St James the Least
My dear Nephew Darren
On how to survive a parish retreat
We have just returned from our annual parish three-day silent retreat at St Epiphanius’ Priory. We had the usual attendees: those husbands who see it as an opportunity to stop their wives talking, however briefly; those wives who can keep their husbands temporarily from the 19thhole at the golf club; and those who want to see if it might be a suitable home in which to park an inconvenient relative.
It can come as quite a shock for first-timers: the ladies are appalled to discover that there is neither coffee shop nor hairdressers, and the men that there is no bar or billiards table. The resident community certainly frowned on the four men among us who were discovered silently pushing a car down the drive late one evening before starting it at the main gates as they escaped to the nearest pub. Those of us who are older hands know to bring our own supplies – carefully wrapped, so that the clinking of bottles is not too obvious as one ascends the main staircase. The near universal retreat to bedrooms before dinner is less an opportunity for quiet reflection and more one for a restorative sherry.
The more experienced also know that temperatures in the house are Siberian. All the movement and hand waving during Services is less charismatic enthusiasm and more an attempt to maintain blood flow to the extremities. The series of addresses were given by an aged member of the community. That some of our party fell asleep during the addresses was excusable; that the person giving them also occasionally did so, was not.
During one stroll round the gardens, I noticed clouds of smoke coming from behind the hedges near the chapel. My hope that it was parishioners experimenting with incense to be used in church on our return was soon crushed when I found it was a group of hardened parishioners topping up their nicotine levels. Seeing them nervously huddled in the shrubbery made one think of schools and bike sheds. I now find it difficult not to picture them all in short trousers and wearing caps.
And so we return, knowing that we have done our bit once again for the spiritual vigour of the parish, and also that three days of vegetarian cooking will mean a long queue at the village butchers tomorrow morning.
Your loving uncle, Eustace