Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Saturday, 24 December 2011
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Theodore Luxton-Joyce as eccentric as ever jumped into his car, despite the heavy Christmas snow making most roads impassable, and sped towards St Vincent Church.
Half an hour later he was in Father Ignatius’ office, having barged through Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper who opened the front door, mumbling about some emergency or other.
“Padre … we have a problem …” he exclaimed to the astounded priest sitting behind the desk, “I tried to phone you this morning but you were permanently engaged … I thought you were probably hearing some late Confessions from sinners who couldn’t make it to church because of the snow … anyway … here I am. Got in the car and came over as quick as I could!”
“Sit down … take a deep breath … What is the problem?” asked Father Ignatius fearing the worst.
“I was in the library this morning … You know, the room annexed to the dining room where we had the old folk’s Christmas Dinner last night?”
The priest nodded.
“Well … just by the section where we have the books of Sir Walter Scott. You must have read him Padre! Scottish novelist, playwright and poet … you know … Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian and so on …
“Anyway … just by those books I found this beautiful gold necklace on the floor … what?
“Looks pretty expensive to me … must belong to one of the old ladies you invited to our Christmas party … must have dropped it when they all went to the library for a spot of Darjeeling. The poor lady, whoever she is, must be beside herself having lost such a valuable piece … I’d say!”
Father Ignatius took the necklace from Theodore and said, “I’ll keep it in case someone phones and asks for it!”
“I’ll hear none of it …” interrupted Theodore, “the poor lady who lost it must be looking everywhere for it … under her bed … or behind the piano … or wherever old ladies hide their jewelry … We must get in touch with them all and ask them if they’ve lost this necklace!”
Father Ignatius looked up in disbelief. “There were about fifty old people there … most of them women … you’re not suggesting …”
Theodore was suggesting just that! And for the next hour or so they phoned most of the old ladies to find the owner of the necklace; with no success.
“Well that’s all of them … except these six who are not on the phone,” remarked the priest, “I’ll ask them when I next see them at Mass on Sunday!”
But Theodore’s concern would have none of it.
“I have the car out there …” he said, “why don’t we visit them right now? I also have a bottle of brandy in the car to keep us warm … always prepared what?”
Father Ignatius said a silent prayer in his mind seeking forgiveness for what he thought about Theodore right now. Then as a self-imposed penance he decided to accompany the eccentric millionaire on what would no doubt turn out to be a wild goose chase.
And a waste of time it certainly was. At every house Theodore insisted on accepting the invitation for tea and biscuits, or mince pies, or home made cake or whatever other delicacy the old ladies had prepared for Christmas. And at every house he regaled them all with stories about Sir Walter Scott and other Scottish writers and famous people, not forgetting to mention time and again his Highlands lineage and the fact that he could play Chopin’s piano concerto on the bagpipes!
“Where does he put all this tea?” thought the weary priest to himself, “and he hasn’t been to the toilet once!”
Eventually they returned to Father Ignatius’ office at the Parish House both very cold, dejected and exhausted.
“You don’t think we can have a drop of tea to keep us warm?” asked Theodore to Mrs Davenport as she came in to collect the empty cups from this morning.
Father Ignatius held the gold necklace in his hand and admired it pensively.
“You don’t think it belongs to one of the nuns who came to the party?” asked Theodore rather stupidly, “do nuns wear necklaces under their habits Padre?”
The priest smiled and shook his head. “It’s a beautiful necklace with a lovely little rose here in the middle …” he said, “You don’t suppose it belongs to your wife … Rose?”
“Dash it all …” cried out Theodore standing up from his seat, “I forgot all about Rose!
“That little flower on the necklace should have reminded me …
“I bought that necklace six months ago for Rose’s birthday in January … I hid it in Sir Walter Scott’s book Rob Roy, which I was reading at the time … I thought no one would find it there … no one ever reads the books in that library … what? The necklace must have fallen out yesterday when someone picked up the books.
“I’d forgotten all about it … and for the past three weeks I’ve been wondering what to buy Rose for her birthday next month … I got her a bracelet … I know that for sure … the thing is I don’t know where I’ve hidden it …old boy!”
Father Ignatius sought forgiveness from the Lord once again for what was going through his mind.
He gave the necklace back to Theodore and followed his enthusiastic rush to the car and waived him goodbye as he sped back to his mansion on the hill.
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
It had been a busy year for Theodore Luxton-Joyce the eccentric millionaire businessman and he hadn’t been in touch with Father Ignatius for some time. So it was a surprise for the priest when the phone rang early on Boxing Day, the day just after Christmas, and he heard the familiar voice.
“Is that yourself Padre?” asked Theodore.
“Yes … it is. Merry Christmas Theodore to you and Rose …”
“Yes quite … jolly good …” interrupted Theodore, “I was somewhat concerned at getting that other French priest on the phone. You know the one … you’ve had him visiting lately …”
“Yes … Father Gaston. He has gone back to Paris”.
“Jolly good I say … what? Never liked the French … Father Gaston being an exception of course … he was rather quiet and said very little … just as I like the French to be … what?”
Father Ignatius smiled and said nothing whilst Theodore continued totally unaware of what he was saying.
“Right … now that I’ve got you on the phone rather than that French fellow, I need you urgently to help me out! Terrible spot of bother … old boy … terrible I say!”
The priest frowned fearing the worst. “What’s happened?” he asked.
“Well … Rose and I had arranged a quiet after Christmas get-together for this evening and we’d invited the Mortimers … you know them? He’s a businessman working from the US most of the time. No … Of course you don’t know the Mortimers. Have you ever been to America Padre? I’m sure the Vatican has opened a few Branches over there …
“Anyway … back to the Mortimers. They’re over here right now for a few days … visiting family … that sort of thing … Rose and I thought we’d invite them for a spot of dinner this evening … Disaster old boy! Disaster I tell you!”
Father Ignatius smiled again.
“Well, as it happens …” continued Theodore never stopping to pause for breath, “the Mortimers can’t make it tonight. Jolly bad show don’t you think? We’ve got most of the food prepared and all … well Mrs Frosdick the cook and her staff have everything prepared anyway … And the Mortimers can’t make it for dinner. They’re stuck up North because of the terrible snow storms we’ve been having over Christmas. Totally snowed in and cut off from civilization and a drop of whisky I shouldn’t wonder!
“So I thought of inviting the Hendersons … now I’m sure you know them Padre. They live about a mile or so from us, just up the hill. I thought I’d introduced them to you some time ago. Not Catholics you know … but decent people all the same. Better than many Catholics I know, I should say! Anyway … dash it all … they’ve decided to spend Boxing Day with the in-laws. Now what kind of nonsense is that? I tell you … Who’d wish to spend Boxing Day with the in-laws? It’s just like being in Purgatory I imagine … what?”
Father Ignatius smiled once more at Theodore’s continuous rant and wondered what all this was leading to … and then it came.
“Well Padre … as neither of them can make it tonight, I thought of you. Would you care to join us for a quiet spot of dinner this evening? We’re having a goose and Brussels sprouts you know … traditional fare for this time of year sprouts … and I’ll be playing the latest musical instrument I’ve mastered … the harmonica … much less stressful than the bagpipes. I can now play Chopin’s piano concerto on the harmonica as well as the pipes!”
The priest was amused at being the third choice as guest at the millionaire’s luxurious mansion in the country, but he knew that Theodore meant no malice by it.
“It’s so nice of you to think of me …” he said quietly, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline too. The problem is that this evening St Vincent’s Church hosts the annual Christmas Dinner and get-together for the old folks of the Parish. We bring them to the Church Center and Father Donald and I and a few of the nuns from the Convent prepare a Christmas meal …”
“Bring them along too …” interrupted Theodore with no hesitation, “we’ll make a party of it … we’ve plenty of room over here …”
Father Ignatius knew that there was little point resisting Theodore’s generosity and enthusiasm; so plans were hurriedly changed to reschedule the venue of the Parish Christmas Dinner to the mansion on the hill.
And so it was that about fifty people including the nuns from the Convent went to the millionaire’s house to enjoy Theodore’s and his wife’s genuine kindness. They all gathered in the grand dining room which had been festively decorated at short notice where they enjoyed the best food and drinks sumptuously prepared by the catering staff.
Theodore dressed up like Father Christmas to give each guest a gift and then he entertained them with a sing-along which featured him playing his repertoire of the classics re-arranged for the harmonica!
Sunday, 11 December 2011
In our town there’s a specialist chocolatier. The shop window is always full of the most exquisite and delicious looking chocolates of all sorts and sizes. If Heaven were made of chocolate then this shop would surely be it.
The chocolates are hand-made by the shop owner and his wife and three employees on the premises behind the shop. I remember once visiting their little workshop with a friend of mine, the shop-owner’s niece, and it was a marvelous experience seeing them make all these chocolates with so much care and passion.
Every so often they make different seasonal chocolates like rabbits and chocolate eggs at Easter, special selections on Mothers’ Day, or Christmas specialties.
One Christmas Eve we were in town late, just before going to Midnight Mass, and I decided to visit the shop to get something nice. I left the rest of the family to do some window-shopping and went there alone as a special surprise.
I’d intended to buy a chocolate Father Christmas just as they had in the picture in the shop window. Sadly all Fathers Christmas had been sold. Reindeers too! As well as Christmas tress or any Christmas decorations made of chocolate. In fact it is fair to say that the shop had sold out of any chocolate model relating to Christmas.
The shop assistant looked at me forlornly and suggested a selection from their wild animals’ series would make a good present. “They’ll look good in the Nativity scene beside the Christmas tree …” she said hopefully.
“Hardly …” I said somewhat dejected, “no one would believe that the three Wise Men came from the East on a turtle! It would have taken them ages to arrive. Or that shepherds watched their giraffes at night when the Angel appeared with Good News!”
“They are beautiful though …” she continued encouragingly.
“Yes … they are. But it’s not the same … a chocolate crocodile near the crib would frighten all the sheep away …”
I hesitated for a while. The animal models looked good enough to eat … in fact any chocolate is good enough to eat as far as I’m concerned, regardless of its shape. But this was not for me. This was a present and ideally I would have wanted a Father Christmas, or an Angel … a Christmas tree … it’s the festive shape of the chocolate that matters on this particular occasion. And a rhinoceros or a kangaroo is just not the right shape; even though it might taste just as good when you eat it.
After a lot of soul searching I decided to buy the giraffe. It was big and with such a long neck it meant there was even more chocolate for everyone to share.
“Could you gift wrap it please?” I asked.
As the shop assistant was wrapping my purchase I heard a little girl beside me say: “I want the giraffe … just like in the picture over there!”
“I’m sorry … the last giraffe has just been sold” replied the shop assistant to the girl’s mother.
I looked at their sad faces and knew how they felt.
Now … the right thing to do in such cases is to take my purchase and get out of the shop quickly before my conscience has had a chance to wake up.
But I’m stupid that way and somewhat slow … in my slowness I asked the assistant to sell the giraffe to the girl’s mother instead.
“We have some left-overs from our Halloween series” said the assistant to me after the other customers had gone, “I can let you have two for the price of one!”
That Christmas our Nativity scene was visited by Frankenstein’s monster and a zombie. And the sheep were not frightened at all.
Tasted good too!
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Last summer our young priest thought it a good idea to take some youngsters, aged between 16 and 20 from under-privileged families, for a day out in the forest at the edge of town. The idea was to go out on Saturday, have a picnic lunch and return early evening about 5 o’clock in time for evening Mass.
Somehow, he managed to convince me and a few other adults to go with him and help with supervision and also to provide transport there and back.
We arrived at the forest at about 9 in the morning and we parked our cars on the edge of the forest. Everyone was excited and well prepared. They all carried haversacks filled with all sorts of picnic foods and drinks, and cameras, binoculars and all kind of other things that are considered necessary for a day out in the forest. They were all dressed appropriately of course. Shorts were the order of the day and big thick boots and hats. Even the young priest did away with his white collar and wore a multi-colored open necked shirt and a large hat.
I wore an old pair of khaki short trousers I use when gardening and I brought with me my large cowboy-type hat; the one with the large feather. I had an open necked shirt, so no need for the turquoise bow tie with pink flowers!
I brought with me some sandwiches and small drink in a plastic bag, and most important of all six large bars of chocolate. You need chocolates when out for a long walk; it helps keep your sugar levels well under control if you get tired. Six bars should be enough so I can share them around with the rest of the group.
To save me carrying the chocolates in the bag I put them in the back pockets of my khaki shorts. Three bars in each back pocket. They fitted perfectly.
They all moved eagerly ahead into the forest with the priest leading the way and a few adults interspersed every now and then. I chose to be the last one in the long queue of people, which would give me an opportunity to stop and take a rest every now and
then. I’m not into long walks, especially in the forest.
On and on they walked and they sang as they walked. “Sing Halleluiah to the Lord … Our God reigns … Seek ye first the Kingdom of God …” and several other hymns led by the priest at the front and echoed by the rest all the way back to me.
Pleasant it was. But tiring too! Where exactly were we heading? Searching for Dr Livingston or the treasures of the Inca?
It was getting hot … very hot under a punishing sun which you don’t often get around here. Even the feather in my hat was the worst for wear.
After what seemed miles of walking I felt a trickle down my legs. I stopped and to my horror discovered that the six bars of chocolates had melted soaking my short trousers and dripping away leaving a tell-tale track of brown behind me.
I felt my face go red as panic set in.
What am I to do? I pulled out the empty wrappers of chocolates from my pockets, for that is all that was left … empty wrappers. Each bar was 600 grams; so that’s more than three kilos of chocolates melted down my pants and on my legs with embarrassing visual results that would be almost impossible to explain away.
I tried to wipe as much as possible with my handkerchief which soon became soaked anyway and of no use. I hid the handkerchief under some leaves and forest debris. No point in putting it back in my pocket is there?
I scraped as much of the chocolate off my legs but they still looked embarrassingly brown, as indeed was the back of my trousers.
I could see the rest of the gang well away in the distance. I must catch up with them if I’m not to get lost.
I took off my jacket and wrapped it round my waist by the sleeves just like trendy people do when they pretend they are hot. Well … I was hot all right … with embarrassment, panic and fear of getting lost.
I hurried and caught up with the rest of the team just as they were settling down in the woods for a picnic lunch.
I whistled nonchalantly as I arrived and sat on a log some distance away so as not to over-power them with the sweet aroma of melted chocolate.
The young priest said “Grace” and they all started eating their picnics.
Now, why is it when things go wrong for me they continue to go wrong?
As I sat there considering how best to hide my situation for the rest of the day I heard an ominous buzz around me. I’d inadvertently sat on a wasps nest in a hollow in the tree trunk I was on.
Now … they have the whole forest in which to nest … why choose this particular tree trunk?
Pretty soon I was up on my feet and dancing in a panic, tapping on my buttocks and legs as I did so.
Wasps up your short trousers are no fun I tell you.
Everyone stopped eating and turned to me wondering what I was up to. Then they realized and a few adults came to my rescue shooing away the wasps with their hats and napkins.
Once the wasps had gone a pleasant young lady helper offered me her chair and the young priest got me a drink of white wine from his haversack to calm my nerves.
The young lady saw me shivering and said I was in shock. I should take the jacket off my waist and wear it to keep warm.
Well … I could hardly do that? Could I?
The sight of my chocolate stained brown trousers would have sent her into shock as well!
I sat there calmly for the rest of the day and when it was time to go home one of the men helpers offered to drive my car back as I was not in a state to drive … so they said. Although they did not know the real reason why!
Needless to say, I did not join them to Saturday evening Mass but drove straight home for a quick shower and change of clothing.
I hate chocolates. I hate picnics. And I hate forests. Wasps too!