Forgive us our shins
JOHN B. TAYLOR — “JBT” to his friends — was a former bishop of St Albans who died last month. The Church Times obituary (Gazette, 1 July) captured the essence of a man who was a rare combination of characteristics: brilliant scholar, devout Evangelical Christian, and whatever is the complete opposite of pompous.
I first met him more than 50 years ago, in unusual circumstances. He marked me (almost for life) when we were on opposing sides in a hockey match. He was playing for Bishop’s Stortford, I think, and I for Southgate Adelaide. I had no idea that the centre-back hacking away at my ankles was a young vicar, nor he that I was editor of a popular Christian monthly magazine.
We competed furiously, without serious incident, and, after the match, greeted each other over tea and sandwiches in the pavilion. Somehow, the terrible truth about our identities came out — it may be that one of his teammates enquired whether the vicar had given me any bruises. But, in a few minutes, we began a friendship that lasted for years, culminating in an invitation to consider being his domestic chaplain at St Albans when I was about to leave the BBC.
I declined, having a deep desire to fry some parochial fish elsewhere, but I spent an inevitably cheerful day with him in his diocese.
What everyone remembered about him was his smile. I know it’s a cliché, but it really did light up a room — or even a hockey pitch.
When rain stops play
TO STAY with sporting matters for a moment, I think even the Church Times should not let the passing of Duckworth and Lewis go unmourned. For those who are not cricket followers, they were the men who invented an ingenious mathematical process by which, when rain stopped play, a fresh target could be set, and a result achieved.
I know nothing about them, but I like to think of them as two mathematicians and cricket fanatics, who, on some damp day in Lancashire, with the players all huddled in the pavilion, decided that they would combine their two obsessions to give meaning to rain-ruined matches. Their deliberations, universally accepted, became known as the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Umpires and scorers had to master the rather complex procedures, but players and spectators came to accept it as a welcome remedy for cricket’s biggest drawback, “Rain stopped play.” I gather that players took to calling it “doing a Vera” (Coronation Street fans will spot the connection).
Sadly, Duckworth-Lewis is no more. It is now a computer system, “DLS” — and another little bit of cricketing eccentricity has gone.
What price beauty?
I SPENT a long day in the Royal Berkshire Hospital recently, having a tiresome growth removed from my right eyelid. Removing it was swift and painless, but the same could not be said for the skin graft that was needed to repair the wound.
For this, a slice of skin was taken from my other eyelid. Again, the actual removal was painless, but the injection of the local anaesthetic into the eyelid was excruciating. The surgeon told me that people having cosmetic Botox procedures to make their eyes look more attractive routinely had the same injection. It costs a fortune, it hurts — and there is a queue of people waiting to have it done. What price beauty?
MY ELDER son, who plays bass and keyboards, recently performed at the Royal Albert Hall. His band were supporting the rock singer John Grant for a sell-out concert.
To keep me abreast of events, Phil sent me a picture of himself standing awestruck on the stage, gazing at the vast, empty auditorium, and surrounded by the paraphernalia of his trade: wires, microphones, music stands, computers, and keyboards. He captioned it: “Your son, gobsmacked in the Royal Festival Hall.”
I enjoyed replying: “So gobsmacked, he didn’t even know where he was!”
WHEN the Peace was first introduced into Anglican liturgy 50 years ago, it got a mixed reception. It was usually confined to a sober handshake with the person sitting next to you. Very few obeyed the apostolic injunction literally: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” And some, reluctant to make physical contact with a fellow-Christian, sat apart with arms tightly folded.
The world has changed, and we have changed with it. Now, the Peace is a signal in many churches for a positive orgy of hugging, kissing, and passing on not “the peace of the Lord” but titbits of essential information. Eventually, order is restored, and the offertory hymn announced.
I CAN do old fogey with the best, but, on the whole, I appreciate why this has happened. In the modern world, where ten minutes is an eternity, and most things are instant, our church services are relentlessly continuous. “Silence is kept,” says the book; but generally it is not, or for no more than ten seconds.
Broadcasters know that an uninterrupted hour, even of gripping drama, sadly tests modern powers of attention. The commercials on ITV are universally treasured as opportunities to make a cup of tea, or take a comfort break. On Sunday mornings, by the end of the intercessions, I suspect that many a devout churchgoer could also do with a break.
The Peace duly meets that need. When it is over, we settle down to the rest of the service. The apostolic purpose has been met. We have celebrated our unity and love in Christ. Now, refreshed and mentally energised, we turn to remember once again its source and origin.
By all means, let the clergy exercise a bit of sensitive guidance (five minutes is probably long enough, and not just your best friends), but, for an old man like me, who can guarantee to be kissed by at least four women every Sunday, please don’t bring back the limp handshake.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.