We wanted to move to Cambridge, to care for my parents. And be there for our children. And because we both love the city...
All C of E posts, we now knew, were barred to Shaun… and had been for three years. Because the Archdeacon of Cambridge didn’t like me.
So Shaun asked an old friend, a school chaplain, if he’d write him a reference for a Cambridge school.
“Bedford School’s looking,” the friend said. “Apply for that.”
“So I don’t have to.”
“You realise I know next to nothing about teaching?”
Unlike most of the others, some demanding thirty-page forms, Bedford School required a CV and two referees.
Must be run by someone sensible.
The application was due the next day.
That evening we were having dinner with the Mawhinneys, near Peterborough. Brian and Betty were old friends from Shaun’s first curacy, three decades earlier. Ever since, Brian had maintained – and still does – that Shaun is the best preacher he’s ever heard.
He’d long agreed to act as referee.
So we needed to tell them the worst. If Brian was going to recommend him, he should know what Shaun had been accused of.
The snow smothered the ground and swirled the air.
I dashed out into it, to a pillar box in a village on the way. Last collection 6pm. It was dead on six o’clock. No sign of the post van anywhere.
Perhaps we’d missed it? No time to find another. We’d be late if we dithered.
I shoved the application into its gaping black mouth.
Dear Betty had gone to much trouble. How good it is, to be among old friends! When the chips are down. You know who stands by you, then.
How are you? How are the children? How’s it all going?
We had to spit it out sooner or later.
Breakdown. Gross Misconduct. Not looking good.
A neon light, Shaun said, blazed into life behind Brian’s eyes. The constituency MP in him fired and crackled. Much more interesting than children and how are you. His leonine, fierce intelligence roared to 60 mph from a standstill.
“Get a lawyer.”
“Of course,” we said. “But how?”
“And don’t ever go and see your bishop again without one.”
“But Brian,” I said, “we’re due to see him at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Cancel. You’ve got to make him sit up and take notice. You never walk into his house again without a lawyer in tow.”
When you’ve been Cabinet Minister and Chairman of the Tories, senior bishop in the Ho of Lords is small fry squirming in the shallows.
It was already gone ten at night and Brian was on the telephone. Animated, insistent.
Twenty minutes later he had a lawyer for us. And had briefed her.
Lawyer Number Three.
We drove home late, in much deeper snow, Brian’s fighting spirit warming our cheeks to a chubby glow.
Before eight the next morning I left a voicemail, cancelling our meeting. Within minutes the bishop rang back.
Sitting up and taking notice.