About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Only Nine Days Left

Not long now. Done your cards? Sent your presents? Got that essential red table runner for your festive board? And more importantly, do you have your Christmas outfit sorted? Or are you still dicing with delusion, and hoping to lose a few more pounds and slip into something new, expensive and the next size down?

I have accidentally hit upon a way of losing half a stone. (That’s 7lb, for any Americans reading this.) Strictly speaking, it’s a way of appearing to have lost half a stone (3.18kg recurring for an Europeans, Australians and Kiwis reading this): get your hair cut off. A radical step, I know, but time is of the essence when you are trying to look hotter than everyone else. Or everyone else in your age and weight category. At 49, we no longer compete against all comers. This is where moving to a Cathedral Close is a smart move. I still pass as something of a fine young filly round here. (Am praying the chancellor doesn’t hear a call to university chaplaincy.)

So, the new barnet. (That’s hairstyle, for foreigners of any nationality reading this.) I now have what my stylist (Andy, Franceso Group, Walsall) describes as an ‘Eton crop’. Rather than an Eton Mess, which is what it was before (my description, not my stylist’s). As I rightly predicted, people have not noticed this radical and edgy new look. They have asked me instead if I have lost weight. Yes—off my hair.

I may post a pic at some stage. If I can find one that doesn’t make me look fat. Or like a slightly butch and frightening version of Julian Clary.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Christmas Letters

More icy pictures of Lichfield for you. Jackie Frost has been at his work, as my older son used to observe in a broad Geordie accent when he was three. He was not a precocious mimic, we were living in Gateshead at that stage. My younger son was born there, and him I couldn’t understand at all. ‘Haway, Mam, draw us a wheel!’ ‘Certainly. A car wheel, a tractor wheel?’ ‘Nooah. A killer wheel!’ And then we moved to Walsall, and they promptly switched to Black Country, coming home from school and telling me they'd been learning about the Voikings.

One nice thing about being married to a priest, apart from moving house a lot and learning many interesting dialects, is that you never have to buy a new jiffy bag. Priests get sent things in padded envelopes all the time. Bible commentaries, mainly. Or perhaps this is a certain sub category of Evangelical priests, who have a Bible commentary habit as bad as many a woman’s shoe habit. I personally do not have a shoe habit. Well, I do. I have the habit of thinking you should be able to buy yourself a nice pair of leather boots for under £25. Which you can—if you skulk about in charity shops. You can also get cheap Bible commentaries in charity shops. Thus the chancellor and I while away many hours in run down town centres on his day off.

Another nice thing about being married to a priest is that you get a house with the job. The heating bills are not so nice, of course. You also get a lot of Christmas cards. These may be displayed in colour groups (white and gold, reds, greens, blues) or by theme (robins, Christmas trees, shepherds, drunken Franciscans—not Wise men, of course, as these may not be properly displayed until Epiphany) and hung in your draughty hallway, where they will flutter and amusingly set off your burglar alarm at 3am.

You may also be lucky enough to get a fat envelope, and you will open it with feverish excitement because it can mean only one thing—someone has sent you a Christmas boasting letter about their children’s amazing A-level results (which they were really surprised about, because s/he didn’t do a stroke of work!!!!) their Grade VIII on the bassoon and starring roles in school productions. There may be photos of various holidays abroad and updates on extensive renovations to their 17th century property (including letting information). Occasionally they commend to you the real meaning of Christmas. At which point (if you are lucky enough to be married to a priest) you will grind your teeth and think I know what the true meaning of fecking Christmas is.

Still, at least I can send my Christmas parcels in recycled jiffy bags. That’s worth hanging on to, isn’t it?

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Life in Narnia

We are living in Narnia. Narnia before Aslan came and spoilt it all by melting the snow. That’s what I always secretly thought as a child, but knew I shouldn’t, because Aslan was Jesus.

I went out for a walk round The Close and then Stowe Pool this morning. All the photographers in Lichfield were out. None of the runners were. I was out for a run yesterday morning, and it was slippy in places. Today it’s worse. I’d be mortified as a judo player to fall on the ice and injure myself. Should know how to land properly by now! The difference is that on the judo mat you are expecting it. Of course, you should be alert when walking on icy pavements, but vigilance is tricky to maintain when everything is so heart-breakingly beautiful. Plus there are mats in a dojo.

Frost was falling like powdered snow from the trees, and landing in a hiss on the holly bushes beneath. I watched a crow pecking at a chunk of frozen bread (or maybe frozen rodent? I didn’t look too closely) and it sounded as though it was eating crisps. The pool is now almost entirely frozen. Bad news for the ducks and coots, good news for Brer Fox. All the cobwebs and leaf edges and twigs were furred and feathered and fanged with frost. Each detail on the Narnian lampposts of The Close was picked out in white.

I may have to apologise to CS Lewis before I’m allowed into heaven, but I still prefer Narnia with the snow.

Monday 6 December 2010

Saturday in Lichfield

Last Saturday I enjoyed my quintessentially Lichfield Saturday experience, i.e., tough session on the judo mat, then an evening gradually seizing up on one of the world’s most uncomfortable chairs during an evening concert in the cathedral.

The judo consisted of a couple of groundwork bouts with my sensei, Keith, who is far too wily and experienced to be strangled by me, but a good enough sport to let me get close. And then not to pay me back by pinning me down mercilessly, the way a lesser man would. Humility, that’s the hallmark of a seasoned judoka. Having nothing to prove, no ego to protect. If you can’t take a good strangle off a girl (without saying ‘I let you do it’), you have much to learn, my young grasshopper. Then I had a spot of randori (free-flowing standing work) with another of my coaches, Heather. We’ve been fighting together for nearly 10 years now, and pretty much know the other’s techniques with our eyes closed. She has youth on her side. I have weight on mine. A couple of extra stone does you no harm on the judo mat, trust me.

And then to the concert. Well, not straight to the concert, obviously. A quick shower and a rummage through the charity shop purchases for something posh. Footwear is the issue, as ever. It’s not far to the cathedral from here, not far enough for a taxi anyway, it being approximately 50m (see picture taken from our landing), but this is still too far if you suffer as I do from hallux rigidus—or in layman’s terms, knackered big toe joint. On a day-to-day basis it’s manageable, unless you attempt to wear high heels. Didn’t even make it to the front door on Saturday. There’s no such thing as an elegant hobble. I’ll have to get someone to wheelbarrow me across another time, but that would have been folly on Saturday. Too icy. So boots it was.

The concert. It was Haydn (Missa Sancti Nicoli, ‘Farewell’ Symphony) and Mozart’s Solemn Vespers, performed by the Lichfield Cathedral Chorus, the choir formerly known as ‘The Special Choir’ (and behind their backs as ‘The Special Needs Choir’, hence the change of name, one suspects); and the St Chad’s Camerata. For the first time they were under the baton of (half of) our new musical director, Ben Lamb. The soloists performed from the tiniest platforms in musical history, but I’m happy to say there were no ugly incidents of plummeting tenors, or injured punters on the front row.

The feeling on the front row was that it was a stunning performance, but that for a man with a red silk lining to his tail coat, the conductor’s shoes were not gay enough. This was remedied during the interval by the canon chancellor, a man with a collection of the gayest shoes on the Close.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Stir-Up Sunday

Today I plan to make my Christmas cake. Obviously, I should have made it on 21st November, as that was Stir-Up Sunday. Stir-Up Sunday is the Sunday next before Advent, when the collect (or prayer, for any ignorant Nonconformists and Atheists who have strayed here by pressing the ‘Next Blog’ button) for the week is ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

Well, this year I missed the boat. Liturgically speaking, that’s probably seven years bad luck. But the cake should taste the same. You will see my preparations all laid out in the photo. I’ve arranged it all so beautifully I may leave it a few more days, just so that I can admire it every time I go into the kitchen to check whether the butter has reached room temperature yet. Of course it has! It’s still frozen. The cookbooks mean room temperature in a normal house. In the olden days before central heating and double glazing you hired a peasant to walk around for a couple of hours with the butter pat clamped in his armpit.

Sadly, despite the ‘rights and appurtenances’ promised Mr Chancellor when he was made Prebendary of Alrewas* at his installation at Lichfield Cathedral, provision for a butter-warmer is no longer guaranteed. And in an age where the Church Commissioners are threatening to chop up the Zurbaran paintings for kindling to heat Auckland Castle ready for the next Bishop of Durham (or whatever the fuss is all about) we can’t really complain about the lack of willing peasants here in Lichfield Cathedral Close. I can sit on my pack of Anchor myself, if push comes to shove.

That's my grandma's cake book in the picture, by the way. It has black and white photos and rather austere language. The word 'somewhat' occurs. 'Stir until somewhat mixed.' One recipe calls for 'sal volatile'. This, as you well know, is ammonium carbonate, formerly known as hartshorn, or smelling salts. Not readily come by in the bakery section in Morrisons, so I suppose you'd have to substitute Red Bull, or some other modern stimulant. Or else administer a brisk slap to your cake mixture.

*This is a bit like being made Marquis of Carabas. Sounds poncy, but means nothing.