‘I’d like to try Advent and see what it’s like.’
Odd words from a committed agnostic. Even odder when it’s Sunday morning and he’s lying in bed reading the papers. It’s the kind of comment he might come up with after a few glasses of wine on Saturday evening, forgotten overnight. But not on Sunday morning, when it’s actually feasible.
I check my watch. We can make it to Saints Peter and Paul.
Here in Recusant World (Lancashire, as was) we’re spoilt for choice – four Catholic churches within easy walking distance, more if you’re a hearty walker. But Saints P & P has a USP: 11.30 am Mass. A civilised hour, don’t you think?
I’m nearly ready, just applying the lippy.
‘Got any money for the collection?’ he says.
How odd that he thinks of these things. I’m the one who’s the resting Catholic.
‘There are some pound coins in the car,’ I say, feeling mean. We’ll put in a serious sum at Christmas. If we’re still going.
The bell is ringing. Slow. Resonant. Deep.
The church is pleasant, stone-built, just ornate enough. Inside, white decorative work around the altar rises into pale crenellations over inset images of holy scenes.
I’m wearing my new purple hat with a big floppy brim. When I was a child all females had to cover their heads in church. I had a triangle of grey lace, a ‘mantilla’. They were rather popular – less damaging for the hair-dos, I suspect, as well as cheaper than a titfer. But I digress.
The agnostic’s nudging me.
‘There’s one other hat,’ he whispers.
I don’t look round. I know before he tells me that it’s on an old lady and probably furry.
The organ fires up and the choir belts out the first hymn. The place is almost full and there are two priests. Two priests!
I look down at my hand resting on the pew in front of me and, for an instant, the world around me vanishes.
I’m a child again, struggling to keep still. Enforced silence. Enforced kneeling. Enforced backache. A slap when I get home for fidgeting.
I lean forward on my tired little knees and lock my open mouth on the pew – it’s just the right height for biting. My teeth sink in ever so slightly, there’s a kind of grainy feel to it as it gives way, just a little, beneath my milk teeth. The taste of the varnish is sweet, with a slight tang of pine.
The organ pipes up again. I turn to look at the agnostic.
The age of miracles is not yet past.
Next time: More advent experiences? Or a very wet Christmas Past concerning a nightmare journey in Africa? Or both? All in good time…