Dusk was stealing over Bath. After evensong the Reverend Stuart Campbell would customarily invite some of the bell-ringers back to the vicarage for tea. Today the churchwarden Mrs Chippenham Gardens was presiding over the teapot and her renowned fairy cakes, as yellow and airy as sunbeams, were peeping out from the cake stand.
One young lady bell-ringer had never visited the vicarage before and she complimented the reverend on his living. “Such a darling little place – I bet you’re as snug as a bug in here. And the verger tells me that you have a very unusual hobby…”
The reverend looked sheepish. “Och, I don’t really like to talk about it…”
There was outrage over the teacups. “Really! This will never do!”
“He has invented a very successful website,” the churchwarden revealed proudly. “It’s all about the Scottish people and their brave fight for independence!”
The young bell-ringer eyed the vicar with admiration. “How inspiring! And how is that going at the moment?”
The reverend placed down his teacup. “Well, we’re hearing the same clueless tirade of misrepresentation, spin, distortion, guff, and outright lying from our regular foes in the No camp, the imbeciles at Better Together, and the has-beens at the Scotsman. Smokescreens – smoke and mirrors – smears – manufactured outrages and dirty tricks… Cowardly attacks from people connected to Alistair Darling and the usual menu of intimidation and defamation…”
There was stunned silence and the sudden panicked realisation that nobody knew the correct thing to say. Fortunately at that moment the faintest strains of an accordion reached them from outside, and then the massed slapping of bells. The Morris men were dancing on the green. Everybody flocked to the windows of the vicarage to watch.
Later Mrs Chippenham Gardens cornered the young bell-ringer in the kitchen. “It’s not your fault my cherry – you weren’t to know – but we always avoid the subject of (in sotto voce) the country upstairs when the vicar’s around. It’s not worth exciting him.”
The bell-ringer blushed. “I’m so sorry. I can see it now.”
“It’s such a terrible inconvenience whenever we’re planning the seating for dinner parties up at the manor. We always have to ferret out a bachelor uncle who collects stamps, so that they can both have somebody to drone away to.”
The next morning the whole town turned out for the hunt. Colonel Green had served as the master for years, whilst the Reverend Stuart Campbell numbered amongst his closest cronies as the honorary secretary. They were both galloping along in their pinks, blowing on their bugles as foxhounds teemed around them. For several years now there had been no fox – only a “trail” laid down by the agency help – but it was the gravest conceivable faux pas to allude to this contrivance. Whenever the master commended the fight that the fox was putting up that morning, you were supposed to be quick and generous in agreement. The poor man had not actually seen any real blood in years.
“What a magnificent morning!” the colonel exclaimed, his breath coming out in plumes. “But put that bally thing away vicar!” he bawled. He had caught the reverend taking a discreet peek at his BlackBerry.
“Sorry colonel. But I’ve just seen that the latest Ipsos Mori poll – which puts support for independence up by 1.3% – has been predictably ignored by the BBC, and the dinosaurs at the Scotsman and the Herald.”
The colonel flared his nostrils. No true gentleman ever brought the cares of the working week to the hunt. “They don’t have foxhunting up in Scotland, do they reverend?” he inquired testily.
“I don’t think so colonel.”
“More’s the pity. They don’t play cricket either. Perhaps if they introduced some elements of civilisation, they might be persuaded to forget about their confounded Bolshevism!”
It was a snub. The colonel galloped off in a flurry of foxhounds, parping on his bugle. “Tootily-toot!-toot!”
Yet they were reconciled again that afternoon over a pint of mild at the Coach and Horses. Outside in the beer garden, with bees browsing amongst the hollyhocks and the ragged robin, and with Farmer Cox rounding up the sheep in the adjoining meadow with his trusty collie, the colonel and the reverend shook hands like Englishmen. “You’re a jolly good chap vicar,” the colonel declared. “I’m sorry that I impugned your great hobby.”
“That’s quite alright colonel,” the reverend said, as swallows ducked out from under the eaves. “Let bygones be bygones.”
“By the way, something has always perplexed me vicar. You are so passionate about independence, but I suppose that with living down here in Bath, you won’t actually get a vote.”
The reverend smiled sadly. “When the day of the vote arrives, I shall be there in spirit.”
The next morning was Sunday and the reverend was up early to compose his sermon. He decided to take a walk down by the river. Swans were sailing on the bright water and the reverend paused beneath the gorgeous locks of a weeping willow. He had selected for his text today Joshua 1:6: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”
An hour later, Bath was beginning to gather outside the church in its Sunday best. They always found the reverend’s sermons to be rather an ordeal.
[Previously on Tychy: “Wings Over Scotland, The Disaster Continues.”]