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Diary: John Wall

10 June 2022


Knight watch

A FEW weeks ago, I found myself sitting in the glorious chancel of St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, pondering vampires. It was the annual investiture for the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, and, as chaplain to the Sussex Commandery, I was there supporting new and promoted members.

Originating in the 11th century as a hospitaller order for knights who had caught leprosy in the Crusades, it continued in various guises until it (arguably) fizzled out in the 19th century. Re-established with links to the Spanish royal family in the early 20th century, it is a flourishing international and ecumenical order, existing primarily for works of charity. Hence my tree at our Festival of Christmas Trees last December (Diary, 21 January).

So, there I was, sitting in state with the other chaplains in the Bodley-designed chancel, with a sadly wandering mind. Why vampires? Over the past couple of years, I have been a real fan of the Sky series A Discovery of Witches, based on the All Souls trilogy of books by the American academic Deborah Harkness.

The three series presented a surprisingly subtle world of vampires, witches, and demons, starting with the discovery of a magical manuscript in the Bodleian Library — something that, sadly, never happened to me in all the hours I spent sitting despondently in the Radcliffe Camera.

Mission creep

IT’S not straightforward, though. For example, one of the main characters — a 1500-year-old French vampire, Matthew Clairmont (played by Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode) — is a staunch and practising Roman Catholic, which has a certain novelty.

But why was I thinking of this when I should have been concentrating on the service in hand? Because, in the series, Matthew Clairmont is the head of the Order of St Lazarus, which in the books is a group of goody vampires fighting baddy vampires. And, having Googled it (so it must be true), I see that it clearly is based on the hospitaller order of which I’m a member. Maybe they are indeed one and the same, and nobody told me. Maybe there’s an inner group of vampire-slayers, keeping an eye on dodgy goings-on.

So, I was both amused and disbelieving, recently, to see that a vampire-slaying kit was among the general lots at Gorringe’s, my local auctioneers. Perhaps, if one comes up again, I should acquire it as a precaution — just in case, at a future investiture, I get a recruiting tap on the shoulder.

Garlic press

I BLESSED a bench, last week. Solid granite (as a sad precaution against vandalism), it was in a little nature reserve I’d never realised was there, up an unnoticed track between houses on one of our estates. It was in memory of Geoff Pollard, the town council’s Countryside Ranger, who, for more than five years, had looked after the wild and open recreational spaces of our town. Sadly, he died at only 54, and the community had supported a fund-raiser for his memorial in thanks for all he’d done to keep us going through Covid.

As I stood among the bracken and bluebells, chatting to those who had come, I spied my wonderful verger, Angela, out walking her dog in the cool of the afternoon. She presented me with a bunch of wild garlic that she’d gathered, and subsequently emailed me the recipe for wild-garlic pesto, which I made later that day and enjoyed hugely.

Note to self: a pot of garlic pesto could be a useful addition to any vampire-slaying kit, to deal with culinarily-inclined vampires with a taste for pasta.

Bear necessities

I HAVE, over the past 30-odd years, been involved with upwards of 400 weddings — mostly, but not all, as officiant. I remember, at one wedding in a magnificent, 18th-century country house, I stood up halfway through the ceremony to do a reading. It was a secular wedding, so no religious component was allowed, and I could see the registrars twitching as I appeared in my dog-collar.

They relaxed, however, when I launched into a poem from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Straight and narrow

BUT nothing had prepared me for a part I’d never previously undertaken: that of giving away the bride. My nephew was finally married this year — thanks to Covid, at the third time of trying — in a barn venue outside Horsham.

My wedding present to the young couple was originally to have been the wine for the reception: namely, eight crates from my friend’s vineyard in the Languedoc, which I’d bought early to beat Brexit. The wedding was postponed for the second time, and so the bottles languished in my garage; but not for long — alas, they were all drunk during lockdown.

When the day came, I was duly kitted out in tails (the only time I’ve done that previously was on stage in Die Fledermaus) to give the bride away, as her father is, sadly, no longer with us. I hadn’t realised how hard it is to walk in a straight line with someone on your arm, desperately trying not to step on the dress. But all was well, and it was a lovely day.

So, there you are: an old dog can learn new tricks — Order of St Lazarus Vampire-Slaying Department, please note.

The Revd John Wall is Rector of the Uckfield Plurality in East Sussex.

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