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Diary: John Wall

12 May 2023


Slow and steady

WELL, after almost 25 years, I’ve done it. My BMI (body mass index) is normal, at under 25 (24.6, if anyone’s asking), which is the result of a loss of just over nine stone in weight, down from 21 stone five pounds to just over 12 stone. I am now the weight that I was when I was ordained, 34 years ago.

It started when I finally faced up to the fact that I was a heart attack waiting to happen; and so, in November 1998 — aided and abetted by my parish at the time, St George’s, Newbury — I started a sponsored slim, aiming for a four-stone loss in five months, finishing at Easter 1999. The local press were interested, and, subsequently, The Church Times got wind of it, and — always receptive to a funny-vicar story — asked me to write a weekly piece through Lent on the challenges, pitfalls, and the sheer weirdness of such public dieting.

By Easter, I had done it (failure to achieve would have been too humiliating to contemplate). So, there I was, the week after Easter: the new slim(mer) me, grinning toothily on the front page. I think I was there to knock Peter Tatchell (who, the week before, had invaded Archbishop Carey’s pulpit in Canterbury) off the top spot.


HOW have I done it? Well, when people ask, I say that I cut out carbs and took on exercise, boredom, and misery. There have been years of gentle yo-yo-ing — up a bit, down a bit — as many dieters know; and dull perseverance has helped.

I was given the final boost about a year ago, here in my current parishes, by another sponsored slim in aid of the wonderful Kids for Kids charity for the Sudan, accompanied by one of my churchwardens, who joined in, weighing in with me weekly. It wasn’t easy, but with mutual support and encouragement, we got there. I’m proud of us. Now for the challenge of keeping it off. . .


CLOTHES are a bit of a challenge, too. I have got rid of and replaced pretty much everything, but have kept a pair of my largest trousers — from when I had a waist of 44 inches — as a warning. I still remember, when I was a curate and I first went up to 34 inches, a snide parishioner said to me “Ha! You’ll never have a 32-inch waist again!” At the time, I remember thinking “How mean! I flipping well will.” OK, it’s taken a quarter of a century, and I’ve forgotten his name (though not his words), but I’ve done it.

Robes and vestments for church are another issue. Albs, cottas, surplices, and chasubles have always been good disguises and roomy camouflage; cassocks, less so — they really need to fit. My main cassock, a light, sleeveless affair, was inherited years ago from a lovely but very large clergy friend, who died in his early sixties of a heart attack (again, that was a salutary warning).

Now that I have lost the nine stone — which is basically the equivalent of an additional adult human — from my midriff, the cassock is like a tent in which I am totally lost. Or, possibly, more like a marquee. Reluctantly, at almost 63, I will invest in a new one, which (I hope) will see my ministry out.

My fingers have also got thinner, and I’ve lost three rings — a garnet, a tanzanite, and an emerald, two of which slipped off while I was on a vaporetto in Venice. Annoying. I used to wear rings of the appropriate liturgical colour on the little finger of my left hand, which amused me. I have recently been wearing an antique, third-century Roman silver and chalcedony ring, which, I feel, is all-purpose; but, since it slipped off at the checkout at Tesco a few days ago, and I realised that I was standing on it, I am wary of continuing. Maybe a new, smaller, keeper ring?

Trace elements

I DO feel better, and am told I look younger, which is gratifying. I have more energy, too, which I needed at our Spring Festival on May Day. I don’t know if it’s a general thing, but in our neck of the woods there is great enthusiasm from the public at large for joining in with local celebrations and festivals (maybe a residual sense of post- lockdown liberation?), but less enthusiasm from people to come forward to do the actual organising.

Here, in Uckfield, the festival that was held to mark the millennium subsequently became an annual event in the town’s calendar; it carried on up to Covid, but, when things got going again after lockdown, those who had run it for two decades had had enough, and so, since no new help was forthcoming, after 20 years, it died. So our Church of the Holy Cross — or rather, our main children’s worker — stepped up and, with fearsome miliary precision, set up a Spring Festival on our local playing-field to fill the gap.

It was a truly spectacular success, with a big turnout both in numbers of stalls and activities, and in the hordes of appreciative families. And me? I was armed and dangerous at the parish BBQ, frying bacon, flipping burgers, and searing sausages from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Post-diet, did I succumb to a bacon sandwich? My lips are sealed (although, I suspect, still smeared with tomato sauce).

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

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