Land of my Fathers
TWO weeks ago, I took my grandchildren to the village in the mountains of mid-Wales where I grew up. We found the grave of their great-great-grandfather in the churchyard, and then tracked down the brass vase on the altar commemorating his life. We then met a lady in the village street who, on learning my identity, said that someone who once knew me was now living in the village.
“He used to live at Tanllan,” she said. That was the Lloyds’ farm — Iori Lloyd was my best friend.
“That’s him,” she said. “He’s living at the Cefn.”
I had not seen him for more than 60 years. We crossed the road tothe house that used to be the village dairy, and knocked on the door.A man of my age opened it, andI introduced myself, at which he became almost incoherent with ex-citement. He ushered me into his living room where, on a little tablenext to his chair, was a copy of my autobiography, Winter’s Tale, whichhis daughter had just sent him,having been told by a friend that her father was mentioned in it. He had been reading it as I knocked on the door.
I know it sounds a tall story, but I have four astonished but impeccable witnesses to confirm it — although I think the grandchildren were even more gobsmacked when we drove the seven hilly miles into town which Iori and I cycled every day to the nearest grammar school.
“Grandpa,” said an awe-struck voice from the back seat, “you never did that, did you?”
Fun with the Bard
I AM used to people doing odd things to Shakespeare — Richard III in Nazi uniforms, Coriolanus performed by a cast apparently all wearing M&S pyjamas — but a recent performance at the delightful little Watermill theatre near Newbury beat the lot. It was Two Gentlemen of Verona. All 12 speaking parts were performed by just two men, both of them Zimbabweans.
The theatre was packed, largely with parties of sixth-formers presumably studying the play for their A levels; and there is no doubt that we were all mightily entertained as the two actors rushed backwards and forwards, vesting and then divesting themselves of various symbolic garments intended to identify their characters.
I doubt whether anyone who did not know the play already would have had the slightest idea of what it was all about at the end, but the actors spoke the lines well, and the Bard would surely have enjoyed all the “business” — the banter with the audience, the asides as props were exchanged, and so on.
But, best of all, he would have enjoyed the moment when one of the actors stopped in mid-sentence to complain that a woman in the third row was mouthing the text of the play as it was performed.
“That’s all right,” he said, “but you’re half a sentence ahead all the time.”
Reordering the Ordinal
TO THE Minster Church in Reading, for the ordination of Brenda, a deacon in our Thatcham Team Ministry, as priest.
The service, as usual on these occasions, was unbelievably long, and inexplicably tedious, surely, for the hundreds of aunts, uncles, friends, and well-wishers who have simply come along as supporters. Perhaps a “comfort break” halfway through would help: the Peace might acquire a deep and satisfying new relevance.
Eventually, we reached the eucharist, and our very own new priest was administering one of the chalices. She handed it to me, beaming, and I duly took the wine. I pointed out to her later that the authorised words are something like “The blood of Christ,” not “I’m so happy!”
AFTER taking a harvest service, I was driving down the A34 south of Newbury when I was pulled up by a police car. The officer alleged that I had been wandering about all over my lane. I resisted the temptationto say that that is how I usuallydrive, which was just as well, because he thought I had been drinking, and intended to breathalyse me.
I thought back to the harvest service. How much wine had I consumed? My feeling was: about an eggcupful; but it was with some trepidation that I blew into the device. To my great relief, he announced that the reading was zero.
The incident reminded me of the experience of an elderly retired priest who had been taking a communion service in Oxford one Christmas Eve. On the way back to Witney, he was surprised to find the traffic at a standstill in the Woodstock Road,and horrified as he saw that two police officers were breathalysing the motorists. He had, he recalled, foolishly over-calculated the amount of wine required, and had therefore consumed a dangerously large quantity.
A policeman approached his car, and he wound the window down.
“Hello, Father,” the officer said. ‘What have you been doing in Oxford?”
“Taking a service,” my friend truthfully replied.
“Oh well,” said the policeman, laughing, “we don’t need to breathalyse you, then.” And the guilty man drove off very carefully towards home.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.