Goodness, it is nearly Christmas! So much to do and so little time. What with decorations, presents and church services, one feels quite giddy. Yesterday, I went around town delivering our Christmas cards, calling at the little parish church of St. Fidelia Undershift, where the incumbent, Mr. Pushover, has taken in refugee children from the Afghan and Zulu Wars. My, those young fellows mature early. I don’t think there was one under six foot – some even had beards! Could it be their diet or the hot sunshine of far distant lands that causes them to sprout so? Well, they will get nothing but grey skies in Barchester, which no doubt will put the brakes on. No girls, I noticed – most curious; but perhaps, given the make-do sleeping arrangements, it is just as well. Straw mattresses lined the nave, with more in the chancel, and goodness only knows what the font was being used for, but the smell was off-putting.
Mr. Pushover, who tells me his some of his guests are ‘animal fetishists’, had removed all Christian imagery in the church so as not to offend. Could that explain the goats tethered in the Lady Chapel? One disapproves. Despite being given a roof over their heads and three square meals a day, the boys looked rather glum. I asked what useful employment was being undertaken, for, to my mind, the devil makes work for idle hands. On hearing the young people just sat around all day, I decided to send Mr. Slope to St. Fidelia’s to introduce the children to football and other manly pursuits. Once he takes them in hand I’m sure they will perk up.
Moving on to the adjacent parish of St. Incredulus-in-the-Mindset, I noticed Mustafa Fatwah and a small group of his co-religionists making their way inside the church. Either they were up to no good, or a miraculous conversion had taken place. The rector, Mr. M. T. Vessell, was by the door waving people through.
“Have you come to join our little inter-faith gathering, Mrs. Proudie?” he beamed as I marched up the path.
My response was drowned out by the sound of rhythmic chanting from inside. Suddenly the great oak door was slammed shut and bolted, leaving the two of us standing in the porch.
Cries of ‘What do we want? A Caliphate! When do we want it? NOW!’ could be plainly heard.
“Oh dear,” exclaimed the bewildered Mr. Vessell, “It’s all going horribly wrong!”
I reminded him of the story of the crocodile and the mouse. The mouse needed to cross the river and the crocodile offered to carry it on his back, promising no harm would come to it. The frog should have known better than to trust a crocodile, but decided to accept in a spirit of openness and friendship. Before reaching the far shore, of course, the crocodile flipped round and caught the mouse between his teeth.
“But you promised!” exclaimed the mouse, before being swallowed up.
“It is my nature,” said the crocodile.
“Alas, I’ve never paid much attention to David Attenborough,” said Mr. Vessell, at which point I left him blubbering on a slab tomb. Some people never learn, even when the evidence is before their very eyes.
My last port of call was the parish church of Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence, where everything is Perpendicular except for the incumbent. With its statues, incense and Stations of the Cross, it is as if the Reformation never happened. It needs a new broom, but until the Revd. Dr. Malpractice resigns or shuffles off in other ways, changes are on hold. I was invited to join the Mothers’ Union meeting in the vestry, where the ladies were debating who should be named as the most powerful woman of the century. Someone suggested Mrs. Hildabeast, but she was immediately discounted as being an American and a loser. Another suggestion that bit the dust (in record time) was Yasmin Alibaba-Brown, on account of writing for a comic. As no-one seemed willing to put my own name forward, I stood up, cleared my throat and suggested Baroness Thatcher of Blessed Memory. There was a moment of silence, and I wondered if this too would be rejected. But no… one by one the ladies agreed. Quite right too.
I trust you have enjoyed my little perambulation of our parishes, all of which you can look up in the Barsetshire edition of Pevsner, if you’ve a-mind. Architectural notes and queries are all very well, but I trust these observations will make you take note of our queries, of whom we have so many. So, as the Bailey’s Irish Cream of Time slips down the Gullet of Oblivion, and the Wild Goose of Brexit is stuffed by the Dead Hand of Martin Schulz, I bid you all adieu, until next week that is.