Dressing up to order
IT HAD probably not been the best idea, I thought, as I scrubbed
despondently at my pencilled-in moustache, to have used registrars'
indelible ink, even though it had been nearest to hand and had
proved effective. To make it worse, I was going to get ready for
the annual swearing-in service for battalion officers of the Boys'
Brigade and Girls' Association, later that evening. "I'll somehow
get it in to the sermon," I thought, with some desperation.
I had just finished another evacuation exercise for my local
primary school, playing a Second World War evacuee billeting
officer, and having reduced the moustache to a dodgy five-o'clock
shadow, changed out of my 1940s suit, and washed out the Brylcreem,
I reflected on the odd dressing-up that this job entails.
I am not talking about clerical dress, which is a given.
Occasionally, people ask me, with an earnest intensity, why I
became a priest; I usually smile sweetly, and blithely reply:
"Because I like the dressing-up" - which is not entirely true.
I had thought that when I left my old theological college, St
Stephen's House, I would be one of those clerics with a day uniform
of sober black and a closet full of multicoloured damask gothic
chasubles, cloth-of-gold copes, and amices with bejewelled
apparels; but no.
I do indeed possess clerical shirts of only deepest black, but
have only one chasuble, of each liturgical colour, plus a couple of
others I have been given, and that's about it.
On with the motley
I AM thinking about all the rest of the dressing up, over the
years, for church events and occasions, assemblies, service
presentations, fayres, and fêtes. I have been a butler, a cook, a
jack-in-the-box, a barman, a judge, Oliver Hardy, and even the Duke
of York (Bertie, that is, rather than Andrew or the Grand Old) -
and that's before I think of all the holiday clubs where I have
been a ringmaster, a mad professor, a mountaineer, a pirate king, a
Jedi warrior, and even - in a rather nifty inflatable suit - a sumo
But the costume that left the biggest impression (literally) was
a red and orange clown outfit with a big purple sparkly fright wig,
which I was inordinately proud of. I wore it for a school assembly,
which involved, as I remember, a great deal of running around,
shrieking, and firing of water pistols.
Afterwards, I found that the wig had reacted with my skin,
leaving multiple glittery purple stripes across my face. After
desperate attempts at removal with soap, detergent, and even
washing powder, I presented myself at my local chemist's, where I
stood in the middle of the shop and the as- sistants and the
pharmacist gamely lathered me with make-up- removing creams and
lotions. In the end, it took days, and much patient scrubbing.
From war to woad
SADLY - returning to my moustache trauma - this was the last
outing for my 1940s gear. The Education Minister has in his wisdom
decreed that history will be taught chronologically in schools; so
for our local primary it will be out with the Second World War and
in with the Stone Age. A pity, as we have an Anderson shelter and a
"Dig for Victory" garden in the school grounds, not to mention the
resource of grans and granddads who remember; but there you go.
Mental note to self: When a teacher from the school phones next
year and asks if I can help to teach about Ancient Britain, and how
am I set for animal skins and woad, I must practise my answer:
Get me Jesus on the line
COLD calls - one of life's little annoyances. You're
concentrating on something, and the phone rings. "Hello," a
recorded voice says. "Time is running out to claim your PPI
refund," or something of that sort. You plonk the phone down with
Worse, though, are the ones with real people at the other end.
"Hello," they say. "Can I speak to Mr [pause as they look up the
"I'm afraid not," I reply. "Fr Eldridge left this post nine
years ago. Thank you. Goodbye."
I always try to be calm and polite. Annoying though they might
be, they are still real people trying to earn a living by doing a
pretty horrid job - even the pushy ones. Sometimes, however,
mischief gets the better of me.
"Hello. Can I speak to the owner of the business?" came one
rather aggressive voice on the phone the other day.
"Ah," I said, "that would be God."
"This is St Andrew's Church, which means the ultimate owner is
The phone was slammed down. I felt guilty afterwards - but not
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team
Ministry in Brighton.