Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bishop-Spotting 2007

It's General Synod time again at York University. I'm a bit too busy at the moment to bishop-spot properly this year - normally I'll draw up a little check-list and sit outside central hall for a couple of hours a day. This year, I'm just making occasional forays across campus at the sorts of times when the bishops and lesser clergy gather in polite clumps on the walkways. I've not seen any celebrity bishops yet. Sentamu would be a good spot, as would be the Bishop of Liverpool and the holy goat of Canterbury. I'll keep my eyes peeled. I haven't seen this unsavoury chap yet either - one must always remember that although bishop-spotting is fun, some of the blighters aren't so harmless. One mustn't become too frivolous in this game.

I've noticed this year that you can normally estimate the rank of clergy fairly accurately by the size and type of their crucifix. The administrative ranks at the General Synod - the photocopier-tenders, message-runners, ushers and tea-brewers (mostly nuns, curates and small parish vicars) - tend to wear small, unostentatious silver-metallic crucifixes. As you get higher up the hierarchy (Canons, Deans and Archdeacons) the crosses get slightly bigger and the chains get chunkier. Bishops usually go for a large mock-rustic looking crucifx (wooden and slightly rough - as if it's been fashioned by shepherds without access to precision wood-cutting instruments) and, very often, the crucifx will have some sort of embellishment - a half-circle at the top (like an ankh) or an extra small beam crossing the main beam diagonally. This mock rusticity plus ornamental embellishment is just showiness masquerading as modest simplicity if you ask me. It's like putting a hot-tub in the front garden of your semi-detached while naming it 'Old Farmhouse Cottage'.

I find nuns strangely fascinating. I think most non-nuns probably share this fascination. I'm not sure exactly what it is. It might be their painfully nice nicey-ness that makes you feel a mixture of half-disdain, half-shameful admiration in their presence. You feel like you'd like to share a nice cup of tea and current bun with a nun but tell her, at the same time, that she really ought to stop all this silly being-a-nun business. I once, rather gallantly, helped a nun in distress. It was last winter but one on a very icy morning - the pavements were pretty treacherous. I was walking down Micklegate Street near where I used to live and I saw two elderly nuns coming towards me. It's strange - I knew immediately that this slippery pavement was simply no place for a nun, and that frankly they were asking for trouble. Sure enough, within seconds of me thinking this, one of the nuns slipped and tumbled habit over sensible shoes, landing flat on her face on the pavement with an unpleasant thump. There was even a bit of blood coming out of her nose like in a film. I did that stupid thing that you normally do in these sorts of situations which is to stand over her and ask 'er... are you all right?' in a rather embarrassed and awkward way. Clearly she wasn't all right. So anyway, after a few seconds of self-conscious dithering, I called an ambulance on my mobile and then went and got a chair from one of the offices near to the accident spot for her shocked friend to sit on. After two or three minutes a pharmacist from a near-by chemists came out and took over. Then the ambulance came and took them away. So, anyway I'm pretty sure I probably saved this nun's life. But did she thank me as she was being stretchered into the ambulance? No. I'm still pretty sore about that actually. I'm fairly certain, however, that most nuns have better manners and so I don't hold it against the whole profession.


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