Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Opus Domi

Catholic Herald, 12/5/06

Today I am waiting in for the dishwasher man. Six weeks of living without a functioning dishwasher have been salutary. Apart from the fact that our electricity usage took a nice little dive, it was interesting to discover that our children, despite annual no-frills holidays, still do not know how to wash up. Nor do they see any reason why they should wash up as long as their parents seem able and willing to do it for them.

“We teach our children almost nothing beyond cleaning their teeth,” fulminated the kitchen guru Prue Leith in the Financial Times at the weekend. “We cherish the freedom to live in a mannerless tip…yet schoolchildren are so overprotected out of the home that they many not go on a swing unless it has a cushioned floor beneath it.”

Ouch. It was with a chastened heart that I went along to the first Excellence in the Home conference at a grand Kensington hotel, where Mrs Leith was booked to expand the theme of her wonderful Financial Times article.

This is the kind of thing I normally dread. It should have made me feel inadequate and scruffy. A sea of well-groomed catering and education and corporate professionals in suits and pearls (though fewer pearls on the men) greeted the inspirational speakers: Ms Leith herself; a brilliant keynote speech on the balance between body and soul, from Tom Hibbs, a Texan professor of ethics; even a “chefs forum” on what professional chefs get up to at home.

And here’s the funny thing – I didn’t feel inadequate and scruffy at all. Well, I felt a little scruffy – maybe my favourite birdwatching anorak isn’t quite Royal Garden Hotel style. But otherwise I felt energised and inspired. On the bus home, I found myself devising a five-day crash course in self-maintenance and home skills with which to keep the sixteen-year-old busy when he’s finished his GCSEs. I now feel utterly determined to get my children learning to cook, to shop wisely, to keep their home and selves clean and comfortable because I’d been made to realise that home skills matter. Yes! The skills I’ve wasted so many years trying to cram into as little time as possible before doing “real” work really, really matter.

Excellence in the Home, which looks like becoming an ongoing series of events, is taking the Jamie Oliver phenomenon a step further; it is the sort of event which the Women’s Institute ought to be organising, but doesn’t. Also it has a genuine international dimension – there were delegates from all continents, even New Zealand.

So who organised it? None other than the Dawliffe Hall Educational Foundation, which has an excellent background in organising inspirational speaker meetings and conferences of a smaller scale, but has never done anything quite as big as this before. DHEF organises the kind of events which you drag yourself to thinking, “Why on earth do I want to spend a day listening to speakers talking about parenting?” and afterwards skip home crying “Hallelujah! There are other parents having the same problems as me – and we can solve them!” Which of course, you knew all along but didn’t quite believe.

Now, as some readers will know, the DHEF is – how do we express this? – inspired by Opus Dei. It would be inaccurate to say it is “run by” Opus Dei. But I do not think DHEF will quibble if I say that it is part of the Opus Dei family. Its energetic leading lights are all Opus Dei stalwarts.

This fact was not mentioned in any of the Excellence in the Home literature. Even the guest speakers, I discovered in conversation with one of them, had not been informed of it.

Meanwhile the film of the world’s worst-written and most obnoxious thriller, The Da Vinci Code, is opening all over the country. A whole generation of gullible people will believe from this month forwards that (a) Jesus married Mary Magdalene and (b) Opus Dei is staffed by murderous monks.

Well, I looked very hard round the Excellence in the Home conference and I swear I did not see one murderous monk, albino or no; yet at a time when their reputation needs all the help it can get, Opus Dei seem strangely, pointlessly even, reluctant to allow their connection with an entirely laudable initiative such as Excellence in the Home to be known.


No comments: