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By their socks . . .

ONE OF the numerous charities of which I am ex officio a trustee is appointing a new fund-manager. The person’s job will be to ensure that our assets are prudently and profitably invested. Quite right, too.

However, at our last trustees’ meeting, I was alarmed to learn that I was expected to be on the interviewing panel. Even on a sunny day, I can’t tell the difference between a busted convertible security and a price-swap derivative. As it’s my rule of life not to exercise myself in matters that are too high for me, I tried to get off the hook. But my objections were overruled.

Knowing my Saki, if not my stock market, I told the others at the table what my contribution to the selection process would be. “I shall study their socks,” I said. “One can always tell a good fund-manager by his socks. These must command one’s admiration without forfeiting one’s respect.”

Alas for the Arch-treasurer

SUNDAY 30 January 2005 was the 150th anniversary of the death of the man who gave St John-at-Hackney its place in history. They nicknamed Joshua Watson “Arch-treasurer Watson”, such was his way with money, whether his own wealth from the wine trade or the fortune he raised to finance his countless good works.

Watson was the leader of “the Hackney Phalanx”, the coterie of High Churchmen who, in the early 19th century, paved the way for the Tractarians. At a meeting in his mansion overlooking Clapton Pond — where today the number 38 bus turns round — Watson and his friends in the phalanx founded “the National Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church”.

Watson was the powerhouse behind such worthy causes as the Clergy Orphan Society, the London Fever Hospital, and the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He thought bishops were a good thing, and created a chain of colonial bishoprics from Calcutta to Nova Scotia. He was just as keen on curates, and started the Additional Curates Society.

Mistrustful of mavericks, Watson wasn’t sure what to make of the young John Henry Newman. In his opinion, the Tracts for the Times should have been edited by a committee. He was implacably opposed to Protestant dissent, and disliked Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

William Cobbett loathed Watson. “Oh! Joshua Watson!” he wrote. “Alas! Wine and spirit merchant who art head of a Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge . . .”

On the morning of the anniversary of his passing, the present secretary of the Additional Curates Society placed a beautiful wreath on his tomb in our churchyard. By sunset, such is Hackney, it had gone.

Dicing with Delia

I’VE HAD a phone call from a nice lady in the diocesan office, asking me if I’d like to go on a pre-retirement course.

Hindus have the right idea about retirement. You should give everything away, wander into the forest with nothing on, and meditate on the transience of things. I don’t think that my family will let me do that. They’re expecting me to spend more time in the kitchen. So I hope that the diocesan course will include some cookery lessons.

But first there is a painful memory to be healed. I was once a member of the ecumenical community based at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk. While there, I took my turn with others on the kitchen rota. One day, I found myself cooking lunch when Delia Smith was our guest.

Delia herself didn’t complain, but what I served up led a wag on the community to quote Job: “Is there any taste in the slime of the purslane?” They decided that my gifts were not in the kitchen, and the rotas were redrafted to keep me out of it.

The truth about love

SOMEONE’S making a killing burying Hackney’s dead, but it’s not me.

Quite who the rogues are who’ve cornered all the funerals round here no one seems to know. So it was a big surprise to be asked to take Barbara’s.

Barbara never went to church, but she was clearly a saint. She’d been married nearly 60 years,
and had been the matriarch of a huge extended family of East Enders, all of whom adored her.

I did my best for them, and they took me to their heart. I was overwhelmed by their gratitude for a funeral service in which I simply tried to be true to her memory and true to the gospel. We sang the songs Barbara sang in the pub, and we sang “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven”.

I said in my sermon that the love she had for them and they for her had its source in the love that hung the sun and all the stars. My fleeting involvement with this family was a poignant reminder of the time when this was what parish ministry was all about.

Nowhere to go

GRIM WORDS on our church door. “We will no longer provide a free meal.” Our day centre for Hackney’s homeless has closed.

Across the years, Church Times readers have supported this project generously, but the cost of keeping it going has finally proved too much for us. There is the hope of a fresh start under new management. But, today, our hungry Lord must forage somewhere else for a bite to eat.

The Revd Dr John Pridmore is Rector of Hackney.

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