As I sit reclining in my solid oak chair with its upholstery stuffed with the fur of a now deceased troop of lowland Gorillas, I am reminded of the time when the church was regarded by the common sod as the great provider of not only spiritual, but also political guidance. That year was 1981 and I was but a youngish man who spent his time catching butterflies in a shrimping net, drinking cherry pop and bopping along to the latest record from that Sunday night’s hit parade countdown, possibly hosted by Bruno Brookes, although Bruno’s rise to become the go-to DJ at Radio One may have come much later, I don’t really recall.
The haze my father’s bi-annual garden clear-up bonfire created back in those days may also have clouded my current musings on Bruno’s rise to fame. What is certain is that the bonfire used to cause our neighbours at the time, the Fortiscue-Cummers, all manner of issues. Strictly speaking, Mr Fortiscue-Cummers was a Major, a title afforded to him during his time serving as a Chaplain in the Korean War, where he scattered pastoral comfort to the men of the Royal Artillery like a buck-toothed farmer spreads his seed.
Mr Fortiscue-Cummers and his good lady wife, Davina, took every opportunity the daylight hours offered them to praise and worship our Lord. So devout were they that they often eschewed clothing in order to be ‘close to Adam’ and ‘close to Eve’. Mr Fortiscue-Cummers would often lean over the garden fence, dressed only in a Tyrolean felt hat and a swirl of Old Virginia pipe tobacco smoke, to offer my father good-natured instruction as he bent and stooped to gather the garden detritus ready for the autumnal blaze we all so enjoyed. Given I was but a lad, the hole in the fence created when a knot of wood fell from it during a winter storm was at a rather disadvantageous height and, had I dared to peek through, it would have no doubt revealed a lot more than Mr Fortiscue-Cummers’ stance on the teachings to be found in Deuteronomy.
Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, Mr Fortiscue Cummers would order Davina to prepare hot crumpets and tea and would invite me around next door for a bible reading. In fact my first ever bible still resides with me today in my parochial lodgings so beautifully furnished for me by my parishioners. It rests on the book shelf above the tank holding Moses, my pet Amazonian Catfish which was a gift to me from the diminutive and quite aggressive South American tribes people I spent time with during my years in the missionary position in their village. By the time I left their rare and exotic homeland they had had fibre optic broadband installed so I felt proud that my time there had helped them to progress spiritually. Being there and assisting them on their journey to find the Lord had really been all the thanks I needed, but the gift of Moses was a pleasant if slightly awkward token of their thanks to me. He is looking quite sad these days, and Gumpert, my live-in helper, has clearly decided that caring for Moses is no longer his responsibility judging by the green dankness sliding down the poor part-amphibian’s glass tank walls.
Just as I made a mental note to speak to Gumpert about Moses’ dishevelled quarters, he burst into my conservatory-cum-nook looking beetroot red with agitation. With his hair looking lank and with rather large dark circles under his eyes, Gumpert appeared to be in no better state than poor Moses, who just at that moment had glooped lazily to the surface of his slime tank to grasp what turned out to be an imaginary morsel of food. I could only think my sinewy companion was exhausted from his endeavours the day before. It had been another wet day across Biffordshire and Gumpert had plumped to spend it in his room choosing a new wallpaper and duvet set with the man from the Haberdashers in the village. They certainly had been hard at it given the thumping and banging which emanated from his quarters for the best part of the day.
My lithe South American domestic took no notice of poor Moses’ mucoid mouthings and proceeded with very little ado to explain the cause of his ire. As he did so he gesticulated that I should follow him pass the oak landing tablette, so generously provided to me by my parishioners, over the Persian carpeted stairs, past the mahogany style portmanteau at the foot of the stairs and into the living room, which was now bathed in the most glorious mid-afternoon light. Gumpert, who had managed to multi-task by walking down the stairs while rolling one of his foul smelling Moroccan cigarillos, had slumped into an arm chair and simply nodded towards the cause of his irritation. Following his gaze I could see that a small bird, a tit, if my ornithological senses were correct, had managed to somehow secure access to the house and was now sitting atop the oak Grandfather clock so kindly provided to me by my parishioners. Wisely Gumpert had already opened the large bay window, through which such excellent views of the Biffordshire Downs are afforded. Despite Gumpert’s best efforts to coax the flighty creature from its perch using a towel and an overripe avocado, a gift to the bird he later explained, it had refused to budge.
Suddenly a beam of ethereal light shone in through the open bay window and struck the face of the Grandfather clock, before it slowly moved down to reflect gloriously from the clock’s chiming mechanism. My path suddenly became clear. Why, just waiting for the venerable and well varnished time piece to strike would surely be enough to encourage the tit to accept the chance of freedom so graciously provided to it by Gumpert. As I looked at Gumpert, my heart fair burst with pride at his empathetic stance towards our unheralded visitor, particularly as small, feathery birds are quite the delicacy in his home village. Within moments, the clanging chime of the clock struck and the tit raced through the open window and into the bright afternoon sky. Verily, the Lord doth move in mysterious ways!
- The Very Reverend Archbishop Dr Robert Carolgees will be signing copies of his new book Bath time with the Angels at the Clump Cineplex, Bowling and Tiddlywink Alley next Friday. Asthmatics are asked to book in advance.