A Day without Peter

Monday 25 June 2018

‘Peter, it’s 5.30!’

The response was almost Hugh Grant’s at the beginning of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Peter’s off to a school reunion in London on the 6.05 train. Folk he’s not seen for years. His new grey suit looks great, and he’s off, not needing my offer of a lift to the station. I settle back to contemplate a day without him.

We’ve spend almost a month constantly in each other’s company. That’s seldom happened in our 30+ year long marriage. It’s working surprisingly well.

Neither of us is retired – I resist that, when people suggest it. Peter’s going to have his work cut out, with his curacy across the mission community in Workington. He’s a little anxious that expectations might be hard to manage, coming at him from different directions.

I’ve got various projects on the go before the PhD starts in the Autumn: revising the Theological Reflections Book, which needs to be done this week, and which is spinning me into a small whirlwind of panic, as I haven’t yet unpacked the book itself. Then there’s a book on preaching that I’m editing with Richard Sudworth – the latest Littlemore contribution. SCM, the publisher, want that out by the next Preaching colloquium that will happen next year at Christchurch, Oxford.

Archdeacon Richard called around on Friday, with a lovely bagful of wines. We sat out in the garden and talked of many things. I asked him what he thought I could best contribute to the Diocese as Canon Theologian. He came up with various ideas – off piste, as he said. The best was some reflection on what priesthood is for, in a church that is putting so much emphasis on setting God’s people free – which was a paper that came to General Synod in February last year. See also this website Thinking Anglicans, for further comment and discussion. We wondered if the Church was concentrating too much on the first two of the Five Marks of Mission, and not enough on the others. We talked of what happens in the Diocese about engagement with the environment. I want to be a Canon Theologian that contributes worthwhile work that is helpful to the Diocese.

We showed him around the house. He made appreciative sounds at the colourful approach we’ve taken, though he did blanch rather at the Coral Flair of Peter’s study.

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What I like about this house is how so many of our things are finding their place in that satisfactory way you know when things are just right, somehow. Our chaise longue and armchair in our bedroom.

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Chesterton, our pig by Kate Denton, in pride of place.

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Too many books, of course.

But a great opportunity to do some serious pruning. I phone Mr Moon from Whitehaven who has the most extensive second hand book shop you can imagine, stretching through passageways and rooms of an entire house. He’s an institution, an experience, in himself. He needed convincing. ‘We’ve thirteen rooms of books already,’ he growled at me, down the phone. ‘I know,’ I said. I tempted him with the six volumes of the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, first edition. He said they couldn’t come that day as they were at a book fair in Lancaster, but he’d get his son to give me a phone.

I emailed Bishop James, to see if he wanted my books on interfaith and Islam for the Reconciliation Centre at Rose Castle. The Diocese might want others for Ministry Training. We’ll see. At the moment they are on our dining room table, all ready to be viewed by any interested.

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Our first Sunday at St Michael’s yesterday. I presided and preached – the first time the congregation had experienced a woman at the altar. Some have waited for this for years, I was told. Others were not so sure. Everyone received, though. I preached about how God calls us, often in surprising ways – the sermon can be found elsewhere on the blog.

This is a lovely, warm congregation where we will quickly feel at home. After over two years of vacancy, they have kept the show on the road magnificently. A wonderful example of God’s people set free. They want a priest, though. It does beg the question of what the priest is for. Why have priests?

Sunday 24 June – Midsummer’s Day. My mother, Pix, had she lived beyond her 67 years, would have been 80 today.

After Church, Peter and I headed for the hills, and after finding the road closed to Loweswater, came in by Lorton Vale to Buttermere.

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Lunch of butternut squash and goat’s cheese risotto at the Bridge Hotel,

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then we walked around the lake.

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‘In Devon, they’d call this day “given”’, said Peter. ‘A given day’.

Warm, a light breeze from the west. People come to enjoy this wonderful spot, in different ways.

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People were swimming, though none skinny dipping.

And in the air.

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The woods gave the air that lovely heavy smell. The air is clean. No sign of Ash Die-Back at all. This an old tree, but covered in healthy growth.

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Haystacks high above – Wainwright’s favorite mountain. Where his ashes are scattered.

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The path through woodland

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and through a tunnel! Which reminded me of Braunston, Harecastle, Foulridge …

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We loved the wall built on the rock.

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The herdwick ram.

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The foxgloves in the gorse.

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Peter and I remembered walks we’d done here, over the tops. Though we don’t know these mountains as well as the Wasdale ones – so it felt good to anticipate the years of exploration ahead. Mellbreak was there, alongside Crummock Water.

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Melvyn Bragg’s daughter, Marie-Elsa, who is a priest, has written Towards Mellbreak. It’s there, somewhere in a box in the garage, ready to be read.

The walk rounded off with some Buttermere Ayrshire home-made icecream.

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Back in Workington, Peter and I have made the walk out to the Lighthouse a few times now. Twice on Saturday.

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Saturday evening, we watched a ship dock reverse into the Prince of Wales dock, ready to unload timber for the paperboard factory, Iggersund, that’s just north of Workington. Then, as we walked, the overwhelming sound of skylark, and scent of honeysuckle, combined.

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The green beacon at the end marks the starboard entry to the harbour, and is, we reckon, the most north-westerly point of England.

There’s Criffel, only 20 miles away;

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and we could see the Isle of Man and Snaefell – though too indistinct for a photo. It looked different to the more familiar view we have from Waberthwaite. Again, we walk to the Lighthouse on Sunday morning, and watch the fishing boats motor out, as the tide begins to come in.

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How I love the sea. Living in a town that’s also a port is a treat.

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A day ahead without Peter. ‘You won’t get depressed, will you?’ He asks.

Saturday had been a down day for me. I just feel heavy inside, for no reason. May be unpacking books left me feeling how little I knew, and I guess I was anxious about Sunday morning. Depression has never debilitated me – but sometimes it comes close. Nor does it last long – and is often countered by an enthusiasm that grabs me for a day or two. I’m not seriously bipolar at all, and I think I have a mild form. Stephen Fry calls it cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder. His honesty has done wonders to raise awareness. Read this.

No, I won’t get depressed. Or if I do feel low, I’ll imagine the dog we’re going to get. Peter has pretty much accepted that it’ll happen. ‘Just imagine,’ I said as we walked in Buttermere, ‘how much more fun it would be if we had a dog with us.’ He grunts, or groans – can’t tell which. ‘The right dog will choose us’, I say. Perhaps this Monday, with him in London, I could find a rescue centre, and just have a little look?

Chickens are altogether easier. Irene came up to me before the service on Sunday, and told me she got hers from a farm up at Winscales, inland of Workington. She said she’d drop the address by; that she’d already been in touch with them. We could wait for youngsters, or take hens too old for commercial laying almost immediately, as she does. It will be great to have chickens again. They make such  wonderful companions.

It’s another given day. That’s the best answer to depression – the recognition that all is given. When you live with a sense of gift in life, even depression is a gift.

So onwards and upwards, as Eric Robson says, in his Cumbrian accent. Nothing like the dialect that Robin, at church, offered as we sat waiting for evensong to begin yesterday evening. I told her of a funeral visit I’d done as a curate in Westhoughton. How the old bloke and his friend had had great fun at my expense, conversing in broad Lanky, knowing I’d not understand a word. Rob said she’d drop round. ‘Let’s have an evening of it at the Rectory,’ I said.

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