See no evil
I SPENT a week this summer on an uninhabited island, accessible only by boat. It lacks not just residents and shops but also electricity — all of which concentrates the mind, most especially on the weather forecast.
If you’re dependent on the seas around you for your main source of protein, taking advantage of a window in the weather can make all the difference between feasting off lobster and surviving on a diet of ship’s biscuits. And if, once darkness falls, you’re reliant on candles, you prioritise your daylight activities accordingly.
Transplanted from a 24/7 lifestyle into a rhythm dictated by nature and the elements means living much as our forebears lived for thousands of years; it also, of course, dramatically reduces the environmental impact. Life becomes both more spontaneous (“Quick! Let’s go out before the storms arrive”), and more planned: the cooker, powered by bottled gas, has one speed — Slow; so it’s no good suddenly craving a cup of tea (especially if something is already cooking in the oven).
My particular obsession with the weather was personal: my hair gene is clearly the result of an illicit relationship between Worzel Gummidge and Crystal Tipps (the heroine of the eponymous 1970s children’s TV series, known for her monstrously frizzy purple locks). It takes the merest hint of moisture in the atmosphere to make me look as if I’ve been electrocuted; my desert-island luxury would have to be a hairdryer.
Before leaving for this particular island, I experimented — in some desperation — with various battery-operated, hair-straightening gadgets, with a conspicuous lack of success. The eventual remedy turned out to be a simple one: no mirrors.
THE privilege of a royal audience was granted to the retiring and incoming Deans of HM Chapel Royal. Looking at the photos, observers might be forgiven for seeing the Church of the 19th century giving way to the 21st, as a balding, bearded bishop in a frock coat was succeeded by a woman bishop, with (incidentally) perfectly ordered hair, in a cassock.
The truth, as so often, was more prosaic: owing to an inexplicable domestic lapse, the outgoing Dean’s scarlet cassock had turned out to be in dire need of a visit to the cleaners.
THIS is the 8172nd issue of the Church Times since the venerable organ was founded in 1863. A notable milestone in the history of the paper was reached this summer: the 30th anniversary of our Deputy Editor, Glyn Paflin, who — despite his youth — has, therefore, worked on almost 20 per cent of those issues.
The association may be even longer: it is rumoured that, when still in short trousers, Glyn was reading the Church Times while his peers were glued to The Beano.
Professionally speaking, he has lived through the transition from hot-metal typesetting to long-distance digital; he doesn’t just know his way around the CT filing system and archive, but carries them both in his head. Any unexpected glitch is likely to provoke a wry reference to some long-forgotten precursor — perhaps not in 1863, but at the very least some time in the past century.
At a time when the paper records of the central Church are being consigned to a depot in Bermondsey, the corporate memory seems to stretch back hardly further than the dawn of the digital age. Glyn’s brain might make a fascinating study for a neuroscientist: I suspect that it contains neatly arranged microfiches of decades of 100 Years Ago and Out of the Question. For all our sakes, I wish him many happy returns.
All doomed. . .
A LOCAL church has embarked on a programme of restoration which includes its celebrated medieval “doom”, the largest and most complete surviving example of a wall-painting of this type in the UK. In return for a £5 donation, supporters are invited to place a sticker on a selected portion of an image of the painting until the whole work is, literally, covered.
This is trickier than it sounds. The painting depicts Christ in Judgement, against a background of the City of Jerusalem. Beneath him are the apostles and the tribes of Israel; beneath them, on one side, trumpeting angels rescuing souls from open graves; on the other, a chained group of the damned being driven into the inferno through the gaping jaws of a dragon.
One of the souls being given a helping hand upwards wears only a mitre (which perhaps suggests something about episcopal priorities), but a bishop and a couple of crowned heads are evident among those being chastised by the Prince of Darkness, along with a miser and a dishonest ale-wife.
Choosing where to place your sticker is challenging: opting for Christ or one of the apostles suggests inflated expectations of the James-and-John variety; a Uriah Heep-like selection of one of the damned risks tempting fate; preferring the safe option of buildings over people is an obvious trap. In the end, I opted for a random foot, somewhere well down the pecking order; the Beloved, of course, had no such scruples and went straight for a demon.
As so often, it might have been better to respond immediately to the spirit of the enterprise by simply placing a sticker wherever there was a gap rather than becoming enmeshed in over-thinking the theological implications.
THE same may also be true of marriage, which is on my mind for the happiest of reasons since Number One son gets married tomorrow. An ordained friend, about to preach at a wedding, trawled his acquaintances for the best advice to offer a pair of newly-weds. The wisest counsel was horticultural: “If a plant is flourishing, don’t keep pulling it up to examine its roots.”
Sign of the times
NOTICE on the door of a Corsican church: “It is possible that on entering this church you will hear the call of God. It is, however, unlikely that he will contact you by telephone. Please turn off your mobile.”