The road trip was, of course, 500 miles there & home to John Murphy's funeral, which saw me back in Pontypridd, back at St Catherine's, back in a dog collar in front of a congregation. That in itself would have made the old man smile his quiet, knowing smile.
I spoke at the service, and really I'm not going to go over what I said. It was lovely to see all kinds of people there, and to say brief hellos. There were all kinds of people not there in a way that reminded me of an old preacher's tale. The question goes, "Have you heard of Albert McMakin?" and unless you know how the story works out, the answer is usually no. So then there's a second question: "Have you heard of Billy Graham?" and here, even these days, the answer is usually yes. Albert McMakin was the guy who drove Billy Graham to the tent meeting where he was converted. The guy who invited him to go there. No Albert, no Billy.
When I left in July I received so many public thank yous. But the families who benefit from the children's work at St Catherine's should know - without John Murphy, that wouldn't be happening. The older people enjoying St Caths Plus should know - without John Murphy, that wouldn't be happening. The members of the congregation who have joined the church since 2000 all ought to understand - without John Murphy, St Catherine's would be very, very different. He's the guy who made sure I went there in the first place. Who made sure I stayed. Who encouraged me, gave me ideas, smoothed the way with everyone so that every early change took root. He prayed and he enabled and he listened to God so that what we did worked. It was nice that people said nice things about me; but without John, I couldn't have begun to enjoy eleven of the best years of my life or help St Catherine's live a little.
Every vicar needs a John Murphy. And every John deserves to be remembered. Part of me saw all those who had come, and part of me was very aware of all those who hadn't - because they didn't know him, or know how much they owed him. No matter. Least of all to John - he is with those who have gone before, and many will join him, and he has his eyes full of the Saviour he longed to see.
Road, trip, - Hospital appointment? Oh yes, I have this thing on my back which needs sorting out; the consultant was very encouraging. The appointment was on Thursday morning, before I set out. "There are 200 ways of dealing with this; which means none of them work. We can do it, but it will come back. Does it hurt?" Stupid question. I've had it for ages. I'm only bothering him now because it has got past the live with it stage. "OK, I'll sort it then." So an op, and a general anaesthetic to boot in late January. Hooray. It's good to have something to look forwards to in the New Year...
A pint in the Bunch of Grapes with Mark. He tweeted rather nicely - Beer, and desserts, and nothing has changed.
Indeed, nothing. General, gentle chat over a fine pint. Though I'd forgotten that this close to Christmas the normal quiet of a Friday afternoon in the Bunch is replaced by the aftermatch gatherings of office party lunches.
And supper with Owen & Liz Smith & family. Even simple food on their table tastes like heaven. Jack & Issy are well on their way to becoming fine pianists, and are making excellent use of my old Bentley. Owen & I may have also found his local and enjoyed a pint or two there... I am thrilled he is enjoying life in Parliament, and am sure he will make his mark on the Shadow Treasury team. If only he could find someone as left wing as he is...
And lots of Beethoven. Following a review in the Telegraph, I downloaded a complete set of Beethoven symphonies by the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig & Riccardo Chailly. There are moments I would like a touch more hushed awe, but this is Beethoven with added wow factor. It is probably twenty years since I last bought a complete symphony set (and that was a CD release of an old George Szell set to go with my Beethoven-light Richard Hickox discs that I recently discovered don't play anymore) and I have to say - I don't remember Ludwig being this exciting. Who knew? I am listening out of order (one, two, three, four, seven, nine so far) and Nine is awesome. But all have been exhilarating. Genuinely awesome musicmaking, with a wonderful resonance in the recorded sound. Ah but then it's Decca. Good old Decca; they know how to do these things properly.
And they have made a nice contrast with the Christmas music I always have on - lots of John Rutter (either singing John Rutter carols, or doing nice a capella stuff), and a mix of Diana Krall & Harry Connick Jr who both have bothered to put some of their very best material on their Christmas albums. Who would do that? Why? DK's Christmas album may be her very best; HCJ's Jingle Bells is a jazz joy. And both contrast with the awesomely awful Michael Buble's Christmas album. Oh my word. I am a Buble fan. But words fail me here... Who is responsible for the car-crash recording of Santa Baby? Who failed to say, "Err, Michael, there's a really good reason this song is only ever sung by a girl..."? And for sheer ineptitude of diction, technique & audible insincerity his Ave Maria is possible even worse. Mr Buble might possible 'ave Maria, along with Mandy, Martha, and many of the other girls waiting outside in the queue; as for singing the Ave, I'm not so convinced from listening that he does this so often. This disc rates right down there with Kiri Te Kanawa singing Michel le Grand. Though, to be fair, I am judging both against their own standards; if it was released by a pub singer in Otley, I'd be raving about it. Oh buy it for yourself. You'll probably love it more than the Beethoven.
501? Did I hear someone ask?
My last post was my 500th. Now onwards towards the 1000 mark. You know I can do it.