|A new novel from Jill Robinson
Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson was published this October by Pennine Pens. We are are going to publish chapters on the Hebden Bridge Web in a similar way that we have published John Morrison's View from the Bridge. This novel is in the same vein but quite different.
Jim, the new vicar, is to be instituted at St. Mary's on Wednesday by the Bishop of Wakefield, after a long interregnum. It is eighteen months since Kevin, the previous vicar, left for Northumberland. All the Berringden Brow parishioners are very pleased about this. I try to persuade Alex to accompany me to the service, but he refuses, saying he is going roller-blading. I am disappointed, as he does come to church with me from time to time, and I feel tonight's service is a special occasion. However, I know that Alex was really fond of Kevin, (they had a running joke about getting each other's name wrong), and he does not yet seem disposed to accept his successor.
The church is full for, as is customary on these occasions, a coach party of people from Jim's previous parish, where he served as a curate, has come over from Huddersfield. All the visiting clergy from the other parishes of the Berringden Valley Deanery are gathered in the choir, perched rather uncomfortably on little chairs from the Sunday School. It is a warm evening, and as the priests are of course garbed in their cassocks and surplices and are obliged to huddle together in close proximity due to lack of space, I cannot help feeling rather sorry for them. However, they all appear to be good humouredly making the best of the situation.
It crosses my mind that the Church of England is indeed a broad church, for here we have young priests, old priests, some bald, others hirsute (one even sports a ponytail), tall and short, handsome and plain, fat and thin, many with spectacles and a few with hearing aids, white and black (one).
The only missing category appears to be female, since there are as yet no women priests in this Deanery. But surely, it can only be a matter of time. After all, even The Archers now has Janet as vicar of St. Stephens, and I have often noticed the parallels between life in Ambridge and here in Berringden Brow. Sometimes life imitates art and sometimes it is the other way around, but the similarities are too numerous to list. However, there are, as far as I am aware, no openly gay clergymen in the locality, so the Deanery cannot yet be said to encompass the whole gamut of political correctness.
While I am musing on the variety of vicars, I notice Jeremy the churchwarden passing down the aisle, scanning the crowded pews, as if searching for someone. His eyes light on me, and much to my surprise, he gives me a relieved smile. All becomes clear when I realise that he is giving directions as to how to locate me to someone by his side. It is Alex. He has decided to come after all. Alex squeezes past the other people in the pew and reaches me just as the procession starts. Only then do I realise that he is still wearing his roller-blades.
"Mum, can I go to Hebden Bridge with the others?" he asks in urgent tones.
"Not now Alex. The service has started! You will have to stay here." Alex resigns himself to having to miss the excursion to Hebden Bridge and endure the induction service instead, as the other people in the pew are now bowing their heads in prayer, and would no doubt, and with good reason, resent being squeezed past by a hefty thirteen year old lad on roller-blades at this juncture.
At the end of the service Jim, his wife Chloe and the Bishop line up at the church door to shake everyone's hand. I have only met Jim once before, when he came to the annual barbecue held in a lovely garden belonging to a member of the choir, and we had talked about the job search problems I had experienced since my return from Africa. On that occasion, Chloe had not accompanied Jim, as she had been attending a friend's hen party, so tonight is the first time many of the parishioners have met her.
As I approach the three of them, in line at the door, I congratulate Jim, and am just about to pass along to shake hands with Chloe, when Jim asks if I have had any luck with the job hunting. Of course, it is really kind of him to remember, but it provides me with something of a dilemma, as I do not want to hold up the file of people behind me by engaging in a lengthy conversation, yet neither do I wish to appear rude. I attempt to resolve the problem by telling Jim that there has indeed been a development, but that I really cannot go into details just now, as I am longing to hear from Chloe how the hen night went, although perhaps, I tell her as I shake her hand, this had better keep for another time when the Bishop is not in earshot, approaching him with hand extended. All three giggle as I make my way past. Luckily, all of them appear to have a sense of humour. After the service, the hungry hordes descend on the school next door to where I live, for the meal. Tables proverbially groan with food, (my contribution is a modest green salad), while the wine flows like the Berringden beck.
I notice a group of Caribbean ladies, from Jim's previous parish and decide to join them, as most of the other parishioners seem to be sticking with someone they know, and it would never do for the guests to return to Huddersfield thinking that we in Berringden Brow are stand-offish. I introduce myself, explaining that I used to work in Huddersfield and know the area where their church is located, although I have never been inside it. This breaks the ice, and soon we are chatting around the table like old friends. I note that the ladies from Jim's previous parish refer to him as 'Father Jim', which will not be the case here, as we simply use Christian names, although the previous incumbent was sometimes known as 'Kev the Rev'. I hope Jim does not mind, or will soon get used to, our informality.
So engrossed am I in the conversation, that I do not keep a watch on Alex, which is a mistake, as when I go for pudding, Mary tells me that Alex has already been to collect food five times.
"He must be very hungry," observes Mary, but I have my suspicions. Alex is nowhere to be seen, and so I look outside in the playground. Sure enough, there he is with a crowd of roller-bladers, newly returned from Hebden Bridge, with their appetites keenly honed after all that exercise, tucking into plates of food supplied by Alex for twenty pence at a time. As I retreat back indoors, wondering just how to explain things to Mary, I am grabbed by Fred, my neighbour from two doors down who is sitting just inside the door, evidently the worse for wine.
"Give us a kiss, lovey," pleads Fred, and I am obliged to give him a peck on the cheek before he will release me. Luckily, the Bishop is not looking our way. In fact he is helping with the clearing up, much to the admiration of Mary and her helpers. I have never before witnessed a man in a purple dress at the kitchen sink, but it really is a sight worth seeing.