The most important writing I had ever done.
Shaun had been given four weeks to respond to the church’s severance proposal. They had upped the money, but we still couldn’t possibly afford it. Rent and removal costs would gobble it up in weeks. And then we’d have nothing. Nowhere to live, nothing to live off. No prospects, no future, no nothing.
you take my life
When you doe take the meanes whereby I liue.
Without a post to go to – and therefore house to live in, and stipend to live off – Shaun couldn’t possibly relinquish the post-for-life for which he’d left his living in London.
I had told the ringleader this. We could never afford to accept.
The meanest intelligence could have worked it out. That is, unless you’d never experienced not owning your own house and having plenty of money to fall back on.
And had no imagination.
This was a middle-class church.
Half way through the four weeks was when Shaun received his letter of accusation.
Even the bishop let slip how stupid it was. Such a careful – if idiotic – scheme designed to move us on.
Now completely blasted out of the water by a couple of people losing their nerve, firing off shots at random and trying to frighten us into accepting.
“Very silly. Very silly indeed,” had been the episcopal verdict.
We would respond to both at once.
I chose the main letter.
The church had demanded the duel and chosen the weapon. Accusation. They wanted a fight by accusation, we would have to do the same. If we were to survive.
For over four years we had not protested. Not even when they made us homeless. Shaun had done the job to the best of his always impressive ability. I had licked my family’s wounds and looked for a way out. We had over four years of unexpressed complaints.
There was no shortage of material.
Shaun took the appendix, answering the allegations. Point by point, accusation by accusation, evidence for evidence. Every assertion, refuted meticulously. Shooting down the sorry scarecrows which had looked so large and real and frightening at first sight.
As I’d told him, as soon as you went boldly up to them and poked them, you could see they were nothing but straw.
All lies and misrepresentations.
The children pitched in. Phrasing, editing, researching, rephrasing.
The writer’s first discipline is to write what’s in front of you. See the truth. Then tell it.
I had witnessed it. I must write it.
I chose my text: the church’s own employment handbook. How it had failed its own criteria.
Page after page. Detail after detail. The discrepancy between promise and outcome. The contradiction between the church’s principles and its behaviour. No aspect left unchecked. Acts of Parliament going back decades. Synodical Government Measures.
Barely a few hours’ sleep each night. Thinking, writing, fact-finding, editing. Keeping myself awake with willpower and determination.
And the knowledge that, if ever I had to fight for my family, it was now.
John McCarthy, in Some Other Rainbow, wrote that an early attempt to escape his captors failed because his bowels played up. I found this astonishing. When you have to do it, your body gets behind you.
A lawyer friend once said to me, include all. Put in everything.
My letter was soon ten pages.
Monday, I had to write Thought for the Day.
Tuesday, to London for the Titchmarsh Show. I worked on that letter in every spare moment, in the dressing room.
Wednesday, I took a call from Bedford School.
Shaun’s application had been held up in the snow.
It had missed the deadline by a week.
But it had been franked on the correct day – so we hadn’t missed the post-van, then? – and they would honour it.
Would he come for interview on Friday? He would be taking a lesson. First time shortlisted in over three years.
“I can’t teach,” he pointed out.
“You’ve got till Friday to learn.”