Funny old Day
Belief - October 2002
Belief - December 2002
The Blackbird
Christmas 2002
Funny old Day
Golden Wedding
Local Ministry
Once in Royal...
Railway Engineering




By W. John Green.

“ADVENT III”. (A cold day!)

It started at about 0630hrs. as the Army has it, when I stirred, looked at my LED alarm clock and realised that my biological clock had anticipated the function of its rival by half an hour. In the summer, one’s first realisation on returning to partial consciousness is either that it is still dark and therefore far too early to rise. This makes return to slumber simple and almost immediate. Either that, or one realises that it is broad daylight and that one may already have missed an early appointment. This causes an immediate rush of adrenalin, rendering further sleep impossible.

In winter, however, it is different. Between the hours of 16.00 and 0830 it is not possible to make any estimate of the hour by the luminescence of the bedroom curtains. So one is forced to turn over. Certain well-known laws of nature dictate that one inevitably wakes facing away from the bedside cabinet on which sits the alarm clock. The movement of turning over triggers a series of biological reflexes which, whatever the outcome of one’s investigation, make it impossible to return to somnolence within the half-hour which remains before the alarm clock has been set to go off – that is, until one minute before it does.

The process also stimulates the feelings associated with the urge to offload assorted detritus and to imbibe mild stimulants designed to assuage the impression that one’s palate has mysteriously and overnight changed into the sandpaper used for the bottom of a parrot’s cage. I therefore bowed to the inevitable, realising, on the positive side, that I had time to linger over “Looney Tunes” cartoons before consulting Teletext News whilst drinking my cup of tea. Teletext News tells me what to pray for. Without it I might miss the outbreak of war or the re-location of a Miss World contest.

Having performed the usual ablutions, I had my usual ‘Sunday Dry’ breakfast of oatcakes and marmalade whilst reminding myself of the lections for the day. (Those of a younger age who wonder, ‘why dry on Sunday?' will discover the reason later on if they develop the habit of going to Church on Sunday mornings. Churches, in the main, were built in the days when ‘facilities’ were not normal, even in stately mansions !) I then completed ablutions, but during this I became absorbed in the latest Argos catalogue which lay to hand. I ‘came-to’ abruptly, realising that the time I had allowed myself to prepare for worship had been unexpectedly curtailed. It was with some haste, therefore, that I emerged into the cold foggy morning and with some difficulty returned to the state of relaxed meditation desirable when preparing for worship as well as for defaecation.

Fortunately I managed to park the car at a distance from the Church suitable for a sufferer from ischaemia. To say that the Church at Upavon is “heated” would be a euphemism. It is true that there are ‘heaters’, but these consist of small electric radiant bars about as high up on the walls as they can be placed without risk of igniting the roof, and which must have been switched on all of five minutes before the service was due to commence. If one sat at a certain position in a carefully selected pew, one gradually became aware that the amount of radiation one was receiving was not quite zero, and that a slight degree of balance was being restored with what one’s face and hands were radiating to the stone-cold walls and pillars.

The service commenced with a hymn - something about “In Barclay’s Bank the Baptists sigh” followed by the usual preliminaries and readings. The ‘gradual’ hymn was announced as the ‘offertory’ hymn, but as no-one came to collect my envelope, I assumed that this error had been ignored. For the Gospel we remained standing. Our heads were then fifteen inches nearer the sources of radiation, so it was with some feeling that we replied, “Praise to you, O Christ”.

I then settled down, as near to the foetal position as I could with decorum, and with my frozen hands tucked up my sleeves, to listen to a 15-minute dissertation, the gist of which was that John-the-Baptist came to announce the coming of the Messiah. This had already been made clear by the reading of the Gospel. I had an irreverent thought that the Messiah had promised to “cast fire upon the earth”. It would have been welcome, but then, the Fire Service was taking ‘industrial action’. The dissertation was delivered to the constant accompaniment of the bawling of a small boy whose fond parents were probably training him to be an operatic tenor, or possibly a Millwall or Celtic supporter. I was forced to reduce the setting of my hearing aid, my ear-drum being under threat.

After the Creed followed prayers, telling God the things the officiant was concerned about and about which he thought that the congregation should be equally concerned. We then rose to our feet thankfully to absorb the modicum of extra radiation afforded by the application of the inverse square law, the operation of which was by now just perceptible. This movement also effected a slight warming of muscles due to their movement. The ‘Peace’ was then offered, marking the difference between the ‘peripatetics’ who wander round making sure that no-one is omitted from the double handshake or embrace, a greeting which in any other connection might be regarded with suspicion, and the ‘statics’ who wait for good things to come to them.

The true offertory hymn followed, in which we were asked to note that something, I cannot remember what, was ‘like the day when Midian fell before the sword of God’. I spent a few moments trying to remember which day that was, and how it would go down a bundle in Amman, by which time the hymn was over, its subtle or expressed ‘message’ thereby being lost on me.

The service then proceeded much as usual and we came to the final hymn – ‘Thou whose almighty word…’ It would have been more topical if the recurring theme, “Let there be light” had been changed to, “Let’s have some heat !” I sang the first two verses with some difficulty, but gave up afterwards since the organist, plainly motivated by the desire, unconscious or otherwise, to get to the end quickly and thaw her fingers, played the last four lines with an accelerando which left me standing.

We were then asked to sit whilst notices, plainly printed on a pew leaflet which we had been given, presumably to read, were read out, together with Banns of Marriage. In view of the ambient conditions this was prolonging the agony, and I left with unaccustomed speed in search of hot coffee with which to thaw out my nose.

Arriving home, I switched on all the heating, made the hot coffee and relaxed with that and biscuits. I had, however, mistakenly used decaffeinated coffee, so that the contrast both in comfort and temperature proved soporific. I emerged into the real world at 12.45. A trip to the garage, the home of my larger freezer, produced a ‘readimeal’ lunch of venison with trimmings which, being ready in ten minutes, was greatly appreciated. A slight snag arose with the dessert. I had anticipated warming up an apple and blackberry pie and having this with ice-cream. There was not so much a dearth of ice-cream as a complete absence of it. Relief came when I found a jar of ‘Instant Custard Powder’ past its sell-by date by only three weeks. This being a ‘sell-by’ rather than ‘consume by’, I assumed that the likelihood of contamination by salmonella or e-coli was as remote as that of Accrington Stanley ever beating Man. United. So far there has been no adverse reaction.

Post-prandial coffee, this time of the active variety, was followed by continued examination of an “Occasional Paper” written by a former Dean of Norwich and sent to me by the Retired Clergy Association. This was so badly written that I was moved to make schoolmaster-like corrections in red ink, extending to punctuation, syntax, grammar and convolution of sentences, as well as criticising its general literacy and particular theology. I was tempted to send my comments to the author, suggesting that he take a course in G.C.E. English, but as this is the season of good-will, decided to ignore it. Perhaps by doing so, I have condemned other geriatric clerics to a succession of such material, but why should one suffer alone ?

I was then faced with a choice of entertainment. I could watch “On the Buses”, or an American ‘comedy’ starring a precocious little boy blessed with the unlikely name of MacAulay Culkin (what do his pals- if any – call him?) and with the usual transatlantic irritable vowel syndrome. On another channel two gentlemen named Williams and Doherty, whose facial hair indicated that an attempt to shave with a hatchet last Friday week had met with indifferent success, were slogging it out at the snooker table. There remained Attenborough showing pictures of various African mammals ‘having sex’ or fighting over who should. (I do wish Attenborough would get it into his head that “KEELO” is not a measure of weight or distance, but an illiterate use of the Greek prefix “Kilo”)

Having decided that none of these divertissements was sufficiently appealing either to my taste or mood, I decided to have a cup of tea and an almond slice and to commence this account. Then my son telephoned.

After toying with an egg, or perhaps a sardine, I can now look forward to a Poirot repeat at 21.00 and as Samuel Pepys was wont to conclude - “And so to bed”.

© The Estate of William John Green, 2004