Monday, 20 October 2008

Value for Money.

Value for money is a discerning persons dilemma. A bottle of excellent bitter is certainly a more pleasing suggestion than a bottle of horrible wine at the same price, but then what if one bottle of bitter should not suffice? Is the raiding of the mouldy Christmas present spirit cupboard not worse than the bottle of poor wine? Is Gordon Brown better value for taxpayers money than Tony Blair and will Obama spend everything in a vainglorious attempt to be famous for the one term he is likely to get unless a whole army of plumbers comes to his aid? Would it, in fact, be value for money to replace the military with plumbers? It may be no cheaper, but they may be more useful at stopping leaks in defense budget cuts.
Rules Restaurant in London, pictured above, offers value for money. If it did not, it would be long shut. Yes, it is sometimes comically expensive, but I defy anyone to go there and have a bottle of house claret, a pheasant and a steamed pud each and not walk out into the chill London air feeling that, rare though the occasion would be, a repeat would be very welcome. My thought naturally turn to London when the nights draw in (which is my favourite time of year)as I used to live there and I used to love walking around in Limehouse or Mayfair as the cold began to bite. When I used to smoke, that pastime was much more enjoyable in the chill, as the heavy smoke mixed with the cold, light air in your throat and made for a delicious, lost sensation. Never mind. The day the ban came in, smoking suddenly became as socially acceptable as walking around with ones flies undone.
Why this talk of value and meals? Two reasons, really, led me to muse on them. Firstly the news that the average couple in London spending more than £768.00 per month on renting a flat would be better off staying in a hotel, according to the Observer. Secondly the news that the Connaught, a fine hotel, has just finished a restoration which would probably have paid John McCain enough to let Obama win the election if he were a practising Muslim which seems to be the biggest sin in the USA at the present. The results at the Connaught look beautiful but I was scandalised by the complementary drink concept. Yes, you hear me right. Their (new) bar (the Connaught used to be too posh to have a bar) is so utterly chic it takes some time to adjust oneself to the interior, I imagine, so in the manner of upmarket restaurants offering a small freebie starter and dessert before the advertised dish, the Connaught is offering small, perfectly formed cocktails 'free' before your larger, ordered one comes. How ridiculously pampered can you get? It is almost worth going and ordering a pint of lager top to see if a small one arrives free while the barman (sorry, mixologist) pours the big one out. Pah. Value for money I suppose here, like Rules, means the experience, rather than the food or drink alone, which is, to an extent, quite right, otherwise we would all nosh in plastic neon communist milk bars, helping ourselves from a buffet of one item. Where would be the value in having the most fertile grazing pasture in the world and only making rissoles?
We all choose, as part of a rolling decision, where we are stable on the seesaw of happiness and attainability. Bumps on the side of excessive happiness have a reaction on the attainability side, upsetting the motion for a while until our legs take the spring and settle our motion down to the steady movement we have grown to love. The last synod can be seen as a bump on the wrong side, which is, even as we speak, countering itself into a steady equilibrium. The faith we love has the same balance of attainability and happiness, I find. I have seen many people coming to Church and loving the drama of the Mass and then tiring of it, as the doctrinal decisions and lifestyle become apparent. Many such return, though, drawn by the glimpse of the numinous seen on the far shore. Such a glimpse can sustain us for many long years of darkness, rather like the residents of Hammerfest in Norway, who see no sun for half the year, but who, every blue moon, have it all made worthwhile by seeing the Northern Lights play in the sky. Such a vision can last through the longest, hardest winter. It offers a value to life to know that there is something else and it is the only true currency making Christianity, in that way, value for money. The equilibrium is unstable, but the axis is the cross, on which the redemption of the world was won after a very bumpy ride.
We would be unhappy in a hotel all the time. Their only bonus, from what I can see, is the availability of a cooked breakfast, but that bores after a few days. We would be unstable if the Cross was not the balance point of our lives, even though it takes an awful long time to realise that it is. The task for the next couple of years, I think, is to show that we know it and to release some of the inherent joy that brings into the ether. Shine your light before men, as the BCP puts it, so that seeing your good works, they may glorify your Father in Heaven. That would be value for money, for all those who come into contact with us would benefit, and even when the joy fades, the reflected joy should be visible. I have spent much of the last four months telling people one thing, 'be happy, we are doing God's work!'