Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Assume nothing: what could go wrong?

On Saturday I met a priest who had perhaps the perfect catchphrase for these troubled times: “assume nothing”. He kept repeating this mantra throughout a long and rather sticky interview in which he challenged every reason my fiancée and I could advance to persuade him to marry us.

Though strangely enough he did not even mention the elephant in the room: the fact that my bride-to-be was born a Muslim. Albeit the sort of Muslim who shuns the veil, eats pork, drinks alcohol and is looking forward to Christmas with an enthusiasm I have never been able to muster.

I had assumed that this might present a bit of a problem. How wrong I was. Just as the Tories were wrong when they assumed that they were coasting effortlessly towards a landslide election victory, only to find the graceless Scotch architect of most of our economic woes implausibly reincarnated as the saviour of the entire global economy.

Here we are in a massive crisis caused by banks lending too much, and all I hear are ministers leaning on them to lend more. And, as Government borrowing smashes all records, Gordon Brown’s stooge announces the sort of tax cutting package that the Tories never dared to put before the electorate for fear of being accused of gross irresponsibility.

Assume nothing. It is the only answer. It is also makes a lot more sense as the secret of life than E.M. Forster’s “Only connect”, which my headmaster imparted as the ultimate wisdom when I left school in 1971. I have spent the best part of four decades trying to work out what on earth he meant, and how to reconcile it with Douglas Adams’ subsequent revelation that the answer to life, the universe and everything is actually 42.

Rick The Vic, as my fiancée and I have named the priest who finally agreed to marry us, seems slightly out of place in an English country parish. He claims to be 62, but looks at least 20 years younger. He wears his hair long, and flies a piratical flag outside a vicarage packed with the latest technological gizmos. I imagine that he spent much of his earlier life driving along the hippy trail in a Dormobile painted in the psychedelic colours that adorned the stole he wore for Sunday’s morning service.

Here I expected swaying and clapping, the beating of drums and the twanging of guitars. Instead we got something bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Book of Common Prayer, old hymns I knew and could sing along with, a sermon that made sense and held my interest, and handshaking with the friendly parishioners at the end of the proceedings rather than as a cringeworthy interruption of one’s own contemplation and prayer.

There was reverence, laughter and even applause, not to mention some remarkably delicious homemade cake. It was not at all what I expected, but it did make me wonder why I have shunned church in favour of The Archers Omnibus every Sunday morning for the last 30 years.

Assume nothing. In particular, do not spend today’s tax cut until you have actually got the money in your hand. Except for those like me who were lucky enough to receive it in advance by email from an internet café in Lagos. All I had to do to claim the money was supply my bank details. How marvellous. It will come as a small but welcome help in meeting the expenses of my wedding, which is probably going to be the main driver of the British economy in 2009, along with the construction of a couple of aircraft carriers and the employment of consultants to produce another report explaining that there is no need to dual the A1.

To quote my own favourite catchphrase: what could possibly go wrong now?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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