Jack & Jill, over the hill

“You can’t have the penny and the bun.”

I have this on the authority of Geoff Boycott, the greatest of Yorkshiremen and cricketers; the lock on all lickety-splitters; the stickiest of all sticky wicketers. Among the slowest of run-scorers in first class cricket, in his prime. But you couldn’t get him out. I watched him once, against Australia, build a score of 191, but take a couple of days to do it. He was the despair of the human slingshots — those terrifying, Antipodean fast bowlers. He was the immovable object, defeating the irresistible force. A hero of my youth.

This is a Yorkshire expression, as gentle reader may have guessed. It can be translated, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Americans need to know that Yorkshire is, or was, the Texas of England, proportional to size. Larger than life in both cases, but subtly different in their use of rhetorical figures: hyperbole v. meiosis, as it were.

Texan: “It takes a whole day to drive my car around my ranch.”

Yorkshireman: “I had a car like that once.”

The law of non-contradiction is older than that — older than the penny, older than the bun. But subscription to it has never been universal. It was once the belief of most men, for instance, that women were peculiarly vulnerable to the “unnatural” desire to have things both ways. We know better than that now: the feminists have corrected us.

Note, in passing, the two uses of “natural” — the distinction between what one wants; and what one ought to want, because it is right. They are not the same. Oh no. (And what one gets is another thing entirely.)

Here is a contemporary example from Rome. Over twenty centuries, the Catholic Church, at some considerable cost to herself (think of Henry VIII, for starters), has maintained that marriage is indissoluble — just the way Jesus said in the Bible. This she will continue to do, as we are frequently assured. Meanwhile, she will make the dissolution of marriages much easier, by “streamlining” the annulment process. Numerous obstacles have, this very morning, been swept away. You don’t have to wait; it won’t cost you money; you needn’t worry about having it contested any more.

All that “red tape” peeled away, with just the one bottle of Goo Gone.

And then, on top of that, we get a whole new chapter of canons in Book VII of the Code of Canon Law, just to replace what the Goo Gone gobbled.

I am so old, I can remember when the secular laws on divorce were streamlined like this. But let us not be detained by the nostalgia of an old man, for the days when, happily or not, families stayed together — largely because it was inconceivable for them to break up. Marriage, you see, was considered indissoluble, once (and not only by Catholics). Or if not absolutely indissoluble, since nothing in this earth ever is, at least pretty darn close to it. So close, that the “option” was not constantly in everyone’s mind.

“Go for it,” is how I would summarize the new position. The irresistible force has defeated the immovable object.

Dare we say that the number of annulments is now going to skyrocket?

Nah, maybe not. For how many people take the Catholic Church seriously any more, after fifty years of “the spirit of Vatican II”? And the few who do are not the divorcing types. They’re too busy raising children.

Sometimes my head is full of monastic chant, or the music of William Byrd, or last night, the Missa Praeter rerum seriem, of Cipriano de Rore, founded on the immortal hymn by Josquin des Prés — and played off a little CD — in anticipation of this morning of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Now called “Birthday” in the Novus Ordo.)

But this morning, upon reading the latest news from Rome, what came into my head was instead a Paul Simon tune from the ’seventies:

Just slip out the back, Jack;
Make a new plan, Stan;
Don’t need to be coy, Roy —
Just get yourself free.

Hop on the bus, Gus;
Don’t need to discuss much —
Just drop off the key, Lee,
And get yourself free.