Over the years in ministry there have been many privileges and a few disappointments. One of the major joys, and I know others will not see it like this, is making the acquaintance of the few genuinely bonkers people in our country. I don't know if churches attract them more than most places or if they simply live in the vicinity of churches, but without them life would be so dull.
I do not mean the mentally ill or unstable who need help. Nor those with learning difficulties who we can befriend. I count it a blessing to try and assist or refer such people. I mean the ones who will never be sectioned, never make a difference to society and just moan for ridiculous reasons from time to time. Those are the fruitcakes.
There was a woman in Nottingham, a place where I first worked after ordination, who began her first ever sentence to me with the words, 'You see the trouble with you is...' Priceless.
In that same place was a deaf woman who always sat at the back of a very long, thin church in the days before decent PA systems. Then she complained if she couldn't hear properly. I asked why she didn't sit further forward if she found it so hard to hear. Her answer, and I can still quote it accurately... 'I'm terrified of getting a cold so I sit at the back so that no-one can sneeze on me and pray that I can hear.'
My suggestion that she sat at the front and prayed that no-one sneezed on her was not welcomed.
Others have already been chronicled as they were on the scene in Leamington after I started blogging in 2003. Especially the wonderful Francis, a man clad usually in red and white with out-of-control frizzy hair. He would often race down the street and call me Stephen even though he knew that I hated being called the full version of my Christian name more than almost anything. He rarely removed his bicycle clips.
I have met two candidates for the 'harmless but annoyingly stupid' award since I got here. There was the guy who complained that a funeral cortege was temporarily obstructing a road and emergency vehicles couldn't get past. He raised his objection to me as I was beginning to lead the procession into church and the coffin was being take out of the hearse. He seemed surprised when I described him as a little insensitive.
Now I have made it on to the phone list of a lady who doesn't like cars parked in the road she lives in because she doesn't like looking at the attractive houses opposite her with cars in her eye-line. Those houses, you need to know, are not as attractive as most vehicles, in my judgement. She has also phoned and complained that something must be done about the aerobics class at the church hall because a woman is talking over the top of music. She thinks the hall should never have been built there (I think it's older than her house) and something should be done about it. If I start to speak in reply she hangs up. She leaves no phone number or address. She has also ranted at the adorable Mrs T, a fine upstanding Christian woman who is neither my secretary, personal assistant nor scribe.
Now I know Mrs Car-hater's voice, when she calls I am going to keep talking until she hangs up. My colleagues believe going round every six months and visiting her is a better policy. Don't think so. The thing about the bonkers ( as compared to the genuinely needy) is that everyone else thinks they're bonkers too so we mustn't worry especially about their influence. I may ask her if there is another window she can look out of when cars are parked.