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The bishop and the chocolate bar

My subject is memory. I assumed that those words had appeared in that order in at least a dozen pieces on this Blog, but it turns out that this is only the sixth time. The Memories Menu, and posts that have been tagged with the Memories category, contain well over 100 pieces between them, but neither of them has been added to for over a month. So far this year I have been posting daily Trivia pieces, appropriate for each day in January: things beginning with A on the first of the month, things beginning with B on the second, and so on. Lists of facts in alphabetical order have been taking up my time, and very few new memories have come to mind.

By “new memories” I mean those that have not been drafted or published before and which I might consider publishing, for my benefit if for nobody else’s. A memory came into my head earlier this week, possibly triggered by plans for my son’s Confirmation later this year. All being well, he will celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation in May, while he is still 14. In my day children were confirmed much earlier, at 10 or 11. My Confirmation took place on a school night. I was 10, in the equivalent of Year 6 (last year of primary education). I wore my school uniform, which required us to wear short trousers rather than long trousers.

The bishop who celebrated the mass had done the same two years earlier, when my brother was confirmed. My brother wore a suit from the gentlemen’s outfitters opposite the church. I believe the shop was called AE Meaker It was between the Lloyds Bank and The Emperor pub. The ceremony had been on a Sunday afternoon and we have photos of all of us outside the church, with the bishop and with the priest who would become our parish priest later in the 1970s. A small part of one of these photographs appears elsewhere on this Blog, scanned and cropped to show the sign above the Emperor, on this page about Dead Pubs of West London.

The church was much more crowded on that school evening when I was confirmed. It took me several minutes to get out, along with the man who acted as my sponsor. (My godfather wasn’t around; he had moved back to Ireland and I haven’t seen him since the 1970s.) The rest of the family were already outside. By the time I joined them, the bishop had moved on and it was too late to take a photo with him. My mum was disappointed about this but there’s not much I could have done. My dad commented that the homily was the same as it had been for my brother’s Confirmation, and for one we had attended the previous year for one of his godchildren, out near Heathrow Airport.

These recollections, about Confirmation ceremonies in the 1970s, were not what prompted this piece. The memory that came to me, out of nowhere, and for the first time in many years, was from later in that decade, when I was 15 and going to gigs in pubs and other small venues around London. The bishop who had officiated at all the Confirmation Masses I had attended was based in our parish for a year or two, in a house around the corner from the church, near the library. The house was in between the church and where I grew up. I passed it every day on the way to school, and at night on my way home from gigs, plays or parties.

One night, around midnight, I got off the bus at the usual stop on the High Road, five minutes’ walk from home. As I did so the bishop got out of a car on the corner near the bus-stop. He walked purposefully to the small vending machine outside the nearby sweet-shop. Do you remember those vending machines? They were fixed to the brickwork in between two shops. They were smaller than the ones you’d find on station platforms, and usually sold Dairy Crunch bars or small boxes of Poppets. The bishop put in a coin, pulled out a bar of chocolate and walked on ahead of me. I wondered whether to re-introduce myself but he was off, walking faster than me on the way back to the parish house. He was carrying a briefcase. All these years later I can’t recall if he unwrapped and ate his chocolate bar while he was walking along but I don’t think he did. It would have been a tricky manoeuvre with a suitcase in one hand. As I walked past the parish house he was letting himself in. His first action on closing the door behind him might well have been to make a start on that chocolate bar. I have had cravings for many things after a night out – chips, fried egg sandwiches, kebabs, burgers, more beer – but never for a bar of chocolate.

 

 

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