I LIKE to think that I have become something of a media star over the past nine months. By this I mean that I now have a “Thought for the Day” slot at 7 a.m. on the radio station Uckfield FM, once a fortnight.
Like much of local radio, UFM is a real presence in the local area: maintained and run by a small group of enthusiasts, it is a significant player in the community, and, as its staff are invaluable supporters of our local churches and our numerous activities, we want to support them, too.
Hence my staggering out on alternate Fridays at silly-o’-clock in the morning to chat on anything from church pews to the rugby club, from St Teresa of Calcutta to decorating Christmas trees.
IT HAS not always been plain sailing, however: I remember sitting in my church stall at 8 a.m. for morning prayer on Remembrance Day last year, with an uneasy feeling that I had forgotten something, when it dawned on me that I was supposed to have been talking about Ypres and the Menin Gate an hour earlier.
I have subsequently recorded a spare in case I have another mental aberration.
Is there anybody there?
MIND you, it almost didn’t happen at all when I started. On my first broadcast, I duly turned up the agreed ten minutes beforehand, all ready to go. I had already cased the joint; so I knew where to find the studio in the little group of industrial buildings in a farmyard a mile out of town.
I knocked on the front door. Silence. I rang the bell. Still silence. I rattled the doors, and was starting to panic as the minutes ticked away when the presenter, Gary, poked his head out of the upstairs window and called me up by the back staircase, which was the real entrance on the other side of the building. It seems I had been trying to break into the beauty parlour that occupies the ground floor.
Luckily, it’s radio and not television: I suspect that the CCTV would have had amusement value.
Message in an oven
ONE of the really useful things about starting over again, having been a long time in a previous post, is the joy of recycling. You can mine old sermons for raw material, and revamp pre-loved parish-magazine vicar’s letters; but the best bit is re-running old favourite school assemblies.
I have got three primary schools at the moment, and I am going to be taking on a fourth; and I always start with the same assembly: a tried and tested way to introduce myself.
I go in armed with a microwave and a mixing bowl and a bag of mystery ingredients, and tell the children I am going to bake a cake. After a chat about the wonders of the Great British Bake Off and Mary Berry (modifications, sadly, now needed there), I produce a recipe book.
”You know what?” I tell them. “I’m such a brilliant baker I don’t need a recipe. I’ll do it my way,” and hurl the book across the hall. I then proceed to produce scales. “I don’t need these: I know what I’m doing ’cos I’m so brilliant.”
I then ask them what we need for a cake, and proceed to pour out flour, milk, and add butter haphazardly, and vigorously mix it all up. By now, they’re getting restive. I then break eggs in, dropping the shells in, too. Restive turns gently riotous. I say that, as it’s my cake, I’ll put in things I like, and continue with a jarful of strawberry jam and a good squirt of tomato sauce. Lastly, as a finale, I add a pinch (about half a pack) of cooking salt. Rioting continues.
I then put the mixture in the microwave, asking if it will be a nice cake. The answer is a resounding “No”, and I ask the children why. They tell me that I didn’t follow the recipe, I didn’t measure anything, I put the wrong things in — above all, the salt — and generally was very silly. By then the cake is done, and is suitably vile.
I point out that the ingredients were all good, but I didn’t use them properly because I thought I knew best and wanted to do it my way.
The moral is that God gives us the ingredients for a good life, if we listen to him and follow his plans for us, working with others to make something good; but, if you just do your own thing, selfishly, then it’s a mess.
Do they remember the moral? No: all they remember is that Fr John is a rotten cook. It’s a splendid ice-breaker, though.
The Revd John Wall is Priest-in-Charge of the Uckfield Plurality.