Holy smokes, Father!

5th November 2004 at 00:00
The visit from the diocesan education adviser had been something else. Mary Maryatt, eat your heart out. She arrived late, having missed the turning for the school. She was dressed exactly as she had been at the infamous Tarts and Vicars evening, the same hat, coat - and bewildered expression.

She constantly referred to me as Bridie, although she often changed it to Brenda, despite Father McGregor's repeated corrections. She asked if I had a "County Syllabus" she could take away with her - for the poor wee souls in the subcontinent.

After a tour of the school, in which the children excelled themselves with their politeness and lack of mickey-taking, we retired to the office for the completion of her assessment sheet.

The questions were bizarre in the extreme. When did we "do" Transcription? Where were the Nature Study tables? Did we use Wide Range Readers? She then asked me what eight sixes were, and whether I could recite the names of the last 10 Popes in chronological order.

Father McGregor thankfully intervened and suggested a cup of coffee. Where did they find her?

It transpired she had once been a teacher in a mission school in India, and had recently returned to Scotland.

The bell rang for playtime and she suggested she be allowed to join the "little ones", in the playground. I felt one of my migraines coming on. She donned the Miss Marples outfit and went out in search of joy and discovery.

I winced when I saw Brian take her hand and lead her over to the dark recesses of the concrete jungle. I knew I had collected up all the discarded needles from the previous night's gathering, but dreaded to think what she might hear and see once she was out of my sight. I couldn't see her, and sent Father McGregor out to find her. He returned to inform me that she was nowhere to be seen. The bell rang, and I took the lines in. No adviser - and no Brian.

Later that day, I discovered the true story of the Great Escape. Brian had taken the good lady into town to buy some items for the church. He had told her that Father McGregor had run out of candles for the altar, and that he knew where you could buy special ones, made for the faithful.

Brian had persuaded her to part with her purse to fund the purchase. He also persuaded her to donate her coat to the local Oxfam shop, promising her that it would miraculously find its way to the needy parishioners.

"Ah, Bridie, what a nice young man that Brian is," she announced on her return, totally oblivious to the chaos and concern around her. The police search was called off, and Brian's mum and his "Uncle Jim" saw their chance of a big insurance pay-off disappear into the distance. The adviser was looking somewhat dishevelled, and seemed to be full of the spirit of joy and hope. Brian had promised to become an altar boy, and seemed strangely impressed by his new friend.

Father McGregor seemed relieved at her return, but we agreed that another role in the diocese might be more appropriate. Brian was duly summoned to the office. He explained his visit to the town to buy "things" for the church. He said he had taken them round to the church hall.

This year's fireworks display was probably the best we've ever had. The variety was impressive, although I'll swear that the guy's coat looked familiar. The sky over St Pat's was alight with all the colours of the rainbow. The spontaneous applause from the assembled throng was genuine.

Even Himself was heard to remark positively on the display.

"That must have cost a fortune, Bridget," he commented as we headed off into the dark November night. I assumed the PTA had stumped up the necessary cash, seeing as how they had "saved" so much from the cancellation of the Tarts and Vicars party.

As we got to our car, there was the shell of a firework lying on the bonnet of Father McGregor's car. It had scorched the paintwork. He wouldn't be pleased. The firework had been an expensive one. I looked at the name on the side. Someone had been very creative with a felt pen. I would guess that it was a child. A boy. Aged 10. Called Brian.

Fair do's to him. The colour was the same. The font was the same. The word "Holy" was correctly spelt.

The fantastic effects had been achieved by the considerable generosity of our diocesan adviser who had been persuaded by Brian to make the purchase of 60 Holy Roman candles. She might have wondered why he was getting her to buy Catholic Church accessories from Ali's paper shop.

Bridget McElroy

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