It's been a quiet week in Tacklake. A few people died, some were born and matters of great concern were few.
Pastor Peters cleans the mud off his best black shoes, the victims of a clarty graveyard after the drought broke. It wasn't the most difficult funeral he had ever done, although the bearers carrying Donny Davies' mortal remains to his final resting place possibly wished the deceased had followed more assiduous dietary advice. They got a sweat on; not common round here in March. Mind you, if he had followed dietary advice Donny probably wouldn't have been troubling the undertakers yet.
The worst funeral I ever did? Pastor Peters ponders. The questioner, in the Three Tuns after the burial, doesn't really want to know about the babies, the accident victims and the suicides. He wants one of Pastor Peters' stories. And he's told the ones about the grave full of water, the stuck hearse door and the order of service misprint many times.
'Let me see' says the Pastor, a sign that he does have a tale to tell. Glasses are recharged and a small crowd gathers.
The Pastor recalls his first funeral here, some years ago. He hadn't really got to grips with the local habits or sensitivities. Robed and ready he walked through the churchyard to greet the mourners and coffin. His first Tacklake funeral. Enid Bale - deceased.
He whispers a few words to Arthur, the Undertaker - a greying man, sombre, elegant and masonic. Then he greets Jim, recent widower, who went to the Maldives with a wife and came back with a corpse. Elderly, but none the less tragic. Holidays shouldn't be like that. Then he turns to the bearers to offer the ubiquitous, 'Thank you gentlemen' - the sign that they should remove the coffin from the hearse.
A man dressed in faded jeans and white T-shirt is walking a dog along the road. He doesn't stop out of respect. Few do these days. Behind him another man walks determinedly over to the funeral party. He walks between Arthur and Jim and comes right up to Pastor Peters. He speaks from too close in, the way only the rudely unaware do.
'How long's this going to go on for?' He spits the question at Pastor Peters whose glasses become blurred by saliva.
Pastor Peters is an experienced priest. But he's never had to cope with this before.
The good pastor thinks quickly. How long's what? The funeral? About 30 minutes and then to the graveside. He can't mean that. This is a generic question. The man is angry about something more than funeral length. But what? Pastor Peters is aware that the bearers now have the coffin half in and half out of the hearse, although Enid does not present anything like the challenge Donny will in a few years time. He looks at his accuser in a way that only good pastors can, inviting him to elaborate without saying so.
The spitter gestures around at the black Daimlers and hearse which are temporarily blocking the quiet lane. 'Emergency vehicles couldn't get through.'
So, here is the problem. Not this funeral but a local resident angry at the church's occasional - Spitter would say 'constant' - disruption. A Tudor church is disrupting the traffic its builders never imagined.
Pastor Peters runs through all the things it would be inappropriate to say. 'The church was here before the car.' Probably not helpful. 'Well if someone dies we have an undertaker handy' is speedily dismissed. Followed by, 'If you keep interrupting this funeral you'll be the one who needs the emergency services.' No. That might start a fight too. 'You insensitive bastard' is also quickly eliminated from enquiries. The insensitive are rarely calmed by being reminded of their affliction.
He breathes and pauses. 'I'm not sure this is an appropriate moment to have this conversation' he says. 'Why not pop round to the Church office and leave your name and address. I'll come and talk to you later. I don't think it's fair to keep this family waiting.'
Remarkably, Spitter notices what he's just done. He doesn't apologise to anyone but he harrumphs and turns to leave. The funeral commences with Pastor Peters intoning 'I am the resurrection and I am the life' in the middle of an adrenaline rush. It is not until Enid is resting in peace that his heart-rate is doing the same.
Popping into the parish office he discovers that Spitter is well known to the local church team but he has never done anything like that before. 'Glad it wasn't one of the curates that happened to' says the wise office administrator.
Indeed. Except you only get to be an experienced pastor by things like that happening to you. That's the punchline.
The gathered look at the Pastor who taps his glass affectionately. A pint appears and a toast to Donny is offered. Bar manager Paul joins in with a false smile, aware that this death has seriously dented his profit margin.