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! 

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.

Friday Fun for sports fans in mourning

Disclaimer: this week’s fun isn’t necessarily sport related, it’s just that I’m aware that fans of both football & tennis could do with some cheering up this week…

First up, a rather niche piece of TfL fun – that will make sense only to devotees of the BBC’s flagship film review radio programme. (Aka Wittertainment.)  A couple of weeks ago, there was a conversation about film-related names that sound like tube stations, so someone made a map. Genius.

Wittertainment tubeCredit.

You’ll note that some station names aren’t ‘names’, rather random phrases like ‘Totes Emosh’, ‘Dead Amaze’ and ‘Clergy Corner’. These are Wittertainment in-jokes and at this point, I’d like to publicly congratulate Revd Phil Hoyle for making his debut in the aforementioned Clergy Corner the week after he was priested. An inspiration to all of us clergy/nearly clergy types who aspire to such heights.

Continuing the London theme, there’s a trend of visualising various bits of data over maps – and this one of photos taken in London is particularly pretty. Yellow dots are outdoor photos, purple at night/indoor. It’s a great way of spotting tourists’ favourite spots, as well as other concentrations of photographers – like gigs at the O2 in Greenwich.

London Photography Map by Alex Kachkaev and Jo Wood, giCentre, City University London

In other map news, the history geek within me was very taken with this animation of the changing borders in Europe over the last 1000 years. You need to watch rather closely, and potentially several times, in order to take it all in, but it’s a brilliant piece of work. Fun and educational!

Finally, just to keep things incredibly diverse, some text-based fun. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve been alerted to the existence of a blogger who has been chronicling her responses to the movies that defined her coming-of-age years, when watched in the present day. It helps that she’s a similar age to me, so the films are ones that are favourites of mine too. These are LONG blog posts, that’s the whole point of the exercise. Take her most recent one on While You Were Sleeping, published last month: ‘While You Were Sleeping: 19 Years and 6,000 Words’. But they are fun to read, especially if you’re a contemporary of hers. Trust me! Other films featured so far are 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That. You won’t look at either in the same way again.

Friday Fun with irony and history

I don’t know about you, but I’m still riding high on a wave of tennis related joy. It’s been five days, but still it brings a smile to my face. (If you haven’t already, do watch Sunday’s Today at Wimbledon, just to relive some of the magic.) My first piece of fun for today directly relates to the events of Sunday afternoon. If you were watching, you might recall the BBC’s cameras frequently resting upon two attractive men in suits, up in the royal box – Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper, stars of films & things, to be precise. That in itself might have been amusing (if only because they both have the most incredible eyes), but Mark Kermode has taken it to another level…

Regular readers will be aware that Kermode is effectively my Bible for all things film and that his weekly Wittertainment podcast with Simon Mayo is one of the highlights of my week. The joy of Kermode is twofold – firstly, his ability to rant with passion; secondly, his incredible use of sarcasm and irony. His analysis of Gerard Butler’s recent performance at Wimbledon would be an excellent example of the latter:

In other Murray news, I’ve just been alerted to the existence of a delightful Emma Bridgewater commemorative mug. Got to say, I’d love a commemorative mug for this event infinitely more than for the imminent royal arrival…

murray_1Thanks Jenni, for alerting me to this! 

[Though, as an aside, I did have a stunning realisation last night. If Scotland votes ‘yes’ to independence next year, does that mean non-Scots could no longer support him on the basis of nationality? That’s got to be an important political consideration…]

Back to the normal world of Friday Fun, how about some lost tube station fun? Specifically, a video of not-so-recently abandoned Aldwych – the only one of the ghost stations that I can remember being in existence. That doesn’t mean that it’s not an interesting station (parts of it have been unused since 1917), and it has a fascinating history. All in all, a pretty good creation – as illustrated that its a final project for a film student and was awarded a 1st.

Finally, something that is so terribly random, yet well thought out, that it’s a compelling read. Someone has actually gone to the trouble of working out how each Pixar film is related to the next. Not just through the motifs and characters that appear as running jokes throughout them, but as an actual evolution of the universe. Seriously, a lot of thought has gone into this. Possibly too much thought. Here’s a glimpse:

The Pixar Theory

I still can’t decide if it’s genius or utterly ridiculous, but it is a diverting read. Obviously, you’ll want to watch a ton of Pixar films immediately afterwards too. Good job it’s the weekend!

The danger of tweeting in enclosed spaces

I could probably devote a whole series of blogposts to the theme of ‘ridiculous situations in which Twitter has landed me’ (though it would probably need a shorter and catchier tagline), and most of them would be entirely my own fault. Generally though, they don’t involve people who could be termed Twitter Celebrities.

Some people set a lot of store by celebrity tweeters – deriving glory from retweets; lusting after a mention or even reply; screen capturing fleeting moments of fame…it’s all rather sad, but it’s one of the major ways in which the Twitter world keeps turning. The closest I’d got to such behaviour was screen-grabbing a reply from a Christian Celebrity Tweeter (a somewhat niche band of tweeters) who shall now remain anonymous because it would be mortifyingly embarrassing to share. [I just did it to gloat at a friend, how Christian of me…] Oh, and texting a friend when I’d reached the glorious heights of a Twitter conversation with Hadley Freeman, Guardian columnist and my Dad’s favourite fashion writer.

As I’ve pondered before, celebrity is a very curious aspect of our culture and it’s one that I try not to succumb to. However, there are moments in one’s life where you just get a little over-excited by events…

Last Thursday, I had a late lunch in a branch of Leon at the less manic end of Regent Street. I sat in the window, eating Hungarian goulash and wading through a rather dry theological tome on the nature of The Land. As I people-watched, I pondered the fact that, with the BBC’s new Broadcasting House now open and the Radio 1 building closing down, there would now be a lot more interesting people passing through this part of town – radio guests popping into cafes for drinks or DJ’s acquiring lunch before their shows, and suchlike. Within minutes of this thought passing through my mind, I looked up to see Radio 2 DJ, Wittertainment co-host and ‘Christian celeb’ Simon Mayo walking past my seat and into the cafe.

Out came my phone and a tweet was composed. For a while, I dithered over whether I should @ Simon Mayo, or simply mention the name. [The difference, non-Twitter readers, is that he would never have known about the latter.] I waited while he paid for what I assumed would be a take away and looked out for him to leave (I had my back to the counter and wasn’t about to turn around and watch like a saddo). But he didn’t leave, so I sent the tweet, concluding that an @ was ok, and he probably wouldn’t see it anyway.

Why did I feel the need to tweet in the first place? Well, it had amused me and I knew it would amuse at least three of my Twitter friends who are fellow Wittertainment fanatics. There were also quite a few other people who might be mildly amused because of Mayo’s status in Christian (particularly Greenbelt) circles. Thus, the following tweet was broadcast:

I got on with my reading, awaiting a moderately excited response from one of the three people I predicted would be amused by it. Fifteen minutes later, my phone beeped with a response, but it wasn’t from anyone I knew, instead, the DJ sat at the table behind me, enjoying their lunch and free wifi, had replied:

Simon Mayo tweets

I chuckled, and then realised that the cafe was quite quiet and therefore my laughter was probably rather noticeable. I still didn’t turn around, thinking that I was likely only to remain witty and together via social media. Instead, I returned to the theology, simultaneously trying to absorb Old Testament prophecy while composing an amusing response – well aware that I was the only person present seemingly engrossed in what might look like dry theology. After a suitable amount of time had lapsed, a reply was sent:

And with that, I got on with my work, ignored the presence of interesting people, and continued to wait for my friends to notice what had occurred. Soon enough, the book was done with and I had no reason to tarry, so I got my things together and prepared to leave, all the while contemplating whether or not I should greet the Tweeter in question. In the end, I decided to continue playing it cool and left without a backward glance.

Within seconds of my departure, my phone began beeping with tweets from friends who had finally noticed the exchange. One in particular was from someone who I knew would understand my precise state of emotion (i.e. just a little giggly and over-excited), who I then texted to say I’d just left but hadn’t dared say hello. Her response? “But he replied!!!!!” 

Here’s the thing. I am quite happy making a twit out of myself on Twitter, but make a fool of myself in the flesh? No way. [Ok, I do frequently, but usually not intentionally.]On reflection, I think I would also feel a need to way too over-familiar with the likes of Mayo or Kermode (the other Wittertainment co-host) because I have their voices in my head for approximately 105 minutes every week, as I pound the pavements of London listening to their weekly podcast. That’s more time than I spend talking to my parents, sister and potentially other assorted friends combined over the phone! I think part of my brain genuinely believes that these people are my friends and that once a week, we meet up in a pub to discuss films over a pint. [How I wish that were true.]

The moral(s) of this story?
1. Frequent establishments near TV/Radio studios to add a frisson of excitement to your study session/quiet lunch.
2. Be careful when tweeting ‘celebrities’ in geographical proximity to you.
3. Consider simply texting those you want to share news with, rather than broadcasting it to the world.