To Birmingham, to be ordained priest. The car journey north from my home in the suburbs of Oxford starts out by taking me past Newman Road in Littlemore.

I reflect, not for the first time, on certain parallels between my life and that of the great Victorian cardinal. Like him, I was raised in an Evangelical family within the Church of England. Like him, I served as an Anglican clergyman at the University of Oxford. Like him, I swam the Tiber aged 44. And now there is to be one further thing in common: like Newman, I will be made a priest of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Hurrah!

As I drive up the M40, I rehearse these parallels more to amuse myself than for purposes of serious reflection. Newman was the greatest theologian of the 19th century and some say his was the most powerful Catholic mind since that of St Thomas Aquinas. I, on the other hand, know a lot about Narnia.

In The Last Battle, CS Lewis’s final Chronicle of Narnia, the foolish donkey, Puzzle, finds himself standing next to the noble unicorn, Jewel. Jewel is very kind to Puzzle, “talking to him about things of the sort they could both understand, like grass and sugar and the care of one’s hoofs”. That’s the sort of conversation Newman would have with me.


Arriving at Birmingham, I check into the Plough and Harrow for the night. I’m pleased to notice a blue plaque by the hotel’s front door announcing that JRR Tolkien stayed there with his wife, Edith, in 1916. Given that Tolkien grew up in Birmingham and was educated at the local King Edward’s School, the connection between him and this area is not so very special. Still, hoteliers, like ordinands, have to make the best of what they’ve got.

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