Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Tramp in the Church (redux)

We've been here before.

As Clare led the way into the church this morning, she spotted him occupying the pew just before the back one, the one where we usually hang out on the right hand side of the aisle.

"Where would you like us to go?" she whispered back to me.

"On the other side," I replied, meaning the other wing of the church, the one facing the Holy Land rather than the north-facing wing where we currently were.

Clare mistook my meaning and we continued to the rear pew on the other side of the aisle, where I was able to keep watch on the somnolent tramp from the corner of my eye. With no little schadenfreude I kept count of latecomers, who were forced by overcrowding into the empty pews in front and behind him.

During the service he stayed crouched down, occasionally turning in one direction or another. Finally we approached the part of the Mass where the congregation make the "sign of peace". I didn't think he would venture as far as me but I had prepared a little script involving bowing to him and whispering 'pax vobiscum' in a detached kind of way. Hopefully that would save me from having to use Clare's wet-wipes afterwards.

In the event, as the moment came, he enthusiastically shook his dirty mitt with the family in front and the young man behind, then he scuttled across the aisle and shook hands with a lay official of the parish, just in front of me. Like a wave which reaches its limits amidst the pebbles, this marked the culmination of his efforts and he retreated back to his lair.

"We dodged a bullet there," I confided to Clare.

During the sermon the priest, Father Philip, confided that Mass yesterday evening had been disrupted by a man who walked up to the altar, started swearing and disrobing, and claimed to be Jesus Christ. Apparently the services of burly parishioners - and possible the police - were required to restore normality.

The priest's take was focused on the virtues of taking your medication: I had no idea that such excitement occurred in sleepy Wells. I looked at the tramp again, this time in a wholly new light, excited by the possibilities.