I LOVE the tiny stories contained in the inscriptions on memorials and gravestones; so coming to St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, has been a treat, as it is particularly rich in eccentric examples.
One of my favourite things about them is how little thought seems to have been given to the fact that words carved into stone tend to last for centuries: they are all so very much of their time. Take Mary Dorling, for example, who died in 1740: “Say what a wife should be, and she was that” is the presumably admiring statement on her memorial stone. Its writer could hardly have imagined the changing opinions on wifely roles over the intervening centuries.
Better still is the 1884 memorial to Henry Cockton, a contemporary of Charles Dickens, whose novels — though also popular at the time — were rather more of a flash in the pan. “His works are his best monument” reads the stone, and the list of unknown titles stands out bold on the monument that has, in fact, outlasted them.
As a fellow writer, I feel rather sorry for this Ozymandias of Suffolk, who died penniless, his fame already on the wane. I have ordered one of his novels from an antiques dealer online.
FOR many years, we have owned a fridge magnet that says, in raised wooden letters, “Jesus is Lord”. Recently, the “L” somehow became detached and disappeared. My daughter replaced it with a paper cut-out “B” so that the magnet now reads “Jesus is Bord”.
Questionable spelling aside, this has triggered a theological debate: was Jesus ever bored? I know we’re supposed to believe that he ran the full gamut of human emotion, but — with crowds not allowing him a moment’s peace, miracles to perform, and the constant companionship of his Father — when could he have found time for boredom? Perhaps that’s why the New Testament draws a veil over Jesus’s teenage years: nothing to see but a saviour-in-waiting, twiddling his thumbs until he was allowed to begin what he had really come to do.
I can’t picture it, somehow. I imagine that the earthly Jesus would always have been fascinated by people, by creation, by the whole experience of life in abundance. Whether he finds anything boring now is another question. It may be that the fridge magnet is simply telling us to redesign church services.
AT CHURCH with a friend who uses British Sign Language, I dredged up some of the half-remembered signs that I learned at university, to join her for the songs. I thought I was doing pretty well, until my friend revealed afterwards that, every time I thought I was signing the word “peace”, I was in fact saying “sausages”.
My children think this is the funniest thing that has ever happened, and I have had to endure choruses of “Sausages, perfect sausages”, “Make me a channel of your sausages”, and “Sleep in heavenly sausages”, as well as — on more than one occasion — being offered a sign of sausages.
Since Candlemas is approaching as I write, I am wondering whether the joke will have died a death before Simeon asks to be allowed to depart in sausages. Why is it always my mistakes that last for ever?
Intimations of immortality
WHEN we moved into this house, we invested in a set of Alexas to use as a family intercom system. The problem with Alexa is that robots can never be wrong: unless we have used the correct prompt, she continues to repeat facts that we didn’t ask for in an irritatingly calm voice, as we become increasingly frustrated. She is a lesson in conflict management: shout insults at her, and she merely sings “Thanks for your feedback” to a bright little tune.
She does, however, excel in the finding of music. It has been fun explaining to the children that, at their age, I was just getting my first albums: either copied on to cassette tape by a friend, or bought on CD after lots of thought and money-saving. (My very first was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, which contains one prominent swear word, and my mother always managed to walk in at precisely that moment.)
Now, if a friend recommends a song, my son can simply ask Alexa to play it for him. She even managed to play my favourite King’s Singers’ Christmas album, which was given to us on an LP in 1986 by my godfather, a member of the King’s Singers at the time. I have owned it on every medium since: cassette, minidisc, CD, downloaded on my phone, and now pulled out of the ether by a robot who seems to have access to almost everything that has ever been recorded. We are living in the future.
Words that fly
I AM about to launch my Lent book at St Mary’s. Between the arrangements for cake and festivities and practising my book signature (I wish I hadn’t chosen such a long, loopy one), it feels extraordinary and daunting to be preparing to talk about sin, repentance, and grace in a space where such things have been discussed and prayed about for a thousand years.
The cloud of witnesses, evident in their gravestones, memorials, and windows, will be looking on as I send my own small contribution out into the world and wonder where it might land.
Pinned to my study wall is a quotation from Malcolm Guite which reads, “All the words and images we use are older and wiser than we are.” My works may not be my greatest monument, but then, these were never my words — or my monument — to begin with.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist. Images of Grace: A journey from darkness to light at Easter is the BRF Lent Book for 2023 (£9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £8.99)) (Books, 20 January).