Uncle Phil's Anecdotes
33: Scripture for his purpose
a sudden rush of you-know-what to the heart the appalling realisation
hit me that I could no longer remember what came after Thy Will
I was up to speed OK on the Kaddish. [the Jewish prayer for the dead.]
In either English or Hebrew, take your pick, Your Almightyship. But the
business end of the Lords Prayer had gone to ground in that dusty
archive-only directory in my mental hard disc where reside such esoteric
and rarely-called-upon trivia as the thirteen-times-table, the date of
the Diet of Worms, the name of the current Minister for the Arts, the
exact significance of Schroedingers Cat, and French. Theyre
all still rattling around in there somewhere - the problem seems to be
an anno-domini induced malfunction in the search and recall module. I
hope I havent got that disease. The one where wrinklies begin to
forget things. Named after some Kraut. Begins with an A -
cant bring it to mind for the moment. Nah. Its probably just
synapse fatigue. Or more likely the booze has finally done my brain in.
Im a firm believer in keeping all my spiritual options open. One
never knows which of his myriad theological hats the Supreme Being will
be wearing. Whos the Deity-of-the-Day? Thats the nub. For
my immediate purposes, the basic Old Testament white-bearded ill-tempered-but-fair
Jehovah model would have done nicely. Or the all-embracing C-of-E Good
Shepherd bloke with tweed jacket, pipe and plummy voice, and preferably
in one of his trendy moods where my liturgical memory lapse would have
gone unnoticed amongst the extruded plastic heartiness, the wannabee Hot
Gospel groups and the ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune bass guitar. But if
luck was against me, and on this particular morning He was in one of His
dreamy laid-back Buddhist incarnations, or had woken up with a scratchy
case of Calvinism or a debilitating attack of the Shiites, this miserable
sinner was in some danger of ending up nostril-deep in the warm wet stuff.
Let us pray.
I dont often hit the sacred panic button. Id long since cut
a deal with my Maker in which it was expressly stipulated that the party
of the second part (me) would refrain at all times from troubling the
party of the first part (Him) on the strict understanding that He didnt
ever bother me, either. Weve rubbed along for years within this
comfortable and mutually beneficent arrangement, leaving me free to scratch
a precarious living and to cultivate grey hair and impacted vertebrae,
and Him to worry his head about such tricky stuff as The Balkans, the
wackier or more Mammon-orientated outbreaks of American evangelism, the
implications for the finances of the Church of Rome of affordable mass
contraception, the physics involved in fitting innumerable angels onto
the heads of pins, whether the Popemobile will pass its MOT, and the Reverend
Ian Paisley. These examples not necessarily in strict order of Divine
But events had suddenly turned extracurricular. I desperately needed some
aid and assistance. Mayday, O Wise and Omnipotent One, bloody Mayday already,
and sod the small print. Do you copy, Godhead Base? Are you listening
up there? Its OK for you, sitting on your comfy cumulo-nimbus blithely
organising the universe to the sound of harps and heavenly choirs, but
you should try a stint at the sharp end sometime. It can get a bit hairy
down here, let me tell you. Even I occasionally need the services of your
celestial Search-and-Rescue. Although at that moment Id have probably
settled for International Rescue. For heavens sake - at that moment
I was so deep in the poo Id have settled for Dyno-Rod.
But, you must be wondering, whats he talking about?
I was, as I often am these days, ensconced in the passenger seat of Barbaras
car, with the lady herself committing grievous bodily driving on my nervous
system. In the world of the Spiritualists I think its called a
near-death-experience. Although I was too busy trying to keep control
of my sphincter that morning to get involved in matters metaphysical.
One problem at a time. Be still, my fibrillating heart!
Its not that Barbara is actually such a bad driver. Admittedly,
she has some minor shortcomings. Confined spaces, such as multi-storey
car parks, particularly the spiral ramps leading thereto and any such
pillars as might be erected therein, any roadside parking space that she
cant drive into frontways, and the physical limitations of her own
garage all tend to confuse her a bit [as with most women, who Ive
noticed dont seem to enjoy that inbuilt spatial awareness that us
chaps are blessed with]. The need to follow a series of road signs concurrently
with driving the car can also throw her off track; in fact the consequent
mental athletics tend to result in a System Overload message, and re-booting
the whole organism is usually the only solution.
Again, some of the more arcane mysteries of reversing the car seem to
have passed her by, notably the techniques involved in steering the beast
arse end first, and the function and use of the door mirrors. And shell
admit herself that overtaking isnt exactly her strong point, although
this doesnt normally matter at the time of day we start out. Going
home is another thing; theres other traffic about by that time,
but by then Im usually either too tired or too merry to care.
But these are really only minor lacunae in an otherwise blindingly average
set of driving skills, so lets not nitpick. De minimis non curat
antiquarius. Take a broad view, PJ. As long as shes proceeding along
an empty eight-lane superhighway in the general direction of forwards,
Barb appears to be a fairly competent driver, if perhaps a touch over-enthusiastic
in the wellie department. That, I can live with. However.....
However, the girls main problem is that shes easily distracted.
She even manages to distract herself if theres nothing or nobody
to do it for her. For starters, she habitually engenders more bunny than
Watership Down on fertility pills. Even at four in the morning, our Barb
can rabbit away, nineteen to the dozen. Whereas before Ive taken
breakfast on board I refuse to get involved in anything but the most basic
social intercourse, and even that in grunt mode only. So I tune out the
conversational white noise and interject the occasional statutory Yes
Dear when (if?) she stops for breath, or sling in an interrogatory
Really? if the tone of her voice seems to warrant it. She
doesnt mind - its not supposed to be a conversation, just
a Barbara bunny-session.
But the trouble is that she gets so lost in the convoluted byways of her
interminable sagas and becomes so hypnotised by her own rhetoric that
she tends to forget that shes in sole charge of a couple of tons
of travelling metalwork, with the general intention of relocating it,
and us, to specific co-ordinates within the Green and Pleasant, and preferably
in one piece.
Wed had a brilliant antique fair the day before, taken fortunes,
and so on this particular morning were off on a buying trip to spend our
ill-gottens on some more stock. This involves driving around the wilds
of East Anglia, (which is most of it,) viewing a few auctions, leaving
a load of bids, checking out any antique fairs, car boots, flea markets,
garage sales and such like that happen to be on the agenda, and calling
into every dealer, antique centre, charity shop (Im not proud -
Ill make a profit out of anybody.), junk emporium and any other
potential source of cheap goodies that we might come across during our
Mind you - all this commercial enterprise, though admirable, is only part
of the deal. It should be noted at this point that both Barb and I miserably
failed our O-levels in slimming. Were both far too fond
of our scoff. We both agree that we ought to do something about our burgeoning
avoirdupois, but somehow neither of us can face the necessary privations,
especially on an empty stomach. So its a quick stop early on for
some breakfast, which can vary from a bacon buttie apiece to the full
monty, depending on the time we started out and on when and where we reach
a natural hiatus in the stock hunt. Then its back to the grindstone
for a couple of hours, with the delightful prospect of the main event,
a substantial pub lunch, growing ever nearer. Then a bit more work, until
thoughts of tea and cakes intrude on our commercial ambitions. And so
on, till suppertime, or until I feel like a pint, whichever is the sooner.
But Im wandering, as per. Im in dire peril. No time for a
hymn to gastronomy.
Wed only been driving about an hour, and hadnt got as far
as breakfast. And the way things were going I was developing a fatalistic
suspicion that we never would. I dont know what was the matter with
Barbara that morning. Maybe her hormones were acting up. I hadnt
realised till then that PMT stood for Phil in Mortal Terror. Maybe she
had a hangover - although this is unlikely - the bunny mechanism was as
ever at full revs. Maybe shed picked up her old mans glasses
in error. Maybe shed left her brain in her other handbag. I dunno.
Whatever the reason, shed put me through sixty long minutes of the
most - er - unorthodox driving techniques Ive ever experienced.
Including the time, years ago, when Id rashly agreed to teach my
wife to drive. [Another story for another day.] She (Barbie, not my ex,
Dolly Dither the Girl Racer) was all over the place. Figuratively and
literally. Bombing along on the wrong side of narrow country roads without
a care in the world or a thought for the sanitary of oncoming drivers.
Showing no apparent ambition toward the safe negotiation of 180 degree
bends until her offside headlight was within inches of an approaching
hedgerow, and then heaving the car round in a screech of tortured brakes
(hers), a display of knuckles white enough for a Persil ad (mine), and
a torrent of quaint Anglo-Saxon exclamations (the entire company). Then
a deep breath to recharge the bunny generator, and off shed go again
until the next natural hazard jumped out of the landscape and threatened
And God forbid we should take notice of any aids to navigation supplied
in their wisdom and for our edification by those helpful chaps in Her
Majestys Highways Department. Following the sodding signposts was
far too easy an option for dear Barbara. She likes a challenge. Carrying
gaily on at full rabbit until I realised that shed missed a sign
and was forced to remind her in strangulated tones that we needed to chuck
an immediate right or whatever, and then doing a last-second handbrake
turn into our required route, that seemed much more like fun. For her,
anyway. Me, I was reduced to trying urgently to reach my Creator on his
mobile to get him to bail me out of trouble, which is why I panicked when
I couldnt remember the number.
However a broad-based theological education came to my aid, gleaned, inter
alia, from such unlikely sources as Cup Final broadcasts. I suddenly recalled
the first few verses of Abide with me, a catchy number, and
highly apposite to my situation. Who said that watching footie was a useless
waste of time, fit only for the brain-dead?
It was me, actually, but I must nevertheless have done a fair amount of
it over the years, because with hindsight I realised that I could have
probably managed most of Youll never walk alone as well,
had it occurred to me and if I thought it mightve done any good.
Anyway, I added a couple of choruses of For those in peril on the
sea for good measure, closed my eyes, and put my trust in the Lord.
And He must have heard me, because somehow we got through the day without
mishap, albeit I found myself off my food, somehow, and Im still
here to tell the tale. So far. But were off out again tomorrow,
Barbie and I. Its a far, far better thing I do........
The point is, I need to take out some more insurance. Can anybody lend
me a Greek Orthodox prayer book or a Shinto instruction manual? Is there
a Welsh Bible handy? A translation of the Koran? The Book of Mormon? The
latest issue of War Cry? A Jehovahs Witnesses pamphlet? A Sally