Charlie was at least forty years my senior, though could never break through the decades of conditioning that told him that he should address the Rector as a schoolboy would address a schoolmaster. In the seven years in which I knew him, I was always, “Mr Poulton.”
Occasionally, there would be anecdotes from his long years of memory, observations on daily life combined with recollections of serious moments. Sometimes a silent moment would be followed by something unexpected. One Friday he spoke of the crossroads that lay between our respective houses. “One night we were driving down the road and I saw that signpost that we had passed every day for years, the one that says, Killough 2 Downpatrick 4, and I said, ‘I see Killough lost to Downpatrick again.'”
We both laughed out loud at the silliness of the thought, an acknowledgement that it was the sort of thought we had both had. There have been many times when signposts have seemed like inscribed football scores.
It was odd such an innocuous comment had prompted a burst of laughter. Perhaps it contradicted the expectation on the part of some that a clergyman should speak only with seriousness and gravitas.
It recalled a moment at sixth form college when a highly intellectual English teacher stood in front at a supermarket checkout. The cashier was someone he knew and there was banter and laughter between them about the trivia of the day. It had been a reassuring experience to see someone, who could articulate Shakespeare with passion and who could explore the depths of emotion in the work of William Blake, stand in a supermarket laughing with the woman at the checkout about problems with his motor bike.
The thirty years since Charlie noted the consistency of Downpatrick’s victories over Killough have taught that unless there is an ability to be like the English teacher, then the ability to speak of abstract concepts exists in a vacuum. Much more than in the days of Charlie, being serious and assuming an air of gravitas is no longer sufficient. Unless there is a willingness to engage at the level of the daft and the trivial and the innocuous, there will be no possibility of engaging at other levels.
The Year 10 lesson at the beginning of today was on interpretations of religious creation stories. The online discussion also included Sunday opening, the price of goods in corner shops, the performances of Arsenal, and the prospects of Cheltenham Town beating Manchester City. Anyone listening into the lesson would have wondered at the relevance of such comments. Should anyone have challenged me, I might have recalled my conversations with Charlie.