Late Autumn 2008
There was nothing for it but to widen the search.
(That, and look up the Archdeacon of Cambridge to see how near he was to retirement. Not quite sixty-five. Clergy can retire at seventy. That was that, then. Another five years, and I would have detonated in screaming depression, all of us squashed in that lovely but minute little cottage. And Shaun working for an ecclesiastical lunatic asylum. Or not, any more...)
“Here’s one you’ll like,” he showed me. “Looking for a preacher-teacher. Evangelical. Haven’t lost the vicarage: five bedroom Edwardian house. Edge of London.”
We all have our limitations. All of us. In common with the rest of humanity, I can’t do everything. Geographical inflexibility is my annoying little Achilles’ stumbling block. That, and mixed metaphors.
I don’t know why. I suspect Serena may have a similar trait, her deep-roots drinking in places she has loved.
I used to hate family holidays – absolutely loathe them – because I got homesick. Even as a child, I knew this was eccentric. Other children missed their parents. I missed my bedroom, my garden, my spinney deep with cow parsley and its secret hiding places. I couldn’t bear being away from the quarters we lived in, not even our own house, muddled into the school my father was head master of in the middle of Cambridge.
Long-standing readers of this blog may remember the placement Shaun had in that idyllic village in Yorkshire, when we’d been married for about two years. I lasted half a week before dissolving into hysterical sobs and having to return to Cambridge alone, for the rest of the month. He was subsequently offered a job there, which he would have loved...
Funnily enough, I could move to Nepal or Malawi or Kerala easier than to Chesham or Cheadle. It would be so different and exotic, I would dive in and relish the strange colours and smells and curries.
But I had tried suburbia before – Shaun’s first curacy, in Barnet – and couldn’t wait to escape. Persil Country. Shaun happened to let slip that he was the only man in the street who didn’t have his shirts ironed for him...
Which was why a move to Oxford had seemed obvious. That, Cambridge and Parson’s Green: the three places I loved like members of my own family. Now, just Cambridge and Parson’s Green left.
I smiled bravely, and took the proffered specifications.
Nor have I ever been at home in Evangelicalism, really. I embraced it, when I married Shaun, because I love him. But now that an Evangelical church had treated us the way it had... well, I would have found any other churchmanship easier to enthuse about.
We couldn’t afford for me not to. If he would like it...
Poor Shaun probably spent several days on that blasted job application, before he found me hiding in the cupboard I called my study, in tears.
“Whatever’s the matter?”
It wasn’t the suburbia. It wasn’t even the Evangelicalism. It was the bloody Yamaha.
Page one of the specs. The church’s pride and joy. A spanking new, top-of-the-range, electronic Yamaha keyboard... “to lead the worship”. In place of the organ. Almost as bad as getting rid of the vicarage.
Worse. You can’t even sell an organ for anything.
(Just think: this could have been us. My favourite youtube of all time.)
“You muppet. Why on earth didn’t you say? There’s no point in my applying if you would be so unhappy there.”
Bath. Royal Mile. Never been to Bath in my life but the Royal Mile sounded fun. Georgian terrace vicarage.
Time was – and not that long ago – when a clergy job application meant being rung up, asked if you were interested and then invited (with your wife) to come and meet a few folk. If you all got on, felt God was in favour (and your wife liked the curtains) that was it.
When Shaun was appointed to his living, it happened like this. I bicycled past the vicarage and fell in love. No but really. Like with a person. The same anatomically improbable gasp of butterflies in the pit of the stomach.
So a retired clergy friend rang someone or other as a result of which Shaun drove to London from our summer holiday to have a chat with the churchwardens. And then returned to the New Forest, where we’d borrowed a cottage, as the new P of P Green.
Believe it or not, in many ways this was a lot better than the current system (vindictive Archdeacons notwithstanding). When the dear old C of E tries to heave itself lumbering into the twentieth century it invariably gets it wrong and is still fifty years behind the rest of us anyway. If it stuck to what it was good at... ah well: too late now. Cat out of the can of worms already.
Shaun and I worked on that Bath application together. For a week. All twenty-six pages of it. I believe he never even got an acknowledgement. Thirty-five other clergy applied. The church almost certainly appointed someone they knew – and had decided on – already. You know: the curate, or someone. Unless the bishop had picked his own poppet and made it look like a democratic decision.
Which means thirty-five other clergy (and their spouses) also wasted a week.
See what I mean?
This process could presumably have gone on for ever.
Except that one morning, I think a Monday, I suppose it must have been early December, Shaun received a letter. He opened it, read it – it was several pages long – and swayed as if he’d been sandbagged.