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28 August 2015


Problems with plumbing

IF YOUR copy of the Church Times smells a bit whiffy, I fear it is my fault. I am writing this diary surrounded by sewage. This reminds me of that wonderful line from Patricia Routledge (playing a character in a Victoria Wood sketch), who said that she’d met her niece’s fiancé: “He’s called Neil, and he’s high up in sewage, apparently. That’s lucky, I thought.”

No such luck for me, however, as I am not high up in Anglian Water (or whoever is responsible for the ingress and egress of fluids from my property), but merely a lowly vicar.

It is possible that I am exaggerating, as, at present, no sewage is actually visible; but, just as when you see a mosquito and you become convinced that you’ve been bitten all over the place, so now I worry endlessly that the sink is emptying more slowly than usual, or that there is a distinct smell coming from the U-bend, or the water looks a bit brown. I confess, however, that so far nothing untoward has actually happened.

Simple country parson that I am, my vicarage is not connected to mains sewerage, and so instead I have an underground tank and a pump at the bottom of the garden. The pump has broken; so my house’s effluent is not presently going anywhere. It is slightly unnerving — an anxiety not improved by the fact that the firm employed to fix it cannot remember if they came to empty the tank or not while I was on holiday, or indeed if their lorry is sufficiently narrow to get up my driveway.

To jocular readers moved to write to me with sentiments along the lines of “So that’s where you store your old sermons then,” I can only beg you to realise that my nearest and dearest have already shared with me every bon mot imaginable. And several that are not.

For the time being, I would be enormously grateful if you would just give your Church Times a shake out of the window in the fresh air, and keep your witticisms to yourself.


Mission-shaped ideas

STEPPING away from septic tanks, let us turn to things altogether more fragrant: martyrs, Mary, and matrimony.

This summer, I managed to collide these three things into one day: the Feast of St James the Apostle, the parish day-pilgrimage to Walsingham, and a wedding in Oxford. After much to-ing and fro-ing, I thought I had sorted the logistical problems: abolish the sung mass and replace with an early said mass (8 a.m.), then see the pilgrims on to the coach at 9 a.m., and then head off to Oxford, cadging a lift from a fellow-cleric who was also going. Easy.

Or so I thought when I arrived in church at 7.45 a.m. to vest for mass, only to find no one there. I wandered around confusedly until I heard shouting and banging from beyond the sacristy, emanating (it emerged) from the loo. The poor server, having answered a call of nature, could not get out because the lock had broken. She had already been in there a good 30 minutes.

Demonstrating the quick thinking that, as we know from the Reform and Renewal agenda, is needed in the contemporary Church, I eschewed the lily-livered, non-mission-shaped idea of calling for a locksmith, and set about fixing the problem myself. I unscrewed the door handle. This did not work. I then climbed into the loft see if we could get down the other side (where there is another door). I couldn’t.

We then had the idea of passing a ladder down into the loo from the loft, if the ladder would go into and across the loft space. It wouldn’t. Demonstrating the quick thinking that is needed in the contemporary Church, I eschewed the lily-livered non-mission-shaped idea of relying on myself, and called for a locksmith.

By this stage, most of the eucharistic congregation, their cars parked on spots that would become illegal at 9 a.m., had to depart, and I had to go and bless the day-pilgrims and see the coach safely off the premises. Covered in bits of loft insulation, dust, and grease, I am not sure I smelled of the sheep (as the Holy Father would have us), but I certainly smelled of the DIY store.

Having seen them off — some of them staring at my appearance with a mild degree of incredulity — I returned to find that the locksmith had done his job. This job, of course, involved drilling into the door, and having to come back next week with a new lock; but at least the long-suffering server was safely released from the WC. Now well past nine o’clock, we said mass with a congregation of one (quality, not quantity, I always say), and then I rushed home to spruce myself up for the journey to the Other Place.


Get me to the church

IT IS true to say that we did not leave at the earliest possible time or in the calmest possible mood for Oxford. The mood was not improved by traffic jams on the world’s largest car-park (commonly called the M25), but we seemed to be set fair for a safe and timely arrival at Magdalen College for the nuptial festivities.

That was, until a motorcyclist overtook on the inside, gesticulating wildly. My colleague in the driving seat is not renowned for cautious or slow vehicle-management; so I could not see why the motorcyclist was overtaking or looking so agitated. I was about to utter some appropriate and Christian words of comment when I realised that he was pointing at our left-rear tyre: it was almost flat.

We pulled into the services outside Oxford, and, demonstrating the quick thinking that is needed in the contemporary Church, we eschewed the lily-livered, non-mission-shaped idea of calling the AA, and tried to refill the tyre with air ourselves. This didn’t work. We then tried changing the tyre ourselves. We didn’t have the right jack.

Demonstrating the quick thinking that is needed in the contemporary Church, we eschewed the lily-livered non-mission-shaped idea of doing it ourselves, and called the AA.

By this time, the wedding was almost upon us; so we called a taxi and left one of our party to receive the Very Nice Man who was coming to fix the tyre. Some time later, a little breathless, and a taxi-fare poorer, I threw myself into the chapel pews, and breathed a sigh of relief. For the next few hours, at least, the logistical problems would be someone else’s.

The wedding, by the way, was lovely.


The Revd Robert Mackley is the Vicar of Little St Mary’s, Cambridge.

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