Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Week in the Life of a Curate

This is a little experiment. I’m quite often surprised, and made anxious, by the curiosity people have when you tell them you’re a curate. You’ll often get a muted question to test the water and then, very often, you’ll get the “so what do you actually do all day?” question. In no other career would you get this - can you imagine someone asking a lawyer, or a banker, or a civil servant? No. And I have no idea what they do do all day. This gives away the fact that actually people really do think that it’s basically a one-day-a-week job with a few cups of tea and old darlings between mattins and evensong. (And that’s if they’ve had the benefit of an Oxbridge education where they read those words on the chapel noticeboard, or if Daddy lives in a Cathedral close somewhere rural and nice.) Whenever I’m asked this question my mind goes blank. Partly this is the blind panic that is induced by a question that seems to ask me to justify my existence, partly it’s because so much of my week is inherently forgettable, partly I think it’s because I’m scatty and while I have just about learned to cope with multi-tasking, asking me to remember what I’ve done afterwards is simply one thing too many. So, anyway, being the first week in September, in the transition between the Summer lull and the back-to-school frenzy, I thought I’d take a look at what I get done in a day and assess whether my life is actually worthwhile.


It’s the start of the week. i wake up in my own bed, alone. It’s 7am. Listen to Radio 4, make a cup of tea and tidy the kitchen. I like to start the week leftwing so the Guardian arrives through the letterbox. After Special K and coffee I say the morning office, getting the readings of an app because I’ve lost my lectionary. I manage to do about 30 minutes weights, though I’m in a reluctant phase because I haven’t watched enough action movies and the Olympics are a distant memory. During this time I read my poem of the day which is ‘The Minotaur’, one of Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters. While I’m reading it I’m listening to Katie Perry. The ‘Economic Idea’ of the day today is ‘supply-side economics’ which fits rather ill with Jackie Astley, Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot, who I suspect are only read by sixth-formers and geography teachers. Have shower and shave. On way into office bump into charming welshman from congregation. We talk about the weather and how beautiful Swansea is when the sun is shining. The rugby hasn’t started yet. Most of the rest of the morning is spent moving large boxes of Sunday School resources around, clearing out a cupboard and laminating posters for our annual festival. This year I have included a marvellous picture of myself on a horse. This might seem somewhat self-aggrandizing. I then sort out parking for a number of builders. The car park is a continual distraction, especially on Monday mornings, but it raises enough money by itself to run a small parish. I then write a brief note of condolence before photocopying notes for next week’s Sunday School leader and the anthem for Roaring’s First Mass on Sunday so I can have a quick practice. After chatting with the administrator and fellow curate over tea, I write the dates for readings in Sunday School and then go home for lunch.

For lunch I have raspberries, granola and low-fat yoghurt. I notice that I have now eaten two foods in Sunday’s Times’ article on how supposedly healthy foods are not good for you. I really don’t understand this - how anyone diets anymore is beyond me - I would have no idea what to eat. I sit in my eerie above my house in my boxer shorts and shirt. The sun is bright but partly behind a tree, lawnmowers and sprinklers hum and whistle on one side, The Neighbour is bustling about in her office below and across the street, while planes cross from left to right towards Heathrow. It is a very pleasant spot. After lunch I phone a lot of people about confirmation classes and Horseman’s Sunday but no one answers. I fire off some emails and hear that the parents are all returning from abroad but the children will be there on Wednesday. More parking. More tea. I suddenly panic when I realise that I haven’t really thought about the start of year school staff service on Wednesday. I decide on Mattins as most of the CoE school staff don’t receive communion, and at that moment the organist walks in and it turns out he can come and play a couple of hymns. Which is nice. All Things Bright and Beautiful? Since the vicar is away I chair the staff meeting and we go through last week and the week to come, with the dawning sense that there is little let up until Christmas now. On the plus side it looks like a lot of champagne this month.
The day finishes with a mass for St Gregory the Great. Afterwards I run home and change before rushing out to the Barbican (tube reading: my friend Mr K’s The Necropolis Boat). One of our choir is in Carousel which finishes in the next week or so. She managed to get some cheap tickets and I go with the director of music’s partner and his friend. The show is fantastic - wonderful singing, great staging and brilliant choreography with a truly moving dance sequence from Billy’s daughter, Louise. The show totally left me cold though with a seeming apology for domestic violence. I looked it up when I got home and found little reference in wikipedia and elsewhere, even the Guardian review, while claiming it deals with the issue head-on underplays the sinister aspect. The most chilling scene is when the dead Billy slaps his daughter’s hand. The daughter claims the slap felt like a kiss, or like nothing at all, which her mother corroborates understandingly. It doesn't hurt if they love you. Contrary to Michael Billington’s review this sentimental scene does sweep the issues of domestic abuse under the carpet, and the easy ending which shortly follows, with Billy seemingly finding redemption without any penitence, reconciliation or amendment, seems a little cheap despite great singing (albeit of a rather sentimental song). The very good recent Porgy and Bess did much to counter the difficult elements of that show so it can be done. Never see Fame. It is a pernicious collection of stereotypes.

Anyway, I made it home, made a fishfinger sandwich with homemade Caesar dressing (totes deliciado) and then watched Total Recall (the original) over an hour of leisurely exercise biking. Then wrote up the diary and ... faff, faff, faff, ... went to bed. 3.52am.

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