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Diary: Peter Graystone

07 June 2024


Retiring gracefully

DURING the week that ended with my retirement, I took to asking people for advice. Here is a selection: get a dog, stay hydrated, plant a tree, get a tattoo, say no to everything, move out of London, keep busy, go on a cruise. I woke on the first morning of the rest of my life and decided to do none of them.

In fact, even waking up defied my expectations. One of the things that I had been looking forward to was turning off the alarm and waking at my own pace. I did turn off the alarm, but awoke at precisely the time that it would have gone off. And so it has continued, my body refusing to shuck off 40 years of habit.

Retirement has now been filled with an escalation in parent care (a 91-year-old mother), an increase in childcare (a four-year-old goddaughter), and the start of a ministry at a new church (where the welcome and appreciation have exceeded anything I could have hoped for).

Not washed in the blood

I HAD feared that retirement would bring an end to the invitations to preach at churches across south London, which had been a feature of my job in Southwark diocese. The reverse has been true, and I am delighted that visits have continued to churches of every tradition known to the Church of England.

Such has been the variety that I know when to genuflect, when to raise my arms heavenwards, when to cross myself, when to bow, when to shout “Alleluia”, and (more importantly) when not to shout “Alleluia”. I am well used to the wry smile on the face of a vicar who has just elbowed me, yet again, to the place where I should have been standing. Nothing will now take me by surprise.

Or so I thought. During a recent visit, I was fascinated by the depth of concentration of the celebrant, who sat behind the altar for most of the service, intently meditating on some embroidered words at the foot of the altar cloth. I was intrigued to know what text was so uplifting that it repaid such an unwavering focus. So, just before I left, I slipped behind the altar to find out. The words were: “Dry clean only; do not tumble dry.”


Impostor syndrome

ANOTHER of the joys of retirement has been cut-price theatre tickets for senior citizens at midweek matinées. Combined with free transport using my Freedom Pass, this has made sitting in the stalls an affordable pleasure.

On one occasion, I found myself edging past the knees of those who had already arrived, as I looked for my seat. As I got close, I was dismayed to see that the place I was heading for was occupied by what can only be described as a National Treasure. Next to him was his wife, an equally distinguished actor.

The man leapt cordially to his feet, and it took only the briefest glance at his ticket to confirm that we were both expecting to sit in seat D16. I began to back away, but he insisted, “No, no! We are here as guests of the theatre. You paid for the ticket; so you must have the seat. They will find us somewhere else.” And off they went.

I sat through the play with an empty seat next to me, enjoying it even more because of the circumstances. Travelling home on the train, I happened to catch sight of my ticket, which I was using as a bookmark. It wasn’t D16; it was O16. I should have been 12 rows further back.


Literary licence

WHENEVER I have a moment of unexpected luck, I find myself shouting out, “Gad!” It’s the name — meaning “good fortune” — that Leah gave to the baby that her servant Zilpah bore to Leah’s husband, Jacob. Needless to say, on this occasion, an entire carriage turned in curiosity.

The perfect end to this story would be to tell you that the location of the performance had been the Fortune Theatre, in the West End of London. It wasn’t. But don’t be surprised if, next time I am preaching on Jacob’s complicated family circumstances and need a good anecdote, it turns out that it was, after all.


Old habits

I HAVE been to a theatre at least once a week since I was 15. I wish I had kept a proper tally, because, at some point during the coming year, I will attend my 3000th performance, and I would have liked to acknowledge the milestone.

I absolutely love being in an audience, usually by myself, out of reach of interruptions, and with my phone switched off. The room goes dark, and someone tells me a story. It may be that I love it so much because it reminds me of being tucked up in bed, as a little boy, and my father (who was a great storyteller) recounting a magical tale.

I always say grace as the lights go down. I do the same before a meal, but I am more conscientious about it before a show. It’s not that I’m particularly religious; it’s just that I’m particularly grateful. I picked up the custom several decades ago, when I discovered that this is what the writer G. K. Chesterton used to do. And so it has continued, my soul refusing to shuck off 40 years of habit.

Until his retirement, Peter Graystone was Lay Training Officer for Southwark diocese. He is a Reader at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Carshalton Beeches.

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