Wednesday 17 December 2014

Foot-in-mouth disease strikes again

Chris Tingle sounds suspiciously like a 1970s Radio 1 DJ, currently on bail as part of Operation Yewtree.

In fact it is the name of a seasonal church service. Albeit one that can never feel like a proper tradition to me, because it wasn’t around when I was growing up.

If Wikipedia is to be believed Christingle was introduced to England in 1968. Making it a full five years later than sexual intercourse, according to the poet Philip Larkin.

I was only dimly aware of Christingle, as of many things, through years of listening to The Archers. There it forms part of the December fabric along with “stir up Sunday” and the traditional switch-on of the illuminations around Ambridge village green.

But I only started attending the service when I had children and, more particularly, one of them began attending a Church of England primary school.

Hence we dutifully trooped along to our parish church on Sunday morning and my two boys, like a plague of locusts who have spent too long on the 5:2 diet, stripped the sultanas and dolly mixtures off their oranges before their candles were even lit.

In keeping with the spirit of 1968, the rector leading the service seemed to me to bear an endearing resemblance to a Gerry Anderson marionette. I suspected he might have some underlying happy clappy tendencies, but if he did they were held in check by the uncomprehending stares of a bunch of irregular worshippers and his organist.

Perhaps those looks were what threw him so thoroughly off his stride in his address to the assembled children about the Advent candles.

“And who do you think we will light this last white one for, next week? I’ll give you a clue. His name begins with a G … I mean J.”

A vicar who does not know how to spell Jesus seemed like the gaffe to end all gaffes until I found my wife, after an alcohol-free lunch, referring to our elder son as “Whatsisname”.

But they both seem pallid amateurs compared to the weekend’s supreme champions of the foot-in-mouth world, UKIP. How did we fill our days with mirth before this shower came along, with their unbelievably rich cast of fantasists, apparent racists and homophobes, and all-round world-class loons?

Whenever I feel depressed about my current job, which is most days, I can at least pause to reflect, “It could be worse, you could be doing PR for UKIP or the Keystone Cops.”

I think, on the whole, that it would be easier to big up the latter as a credible law enforcement agency than the former as an alternative government, or even as a desirable holder of the balance of power.

I don’t write this without regret, being a traditional Englishman who favours tweed three-piece suits, the monarchy, the Book of Common Prayer and the old ways of doing things in general.

But I can more believe in Nigel Farage as a potential Prime Minister than I can really have faith that today’s CofE is going to offer me the secret of eternal life.

And even if it were, a heaven that consists of clapping, swaying and waving my arms around to the accompaniment of twanging guitars is one I would rather do without.

My idea of Hell

I wish UKIP could be displaced by a truly Conservative party that bothered to check what its name actually meant in a dictionary before setting out its policy agenda.

And that the Church of England could revert to being a provider of hard pews, rousing hymns, ancient rituals and thoughtful sermons, rather than a branch of the social work industry always embarrassingly keen to “get down with the kids”.

I’d like to believe that the son of God was born of a virgin in Bethlehem a couple of millennia ago, and I’m happy to go through the traditional motions of worship. But then I also put out sherry, mince pies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph.

Even so, I do value the church for helping to provide some excellent schools, preserving our architectural heritage and generally meaning well, in addition to providing some incidental entertainment.

Whereas with UKIP, I really cannot see beyond the laughs.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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