Pottering into August

One of my birthday present highlights this year was a pair of Harry Potter, Marauder’s Map pyjamas. Because nothing says ‘responsible vicar type person’ like PJ’s with fictional characters on…

Marauders Map PJsBio-ethics mug + Harry Potter PJs = emotionally stable 30 something. Honest.

My birthday weekend coincided with the biggest Potter event to have hit the Muggle world since the final film instalment appeared five years ago. The Cursed Child play premiered and its script was released – both on the date upon which, in 1991, Harry Potter first discovered he was a wizard. [Yes, I just googled the year.]

In fact, the whole week was something of a Harry Potter fest…

On the Wednesday, a few days after the play’s premiere, with a couple of hours free in Soho, I took myself off to the House of MinaLima – a shop and exhibition of the work done by the films’ graphic design team. Nestling behind the Palace Theatre (the play’s home) on Greek Street, the shop is a treasure trove of Potter detail. Some of it’s familiar from the films (like the Daily Prophet front pages and the Ministry’s Proclamations) – but the level of detail in objects you probably hadn’t even noticed is phenomenal!

Hogwarts lettersHogwarts Text Books

Hogwarts letters to a certain Mr H. Potter & a selection of textbooks.

Thursday of that week had one priority alone: the purchasing of tickets for the aforementioned (and not at all high profile) Harry Potter play. For next year. In fact, for possibly 18 months’ time – depending on availability. The queue opened at 10am and I logged my place. At 11am *just* 10,000 people were ahead of me. Soon after noon, it was my turn.

Myy turn to click through EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY, any date within school holidays (in honour of my teacher sister) and even, when I got desperate, a few Sundays (believing I could always make a quick getaway for a 1pm start). I spent over an hour trying to get tickets, but failed. Informed that no tickets were available (presumably together) for the date I’d chosen. Every. Single. Time. Utterly depressing. (Especially as some friends later acquired tickets – on a Saturday – at gone 5pm. Perhaps I lacked stamina in my ticket buying!)

Cursed queue

I thought that would be the end of Potter for that week. I didn’t even buy the play as solace for my lack of tickets. [I have issues with play reading. And overly high expectations.] But I didn’t count for Friday…

One of my meetings that Friday was with a guy from Harvard Divinity School who’s involved in some fascinating research on non-religious communities and what the church can learn from them. [Potentially the subject of a whole other post. Honestly, it’s exciting stuff!] It was a fun conversation, and towards the end he threw in the factoid that he’d recently begun co-hosting a podcast based on Harry Potter. My ears pricked up, especially when I heard the title: ‘Harry Potter and the Sacred Text’.

I’ve now listened to the first few episodes (the most recent is only number 13) and I’m impressed. In fact, I just about managed to jump on the podcast’s bandwagon before it jumped into the iTunes podcast charts! Even the Guardian’s discovered it.

HPSacredText

Here’s the thing. What the podcast is *not* suggesting is that it IS a sacred text. This is not when all the uber-conservative Christians who claimed Harry Potter was occultish are proved right! What Casper ter Kuile & Vanessa Zoltan *are* exploring is what happens when we analyse, reflect upon and go deeply into Rowling’s work. It’s taking some of the principles of sacred text reading and applying them to a series that millions of people have read (more than once) and whose content in terms of number of words easily outstrips that of other sacred texts. [HP has, in total, 1,084,170 words compared to the KJV’s 783,137.]

As all readers of the series/viewers of the films will know, the central themes of Harry Potter are ones that are also found in sacred texts: death; good versus evil; violence; the power of love; resurrection… Comparisons between the series and the Chronicles of Narnia (a deliberately Christian allegory) are not uncommon. The way in which Rowling grapples with these big questions is largely to thank for the series’ popularity – they’re not dumbed down for the sake of being a “children’s book”.

Back to the podcast. It’s not too long (25 minutes). Each episode focuses on a chapter of the book – beginning at chapter 1 of Philosopher’s Stone. [Though sadly, being American, it uses the unfortunate – and wrong – US title!] Casper & Vanessa are engaging and competitive – I’m a fan of the weekly challenge to summarise the chapter in under 30 seconds. [Seriously, could you do it??]

It’ll make you think a lot more deeply about some of the themes and characters in the books – even in the comparatively (to the later books) cheery first volume. Like The West Wing Weekly, it might inspire you to return to the books and read along with the podcast. And, as far as I’m concerned, it provides a welcome alternative to my current journey through the back catalogue of You Must Remember This. [Which is a wonderful podcast, but if I listen to too many in a row, I forget which decade I’m living in!]

And, for now, the podcast helps alleviate a little of the pain I still feel when I think about those flipping Cursed Child tickets!

An alternative church

There is an alternative church. One which is global, diverse, and to which all are welcome. One that upholds a code of behaviour, as determined by its leaders and members. Occasionally, it claims the credit for miraculous healings. There are rituals and language incomprehensible to the uninitiated. It meets on a weekly basis, but its teaching permeates the day-to-day lives of its congregants too. 

Unlike the Body of Christ, its leaders cannot said to be God (nor do they aspire to be). It doesn’t offer the forgiveness of sins, nor does it hold the imbibing of certain substances to be holy. But there is a warmth of community, and a sense of communal purpose. 

The church is actually not so much an alternative as a complementary one. In a venn diagram of the members of the church of Wittertainment (founded by Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo) and those of the venerable Church of England, a not inconsiderable number would be in the overlap.

I over-egg the comparison somewhat, but the Church of Wittertainment does have its similarities to the church that ordained me back in July. And it was that ordination, and an email I sent in, that has brought out these characteristics in recent months…

My earlier blogpost chronicled the immediate aftermath of my moment of Wittertainment ‘fame’ (someone else’s word, not mine!) six months ago. I thought things would die down after the initial flurry of new followers on Twitter from the congregation; the random tweets from random people; and messages from friends of friends on Facebook, including ‘Colonial Commoners‘ far away in New Zealand.

The first weeks in my new clergy role (having tried to explain the saga to my rather baffled training incumbent) elicited some classic Wittertainment responses on Twitter – particularly on the day I was asked in a staff meeting if I knew how to do a baptism. Cue multiple responses of “How do you do a baptism? You just do a baptism!” [It’s an in-joke. This kind of explains it.]

At church (my actual church), congregants would occasionally sidle up to me after a service and divulge their Wittertainment status via some form of code-phrase, like a Hello to Jason Isaacs or, in one instance, the bemusing “It’s a honour to meet a legend of the church…the church of Wittertainment that is!” 

Clergy corner is a thriving niche of the Wittertainment congregation, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that clergy (or soon-to-be clergy) would continue to come out of the woodwork as fellow Wittertainees. I’ve met them at Chapter, Post Ordination Training, on Twitter and at assorted other clerical gatherings. However, I never thought I’d see the day when a Wittertainee in training for clergy corner status explained my appearance on the show to both a Bishop and the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. That was the very definition of a surreal moment and one in which I think the church of Wittertainment would appreciate!

Then, last Sunday, I took myself off to the BFI for an evening’s entertainment where everything got a little bit dead amaze and totes emosh all over again…(and I’m not even joking!)

canongate-the-movie-doctors-banner.1024x500.mz

The leaders of the church, the self-styled Good Doctors, have written a book together and have been on tour to promote it. Miraculously, despite it being that most wonderful time of the year when all clergy are working their socks off, I was free on the Sunday night that the tour came to London. An alarm was set and a ticket acquired. 

The show was great, and from an initial flick-through, I highly recommend their book too. However, the real highlight was afterwards, when a book signing took place. I joined the queue just ahead of a girl in a Mary Poppins t-shirt who’d been an audience participant that evening. We chatted on and off (a friendly bunch these total strangers who belong to the same church!) until someone from the publishers came to sort out our book dedications. I felt that my whole name needed to be given (as it is in Clutterbuck that the humour lies), so gave it and then dashed off to buy the book. When I returned the ladies either side of me were chatting to each other and immediately greeted me with “I’m sorry, did you say your name was Liz Clutterbuck? Are you THE Liz Clutterbuck??” Much more conversation ensued, until we reached the front of the queue.

I’ll confess that I had hoped when purchasing my ticket that I would get to meet the Good Doctors, but that was pretty much the limit on my expectations of the evening. To quote myself as I emerged onto the South Bank later that, “Well, *that* exceeded expectations!” [Because I often talk to myself in such a way.]

When Clutterbuck met the Movie Doctors

Did I expect an exclamation from Dr K on realising who I was? No. Did I anticipate a kiss on the hand from Dr M? Most certainly not!! Was I expecting them to request a photo with me? Errr….NO!!

God bless the Clutterbuck

I left the BFI in a little bit of a daze, clutching both book and phone, lest a mugger rob me of my precious cargo! At Waterloo, I bumped into the girl ahead of me in the queue and we chatted all the way home to Stratford – another indication of just how warm and friendly this church of strangers is. It was thanks to Debbs that the following morning I joined the Mark Kermode Appreciation Society on Facebook (she’d been showing us it in the queue and it seemed a good place for film banter). When my request was approved, I received a special welcome…

MKAS Welcome

 Within a matter of hours, this had evolved into a multi-comment thread, in which it was pondered as to how one ‘does the Clutterbuck’. Chuckles emanated from my office during the course of the afternoon…

My reflection? The members of the church are only so nice because their leaders are – it sounds a bit soppy, but genuinely, that signing was one of the most authentic and positive I’ve ever witnessed. [I’ve worked in a bookshop, I’ve seen many!] It wasn’t a production line, and despite having been there for nearly an hour, they didn’t look as frazzled as any self-respecting person would have the right to be! 

So, good on you Good Doctors, thank you for being your fabulous selves and bringing much joy to discerning podcasters!

Postscript:

This post has been in draft for a couple of days (thanks to seasonal obligations). I meant to post it on Friday morning, but forgot, and then the lovely Doctors proved every word of this post to be true by mentioning our meeting (1:27 in) in the show. (Possibly the only time my name will be mentioned in the same show as JJ Abrams & the cast of Star Wars!) 

Thank you doctors (although, not to play favourites, especially Mark for your excitement & enthusiasm!), it was a delight to meet you both. You helped make an already memorable 2015 even more memorable! 

An awkward blogpost

September 2015 is – without doing any kind of check whatsoever – the first calendar month in years in which I’ve not posted a blogpost, and we’re now two-thirds of the way through October. Therefore this post is simply awkward, like a coffee date with a friend unseen for years with no explanation, it just needs to be got through. In fact, reading it is entirely optional!

September 2015 was also a month in which a few things happened:

  • My housemate gave birth to the rather delightful Serenna on the 2nd. Her time in hospital and the impact of her return home meant that I was on babysitting duties with her older brother a little more than usual. Plus, it turns out that living with a newborn can prove distracting!
  • Newborns are both distracting and therapeutic. Serenna proved to be an excellent relaxation tool at the end of a long day writing – after all September 18th was the day on which my final MA essay and my dissertation were handed in! (That would be 27,500 words across the two assignments.)
  • How better to celebrate a completed MA than by watching one’s home nation playing their national sport in the city that was also one’s home for 9 years? Tonga Vs Georgia at Kingsholm may have had a disappointing result, but it was an ideal celebration the day after the deadline.
  • Big Cottage number two marked the start of a well-deserved fortnight’s holiday and two consecutive Sundays off. It was fabulous, not least because I had sole use of a ridiculously huge bathroom. (This is a big deal when current bathing arrangements at home involve a bathroom shared between 6-9 adults at any one time…)
  • What to do with nearly 2 weeks off? Go to America, naturally! I took the opportunity to gallivant off to the East Coast, visiting New York and Vermont respectively. There is much blog fodder from this trip.


The above isn’t so much a blogpost but a listicle. So to finish up and get this inconvenient ‘Er, hello! I’m back!’ post out of the way, I’ll leave you with a story…

As mentioned, I went to the Rugby World Cup to see Tonga play – which was fab, especially as it gave me a chance to catch up with a few Gloucester chums. I booked a train back to London at the sensible hour of 7.15pm (that early start on a Sunday still doesn’t feel normal!), which coincided with the time at which a number of clergy were also leaving Gloucester having attended the landmark consecration of the first female diocesan bishop in the Church of England at the cathedral. [Whooop! Go Bishop Rachel!] We were scheduled to reach Paddington at just after 9pm, however, due to unforeseen events – the Rugby World Cup primarily, because no one knew that was happening… –  I didn’t get there until nearly 1am.

My journey was scuppered by a cancelled train; queues of rugby fans leaving Cardiff; trains that couldn’t be boarded in Bristol; a taxi to London that broke down on the M4 just before Heathrow; a 2 hour wait on the hard shoulder; a rude First Great Western employee at Paddington and his even ruder manager; and two night buses which eventually got me into my bed at 3.30am.

Grounds for complaint to First Great Western (who, as if to distance themselves from this debacle, renamed themselves Great Western Railway not three hours after I returned home), no?? Oh yes! A bullet pointed email was duly dispatched on the Monday morning and I awaited a reply that was supposedly due in 5 working days…

…20 working days later, I received an email. It informed me that my train from Gloucester was never going to run, because of an amended rugby timetable – but that I wouldn’t have known this in advance as they decided not to advertise it. It also mentioned that we were diverted to Bristol (despite the chaos caused by the rugby in Cardiff) because they’d rather we waited for hours than used another train provider – a victory for privatisation! Most importantly, it agreed that the station manager should have put my taxi passengers (there were 5 of us, including an elderly couple) into taxis at Paddington to ensure that we reached our homes safely. Did I mention that we’d turned up at the station clad in foil blankets from Highway Patrol?? Oh, and they refunded my ticket (with a cheque, not rail vouchers) and gave me a free 1st Class return anywhere on their network (apparently Penzance is the furthest I could travel…). Not too shabby!

22 working days later, I received a very large package. An anonymous admirer had sent me a delightful bouquet of roses! Oh. Wait. It was First Great Western, apologising in style.

Great Western Roses

Great Western Railway. You provided rubbish customer service last month, but you do apologise in style!

Let that be a lesson in complaining for you all…

All I did was send in an email…

At some point over a year ago, I had an idea of something I would do to commemorate my final day at theological college. Then it turned out that I was going to have a year longer at St Mellitus than I’d anticipated, so I filed the idea away. Miraculously, exactly a week before I had my actual final day, I remembered this idea and put it into action. Little did I know what the ramifications of this simple idea would be…

Long term readers and Twitter followers may be aware that I consider myself a Wittertainee – aka a dedicated listener to the Wittertainment podcast featuring Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. A fan from my very first podcast (in which Kermode renamed Eat, Pray Love: “Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit”), just months later I found myself reviewing a film live on BBC Radio in their Christmas special. Thanks to them, I also spent a few minutes in the same room as Robert Redford back in 2012.

The beauty of Wittertainment isn’t so much the films, but the chemistry between Mayo, Kermode and their listeners. Each podcast features a sizeable quantity of ‘parish notices’, with emails from listeners featuring highly. Rarely are these missives much to do with film – more often, they’re to do with what listeners have been up to while listening (running marathons; treating Ebola; working on the Hadron Collider; up mountains; in submarines; and, most recently, having surgery performed upon them) or how the show has healed them miraculously, or caused them to suffer a WRI (Wittertainment Related Injury). There is a plethora of in-jokes, by which any discerning Wittertainee can easily be identified. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that it regularly features communications from assorted church leaders, who gather together in ‘clergy corner’.

It was this last point, combined with the fact that Wittertainment has been the audio accompaniment to my weekly walk home from college for four years, that resulted in my idea. I’d email in, in order to mark the occasion of my final Monday afternoon walk home from St Mellitus:

Wittertainment Email

To be honest, I wasn’t sure it stood much chance of being read out. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been, had the events of that Friday not resulted in the show going off air and being podcast only. My friend Phil (a member of Clergy Corner thanks to an email a couple of years previously) alerted me to its broadcast – and then followed this up with a couple of tweets that suggested that a little more had happened than just a simple read-out.

A Wittertainment realisation

Despite being determined to hold off on listening until my Monday afternoon, I was greatly intrigued and even more so when I searched Twitter and discovered that the week’s hashtag rhymed with my name – the hitherto meaningless “Hucklebuck”. So, 1am saw me fast-forwarding through the podcast to the relevant bits. [20mins in and around 5mins from the end, to be precise.]

Oh. My. Goodness. All I’d wanted was a bit of a shout out and instead, as Hoylus observed, it was ‘like a Clutterbuck special.’ And the Hucklebuck? Turns out it’s a very catchy 80’s tune that has a dance routine to it. Over the top of the song, Kermode & Mayo talked about me in my vestments dancing at the cathedral, singing “Do the Clutterbuck” over the original lyrics. Wow.

The next morning there were tweets from total strangers, and a Facebook post from a dear Wittertainment ally:

Stop what you're doing...Posting a link in the podcast resulted in requests for a Hucklebuck flash mob at the cathedral, and a fabulous Twitter exchange:

It was a surreal few days. At college, on my final day, a MA classmate greeted me with “I hear you’re famous now!” – as someone at his church had asked if he knew me (recognising the ‘radical’ vicar school in question). That afternoon, an emotional end to my last day of classes was eased with the podcast. By the time my email was read out at 20mins in, I’d already forgotten that it was coming and stopped in my tracks when my usual routine suddenly featured my name! A few extra people followed me on Twitter. A singer I’ve had a little bit of a crush on for a while, tweeted me in congratulations. (Cue much giggling.) Friends who were hitherto unaware of the Church of Wittertainment listened in and liked what they heard. Oh, and it turns out St Paul’s Cathedral is a Wittertainee…

St Paul's Tweet

St Paul's Tweet responses

And on the day itself? Well, despite being a fan of the show, The Hucklebuck wasn’t played at the cathedral. But it was played at the post-service party, and I did dance, while robed. Plus, a number of cards arrived bearing a certain hashtag.

Hucklebuck Cards

Today, two weeks on from the show airing, I sent in another email. Just an update, saying (more succinctly) what’s been said in this post. It made it into the pre-show podcast extras – complete with a chastisement from Dr Kermode for looking at Twitter during my silent retreat. I think it’s going to be a while before I email in again.

As I wrote in this week’s email:

“All I’d wanted was a distraction on an emotional walk home. I did NOT expect to acquire my own theme song, and a peculiar level of (as someone tweeted me) ‘Wittertainment fame’… Ordination was always going to be dead amaze & totes emosh, but thank you for adding a level of utter hilarity to it too!” 

As for the events of July 4th – that’s a whole other post that’s yet to be written.

A flock of sheep across the capital

My friends and I have gained something of a reputation for a certain activity in recent years. (Actually, I think we have a number of them!) We are known for our passion for hunting inanimate objects…

Back in 2012 it was eggs; in 2013 Gromits; and in 2014 book benches. Elephants, gorillas, buses, Paddingtons and Olympic mascots have also been pursued individually. We take it seriously – dates are planned far in advance; hotels booked at bargain rates; themed goodies baked; and route maps studied carefully. This is not simply a fun day out, it is a mission to be completed!!

Hunting at St Paul's

This year, we’re hunting sheep. Shaun the sheep to be precise. After the success of Gromit in Bristol 2 years ago, 2015 sees a Shaun trail in London over the spring & a summer one in Bristol. Just to show how serious we are, the trail launched on Saturday and we began it on Monday! (More of a happy accident involving Easter holiday dates really.) So if you’re feeling inspired, you’ve got ages to catch them.

Pleasingly, the organisers have appreciated that adults enjoy these hunts just as much as (if not more than) children. Each model of Shaun, designed by a different artist and sponsored by a different company, has a name and theme. These often have a link with its location, and regularly feature some spectacular punning…

Shaun at the Globe? “To sheep, perchance to dream.”
St Paul’s cathedral? “Baa-roque”
Tate Modern? “Br-ewe-nel”
Canary Wharf? “Golden Fleece”

IMG_9203

The latter was a favourite thanks to its shiny ness and potential for reflective photography. Our efforts even prompted its artist to tweet:

(I can’t claim solo credit for this. We all had a go!)

Based on our experiences yesterday and today (and previous escapades), I’d offer the following tips:

  • Plan your route. The map’s available online (you can pick up hard copies too) or there’s an app. We did it over 2 days, but with an earlier start and better weather you could do it in one. Beginning at Paddington, we did the ‘strays’ first, tubing it to Canary Wharf from Edgware Rd then tubing back to London Bridge for the start of trail 4. Trail was done backwards, ending with the first 2 of trail 2. Day 2 began in Covent Garden, included a trek to the far end of St James’ Park for the final lost sheep & ultimately concluding with Shaun number 1 on Carnaby St!
  • Know your limits! Pressing on too long sucks the fun out of it. If you’re local, and/or have children, do the trails over a few days. Trail 4 is long but worth it for the views!
  • Chat to other hunters. You’ll probably see the same people at different locations, so make friends! (I got teased for doing this.) If you’re alone, all the more reason to chat!
  • Snacks are crucial for pepping up flagging hunters. I like themed ones – egg shaped biscuits were a fun treat for egg hunting and a surprise discovery in a pound shop meant that I could repeat the recipe for Shaun. (We also enjoyed Simnel muffins and mini hot cross buns.)
  • Use the toilets whenever there’s a Shaun in a location with free ones.

This is the first trail we’ve ever completed as a group, which is a big bonus for those of us who like to complete things! Bristol’s set to be a 70 Shaun trail, which is rather daunting – but at least we’ve already got our dinner destinations planned!

Shaun HuntingAll 50 London Shauns