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The Lonely Man


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The sun is shining in the Paradise City. A man enters a cafe that smells of happiness. Friends are seated at adjacent tables and they look up as he comes in. They smile when they recognise him, but he seems preoccupied. A chain of worries hangs around his neck and weighs heavy on his already strained shoulders. He buys a coffee and takes it to a seat in the corner where the sun cannot reach and taking a spoon he adds sugar and begins stirring, seeing only the world through the steam and fog of loneliness that his mind cannot shift…

The man in the cafe, the lonely man, was not young any-more, although not old either. He had seen many birthdays come and go and not all in the Paradise City. One of his friends stood up and came across, heading for the table in the corner where the sun didn’t shine. He wore a smile and a cloak of greeting as his hand came up and touched his forehead briefly.

The man in the corner, the lonely man, looked fuzzy today, not quite all there, lost in the mist. A flicker of warmth appeared in his eyes. He looked up, then down again, watching the swirling coffee as it whirl pooled around the spoon.

“What’s up?” asked the friend.

It was the first real voice the man had heard all week…

The lonely man, let’s call him Tom, was wearing jeans and a striped sweater, which suited him, thought the grey haired lady in her early sixties. She had chosen to sit at a table by the window where the sun streamed in and sent sparks of light from her knife. Carefully she cut her cake in half and lifted a portion of it to her mouth. The cake was a treat because it was her birthday and she wanted to spoil herself. To go with it she had a large coffee mocha, but that turned out to be a mistake because she found it sickly. She persevered, determined to enjoy her special day, which was just beginning. She looked across at Tom, whose friend was now seated opposite him, attempting to engage the sadness in Tom’s eyes with some lively conversation.
The owner of the Humming Bird cafe looked around at the tables to see how many were occupied on such a sunny morning in Paradise City. He noted with satisfaction that almost all the tables were hosting. The sun always brings out the customers, he thought as he mopped up a spillage on the counter. Next he checked to see how many regulars were present. There in the corner was Tom, looking sad and preoccupied, talking and listening to his friend Martin, who always seemed to have an entourage. Opposite and by the window sat Pat, eating a cake and stroking her newly coiffured grey hair. It must be a special occasion, thought Mick and he made up his mind to ask her what it could be. Mick was a widower and so much of his social life revolved around his work. Wiping his hands on a tea towel attached to his apron, he made his way towards Pat’s sunny table…

 

to be cont’d …

Time for the Christmas Tree to stand proud.


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We recently took our Grandson, Dylan to see the Christmas Tree Festival in Leighton Buzzard. The church there is very old and has a magnificent spire. The whole of the inside of this delightful church was packed with Christmas trees of all colours with very thoughtful decorations. Just as we arrived, a party of school children entered the building and the noise level rose a bit! They were excited because quite a few of the exhibits had been made in the school and they were anxious to see them in their designated spaces.

Each tree said something special about the organisation for which it was set up. Particularly poignant to me was the one set up to collect money for the homeless in our community. Sadly this community has been growing over the years of our recession.

Dylan was entranced by all the trees and their decorations.

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When we had finished looking at the trees, we sat down to listen to the school children singing Christmas songs. Their voices rang out beautifully in the old building and filled our hearts with joy.

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…and before long, it was time to go home. Dylan soon dozed off in the car, aah

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Here is a story I wrote a few years ago:

Christmas Time at Langwitch

Barry Thompson, aged 6 years old, couldn’t afford to buy his mother a Christmas present, and he had racked his brains to try and think of something to make her but he wasn’t very accomplished when it came to making things.

It was 5th December, the day of the annual Christmas Tree Festival at St. Nicholas’s Church in Langwitch.  The beautiful old church looked even more attractive than usual, decorated as it was with thirty-six Christmas Trees of all colours and sizes.  Mrs. Smithers, the part-time secretary at Primrose Primary School, parked her car at the back of the church hall and made her way through the churchyard with Barry Thompson. She was looking after him for her friend, Angela, who was taking a break to do some Christmas shopping in the High Street.  Both Mrs. Smithers and Barry were looking forward to the treat of seeing the Christmas trees in all their glory.

The gravestones in the churchyard stood tall or leaned sideways as they passed between them. They looked just like a row of crooked old teeth.  A row of old yew trees was resplendent, covered in their scarlet red berries with dark branches hanging low in their dampness.  Mrs. Smithers held tight to Barry Thompson’s hand.  Heavenly music, played on the organ, was drifting towards them as they entered the church through the large oak side door, letting in a blast of cold air as they did so.

Once inside the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.  The smell of pine and candles was enthralling.  Mrs. Smithers paid the entrance money into a large plastic margarine pot and was given a programme and a voting ticket!  Following the numbers in the programme she made her way up the nave and into the chancel.  Each tree had been expertly decorated by young and old groups of volunteers, each hoping to win the coveted accolade of the “Best In Show”.  Proceeds from the festival were going towards the continuing restoration of St. Nicholas’s Church.

The Langwitch Lace Group had crafted some very pretty circlets of hand-made lace, exquisitely fragile and delicate, as they hung in gay profusion from their tree.  Their entry was entitled “Bobbins, Bangles and Lace”.  The Brownies had fashioned an exciting tree with photographs of themselves to decorate the branches.  Smiling faces looked out from the tree as Mrs. Smithers passed by with Barry.  Standing in the corner was a bottlebrush tree, donated by the local chemist, and covered all over in red, spiky baby-bottle brushes.

“How original!” thought Mrs. Smithers.

In the right hand corner was a wall plaque, which Mrs. Smithers read out loud to Barry:

“Every part of this church is open at all times, but this corner is a special place where children can bring their gifts of flowers, read and pray, and speak their hearts to God.”

Barry, red cheeks glowing, put, his little hands together and talked to God.  He asked for a Christmas present for his mum because he couldn’t think of anything and he didn’t feel clever enough to make anything.  He wanted it to be special, something she would really love and treasure.  He asked for something that she could keep for a long time.

Leaving behind that wonderful corner, Mrs. Smithers and Barry turned into the chancel and there stood a tree decorated by the local Rainbow Children in all colours of the rainbow and coloured lights as well.  It was enchanting.

At the end of the chancel was a large stained glass window.  By now dark outside, the interior lights lit up the window and Christ, hanging on his cross in the window with a crown of thorns upon his head, looked down upon his faithful people.  Mrs. Smithers thought she could see him smile. A young mum in a blue coat with a headscarf tied around her brown curls, was showing her toddler the beautiful window. He wriggled in his buggy and pointed to the image of Christ.

On went Mrs. Smithers, past “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by the Makin family and “Winter Wonderland” by Valerie and Kate. She stopped and cast her eyes over a magnificent floral Christmas tree decked out by the Langwitch Ladies Floral Arts Club.  Lavender coloured roses were tucked into the branches in uniformity, and strings of cream coloured pearls hung in loops all around.  Twinkly lights enthralled.

Down to the organ corner where one of the churchwardens was playing tenderly:

“Away In A Manger, No Crib For A Bed, The Little Lord Jesus Laid Down His Sweet Head”.

The Methodist minister was serving steaming hot cups of tea and coffee from an electric urn, and her assistant was arranging homemade mince pies on a large plate nearby.  Fruit cake and walnut cake and mini chocolate rolls were fighting for space on another plate nearby and the queue for refreshments was getting longer and longer.

With a cup of tea in one hand and a plate with mince pies in the other, Mrs. Smithers sat herself down with Barry on one of the glossy oak pews.  Her thoughts returned to Christmases long ago.  She remembered the Christmas of 1962/3 when the whole country was covered in snow for weeks.  As a little girl in long red Wellington boots, she went with her dad to fetch milk and eggs from the shop because the milkman was unable to get his float down the road.  Dad’s breath froze on his moustache and turned it prematurely grey.

Coming back to the present, Mrs. Smithers chose her favourite tree and put the number of it on her voting slip.  The slip went into a waste paper basket collection receptacle, to be counted later.  She bought a raffle ticket and popped it in the drum and then left the church as she found it, a place of great tranquillity.

Dark outside now and getting colder, the Churchyard surrounding the church building was well lit and ghostly shadows followed Mrs. Smithers and Barry back to the car.

“Now” she said “I feel that Christmas has begun”.

Three weeks later and it was Christmas Eve.  Angela Thompson, Barry’s mum, went to the front door and opened it to put the milk bottles in the crate and some rubbish in the dustbin.  There on the doorstep was a huge black cat, which meowed urgently, asking to come in.  Mrs. Thompson looked around and saw Barry.  He knew why it had come.

“It’s for you mummy, it’s your Christmas present,” he said knowingly. He knew that Jesus wouldn’t let him down.

Oma

The Jug


Once upon a time there was a little old woman, who lived in a cottage at the side of a wood. The country she lived in was far away on the other side of the rainbow. All the houses there were crooked. They had crooked chimneys and crooked walls and crooked doors. The doors were there to shut some people in and other people out and to hide secrets.

In her cottage, the little old woman kept a ginger cat and a deaf, black dog for company. She was getting even older than old and very frail. She was so old that she was nearly dead, but not quite. She still had a sparkle in her eye. You could see the sparkle if you looked really closely at her. It twinkled when she saw children or the berries on the blackberry bush.

In her front room, a sunbeam shone through the windowpane and illuminated a large jug on the mantelpiece. It was the only thing in the cottage which was not crooked. On the side of it were an elephant and a camel. The elephant’s nose was holding on to the camel’s tail and the camel held the tip of the elephant’s tail in its mouth.

“Phew, it is hot when the sun shines on my back,” said the elephant.

“Well, move round a bit!” said the camel.

“You know very well that I can’t,” replied the elephant.

“It’s all right for you. I’m always in the shade,” the camel said.

“You wouldn’t like it if you had the sun burning your bottom all morning.”

“I love the sun. I am meant to be in the sun all day,” boasted the camel. “Stop moaning. Anyway, what do you mean you are meant to be in the sun all day? I am supposed to be in the desert, where the sun shines all day and it is very hot, but I’ve never been there. I can only dream of it.”

“I’m supposed to be on the plains of Africa, not standing on this jug all day and night,” lamented the elephant. If you could have one wish, what would it be?”

The beautiful camel smiled to herself on the other side of the jug.

“It would be nice to see your dear face at last, my friend. After all these years of loving you, I’ve never once seen your face.”

“You haven’t missed much. It is a huge, ugly face and I have a long nose like a staircase. If I could only see your face, I too would be a happy elephant.”

The old woman had three sons, who came to visit her as often as they could, which wasn’t very often. When they came she wore her best clothes and washed herself until she was squeaky-clean because she didn’t want them to think that she couldn’t look after herself properly. If they thought that, the decision may have to be made to put her in a home for elderly people. The last time the sons came to see her, the subject had come up in the conversation and the eldest one, Michael, had told her: –

“The time for you to consider going in to a home is when you think you are ready or when you can no longer dust that old jug up there on the mantelpiece by yourself. Whichever comes first? That will be the time.”

The large wooden clock on the shelf ticked loudly – tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

“And that’s another thing,” complained the camel. “I’m fed up with that clock chiming every fifteen minutes. It hurts my ears. They are delicate, my ears are, and they can’t stand that noise. It goes right through me.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about it? The noise hurts my ears much more than yours.”

“And why would that be?”

“Because my ears are very, very big.”

“Oh, you’re boasting again, aren’t you? Everything you’ve got is bigger than mine, you keep saying. Anyway my friend, you haven’t got humps like me.”

“Humps, what humps? You have the humps a lot of the time and that’s because you can’t get off the shelf.”

“No, I mean real humps. I have real humps for storing water. They sit on my back like two hills.”

“Ha, ha, ha. That’s a real joke. You have a vivid imagination.”

“And so have you – a nose as long as a staircase, whatever next!”

The old lady loved chocolates. She especially liked the sort of chocolates, which contained raspberry cream or liquid toffee. Her false teeth would nip into the crisp outer coating of the chocolate and open it up, allowing the liquid centre to flow out over her tongue, covering all her taste buds with happiness.

It was ten o’clock in the morning and the doorbell was ringing.

‘I’d better go and answer it,’ she thought. ‘It might be the laundryman.’

It wasn’t the laundryman. He was delayed in an apricot traffic jam. On the doorstep stood a couple of well-dressed young men wearing suits and looking very smart. The old lady looked through the spy hole in her front door and saw the young men.

‘Looks like church workers,’ she thought.

Carefully she lifted the chain and opened the door a little. One of the well-dressed young men stepped forward and smiled.

“Good morning. Sorry to trouble you. We’re looking for Betty. Is this her house?”

“No, it isn’t, I’m afraid.” The old lady stepped out of her cottage and slowly walked down the path to the gate leaning on the arm of one of the young men.

“That’s where Betty lives,” she said and pointed down the road. “Just there, three cottages down. Can you see? It’s the one with the green door.”

What she hadn’t realised was that, while she was talking to one of the young men, the other one was inside her cottage, helping himself to her best handbag and all of its contents. When she came back indoors, she realised she had been tricked. Her best handbag had gone and with it a great deal of money, which she had been putting aside to buy some Christmas presents.

‘I’ll make myself a cup of tea,’ she said to the dog in a trembly voice but he didn’t hear her because he was old and deaf. He slept on in his basket, dreaming of when he was younger, chasing rabbits over the hills. ‘Yes, that’s what I’ll do. A nice cup of tea will calm my nerves.’

She tottered into the kitchenette and took down the old tin where she kept the loose tea. As she tried to lift off the lid, her hands began to shake. She put two spoons of tea in her little teapot and flicked the switch on the kettle but she had forgotten to fill it up with water and after a little while it went “bang” and blew up.

The little old woman sat down in her chair and a big teardrop rolled down her papery cheek. She wiped it away with a pretty white handkerchief, which smelled of lilies of the valley. On the table beside her chair was a little photograph frame containing a picture of her husband who had died many years ago. He smiled at her through the glass, which protected his face.

The elephant from his position on the mantelpiece watched all these events.

“That’s not fair, is it?” he said to his friend the camel. “She didn’t deserve that.”

“No, it most certainly is not,” replied the camel.

The wind rustled in the plane tree, which towered over the cottage. The sun came out from behind a cloud and shone through the window, illuminating the dust on the shelf.

‘I’ll get the duster,’ said the little old woman. With the duster in her right hand, she reached up to dust the shelf but her hand was trembling so much that she knocked the jug right over. It rocked and spun and then “crash”. It fell to the floor and broke in two!

Now, at last, the two companions could look each other in the eye.

“You are very handsome,” remarked the camel.

“And you are very pretty,” replied the elephant.

“All these years I have longed to see your face and imagined in my mind what you may look like and you don’t look a bit like I thought you would.”

The elephant regarded the camel’s large eyes with her long eyelashes, designed to keep the sand out of her eyes in a sandstorm. The camel noticed the elephant’s enormous grey ears, which were designed to flap and keep the elephant cool on the plains of Africa.

“What will become of us now, do you think?”

The old woman stooped down and picked up the two pieces of the jug and set them side by side on the shelf so they could look each other in the eye.

‘I’ll explain that the cat did it,’ she decided, ‘otherwise they’ll put me in that old people’s home, saying I can’t cope. I won’t mention the burglary either because that will go against me.’

When her son came to see her at the end of the week, he noticed the broken jug on the shelf.

“Mum, I’ve been thinking,’ he started.

“It’s all right, son. I know what you’re going to say. I’m ready to go. You make the arrangements.”

“No, what I was going to say was…Pam and I have been talking and we’ve decided between us that we can’t live another day without that jug over there. We’ve always admired it and now we want to own it ourselves and, of course, you’ll have to come with it when we move it to our own crooked house on the plains in Africa, because it will need dusting every day to keep it bright.”

The old woman smiled a smile, which reached right across her face and the crooked, broken jug on the shelf shimmered in the sunshine.

This story was written by Oma, writing as Amanda Marigold

By Amanda Marigold

All Rights Reserved

Amanda Marigold reserves the right to be named as the author of this work under the Copyright, Designs & Patent Act 1988.

Copyright November 2010.

The Archdeacon’s Bottle of Gin


The Archdeacon laid aside his Sudoku puzzle, stretched and looked out of his study window to see if his 10 a.m. appointment was coming up the tree-lined road.  It was summertime and the mature lime trees were in full leaf, looking beautiful as always, but making it difficult for parkers to get out of their cars in the confined spaces.  The trees had grown to their full size, their roots causing the paving stones on the path to lift and separate.  It really could be quite dangerous.  I must ring the council and let them know, thought the Archdeacon, nobly reaching towards his old, oak desk to retrieve a pen so he could write himself a reminder note.

This particular Archdeacon was missing his parish; the beautiful church overlooking the town, the commodious rectory and most of all, his flock.  It was a large parish and a lot of thank you letters to write once he had accepted the promotion from Rector and Rural Dean to Archdeacon three years previously.

The Bishop had assured him that he was ‘just the man for the job’ and this was borne out by the number of phone calls to ‘see how he was getting on’, that he received in the six months after he left.  An Archdeacon no longer has a parish of his own.  He lives in a church house; in this case a beautiful one, built to a high standard in the 1920’s and he is responsible for the whole archdeaconry.  Archdeaconries vary in size.  Our particular Archdeacon is in charge of an archdeaconry with nine deaneries in it and each deanery has up to twenty-nine parishes in it, all with their own Vicar, Priest-in-charge or Rector.  That’s three hundred churches, up to three hundred Vicars and six hundred Church Wardens.  That’s a lot of responsibility so the Bishop has to be very careful that he does pick the ‘right man for the job’.

Of course with all the cut-backs, sometimes one Vicar has to cover up to four churches, but that would mainly be in the country districts.

The Archdeacon’s house is situated in the centre of a busy town although you would never know it if you took your tea on the lawn in his well- manicured back garden. A gardener was employed to come once a week and keep the weeds under control. In reality he did much more than that, assuming that he was storing up points in heaven for when he eventually parked his lawn-mower in St. Peter’s garden shed.

The hierarchy of the Church of England is very rigid and so once you get the call to higher office, off you go. Mostly Vicars move on every so many years, each time taking on a larger parish, until they are deemed experienced and responsible enough to become a Rural Dean.  This post extends their duties as Rector of their own parish and prepares them for future promotions.

Once our Archdeacon was in post, he became the Bishop’s right-hand man and he was quick to learn the intricacies of the job.  Apart from being the first point of call when one of his many Vicars had a problem, he was also responsible for the annual inspections of the many beautiful and ancient buildings that grace the English countryside in his own particular archdeaconry.

To help him in his daily work, he had a part-time secretary, to whom he gave the accolade ‘The Real Archdeacon’ because, in his humble opinion, she did all the work! This faithful soul kept all his appointments up to date, typed the many letters, organised the annual Visitation of Church Wardens and was always on hand to intercept telephone calls when she was able to shield her boss from the most unnecessary intrusions.  Perhaps her biggest task was sorting out the annual inspections.  There was just time in one day for the Archdeacon to do three inspections. However, with three hundred ancient buildings to visit, it was vital that all three were near to each other.  She couldn’t allow her Archdeacon to criss-cross the Deaneries in a haphazard fashion. Sounds easy? Well it wasn’t.  It was an almost impossible task, but one that the faithful secretary took in her stride.

August was approaching and with it came the Archdeacon’s birthday.  Each year the secretary bought him something he would really enjoy.  This year she decided to buy him a bottle of gin.  He can take it with him on holiday and drink it on the beach, she decided, feeling generous because the cost of the gin would make quite a hole in her weekly wage. He works so hard, he deserves it! She justified the cost to herself.

The secretary knew that the Archdeacon’s holiday with his wife and family was to coincide with his birthday the following week, so that night she stopped off at the local supermarket and bought the biggest bottle of gin she could afford and some pretty paper to wrap it in together with an appropriately sober birthday card.  As she wrapped the present up that evening, she pictured him opening it and relishing the partaking of it. This happy thought brought a smile to her face.

Next day she carried the present carefully in to work, setting it on his desk in a prominent position.  He’ll probably think it’s a bottle of Ribena, she surmised.  She wasn’t trying to curry favour; she was just grateful for her job, which gave her the opportunity to work flat out for four mornings a week and any extra hours she could manage for free. She didn’t work Fridays so this would be her last opportunity to wish the busy man a happy holiday and clear up all the many loose ends from his untidy desk before he made his departure the following Saturday.

The Archdeacon was surprised and pleased with the unexpected gift and after due thanks, he moved it to a safer place than his untidy desk, to a corner of the sideboard in the dining room.

‘Don’t forget to pack it, will you? It’s meant for you to enjoy while you’re away,’ said the secretary.

‘No, I certainly won’t,’ he replied.

The last morning passed in a flurry of letters dictated and typed.  Of course there were twice as many phone calls as usual and an emergency to deal with when suddenly a loud crash caused the Archdeacon to look out of his window. He watched in astonishment as a runaway car rolled down the hill without a driver and came to rest with a loud bang and a shattering of glass right against the front of a safely parked car further down the slope.

‘Oh my God!’ exclaimed the Archdeacon forgetfully.  ‘She must have forgotten to put the handbrake on when she parked it!’

‘She?’ replied the secretary quizzically.  ‘How do you know it was a she?’

The Archdeacon looked a tad embarrassed and sheepish when he realised he was being sexist.

‘Well whoever’s car it was that rolled into the other one, he’ll probably get away with it because from where I’m sitting it looks like the other car bashed into his!’ observed the secretary remembering that it was deemed the fault of the person behind when an accident such as this occurred.’

‘Maybe,’ replied the Archdeacon, hoping he wouldn’t be asked to be a witness. He refrained from calling the police, but remained on the alert for developments.

During the two weeks that the Archdeacon was away, his industrious secretary worked hard.  She got to grips with the mountain of filing and shredding and then set about sorting through the annual inspection returns.  There was a complicated spread-sheet to design, where in to show the results and a number of new Churchwardens’ Handbooks to send out.  This of course involved a lot of wrapping up and carrying of heavy boxes to the Post Office, which naturally she did after her working hours were over so as not to waste valuable time spent in the office doing more important things!

All the while she worked, the Archdeacon’s cat kept her company, leaving little presents under her desk for her to clear up when she got in each morning and once or twice an even larger and smellier present in the hallway or under the settee where even the longest broom handle was unable to reach.

The faithful secretary took all this in her stride and looked forward to the return of her boss and his family in due course.

On his return the Archdeacon was tanned and refreshed and full of his adventures at the seaside.  At coffee-time he showed his secretary the lovely photographs he’d taken on the beach, in front of the guest house and walking on the seafront, his family looking happy and relaxed complete with sun-hats and ice-creams.  The weather had been warm and pleasant and not too hot to take advantage of the beach whenever possible, he told her as she smoothed her lank hair away from her white cheeks, which had not seen the sun since the day the old King died.

‘It’s hard to get back in gear after two weeks away,’ sighed the Archdeacon as he picked up the mountain of mail that was waiting for him on his desk.

‘Indeed’, said the secretary.  She had been sure to sort the mail so that the most urgent letters to be answered were on the top of the pile.

‘Are there many e-mails?’ he asked, reaching for the dictating machine.

The secretary smiled encouragingly at him and opened up the Inbox containing the latest collection of e-mails.  Most of them were from the usual addresses: the Diocesan Office, the Bishop, several applications for appointments from the clergy.  One unusual address caught the diligent secretary’s eye.  It was from a guest house in Sandy Bay, where the Archdeacon and his family had spent the last two happy weeks.

‘Dear Archdeacon’, it read… ‘I am writing to thank you for the very generous gift of a large bottle of Gordon’s gin.  It was most unexpected and welcome and I want you to know how much Ted and I appreciate the gift.  After you left I found your mobile phone charger, which I will send on to you when I can get to the Post Office.  It may not be till the end of the week because my leg is playing up again, but I assure you, I’ll send it on as soon as I can.’

‘Well I never!’ exclaimed the secretary, her cheeks flushing with annoyance.  She carefully printed all the emails and took them in to the Archdeacon with the one from the guest house on the top.  The Archdeacon read that one first.

‘Damn!’ he exclaimed when he’d read it.

A Bible, which was perched precariously on the corner of his desk suddenly broke free of its constraints and fell with a thud to the floor causing the Archdeacon’s coffee cup to fly out of his hand and spill its hot contents all down his trousers.

‘Damn, damn, damn.’

The next day the Archdeacon was at a Property Meeting at the Diocesan Office.  His secretary arrived punctually in her office at 9 a.m. and sat down at her desk. She picked up the map of the nine deaneries, which was awaiting the planning of the annual church inspections. With her longest ruler she measured the distances between the churches taking care to make sure that the three daily inspections she was going to arrange were as far away from each other as possible. Then she started her list.

That should do it she thought as she stroked the Archdeacon’s cat behind its ears. The cat purred loudly.  Was that a smile on its face?

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This was an Archdeacon’s Story from Oma’s library.