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Diary: Fergus Butler-Gallie

02 June 2023


Good Lord, deliver us

PERHAPS it is one of the curses of living in Britain, but the only time I ever feel the lurk of any hereditary paganism within me is when it comes to the weather. Late May, and, until last week, we were still having days inflicted on us which felt as if they might be in early January. It would be so much easier to think that a daub of some animal blood on an elm might do anything about it.

Still, at least we have the Prayer Book. Its prayer for fair weather is particularly fine: a goodly invocation of Noah, and a suggestion that we might give thanks for God’s clemency. I will never forget being told me, some years ago, that one of the reasons that using the Prayer Book in this day and age was ridiculous was because of “all those prayers about weather and plagues and stuff”. I often wonder how that priest spent 2020.


Off the fence

FEW pastimes are more dependent on the weather than cricket. The season is firmly upon us now; and so I spend my Saturdays weaving through the lanes of England’s southern counties, to seaside towns, and fields in the middle of nowhere.

To the casual observer, it might seem a relaxing sport: a sun-dappled vision of rurality, with the vicar umpiring in his linens. Of course, it isn’t like that at all. Gut-wrenching decisions are forced on the unfortunate figure tasked with enforcing the rule of cricketing law, regardless of clerical state.

As I was forced to give one of my team-members “out” recently (a wicket that fell as the result of a ball that just about contrived to be consummate with the letter, but paid no regard at all to the spirit), I felt like Pontius Pilate.

Then it was that I blessed the weather — thinking how good it is that Holy Week never falls in a season in which cricket-playing might be possible. The stretched analogies would simply be too torturous.


Scroll on

DESPITE my mediocre coaching, they are a valiant team: all different, from jokers and choristers to hard workers. As an ensemble, they function well: a reminder that any team made up exclusively of the same characters will fail.

That said, there is a communal propensity for mischief. They have recently discovered the “reply all” function on team emails. A reply to my last team list was responded to with the complete script of the 2013 children’s feature film Despicable Me 2 attached in the body of the email, meaning that anybody who wished actually to access the roster had to scroll through the entirety of that production’s inexorable dialogue.

I blame the weather: it does strange things to hormones. But this is a tactic that I myself may yet employ when bothered by that great modern curse of the work email thread.


Bee afraid

IN THIS part of Kent, teenagers are not the only ones unsettled by the atmospheric pressure: this morning, a swarm of bees had taken up residence on a traffic light in the High Street.

Experts arrived with a special sort of bee Hoover. I thought of a friend of mine who is a bee expert in another county. A kind offer to collect me from the station as I arrived to take a funeral in rural Kent soon lost its charitable lustre when he informed me that he was “not alone”. He has form with regard to unusual passengers, having once reversed into a bin while he had Mme Shostakovich in the car.

This time, however, we were sharing the vehicle with a couple of million bees, stored in boxes, one of which had a small, bee-sized hole. To make things worse, I had arrived with an open box of a dozen glazed doughnuts. Fortunately the journey was a short one, but I don’t think I’ll ever again sing the verse in the Exultet about our apian friends in quite the same way.


Speech impediments

NEWS comes — not from pulpit or news sheet, but from the horrid and invidious little screen I carry about in my pocket — that Martin Amis has died. His great campaign was what he called “the war on cliché”: thank God he rarely listened to sermons. In later years, he expanded this to what he referred to as the “mouldering novelties” of our newer ways of speaking and writing. I think of him often when confronted with corporate and management speech.

Whenever I read a piece of diocese-issued doggerel (a piece of alliteration, which he hated, but — forgive me, Mr Amis — it is often true), I immediately turn to John’s prologue and comfort myself that, whatever butcheries of style we might inflict on it now, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


Onwardly mobile

LIKE the bees and Noah and Martin Amis, I am set to migrate soon. A move to Oxfordshire looms in the new year. I know Oxford well, but its shire less so.

As ever, when a new place looms in my life, I have spent time getting to know the lore and legend of the area. Clichéd though it is (apologies again, Mr Amis), I have been listening to the folk songs of Oxfordshire.

One ballad in particular caught my attention. From the early 19th century, the “Oxford Scholar” tells of the exploits of an undergraduate: “I was forced to puke in my surplice sleeve When I was an Oxford scholar.”

Such career highlights are ones that Martin Amis, Noah, and — dare I say — some of my cricket team would recognise. We shall just have to leave Mme Shostakovich with the bees.


The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie is a writer and teacher.

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