Thursday, 26 July 2012

All Gas & Gaiters

25th July 2012
Maisie my cat is outside all day, she doesn't put her nose outside the door unless it's at least 30 degrees. I stay in, near a large fan as much as I can. But today I braved the horrible heat, why oh why didn’t I ask for “aircon” in my car, for the coffee morning at the vicarage in Ealing. We sat in the garden for the first time this summer and that wasn’t the only surprise. We were visited by an Archbishop of   Malawi,  apparently they have several, and his wife.
He seemed a sweet, gentle man but I was surprised by the wife in her bright blue robes with big frill round the bust. Gladys, a Nigerian lady who celebrated her 80th birthday on Sunday produced some chocolates. She gave them to me to hand round. Archbishop’s wife grabbed them, took three out of the box, handed them to him then made no attempt to pass them on. Then came my biscuits and another cake from Gladys’s birthday party. The wife seemed to have been struck dumb as she made no attempt at conversation, did not introduce herself, make eye contact or smile, just grabbed everything I handed out, without a word of thanks.
Eventually, offering her another piece of cake I said, “thank you” pointedly. She smiled at me faintly and murmured it like a good child.
Our vicar, Bill,  asked the bishop to say a few words. At first he was silent. I thought he might have dropped off in the heat, but then he launched into a  peroration, beginning with the subject of greed. I couldn’t help thinking  that was pertinent as I glanced at his fat wife’s swanky Swiss bracelet watch.
I was determined to do him the courtesy of listening intently. Some of it was quite interesting; he  said he came from a very poor area of peasant farmers, talked about the “slaughter” of Christians by Muslims in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The indifference  of foreign governments including UK and USA. Then he added that he’d heard that Obama’s govt was supporting the Muslim rebels in northern Nigeria.
 I was aware that some people's attention was slipping, they were cutting more cake,  fiddling about and great monolith wife was looking at her mobile. Now and then he would stop talking and seemed to be praying but it was hard to say.
When it was fairly clear he had finished I leaned forward to ask him  whether our Archbishop of Canterbury is interested in the  plight of Christians in Nigeria. His eyes remained shut and he did not answer. I didn’t know if he’d heard. The stone faced wife gave him a nudge, he opened his eyes and his mouth to speak, but at that moment Father Bill  insisted we all turned round to have photos taken.
I retreated to the shade  and sat staring at someone’s long, uncut, desiccated toe nail. At the table in the sun, the wife went on sitting silently beside her husband, and I wondered how she could come  from such a poor area and sit there with expensive watch, grabbing cake.
On the way out I told Fr. Bill that I thought they were a disappointing couple. He shook his head.
 “There are problems with African clergy” he said wearily. “It’s extremely  hierarchical. She is used to a very high status."
 "You can’t fight that at a coffee morning in Ealing”he snapped.
I wasn't trying. It was far too hot. He also said very sadly that the bishop was “In the grip of American evangelists in Texas, who are very generous.”
 That explained the mixture of prayer and speech, the constant closed eyes, and  the strange implication that  the Obama gov’t is supporting Al Qaeda backed murderers in Nigeria.
I had a vision of this somehow very innocent African couple touring Europe and America picked up hither and thither by well meaning  groups vying to support them for a whole variety of reasons, some worthy others  utterly misguided.
They  were on their way to Hastings next where their son is due to get married. If the bride is anything like the mother I think it will be a case of marry in Hastings repent at leisure.        Image of Fr. Bill worrying that I might write something libellous.

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