I attended my nephew's confirmation last Sunday in the bit of provincial Britain where I grew up. In a congregation of oddly-familiar strangers, it was hard to believe the right-on Britain of the BBC and Guardian exists. Yes, they now sing badly-written modern verses to the music of the old hymns. Yes, the lavishly-built bishop-and-a-half (there's no doubt which of the seven is his most deadly) cracked jokes and managed to bring Tesco and ASDA into his sermon. And yes, the Church of England below the rank of bishop now appears to be entirely staffed by mumsy women with bad haircuts. Yet the old ceremonies continue as they have for centuries.
Young men and women who barely know what sin is renounced it; their voices ringing out among old stones. It was hard to imagine they will not sit in the same pews in 20 years or so to hear their own children do the same. I noticed other congregants were also standing in respectful silence as the faithful sang their hymns and said their prayers. Yet I suspect they were as glad as I was that the old forms continue. It is reassuring, after all, to know there is something in the mess we have made of Britain that our great-grandfathers would recognise. And though we lack the faith to run the churches, we are glad that they are there for such family occasions as this.
In such a context, my pessimism about my country's future briefly abated. Then I emerged into the watery sunshine to recall my fellow-citizens' recent electoral idiocy; calling their old drug dealer from their room in rehab with a view to scoring as soon as they get out.
Oh well. It was a respite.