Today is the 23rd day of Lent. We are halfway through. In various pieces over the last three years I have referred to the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, when it occurred: on 14 February last year (the first time since 1945 that it had fallen on Valentine’s Day), on 1 March 2017, and on 10 February 2016. I didn’t manage it this year. I drafted but didn’t finalize a piece about eating meat one Ash Wednesday, 11 years ago. Here’s the gist of it.
This year Ash Wednesday fell on 6 March, as it will every 11 years until the 2050s (2030, 2041, 2052). As with Good Friday, it is a day for abstaining from meat. I don’t believe that I have ever eaten meat on a Good Friday but 11 years ago I did, by accident, on Ash Wednesday.
I was working at a client’s premises near London Bridge, rather sleep-deprived from an interrupted night. Our daughter (16 months old at the time) had woken repeatedly. In the morning, walking from London Bridge station, I planned where I would have lunch, the vegetarian all-day breakfast at one of the caffs along Borough High Street. I could rest my eyes for 10 minutes before the afternoon’s work. When lunch-time came I ordered the regular all-day breakfast instead and was halfway through a pork sausage before realizing what day it was. Only then did I remember that morning’s resolution to have the vegetarian option. I felt like Puddleglum the marshwiggle did in CS Lewis’s “The Silver Chair” when he becomes aware that he has eaten the meat from a talking stag without knowing.
I didn’t make it to mass that day either, no ashes on the forehead, no reminder “that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”. I planned to avoid the Jubilee Line on my journey home, take the Northern and then Central Line to Tottenham Court Road and get to St Patrick’s Soho Square for 6pm. England were playing at Wembley that night, Fabio Capello’s first game in charge. The Jubilee Line would be packed with football fans. But the Northern Line was suspended, so after a considerable delay I ended up on an over-crowded Jubilee Line after all, face-to-face with some mouthy northerner directing a load of abuse at Londoners in general and me in particular. I felt like I was paying the price for eating meat on an Ash Wednesday. I haven’t done it since.