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Last spring, Dilly invited several small children and their mothers to come and play. One little girl was clutching her favourite doll. Someone asked its name. “Jesus” she said. The mother was embarrassed. “Sorry, I know it’s wrong” she said, “but it was a Christmas present and, of course, we’d been talking about Baby Jesus for weeks, and then she had a baby doll given to her and we couldn’t talk her out of it.”
No one thought it was blasphemous, but they agreed that it jarred – and none of those young women is a churchgoer, though they had all been brought up in a broadly Christian tradition, if with little or no religious faith.
I think there’s general agreement that the teacher who agreed to call a teddybear ‘Mohammed’ meant no harm, and neither insult nor blasphemy. But what sort of idiot thought it could be appropriate? She was newly in the country, new to the school – didn’t it occur to her to run it past the headteacher? She’s supposed to be an experienced teacher – I’m not a teacher, but I’ve spent enough time in schools to know the way one should think. So I’d not say “you are bad” but “you have behaved badly” – not “you have failed” but “this is not an acceptable standard”. If it’s not up to scratch, there’s “room for improvement.” And one never uses an absolute about expectations in ways of life, for one always considers the effect on a pupil whose parents may have a lifestyle about which one needs to speak tactfully. Of course, you are constantly aware of people of a different religious or cultural background from yourself, because that is polite as well as sensible and politically correct.
If there were a class teddybear at the village school, I am sure the teacher would think twice before naming it Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Shiva or any other name with a similarly strong religious connotation. And this woman is in a rather unstable Muslim country. I trust that the judiciary will realise that she is stupid (for which, of course, please read the euphemism “naïve”) rather than anything else, and let her go, but when she’s chucked out of the country, she may not find it that easy to get another job. I think she will need to go on a couple of training courses first.
A committee member rang this morning to ask if the meeting could be at his house as his wife will be at work and he needs to babysit. Fine by me.
One of the committee is, in her day job, a funeral director. Today, she was discussing a funeral with a vicar (not one I know). He’s a little concerned about it, partly because it will be a service conducted at the graveside rather than in the church and December weather doesn’t really lend itself to open-air events, and partly because the dead man’s partner is also a man. “I really want to be supportive to the bereaved chap” he said plaintively, “but I’m rather more comfortable with Adam and Eve than Adam and Steve.”
Tonight’s host provided wine, coffee and mince pies. Everyone had two out of three of these treats. You already know the two I chose.
Now I have reports or minutes to write up from five different meetings and two more meetings to prepare for, as well as work to do. And the church quinquennial inspection report has arrived, which mentions £10,000 to be spent on repair work within 18 months or so and another £25,000 in five years. It is my job to explain this to the PCC, who are expecting to fund a benefice project next year as well.
Right. Now I’m off to get the room ready for the churchwardens’ meeting. Tables, chairs, glasses and jugs of water and bowls of sweets. I have brought in the tables from the bier shed already, which was very smart of me, and there isn’t coffee tonight.
I prepared for this deficit with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, am I not a sensible woman?
Update, 4 1/2 hours later
Now, am I not a daft woman? It transpired that the secretary had had to give her apologies at the last, for it is her birthday and her husband had arranged a Surprise Night Out. Would someone else take minutes, please? … Well, I’d already noted who was present and who had sent apologies and no one else offered. The PA would type them up, added the Rector, helpfully. So I spent a page or more writing neatly, concisely and, too, precisely. Then I had to speak (I get compelled that way) and started to have to scribble odd notes.
There’s a committee meeting here tomorrow night. Yesterday, I noticed a cobweb draped prettily along the drawing room ceiling. Maybe some preliminary housework would be in order.
I set out six bowls of sweets and I didn’t touch a single one. I came home and drank some more wine and ate a clementine. I shall now read the paper and feel slightly lonely.
Oh dear. Planning time for the event to come in four weeks and one day. At least I haven’t done anything foolish like buying presents or writing cards, but the Carol Service preparations are under way.
In the post today I received an interesting padded envelope from the company that insures the church which, amongst other useful information, included a small phial of liquid which is meant for security-marking valuable items. It is visible under UV light, but the interesting thing to me, who did not know such a thing was possible, is that it is postcode specific. So one only needs to dot it on one’s valuables and their provenance can instantly be proved – assuming the item is recovered at all, of course. But isn’t it clever? I’m not sure, since it referred to ‘your’ – ie my – postcode, whether this is un petit cadeau for me, or whether I should dance merrily round the church, dotting it on useful items. Since the church is always unlocked, most things are put away, but the fine eagle lectern and such things are not movable, of course.
It’s all meetings for the rest of the week, which is a bit of a bugger. Sometimes, I think I should have got a proper job years ago. In fact, I’m a bit late. We talked about it when I was rising 40 and decided to carry on as we were. I regretted that decision later, but by then circumstances didn’t allow – whatever the status quo was, it had to stay. Anyway, I value my time too highly. I’ll give it, but it’s ludicrously expensive to buy.
London was nice. I walked everywhere on Friday, which was vastly pleasing. I trotted along to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s museum, which I’d never visited before. The Boy charmed me entirely and bought me tea. Then I met El and Phil and we had dinner in a splendid restaurant which I think is called The Chancery … hang on, I’ll look it up … yes, here you are. We keep an eye on Top Table for the half-price offers, being frugal types. We’d been to their ‘sister’ restaurant, the Clerkenwell Dining Room, so thought it was worth trying, and had an excellent meal with very good service. I’d sensibly (oh lord, stop making me sensible) skipped lunch to allow for three courses.
My daughter had suggested it to a friend, and she had been the night before. Her party had to wait for half an hour to be served, so they were sat down in the bar with a free bottle of champagne. I think she will be recommending it too…
On Saturday, we went to the current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and then walked and talked. El lent me a coat, as I was slightly underdressed for the cold. I am an obsessively light traveller as I can’t bear to be cluttered. I realise that it’s a reaction against the overpacking of my mother who, equally but oppositely, hated to be caught wanting something. Spare underwear and a toothbrush will do me nicely – it’s a waste that I’ve never been a girl for the one-night stand, as I would always be quite comfortably equipped, and since I always look slightly scruffy, my next-day appearance would receive no second glance at all.
I’m home, darlings, having had an entirely jolly time. I’m going to bed now, though.
Thank you, E & P, for looking after me so well.
Do you know, they charmingly escorted me back to the station. And, since a bus came promptly and we were early, bought me half a pint to send me cheerily on my way.
Tonight was Bungay’s late-night shopping evening, with the switching-on of festive lights. Last year, Al opened just to join in with the spirit of things, but this year Dilly has been making some jewellery – just necklaces and suchlike with beads and things – and so he transformed half the shop into a showroom for her, and the Sage borrowed some turned wooden bowls from a couple of his wood club friends, and they joined in that way.
My meeting went on until 4.40. I’d forgotten how early it becomes dark, and it was. I rather long for Scottish independence, in part because then there could be a genuinely free vote in Parliament about sticking to Summer Time all year round. I found it needed a certain hardiness to brave the late afternoon traffic on a bike in the dark, although I was gratified to find myself treated with consideration, in that cars didn’t pass me if the road was narrow and, once I was out of town, oncoming cars dipped their headlights.
I gave the babies tea and then their other granny and their aunt arrived, so I left them to deal with bedtime. I went into town.
There were loads of people, the Town Reeve in her robe and chain and the Mayor in his, various other people dressed up and all the shops decorated and lit. Lots of people, who were having a lovely time. There was a dance display under the Buttercross and an announcement that there would be live music on the Castle hill, where there was also a hog roast and beer tent. There were other amusements too, and shopkeepers were sending out trays of wine, mulled cider, mince pies and other goodies. It was sheer old-fashioned pleasure.
Now I must check out what’s on in London – being a dull sort of fart at heart, I mean of a cultural rather than festive nature. I have a day to enjoy tomorrow – particularly because I hope to meet, at last, the Boy. I’ve emailed the other people who said they might be around, but haven’t had replies yet, which is my fault for leaving things so late…I explain to those people who say “You’re splendid, you’re so spontaneous” that this is only a polite way of saying ‘disorganised and unprepared’. Not too late, however, I’ll be here until 8 tomorrow morning and would, with a blithe heart, ditch the best of exhibitions.
I was double-booked again today – I’d said I’d work for Al in the morning, but then the meeting I’d expected to be in the afternoon was set for 10 am. So, being endlessly good-natured, Al agreed that we could go in early so that the main work would be done in time for me to set off for the high school.
The meeting, which was the head’s performance management, was productive and finished by 12.30. It was, in the end, as well that it was a morning meeting as Dilly had asked me to babysit Pugsley (the baby, a boy) while she took Squiffany (the toddler, a girl) to her dance class. Tilly (the dog, female) did not require a babysitter.
When I arrived, Dilly was cleaning the carpet. “We’ve had a bit of an accident. I took his nappy off, but he hadn’t quite finished.” I was glad I hadn’t been any earlier.
The Sage offered to mind the baby while I cycled into town. I’d only just come from there, but the rule is that I shop by bike. When I got back, half an hour later, Pugsley was spread-eagled asleep on top of the Sage. He slept until his mother arrived home.
Before the meeting, one of the governors told me that his wife had had a visit to hospital yesterday. She had suddenly felt ill and breathless at work and, realising it was an allergic reaction, drove herself (yes, not the wisest thing, but the quickest) to hospital. She was treated quickly but went into anaphylactic shock – my friend said that it was very frightening, especially when the consultant was evidently concerned. The odd thing was that she had not eaten anything she was allergic to. She’d had a banana and felt that it didn’t taste right, but she might already have been affected by something else. Two other people in the office were eating nuts, but not near her.
The consultant wanted to keep her in for observation, but there were no beds. I see on the news tonight that that hospital has declared a state of emergency, because there are more casualties arriving than there are places to treat them. People were being treated in the ambulances as there were no beds, even for emergency admissions, which meant that people dialling 999 were having to wait, however ill they were. This hospital is only a few years old and was deliberately built with fewer beds than the one it replaced. Furthermore, the Primary Care Trust is closing beds in the local cottage hospitals, which means that people who do not need to be in the Norfolk & Norwich but still need nursing care can’t leave and so block beds for new admissions.
Last night, I was out with friends when the Sage rang, at about 10 o’clock. “Didn’t want you to worry,” he said, “but I’m going round to the H’s – they’ve a bit of a problem. I’ll take your car.” He arrived home at about half past midnight. The husband has a kidney or bladder (didn’t ask for details, but I know he’s had it for some while) problem and is very prone to infections. He’d started to pass blood and rang the doctor, and was told to come to the medical centre some 10 miles away for antibiotics. He and his wife are nearer 80 than 70, she doesn’t drive and he was in no condition to. No one was available to come out. Just what has been done to our National Health Service?
Today’s lecture was about modern art and artists – as usual, it fell to me to give the vote of thanks. I’d spent the first few minutes of the talk feeling quite anxious – what on earth was I going to say on a subject I had studied so little? However, it was an enthralling lecture with wonderful pictures, and I found I had to condense my enthusiastic reactions to fit the customary couple of minutes.
But there was one question that I had to pose – and the lecturer didn’t know the answer. Check, if you please, this link, scroll down to ‘Divided Self’ and, if you wish, click on that to enlarge. It is a still photo from a ten-minute film of the artist, D0uglas G0rd0n, wrestling one arm with another. He has shaved one of his arms – if you saw the film without realising that, you would think it was two people fighting – maybe a man assaulting a woman and she fighting back.
So, what I want to know is – after filming, did the artist shave his other arm, or did he go around like that for months? I really need to know. He’d be a fabulous living art exhibit with arms like that, but creepy, dreadfully creepy. Quite difficult to cope with I should think, making every shop assistant, waiter, passing stranger, squeak and recoil with horror whenever they saw his hands. And the grow-back, ew, stubbly.