I RUN “Find and Replace” on the liturgy file on my computer to personalise
the occasional offices. It is said that one cleric ran such a program to
replace the name “Mary” from one funeral with “Doris” for another. The creed he
printed contained the immortal line, “born of the Virgin Doris”.
This urban myth became flesh after baby Grace’s christening. I adapted the
service on my computer for Holly, the next baptismand. Months later, I accessed
a confirmation service in the same folder.
The bishop was set to greet the startled congregation with “The holly and
peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” before going on to sing: “God
of mercy, God of holly,” and “Look not on our misusings of thy holly.”
To stop the holly virus, I hurried-ly reversed the program. Next Christmas,
we’ll just have to put up with the less prickly, “The Grace and the Ivy”,
THE RISING SUN makes Christ the King dazzle in our east window at this time
of year. He is surrounded by adoring trios of prophets, martyrs, apostles, etc.
As the sun highlighted the midriffs of the company of virgins directly below
Jesus, I suddenly realised last Sunday that each of their stomachs was
well-rounded with the bloom of pregnancy.
Was this symbolic? Or was the artist having a joke at the expense of my
Victorian predecessor, who fiercely eradicated promiscuity throughout the town?
Just the job
THE Ecumenical Officer’s job description sounded as if it was up my street,
except for a bit about needing a second European language. The application form
didn’t allow me to explain why I reached only an undizzy Grade 4 at German O
Our teacher had told us how he got a distinction in French by learning the
ingredients listed in French on the side of an HP Sauce bottle. In the exam, a
question had come up about a meal, and he had been able to entertain his
examiner with a heady cocktail of molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, etc.
HP Sauce didn’t list its ingredients in German, too; so instead I learnt by
heart Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” (Freude), used by Beethoven for his Ninth
Symphony: “Praise to joy, the god-descended daughter of Elysium, etc.” Sadly, I
was asked about the Ruhr. Now I’m more of a politician, I would reply: “Im
Ruhrgebiet ist keine Freude, keine schöne Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium. .
An Ecumenical Officer, à la Father Jack, who spouted the “Ode to Joy” in
season and out of season would be no bad thing.
MY DAUGHTER’s trawl for university digs has reminded me of a 1970s encounter
with the now extinct species of the Cambridge landlady. Mrs Jeeps offered a
suite of first-floor rooms, together with free use of an electronic organ in
She also had a list of rules that would have left Moses speechless: “Thou
shalt make no noise. Thou shalt do no cooking. Thou shalt play no loud music.”
“What”, she asked, “are you studying?”
“Natural sciences,” I replied. “Physics, chemistry, that sort of thing.”
“Ooh, I’ve never had one of them gentlemen before,” Mrs Jeeps said. “I’ve
just added another rule: there’s to be no experimenting in your room.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “I’m changing to theology.”
“Theolo-what?” she snapped.
“Don’t worry. It’s the study of God, faith, church history. . .”
She looked far from reassured. No doubt she feared commandeering of her
electronic organ for late-night chorus-singing — worse than splitting the atom
in 10 New Square.
No women were allowed in my rooms after 10 p.m.; no men after 11 p.m. But
there weren’t that many women around. One evening, the heavily pregnant
chaplain’s wife came back for a cup of coffee after dinner, and Mrs Jeeps
accosted us when I was just seeing her out at 10.55 p.m. “Who’s this?” she
“This is the chaplain’s wife. She’s just leaving,” I said.
“Oh no, you don’t need to worry about that,” Mrs Jeeps said with sudden
access of charm. “She can stay as long as she wants.”
A parishioner could recall a 1930s Cambridge landlady who allowed her
gentlemen to light a coal fire in their rooms, but forbade them to poke it.