Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Vicar

Jennospot 32 The Vicar

Terday Oi'm goin' ter tell yew 'ow it was when Peter met the vicar fer the first time. Oi won't say no more 'cos Oi reckon the bit below says it all. 'Ee 'ad ter go away in the finish. The new vicar was sorta okay, except... well that's anovver story.

Winnie paused and looked beyond me over my shoulder. ‘Oh look, here comes the vicar and your aunt as well.’

I turned as a balding man in a black suit and a white dog-collar appeared from one side of Ship Yard. At the same moment my aunt swooped round the other side on her bicycle. She braked hard, jumped off her bike with a little run, and waited for the vicar to come level with her.

I heard her greet him with syrupy sweetness, ‘Oh good morning Vicar. How are you? Such lovely weather.’ She then began to apologize even before he could get a word out. ‘I'm a little late this morning: my nephew, you know. Makes a lot of extra work.’

The vicar was not to be outdone in oily courtesy. ‘My dear lady, how delightful to see you. Yes indeed it is fine weather: our Heavenly Father is generous, but I fear it's possible to have too much of a good thing. The Farmers' Union has asked us to pray today for rain to ensure a bountiful harvest. I've chosen some suitable hymns as well. So your nephew has arrived. I hope he's settling in all right. When will I have the pleasure of meeting him?’

‘You can meet him right away,’ replied my aunt. ‘He's standing there with Winnifred by the church gate.’

The vicar turned his gaze in my direction. I disliked the way he ran his eyes all over me. I felt a hot rush of embarrassment. ‘Oh the dear boy,’ he gushed, bouncing up and putting his hand on my head. ‘Welcome my son. How you must have suffered under the bombing in London. But you'll be all right here, under the care of your dear loving aunt.’

I felt an immediate dislike of him. I could in no way consider myself his son; I was in serious doubts about the lovingness of my aunt; and I detested the touch of his hand. I wriggled out from under it and feigned interest in a nonexistent object on the far horizon.

‘Silent little chap isn't he?’ observed the vicar.

I smouldered inside. I could have kicked him: hard!

‘Say good-morning to Father Hardcross,’ ordered my aunt with a steely look in her eye.

‘Good-morning Reverend Hardcross,’ I said mechanically. Damned if I was going to address him as ‘Father’. My aunt didn't; she used the term ‘Vicar’.

‘It's customary to address the vicar with the title Father,’ chided my aunt.

‘He's not my father,’ I muttered between clenched teeth.

‘What did you say my son?’ enquired the vicar affably, placing his hand on my head again and bending his ear down to the level of my mouth.

Winnifred came to my rescue. I could have kissed her. ‘Good-morning Father Hardcross,’ she said brightly. Then she explained, ‘What he said was, "It's hot my Father".’

The vicar turned to me and beamed. ‘Indeed yes, it is hot for the time of year. It's been so dry. The farmers are in need of rain— yes indeed.’ He paused and tilted his head sideways to size me up as he said to my aunt, ‘Shy young chap isn't he?’

I squirmed out from under his hand again and decided to show him how wrong he was by turning on the charm tap. I smiled confidently at him and put on the same syrupy voice that my aunt had used. ‘I'm so sorry Vicar. It's just that I'm not yet used to village ways. It takes a little while to get adjusted. Everything is so different: your smart suit for example.’

‘My smart suit?’ said the vicar astonished, looking down at himself.

‘Yes indeed Vicar,’ I replied, taking a leaf out of his own book. ‘At the convent, the priests all wore long robes like dresses. They looked very old-fashioned. Your suit is smart and modern-looking.’

The vicar seemed very pleased with this little speech. He smoothed the lapels of his suit with both hands and smiled warmly down at me.

‘What were you doing in a convent my son?’

My aunt quickly answered for me. ‘The nuns from the convent ran the orphanage he was in.’

Her intervention gave me time to work out a plan which might stop him calling me ‘my son.’

‘At the convent I used to sing in the choir. Winnifred says that you have a choir here. Could I join?’

The reverend father turned to my aunt. ‘Can he sing?’

My aunt turned her eyes quickly skywards and back again. ‘I don't know. I've never heard him sing.’

‘Well, if you agree,’ he said, ‘I'll speak to Mr White, the choirmaster. We can try him out after the service. He looked down at me. ‘Would you like that, my son?’

‘I'd like it very much, Vicar,’ I replied with as much warm enthusiasm as I could muster. ‘I would also be really extremely pleased if you could call me by my name: all the other good friends I've made here do.’

This little request was followed by such a profound silence that I began to feel I'd gone a bit too far.

The vicar went pink, then a broad smile spread slowly over his face. ‘I've never been offered such a charming compliment before and from such an unexpected source. I think you must truly be a child of God, as indeed we all are,’ he added hurriedly. ‘I'm extremely flattered that you want to consider me your friend.’

He looked me intently in the eyes, took my hand, held it a moment, then shook it warmly. ‘Welcome to the parish,’ he said. And then he called me by my name.

Gang Territory Chapter 8

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