I WAS burgled a few weeks ago. They jemmied open the french windows in the rectory dining-room with a spade I had helpfully left leaning against a wheelbarrow outside. One of my lodgers heard noises, but thought it was the other lodger; when he went downstairs to work on his laptop, there it wasn’t.
He looked around, and saw that my television had gone, as well as an Xbox, and my own laptop. I was away overnight with my dog, Dilly, but, even if she had been there, she’s no guard-dog — she would have welcomed them in and shown them where the silver was kept.
It could, of course, have been much worse: someone could have been hurt, and there could have been that mindless damage that grieves the soul, but I still feel decidedly queasy. I have never been burgled before, and I know now what people mean when they say a burglary makes you feel violated: I feel as if someone had come up and physically molested me, even though all they did — in addition to the thefts — was prowl around the house and open a few drawers.
The local community was livid that its vicar had been done over; the police made some arrests on Whitehawk (another estate in Brighton), but I doubt whether we shall see our property again.
I now have a shiny new television and a beautiful new laptop that is much nicer than my old one, but I still feel bereft. On one level, there is the practical inconvenience: needless to say, I had failed to back up regularly (I was supposed to be able to do it online, but it had never worked), and so I have lost a huge amount of material, such as service sheets, for which I will have to start (time-consumingly) from scratch, and things such as my Church Times Diary column, which was ready to be sent.
On another level, there are photographs, and music, and things such as the service sheet and address I did for my dad’s funeral, which are irreplaceable.
The next time I was going away overnight, I drove to the bottom of the drive and screeched to a halt. I had to walk back, check on every door with their new bolts, then go round every window in the house (I have 29), and make sure, for my own peace of mind, that every window lock (there are 51) was safely secured.
It will be some time before I feel safe in my own home again.
“MORE tea, Vicar?” they ask, primly, then fall about laughing. You smile indulgently, as if, goodness, that was a new one, but inwardly your heart sinks.
There are two things in ordained ministry which you never get away from: moving chairs, and being the butt of the “More tea, Vicar?” joke. In this job, you soon get used to tea and coffee in whatever shape or form they arrive, from hot water over which a tea bag or a coffee granule have been waved, to dark brown liquid so corrosive you can feel it taking off your tooth enamel as you swallow.
I must admit, my spirits always rally at the question “Would you like something a bit stronger?”, but this can be quite hazardous, too: I remember once being presented with some Irish poteen that almost blew my head off; and more than once wondering what to do with a large tumbler of neat gin. (Talking of hospitality offered, I remember an account of a 19th-century parson who, on seeing ordinary claret-glasses when invited to dine with one of his congregation, would mumble, “For these and for all his mercies, may God’s holy name be praised,” whereas on seeing champagne flutes set out, would begin the grace with, “O most bountiful Jehovah!” That never happens in my parish.)
In Brighton, “something stronger” does not always mean alcohol. On more than one funeral visit, I have had to turn down the kind offer of recreational drugs. It is quite sweet really: they just, very innocently, want me to feel at home.
Learning the lingo
BACK to respectable clerical coffee-drinking. I have recently made a great personal advance: for years, in such establishments as Starbucks and Costa Coffee, I have always muttered a request for “a small white coffee please, with skimmed milk”. At last, however, I have plucked up the courage to ask for — with only a twinge of self-conscious embarrassment — “a tall skinny latte”. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.