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Diary: Ian Marchant

01 April 2021


Question of attribution

DURING the Lenten lockdown, I’ve been rising late, and sitting about in a pair of striped pyjama bottoms that I acquired in the late 20th century. After a mug of tea, I open the front door, stand on the step, and feed dog biscuits to the jackdaws who live in the churchyard opposite, in the hope that they will become tame, and bring me gifts. And then, at 10.30, I settle down to listen to Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz on Radio 2.

I’ve been keeping score for more than a year, and my average remains at about 21. (Popmaster has an arcane scoring system, almost as odd as that in tennis.) I’m not getting any better, but I’m stuck in the habit of starting my day by trying to remember who sang “Raindrops keep falling on my head”, or the title of the Casuals’ biggest hit. Well, habits are made to be broken in Lent.


Divided we stand

THIS time last year, my wife was practising Easter hymns that she wouldn’t end up playing in church; I had just travelled to Surrey to record an episode of Radio 4’s Open Country, not knowing that it would be the last trip anywhere for a long while; and we were both attending Steve the Vicar’s Lent course — in his actual house. I go, as much as anything because I’m not the greatest of Bible scholars, and it does me good to try.

Since there could be no local course this year, I took up an opportunity to attend a just-out-of-beta (i.e. early run-through of) “Difference”, a fruit of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Reconciling Leaders” project. In five sessions, spread over a fortnight, a disparate group of senior clergy, members of the Archbishop’s Reconciliation Ministry, employees at Lambeth Palace, and a sprinkling of churchgoers from London and Presteigne met online in prayer and Bible study to reflect on how we deal with difference in the light of the ministry of Jesus.

It was my first real experience of Zoom, which is odd, since everyone else seems to have spent the past year squinting into laptops. I’d worked out that — if I angled my laptop carefully — I would still be able to wear my striped pyjama trousers. But what I found difficult was that the course started at 10.30, i.e. Popmaster time. That first morning, however, I contained my pop-quiz withdrawal symptoms, and pressed “launch meeting”.


Silent learner

I SOMETIMES feel that writing this Diary is the equivalent of writing a column for The Oldie called “How to Suck Eggs”, in that the readership knows a great deal more about the things I’m writing about than I do.

Since I’d never been in a Zoom meeting, I hadn’t realised that, unless you put yourself on mute, no one else can really be heard. The uh-huh and ah-ha affirmations that we use in everyday conversation don’t work because, if you make a noise, you shut somebody else up. So, you need to silence yourself, pay attention, and wait your turn, and then consciously unmute if you have something useful to say.

The actuality of a Zoom meeting felt, therefore, like a first step in thinking and praying about reconciliation. Sorry to be so late to the party on this.


All shall have prizes

THE “Difference” course aimed to instil new habits — the “habits of reconciliation” — which the mediators frame as “being present, being curious, and reimagining”. During each of the sessions, we went into breakout rooms, which, to my surprise, I enjoyed.

It seemed possible to make a true connection with fellow participants under what I had imagined would be unpromising circumstances. By the end, the people I’d met felt like friends — even after I stood up during one of the sessions, forgetting that I was wearing my antediluvian pantaloons.

Difference had become something to be thankful for; to be met rather than got round. I looked forward to those 10.30 starts, and hardly missed Ken Bruce at all. And, if everyone else on the course was better versed than me in the gospel, I was probably the only person in the group who knew in which year Norman Greenbaum reached number one with “Spirit in the sky”, and who recorded “God gave rock and roll to you”.


Risen indeed

MEANWHILE, bricks-and-mortar church ticks over, expectant. I used to worry that my life had become like a Barbara Pym novel, but now I’m convinced that we’re inhabiting a Dave Walker cartoon. My wife has just become PCC secretary, and all we know about the gig we learned from Dave.

A local jigsaw enthusiast has opened an informal puzzle exchange in the porch of St Andrew’s, and my wife brought home a 1000-piece jigsaw depicting the highlights of 40 years of Songs of Praise, including portraits of Dame Thora Hird, Sir Harry Secombe, and Cliff Michelmore. I have put my foot down over this, actually, because I’m not prepared to live with it on the table for weeks.

On her piano, my wife is getting those lost hymns back under her fingers. At the time of writing, it is still two weeks before Easter, but the practice brings a big smile to my face, as “Christ the Lord is risen today!” sounds through the floor. “Alleluia!” I shout downstairs. “Alleluia!”


Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.

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