IF OUR house was 50 yards down the road, we’d live in England. Borders have to be somewhere, and the Welsh border just happens to bisect our street. There’s a stone halfway across the Lugg Bridge, marked Radnorshire County Council/Herefordshire County Council, to show where the line runs. My pal Pete the Smith lives a mile “the other side”, but he’s pretending he lives in Wales. He has dubbed the current situation “Firebreak Fortnight”, and I’m running with it.
Someone has put up a sign on the English side, for those about to enter Wales. It reads: “Caution/Rhybudd. You are now leaving the United Kingdom — please have your passports ready.”
Neither Jew nor Greek
NATIONAL borders come and go, but parish boundaries are slow to change. The Presteigne benefice is C of E, despite the fact that two of the five churches are in Wales. So, at the time of writing, the Welsh churches are closed, while the three English ones are open for worship. Rightly, those of us on the more populous Welsh side are being asked not to slip across on Sunday morning, not least because the English churches are too small to hold larger congregations in safety. Presumably Steve the Vicar and Debbie the Curate are OK to cross the revenant border, but I like to imagine them in camouflage gear, wading through the River Lugg, the sacrament uncontroversially elevated.
Now the lockdown in Wales is about to be eased, while in England it is being reimposed. And so the English churches will be closed, while the Welsh ones are re-opening. Waders back on for our clergy, I’m afraid.
I AM writing a book about the 1714 diary of my seven-times-great-grandfather, who seems to have harboured sympathies for the Non-Jurors. My suspicion has led me down a vast warren of rabbit holes, which one evening found me reading about Christian Socialism, where I encountered the name of Percy Dearmer. A tiny bell rang: I had seen his name in the Out of the Question column a few weeks before, in regard to an abstruse liturgical point.
I looked at his online bibliography, and remembered a trip that my wife and I had taken to northern France some years previously, where we had used his Highways and Byways in Normandy without noticing the author’s name. Dearmer did the whole tour by bicycle and train in 1899, accompanied by his first wife, Mabel, who reputedly found the trip a bit exhausting.
Not surprising, perhaps, in view of Dearmer’s recommendations of gear for the trip: “If one takes a portmanteau, it is easy to carry a sufficient change of clothes, including some linen shirts and collars, and also that most precious boon, a folding india-rubber bath. It is most important to wear nothing but woollen clothes for cycling, and if one does this I do not think it is worth while carrying a mackintosh. There is no place in Normandy where one cannot wear a knickerbocker suit with an easy conscience.”
I’m hoping to acquire just such a suit for the happy day when we can once again take to the highways and byways of Normandy, where I shall see if Dearmer’s claim still holds true. I can’t see why it shouldn’t, as all who have seen them agree that I have good calves.
I ORDERED the current standard biography of Dearmer, where I learned why his name might come up in liturgical discussions. Not being a parson myself, I’d never heard of the The Parson’s Handbook, but I’m now keeping an eye open for its influence. The Lady chapel at St Andrew’s, where the eight-o’clock communion is usually celebrated, is currently closed. But I’ve been helping the locum organist with her sound, and to get to the organ you need to pass through the Lady chapel.
I emailed Steve the Vicar: “Is the altar in the Lady chapel ‘English Use’?” Steve told me it was: “Steps up to the altar, flat against the eastern wall, surrounded by curtains mounted on four riddel posts etc. I celebrate eastward at the eight-o’clock communion.”
I’ve only ever managed the eight-o’clock once, and I was so pleased with myself for being awake that I hadn’t noticed. Steve isn’t sure that anyone has, but he continues to honour those for whom it once mattered a lot.
Joy breaks through
A FEW weeks back, I met a neighbour in the street, walking along with a young woman, new to town, who was pushing an actual baby in a pram. My neighbour introduced me, and I beamed, because young people — especially ones with babies — are very welcome in the deep countryside, where populations are ageing and falling.
A few days later, my neighbour knocked at the door. “I’m so sorry I was cheerful, Ian,” she said. “I didn’t know you had cancer.”
Until that moment, I hadn’t known that everyone was supposed to be miserable in the company of cancer patients, but will now expect long faces all round. If only I could join in. It’s this Christianity business. It does make me so . . . cheerful.
Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.