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Bedminster Boy – DESMOND TUCKER

April 9, 2017

BBChurch of England folk are inclined to be very middle class and their clergy more so. It is refreshing, therefore, that a scheme to recruit working class priests got underway and that the author was one of its products. We have much to learn from the likes of him and his questioning faith.

I don’t know what to make about the mystical experiences recorded in this book. I am inclined to be cynical but Des is a down to earth bloke so I guess I take these at face value.

I’ve heard many of these stories before: air raids, the loss of community in modern life, a questioning faith, and I can hear Des’s voice in my head as I read this book. This story deserves to be told.

It’s almost as if the bombs were coming for Des since day one of the Bristol Blitz. Yet they got so near yet so far.

I too loved the department stores where the change went on overheard wires.

I know several of the people mentioned, including Michael Jarvvie, hospital chaplain, who’d previously been a curate in my church in Leeds. I also knew the lat David Isitt, much undervalued in this diocese. We both owe a lot to him.

Some of the jokes are corny but were probably original to Des’s generation e.g. about condom vending machines.

There’s a good story about how to get a fruit machine to pay out the jackpot.

The ending has a lovely description of Iran and its people.

All in all, a most enjoyable read – I hardly put it down from start to finish.

It’s a bit repetitive in places e.g. he tells us about the coming of a very cold winter on p. 57 and again on p. 60; pp.111 and again on 112 converting a shop into a lounge.

Kelham is in Nottinghamshire, not Yorkshire.

p. 134 should read ‘Cropthorne’ as it does on p. 136

I don’t think he was alive in 1024 – p. 174!

I am not sure what a ‘essxaaxa traumatic divorce’ is (p. 156)

Minor point – there US such a thing as a gay parrot, contrary to what is asserted by Des – see “Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity” by Bruce Bagemihl (1999).

Quotations:

One of our neighbours at Lynton Road lost her firstborn son in infancy and one of the nuns paid her a visit and discovered that the child was not baptised, and irrespective of the woman being in the first stages of grief, the nun made it her business to tell this woman that because her son had not been baptised God would bar him from Heaven and therefore she would never meet him again.

So much for a compassionate and loving God! This is not a personal gripe on my part against the staff of St Hugh’s or St John’s because sadly at that time Christian teaching was largely orientated in that way and must have contributed to the dwindling number of church members.

As I matured into adulthood I found I could not get my head around the idea of God being both a loving God, as depicted by the prodigal son parable and the willingness of Jesus to love and accept all people in such an open way, and the God of wrath and judgement that I had been taught about in my childhood. Finally this dilemma led me to break all my ties with the church for about twenty years, although I continued to say my prayers and still regarded it as an obligation to make my communion on Easter Sunday.

Every street had a ‘First-Aid Florrie’ who always knew what to do with cuts and bruises or any other injury. There was also someone who would lay out corpses when anyone died. I remember seam­stresses who would turn a ladies’ two-piece into trousers; they were a godsend because often that was the only way we children could obtain clothes. Occasionally street outings would be organised and we would all go to Weston for the day.

The downside of today’s life is that despite better housing, health conditions and living longer lives, because our entertainment is pri­vate and our lives are more private we’ve inevitably lost the feeling of community, which was once so strong. Even with travel, nearly everyone has a car and can get from A to B without meeting anyone. The modern supermarket is also so impersonal: I can remember vis­its to the shops with my mother to buy meat or groceries and there were always long discussions about cuts of bacon and the thickness of slices, tasting a bit of cheese before purchasing and meeting and chatting with other customers in the shops.

I particularly loved the Co-op because they had a system of over­head wires which conveyed small cylindrical containers, into which were placed the bill and the cash for purchases which the customer had made. The container was clipped to the wire, a lever was pulled and then the contraption sped across the tight overhead wire to an office where a girl checked out the bill and money and returned the cylinder in the same way to the shop assistant who had sent it. If you were a Co-op member it would also contain dividend tokens and milk tokens. It really fascinated me to see all these wooden cylinders whizzing across the shop ceiling via high wires.

children are totally focused on the techniques of passing exams, something which in my pre-war schooling I was taught nothing about. Consequently, on the crucial day of my preliminary exam I completely panicked, with disastrous results, and failed the exam. Children in my situation went on to an elementary school and were groomed for manual work, or in the case of girls maybe for shop work. So in a way we were, because of a bad performance on the crucial exam day, doomed to some kind of manual work or inferior jobs. Thank God that grossly unfair system was abolished and replaced by something better!

When I met Father Austen Masters during the second summer school we took to each other immediately, partly because he had a wonderful sense of humour and he belonged to a community of priests based in Yorkshire at a place called Kelham. This rang a bell with me because in pre-war days, the Kelham Fathers ran St John’s parish in Bedminster. The aim of the order was to educate young men who had a vocation to the ministry but lacked the educational qualifications.

He became my spiritual advisor and it was due to his being chaplain at Clewer that I began to visit the sisters regularly and to care for them when Austen was away. His advice was sound and practical but often very funny. He once told me that there were two kinds of those who had nervous breakdowns and those who give them to others. He told me to make sure I was in the second category.

He also told me that I would find the Devil somewhere in any congregation that I ministered to, but that I shouldn’t worry as it with the job and happens to everyone. He also advised me to cultivate a friend, preferably not a member of my church, whom Id really trust and use as an emotional punchbag.

I think maybe the funniest thing that happened to me at the abbey was when a boy pulled on my cassock and said, “I know how old God is.” Towards the west end of the nave there are two icons, one of our Lord on the left and one of the Virgin Mary on the right. In front of each picture there is a candle stand for votive candles and many visitors stop there and light a candle, so in front of each icon there are a lot of candles burning. When I asked the boy how he had worked out God’s age he simply replied that he had counted all His birthday candles!

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