Last Friday I diced with a retirement cliché. maker markIt’s the one where the retired person joins a group of equally retired people* and goes to look at churches or something similar. You will remember that Mrs Summerhouse has recently completed a stained glass course at The Hive, Shipley (another excellent organisation in danger of losing its funding under this kind and sensitive government). Modesty forbids me from pointing out that it was I what enrolled her on the course. Little did I know to what it would lead.

Specifically, last Friday, it led to her group visiting two churches to look at the churches Victorian stained glass windows. The first, right next to the Bronte vicarage in Haworth, was The Parish Church of St Michaels and All Angels and the second was St Andrew at Kildwick in Craven.

I have already written a blog about finding my identity in retirement, finding my people. Once again I’m sorry, actually not sorry as it turned out, relieved in fact, that this was not my group. All I would say is that, as a former teacher in a special school for children with behavioural problems, this lot would have fitted right in. As per usual, the lecturer gathered in front of a window and started to tell us about the window. We hadn’t been there but a few minutes when half the group wandered on to the next window and the next and the next, soon they were spread out over the whole church paying no attention to the poor lecturer. Chattering among themselves. They reminded me of a flock of sheep. We had the pups in the Land Rover and I felt a great temptation to bring them in and round up the chattering class.

My recent blog on ADHD came easily to mind. One woman said – it’s hard to concentrate when it’s so cold. Maybe but did this excuse what my wife – a definite Catholic – described as sacrilegious behaviour. Altar ropes were ‘strode’ – you couldn’t call it vaulted – over and not quickly or elegantly in most cases. A rail, that was designed to protect a tomb, was breached because it stood between the flock and a window. I thought in my teaching days you lot would have been back on the bus before you could say Burne Jones. Words like, never been so embarrassed, you’re rude, showing no respect for the teacher, pathetically short attention span would have been freely used.

I finally lost all my goodwill for the group when, around one window, those of us that had the common decency or lack of mobility to stay with the lecturer listened to his information about the Pre-Raphaelites. He said, to what was left of us, who was their model? I know about this stuff so, at the risk of appearing a creep, I said Siddal,  Lizzie Siddal. The old git next to me said ‘Cyril? that’s not a girl’s name.’ I started to explain and then thought forget it. The one thing I learned was about maker’s marks and jolly interesting this was – even took a picture of the only one I found (the example I’ve included was made by H Hughes, so that’s what he was doing while he was a recluse). I also learned about my peer group which was not so great.

The strangeness of the day continued with lunch. Now I haven’t had pie and peas since I was a student at Leeds College of Art in the late ‘60s – yes I was there, yes, I do remember, (it was in The Fenton if you’re interested). I used to eat pie and peas every day washed down by a couple of pints of Double Diamond. We weren’t big on afternoons at art college, come to think of it we weren’t big on mornings either. No wonder I got diabetes in later life. So this – the pie and peas -was unusual but not as unusual as the conversation. One woman telling us her dog was on medication because he was OCD. I didn’t bother sharing with her my thoughts on labelling. I didn’t even want the last cheese pasty, I’m not vegetarian, but it seemed impolite to leave it, so I ate it. ‘Hmph, I was going to have that but it’s gone now’, said the nice old lady across the room with genuine venom. Probably more dangerous was us showing some interest in a history walking group in Leeds. I even gave the woman my email address. This could be a real problem.

Before the fight over the left-overs began we moved on to the second church, St Andrew in Kildwick. In this church we were greeted by the vicar and given some information about the church. He got more respect than our lecturer but then he was – sensibly – wearing his collar. Gave him more authority I guess, but it wasn’t long before they were off, baaing and bleating, oohing and ahhing and complaining about the cold. The vicar – The Revd Robin Figg told us about the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts (NADFAS). These are groups of local (to the chosen area)volunteers throughout England who catalogue every item of interest in their local church. The vicar proudly told us that whereas the normal time to do this is two or three years, this church had taken seven years to catalogue. Frankly I am not surprised, it is a big church and I have never seen a church so packed with artefacts of a non-religious nature – guitars, organs (of all ages), wardrobes, cupboards, tables, vacuum cleaners, bowls and buckets for catching the drips, children’s toys, there were even some religious objects.

There was also, and we found this strange, a decorated Christmas tree. I had always understood it was bad luck to leave your decorations up after 12th night and here was the whole tree with baubles and stuff greeting us as we walked in. No wonder the roof was leaking. On the way out we read, in the church porch, a notice advertising Candlemass on 2nd of February. We later found this celebrates The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, we did not know this then but even so I do not see that this merits leaving the Christmas tree up and causing the rain to come in. What kind of celebration is that?

So, there, in the bare bones, is the day. Didn’t learn a lot about stained glass but did experience the feeling that, yet again, my search for my perfect retirement soul mates would have to wait a little longer.

* I haven’t told you yet about my other joining a group, guilty secret. That’s for a later stage of retirement.


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  1. Graham Turner 5 years ago

    Hi Peter,
    Enjoying the blog, a new experience for me…very entertaining and enjoying the Summerhouse wit which much to the fore! What it is to be old, are we all destined to become grumpy, selfish and self obsessed as we decline into our twilight years? Or is it incumbent upon those of us who feel that we still cling to a degree of sanity, to challenge our geriatric peers when we see, or hear such selfish behaviour? Or do we do our best to avoid any organized event where there is a grave danger that we might be inadvertently brought into the orbit of our elderly peers, therefore I suggest that we avoid organized bus trips, visits to any place which might be in danger of reminding us of our mortality…..churches, museums……funerals…any cafe between the hours of 8.00am and 10.00am when early elderly risers make forays into inviting community spaces, and bus stops! I await further guidance and reflections on the best way to interact with the 60-100 age group, in the meantime should I be worried by my shifting views on immigration and the tendency to wear more than one item of clothing that clearly does not match?

  2. Mike 5 years ago

    As another ex special school teacher I’ve often wondered why aspects of the behaviour of teenage boys (at least those labelled as having behavioural difficulties) is deemed virtually criminal (or, indeed, is actually criminal) when the same same behaviour is deemed merely rude or sometimes eccentric or endearing when it is that of the (late) middle aged and middle class. But, hey, don’t give up on this group yet. having shared a few meetings with you I think you have the potential, with time and alcohol, to fit right in. Enjoyed the blog – made me laugh.

  3. […] you bloody idiot’. They don’t hear me.  But having witnessed the behaviour of my peers at our church visit day, I wasn’t completely confident that the evening would be incident free. So, yes, I was nervous […]

  4. The owls of leeds | 5 years ago

    […] we joined a walking, history group around Leeds. The invitation to join the group came from the stained glass window church visit that I wrote about a while ago. Still that’s no excuse we didn’t have to say yes. But we […]

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