TV Announcer: ‘So, as we come to the end of 2021, we look for some words of comfort and hope from our resident chaplain with his final chat for the year in our late evening epiphany: AfterThought.’

The television picture switches to a dark room, the outline of a high-backed comfortable leather chair visible thanks to a single flickering candle sitting on a small wooden table. The studio lights slowly rise to reveal a clergyman, his face that of a dour Scot, lived-in lines ploughed into his forehead, grey eyes projecting misery, a veritable hang-dog expression set over his mouth and jaw, his head tilted as if too heavy to be held upright.

Good evening, and welcome to my final sermon of the year, our very own tête-à-tête, if you will. I am the Very Reverend James Kerr, although my friends all call me Joe. I have often wondered why, but it remains to this day one of life’s little mysteries.

So, how was 2021 for you? Was it a good year? Has it been a happy year for you? Did something wonderful happen to you? Such as your 08:15 train actually turning up on time? Or your gas bill being less than you thought it might be? I am joking, of course.

No. Far more important than ‘What sort of year have you had?’ is ‘What have you done to make this year better for others?’.

Because I believe, you see, that it is far more important to make someone else happy than to be happy yourself.  It is, in my mind, essential that, if you are having a good time, one should share that joy with one’s fellow man.

A dead-pan look directly into the camera as if to say: If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!

So let me share my happiness with you tonight. Now where should I begin?

Well, for myself, I have had a God-awful year! If truth be told, the whole year has been a pain in the proverbials for me. Now don’t confuse this with the holy Book of Proverbs in the Bible. Oh no. That wondrous book by Solomon and others far wiser than yours truly offers insight much of which is well beyond my comprehension. 

No, I mean that this past year has been something to forget. I remember it starting well. 

Picks up a glass of water from the table and goes to sip it as he reminisces.

But as the year dragged on, I had this feeling… Well, talking of feelings!

Puts the water glass back on the table with a thud.

It was last Monday. I had given one of my ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons the day before. Oh, you should have seen me - up there on the pulpit, high above my congregation – all six of them – giving it laldy. I gave them everything I had – I keep wondering if it was the bacon and eggs I had for breakfast – I never have liked runny yolks. No, I’m more of an ‘easy-over’ kind of man – or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

Anyway, I awoke on the Monday morning with a bit of a headache. I suppose it all started with me being unable to sleep – maybe too much of the brimstone, I don’t know. But try as I could, I could not get comfortable. 

I tried lying on my back, but the thought of the spider I had seen on the ceiling before switching off the bedside light abseiling into my mouth put paid to that.

Turning on to my left side was out of the question – that would have meant facing my beloved Esmeralda. When one has seen the effort that goes into her night-time preparation, the removal of any semblance of that day’s warpaint, the slapping on of Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser, followed by their Moisturiser, then the Rejuvenating balm followed by the Age Miracle Lotion… I tell you; it would be!... I can only conjure up the image of one of my grandmother’s blancmanges. And blancmange pudding – especially Granny Wimpole’s – is not conducive to slumber. No, that was out of the question.

I tried turning to face right, but that meant putting pressure on my right arm. If I hadn’t been so enthusiastic in my sermon, I would not have thumped the oak lectern as hard as I did in an attempt to waken old Tom Naismith. No, I should have known that the old bugger would have turned off his hearing aid. Anyway, I’m sure that I had sprained my wrist, so trying to lie on it was a non-starter.

I tossed, I turned, I tried every which way to get comfortable. In the end, I tried kneeling, as if praying for relief. It seemed to work and I must have dozed off and, as I relaxed, my left leg slipped out the side of the duvet, much to the amusement of the dog who started licking my shin – I suppose it could have been worse and he could have treated it like he does the lamppost at the end of the street. In an attempt to maintain my balance, my right arm shot across, landing on my dear wife’s hips.  The poor soul mistook my intentions and my reveries were disturbed yet again with an elbow to the ribs.

 So this week I have been thinking, contemplating if you will, about my future. Is it time to retire, I keep asking myself. The life of a parish vicar can be rewarding – or so my fellow clergymen keep telling themselves. They must believe it otherwise they would all be like me – drained of enthusiasm. 

For example, who would not enjoy leading their church choir? Well, me! My choir consists of three tone-deaf spinsters who vie with each other to pierce my eardrums, a solitary male who, I am sure, only participates because it gives him an excuse to be out of the house for a few hours without his wife and an obnoxious teenage youth who spends the majority of his time scrolling through his mobile telephone whilst trying to mine for some riches in his left nostril.

But what of the festivals? I hear you ask.  What about the Nativity?

Well, just let me tell you! Yes, let me tell you about this week’s Christmas Service. Mrs McCafferty… Oh! Mrs McCafferty! A cross between Margaret Thatcher and Genghis Khan – woe betide you if she doesn’t get her way. And so it was with the Nativity Play!

As in the case of Mrs T, Mrs MacCafferty was blessed – yes, blessed – with twins, one of each – well, if I was the Good Lord, would I have railed against her wishes? Being the ringleader – no, sorry, that doesn’t quite sound right. As the self-appointed head of the Mums Group, she took it upon herself to organise the affair, casting her two progenies, of course, as Mary and Joseph.

Now young Mary – or Lucinda to give her her baptised name - for all the age of her, can be a cantankerous little besom. The phrase ‘Like Father, Like Son’ comes to mind and, in this modern woke era, I should, of course, add ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’. Young Lucinda had seen pictures of the Nativity and wanted to have a stall full of animals, just as the baby Jesus had at His birth. If she was to be the star of the show, she wanted a menagerie too.

Mrs MacCafferty was in her element. Her precious Lucinda would have her wish. And so it came to pass that, on Christmas morning, a veritable cartload of beasts arrived outside the church. It wasn’t quite Noah’s Ark, but as they were herded into the church and down the aisle, they did outnumber the congregation by quite a few. Leading the troupe was dear Lucinda on a donkey – I knew at that point that Mrs MacCafferty had not been paying attention to my sermons and was mixing Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem or maybe the Messiah’s Donkey of the Jewish faith. There then followed a Clydesdale horse, clip-clopping over the old terracotta tiles, a bleating goat - yes, I did say ‘bleating’ - whose eyes were everywhere looking for some morsel to scavange, a young Aberdeen Angus whose hooves slipped and skidded on the shiny floor, two sheep – I did wonder why one was not enough – a fluffy lop-eared rabbit, a mongrel of a dog who had to be yanked away from one of the pews before it marked its territory, a waddling goose - I prayed that it was not destined to be the main feature later that day at lunch!, a rusty-coloured hen whose head jerked from side to side in search of some morsel, a budgerigar in a cage, and goodness knows what else.

To give Mrs MacCafferty her due, she had arranged for straw to be scattered on the floor below the pulpit - ‘just in case’. But that poor Aberdeen Angus! I don’t know if was Miss Wainwright, our organist, attempting to play a C# but accidentally playing a cacophonous (dis)chord with her fat fingers hitting three keys at once as we sang the line ‘The cattle are lowing…’, but that was the signal for the heifer to relieve itself, and relieve itself it did!

Wee Lucinda was a picture of discomfort as her vestal virgin white lace dress was splattered. It wasn’t helped by her twin, Nathaniel – a true thug in the making – laughing out loud at her distress. Poor Jesus was thrust into the arms of Angel Gabriel as Mary (Lucinda) took an unholy swipe at her husband Joseph (Nathaniel) and there then followed a sisterly/brotherly skirmish. A red-faced Mrs MacCafferty bawled at them to no avail and had to drag the young couple still flailing at each other down the aisle and out of the church.

Needless to say, play was abandoned, and the animals led away again, but not before the Clydesdale decided to join in the party and empty its bladder. Normally, my three choral spinsters help tidy the church after a service but, as luck would have it, all three suddenly remembered they had other pressing engagements. I found the gardener’s wheelbarrow by the shed at the far end of the graveyard and spent a miserable two hours shovelling shi… - clearing up, wondering if William Shakespeare had had a similar experience when he penned Lady Macbeth’s line ‘Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?’. But to put a brave face on it, despite putting my back out, I do think that the roses should do very well next year!

I think that was the final nail in the coffin and that will be my last Nativity. Yes, retirement is calling. When I told them, I believe that my congregation were somewhat upset, but the choir gave a wonderful rendition of that Bonnie Prince Charlie song ‘Will ye no come back again?’ It did strike me as strange, however, that they improvised slightly by changing the words to ‘Ye’ll no come back again, will ye?’, but that’s by-the-by.

So what will I do in my golden years? I hear you ask. How shall I pass the time?

Well, in a moment of inspiration, I have taken up a new hobby. No, not stamp collecting, or knitting, or model trains. No! I have decided to attend funerals. Not in my official capacity, you understand. No, as a freelance mourner. It’s so interesting. Nobody bothers you as you stand around the grave, I suppose the dog collar helps. I have practised putting on a suitable doleful expression – nothing new there, I hear you say! I think that I have attended a hundred and forty this year. But if you want to try this, may I suggest that you aim for the morning sessions – that way, you usually end up having a free lunch – ham or cheese or fishpaste sandwiches, maybe sausage rolls or Coronation Chicken vol-au-vents, all washed down with a wee dram or a glass of sherry. Ye cannae whack it!

He pauses to reflect…

But as I return the producer’s wave at me through the glass panel, gesticulating wildly at his watch, I believe that I need to wind up tonight’s session. I hope that you have found some succour from my thoughts and some inspiration for next year’s trials and tribulations as, undoubtedly, they will descend upon us, like a plague of locusts to scavenge your aspirations and pleasure.

So, as the candle of 2021 flickers its last, we welcome the New Year. Will it bring us joy? Will it offer us hope? Will it usher new friendships? Will it be our new lease of life? I doubt it. I doubt it very much, my friends, because if you say the new year number out loud, just be aware that it sounds like 2020 too!

Good night.

The studio lights dim, the candle on the table spits its last and extinguishes…

December 26, 2021 10:39

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