the product of the latinate culture and Liturgy which has shaped Western Europe for centuries. I am not in the least English; in fact ... well, Waugh once described me rather well in his account of another equally dim classics master: " ... he was filled, suddenly, with deep homesickness for the South. He had not often nor for long visited those enchanted lands; a dozen times, perhaps, for a few weeks ... but his treasure and his heart lay buried there. Hot oil and garlic and spilled wine; luminous pinnacles above a dusky wall; fireworks at night, fountains at noonday; the shepherd's pipe on the scented hillside ... he had left his coin in the waters of Trevi; he had wedded the Adriatic; he was a Mediterranean man." Hot oil and garlic and spilled wine ... ah, how that tugs at me now while I sit here tapping at my computer. My temptations are to reach for Ovid's Metamorphoses while I should be saying my Office and to dream about Tiepolo ceilings while I should be making my meditation. I feel most at one with my deepest identities when saying the Tridentine Mass or leering at my classically erudite wife across a table laden with Mediterranean food and wine. I rarely pass through London without going to commune with the statue of S Pius V on the right hand side of that wonderful North Italian Lady Altar at Brompton.
My father, on the other hand, was a British naval officer who was romantic only about crooks like Drake and Raleigh, who loathed Irish, waps, and dagoes, and had an enormous picture of Nelson upon his wall. Do you see what I mean?