That's a quote spotted in this month's Saga magazine to promote the remakes of the Reggie Perrin series. As though Martin Clunes (Patron Saint of Middle England) could ever replace the immortal Leonard Rossiter, who caught the role to a tee in all its poignant, existential - funny - essence. LR was a performance ARTIST!
Before I blog off Intertalea for a while, I want to send a message to Middle England...I signed ofF sick from my cancer blog (www.topicofcancer.blogspot.com) yesterday with a piece about my grandma Edith. Now the only 'crime' of Grandma E, an eccentric and sometimes 'difficult' woman (she certainly stood out....) was to be full of potential and taste and talent. And the Hocus-Pocus of the See of Eeee and the Village Hall doesn't like that at all.
This is such a banal evil, this demon of Middle England: the irritating spirit of mediocrity (and how!) and limitation that senses its own shortcomings ((well perhaps it senses because it ain't great at insight:" I never think about myself....I am always running after other people...." being a common cry) and projects them onto other, finer spirits whom it seeks to crush. I am absolutely serious about this. This is why so many shy, retiring, hesitant souls get labelled 'schizophrenic' or difficult Within the Family, or need their bums smacking or taking down a peg or two by Hocus Pocus of the Harvest Supper. Or by Hocus Pocus at the Doctor's Surgery (blank stare - if you're lucky; click; 'take a seat please in the smelly shit-filled downstairs waiting room...').
Had she lived under the Nazis, I am convinced that my mother (a Parish Assistant at the Chester See of Eeee Diocese) would have been one of the low-grade administrators who kept the sinister regime in motion - not in a spectacular way; it doesn't have to be spectacular; it just has to go on functioning. My mother - in her supreme authority - removed a bottle of whiskey and a fruit cake from the grave next to my late father's because it was 'against the rules' to leave things like that littering what is actually a revolting blasted heath of a cemetary. No celebration of life there in any way whatsoever. I asked what she'd done with the cake and the bottle i.e. given them to the Homeless (although not many of them hanging around in rural, rich Vale Royal); but she said she had thrown them in the bin. As she put the late Deborah Hutton's cancer help book (the one I asked her to get when I was diagnosed four years ago)) straight up on the shelf - unopened. And my own first novel - in the same place ('When I saw what it was about, I couldn't read it' , she said....), until I retrieved the copy at Christmas and gave it to a very dear friend - who did want to read it, but didn't even know I had bloody well written a novel at all, let alone two more since! That's what happens when you spend your time with Hocus Pocus, locked up in a drawer, condemned (well not quite...) to a sugary diet of cakes and biscuits (terrific bakers, these parish assistants, it has to be said) and - worse - a soul feed of tacky 'women's' novels about poor Victorian virgins who don't quite get into THAT sort of trouble, but sail pretty close to the wind. They're not even as good as Barbara Cartland books- because at least the Pink Dame's stories are full of tight-breeched Bucks, who let the virgins know what they are after in no uncertain terms. At least some RUTTING spirit there...
I think about the Parish Assistant wielding the Chalice up at the altar this last Christmas in her ridiculous red wool, special Christmas cape. The Christmas Day service at that Cheshire church had every trapping of a family holiday - about 50 people there (the visiting relllies boosting the usual number of four-five old regulars); there was even a sprinkling of snow. My daughter refused point blank to go up to the rail; but I went up ('Horrible for Joan if she doesn't...' muttered a person unknown to me - an old lag, from the pew behind...). But I am not in communion with the See of Eeeee anymore; so I did not take the Sacraments. The Vicar put his hand on my head - which was nice, and I avoided the parish assistant's eye. God, she was hanging on to that Chalice for dear life, apportioning out the fair share.
But what was in it, I wonder? I always thought it was an Article of Faith (cultural practice) in the See of Eeeee to say the Creed before Communion (my poor, seeking father and his Articles .....). But all we'd done was sing some peculiar song (well, Cara wouldn't sing it..), the Vicar making us repeat one verse three times (in a teribly shambolic and embarrassed way), though the signifance eluded me then, and I certainly can't remember it now. The other embarrassing moment at such services is the exchange of the Sign of Peace, where total strangers (British strangers - Gawd!) are meant to turn to one another and shake each others' hands. Imagine it - and here, for a wonderful book about British Behaviour, I highly recommend Kate Fox's 'Watching the English'; or any Popular Anthropology by Kate Fox. You would have to Google her... She's highly entertaining - but her research is bona fide. Meticulous.
The couple in front were game though, the woman swaying and holding up her hands; so there must have been some significance, somewhere. 'Let's get out of here,' Cara said; but, of course, we could not. That would not have been polite, and certainly not the right form on Christmas Day in rural Cheshire. I can't stand to see bad manners developing in my girl (local Ed Authority that offers no sort of moral leadership in its overtested over statisticised schools managed by people with MBAs take note) - so she sat on and stuck it out. The Vicar did preach, opening by asking the assembled who had opened their Christmas presents yet, and who was waiting till later. We were waiting (very good of Cara, I thnk, though in my case, I didn't want any bloody Christmas presents: I was feeling ill and dizzy and dreading the anticipation of having to lug a whole load of unwanted gifts back down to Cornwall on the blasted CrossCountry Train that doesn't have adequate luggage space - putting it mildly. I went into a reverie, planning where around my mother's spacious house I would jettison the loot - not difficult to do amongst her doll and teddy collections; she has well over a hundred dolls, sitting about the place with sinister little glass eyes and china cheeks; and about the same number of teddies, some dressed like Mrs Tiggywinkle or Hunca Munca. You get the picture. Beatrice Potterland - Big Time. Must be worth a few quid though. She was always promising them to my daugher. Oh no......No. No.
Anyway, after the present speech (about half had opened; half not), I can't remember what the Vicar went on to say. He was entertaining though; and I liked him - of course - because he came from Liverpool. (Beloved City where I went to the truly excellent and pioneering Belvedere School.) The last Vicar there to cover those 3 village churches though, was involved in some sort of scandal for giving let us say inappropriate comfort to a number of widows. (My poor father - he'd liked that vicar, too - talk about 'Jamaica Inn' - the ravenous Vicar of Altarnun, a real wolf in sheep's clothing, that one, and one of Daphne DuMaurier's very best creations. She sure spotted a Universal type there.
Anyway widow-chasing Vicar's wife - a very drab-looking, crushed sort of jam-making woman, had a sideline flogging Tupperware (TM) around the village while the Parson (interesting etymology: it comes from the Person of the parish - i.e. the Man in Charge....the Man the great revisionist John Wesley wanted to kick off his smug little perch....) called on his flock. I was up there once - when Cara was small, we only ever visited two or three times - I think you'll get why. Cara was about 3, and needed to eat around six; but Parson Widow- Chaser just sat there, my parents fetching him tea, waiting for his wife to return with her Tupperware (TM) money. In the end, I got up and said I was going to to need to fix some food for Cara; at which point he took the hint. My parents didn't like it though. The parish assistant was mortified. And boy, did I get it from my father!
But there is light at the end of this sad litte tunnel, for Parish Assistants end up in an old folks' home, out of sight and out of mind. (Well, certainly out of mine!) Parish Assistants end up in 'Shady Pines'. Remember that marvellous, Golden Girls series (US ) in which the feisty Dorothy, a Jewish (or is she Italian?) Matriarch from NYC, under seige in her autumn years from her doddery Ma, threatens the old bag every time she slips up with the immortal admonishment: 'Shady Pines, Ma! SHADY PINES.!.'
Anne Morgellyn 27.4.09