I had a medical in Ankara not long ago. The doctor was a good sort, looked over her spectacles and read out the list: blood pressure all right, weight OK, cholesterol a little high, heart no problem, kidneys no problem Liver? No, nothing — but, Professor Stone, the lungs. Ah, I thought, at 66, and after nearly 50 years of heavy smoking. She told me that I have less lung capacity than would be usual for a man of my age. What is it? I asked. Seventy per cent. What is normal for a man of my age? A twinkle: 73. Thank the Lord for sensible doctors.
Obviously if I smoke, there is a problem, but it will not be dispelled by finger-wagging. I am from a generation where nearly everyone smoked, and I have read somewhere that at the time of the Marshall Plan — announced when I was six, in 1947 — we smoked 90 per cent of our dollar earnings. I started in 1960. Two months later the cancer business was confirmed, and my mother went on and on. I stopped smoking by the method favoured then — staying in bed. Watch: nine. Fifteen hours appear to go by. Look at watch: ten. Feet took charge: you’d trot down to the tobacconist’s and get ten Senior Service at 1/6 which is 10p or thereabouts. Since then there have been heroic efforts to give up — Champneys, a Korean acu-massagist who walks on you, a wizard in Wembley with a character called Nosmo, and the small arsenal of cigarette replacements that are now available for nothing on prescription. None of it was any good. I did stop for a year, could write nothing memorable, and drank more than was good for me or anyone else. There obviously is some connection between smoking and brainwork, or even just having fun, but there you are.
In Turkey they are less impressed by health scares. Even the customs officers here smoke underneath notices saying ‘No smoking’, so I am staying here. The Turks’ response to silly rules is to ignore them, whereas I fear that the British middle classes have become so used to being bossed around that they will put up with anything. In north Oxford, there are now rats in the streets because some green-minded lunatics have decreed that perishable rubbish will only be collected every fortnight. The only possible answer to this sort of thing is micro-terrorism — a pair of dividers through their tyres, rubbish dumped in the councillors’ front gardens at dead of night. But the British middle classes would not do such things. Thank God for Turkey, where my rubbish is picked up every day as a matter of course.
On Remembrance Sunday our church was not only full, but overflowing into the yard. We have in Istanbul a splendid semi-cathedral, which was erected in the late 1860s as a memorial to the Crimean war. The architect, G.E. Street, was quite good — he did the law courts, and William Morris was his assistant. Our vicar, Ian Sherwood, is robust: no two-dimensional post-Darwin uplift (it is curious how the heart goes out of hymns after about 1860) but old-fashioned Middle-to-High Anglicanism, with majestic 17th- and 18th-century hymns. The 17th-century ones — John Mason especially — are superb.
The church has a large congregation, among them Turkish converts. Mr Sherwood looks after refugees from Iran or Ceylon (they rebuilt the church) and organises a school where their children are taught the essentials, by volunteers. He visits prisoners; he visits the dying; when our Consulate-General was suicide-bombed, he took over the cleaning-up operation, and was given an OBE. Does the C of E look fondly on this little island, holding out in its long retreat? No. Our parish comes theoretically — very theoretically — under the diocese of Gibraltar. Its bag carriers, with curiously unlined faces, atop beards, are engaged in ‘nativising’ the local Anglicans and asset-strip. They tried to deconsecrate the church, and when the Consulate was blown up, they made no effort to restore the chapel, and proposed to lease out the churchyard to a local three-star hotel for purposes of entertainment (the memorial belly dance?). Glenda Jackson and Lord Salisbury put a stop to this — and the C of E did not forgive or forget. Mr Sherwood was served with a Visitation, preceded by 50 faxed pages of questions (‘Can we have the minutes of the Church Council of 15 October 1999?’). The Church Council — senior schoolteachers, bankers, Turkish converts, etc. — was suspended for the better part of a year. The Visitors turned up and asked their questions about the heating, etc., and were obviously embarrassed (well, they fell ill).
The Visitation was lifted, but They are still at it. An account is closed here, a trust-fund curiously read there, and our financial man, a senior American banker, served with lots of questions about accounts. The vicar’s income is meanly trimmed on specious pretexts. I could never really understand why the Church of Scotland was founded upon hatred of bishops. Now I do. The C of E needs just to decentralise, and get rid of this creepy bureaucracy. The poor old German Lutherans here are down to six, lectured on matters green by a pudding-bowl-hairdo’ed Ludendorff lookalike lady. That creepy bureaucracy would have us in the same state.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 17, 2007