At First I Was Afraid, I Was Petrified

After a sumptuous home cooked late Sunday lunch followed by a glass of wine or two, my friend Barbs & I decided to enjoy one of my Dad’s favourite strolls through our churchyard armed with a flask of hot chocolate freshly made by his own fair hand; after all what woman could fail to be impressed by a stroll amongst the dead followed by a cheap non alcoholic beverage. No doubt, it was these generous & small romantic gestures that had helped capture my mother’s heart!

This particular chilly winter’s afternoon we walked through the historic graveyard reading the inscriptions on all the old headstones. As we sauntered back to the main gate we were alarmed to realise that because it was Sunday, the churchyard had closed early and a fastened padlock hung around the gate which had been secured by the warden sometime earlier whilst we were otherwise occupied. Ironically Barbs, the original “horror flick chick” went into panic mode whilst the evening twilight started to draw in and as the image of the Michael Jackson Thriller video popped into my head, I had to suppress a fit of the giggles. My “I see Dead People” impersonation also failed to impress either. Both of us were regretting the decision not to bring our mobile phones with us and neither were we looking forward to unintentionally participating in our own episode of “Most Haunted”. We quickly established that all three entrance gates had been padlocked and we were well and truly imprisoned. As I had a dodgy knee I offered to hoist Barbs over the wall but as it was fairly high, it was unlikely that we would be able to climb our way to freedom so we settled down preparing ourselves for a rather chilly night amongst the headstones

Suddenly someone appropriately whistling “I will Survive” alerted us to the fact that we were no longer alone and on further investigation we realised that someone was stumbling home from the pub having taken a shortcut through the lane that ran alongside the cemetery. In desperation we tried to attract their attention before realising that it was Ernie the Turbo, one of my Dad’s allotment buddies, tight as a tick having consumed several lunchtime shandies in the Rose & Crown. As we tried to catch his attention over the wall, Ernie stopped whistling momentarily. We continued to call him but all to no avail and we realised that extreme measures were called for if we didn’t want to spend the rest of the night in the graveyard so I unsteadily hoisted Barbs a few feet in the air in order that he could see us. However, a terrified Ernie took off as if he was being pursued by the Living Dead when Barb’s pale face & torso slowly levitated over the top of the wall whilst chanting his name and looking no doubt like a supernatural apparition.

As luck would have it, our intrepid “hero” hightailed it to my parents’ house for alcoholic fortification whilst incoherently ranting that his dead mother’s ghost had manifested in the graveyard having promised on her deathbed to come back to haunt him should he ever become romantically involved with Maureen, the farmer’s widow; whom she considered most unsuitable owing to the fact that she always wore her trademark red lipstick. His late mother was somewhat of a harridan who had haunted in him life so it was no surprise to either of my parents that he thought that she would now come back to haunt him in death.

My Dad sensing that something was awry decided to take an evening stroll up to the churchyard himself and was able to alert the warden who was laughing so hard when he eventually liberated Zombie Girl and I from our ghostly confines, he could barely get the key in the padlock.

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Honesty Is The Best Policy But Insanity Is The Best Defence

I’m not sure how I got talked into attending one of the church coffee mornings to introduce some of the village pensioners to the wonders of internet shopping but that’s how I found myself in the church that cold morning utilising the vicarage’s Wifi and armed with my trusty laptop.IMG_0589

Expecting the odd elderly person to show up I was surprised when fifteen arrived but delighted that they knew how to operate the tea urn and truly grateful a few minutes later when I was nursing a hot mug of tea to ward off the cold in our draughty old church. I was pleased to see that one of two of them had brought along their laptops and the vicar and I spent a few minutes sorting out their internet connections before chatting to them about the benefits of internet shopping.

Fifteen minutes into the event and a couple of the pensioners got up and fetched their coats, apologising as they thought they were attending a bingo session. The charms of online supermarket shopping will always, of course, lack the appeal of a full house. Whilst at times it was frustrating explaining things to people who were born long before the techno age, their childlike enthusiasm was infectious and before we knew it, it was lunchtime and time for another round of tea. No army of pensioners ever marches on an empty tea urn don’t you know.

Over tea and custard creams the conversation continued with our audience fascinated by the ease of choice available to them online without even leaving the comforts on their own homes particularly as it hadn’t been shopping-like weather of late.

“How’s your handsome young man”? enquired Beryl who clearly had no filter and no volume control much like her friend Joyce. Beryl’s husband Albert just sat alongside her smiling vacantly and nodding and I’m guessing he’d had a lifetime’s experience of doing just that.

“Errr he’s not my young man anymore”.

“Was it your big feet that he didn’t like, darlin’? There’s always been big feet in your family, it’s because you all used to be hefty bog trotters”, referring to our Irish roots.

“Yes, well thank you for that; always nice to know how much we have evolved from when we were cloven-hooved cave dwellers, we now use cutlery even when we don’t have company”. I said regretting the decision not to wear a bullet-proof vest that morning under my sweater.

“That’s nice dear, good manners are so important especially when you’re a spinster with feet the size of dinner plates; just as well you can cook. Oh yes I forgot it’s your sister that bakes. Well never mind love, you’ll always have a home with your mum and dad”.

“Anyway, Beryl she’s not fat, are you sweetheart? You’re just easy to see” Joyce chipped in.

I was grateful to the vicar when he chose that very moment to collect the discarded cups creating a welcome distraction from the discussion regarding my marital status and obvious lack of attributes.

“Don’t you think the vicar’s got a touch of the George Clooney’s about him” whispered Joyce. Now if there were ever a man who was less like George Clooney, it would be our “woollie-pullie” wearing vicar – God love him. Unquestionably, one of the most diligent and kindest souls I’ve ever met but certainly not film star status; although I feel sure that his wife and mother would contradict me on that point.

Fortunately, we resumed the online shopping conversation and the vicar and I were kept busy checking that everyone had completed all the relevant information and were happy with their choices.saturday 013

“Are you a Tenna lady, Joyce”? and so the conversation continued who knew there’d be so many considerations when choosing incontinence pads?

“Albert, did you really mean to order a case of Irish Whisky?” I asked as he sat quietly tapping away on his laptop. Without uttering a word he glanced at his wife and then back at me again. I nodded sympathetically completely understanding the nature of his dilemma and recommended a repeat weekly order having realised then that some burdens are just too onerous to bear without inordinate amounts of Dutch Courage.

As I pondered on the way home whether I too needed fortification in the shape of my Dad’s dubious homebrew, I couldn’t help but recollect one of my Grandma’s fondest sayings “Some people brighten a room when they enter it and others when they leave”.

A Bit Of A Do (Part Three)

“Fanbloodytastic! I can’t tell Jen, she’s going to think this marriage is jinxed”.

I had wisely asked Jen’s mum to bring along a handbag for me containing my essentials and mobile phone so Sid retrieved that for me on some pretext not wishing to alarm everyone at this stage.

The ushers and I, stood in the graveyard, dialling everybody we knew to see whether we could locate the errant bridegroom. Just as I thought I was going to have to share the heart-breaking news with Jen, one of the ushers shouted “we’ve found him”!

Apparently Serial Shagger and the groom had spent the night at a pub in the next village and as they were so worse for wear the landlord had taken pity on them and allowed them to sleep it off in the bar.

I went inside to let the vicar know we were going to be starting this party a little late and asked whether he would mind making an announcement to the guests. Many upon discovering that the nuptials wouldn’t be starting for some time went outside for a cigarette break and to stretch their legs, as church pews aren’t the most comfortable form of seating.

I could sense the natives getting restless so I asked one of our friends, who was an accomplished musician, if he would mind banging out a few tunes on the church organ, the one donated by my Dad. Who would have thought that the current custodian of those hallowed walls, the vicar, would be rocking Oasis’ “Wonderwall” on a slow Saturday afternoon in July.

Jen was taking the situation rather well and stood quietly talking with her Dad, whilst I was wishing I’d tucked a hip flask into my handbag along with the mobile phone.

Having made our way through the entire Oasis repertoire in the church karaoke session, fortunately we received word that the dynamic duo were on their way to the church and a short while later were seen sprinting across the churchyard.

As they raced past me straightening their cravats, Serial Shagger winked and said “Pleased to see me are you angel, bet you thought I’d stood you up again?”

“The fact that you are here is living proof that the assassins failed yet again and actually for the record, I dumped you and whilst you may think of it as a break up, I like to think of it as dodging a bullet”.

Before he was unable to respond he was promptly escorted away by the Vicar who was keen to get the wedding underway before any further incident dogged the event.

The ceremony went without a hitch although I could tell Jen and Josh were holding their breath when the congregation were asked if “anyone knew any reason…”. Serial Shagger remembered the rings and all the young bridesmaids and page-boy behaved impeccably. Even the sun managed to shine for the photographs.

Simon whispered to me as I was climbing into my Dad’s car to drive to the Hotel for the reception “Well I got him here in the end”.

“Simon, although I’m no cactus expert even I know a prick when I see one”

“Don’t forget to save a dance for me later, babe” he said blowing me a kiss before heading off in the direction of his motor.

Yeah, that wasn’t going to be happening as long as my backside pointed downwards!

Catch A Bit of A Do (Part Four) to see whether it’s a happily ever after or whether it will all end in tears.

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A Bit Of A Do (Part Two)

We awoke to brilliant sunshine on the morning of the wedding day but it quickly changed to torrential downpours. As I was on a tight schedule I got dressed quickly and headed ‘round to Jen’s house where the hairdresser was already waiting to work her magic. When I got there Jen and her mother were less than serene on account of one of the small bridesmaids looking remarkably like she had the onset of chicken pox. Jen was near to hysterical as she had never contracted the virus either and her mother was trying to calm her nerves by getting her to drink a glass of brandy

“I can’t get sick, I can’t! We’ve dreamed about going to Thailand for so long and worked all the overtime we could to pay for this honeymoon” Jen wailed “We’re supposed to be catching a flight tomorrow!”

The hairdresser was doing her best to carry on as normal but no amount of sympathy could console Jen. I, for my part, did what Maids of Honour do best by ensuring everyone had a large refill. Whilst it was still breakfast time, I was comforted by the thought that somewhere in the world the sun was over the yardarm making it perfectly acceptable to be drinking alcohol at such an ungodly hour.

Sometime later when Jen had cried it all out, we both sat on her Mum’s patio in our heated rollers sipping champagne where I tendered my viewpoint on the chicken pox dilemma.

“Well as I see it cupcake, you have two choices; you can either fly off on honeymoon and start your married life as you intend to, by continuing to enjoy every precious second that you’re given or you can stay at home stocking up on shedloads of calamine lotion to apply to your itchy bits. So suck it up buttercup!”

After another glass of champagne and somehow, the world seemed a brighter happier place where chicken pox didn’t seem to be the worst fate in the world.

“Little Pizza Face”, the small bridesmaid plagued with chicken pox was despatched to the comfort of her own home with the promise of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice-cream whilst Jen and I surrendered to the ministrations of the hairdresser.

Finally we were ready and the cars arrived to take us to the church, me with the younger bridesmaids and Jen in a cloud of organza with her teary-eyed and very proud father. I have to admit that I did feel a tad wistful as I watched them arm in arm and wondered if I would ever share a moment like this with my own Dad.

We all jumped into the cars for the short trip to the church during which time I had to referee a couple of spats amongst the young bridesmaids and page-boy. We were late arriving so the photographer was waiting at the kerb as we pulled up and didn’t waste any time in hurrying us away to pose for the obligatory pictures whilst the rain had paused briefly to allow the sun to shine.

Fortunately, just as my face was beginning to ache I was saved from further photographic torture when Jen and her Dad arrived.

As I stood watching the photographer’s assistant re-arrange Jen’s dress for the photographs, Sid, one of my Dad’s allotment buddies and whom my Grandma has always referred to as a “few fries short of a Happy Meal”, uncomfortably attired in top hat & tails as one of the ushers hissed at me “They’ve not come”.

“Who’s not come”?

“Groom and Best man”.

“This is a joke, right?”.

“’fraid not. Heard they’d had a few shandies in the Rose & Crown last night”.

If I had a pound for every time Serial Shagger had in some small way managed to ruin my day, I’d have enough cash to buy bullets and it looked suspiciously like today was going to be no exception.

Will he or won’t he? To see whether he does read A Bit Of A Do (Part Three)

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A Bit Of A Do (Part One)

Before the “jilting incident” when I was facing the possibility of lifelong public humiliation and spinsterhood, Serial Shagger and I had promised our friends Jenny and Joshua that we would be both Best Man and Maid of Honour respectively at their nuptials. However, as the situation had changed significantly as their wedding approached, I offered to resign my post to avoid any awkwardness on their special day but Jen had insisted that I carry on; and what the Bride wants the Bride gets! So I reconciled myself to dancing barefoot at the ceremony and braced myself for the wedding rehearsal at the local Parish church.

Subsequently, the following Thursday night after the Bell ringersIMG_0598 had finished practising, Jenny, Joshua and wedding party met in the church to be put through our paces by the Vicar; who did a quick double take from me to Simon before he jokingly quipped that he hadn’t ever expected to see the pair of us together again at the altar. I gritted my teeth and smiled whilst contemplating slipping a little “sumthin sumthin” into the communion wine ahead of the next Sunday service.

Simon didn’t appear to be as apprehensive as I about the situation and smarmed his way through the entire proceedings whilst I just secretly visualised him being pursued by a horde of starving cannibals but remembering I was in church tried my best to focus on purer thoughts. Although I did think that as the son of Satan, he was being reckless stepping onto holy ground but then again my Grandma always used to say that “the Devil looks after his own”.

The vicar ran through all the formalities with us and told us what to expect at the ceremony and invited us to ask questions. Once he was satisfied that everyone was familiar with the roles they had to play on the big day he brought the proceedings to an end.

“That wasn’t so bad” Simon beamed at me whilst giving me one of his shit-eating grins; which at one time I would have found irresistible but now just made me cringe.

“Agreed; today I have only imagined killing you three times in my head, whilst a few months ago I would have wanted to have shaved your eyebrows, firebombed your car and shredded your wardrobe, so in that respect Simon, we have indeed moved forward”.

“Do you ever think about us?” Ignoring my horrified expression, he pressed on “No really, we’d have been celebrating our first wedding anniversary so you must wonder where we’d be right now”

“Probably in a solicitor’s office negotiating custody of Hobo and the Panasonic 50″ smart TV”.IMG_0583

Fortuitously, at that moment, Jen and Josh invited us all to join them at the local pub for a drink so we wandered across the road to the Rose & Crown where we sat in the beer garden enjoying the beautiful summer’s evening.

I excused myself after an hour as I had work the next day and Simon followed behind me.

“See you in Church, Angel” he said winking at me as he jumped into his sports car and sped away.

I managed to refrain from waving back at him with a solitary digit whilst thinking that Saturday just might be the longest day of my life.

And if you want to know if they made it to the church on time read what happens next in A Bit Of A Do (Part Two)

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God Works in Mysterious Ways

When my Dad retired he had big plans to take up several new hobbies including swimming and learning to play the piano; both fell by the wayside on account of the road to retirement being paved with many distractions along with good intentions.

To assist my Dad with his musical aspirations he purchased a very large electrical organ with every attachment and gadget known to man (the only thing it didn’t do was laundry) and apart from four lessons has sat gathering dust in the corner of my mother’s pristine lounge for the past few years where it has remained a huge unsightly thorn in my mother’s side. So it was a huge relief to the rest of the family when he announced that he was going to find a deserving home for it; an organisation where many could gain enjoyment from it.

That was easier said than done because whilst it had only had one careful owner technology had moved along swiftly and subsequently this grand old instrument was now fairly obsolete not to mention fairly bulky. The local school was unable to accommodate it owing to its girth and many of the local nursing homes felt the same.

On one sunny afternoon whilst sat in the churchyard munching away on banana sandwichesIMG_0590, an elderly lady, who was a member of the church parish council, sat down on the bench to join him for a natter, as they did frequently. During their conversation they discussed my Dad’s musical instrument dilemma.

The elderly lady smiled and said that she thought she had found a solution for him and asked him whether he would be home that afternoon.

So later that day, after my mother had checked her dusty surfaces and whipped ‘round with the polish, the old lady called accompanied by a solemn-looking young man. The young man was introduced as the church organist and the old lady went on to say that as a result of premature arthritis he was struggling to play the mighty old church organ.IMG_0598 The young man was neither a big smiler nor talker and allowed the old lady to carry the conversation. She asked whether he could try out the organ and within moments he was seated at the organ and as he stroked the first key, a broad smile transformed his rather austere expression.

Within seconds music filled the room and for a short while we were all captivated by the timeless carols that reminded us of Christmases past and of nativity plays. When the young man finished, we knew then that my Dad’s old Yamaha had found a good home where it would be cherished and appreciated.

I also knew that when we attended the candlelit midnight mass on Christmas Eve my Dad would be looking around beaming at the rest of the congregation as if he was in some small way responsible for the melodies echoing around the old church walls.

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Primark Is Not The Only Saving Place

St Bartholomew’s or St Bart’s as it’s known to everyone in the village, is what one could call a working church; at the back is a functional fitted kitchen surrounded by plastic chairs and tables and on the far side is a small children’s play area filled with discarded and donated toys. church 002 At one time this glorious old church steeped in history would have been a bedrock for the whole community; however, its crumbling walls now need a cash injection of £45,000 just for essential repairs if it is to survive.

Many a sunny afternoon you can see villagers, on nodding acquaintance with each other sat on one of the benches sharing a smile and a memory or two. Courting couples over the years have sought stolen kisses under the yew trees which also provide a haven for a variety of wildlife. church 003 The coffee mornings that offer welcome company for several of the lonely old folk where they go to hear another voice other than their own. The choir and organ practises that fill the air with familiar hymns reminding us of our own childhoods.

Others like me enjoy the solitude of the church when it’s empty and when a quiet moment can soothe a troubled heart.

All the young local girls who dream of a fairy-tale wedding imagine saying their vows under the rainbow hues of the beautiful stained glass windows.church 004 The nativity plays performed by the local school children and the harvest festival services. For our family the most precious memory is that of the traditional carol services when the church is adorned in garlands of holly & mistletoe in the glow of myrrh altar candles and family is the best gift of all on that Holy of all Nights.

So if you had to put a price on this sense of community and if you did would it be £45,000 or would it be beyond priceless?

Well you didn’t expect me to finish without leaving you with a smile, so I hope you enjoy this clip of a Vicar of Dibley episode written by the brilliant Richard Curtis featuring Dawn French, a comedy hero of mine and the service held for animals