Rowan’s Way: 7 Evensong

The next month or so taught Ryan a lot about dating a vicar. May, June, and July are the busiest months of the year for weddings, so the idea of a Saturday afternoon spent at the beach, one he often floated, was knocked on the head. Sunday, with seven churches to cover, even with help, was pretty exhausting, and by the time Monday came, I was pretty well flat out with fatigue. It must have been fairly serious from his point of view I thought, as he kept coming round.

My favourite of all the churches was Little Linstead. It had originated as a chapel of ease and had somehow survived the steep decline in congregations since the 1960s. I suspected this was because it was on the Surtees estate and his lordship liked having his own church, even if he and the family were not the most assiduous attenders. It felt like the orphan of our Deanery, as it got only one Communion service and one evensong a month.

I had always loved evensong, not the choral evensong so beloved of so many Radio 3 listeners, but the plain spoken evensong of the Book of Common Prayer. There may only have been myself, Miss Bennet and her companion, and Mrs. Rooke there, but you could feel that God was there too. As I gave the final blessing, I felt an air almost of elation. Miss Bennet smiled as we shook hands:

“You seem very happy Miss Topham. I have to say, as you know, I was not in favour of ordaining women back in the nineties, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Susan and yourself do us very well.”

I thanked her. Her sentiment was not uncommon in this backwater. It was nice to hear, and as I disrobed back in the vestry, I reflected how lucky I was.

One of the things I loved about Little Linstead was that I could walk it. There was a footpath from the Old Rectory across the wheatfields straight to the Church. It was half an hour if I dawdled a little, and on this beautiful summer’s evening, why wouldn’t I? I loved the swoosh of my cassock against the wheat as I walked. God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. I stood and listened to the birds.

High overhead murmurations flew. The quietness enveloped me.

As I came to the wooden footbridge across the ditch I became conscious of a noise from beyond the hedge. Who on earth could be walking that way of a Sunday evening? There was no barking dog, so that ruled out the usual suspects. The sun was low now on the horizon and dazzled my eyes, so all I could see as I approached the bridge was a tall, imposing figure, silhouetted by the light.

“Rowan, finished early I see!”

It was Ryan.

For a moment I was overwhelmed, so much so that I yielded to the cliché – and fell into his arms. For a moment the word was as dead to me as I was to it; all that existed was the beating of our hearts. He held me for seemed forever (and must, in fact, have been all of five minutes). The warmth and the safety were infectious, and I felt for a moment as though all I wanted to do was to rest like this.

“Well, madam, this will never do,” he joked, pulling away with every show of reluctance. “We need to get you back to the Old Rectory where Cook has supper on the go.”

As I had been anticipating a scratch supper of whatever was not too out of date in my fridge, this was indeed welcome news, and I held his hand tight as he guided me across the wheatfields to the Old Rectory.

It was warm enough, and light enough, for us to dine out. He was charm itself, and I began to relax.

“Must you go back?” He looked at me quizzically.

I knew what answer I would give, but was tempted for a moment.

“You know the answer,” I told him.

“Can’t blame a man for asking,” he jested.

The kiss he gave me as he dropped me off home took my breath away. This, I reflected as I stripped off my clericals, was getting to be like one of those books my step-mother used to read. The phone went. Who on earth?

“Rowan here,”

“Is that the vicar?” The voice at the other end sounded anxious. I confirmed it was and asked how I could help.

“It’s difficult,” said the voice, “I need to talk about something confidential with someone who isn’t the police.”

“I would be happy to talk. Do you want to talk on the phone, or would face to face be better?”

“I don’t live far away, I can be with you in ten minutes.”

“Can I ask what it’s about?”

“Yes, yes, of course, it’s about my employer’s son, Ryan Surtees.”

The line went as silent as my heartbeat. The buzz of the broken line echoed through the room.

Random Observations

I was going to keep this one till last but I’m so excited about it, I can’t do it. I stumbled upon this today. It had a profound effect on me, possibly because of the situation we’re in right now. Whatever the reason, I wonder if you won’t get a little catch in your breath as you watch this. Amazing technology. When the long dead seemingly come to life.

As we desperately look forward to the year 2021 – well, I am, anyway – I thought it might be fun to take a look back a few years. Ok; 70 but so what? It’s hard not to laugh and maybe that’s why I’m sharing it; gosh, we could use a good laugh, couldn’t we? When I was 18 and graduated high school, of course, I thought I’d go into office work of some kind. In the 60s (don’t you do that math! our, for our cousins across the Pond, maths), women weren’t allowed to wear sleeveless blouses to work. Today women wear their clothes as tight as is humanly possible, sleeveless, low cut in front, 6″ high heels, and sparkle fingernail polish. Eye roll! I wonder what would happen if one of today’s business office candidates walked into the Personnel Department (isn’t that sweet? quaint? today you’re considered a ‘human resource’. Not all change is good) of 1950 dressed as 2020. Even the men would be scandalized. At first. (laughing) But enjoy this little walk down memory lane.

This was great fun; I guess you could call it variations on a theme. I don’t know any of the people, of course, but they look like a good bunch to hang out with.

NEO is fortunate enough to have an international readership and we never forget them. I decided, after watching this video, that I ought to be able to buy the same thing today. I want to buy the same thing today. I wonder if the United Kingdom is still in the cigarette business?

There’s a certain woman in America who feels that she has been victimized by the ‘system’; that she has no voice. Au contraire, mon ami. I’ll give ya some system – try this!

Finally, I’ll show you the pictures and you gents out there can tell us ladies about the ‘rules’ you were brought up with, in regard to appearance and clothing.

But let me run get popcorn and a beverage first – this should be entertaining!

My prayer for us is to go into the new year with laughter and hope.

Seven degrees of separation

Remember that one never knows where inspiration is going to come from? Well, I’ve just had my socks blown off by a recent article in the UK magazine The Critic. You can visit The Critic online and also – keep an eye out for the writer Michael Collins; he’s an author and an excellent writer that contributes to The Critic.

So, my beloved friend Alys, who lives in Wells, England, is so very dear and kind, she sent me this wonderful ceramic creamer in the shape of a resting cow. The manufacturer is Burleigh, a company over a hundred years old still doing what they did a hundred or more years ago. Burleigh has a very good name in England so my gift is extra special. Because I’m an Anglophile and because Alys knows I have a taste for English-made things (note to women who read this – check out the UK company The 1 for U. They make the BEST nightgowns you will ever wear! The cotton is superior and they wash and wear as if they were new every day. You can order on US Amazon), Alys sent me my beautiful little creamer.

Being much interested in Burleigh, which the article covers, early on in the narrative, I saw the name, Tunstall. A huge bell went off in my head. I know that name. And you probably do, too. Remember the movie Young Guns about Billy the Kid? Who did Billy work for before becoming a bad guy? John Tunstall – an Englishman from Hackney (London)!

John Tunstall is played by the wonderful British actor Terrance Stamp.

We know John Tunstall from the Lincoln County War. Here is the Wiki page with the history of Tunstall, McSween, Dolan, Murphy, and Riley. John Tunstall – Wikipedia. The historians and westerns lovers amongst you know the story well.

Then I wanted to know more about Tunstall, England, and found this very short Wiki page. Tunstall, Suffolk – Wikipedia. Note the last sentence of the piece. I’m still laughing. That last bit of information might, depending on to whom one speaks, tie into bigfoot. If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t done YOUR homework!

What an afternoon it’s been. I’ve spanned two centuries, two countries, noted craftmanship, and a tie between England and America that has nothing to do with the Founding Fathers, lol! It’s been a good day!

Rowan’s Way: 5 a kiss is just a kiss

Picking up where we left off here.

I’d be lying if I said I was not tempted to say “yes”. Part of me thought that such a carefully-planned game deserved the reward it was aimed to acquire, but the temptation was not worth the name if it did not tempt you. And yes, as any red-blooded woman would be, I was tempted. But this was not the way I wanted to end the evening, and if his moral code did not, and it clearly did not, include my moral objections to a one-night stand, then I was assuming it would at least take on board the “consent” angle.

I looked at him.

“Thank you.”

I left it just a second before adding.

“But I’ll take the greater risk.”

For once I had him on the defensive.

“Yes, a night here with you carries a known risk, a drive home unknown ones, so let’s be adventurous.”

If he was disappointed, he hid it successfully.

“You can’t blame a chap for trying,” he seemed almost to sigh, “but your wish is my command, my lady. Your chariot awaits.”

The night air had turned chilly, and I was glad of my coat and beret.

“Are you cross?” He asked, as he put the car in gear and exited the pub car park.

“At what?” I asked.

“At my attempt on your virtue?”

“I’d have been surprised if you hadn’t. You’re clearly interested, but in what, apart from the obvious, we shall see.”

He laughed.

“That depends on whether you want to see me again, after all, at some point my assaults on your citadel may tire you.”

“If that’s all you’re interested in, they will, but you may get tired first.”

“Touché”, he responded, turning right at the crossroads toward our gate. “Tell you what, I’m back in London tomorrow, but if you give me your mobile number, I’ll ring, and we’ll go somewhere more upscale next time?”

“And, was it Allegra?”

“I’ll take care of that.”

He drew up outside the box which passed muster as the vicarage. Unbelting he went round to my side and opened the door.

“My lady”, he gestured.

I stood, straightening my back after the low seat. There was a pause, a tension. I felt a chill. It was cold. Then I felt his arms round me, pulling me to him, and his lips on mine. He pulled away. I had not resisted.

“Till next time then, Rowan.”

I watched him go from the window. My head, and heart, were giddy, and I knew I had to be careful here. As long as we’d played love chess in our heads, I’d just about held my own, but that kiss! I was, I suddenly realised, vulnerable in a way I had not thought myself before now. It wasn’t that men had not tried to date, or indeed kiss me, it was that I’d felt in control of the process; I realised, with a dull thud, that with Ryan, I might not be.

This was something we girls had talked about at theological college, but which none of our tutors had wished to address. There were well-defined paths for men who wanted to date, but for whatever reason, including but solely, the relatively recent date at which women had been ordained, there was not the same guidance from precedent. Indeed, memory said that we’d heard more about “same-sex attraction” than we had about dating. Typical! Who ran these things?

Well, I thought, who knows? Ryan was away, and within the foreseeable, I would be off, so no point getting my hopes up. Golly, I thought, I have hopes? That in itself was a bad sign. Then the phone went.

Who on earth?

“Is that Miss Topham, the Reverend Topham?”

The voice sounded serious.

“It is.”

“This is Lavernham hospital. Could you get over here, your colleague Susan Foster has been involved in an accident.”

Recovering from my shock, I said that I would do my best. I phoned Janet, the churchwarden, and explained I needed a trip to the hospital. Bless her, she came right away, and within the hour we were at the A&E department.

The doctor explained to me that Susan had been involved in a car crash. Her legs had been broken and there might be other damage. She was in surgery and it was too soon to say.

Janet and I went to the prayer room and offered a prayer for Susan. So much for leaving Lavernham.

Over the next few days, I was able to see Susan and the Rural Dean. It was clear Susan would need a prolonged convalescence, although, given that, she should be able to return to ministry within the year. Nigel, our RD, was, as ever, direct. “In the meantime, Rowan, I am afraid you will be taking over. You’ll need to talk with the lay readers and non-stipendiaries about how you work things out, but for now, my dear, you are the Vicar of Lavernham. I am pleased to say that we can add a little extra to your stipend. By the way, how are the driving lessons coming on?”

And that was that.

Whatever I had thought, it was plain that I would not be leaving anytime soon. If I had a pile of practical things to sort out, I also had the matter of that kiss to ponder.

As though on cue, my mobile went as I left the Deanery.

“Rowan? Ryan here. What’s this I hear about Susan?”

I explained, and he was suitably sympathetic.

“I think a girl needs cheering up. I am back tomorrow night, how about a morale boost?”

Despite myself, I laughed.

“As long as that leaves my morals intact, okay.”

“Be with you about seven. The kiss did not put you off?”

Well, I said, groping for the nearest cliché: “A kiss is just a kiss.”

“We shall have to see, shan’t we?”

My treacherous heart skipped a beat.

New Years Eve – Finally

Is there anyone in the Anglo-American world who hasn’t had their fill (and much more) of 2020? Well, kids, it looks like we’re gonna make it. Not that anything is solved really, the pols are still trying to remove our freedom using Wuhan Flu as their excuse, Boris still hasn’t a clue as to what Churchill was really about, in truth he’s a poseur, and here in America not least because our judges are cowards, it increasingly looks like we have the illegitimate Biden regime to look forward to. No good prospects in sight.

But it isn’t 1941 yet when FDR and Churchill met at Argentia Bay the free people of the world all spoke English, and Uncle Sam was just starting to get over being Rip van Winkle with his 20-year nap.

That’s not so true now, the American people sound increasingly like it’s either 1859 or maybe and more accurately 1774. Well, even a British education can’t hide what happened next and from what I’m reading the British are also starting to wake up. Even more, than us, they have a dearth of leadership. President Trump issued a proclamation honoring St Thomas Becket on the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral, last Monday. St Thomas, he referred to as “a Lion of religious Liberty” and the proclamation states this…

The president’s proclamation heralds Becket as the precursor to “numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West,” particularly the Magna Carta, which declared that “[T]he English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”

“It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, ‘All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship’ and that ‘it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights,’” the proclamation said.

That is important for us, and it is important for the British to realize that we honor their pioneering efforts in making men free, all that America is was built on English foundations, that still hold.

But for the first time since 2016, this blog is not all Neo, thankfully. My two main contributors, gingers both (go figure) have much to do with what we do here, like our new fiction category which was Audre’s idea, strongly supported by Jessica.

If you’ve been here long, you’ll realize that Jess is my dearest friend, and here she tells a bit about that came to be. here’s Jess

Neo asked me to say something about how it feels to be back blogging, so here goes.

I started my own blog back in 2012, and met Neo soon after, as fellow start-ups we got along more than just fine. In November 2012 I began writing here, partly as a filler for Neo’s absence over the holiday season. The fun came to an end round Easter 2016 when I got seriously ill. Neo was sweet and kind enough not only to keep me in his prayers, but to re-publish a few pieces, but I suspect that like me, he never expected to see me back here again – and yet he kept the faith, which is, as regulars will know, just what the man does – and then in October this year, I was well enough to come back. Since then I have been publishing mainly fiction here, and much enjoying it.

Has this place changed? Sure, we all change. There are some new (to me) readers, who have been kind enough to comment, and there is my co-blogger, Audre, who always adds a note of common sense and quiet humour. I have never been particularly political, and don’t feel I have a political home. What I do enjoy, is good company, which I get here, and good writing, ditto. I think you are all terribly sweet to put up with this Anglo-Welsh changeling who inflicts her stories on you. I love writing my Gospel stories from the female point of view, and for those of you still awake, there’s a length to run yet on my “Rowan” saga, as well as on my imagining on Mary Magdalen.

Above all though, it’s fun to be back here and with you all – and let’s hope for a better 2021 for us all!

She’s right, I kept the faith, well mostly, it began to waver a bit here and there as despair began to sneak in. I’m told that seeing Audre’s posts both here and on Jess’ AATW encouraged her to come back first there and then here. My word how I missed her, her blog posts yes, but even more her steady friendship and love, and some fine advice as well.

We have spoken of Audre, and I asked her for her thoughts as well, and they make an excellent end to this post because they are true for all of us. And I think we all want to thank you gluttons for punishment who read here, we admire your fortitude, if not always your sense. Here’s Audre…

What a flippin’ year it’s been. And yet – how wonderfully amazing.

I was generously given a little patch of land to do with as I saw fit. The surprise of the offer set me back and I had to think about it awhile but in the end, I accepted it with both joy and trepidation. I’ve never had a little patch of land before and wanted it to be sprinkled with wild flowers and decorative boulders and a little river running through it. That’s what I’ve tried to create.

My little patch of land is the space Neo offered to me. I’ve never done a blog before. And – Neo casts a mighty big shadow; following in his footsteps is daunting but in the end, I can only be me and he’s never once complained. Grimaced once in awhile I suspect but he gave me free range and now it seems as natural to me as brushing my teeth. I’m retired; I don’t do ‘deadlines’ anymore – but I find that there’s no shortage of things to consider and I actually get ahead in pieces to be published.

As you have walked by and stopped to look at my little patch of land, you smiled, or laughed, or rolled your eyes (probably mostly rolled your eyes) but in your kindness you watered the flowers, added your own decorations, and greatly improved the content of the little patch of land.

Many thanks to Neo, and to you, for your fortitude and forgiveness. It’s been a great 10 months of writing and of reading your comments.

Happy New Year (finally) from all of us at NEO


Rowan’s Way: 4 Dessert

Predictably, Ryan ordered one of those rich puddings to which men who have been to public school seem to be prone. Equally predictably, I ordered cheese and biscuits. In response to “what do you want to drink” I ordered a cappuccino while he ordered an espresso. So far, so predictable.

As we settled into the armchairs in the lounge, he asked again: “So, what got you into this?”

“You mentioned ‘on earth'”, I replied, sipping gingerly at my coffee, “but it was more to do with what is not necessarily here but should be”. I hoped that might pique his interest. Somehow, it mattered to me that Ryan should judge me by my intelligence and not, as he seemed to be, by my looks.

“Try me,” he riposted, challenging me.

I explained to him that it wasn’t a case of my choosing. I’d wanted to be an academic. I had a good first from Oxford and had begun post-doctoral work on T.S. Eliot’s religious poetry, but it had dawned on me, at first gradually, and then in a blinding flash one morning at the eight o’clock Morning Prayer, that what was calling me was the religion and not the poetry; the poetry was in response to something Eliot sensed; I sensed it too. I had gone to talk with my College Chaplain, who’d put me in touch with people from the Anglican Training College, and the rest, as they say, was history. In short, I had felt a calling.

He had kept silent, and he looked intently at me.

“So, does that come with a pile of baggage?”

Sipping less gingerly, I looked at him over the rim of the cup.

“Only with others”, I said.

“How so?”

“You’d be amazed, or not”, I replied, “at the number of people who think one of two things: either that I must be some sort of bra-burning feminist; or that, in addition, I must be a raging pinko.”

“And are you?” He was amused, but kept it in; I could see that his eyes were waiting for me to fall into the traps he had laid.

I was not going there, instead, I would take the battle onto his territory.

“Do you suppose anyone really burnt their bra? I’d always thought it an urban myth, but I suppose if it’s necessary, I could buy one for the burning.” He looked at me, I looked right back, challenging him. He did not rise. “As for the rest, politics does not interest me, but looking after others does.”

“Well,” he drove forward with another thrust, “Lady Thatcher said that the Good Samaritan wouldn’t have been able to do anything without money.”

The challenge had been thrown down. But if he could refuse mine, I could refuse his.

“True, that, but surely what matters is that he used that money to help those less fortunate than himself? Camels, eyes of needles, and rich men are an interesting mix.”

“They could mix interestingly with Lady Vicars,” he quipped right back.

“I doubt your girlfriend would appreciate that,” I fired back immediately. If he was pushing onto this terrain, I’d push back.

“That’s a fair point, but Allegra’s an understanding sort of a girl, and she does so hate the country, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with her.”

“I wasn’t”, I said, “but I thought you might want to.”

“So,” he said, shifting one of the minor pieces on the board as a distraction, “an after-dinner snifter, or does your virtue demand holding back?” There was a challenge in the way he said it.

“I wouldn’t concern yourself with my virtue”, I said, “it has a solid track record of success. But a small scotch and water would be good.”

At that, we came together, as he ordered one too.

A silence, the first that evening, descended, broken only by the waitress bringing a second scotch – and the bill. He was clearly expecting me to go all feminist over it and hesitated.

“Oh, it’s fine, after all, it’s your own designated forfeit for losing at Pooh Sticks.”

He laughed at the reminder and paid up.

The silence descended again. I looked out into the conservatory where the blackness of the night was uninterrupted by any artificial light.

“More water?” He looked at me.

I looked back.

“That might be an idea.”

“Are you okay to drive?” I asked.

“Probably a little over, but when was the last time you saw a policeman out here at this time of the night – and it’s only a few minutes by car. Or are you going to come over all Miss Goody-Two-Shoes?”

“Oh,” I smiled, “didn’t you know that’s my nom de plume?”

“If it’s a problem,” he said, “I’ll see if I can raise a cab, though out here at this time of night … .” He let the sentence die. We both knew that there were no taxis out here.

“I could, of course, book us a room?”

There, the gauntlet was thrown down.

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