Abbot Peter's Christmas plan
Posted by Simon Parke, 13 December 2017, 9.21am
Abbot Peter has made a decision.
‘I have a friend coming down,’ he says to a neighbour when asked about his Christmas plans.
‘A boyfriend?’ says Mrs Wicks, who assumes he’s gay.
‘Er, no…just a friend.’
One of the most difficult aspects of his move to Stormhaven from the deserts of Middle-Egypt was the need to have Christmas plans.
He really desired only solitude with a candle, a tree and the small but cheerful selection of Christmas cards he received.
Here was joy untold.
But solitude was not considered a plan among those he met. Indeed, it indicated a failure of a plan, something gone awry; social inadequacy, not to say weirdness.
‘Nose-to-nose family and friends!’ says the man in the hardware shop. ‘Special time, ain’t it! As long as there’s a bottle to hand! And you?’
‘It’s the time of year when I most wish for stillness,’ replies Peter.
‘Oh, can’t have you being lonely! Not at Christmas! You come round to ours! We’ll fit you in somewhere! You could look after my nan! She’s a laugh and half!’
The Abbot could not imagine a more specific hell, but chuckled kindly, wished the man well, and left quickly with his rat bait and box of ‘warm white’ Christmas lights before the invitation became more specific.
But then the decision to invite Sarah for December 27th.
‘You mean the day after Boxing Day?’ she’d inquired.
‘Would that suit you?’
‘I could do Boxing Day if it helped.’
‘Yes, that would be difficult for me.’
‘Oh – aren’t you the busy man!’
He wasn’t the busy man. Boxing Day was entirely clear in ‘Sandy View’, his seaside home. He was seeing no one.
But then Boxing Day seemed sacrosanct, somehow not a day when any one should meet, but when all should pause, the whole nation, in stable quiet… look, weep, hope, live.
They’d met at Rosemary’s funeral, over tea and flapjack in the church hall, and something in Peter had stirred.
‘Rosemary’s prettier sister!’ as one of the family had inappropriately said.
But they’d talked, and enjoyed each other in some manner – and now Abbot Peter had invited her down on the 27th.
‘We could go to ‘The Plough’ for lunch, and then walk to Newhaven harbour,’ he says.
He doesn’t want the day to sound too intimate, and fears Stormhaven’s Advent lights are making him sentimental.
Because really, why is he allowing his Christmas solitude to be invaded in this way? He has already been woken by dread a couple of times and found sleep thereafter hard to regain.
‘It will be nice to see you, Sarah,’ he says on the phone, and somewhere in his heart this is true, if he can get beyond the terror of human invasion and the occupation of his space.
‘She’ll be gone by six,’ he reassures himself. ‘She’ll need to be, to get back to London.’
And so here he is, and he can’t himself believe it, saying to Mrs Wicks, ‘I have a friend coming down.’
He has a Christmas plan – or rather, a plan that is acceptable to the world.
‘Are they staying over?’ she asks casually.
‘Staying over?’ He chokes a little. ‘Oh no, I don’t think so, just for the day - just staying for the day!’
Watch this space for news of how it all goes on ‘the day after Boxing Day’...
(The story of how Peter and Sarah met is told in the Abbot’s latest adventure, ‘The Indecent Death of a Madam.’ The story of Peter’s desert years, ‘Another Bloody Retreat’ will be published in the New Year 2018.)