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Diary: John Wall

19 December 2014

ISTOCK

Friend for life

SOME people smile and come over to say "Hello", and ask what it's all about. One even took a photograph. Others look confused, and then pretend they haven't seen us. A few stare with barely disguised hostility, as if it's all very wrong. What are they looking at? A large clergyman pushing a small child's buggy, in which is comfortably seated a two-year-old black Labrador dog.

I've had Sophie since she was ten weeks old. When I went to see a litter of seven-week-old puppies, she clambered over her brothers and sisters to greet me, and that was it: love at first sight. She was the first puppy I had ever had, and, despite the traumas of house training and enthusiastic chewing (I suspect a signed first edition of T. S. Eliot's poem "A Song for Simeon" vanished that way), she has been a real joy.

She captivates all comers, saying hello nicely to visitors, rolling on her back, and asking those who like that sort of thing to tickle her tummy - and then politely letting people be. She loves the house full of everyone at parties and parish dos, scrounging whatever food she can. Then, when she has had enough, quietly takes herself off into a corner. All in all, the perfect rectory dog.

I first realised something was wrong after a few months, when she stopped walking one evening down by the seafront and had to be carried back to the car. Over the next six months, her walking got gradually worse, until she could only stagger a few yards. After tests, a sort of rare doggie muscular dystrophy was diagnosed; and, although steroids helped for a while, they now no longer work.

There is no pain or distress, just a sort of resigned bemusement that sometimes her legs don't work. So I borrowed a buggy from my assistant priest, and push her round when her legs give way, and hence the variety of reactions I've had. She loves her buggy, sometimes refusing to get out, staying cosily ensconced when we get home, snoozing peacefully until enticed out with the promise of a gravy bone.

I don't know how long we can realistically carry on: I'm hoping to get her through Christmas, and then we'll see. I am well aware, however, that the time will come when the hard decision has to be made; but, then, perhaps she knew in some strange way, when she squirmed over to greet me at seven weeks old, that I'd look after her right the way through to the end. 


Fowl goings-on

IT SEEMED a good idea at the time. It was the rarest of all clerical beasts, a proper day off, when a text came through reminding me that I had promised to get the turkeys out of the church-hall freezer for the pre-Christmas Parish lunch, and put them in my garage to defrost.

It was a journey of some 150 yards from one to the other, and, bearing in mind that three frozen turkeys weigh about 24kg (about the same weight as Sophie, see above), I thought it a good idea to use her buggy to transport them (also, see above).

I trotted over and trundled the three 8kg turkeys rather self-consciously out of the hall, through the rectory garden, and round the back to the garage. I unloaded the first and placed it in its defrosting position, and then went for the second, which is when it all started to go wrong. As I picked it up, the bag split, and the bird escaped, knocking the buggy over, and landing with delicacy and finesse in a pile of dog poo that Sophie had strategically deposited earlier.

On closer inspection, the third turkey had also fallen out, splitting its wrapper and bouncing into Sophie's favourite toilet area. My heart sank. Knowing from my fearsome food-hygiene course that much food poisoning is caused by contamination through dog poo, I reluctantly dumped both birds in the bin, and traipsed resentfully over to our local supermarket to get replacement extra-large turkeys.

They had only one. I then took half an hour to traipse over to the other side of Brighton, to another supermarket, to buy a second. All in all, I wasted the whole morning (not to mention £48) in this wretched turkey hunt - but the most annoying thing? I don't actually like turkey. 


Educational visit

SCHOOL visits are a hoot. I had one recently, to about 50 hugely excited six-year-olds. I told them about the building ("See that man over there, holding the fishing net? That's our special friend, that is, St Andrew"); showed them incense ("What do the kings bring at Christmas? Gold, yes; myrrh, yes; and frankincense. Yes! Well, this is what it looks like").

I dressed them up in chasubles and albs ("What's Professor Dumbledore's first name? Albus. It actually means 'white thing'. This alb is a special 'white thing' we wear, sort of like party clothes.")

They ran round, lit candles, baptised teddy bears, drew pictures, and generally had a really fun time. A favourite thing, though, was writing prayers. We talked about friends, how important they are, and how we spend time with them and talk to them, telling them things that make us happy or sad or worried: we talked about God as our friend, about prayer as talking to him in the same way about all the same stuff, about how he's there and cares for us.

We then all got together for a final question-and-answer session. A little boy got up and, out of the blue, in front of all his classmates, said: "My dad died six weeks ago."

"Oh, that's the hardest thing of all," I said, "to lose your dad; but remember, just as you won't stop loving him, he won't stop loving you: love goes on for ever."

It was the best I could think of to say. Afterwards, his teacher told me that it was a real breakthrough: it was the first time he had mentioned his father's death at all. The prayer he had written was for God to look after his dad.

In the middle of all the rushing round with sick dogs, dodgy turkey dinners, and lost days off, in the middle of Christmas preparations and wittering on about gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and all the rest of it, it is moments like this that bring me up short. They remind me why I'm here in the first place, and, ultimately, what it's all about.

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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