I've just been asked where I'd like to start, so I think I'd better start at the beginning, which is a good place: I was born at an early age, as the comedian said, on the Huntingdon side of Peterborough, on whichever side of the river that is. I think it's the south side of the River Nene as it comes into Peterborough, in the Diocese of Ely. You might wonder why I would find this particularly important – it's just that I think in terms of dioceses rather than counties, and you'll obviously understand why as we progress.
I went to Fletton Prep. School at quite an early age, I suppose, at 4, because I was able to read well by then, and then I passed the voice test to be a chorister at Peterborough Cathedral. We lived within a few hundred yards of the precincts of the Cathedral, and I was brought up in the shadow of this great building, and I suppose it influenced me a great deal. For some years I sang with them. The great solemnity of the worship of the Cathedral impinged upon me, very obviously, and I started off, even at that early age wanting to be a priest, and I stress "wanting" because at that age it is wanting and not so much being called; the calling came very much later, hence "The Hound of Heaven" because it did pursue me rather than I pursue it, I think.
And then away to school. I did do some schooling in Peterborough and surrounding area and then up to Cumbria. At school I'd always expressed an interest in journalism. I'd enjoyed writing. I've always enjoyed working with people, and so I thought I would try my hand at journalism. So off I went to the Wisbech Advertiser, and I had to write an introductory letter to the editor of the Wisbech Advertiser, who apparently was impressed by this letter, and said that the only thing that I'd got wrong was the spelling of Wisbech, because I'd put an A in it! And I thought, "Well, one would with beach". But, no, it's "Wisbekk", or Wisbech as it is now. I did about 18 months with them.
How old were you?
I would have been about 18 / 19.
So about 19 . . ?
Oh, whenever that was! Have to count up . .. yes, early 60s. And I remember I was sent forth, because of my interest, to do the rounds of all the clergy, you see, including the Salvation Army Colonel, to get all the news. And the Undertakers! They seemed to have me pinned down! And categorised very early. And I remember the Vicar of Wisbech was one, Canon McCaughey which one had to be very careful in pronouncing. He was very keen that he shouldn't be called Canon "McCoffee". It was McCaughey – very Irish. And it so happened that on this particular week the ladies of the parish were going to scrub out the vast parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Wisbech, and I was sent along to ask the good Canon if he would mind a story about it, and photographs. And he said he didn't mind the story, but he did object to the photographs, because it was something that the ladies of the parish were doing out of their humility. They did not want advertising or anything like that, so, if I didn't mind, he would decline. I went back to my editor, and he said "Well he's going to have photographs whether he likes it or not". Now unfortunately both for the editor and for me I knew something about the parson's freehold, and I said "I'm sorry, Sir, but if the Vicar of Wisbech says that he doesn't want photographs in his freehold, he won't have them." Whereupon the editor and I had a difference of opinion! Suffice it to say that a few months after that I found myself at the Peterborough Standard! (laughs) Because I realised that I was being asked to do things to people I would not have liked done to me, including getting stories out of people whose young son had fallen off a milk float and been killed. It was the story I had come to get, not to express sympathy or to listen to them, and I found that very hard. So off I went to the Peterborough Standard, and I went into the advertising side of the business, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I became the Assistant Manager in the front office side of the small ads at Peterborough.
And then the feeling of "I ought to consider ordination" came even more strongly, and I'd been putting it off. I should add that earlier, in my school days, I went to what is called a schoolboys' CACTM, which was Church's Advisory Council for Training for the Ministry. One of those interesting acronyms! It eventually became ACM, and then the Welsh Church had its own branch of ACM, which became WACM, which we thought was rather good! (laughs) But anyway I digress: So I went off to schoolboys' selection conference, and the answer came back "Yes, but not yet". So I had to go off and get my knees brown, as they say, so that is why I wandered off.
So you were in your early twenties by then?
No, I was in my late teens at that stage. Sorry, I've gone back a bit. That explains what I was doing and why I was doing it.
It would also explain why they said it was too early?
Well, quite. The earliest one could be ordained Deacon is 23 actually, so I was far too young. Anyway, "Yes, but not yet" was the answer, and so I did a bit of research, along with my own parish priest. We were living just outside Peterborough, but still when Peterborough was in Northamptonshire in those days. It's undergone various transmogrifications, I suppose, and keeps going backwards and forwards, and has ended up in Cambridgeshire now, to which it doesn't belong, but never mind! And he said "there's just the place I think I know for you." Up in Cumberland, as it was in those days, not Cumbria, and I went forth to learn some theology at the feet of very interesting people, One, Thomas Bloomer, the Bishop of Carlisle, and Cyril Bulley, who was his Suffragan, the Bishop of Penrith. We all thought it sounded very much like a firm of ecclesiastical solicitors! You know, "Bulley & Bloomer" or something like that! (laughs) But I had the great privilege of learning a lot of theology in Foxe Howe, which was Arnold of Rugby's own house just over the border into what was then Westmoreland. So I polished up on my theology and then went off to another selection conference, and the answer was "Yes. Begin training when you find a place at Theological College".
In the meantime I was doing some work at Rydal Hall, also in Westmoreland, which was their retreat house, the Diocese of Carlisle's Retreat House, I should add, and I became interested in teaching. And I thought it would be a good idea to have a second string to my bow because I rather liked the idea of a teaching ministry anyway. I mean, that's what sermons are, in theory, and hopefully in practice. So I went off, went down to King Alfred's College in Winchester, where I was accepted, much to my amazement. Then my grandmother, who was living with us at the time, became terminally ill. We were still living on the outskirts of Peterborough, and we thought, as I was an only child and member of a very small family, by then literally, including me, just the four of us, that it might be an idea if I transferred to Keswick Hall in Norwich. Now, I'd no idea how this was to be done. I was a very indulged student in those days: I had my own car. So I en-carred and went up entirely on spec to Norwich. I was granted -can't really call it an interview – but I was granted an audience, I suspect, with Canon John Gibbs, who eventually became Bishop of Coventry, and he said "Well, I'm terribly sorry, as much as we'd like to have you we are entirely full." There was a knock at the door. In came the Principal's secretary, one Miss G who said "I'm sorry to interrupt you Canon, but Mr So-and-so says he can't take up his place in September". Whereupon Canon Gibbs turned to me: "Well", he said "the good Lord obviously sent you here. You're in!" And so, literally off the street, there I was in Keswick Hall, Norwich.
To cut a long story short, my grandmother died within about 6 or 8 weeks. I started term I think about a fortnight late, and went through my teacher training college experience at Keswick Hall. My first teaching post was back in Peterborough. By then I'd married, and we set up home just over the border of the River Welland, the north bank of the Welland in Lincolnshire, Market Deeping. My parents then were living in Deeping St James. And I went to Lincoln Road Boys' School. We referred to it as the "Academy for Young Gentlemen". It was not! (laughs) They came from mainland China, from Hong Kong. How the mainland Chinese got there I do not know, but they were certainly two very different ethnic groupings anyway. Italians and Poles. I had Pakistanis and Indians, and probably a few more as well, and I was expected to teach English, History and Religious Studies to this motley crew.
Is this agricultural workers' children?
No. No, they were very much city children. Some of them were the children of the railway workers because Peterborough had a big railway yard. It was bombed because of that in the Second War, and I was missed apparently, by a piece of shrapnel, which whistled in through the window. I was too young to remember any of it! I was 2 by the end of the War, you see. And brickyard workers, of course. They would be the Italian boys' fathers, and of course the Asian community were setting up their shops . . .
So this was the beginning of the multi-cultural nature of Peterborough?
Oh very much so. Oh yes. But before, you see, after the Second World War it had a large population of Italian and Poles, former prisoners of war who didn't go home. Didn't want to. So I taught them there for about .. . two years it would have been. I can relate one or two anecdotes in my teaching experience there? One boy's father was in jail for stabbing someone else to death, so we got on like a house on fire! He was quite a difficult boy, but he was very traumatised, you know, in the true sense of the word, by what had happened. And there was an Irish boy called S. M.- you can't get much more Irish than that – who was, I'm sorry to say, as thick as about six short planks, and Sean wanted to be a veterinary surgeon. Well, there was no way this would ever happen, and no-one could teach S. anything. He was belligerent, you know, simply because he was very frustrated I suppose. His mother was one of our dinner ladies and we kept one eye on S. and the other on his mother who was very defensive of S. And I had a bright idea, because I was originally primary trained, you see, so I thought "Well perhaps if I had our S. to keep mice this might assist the learning process" as he loved anything to do with animals. The school caretaker, whose nickname was "Bulldog", and he couldn't understand why . . . I mean what he saw when he looked in the mirror I'm not quite sure, but he had a very heavy lower jaw, no teeth except the two incisors in the bottom jaw, and he looked exactly like a bulldog, and he "woofed" and sort of huffed a bit like that. He loathed and detested anything to do with animals outside the Science lab, but I was allowed to keep these mice at the back of my form room. S. weighed them and he measured them and he drew them and he wrote about them. Virtually I think he went through the 3Rs basically with these three mice and he was as good as gold with me. And he had a friend called N. and they were both rapscallions, and at the end of one particular day they'd been playing me up, but we got on well, and I said to S. and N., who for some reason had lingered behind "If you two don't stop it I'll bang your heads together", you see. In the days when one could. And "Oh bet you can't, Sir". I said "I bet I can". So I grabbed hold of them and pushed and they resisted. Well they stopped resisting, unfortunately I hadn't stopped pushing! So I cracked their heads together with such a crack! "Gosh", I said, "I'm so sorry!" "Oh that's all right, Sir" and they laughed. Well, the next morning there was no S. and I thought "Oh my word, what have I done?". I expected a visit from an incensed Mrs M. But, no. In the afternoon S. turned up with a purple lump the size of an egg on his forehead (laughs) and I said "S., what did you tell your mother?" "Oh", he said, "I told her I banged it on the wall, Sir". And I thought "Well, thank goodness for those mice!" (laughs) Because obviously I'd won his affection somehow or another. But I won't go on with too many anecdotes, but it was a bit like that all the way through. It was actually good fun, because they did respond, and I learned a lot from them, including some of them – I shall not name the ethnic group – who were very keen that Sir should acquire passports for their many cousins and uncles (laughs) And Sir wasn't into that, so there we are!
I decided I'd like to return to Norwich and I secured a teaching post at the Hewett School (from whence my interviewer hails of course). I did one term only because it was in the time of the housing slump and we could not sell the house in Lincolnshire. It was on the market for 3,000 guineas, I remember that. And we couldn't sell it, and so I had the job of saying to Walter Roy "I'm awfully sorry, Dr Roy, but I really can't keep commuting from Ipswich (which is where my wife's family lived) on a daily basis". Although I did help the Art Master , to get in on a daily basis, because he lived almost that far out. And so I had to resign and I went back to my old post at Peterborough, and they were very glad to see me back, so they said!
And then two years after that I decided that I would take up a place I'd been offered at Chichester Theological College, and so I left Lincoln Road Boys' School in Peterborough and went off to Chichester Theological College, to whence I had been sent by one, Cyril Easthaugh, who was then the Bishop of Peterborough. We referred to him as "The Last Prince Bishop of Peterborough" because his wife was the daughter of a belted Earl, and she was one of the most lovely people I've ever met. Cyril was a very princely Bishop, but once you had knelt to kiss the ring and receive the blessing it was almost "Slap me on the back and call me Cyril" – in the days when Bishops could be like that. And it was Cyril who went down in history in the Peterborough Diocese by writing an encyclical letter to his clergy which started off in the old style "We, Cyril, by divine permission Lord Bishop of Peterborough, to our faithful clergy and people greeting and apostolic benediction" (laughs) Then it went off .. and I can't remember the content of the letter, but it was such a splendid prologue(laughs) It was wonderful! Anyway he sent me off there because he said "It's a very good Catholic College, and you'll do very well there, I'm sure." Now why he should think that I have no idea, but off I went.
I spent three very happy years there and returned to Norwich for what we call a Title Curacy at St Anne's with St Elizabeth's, Earlham. Now it was a little bit of a culture shock, because I was, shall we say, slightly gently nurtured as a child, and one said Evensong, or tried to sing Evensong in Elizabeth's, Earlham, with riot glass in the window, because it was in that part of the Larkman Estate called Monkey Island, and I soon found out why. We were regularly invaded by the youth, who thundered in at the back, and yelled and shouted and rushed out again, so the Creed was regularly interrupted. They seemed to know when to come in, and there was one young lady, a very substantially built young lady, called D. who was just a little bit simple, shall we say, but had been persuaded to be prepared for confirmation and had been confirmed, and we had missed her at the Eucharist that morning at St Anne's in Earlham. And when I turned up for Evensong – it was just before Christmas and I was at the top of this rather tall and rickety ladder trying to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree, because the curates get all this sort of thing, clearing out cupboards and things like that to do, you see. And suddenly the ladder was violently shaken, and I looked down, clinging on for dear life, and there was D. looking up at me rather belligerently, and I shall never forget it: She simply said "'Ere, I i'nt ‘ad it", you see! (laughs) Whereupon I delicately enquired what it was D. hadn't had, only to discover that she had not received Holy Communion that day. (laughs) So I had to descend and explain to D. that she could receive mid-week, you see. But I shall never forget that because there were gales of laughter, and it didn't escape me either I must say. Anyway that was one of my little curatial experiences.
And in my first year I thought to myself, "Do I really want to keep going to jumble sales and visiting people?" I think clerical life wasn't quite as I had envisaged it. I think I had rather too high a view, shall we say, of the life in the Church of England, and I needed to review and to regroup my feelings and opinions, so I thought I'd return to teaching. I went to see Dr Roy because I had, as I've said, connections with the Hewett, and the interview consisted of "Oh yes, I remember you. Now tell me what have you been doing since we last met?" And I said "Well, I've been to Theological College. I have a qualification in Theology, and I've taught and I've done this and that." "Oh yes, jolly good. Well, yes, yes, yes. When did you say you could begin? Beginning of term?" And it was in those days when interviews went rather like that. And I duly turned up at the end of one year in an English parish at the Hewett School and was inherited by my (add present interviewer, the then Head of Religious Studies, who had no idea that she was going to get another member of staff, and was somewhat aghast to discover that I was a clergyman of some description (laughs). Anyway, I did actually – although there were some blips with health and so forth over my seven years when I was at the Hewett – I really, looking back, very much enjoyed that. I love teaching, and I won't bore you with interesting correspondence . . .. well only a little shall I bore you! I was asked whether I would like some new curtains in my form room, A18, and I saw here an opportunity to send up my Head of Department, so I invented this firm called the Mystic Rose Vestment Company, and I wrote a letter saying I would quite like rose damask curtains and so forth and could I have a censer or something like that.
Trinitarian emblazements .. .
Oh, Trinitarian emblazements, that's right! Oh gosh you have a good memory, don't you? Unfortunately!
And we kept this correspondence going I think for some weeks, and I gather that several members of staff saw me in a slightly different light from that day on! (laughs) I don't think they thought I possessed a sense of humour, but I did and I do, and it has kept me relatively sane over the years.
And after the Hewett School ….No, I must re-track: I became the honorary Assistant Curate of Eaton, so I did some curating in my part time. And then, after the Hewett, I became the stipendiary Assistant Curate of Eaton, so I didn't actually move anywhere.
Where are we in history now?
We're in 1983, and I served another four years in Eaton as a stipendiary Assistant Curate, having been ordained deacon and priest, of course, in Norwich Cathedral during this time. And went on from there to my first living. The living of St Mark's, Lakenham fell vacant, and M. S. the Reverend M. S. whose children were at the Hewett, had gone on to North Walsham, and he rather liked the idea of me succeeding him there, at Lakenham, and the P.C.C. did as well, but nothing happened . .. . and nothing happened, and it suddenly turned out that an appointment had been made to Lakenham. Well that was all right. And then St Alban's with Norwich City Chaplaincy fell vacant, and St Alban's said could I please consider being their parish priest. So I went along for interview and they would very much like me to be their parish priest. I went to see the Governors of Norwich City College and they said they would very much like me to be their chaplain, but nothing happened . .. . and nothing happened! And it eventually turned out that the Bishop of Norwich had put a very big spanner in the works, because he had said I had spent rather a lot of time in city ministry. He must go out into the nethermost regions of the diocese. And so I was sent out to be Rector of Winterton-on-Sea, East and West Somerton and Horsey-next-the-Sea, and I spent six very happy years as their parish priest and rector out there. Literally, the Winter town, the Summer town and the Horse Island. And they had been historically as well as geographically grouped. During those six years I looked after Martham with its satellite parishes of Repps cum Bastwick and Clippesby and Thurne and Billockby. And also Hemsby I looked after, because it also was in interregnum. And I was also asked, because of my churchmanship, to look after St Mary's, Southtown in Yarmouth, and I seemed to be the only parish priest left in that part of what was then the Flegg Deanery, and has since become the Great Yarmouth Deanery.
And this coincides with the decline in ministerial numbers …or was it just coincidental?
Well it actually was coincidental . .. Yes, it coincided with a decline, but I'm afraid in clergy character rather than in . . . . (laughs) Yes, both incumbents of Martham and Hemsby had to decamp. Bishop's orders and so forth.
Perhaps we won't go there!
No, we won't go there! And I ended up looking after them, and by Christmas, having looked after them then for about four months, I was just about on my knees – and not in a prayerful attitude! So we staggered through Christmas, and I still had them all by the coming Easter, and I said "Look, I can't go through this again. I tell you what. If you don't mind incense. .. " Because Winterton had a very Anglo-Catholic tradition, which I embellished and enhanced, I might add! They thought it wasn't a good Mass if they could see me through the cloudbank! I think they probably went home in the interval! I don't know! But I said, "If you don't mind being kippered at Winterton, if you all come to Winterton we can have a glorious solemn Mass at Winterton." And they did, and we had over 400 people in Winterton, and they still remember that, and I do because my thurifer got all tangled up with the rear end of the procession – although Winterton was a very big parish church – and had to do a smart turn left and go up into the sanctuary to allow the traffic jam to untangle itself. (laughs) We enjoyed our faith at Winterton. I ought to say that sadly during this time my first marriage came to an end, and after a period of two years I remarried my electoral roll officer. I had to, to keep her! It was the only way, and with the Bishop's permission I was allowed to remarry considering the circumstances, which for obvious reasons I won't go into. And by then, of course, I had two children of City College and 6th Form age, my second wife had two children of her own, one was away at university and the other was running a wine department in a salubrious part of Great Yarmouth, so he was well worth knowing!
Suited you very nicely!
It did, oh yes! I went to various wine tastings, I must say! I can't remember going home, but I must have done!
That was sampling the Communion wine, of course!
Of course it was, yes! I had to make sure it was of the right quality, one understands!
And there is a rather curious story: We had to change the Stations of the Cross at Winterton. The old ones were 1920s vintage. Just about falling off the wall. They were cardboard Warham House Guild type things with a light frame round them, and they were highly regarded because they were old, and so forth, but in terms of devotion contributed little. So I called a meeting of the P.C.C. and we decided that we would change them. So with P.C.C. permission I found some bronze, composite resin type Stations of the Cross, which are still there to this day, which they liked very much. Now unfortunately there was one member of the P.C.C. who was on holiday in Italy, and when she returned she was absolutely furious. It wasn't that she didn't like the new Stations of the Cross. It was because she had not been consulted. This is life very much in the Church of England I'm afraid. I had to point out very gently that we could call a meeting of the P.C.C. whenever we wanted to, and really, if we waited until everyone could be present, we would very rarely, if ever, call one. Anyway she decided to launch out, privately I might add, into a tirade saying that people were very dissatisfied with my ministry. Which meant that this dear lady was, because I'd heard completely the opposite from other sources. And I said "Well, that can easily be rectified. I shall move." I had no intention of moving and thought no more of it. Within six weeks the Archdeacon of Lynn rang and said "You've been at Winterton et al for about 6 years and I should think probably there's very little left for you to do, unless you want to do everything." Which was just about right, because they were used to doing as Father had asked them or bidden them, except in cases, of course, of Stations of the Cross! But we shall let that pass.
And he said the Weybourne group in North Norfolk had fallen vacant into interregnum, and they thought, for some reason, that I would do rather well there. He said they required rather a lot of loving, which intrigued me to say the least. I knew Weybourne very well because we'd spent holidays there in my youth and childhood, so off we went to look at Weybourne, and my wife fell in love with it, and I knew it anyway, so the answer was "If they'll have me, well, yes". We went to interview. Apparently they liked what they saw and we were offered the Weybourne Group, and within about six weeks of my critic saying how dissatisfied etc, and my parting shot "Well, I shall move!", I read from the sanctuary steps that I'd been appointed Rector of Weybourne, Upper Sheringham, East Beckham, West Beckham, Bodham, Kelling and Salthouse. Well, I think the clunk I heard was this dear lady's jaw, whose name I shall not mention hitting the floor, because I upped and went because I'd been asked to by the Diocesan Authorities. Sadly to say, the new incumbent of Hemsby was asked to take on Winterton. He didn't want Winterton and they didn't want him, so it was not a very happy marriage and it lasted, I think, about 18 months, and he retired early, in his late 40s, from ill-health. We shall not draw conclusions! Then somebody else came and lasted for 2 years, and then he was followed by another priest, who was, within a year, made Rural Dean, so they didn't see much of him, so it didn't go very well. Now they have a new priest after all these years, and he's going great guns, so it's wonderful to see the parish reviving once again.
So from Winterton my wife and I went forth to the Weybourne group of parishes, and I spent 11, I think nearly 12, happy years as Rector of those parishes, and 8 of them as Rural Dean of Holt . Now, whether it's something about me I don't know, but there was a stage when nearly half of the parishes became vacant, interregna, in a very big way. By then, mercifully though, I had acquired an honorary Assistant Curate, three Readers and two Eucharistic Ministers. I could very nearly run a mini-diocese with those, and so, for my Ruri-Decanal activities, I went out into the Deanery and covered most of the interregna work, which was fascinating because they all professed to be very pleased to see me, because a Rural Dean can indeed be something of a sly shade, only seen at Deanery Synods and things like that. And I became very hands-on with these parishes in vacancy, which I did enjoy, because I think it's very salutary actually to go forth to other people's parishes, see the problems they have, and you go home to yours and say "Thank God for Weybourne" or whatever. It works very well.
Anyway, my wife and I instituted two annual parties – because we are both fairly gregarious, we like people, and we like, to a certain extent, parties and things like this – and it became very obvious to us that North Norfolk was absolutely heaving with retired clerics and clergy wives and widows. We didn't have widowers in those days, not quite anyway . . clergy widowers, that is. Or did we? Yes, we did, didn't we? Never mind. Sorry, I'm getting very confused! Old age and retirement! And so we decided that we would have an Epiphanytide, New Year's party for them, which we did, and also an Ascensiontide Mass for them. And I used to take them off to Upper Sheringham, which is a large church, All Saints, Upper Sheringham, where I could indulge my penchant for censer swinging and other high ceremonial, which they were quite used to at Upper Sheringham. But some of the other residents of the Deanery were not! But they put up with me for 8 years and professed to enjoy the singing of the Holy Mysteries to Merbecke, and various censer swingings, and very rarely were we below 80 to 100, so it couldn't have been too much of an endurance test for them. And we would feed them afterwards, hence we acquired a very large fish kettle for the purpose (laughs) which we still have. It just about would have fed 5,000, I think! But we enjoyed doing that, and our reward, if there was reward to be sought and had, was very simple: I overheard two elderly men saying to each other at table "Well, so you're Jim! Do you know we've spoken on the phone for 20 years, and I've never met you in the flesh." And I thought to myself "Well, this really is what it's all about. So they can actually see each other and communicate", you know, and so forth. These two events were annual events and became very much looked forward to, I must say.
We rearranged the Rectory garden: Although I put two ponds in it they were fairly small, so parishioners were not going to be re-baptised or anything like that, which is uncanonical anyway! (laughs) And we had the school doing maypole dancing, and all sorts of things . .. and Rectory fêtes.
This is a Church of England Primary presumably?
No, it wasn't. It was a local Primary, but it was not Church of England. The Headmistress was a practising Roman Catholic, the Deputy Headmistress was the daughter of an Anglican priest, and so there were no introductions necessary really. Father P. used to go in and do unto the unsuspecting children, and we had a great time doing that, and my assistant curate was a very high flyer in the world of music, and so what I lacked she more than amply supplied, and it was a great team for the school. But then, of course, the Headship of the school changed, and my successor found it very difficult to gain entrance at all. In fact he moved on after 2 years because of that, and has found himself a very nice group of parishes with a Church School at which he is more than welcome. So it just goes to show. What I'm not quite sure, but it goes to show something!
So I eventually resigned the Rural Deanery after 8 years. My health was beginning to suffer. I used to make silly remarks about "I met somebody driving the other way the other day. He looked just like me, and I actually think it probably was me!" I spent more time in my car than I did on my feet and in churches, and it was not the right thing to do. . .
It's a big area.
A very large area. In fact the taxman insisted on investigating my tax returns. He could not understand my mileage until I gave him the square mileage of the Deanery, and he said "There will be no further investigation" (laughs) So he just didn't realise the geography, the topography and so forth. Although there are not many Broads, if any, in that part of Norfolk, it's not unknown in some parts of the diocese for parishes to be on the other side of Broads, and suddenly what appears to be a half mile across a Broad turns into an 8 mile journey. So it was an interesting experience and we loved it there. The only thing we as a family are likely to leave the Weybourne group will be their bones! (laughs) I was enquiring about this the other day: We still have two double plots reserved in Weybourne burial ground, you see. You get a wonderful view from there, so I shan't say I shall look forward to observing it, but nevertheless it's a lovely place to go if you have to visit a grave. I think like that, you see; it's an occupational hazard, probably.
So where are we? Oh yes. Well, I resigned the Deanery in the February and I'd finally got rid of it by the end of July (laughs), which is about the right pace for the Church of England: "Like a mighty tortoise marches the Church of God" or something like that! Yes! I finished in the July, and the end of September, no, sorry, the end of October, beginning of November .. . that's right, it was Hallowe'en – I ought to remember that really – I suffered a heart attack, which I did not realise was a heart attack. I felt extremely unwell. My wife had just come back from a late duty. She was the Matron of a Nursing Home, having retired twice before then. She was constrained to be the Matron of a Nursing Home, and so she was in another room. I didn't see the sense in disturbing her because I thought I simply had a very nasty tummy upset, you see, and I remember falling into bed, and I don't remember anything after that except waking up in the morning feeling a bit wrung out, which I fully expected. We'd bought a bungalow in Sheringham for retirement purposes, and we were having this bungalow enlarged and various works, so I thought "Well, I'll go and see the builder". And the builder presented me with a bill, which I read, and was entirely reasonable, and I suddenly said "I'm awfully sorry, Graham, I shall just have to disappear for a moment. I don't feel very well." So I disappeared, and he thought it was the bill, I think, but it wasn't! And then felt a little bit better, but I did actually have a doctor's appointment for something entirely unrelated, so I went down the hill to the surgery and sat in the waiting room. And in came this family from which I thought I had caught this tummy upset earlier in the week, and they looked like grim death. They looked so ill! And it was a bit of a sort of black humour situation, I suppose, because the first one came through and she said "Oooh you don't look very well". And I thought "Crumbs, you want to see what you look like!", you know. But I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. I'd broken out into a cold sweat, and that's all there was to it, and I was sitting in this hard chair trying to dislodge what I thought was indigestion. And it travelled up and it went into my neck and then along my jaw line. And this good lady said "I'm going to have a word with the receptionist", and the receptionist popped out, took one look at me and said "Well, I'll get the doctor to come out now". And I said, somewhat protestingly, that I had an appointment now, quite literally. Out he popped like the weather man, clapped me onto an ECG machine and said in a very conversational manner "Oh yes, mmm, yes, you're having a heart attack". Whereupon I said, equally conversationally, "Oh am I?" You know, it was all . . ..'cos it doesn't register, these things, they don't. I just felt uncomfortable. I had a severe chest pain, and it still didn't register for some reason. Well, it didn't with me. Anyway I was shipped off in an ambulance under a blue light, hotly pursued by my wife who'd been called out of the Nursing Home, and was admitted for a week. They told me I'd lost about 12% of my heart muscle, but mercifully all in the right place, because the doctor gave me 1.5 million units, which is a huge amount, of a drug called Streptokianase, which is interestingly called a clot buster. Which I thought highly appropriate in my case! (laughs) And it did the trick, because it stopped it doing further damage, otherwise apparently I could have died. I was about 7 to 8 out of 10 on the Richter Scale apparently.
Anyway they kicked me out of hospital, I thought rather unkindly, on the 5th of November. Yes, I thought "Is this another hidden meaning along the path of life?" The only physical discomfort I experienced was nothing to do with my chest. It was my legs. I almost had to learn to walk again. And I've heard this before from heart victims, and I spent the next two months wandering along various highways and byways with my grandfather's stick, strengthening my legs again. But it became increasingly obvious that there was no way I could really return to full time active parish ministry, and so I retired the following April, 2003. After 2 years of looking after other interregna in my old Deanery, which I found interesting, but a little bit too interesting, because I was living within 500 yards of my old parish boundary and deanery boundary, and when we bought the house we wondered at the time whether it was entirely wise, but we liked Sheringham, and it was the most magnificent view right across Sheringham Woods and out to sea and the steam railway, and that persuaded us to stay. But I knew far too much for my own good, and you can't really tell people not to do things because the way they're heading is not the right way. You have to let them fall off the cliff on their own, otherwise they never learn. And it was an interesting, but slightly painful experience. I took over from an active retired priest who then was 93, and my role in the early days of the official interregnum in this particular group of parishes was to make sure that my colleague didn't fall over. Anyway we managed very well. He had been a wonderful Housemaster at Wellington College and had become Headmaster of Bedford School, so he was a delightful man to work with, and I learned much from him, and we had a great time together. He and his slightly older wife, a most elegant lady, wonderfully elegant, have since been gathered to their fathers, but I remember them both very fondly.
So I occupied my time doing that, and I was just about getting to the thumb-twiddling stage when the Bishop said "You know, you seem to be so much better. Would you like a half cure?" Whereupon I did a quick blink and suddenly realised he was referring to such things in clerical terms (laughs). So I rather guardedly said "Well, er, um yes. It depends what." And the end of another long story is that I ended up as part time – I think it was actually half time – Priest-in-charge of Smallburgh St Peter, Dilham St Nicholas, Honing St Peter & St Paul with Crostwight All Saints. And people usually say "Where on earth are they?" Well indeed, where are they? They are between North Walsham and Stalham on the Happisburgh side, on the coastal side. And you can indeed get lost round there! Even parishioners born and living there got lost round there! One of my churchwardens turned out of the Rectory in Honing, and when I next saw her she said "You know I live in Paston. Well, how on earth I found myself in Worsted I shall never know!" And she was most indignant as to what on earth was Worsted doing at the end of her road! And much to my joy I found that I was neighbour with one, Father A. with whom . . . well, his first year coincided with my last year at Chichester, and he was a very good iconographer, and he's also a wonderful academic. He will tell you the most obscure things about this diocese, and is a mine of useless . .. no, not useless . .. very useful information. Actually much useful information comes from him, who did, and is doing, I think, a Doctoral thesis at the moment on Bromholm Priory and other wonderful places. You're very lucky if you get him anywhere past 1570 actually in any conversation, and he wouldn't mind me saying that because we were great friends, and still are. So it was a great joy to have A. there.
I very nearly became Rural Dean of St Benet's at Waxham and .. .oh , where's the other one? . .. Tunstead. That's the ancient title: St Benet at Waxham and Tunstead, that's right! But it was thought, as I was part time, that it was better if I didn't take on extra responsibility, so it passed to another friend of mine, who'd never been a Rural Dean before, so between us we cooked up all sorts of excruciating schemes for the Deanery, and it was an unusual day if W. didn't ring me up and say "What do you think about this? Should I do this?" or "What do I do when this … ?" And I used to say "Well now, when I was Rural Dean of Holt . . . ."! (laughs) And there was usually an anecdote in there somewhere. So that's what happened there.
After nearly 4 years with them we thought it really was time . .. I was 65 by then … and so the upshot was I retired from full time active parochial ministry in early August 2008. That's right. And in the meantime we'd sold Sheringham, and that's a little story, because … just a coincidence . .. a couple who'd been my neighbours in Eaton said "You married off our elder daughter. Could you possibly marry off our younger daughter?" Because they were living in Sheringham. So I said "Come and see me and we'll discuss it". And they came to the house, which we called Reverie Chase which everybody of course thought was a pun, you see, on Rev, but it wasn't! It means "Dreaming Wood", no more than that, and I did do a lot of dreaming there, ‘tis true, and we overlooked a wood. And they said "Oh what a wonderful house, what a wonderful view!" and they were very complimentary: "If you ever decide to sell it you will give us first refusal, won't you?" Well, we hadn't thought of selling it at that stage, but it soon became apparent we could not maintain the Rectory at Honing, live there and maintain Reverie Chase at Sheringham. And so we sold it to them. .. without benefit of Estate Agent, so that saved a few thousand . . . and we bought this house which is called Hunters End because we did hunt and it is on the end, so that seems fairly logical! We don't put an apostrophe anywhere in Hunters because either, or both, would be appropriate, (laughs) so we don't use it. Hunters End it's called, and we moved here eventually at the end of September last year, 2008. Quite an interesting story to that because as the floorboards came up we found the plumber's version of Spaghetti Junction complete with rusty nails through pipes, none of which were leaking . . .
Till you take the nails out .. .
Absolutely! So there, I think, you just about have it. We have spent a whole year getting the house sorted out. Most of the season . .. well, all of this season, having done about a third of the garden, which was hugely overgrown, because we did have tenants here for a time, and they had four children, and were not gardeners. And if I tell you that we cut down a four feet deep ivy hedge and discovered we had a brick wall we knew nothing about, it will give you some idea. And we are very busy now in our retirement and dotage doing gardening, which we love, and travelling: We're going off to Cyprus, which isn't very far I know, in October. We've been to China and all sorts of interesting places, and we hope to go farther afield when we cease doing the house and the garden here.
My wife and I gravitated to the Parmentergate group of parishes: St John the Baptist, Timberhill with St Julian… King Street it is actually, and it also houses the Julian Shrine, the Lady Julian after which a bridge has very recently been named, and to which the nuns of the parish were invited to the inaugural opening.
Yes. She and I go back 40 years, but I will not regale you with any incriminating tales about holy sisters! (laughs) Whisky comes to mind! Whisky Galore would be a good film that both she and I would thoroughly enjoy, I can assure you! And she's coming to dinner, I think, in a few weeks time.
But much to the chagrin of the parish priest of said parish, he was not invited! (laughs) Not that he minds. He's only too happy that it should be called the Lady Julian Bridge. The churchmanship, of course, of Timberhill, which is the colloquial name of the Parmentergate group of parishes, has been advanced to great extremes, which meets with my great approval and joy, and so we do actually have pre-Reformation rites with modern language according to the great Latin Church of the West, we pray for Benedict, our Pope, Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury and Graham, our Bishop. And much to our delight, Graham, our Bishop, is, on his Sundays off, in the congregation. Sometimes with his lady wife, and his lady wife comes even more often, because she doesn't do any Bishoping, you understand. Been let off! We have wonderful times there! It is genuinely deeply devotional and so warmly and welcomely accepting of all people. It's a great joy to belong to that family, and Father M. who is the Rector and parish priest has asked me several times now to sing the Solemn High Mass, so this I do, with bits of Latin thrown in, so I have to sort of scratch up on that. So we have wonderful times there. My wife and I made the mistake . .. perhaps we nodded or something at the wrong time or twitched, I don't know . . . but we seem to have ended up helping to run the monthly lunch club, which we hold in the north aisle, St John the Baptist's aisle, and the church does actually possess a relic of the true cross – blink not! (laughs) – duly authenticated! I think it's a secondary relic, I must say . . or, no. St John's is the secondary relic. We have a relic of St John the Baptist. It's a piece of cloth or something, in which his head was reputed to have been laid, which reminds me of the wonderful story of two churches in the same diocese claiming the relic of part of the head of John the Baptist, or the whole head, I think, of St John the Baptist. This would, of course, not be in the 21st or even 20th century. In prior times. And they fell to blows about this. How could they possibly both have the head of John the Baptist? Whereupon the parish priest of one of the parishes said "Well ours is the head of John the Baptist when he was a boy"! (laughs) So that probably puts it in its proper perspective! But every now and again these wonderful relics get processed in great procession and so forth, and we have a wonderful time. And all the eccentrics and interesting people of the diocese seem to come to Timberhill, and very rarely do we drop below 80. More often up near a hundred. And it fulfils, obviously, a need within the Church of England as she is. We are not a bunch of homophobes or male chauvinists or anything like that, because there are people in the congregation who quite approve of women priests.
I must add that I have grave reservations myself, even though I've worked with them. I've enjoyed it, but for me it's a matter not of gender but of authority. If the Church of England claims the Catholic priesthood, which it always has, it has no right to interfere with it, especially when the Pope says he can't. But obviously the General Synod of the Church of England can, but that is another story!
Well, I was going to ask you about changes that you have seen in the Church of England and in ministry during the period when you've been in ministry. That's obviously a big one. I wonder if there are any others that you would comment on?
That is the major one. I mean, it really shook me to my core in November 1992 . . . it must have done: I even remember the month and the year! I mean, there were stories going round of friends who were going to leave the priesthood and open teashops and all sorts of things. Very few of them did. Quite a lot did go to Rome. Some are still there. Others regretted it and came back.
Did you contemplate that?
Oh yes, I've had Roman fever several times, as we call it. But I am a Catholic because I am an Anglican in the spirit of the Elizabethan Settlement. I'm an English Catholic, and reformed, and I love the restrained Catholicism of the English Church in all its forms, and hence I thoroughly enjoy not only a good Solemn High Mass, but also Matins which I love to sing , and Evensong. And I do believe the Church of England has much to teach the wider Church in terms of charity and in basic honesty in terms of washing our dirty linen in public, which we do very well. Only too well, I'm afraid. And then we discover that other denominations have jumped in on our coat tails after we have done all the dirty work, and start to offer their opinions.
So you have managed to come to a kind of uneasy compromise?
I have come to . . . yes, you could call it an uneasy compromise. I won't say I have found refuge at Timberhill, because I'm not seeking refuge. I have worshipped, and do worship sometimes, with women clergy. The Sacramental aspect causes me grave misgivings and so forth. Unlike some of my brethren, who shall, for obvious reasons, be nameless, I could not be uncharitable or unkind or downright rude to women priests, because if I should go by experience alone I would have been won over long ago. I can make a very good theological case for women priests, and also against women priests, but it hinges mainly on authority. I suppose what I'm saying is if Rome could acknowledge it I would be a happy man. The Old Catholics, with whom the Church of England has been in full communion since about 1870 something, I think – those of the Union of Utrecht, those who could not cope with Papal infallibility, the promulgation of that – they have been in full communion with us, and if Rome has doubts about our orders, which, of course, it did, they recognise Old Catholic orders. And there has always been an Old Catholic Bishop present and co-consecrating at every Anglican Episcopal consecration since about 1930 something, so all the clergy and the Episcopate of the Church of England possess Old Catholic orders. If you ask . . . I mustn't give names here because I could lose the poor man his position.. but if you ask the Chaplain of a certain Cardinal Archbishop . .. and there are one or two in this country, so I'm not saying which one . .. he will say "But of course you are priests. You are just, as far as the Latin Church of the West is concerned, irregular". Well, I don't mind being irregular. I've been irregular for years! (laughs) (I might rephrase that, I don't know!) Yes, that's absolutely fine, because the whole of the English way of life is built on compromise, Church and State, and one can compromise in strength. It's not a weakness, not always, anyway.
So really if we call this "The Hound of Heaven" I started off wanting to be a priest, and ended up very definitely being called to be a priest, and it did pursue me, and I knew that I would not be happy – even though I was very happy teaching – unless I offered for priestly ordination and followed it through. And my mother, who is 96 now, asked me only a few weeks ago, "Would you have done the same thing, dear, if you had your time over again?" And I said "You know, Mother, there have been difficulties, sadnesses, joys and all the rest of it along the way, but yes I would." I wouldn't change any of it, even some of the most unhappy parts, because when things go wrong, even in marriage, there are joys and there is love, and you don't switch off like a gas tap.
It's a good thing to be able to say at the end of a working life.
Well, yes, I mean that, because the priestly ministry never ceases. As we so often quote "Thou art a priest for ever, even unto the order of Melchizedek". And everybody rushes off to look up Melchizedek, Priest King of Salem! Some of us are more active than others. Others should not give up, and others most certainly should! (laughs) I hope I'm not in the latter category yet! But the good Lord finds things for us both to do, because without my wife to support me a great deal would not have happened. She is not only my soul mate but my help mate in many ways, and through my teaching and clergy years we've made many wonderful friends in all parts of the world and of this country, and I can't think of one I don't regard very fondly. And although I don't keep a mighty list of those for whom to pray, they get prayed for whether they like it or not. And when I can't remember them any more I put them metaphorically and mentally on a very large platter and offer them up to the good Lord. (laughs) So they get prayed for en lump or en masse, depending. My wife and I have ten grandchildren between us, the last two this year, Seren Alex – Seren is a Gaellic name – the poor soul gets called Dipity sometimes, I'm afraid – Serendipity, but she's too young to know about such things yet. And the latest one was born last week on 15th September to T. and C. and he's called Thomas Edward so the family line continues in the male line, which means that I can transmit the ancient family arms, which are displayed in my hallway, and I often require people to genuflect before it! (laughs) Dates from about 1398 actually, and because my grandfather only had a daughter it was transmitted by my mother, as one is allowed to do with things heraldic. She is an heraldic heiress, and she's transmitted them to me, and they were different because reputedly I am male, even though I wear long slinky black numbers! With 39 buttons which has nothing to do with the 39 Articles of the Church of England. It – here's a good bit of teaching! – actually has much to do with "forty stripes save one", and they are teaching aids, and they were worn in the mission fields as an abacus really, more than anything else, and being much easier to walk in than the Sarum cassock which is double-breasted and flaps horribly. So it means that T. is my heir and young Thomas is his heir, so he has a label of three points and Thomas has a label of five points. But I don't think we shall be ascending the throne just yet. I think there's some sort of usurper called Windsor on it at the moment! (laughs) But we originated from Kent and from the Isle of Ely, so you have, and I shall end on this happy note, a rare mixture of a Fen Tiger and a Kentish Hog.
Here endeth the sermon. Amen!