Diary: David Winter

by
16 November 2018

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Watch out

EVER since a Sunday in late March, 20 years ago, when, lying in bed, I heard the church bell ring for the early communion service which I was to lead, I have been meticulous about the vagaries of British Summer Time.

On that occasion, I hastily pulled on some clothes — an alb can cover a multitude of sartorial errors — and eight-o’clockers are, in any case, there for the words, not the appearance; so I got away with it. Over the next two decades, I have always coped with the changing hours — until the last one.

I thought I had done very well. The bedside clock-radio updates automatically, and so does the central heating. I wound my wristwatch back, and also the big kitchen clock, and retired to bed, confident that I would once again be awakened by the seven-o’clock news the next morning.

All, indeed, went well — except for what seemed to be odd changes to the television schedules. I was busy on other things, but seemed to miss the first hour of Strictly. And why was Match of the Day so early? Indeed, why were they on at all? This was Sunday. And, if it was Sunday, why hadn’t I gone to church?

At last, the horrible truth emerged (although not until six o’clock the next morning). I was now the hopeless person who didn’t know which day of the week it was. I had set everything perfectly correctly — but on Friday night.

The bedside clock-radio took offence at this, and shut down the system. It took me several days to get routines back to normal, but the damage to my self-confidence may well prove irreparable.

 

Insult to injury

MY GRANDDAUGHTER, who teaches in a comprehensive school in the part of London where I ended my own teaching career 60 years ago, broke a finger shutting the classroom door in a hurry. A colleague took her to A&E, and all was well — indeed, she says, she enjoyed all the sympathy from teachers and students.

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As I told her at half-term, she was spared my experience. I was hit in the eye by the ball in a staff-v.-school cricket match (teenage boys can bowl quite fast). My glasses were broken; there was quite a lot of blood on my whites; and bits of glass were in my eye.

Again, a colleague drove me to the hospital, where a nurse tended my wounds, gently removing the tiny splinters of glass. She also chatted pleasantly, including asking me at one point whether I’d just finished my O levels. My colleague snorted and then laughed. “He’s a teacher,” he said (I was 25 at the time).

No harm done, except to my pride. But I was mercilessly teased in the staff room, and, somehow, the news got out into the school. “Oh, Sir, fancy the nurse thinking you was a schoolkid.” (Yes, I know; I was his English teacher.) One particularly cheeky fifth-former raised her hand to ask politely: “Sir, have you got your O levels yet?”

 

Beneath the angel-strain

CHURCHES up and down the land marked this year’s very special Remembrance Sunday in imaginative ways.

Holy Trinity, Cookham, once the home of probably the outstanding artist of the First World War, Stanley Spencer, had an exhibition of letters, pictures, and artefacts, and 60 crosses decorated with knitted poppies. Spencer’s war paintings are preserved at the Sandham Memorial Chapel, near Newbury.

Spencer, like my father, was a stretcher-bearer. His paintings caught little of the actual conflict, but concentrated on the experience of the ordinary soldier: the courage, cheerfulness, and comradeship that they experienced in the most appalling conditions. It was this that made the unbearable bearable.

My father seldom spoke of the horrors of the war, but often recounted good memories. These included a Christmas Day in the trenches when they heard the German soldiers in the distance singing “Stille Nacht”, and matched them with “Silent Night” in English. The peaceful sound drifted across the blood-strewn No Man’s Land.

This year, as it happens, is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of “Stille Nacht”. Written by a parish priest near Salzburg, with a tune composed by the church organist, it was sung at the midnight mass at Christmas 1818. Afterwards, I bet somebody complained about all these newfangled carols.

 

Forged under fire

WHEN the war was over, my father pooled his money with another soldier — his friend Tom — and they bought a bus, which, for the next ten years, plied a route from Pimlico, in central London, to Waltham Cross. They called it the “Poppy bus”, and it competed for passengers with hundreds of other privately owned buses.

In 1930, however, the Government stepped in to end what was a dangerous instance of private enterprise, and they had to sell up to the General Bus Company, the forerunner of London Transport. But my dad and “Uncle Tom”, as we knew him, remained friends for life. In the grimness of an appalling war, many such friendships were born.

 

Not a word to the Head

I CANNOT remember it ever happening before, but the opening sentence of the epistle on the 16th Sunday after Trinity was met with a roar of laughter.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,” it read — but the advice was too late for many in the congregation. Like many parish churches, we’ve got a very substantial core of teachers in the pews. Apparently, their fate is to be “judged with greater strictness”.

“Oh, well,” the maths teacher who sits behind me muttered. “Just like OFSTED, really.”

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.

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