“Come in, sit down, how are you ?” Alan Shepherd said to us both
Not Alan Shepherd the astronaut, no, Alan Shepherd the vicar, the vicar who married us an eternity ago – you know how vicars threaten you that you’ll burn in hell for eternity, well I know what they mean now.
“and how are you two” he started pleasantly, “I expect you’re very nervous about meeting your vicar aren’t you ?” we nodded yes, this was the first vicar I had ever spoken to and I was 27 at the time.
“don’t worry” he continued, “I’m new to this job myself so I’m quite nervous at meeting you too”
He seemed like a nice man, a young man about the same age as me, how long an apprenticeship do vicars serve anyway, is it like a carpenter, you do five years and then you’re qualified, do they become Master Vicars after another while, is there promotion for vicars, whats the next step, what would be considered to be a big deal for vicars, a bigger church, an inner city church, do inner city vicars in big churches get paid more than small village vicars, are there vicars who just do it for the money and they’re always applying for new vicar jobs for a bit more cash in the pay packet at the end of the month ?
“So you want to get married ?” he asked and we nodded.
“Why?” he asked, didn’t take long to get to the trick questions did it.
Refraining from blurting out “Fook knows” I ad-libbed something around it being the right thing to do what with us being good christian people and all and we really, really wanted to go to heaven and it seemed like a good way to get into gods good books, getting married and all – all total bollocks of course.
“So you are good christians then ?” a trap, and I fell into it.
“Oh yes” I replied, “very good christians”
“Oh” he said in all innocence, “I haven’t seen you in church have I ?”
“Are they Garibaldi biscuits” I asked, its an old ploy of mine, if in doubt talk about biscuits, or better still, cake.
And so we agreed on the date, my birthday, September 17th 1983, “At least you won’t be able to forget your anniversary” he laughed and we laughed along with him although actually that was exactly the reason that my wife-to-be had selected that date, so that I wouldn’t forget our anniversary, and after this eternity she realises that it was all in vain, I still forget our anniversary, well so would you if its your birthday on the same day, bloody ridiculous.
We left his ancient old vicarage agreeing that he was a very nice man, very pleasant, amiable, friendly and not at all like the terrifying fire and brimstone image of a god representative we had concocted in our minds before we met him.
There was of course the issue of “the reading of the bans” for the next three weeks, we didn’t have to go he told us, but it would be nice if we did he explained leaving us no room for manoeuvre, so we went if only to find out what “the bans” were.
9am of a sunday morning we turned up, the little old stone built gothic revival church was nearly full, of old people, we were the youngest there by a long chalk, we had at least fifty years on any of the rest of the congregation, they shuffled, they were bent, they wore long woollen pre-war coats and knitted bonnets, they were in the main octogenarian women who’d wrapped up well and brought knitting with them and then all knew where to sit, they all had their own places on the benches so we stood at the back until they were all seated and then slipped into a vacant pew and waited for that ever-so nice Vicar Alan Shepherd (not an astronaut) to make his appearance.
It was a shock, I cannot tell a lie, but I have a sneaky feeling that the knitted octogenarians only came for the abuse and Vicar Alan Shepherd let rip into them, calling them all filthy miserable sinners who were fated to burn in hell for their terrible god-forsaking sins, he was like a more fearsome version of Ian Paisley in the pulpit, Ian Paisley with the nice parts taken out, he ranted and raved at the poor old buggers, he frothed at the mouth and banged his fist down on his pulpit, leaping up in the air a little each time he did – this wasn’t the nice Vicar Alan Shepherd that we’d been to see, this was another Vicar Alan Shepherd, a possessed Vicar Alan Shepherd, if he’d been like this at our first meeting I’d have told him to forget the whole thing.
Oh why couldn’t he have been like that at our first meeting.
And then in an instant he stopped, “And now we’ll sing the harvest festival hymn” he announced to a rustle of hymn books, “Yes we have no bananas, hymn number 274 in your hymn books”, ok so it wasn’t that one but my knowledge of hymns is regrettably poor, lets face it, I don’t know any hymns, I just used to mime in school assembly.
“And now we have the reading of the bans for the first time for…” he began and invited any of the old biddies here present to speak up now if they had any objection to us marrying and they all turned in their pews to face us, measuring us up and down with their granny eyes of power, he doesn’t look like a crook, she doesn’t look like a slut, they’ll do seemed to be the conclusion and suddenly I “got” the whole thing, this was like the village council, these wizened old crones had the power to actually stop your wedding if they wanted to, if you didn’t hold shop doors open for them or invite them in front of you at the checkout they would stop your wedding, stop your married man’s tax allowance, condemn you to a registry office wedding or a life spent as a spinster of the parish.
They were still staring at us, some were pointing bony little fingers with talon like nails, one of them cackled, Vicar Alan Shepherd quickly moved on conscious of the £50 he was charging us for the wedding, £50 in cash, in an envelope, slipped to him before the ceremony started, slipped up the sleeve of the Vicar gown he wore, I kid you not, he insisted that it was cash, I have my doubts as to whether our wedding was ever recorded in any official record anywhere, I think we may have been one of his “guvvy job” weddings.
The old crones of the village came to the wedding, they weren’t invited, it was just expected that they’d be there…