Monday, 17 October 2011

Fairtrade bananas, a vicar and a poem...

We've been treated to some of the most beautiful autumn skies I have ever seen, day and night.
As I ran with my eyes fixed on the enchanting moon, I  barely missed lamp posts, confused new students finding their way around Treforest (home of the University of Glamorgan) and dog-walkers.

Last Thursday I spent an hour at church, listening to cringe-worthy harvest songs sung by children innocently and naively thanking God for conkers, bananas and parents. The vicar was a rather bemusing character, ultra-camp, I think panto was his true calling. 

I pulled a chair to sit near two mums and chat before the service began, I didn't have much to say, but they invited me and I had been feeling rather 'Billy no mates' sitting alone at the end of a row of 20 empty chairs. The vicar insisted I was a fire hazard and made me return to my original seat, with a worse vantage point - I was destined to sit alone.

I'm glad I did sit alone, it was easier to stifle the tidal wade of childish giggles that were ready to flood the church. The vicar  put on a bizarre display using a banana as a prop. The banana became a gun and a mobile phone, "what did you say mummy? Stop playing with my food?"
I was too shocked to react and didn't dare imagine further uses for the phallic prop (really, I didn't).

I looked around the church; stained glass windows all around ensure you don't look out to the sky and the world, a large organ, fire extinguishers everywhere, a giant projector and screen - everything was at odds. Even the churchy feeling I usually get, a sort of  general heightening of my senses, eluded me.
The songs were beautiful in their celebration of nature, but for me, this was spoilt by the suggestion god had carefully and cleverly designed it all.

The vicar showed us a clip promoting the  fairtrade scheme - great,  I love a fairtrade banana and bar of chocolate.
 I wished I could think only about the happy farmers, but I thought of the child labour, the starving AIDS-ravaged families, the helplessness.  I almost envied the vicar's faith as I looked at the plump, comfortably clothed school children who have more pencils in one drawer than a whole village in parts of Africa, a sense of intense guilt washed over me because I am always moaning about the price of food.

Babies and toddlers became restless, I started to focus on the vicar's sharp intakes of breath before each sentence, anything to detract from the tedium - my concentration span is incredibly poor.
Light flooded in through the red robe of whichever saint adorned the east facing window, occasionally painting the vicar's face a devil-red.
A pile of tinned food for the local hungry people looked sterile and inappropriate in a church, I felt it should look like an offering to the gods, all laid out with doilies, candles and incense sticks.
I mouthed the words to All Things bright and Beautiful,  instantly being transported back to primary school, the smell of the woodblock floor, damp walls and rancid farts.
The teachers looked at their watches, probably planning their coffee breaks and willing the vicar to wrap up the service, the pupils started to shuffle and giggle. Carrier bags started to rustle, I wonder when carrier bags will be something we remember from years ago, like fags being smoked on a bus.

The vicar allowed the headmaster to take centre stage, he too thinks he's a funny guy, he read a Roger Mc Gough poem and grinned as if he was hearing it for the first time.

The vicar thanks us for coming, the church quickly empties.
As I was about to leave he came over to apologise for embarrassing me regarding the fire-hazard saga. I tell him he made up for that with his banana routine.
The vicar tells me the children love his banana routine, I can hold on to the tidal wave of guffaws no more.

Just Another Autumn Day - Roger McGough

In Parliament, the Minister for Mists
and Mellow Fruitfulness announces,
that owing to inflation and rising costs
there will be no Autumn next year.
September, October and November
are to be cancelled,
and the Government to bring in
the nine-month year instead.
Thus we will all live longer.

Emergency measures are to be introduced
to combat outbreaks of well-being
and feelings of elation inspired by the season.
Breathtaking sunsets will be restricted
to alternate Fridays, and gentle dusks
prohibited. Fallen leaves will be outlawed,
and persons found in possession of conkers,
imprisoned without trial.
Thus we will all work harder.

The announcement caused little reaction.
People either way don't really care
No time have they to stand and stare
Looking for work or slaving away
Just another Autumn day.

Roger McGough


  1. A fire hazard indeed! lol! And a camp Vicar tooled up with a banana - you are so funny!

    Fabulous poem, thank you for sharing it!

  2. Funny, nostalgic, and wonderfully written Luce. I really, really enjoyed that x

  3. More tea vicar!? I'm of a similar mind, I'll buy fair trade wherever I can but I don't see it as a fix-all solution by any means.

    Totally agree on the stunning skies - I've made sure to be up and about a few mornings during the magic hour to snap some for posterity!

    Jem xXx

  4. Were all the Harvest Festival offerings the dregs of people's cupboards do you reckon? I debated giving a tin of chickpea dhal and one of borlotti beans as Carb Addict's contribution but knowing old folk as I do I couldn't imagine any of them appreciating such exotica. I thoughtfully went with hot dogs and Smash.
    Personally I feel embarrassed for vicars who try to be funny or trendy but luckily we Catholics don't come across that type very often.

    K xx

  5. There's always one no matter the denomination. At my husband's boarding school it was Rev Kev, need I say more? There was Padre (had a band, played guitar = yuk) at the school where I worked a couple of years ago, and some of the Nun's that taught me might not have tried to be cool but they certainly had their...I think I'll call them quirks.

  6. We had wood-block floors at school too!

    It's nice that the harvest festival service actually took place in the church. We just got boring old assembly, but my parents made up for it by dragging us off to church too.

    We used to attend one little place that allowed us to bring our pets so we could thank God for them. You can imagine the racket!

  7. I do love a bit of Roger McGough.
    Churches make me feel so uncomfortable, it's like someone up there knows I'm an atheist.
    Great piece of writing as always, Lucy. x

  8. Yes, woodblock flooring is a definite Proustian moment for me too, takes me right back to school.
    My kids' school doesn't do anything for Harvest festival (thankfully), it's inner city multicultural so they try and cover
    all the religious bases, and some things clearly have to go! Doesn't bother me, I'm a bit of the view that religion should be something you do at home, not at school. Interestingly, when a parent I know offered to go into school to talk to the kids about the validity of having no religion and atheism/humanism as an option, she was poitely refused...
    Sorry you were seen as a fire hazard, and well done for holding onto your giggles until right at the end! Vicars and bananas, that's a bad combination! xxx

  9. Annie - couldn't make it up, really couldn't!

    Max - thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

    Jem - this really is your season isn't it? I'd love to see your photographs, please share...

    Keshling - I struggled to find anything disposable in my cupboards, I only buy what I need. I opted for a tin of condensed milk I've had for years, a pack of wholewheat pasta, carton of passata and some tins of tuna - a veritable feast if you ask me.
    Those chick peas/beans would have "gone through them like a dose of salts" as my father likes to say.

    Kylie - the images I have of 'Rev Kev' are most disturbing, urgh. And trying to be hip, Padre - don't bother. There are one or two devout Christians in my family, I wish I could say they were 'great' I REALLY do.

    Sarah - I would have been furious with god if I'd been at the pet gratitude service,
    my allergies and asthma would flare up a treat! I shouldn't moan, it WAS quite a nice service, quite.

    Curtise - I'm in complete agreement with what you said. My son goes to a tiny school run by a devout Christian, it's all about what Jesus and God have created. I remember just accepting the whole thing, we even sang 'Onward Christian Soldiers' in high school. SUch a difficult subject to address. Getting a variety of messages across seems to be such a dangerous thing in the eyes of educators - why?

    Vix - Rob refuses to go in a church, he has a serious phobia - something about watching the exorcist as a kid.

  10. Oh Harvest Festival - what a blast from the past. We were marched into church as kids to take out tinned peas and carrots for the elderly. One year we got to go round to visit the old peeps of the town and take them the food. My friend and I hit the jackpot with a lovely lady who took us in gave us fizzy pop and cake and let us sit in so she could chat. She told the school why we were late back and they were fine - we had a great afternoon and missed Maths :o)

    I did laugh muchly at the vic's banana routine, i would have been shaking in my seat trying to stifle the laughter. Scarlett x

  11. This MAY possibly be my favourite post of all of yours, Lucy. It was (to travel back the 80s for a second) ace, all of it.

  12. I can lose myself in you're writing, that's just how it should be. I went to a funeral this weekend and as the pastor, who is also my uncle spoke, I found no comfort in his words, I barely understood anything. Then the whole congregation joined in with a prayer, where did they learn this, I had no idea what to say. I sat quietly as the tears finally came and my throat felt as if it was full of cement. I need air, to see the sky, to feel the wind, to just breathe.

  13. Loved this, although I'd rather our embarrassing uncle style clergy to the fake smiles and bazooka boobed wives of the TV evangelists - just call 0800 HARVEST to donate. I absolutely know what you mean about that 'church feeling' of heightened senses, although I appreciate it is hard to achieve when faced with a man doing banana gags.

    Great writing.

  14. Really enjoyed reading this and it reminded me of a cringe-inducing segment on Ireland the Late Late Show last friday which featured The Priests (they really are a group) ...and yes I know they have their fans...but check out their site

  15. That made me laugh. Vicars and bananas just shouldn't mix.

    Great poem too.

    Have you read Nell's Circular Poem by Christopher Logue? there is no reason why McGoughs poem should suggest this to me, but it did - something about going rund and round I guess.

  16. Fantastic! U have put forward an objective theme in a subjective style. I like the way u satirize and slam the futilities of worn out taboos and traditions in the face of penury in certain parts of the globe. In ur humorous version there are serious points. Great!

  17. Scarlett - we used to hand-deliver the parcels. I remember being given many an out-of-date Quality Street toffee by way of thanks!

    Ben - Have fun at church when you go to give thanks for spiders and fishing

    Krista - I think that is a lot of peoples' experience at funerals, but the older generation are able to go through the motions better. I suppose the main benefit of having a faith is 'knowing' the deceased are going somewhere wonderful. I always ask why life on Earth can't be more heavenly for everyone.

    Lakota - I love your comparison! A friend was telling me about her children being taken by her in-laws to one of those Evangelical happy-clappy services. Apparently the kids LOVED it and were 'buzzing' for a week afterwards. They keep begging to go back to the 'happy singing place'. Friend is aghast.

    Blue Sky - I recognised The Priests, I'm sure they were on some dodgy daytime show recently. I have a problem where I'm always looking for inappropriate double entendres wherever I go. They just keep on coming when I see things like 3 Priests singing to a captive audience. Imagine the groupies (second thoughts - don't).

    Mark - I had a quick look for the Logue poem, but couldn't find it. I'm intrigued now - please help...

    Raman - thank-you for the kind comments. I'm always laughing at the wrong moment, and feeling depressed when everyone else is jovial. No middle ground for me!


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