Who said ordinands were meant to be responsible?

I was under the impression that only mature, responsible individuals entered the priesthood (yes, I realise that I am not necessarily in that category – but perhaps I’m the exception to the rule). However, after a week in France with 100 other vicars-to-be, I have discovered that this is definitely not the case. It seems that in fact, many of the students find it all to easy to connect with their teenage selves…

One can understand how childish games might become fun in a foreign monastery with free-flowing red wine. Boo Yeah! was a discovery on our first residential and it’s on its way to becoming a firm favourite. [It’s like Hot/Cold, but with yells, screams and humiliating actions.] Then there’s Guess the Kitchen Implement? – never has an extractor fan been so hilarious. How would you mime such an object? [That game is immensely simple – you mime the action of a kitchen implement. I suggest beginning with a corkscrew and getting progressively more complicated.] My personal favourite was miming one of those egg timers that changes colour in the water.

Anyone ever played spoons? It’s a classic youth group game – enough spoons for all but one of the group; a pack of cards; when the first person gets a set of cards, they reach for a spoon and everyone follows; person left spoonless is out. Sounds fairly tame, but it’s vicious. It’s not often that I participate in games that involve pre-match rules on which areas of the body to avoid (we specified faces and specifically those wearing glasses). Despite this, the end of the first round saw me prostrate on a table, devoid of glasses and with an elbow in my cheek. Actual blood was shed before I went spoonless (nails dug into fingers) and one player damaged their nose. Ah, the hilarity! It didn’t end there – how else should such competitions be settled than by a Chariots of Fire style quad race (at 11pm)? A race in the dark, round slippery floored cloisters, clad only in socks. It’s a miracle no bones were broken. (An alternative version involving blankets and towing girls was proposed the following evening but never took place.) Oh, and it couldn’t be left with one race – there was another, this time a 4 person relay version. Men…

Poor quality due to darkness and speed, but you get the idea – this was during the relay.

It was the childish pranks that were more surprising. People who follow a certain worship leader on Twitter, may have noticed a reference to a discovering a frog in their bedroom. It turned out this wasn’t a natural phenomenon, but a plant by an intrepid ordinand. Retribution was to follow, in this form:

That is no ascetic monastic bedroom, that is a bedroom devoid of all possessions and beds. Genius. No idea how long it took or how many people were involved, but I am impressed. [Note to self: be careful who you play tricks on in future…] 
Just in case you think it was only the ‘young & trendy’ students who were getting up to high jinks, two of my favourite quotes came from students of more advanced years. One opened an act of worship [a boat/ocean themed agape meal] with the sentence “In the words of the Village People…” and proceeded to quote In the Navy. Another, in response to a request that we shout out words of praise and thanksgiving, kicked off the shouting with “Rum punch!” – something that we should always be praising God and thanking Him for. [It was the cocktail deemed most appropriate for a boat based activity…] 
[An aside: the ‘young & trendy’ reference was actually a high point of my week. On the first morning a lecturer came over to the table I and my fellow younger students were sat eating breakfast and said “Spot the young & trendy table” to which one of the group replied “Wow. We’ve made it.” – perhaps we had, but I had to observe the reality: “It’s sad that we had to come to theological college for that to happen.”. Still, I’ll take that – I finally have an area of my life in which I’m cool, that’s enough for me.] 

Perhaps it’s three years at theological college that turn irresponsible wannabe teenagers into mature priests? Evidence from our staff would suggest otherwise. Who got over excited during the bonus University Challenge staff round in the pub quiz? The Assistant Dean and Principal. Who demanded more wine when their answer was considered wrong? A leading, respected theologian who may or may not be married to an Archbishop. It seems there is little hope for the Church of England…

French Fancies

Je suis retourné.

It was a week of hard work, early mornings, late nights, free-flowing vin rouge and a surprising amount of fun with people I’d never met two months ago. There’s probably a lot to say, but for now I’m sticking to the most important thing – food.
When one discovers one is going to France, one is likely to get excited at the gastronomic opportunities. My week at Chateau Duffy in the summer was notable for its culinary delights – from the simple pleasures of fresh croissants and baguettes daily, to huge quantities of cheese and an orgasmic beef bourginon. (Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I think about that beef…) However, combining the prospect of Francophone cuisine and a Christian conference centre led me to fear the very worst.
On our first evening, my fears were confirmed. Shark steak in curry sauce anyone? My dinner that day consisted of two bowls of soup, 3 slices of white bread (honestly, I don’t think I have ever consumed so much white bread in so few days) and cheese. There was always cheese. Every day the lunch (four courses) and dinner (four courses) menus appeared on a screen that changed colour every few seconds. Part of the excitement was working out what the words actually said or meant, the rest being the anticipation of whether it would be edible…
I’m not sure what dessert actually was, but it definitely didn’t involve cottage cheese.

Tuesday was a good day (except for my fellow vicars-to-be who got stuck in Lille thanks to a feast day bus time-table) – the kitchen for some inexplicable reason went Flemish. As I am Flemish by descent (a long descent, but the Clutterbucks were once Cloiterboicks who wove wool there) this was a potentially exciting prospect – even more so when I realised that beef and frites were involved. Hands-down, it was one of the best meals of the week. Oh, and it was concluded with this:
Not sure what it’s called, but it tasted like a Krispy Kreme. Evil, but goooood.

A major excitement of any overseas trip is shopping – especially food shopping. For many Brits, the word ‘Carrefour’ is the holy grail of French holidays – a source of exciting biscuits, jams, cheese, and all sorts of other diversions. Merville may not have had one, but it had an Intermarche, the next best thing, so we dutifully went and stocked up. In amongst the chocolate and toys was an unusual discovery:
Yes, that’s an advent calendar for cats. It begs a lot of questions:
– Why wasn’t there one for dogs too?
– Is there a whole tin of food at the end?
– Is it just a lump of cat food behind each door? Is it wrapped? 
– What kind of a cat might want an advent calendar?
– Why? 
In answer to the penultimate question, we have a possible candidate – another sighting during our short jaunt through the town of Merville:
That’s special, that is…

Oh, and you shouldn’t trust everything you see, it’s not always what you think it is.
This is not a real cake:
One final thing. Men, when buying last minute presents for your wives from French supermarkets, try to choose things that show some thought and aren’t available in the UK. Fizzy cola bottles – even when extra large and with ‘extra acid’ (assuming this meant they were extra sour) – is not a romantic or thoughtful gift. Just saying.