8. Beccles 1964-68
Malcolm Sutton was another excellent boss. He was quite different from Bill Bailey, more laid back, and so he gave me another side to my training.
There weren't any great excitements in Beccles like the Ormskirk Youth Service, mainly because my energies all went into preparing the locality for the new church centre, which was only a building site when we arrived, and then building up the church community when it was finished.
We were allotted a council house at the top of Rigbourne Hill a stone's throw from the new building. It was a corner plot with a larger front garden, under grass, and a back garden that was narrow and grew narrower towards the bottom - we hardly used it at all.
Our next door neighbours included a boy who talked to us - and I couldn't understand a word. Having become used to Lancashire accents, I found the thick Sufolk accent a complete puzzle for a day or two.
While the church centre was unfinished I spent my Sundays helping in the old Parish Church, a magnificent mediaeval building with a detached tower. We broadcast a BBC hymn-singing programme from there, for which I played the organ while the organist conducted. The producer commented "If the curate plays Widor, what does the organist play?"
The rector used to give weekly Bible readings in a side chapel, the one where the weekday Holy Communion service was celebrated. I remember that at this time the first of the new church services was being introduced by the Church England, and we had some sessions where people explored the new rites.
I didn't appreciate in those days the glory of that Parish Church. I suppose I was all wrapped up in planning how the new church centre would be.
In parenthesis - I visited an elderly man who had been verger at the Parish Church. He told me that he left off going to church when they changed the tunes for the hymns. So he listened to Choral Evensong instead. Then they started to have unfamiliar tunes on Choral Evensong, so he bought a gramophone record withall the right tunes, and listened to it once a week.
A parable there.
As part of preparing people for the church centre, which was to be called St Luke's, I wrote and circulated a thousand or so copies of a newsletter every few weeks. I delivered them all by hand, and visited a great number of houses. The newsletter had a printed title, in colour, and the body was duplicated. It looks very amateur now, but I was pleased with it in pre-desktop publishing days. And I think it and the visiting were effective in spreading interest. My first headline was "Roof Timbers Going Up. Church Centre nears completion." Malcolm Sutton gently reminded me that a building is only half finished when the roof is on.
At last it was ready for dedication. The Bishop of Dunwich did the honours. A young lad donated his Hammond organ to us, and I played for the dedication - far too loudly. It put some people off for good. The building was imaginative. The main hall had a small sanctuary at the end, with sliding doors to shut it away - but not completely. In fact we often turned the chairs around to face the south wall, so that we could have Communion almost in the round. The main entrance was to the north, and before you got to the hall there was a kitchen to your left, and then another smaller meetingplace, including a seating well and a light chimney or perhaps two. The seating well was a ring of steps that young people particularly were happy to sit on. It made a cosy meeting place for the youth group.
As I told the Bishop, dear Leslie Brown, I could see in the early days of the new church how people were given different gifts and roles, just as one reads in the New Testament. It was all very exciting. I had asked Bishop Leslie if we could be designated an area of liturgical experiment, something the C of E had invented recently, and he agreed. This meant that we could use modern language, and I translated the Prayer Book services into modern English. Our correspondence was in Latin - I got the absurd notion that this permission was a rather old-fashioned idea, so used Latin; and Leslie was a superb scholar and had no difficulty in responding in Latin, throwing in a word or two of Greek. We got on very well, and later he was a great personal help.
Leslie Brown, for the record, had been a missionary in India, and had been a leading light in preparing the prayer book of the Church of South India. After that he was made Bishop of Uganda, and then, when new bishoprics were set up in Uganda, he was Archbishop. He wrote the Liturgy for Africa there, another superb liturgy. He was a genuine humble Christian. He said that when he and his wife returned to England, having seen an African as Archbishop in Uganda, he resolved that he would accept the first job offered to him, He said they should have offered him a country parish, but instead they invited him to be Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. He did not like the luxury that the Church Commissioners offered bishops. He refused their standard of curtains and carpets, and sent back the posh car to be exchanged for a smaller one.
I think he liked me. Once he almost told me that I might have been a bishop if .... And I guess the reference was to family troubles, which by then were becoming clear to everyone.
Barbara was born at home, the only one of our four children to have that opportunity. I remember that night well, and I remember going to wake Rowena and Trevor to see their new sister. They, poor dears, were heavy with sleep and probably utterly confused, so I let them get back to sleep very quickly.
Their mother had some red pills on her bedside table, which little Trevor found and sampled, with dramatically frightening result. He went into a deep coma-like sleep, and had to be taken into hospital for several days. We spent as much time with him as we could, and he pulled through with no lasting harm done. It was a bad episode. Thank God for child-proof lids on medicines nowadays.
It was in Beccles that I learned to drive, and bought my first car. My driving instructor was a man called Mileham, and I think was very good. At any rate I passed the test first time, even though I stalled the engine at one point. When the examiner told me I'd passed, I said "You could knock me down with a feather." The examiner said "Well, you're not very clever ...." But I suppose I'd jumped through the safety hoops. It was only as Mr Mileham and I were driving to the test that I made some mistake and he told me the mantra "Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre". That stood me in good stead in the test itself. I remember that the examiner asked me to name 3 things one was forbidden to do on the motorwy. I gave him two, and said "I know the third would be obvious to you when you were actually on the motoway" and he let me get away with it!
My first car was a Morris Oxford of great age. Knowing nothing about cars, I asked a neighbour to come with me, and he cast an eye over the car for me. The dealer had another car which the neighbour asked about, and the dealer agreed that it would be better for me, but he said he was treating it as a challenge to sell me this one. I was too slow to pick up on that, so I probably got a worse deal than I might. The other one was a station wagon I think. The Oxford weighed a ton, according to the book of words, and was cream coloured. Its unusual feature was than in was a 'manumatic' which meant no clutch, but a gear lever. As soon as you touched the top of the ear lever the manumatic action kicked in, acted as clutch and governed the engine speed. Odd. But it made me forget how to use a clutch, and I had to re-learn in a hurry later.
That car meant days off could mean interesting outings for the little family. We spent days in Lowestoft and Norwich.
We visited friends back in Liverpool in it once. Jill had a spur of the moment urge to see her great friend and bridesmaid there, and we drove overnight. The end of the car came when we were in Sheffield visiting my brother Robert. We were near a garage forecourt, luckily, when the engine packed up for the last time, probably with clouds of smoke. When we had rolled onto the forecourt and I got out, I saw that at least one of the tyres had gone flat. So that was the end of that. Robert came and rescued us, and the garage looked after the scrap car. By that time we were in Woodbridge.
During our time in Beccles Robert was teaching in a school in Uganda, and he sent me interesting letters, including an account of making music on a kind of bamboo 3-player xylophone. He described how he was taught a complicated repeating note pattern to play on the treble notes, while two Ugandan lads improvised in even more complicated patterns below. When I was asked to help at a school music competition - the school was just a few hundred yards from our house - and to give a little talk, I was able to quote Robert's letter in support of making live music, and I think it went down well.
The Grammar School, the Sir John Leman School, came to church in the Parish Church once a year for Founder's Day. They invited preachers, and once it was the Bishop of Birmingham who had been POW in a Japanese camp, and had a great story to tell. The Headmaster was called Standing, and the regular Bible reading included the words "Blessed is he who getteth understanding ...." The rector and I were always amused by that. One could call it a ... standing joke. Ow!
Beccles is on the very edge of the Broads, I suppose. The previous rector had spent his days off in a little boat, a place he could be sure of avoiding the telephone. Before mobile phones, then. I was once invited by some lady I didn't really know, to crew for her in her dinghy. Unfortunately we were pitched into a race immediately, and my only sailing experience had been with bigger boats, so I made a hash of it, and was never invited again.
I was also invited to take the lead in a play, Beckett by Anouilh. I did just one rehearsal, I think, and the prodcer was very enthusiastic - said I carried the play. But the project was forbidden at home, so that was the end of that.
One golden memory was of a white Christmas, when we went out for a Boxing Day walk with total silence all around. Total. So rare. No one out, and the snow deadening any sound there might have been.
There were pigs just down the road from the church centre, and we lived in an almost continual pig smell, which we got used to.
After being in Beccles for long enough to see St Luke's on a firm footing, I began to look around for the next ste. Because of family difficulties I was not sure whether I should take on a parish. I applied to be chaplain of a teacher training college, and nearly got the job, I believe, but I hae never shone at interview. Malcolm Sutton had warned the college about this, and they must have taken it nto consideration. Another possible job was in the staff at Ridley, as Chaplin I think. I would have lectured on worship, which in those days of change from BCP woul have been topical and exciting. It was the accommodation they offered that was the problem. The vice principal and his wife lived in the flat at the top of the principal's house, and demanded to be moved to the house of the leaving Chaplain, even though they had no family, leaving the five of us in the small flat. No good. My third application was to be on the staff of Chelmsford Cathedral as Precentor. At the time I couldn't see clearly what the job would be. There was no house to see, either, so I decided that there were too many unknowns, and declined, though I think I would have been welcomed had I said yes. The dean was quite excited at the prospect of what he called high calibre staff.
Malcolm Sutton told me "The Lord will get you for parish work in the end,"and he was right. Woodbridge came next.