I was just finishing off regaling Brassica about Steve, the fish who went
missing from the Aquatic Centre in Romsey during the February floods. The
metre long sturgeon has now been discovered in a deep puddle in a car
wash and has been repatriated.
It’s a parable for our times, I quipped. What about that fishy pair up north-
Nicola (surely related), and Alex the Salmon? They’re both about the
same length and will surely end up in a deep muddle, up the political creek,
without a paddle.
Very droll, Candia, smirked Brassie.
Chlamydia looked pale and drawn as she flopped down at the bistro
table outside Costamuchamoulah, the must-seen cafe. What are you
two laughing about? she inquired.
Oh, just matters piscatorial, I joked. After all, we are in Compleat Angler
territory. Have you heard of a fish called Steve?
No, said Clammie and didn’t appear to want to discuss him.
See you later. Must go! Brassica breezed off.
What’s up? I asked. (Note that I didn’t say, Whazzup?)
Look at this! She took a letter from her Lulu Guinness handbag and cast
it across the table. Read it!
It was from the Land Registry and its gist was that she was to be
appraised of her liability- joint and several– for repairs to the chancel of
Suttonford Parish Church.
I don’t understand, I said. How can you be responsible for financing
maintenance and repair work to an ecclesiastical building?
Apparently it is an ancient law which can force home owners to pay if they
live in the parish of a church built before 1536, she sighed. You live in the
Parish of St Birinus, so you are okay. This will finish Tristram off, she groaned.
He’s already stressed over the twins’ school fees. We might have to cancel
our sailing holiday to Sardinia at Whitsun.
It’s just as well that you were gazzumped over that 8 bedroomed Nemesis
House that Kirstie and Phil tried to encourage you to bankrupt yourselves
for, I remarked.
Maybe you’d have to pay the PCC proportionately, according to the size of
I have spent the whole morning Googling, Clammie moaned, as if she hadn’t
heard my observation. They say that the clause doesn’t even have to show
up in your title deeds.
Sounds like hogwash to me, I tried to mollify her. It’s probably just that the
government has told the Church that they have a fixed period of time to
clarify stipulations on their title deeds- you know, for their charitable status,
No. No. It’s all about precedent, she said knowledgeably. I read about the
Wallbank case. A couple had to sell a farm they had inherited in Warwickshire,
as they found out that they were responsible for maintenance and repairs to
the church, incidentally, where Shakespeare’s parents married.
Theoretically, I suggested.
No, theoretically pay, I elucidated.
No. She wrung her hands. Actually pay. They lost £250,000 in legal fees.
I’m sure they could have bought an insurance premium, I said. Maybe they
just opposed the principle and got lawyers involved..
I think they were willing to pay something, she answered. I think you can pay
£50 for an exemption clause, though.
Well, there’s your answer, I said, pouring her a second cup of tea. It’s nothing
In days of yore, people had to support their vicar with a tithe pig. The
parson’s nose was reserved for him, probably, too. We should all support the
heart of our community. The Husband and I were giving our vicar bushels of
our windfalls last Autumn in lieu of spiritual comfort.
Why didn’t you give me some? she demanded. You know I bought a new
You don’t bring me spiritual comfort, I sparred.
She changed tack. It is just the fact that they can extract money from
you, she complained.
Well, they have to. Very few people give anything freely now. If people
gave their tithe..
Ten percent, I clarified, then there would be little poverty.
Oh, like ‘Make Poverty History’ she cottoned on- slowly. I prefer the
widow’s mite. It’s not as much. Nice story. But I suppose not so appealing
if you are a Pharisee.
Precisely, I directed her. And remember: the widow’s mite was
proportionately her all. If you want to take things further, don’t emulate
Ananias and Sapphira. They promised and didn’t deliver. That was the
worst kind of behaviour of all.
We stopped in front of the Parish Notice Board. There was a bright
poster inviting the purchase of tickets for a hog roast in the vicarage
garden, in aid of the stretched middle income bracket.
I can relate to that, Clammie nodded. Someone must have donated their
tithe pig. I bet it wasn’t that miserable farmer. If we go, I suppose what goes
out comes in.
What? Explain yourself, please.
If someone donates something, then more people benefit, including the
giver. A bit like the feeding of the five thousand. Clammie was getting the
Which takes us back to fish, I agreed. And I think the practice is called
casting your bread on the waters. It returns to you- sometimes after a long
while. Sometimes tenfold. Or a hundredfold. When you least expect it.
Think of Job.
I have and I always wondered what he could have done with all that excess
stuff at the end. But, seriously, if everyone buys a £50 exemption clause…?
It helps to save an ancient building and the heart of the community.
Well, if we pay up, what will you do, other than donate your bruised
Granny Smith rejects? she asked me confrontationally. After all, you
have no compulsion in your parish.
The left hand won’t know what the right hand is doing, I reproved her. If I
told you, I would have my reward on Earth. I prefer to invest in the Heavenly
Kingdom more discreetly.
Well, are you going to support the hog roast then? Clammie challenged me.
Depends who else is going, I replied. Since the poor we always have with us,
I suppose I’d better support the extended middle. That fish in Romsey was
lucky. One of those yummy mummies who push husbands’ credit to the limit
might have tickled him- I mean Steve- and served him up with a Bearnaise for
one of her ladies-who-lunch events. Everyone knows how there are fewer and
fewer of these gatherings in our cash-strapped times.
I don’t think Steve is a very credible name for the spouse of a yummy
mummy, Clammie objected.
I meant the sturgeon, silly. I ground my teeth in exasperation.
Sometimes Clammie simply doesn’t concentrate. I don’t think I could take
a whole evening in her company, so I’ll give the event a miss and just make
a donation. Maybe ten percent of the ticket price? After all, it’s a worthy
cause and I suppose they think they’re worth it!