The second year of my church project began as I hope it will continue: with cello, churches, chickens and a quite a few laughs.
While I was practising the cello at home, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration.
‘I’ve just come up with the most inspired excuse yet to get more chickens’, I texted my friend Jo.
You may be wondering what chickens have to do with cellos, or churches for that matter. The answer is quite a lot, if I have anything to do with it. But before I continue, a few pieces of background information may be required. The first is that my ‘creature maths’ is notorious for roughly observing the pattern of the Fibonacci sequence: if one chicken dies, no fewer than two new ones are needed to compensate for the loss. The second is that my friend Jo is the reason I started keeping chickens; third, she is a bishop; and fourth, she christened my three trousered and ridiculously fluffy-bottomed Brahma chickens Knicker, Bocker and Glory. (Photo right: foreground, a Glorious bottom; background left, white chicken with black tail: Bocker; background far right, grey chicken: Knicker)
My explanation to Jo continued: ‘I use the coins from my egg sales to leave donations in the churches I visit, and I keep running out of coins. I need a more constant supply of coins = I need a more constant supply of surplus eggs to sell = I need more chickens. How about that for good maths!’
‘More Knickers, more Bockers and more Glory in your life, you mean?’ she replied. ‘Yeah. Blue eggs call for added surcharge. And if you include your blog site and explain that all monies raised get donated to Suffolk’s medieval churches where you go round playing the cello, people will be even more generous (and you’ll get concert bookings and B&B business into the bargain). Everyone wins.’
‘I can’t stop giggling,’ I replied. ‘Can’t ever have too many knickers, bockers or glories in your life, can you?! (My phone tried to change ‘knickers’ to ‘vicars’.)’
‘And now I’m giggling. They’re so similar. Reminds me of the Sun headline after women’s ordination got voted through in 1994: ‘Vicars in knickers!’
Once I’d stopped laughing, I resumed my cello practice with renewed enthusiasm.
St Lawrence’s, Great Waldingfield
Outdoor temperature: 17.9˚C; indoor temperature 11.4˚C, humidity 63%
The last time I visited Great Waldingfield church, I happened upon a marathon bible reading of the New Testament, from beginning to end without a break. Playing the cello would have to wait for another day. I spoke to a friendly churchwarden, Norma, who told me I could ring her for the key when I wanted to come back.
That was last summer. Today, a few days after the chicken episode, I had an orchestral rehearsal in nearby Lavenham. It was the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, and I wanted to do something special to remember him by. Playing in a church was the obvious candidate, but time and church options in the area were restricted, so I decided to try phoning for the key to Great Waldingfield church. I reached Norma’s husband on the phone, who told me she was at the church making tea for gardeners, but would be back in half an hour. An hour later, just before I was about to leave home, I phoned back, and spoke to her husband again. She wasn’t home yet, he told me, but in case she had already left the church, I could collect a key from the village shop.
The village shop is some way past the church turning, and it wasn’t until the last moment that I decided I was feeling lucky and would go straight to the church and hope to find it open. Irrationally triumphant that Norma was still there, we chatted and made arrangements for returning the key after I had finished. Another churchwarden was sweeping the floor and seemed quite happy with the prospect of some musical accompaniment to her work.
It was a large church, with an astonishing font cover that seemed to reach almost to the top of the tower arch, and had a pulley system to lift it. Norma left, and I practised a Bach suite as the churchwarden swept the aisles, and thought of my dad as I looked at his thick, soft pencil markings on the tattered music that I had used ever since I first started learning them. I missed him. But I also felt how fortunate I was to have had him as my father, both for the person he was and for the length of time and stage in his life that I knew him: he was old enough to be my grandfather. In fact, he was already a grandfather before I was born.
I imagined him in the church with me. It was he who instilled in me a love for these historic buildings. There was no religious motivation; but I sense that, standing in a church, he might have given the same answer he would give when questioned on the subject of religion before or after a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: ‘when I am living this music, I have to believe’. I know what he meant.
After playing, I admired the unusual stonework around the altar: it reminded me of the floor memorial I had liked so much in Barsham. The churchwarden told me that a 19th century rector’s daughter had brought them back from a trip to the continent and made it herself, but she couldn’t remember where exactly they came from. Simon Knott’s version of the story is somewhat more dramatic: the stones were apparently ‘robbed from ancient ruins in Rome and Upper Egypt by two old ladies’.1 While certainly more entertaining (and perhaps shocking), I’ll reserve judgment on its truth until I come into possession of more evidence. If I don’t, I’ll keep it in the ‘legend’ category…
I found a huge amount of graffiti at Great Waldingfield, including what I am fairly sure was a swan; the first such animal I had seen since the ducks at Lindsey. In the porch was a plaque stating that the churchyard conservation project had been the winner of the 2007 East Anglian Daily Times Wildflower Award, and I was soon to see why: it was a large churchyard, almost all of which looked as though it was managed as a wildflower meadow and would soon be covered in flowers. I will have to pay a return visit in a month or two. As well as admiring the ground, I also admired the pretty south chancel wall (see header photo), built with flint and terracotta tiles: it was perhaps not original but that didn’t bother me.
Sitting in the garden in the evening toasting my dad with a glass of sparkling rosé wine that he and I used to enjoy together on summer evenings in Suffolk, I reflected that the day had felt like a fitting tribute. In the afternoon I had had the rare treat of playing Sibelius’s 2nd symphony. My father had a great love of Sibelius, which he passed on to me, and playing it after so long was like being in his company for an hour or two.
Header photo: Great Waldingfield chancel wall