Sunday, February 14, 2010

Which Art

Title: Which Art
Author: Ranger
Characters: The Rev. Andrew Farthingdale and Gideon West
Warnings: Well I DID warn you....Happy Easter everyone!

"I never stand on this bit without feeling I ought to be doing some kind of overture or dance." Andrew commented, pausing on the steps of the chancel with a stray carnation and jiving on the spot. "Hooray for Hollywood… da da da da da da-"

Mrs Dunwoodie, behind an armful of carnations, gave him a look of pure horror.


"It's so stagelike, the grand entrance through the screen." Andrew protested, striking a Judy Garland pose. "Ta da! It's so like – hey kids, let's do the show right here! We've even got room for the orchestra. I LOVE this screen-"

"That screen," Mrs Dunwoodie began quellingly, "Has stood there, UNTOUCHED and respected, since 1647. It's over three HUNDRED years old-"

"Happy birthday to you…" someone began to sing quietly and subversively from the lady chapel. Andrew stifled a laugh and looked around. It was the youngest of the women who'd tailed Mrs Dunwoodie into the church this morning to clean and to do the flowers, a small red head in a full length black skirt, scarlet blouse and ferociously clashing green shawl with pit boots and enormous glittering gold earrings. She caught Andrew's eye and rolled hers, giving Andrew a brief and fleeting grin before she went back to arranging her flowers with grim determination. Andrew jumped the last step down from the chancel and wandered across to the first of the enormous vases with an unhappy peer at its contents.

"They're very- pink-"

"NICE flowers carnations are." Mrs Dunwoodie said sternly, picking up another armful. "We've ALWAYS had carnations in St Michael's church, the last vicar always said to me, Mrs Dunwoodie he said, no one EVER arranges carnations like you do."

"I'm sure he did. And I'm sure no one does." Andrew said soberly with perfect truth. There was another smothered laugh, and then a cough from the lady chapel. Andrew waved his hands vaguely around the pink carnations, trying to frame them and his words.

"Just that- well they're not even that interesting a pink, are they? I mean this is Easter! One of the most dramatic, fantastic times of the whole year, and here we are, in the church, right at the HEART of the whole drama. This IS the party 101! And it's not easy to party with slightly pink carnations. They're not really going to uplift anyone, or sock the message of Easter over- it might be nice to try something a little more-"

"Flamboyant." Mrs Dunwoodie said repressively. Andrew winced.

"Well. It might be nice to have something funereal- all whites, stark, you know- big lillies, magnolia flowers, something that'll really have that feeling to it for Good Friday and Saturday when people want to come in here and think - and then save the real spring colours for Sunday, the major celebration. All the spring flowers are the brightest, the yellows and reds and blues- this is an amazing time of year, we need that in HERE, the same as it is out in the hedges at the moment!"

Several of the women quietly arranging the pink carnations were looking up and looking distinctly interested. Andrew gave them a hopeful smile.

"How about if a couple of us nip over in my car now to Towcester and raid the market flower stall, see what we can-"

"It's a wicked waste of these lovely carnations." Mrs Dunwoodie said grimly. "Shameful to my mind. And there'll be no flowers in the church Good Friday nor Saturday either, we'll put them all in the vestry until Easter Sunday. No flowers in church on those days is tradition. People need tradition."

"And what about a haven, where people can come out of their daily lives for a time and have somewhere to think and feel and reflect?" Andrew said undaunted. "The church should welcome people like any home does-"

"The truly faithful," Mrs Dunwoodie said, drawing herself up, "Don't need any more than the church wood and stone, and their knees. I don't hold with all this happy clappy approach, this is a church, not the window of Marks and Sparks Vicar! Now if you don't mind, my ladies and I have work to do in here."

Behind Mrs Dunwoodie's quivering hat, Andrew caught sight of the red head, quietly throttling a carnation. Mrs Dunwoodie's look of outrage when he laughed drew from him an apology and a swift retreat out of the church and across the church yard to the rectory.

Once in there he slumped against the door and laughed in peace.

"What's tickled you?" Gideon inquired from his study. Andrew straightened up and went down the hallway, leaning against the doorpost. Gideon, in a blue frock coat, buckskin trousers and riding boots, was reading in the windowseat, his back against the wall and one elbow propped on his knee. He didn't look round.

"Mrs Dunwoodie in the church." Andrew said cheerfully. "Doing her Death By Flowers bit again. I'm going to get interesting flowers into there if it kills me."

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if that woman doesn't have the power of turning people to salt." Gideon commented, turning a page. "Be careful."

"I don't know who's annoying the other one more, her or me. Have you met a little red headed woman, interesting dress sense, looks like she might have a sense of humour?"

"Not as yet."

"Hmm." Andrew straightened up and clicked his fingers to the dog lying on the hearthrug. "Come on Pilate! I'm going into Towcester on a mission for interesting flowers. Are you coming?"

"I'm researching." Gideon's chocolate brown voice drew the word out into all its syllables. He glanced up and his moustache twitched. "I've got a client coming at four, that ought to afford the women's guild some minor entertainment."

"Who?" Andrew demanded, interest attracted. "Actors? Dancers? Julian!"

Gideon gave him a mild nod as Andrew twirled on the spot with delight.

"Julian. He'll probably stay for dinner." He added, louder as Andrew vanished up the hallway.

"I'll see if I can find anything at ALL interesting for dinner while I'm out!" Andrew shouted back happily. "Although no one around here ever seems to have heard of crostini or asparagus- he'll think we've gone completely to the dogs. Roughing it in the country. I won't be long! Be good!"

Gideon waved an absent hand and a minute later heard the backfiring outside as Andrew started up his beetle.


Mrs Ackwell, leaving the post office late that afternoon, stopped dead at the sight of what was going on in the rectory garden. She actually stood and watched for several minutes before she remembered herself and walked- fairly slowly- trying not to too obviously look over the hedge. Jo Dickinson, the infant school teacher, was locking the school gates over the road and Mrs Ackwell went over to her, nodding in the direction of the spectacle.

"Have you SEEN……"

"Yes." Jo said frankly. "I was trying to mark some maths books but I kept stopping to watch. I thought in the end I needed to go home if I was going to get anything done. The view around here really is improving, it's getting far more interesting looking out of the staffroom window than it used to be."

Mrs Ackwell gave another awed look towards the garden. "What DOES that man do for a living?!"

"No one knows." Mr Ackwell said later, folding his paper to read the football scores. "They're taking bets on it at the Frog and Bucket. So far he's been seen out there with a sword, with soldiers and guns, and with those three men with the bows and arrows."

Mrs Ackwell put his dinner down in front of him and took her own seat in the kitchen, peering as much as she could out of the window over his shoulder.

"Hasn't he told you?"

"He's talked a bit to me about what he's doing." Mr Ackwell said peaceably, putting his paper down and digging into his egg and chips. "Showed me some of his guns. Beautiful things they are, he's got them lined up and hung on the wall in his study. The vicar says they're a bugger to dust."

"What are they betting on then?"

"All sorts. A soldier. Some just saying he's flat out mad with those costumes he wears."

"And what do you think he does?"

"I think he's probably some kind of museum expert." Mr Ackwell said with his mouth full. "Knows all there is to know about those weapons and their periods, all the military history. Interesting man."

"But how is what he's doing out there NOW military?" his wife demanded. Mr Ackwell twisted around to have a look out of the window. Then shrugged and turned back.

"He looks like he's enjoying himself. Got any ketchup around my girl?"


The CD player was belting out Rachmaninov's 'Polka Italienne' in the garden and the large man in leggings and a baggy t shirt was spinning rapidly over the lawn, closely followed by Gideon who was frowning in concentration. And who periodically himself interrupted by a spin or movement of his own, emphasising the arms and the brusqueness of the movement.

"That's STILL not strong enough." He said as the pink VW beetle screeched to a halt on the kerb, "If you're wearing the uniform you have to accentuate the military style of the time, and the Red army were known for being-"

"Julian!" Andrew erupted through the gate, Pontius Pilate rushing after him, and threw himself into Julian's opened arms.

"L'italienne di polka! Mio caro Julian, lei guarda neanche l'italiano, lei guarda il tedesco e lei ha fatto sempre."

"Ciao marmocchio!" Julian retorted, laughing. "If I look German you're chattering the wrong language."

"Ist dies besser? It's NICE to see you!"

"You're still a show off." Julian put him down and kissed his cheek. "I've never seen you in your get up before- look at you, vicar on duty!"

Andrew spread his hands, flashing the jade green silk shirt and dog collar under the black jacket and black, well cut jeans. "I know, I look appallingly serious, it's horribly deceptive. Are you staying to dinner? How nearly are you done?"

"As soon as we get this style-" Julian broke off, looking in surprise at the long nose over the top of the hedge. Gideon inclined his head politely.

"Mrs Dunwoodie. Good afternoon."

"That's Much Magden's answer to Miss Marple." Andrew said in an exaggerated whisper as the black hat reluctantly bobbed away out of sight. "She's working on solving the mystery of us."

"How is she doing?" Julian said sceptically.

"Not good, not good……" Andrew rolled his eyes and jived on the spot, knees and hips twisting. "So! Da da da taa- are you coming in for a drink? Are you finished? Can I help?"

"Aggie get away from that window, do." Mr Ackwell pleaded half an hour later. His wife didn't move, still clutching the duster and windolene that was her excuse for peering over the net curtains.

"They're waltzing you know. They've got a bottle of wine in the garden and they've still got that music playing-"

"Well it's decent music I suppose." Mr Ackwell said philosophically.


"Oh allright-" Mr Ackwell heaved himself out of his chair. Across the street and over the rectory hedge he could make up the big man in the leggings sprawled on the grass with a glass of wine in his hand, conducting gently while the vicar and his partner waltzed around the rose bed. Mr Ackwell shook his head.

"I don't know what you're worrying about. He dances very well, the vicar."


"So let's get this straight." Julian said, leaning deeper into the armchair in Gideon's study. Andrew had curled up in the window seat, leaving Gideon the Admiral's chair behind the desk where he was slowly smoking a cigar and blowing the smoke towards the ceiling, the ankle of one immaculate riding boot on his knee.

"You've been here two weeks. The parish council have already told you off. This woman is harassing you in your own church. They've called you both all kinds of names, and you're being treated like a twenty four hour zoological exhibition. And you still think you've made the right move?"

"It's very restful." Gideon said, blowing a smoke ring. "The country."

"And you're teaching in the garden." Julian pointed out. "What are you going to do when the weather's bad?"

"There is a perfectly good dining room which he can use as a studio, he teaches in the garden because he likes teaching in the garden, that's beside the point." Andrew said with his chin on his arms.

"So what is the point?" Julian raised an eyebrow at them both. "This is SO much better than London? We miss you two like hell as a matter of fact. I'd think the parish probably misses you still more Drew, they're not going to find anyone else with your energy or experience and the people in that parish really needed you."

"And that need is consistent and who ever is there can meet it." Andrew said simply. "There's more to this kind of parish than just meeting the incoming need. Like being a stable part of an entire community and having a connection with the parts of it who don't know what they need at all. And having time for people, instead of groups with registered need and trying to snatch half an hour here and there for individuals. And building a relationship with the community, being part of it over time, and involved in all aspects of it. It's the difference between working the accident and emergency department in a hospital, or being a GP. You're dealing with less crisis, less faceless bodies and more people. With a lot more time for protective intervention and support rather than constantly picking up the pieces after crisis has hit."

"You were saying all this in London two months ago." Julian said dryly. "How are you going to protectively intervene with this Dunwoodie character?"

Andrew didn't lift his chin from his arms but gave him a quiet and glinting smile.

"Ooh I'll think of something. Leave it with me."

"Oh God." Julian said involuntarily. Gideon choked slightly on his cigar.


The infants class at Much Magden primary school were painting when Andrew arrived on Monday afternoon, Pontius Pilate tucked under his arm. Jo Dickinson straightened up from the knee high table where she was demonstrating the intricacies of string painting and nodded to him.

"Afternoon Vicar. I won't shake hands."

Andrew grinned, eyeing the varying shades of yellow, red and green that covered the tables, the floor and the children in generous amounts.

"Oh good. This looks exciting."

"It's for our Easter cards." Jo explained. "We're just starting to clean up now, and then I'll sit the children down for you. Have you met Daisy Richards?"

Andrew followed the gesture and found himself face to face with the red headed woman from the church. Who gave him a fierce nod over slipping glasses and returned to the painting she was working on with the children. Stepping carefully around puddles of paint and clutching Pilate who was wiggling with desire to get down and investigate, Andrew went to peer over their shoulders at a large and brightly coloured mural of a hillside, covered in spring flowers which the children were busily painting on under instruction.

"It's the cavalry hill Vicar." One of the children informed him, "It's going to have three crosses on the top, all out of different kinds of twigs."

"Miss Richards is an artist." Jo explained. "She's kind enough to come in and work with us some afternoons on special projects."

She herded children away to wash their hands. Daisy Richards got up, wiping her own hands on a battered apron.

"Children don't have any silly ideas about art. They see and they do and there's no mucking about."

"I love the colours." Andrew said, still looking at the hillside. "Where is this going up?"

"In the school hall." Daisy said, peering at it critically. "We'll frame it too. Pressed flowers and leaves, the idea of spring. Very pagan actually, but most of the strongest roots of Christian custom are."

"Ooh certainly." Andrew said thoughtfully. "You know, I'd really like to mount this in the church if you and Jo would consider it. It's a beautiful piece of work, it ought to be seen by the whole village."

Daisy shot him a considering look. "I'll talk to Jo about it. What are you in for?"

Andrew grinned. "Talking to the children about the meanings of Easter. I've got rather a lot of flowers in the car, I thought I'd ask them to help me do some white and some celebratory flower arrangements for the church. I don't suppose you feel like staying for a while and adding your artistic talent?"

He was delighted when Daisy's rather fierce face broke into an equally fierce and answering grin.

"I'd be delighted Vicar."

The last hour of the school day was spent with the five to seven year olds, three adults, one wildly excited spaniel and a pile of assorted flowers which covered the small tables. Daisy was certainly an artist. Several huge vases were rapidly filled, some with the carefully sorted out white flowers which stood out, huge and stark amongst the green, and some overspilling with tulips and daffodils and roses of all colours. Many of the mothers waiting in the playground at a quarter past three joined the procession of children walking down the road to the church with their hands filled with small bunches while the adults carried the vases, and for the next twenty minutes the church swarmed with people while the flowers were arranged, rearranged, discussed and positioned. The lady chapel was given the white flowers and Andrew unlocked the altar cloths, the children debating and then choosing a dark blue one for the lady chapel and a vibrant scarlet and white for the main altar before they placed their flowers there.

"THIS," Andrew said to Daisy when the last mother and child left and Jo went back to school to tidy up, "Is what I call a properly decorated church. What I'd like to do now is put the children's mural up THERE on that wall, don't you think it would look rather groovy there? And find a couple of other pieces of art work to put up there with it, some really stunning professional pieces. Da da da da ta -" he danced on the spot for a moment, eyes fixed on the spot as he considered. "I think about five or six pieces in total that can be rotated, all for different seasons. I don't suppose you work to commission Miss Richards?"

"I'd be happy to give them free gratis if there's something you want." Daisy said dryly. "Although I don't know about 'really stunning'. I do a lot of the big pieces for fun, most of what I sell is costumes."

"Costumes?" Andrew stopped dancing and stared at her with growing interest. "You make costumes? Indeed. Really. Well well well. Miss Richards do you like scones? Do come over to the rectory and have a scone. There's someone you really need to meet."

The rectory was gleaming. Daisy, who had been into it a few times when it was occupied by the previous vicar, had no memory of the Victorian tiles ever shining so brightly, and the previous vicar certainly hadn't kept fresh flowers in the hall or bright rugs and cushions in the kitchen. Andrew dived into the fridge and began to set the table, humming to himself as he did so.

"Do sit down. Please do sit down, take a seat, do you like honey? It's amazing stuff, honey. And jam, since Gideon does actually make his own jam. You'd be staggered what he makes it out of too, it's not stuff that you'd think at all would turn into jam- GAY!"

"What?" someone shouted back from the depths of the house.

"Come and have a scone!" Andrew yelled back. "He actually makes the scones too," he added to Daisy, "he says it's in his contract. Licensed to bottle strawberries. He actually bottles virtually everything, it's a historical impulse which I haven't yet QUITE got to the bottom of- hello darling."

Gideon impassively accepted the butter dish and a kiss, surveying the woman sat at the kitchen table. She in return stared frankly at his outfit, her eyes moving slowly from head to toe.

"Regency." She said eventually. "A Schultz design, circa 1810. I LIKE the boots but the superfine cloth is not a good reproduction at all."

Gideon's eyebrows rose slowly. He placed the butter dish down on the table and offered a hand, bowing slightly as Daisy accepted it.

"Gideon West. I'm delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss-"

"THIS is Daisy Richards." Andrew said, gesturing with the butter knife and the teapot. "Daisy, this is my whatever you'd like to call him, I'd start with husband and work on down the line until you find a term you're happy with. Daisy is an artist who specialises in costume, I thought we'd all have tea. It seemed a very civilized thing to do."

"Then why don't we have it in the drawing room?" Gideon said, offering Daisy his arm. "Allow me, Miss Richards."

"He won't bite," Andrew promised, switching the kettle on, "Honestly. He comes over all gothic when he finds someone he really likes."


"Vicar, I really don't think……."

Mr Agnew, chairman of the Parish Council and a man who lived for a quiet and orderly life, trailed off, took off his glasses and polished them. Mrs Dunwoodie, who had dragged him, panting with affront, to inspect the latest church outrage, stood behind him and heaved with indignation.

"It's modern art." Andrew said firmly. "This is work done by the children of this parish and I think it's spectacular, a really wonderful and thematic piece for this time of year."

"It's very nice for children, yes." Mr Agnew replaced his glasses and blinked again. "But let's face it Vicar, it's a short step from this kind of blobby affair to cut-outs of bunnies dropping glitter and pasta everywhere, and that really isn't appropriate in a church. The village hall maybe, where the mothers can admire it, or better still
at the school. That's the place for it. Not in the church. And this piece…….."

"That's the preliminary sketch." Andrew pointed out. "Miss Richards was kind enough to offer this one to St Michael's as a gift, which from a contemporary local artist makes it invaluable in itself. And I think the design is fantastic, a lovely image to have within the church quite aside from it's technical merits."

Mr Agnew looked again at the spiral of doves whirling towards the front of the picture out of a glistening blue sky.

"That's as may be Vicar, but not this church. This might have been allright in London where you came from, but we're old fashioned people here. We like our church the way it is, quiet and plain and focused on worship, not full of distractions and tourist attractions. You can put forward art for the village hall if you'd like, the Van Goghs in there are getting a bit tired, but here is out of the question Vicar, I'm sorry."

"I do actually," Andrew said lightly, "Have the final say in what goes up in here Mr Agnew. This is actually my church-"

"According to the Parish Council charter Vicar, we have the right to veto anything we think is not in the best interest of the parish." Mr Agnew said apologetically. "And I'm afraid I think Mrs Dunwoodie has a point. We can discuss it at the next parish meeting if you like, I'll put it on the agenda. I'm prepared to compromise on the flowers- it looks a bit garish in here, but I can see it's nice for the children to be involved before a big family service like Easter Sunday. But the art work, no. I'm sorry."

Andrew didn't comment further. Just gave Mr Agnew a long and very thoughtful look. It was a look Mr Agnew was to come to know well, but had not yet come to dread. All he did on this evening was nod civilly and head on down the steps, intending to go home to tea and Gardener's World on telly.

"Good evening Vicar."



Gideon laid his book face down on the desk and sat back in his chair, waiting until his lover paused in the doorway of the study.


Gideon beckoned. Andrew stopped leaning on the door post and went to him, letting Gideon draw him down onto his knee and lying heavily back against him. Gideon lipped at bright fair hair over one temple and slid his lips down to the nearest ear, nipping gently.

"Is there any small thing you would like to tell me?"

Andrew shook his head.

"Like where you went this afternoon?" Gideon went on, just as quietly. Andrew shrugged, nestling his ear back closer for further attention.

"Just into Towcester. I had some letters to post, those bills."

"I see."

"I saw Daisy this morning. She has that sketch of the coat she was telling you about. She wants you to see it before she orders the material, and to talk to you about buttons and proper authenticity."

"Most interesting woman." Gideon murmured. "I think I'll ask her to join us on Friday, and meet the costumes mistress, although I have doubts about whether the budget would spread to the authenticity Daisy would no doubt insist on."

Andrew smiled faintly. Daisy had spent two evenings with them this week, she and Gideon deep in discussion involving piles of Gideon's books and endless sketches on Daisy's part. Gideon nipped again, a little more firmly on the ear near his teeth.

"I would appreciate a note, or something similar when you go out. We have discussed this a few times before."

"I'm sorry." Andrew said penitently. "I was in a hurry and I didn't think to stop in first and say."

"Very well." Gideon released him from his lap and watched him sashay away in a two step, humming to himself. "Where are you off to now?"

"Just a few things to do." Andrew executed a pirouette in the doorway and blew him a kiss. "I'll see you at lunchtime."

Gideon listened until he heard Andrew whistle to the dog and the front door slam. And then got up, straightened his cravat in the mirror and selected a gold topped walking stick from the stand in the hall before he stepped outside and locked the rectory door behind him.

At the end of the lane, up a ladder in the orchard field, he found Mr Ackwell, who paused in his clipping and nodded. "Morning Mr West."

"Mr Ackwell." Gideon leaned both hands on the walking stick. "Beautiful day. Would you like to tell me the state of play regarding the church artwork?"

Mr Ackwell leaned against the ladder, looking awkward. "Well- it's all a bit difficult Mr West. I mean not wanting to be disloyal to anyone, but it's all a bit complicated."

Gideon gave him a wry smile, not moving. "It's allright Mr Ackwell. You'll find I am the very soul of discretion."

"…….so the charter does mean the Council can vote on it." Mr Ackwell finished. He'd unlocked the church and Gideon was admiring the children's mural and the design drawings in silence. "And Mrs Dickinson is all for it, and so is the Vicar, and Mr Holland didn't mind either. And Mrs Dunwoodie and Mr Jones and Mr Agnew are dead set against it. Which leaves me. And I don't really know how to come down on either side without starting world war three in the vestry if you know what I mean."

"Yes, it's a difficult situation." Gideon said delicately.

"So then Mr Agnew gave the Vicar until nine am this morning to take these pictures down," Mr Ackwell went on, scratching his head. "And the Vicar didn't say anything much, but obviously they're still here. So I don't know now whether Mr Agnew'll try using the Parish Council to force the issue or whether he'll try touching the pictures himself- I'm not actually sure the charter gives right to touch matters in the church if it's against the Vicar's will. I think then it'll be a case for petitioning the Bishop."

"Oh I think we're still very much at the negotiation stage." Gideon said pensively. "Communication hasn't by any means broken down yet."

"Morning Fred." Daisy Richards, carrying a large screen with her, came in through the open church door and advanced down the aisle towards them. The doves, magnified on a four foot square canvas, reflected magnificently out of the sparkling background.

"Gideon. Fred, the Vicar asked me to put this in the church and ask you to hang it when you had a moment. He said you were the best person to ask."

Mr Ackwell gave Gideon a helpless look. Gideon swung his walking stick back and rested it on his shoulder, giving him a faint smile.

"Thankyou Mr Ackwell. Magnificent picture Daisy. Good morning."

The walk back through the village gave him time for thought and reflection. Which was brought up short as he arrived at the rectory, and opened the rickety gate. Andrew, sitting cross legged on the doorstep, was putting the final touches to the hot pink paint now covering the front door. And in the distance, scuttling up the highstreet towards Mr Agnew's house like an infuriated wasp, was Mrs Dunwoodie.


"What possessed you?" Gideon asked sternly, shutting the door to his study. Andrew, standing mutinously on the rug before the desk, glared straight back.

"It's OUR home. It's not a taboo colour, it's not breaking ANY kind of creed or law-"

"This house is church property Andrew, we do not have the right to make ANY alterations to it without permission." Gideon leaned on his desk. "QUITE apart from which, the act and the colour in themselves are an open challenge. Aren't they? Is this at all likely to make the parish council more sympathetic towards you?"

"They're all currently stuck in the dark ages anyway." Andrew argued. "There's nothing wrong with shock tactics, they need encouraging to see new perspectives and realise that the nineteenth century DID actually happen-"

"And that line of thought in itself should tell you that you are tired of negotiating by the rules and you are acting for yourself and out of impulse." Gideon said sternly. "At which point you need to stop and back away, NOT take action. You're a trained negotiator Andrew Farthingdale-"

"This isn't someone on a roof threatening to jump, or two rival factions threatening warfar, this is about two piddling little pictures in MY church!" Andrew said hotly. "It's not worth the ENERGY of negotiating, this is pointless thwarting on principle of anything that looks remotely like change! And they don't discuss, they talk down to me like I'm some kind of idiot child with no kind of professional skills at all- I'm sorry Vicar but we really can't let you do anything that might make people THINK, or FEEL, or at ALL be-"

Gideon rose from his desk and pointed silently at the corner. Andrew gazed at him for a moment, outrage still on his face, then turned on his heel and walked over to it, standing rigidly, arms by his sides. Gideon took a seat behind his desk, watching his lover's rigid shoulders. It took only ten minutes. Andrew was capable of great passion but his temper never burned very hotly or for very long. His fluent body language changed rapidly, his tension became the fidgeting and restlessness that Gideon read with long practise as conflict, then settled down into the quietness of regret. When Gideon called him he turned immediately, somewhere between apologetic and exasperated with himself.

"I'm sorry. It was that challenge to take those pictures down this morning, that was just a step too far. I know that's no excuse for hitting back, I ought to be patient with them, we knew this WAS going to be a very difficult parish and I needed to take things slowly and expect little things to be huge, enormous, HORRENDOUS deals, I just get impatient-"

"Which is natural." Gideon interrupted quietly. "However you know well what you do when you have a decision to make."

"Tell you about it and use you as a sounding board, I know." Andrew said apologetically. "I should have done."

"And the fact that you didn't want to is a good indicator that you wanted your own way unhindered." Gideon said sternly. "Trousers young man."

Andrew didn't move for a minute as Gideon went past him, opened the Grandfather clock case and withdrew a yellowed and serviceable looking cane. Then sighed and unbuttoned his jeans. Gideon placed a chair on the hearthrug and watched him double over it, flexing the cane in his hands.

"I further gave you every opportunity this morning to speak to me about this Andrew. If you had taken that opportunity we would not be in this position now. We do not withhold information."

"No sir." Andrew shut his eyes as the cane rested across the seat of his satin boxers.

"When we're done here, the best thing you could do to salvage this situation is to ring the bishop yourself and invite him over immediately, to review the situation."

"Yes sir."

"Hands flat, feet apart please. Don't move."


The Bishop walked slowly between the two pictures, his hands behind his back, looking with real interest while the Parish Council hovered behind him.

"The frame really is most unusual." He said at length, smiling at Daisy. "Pressed flowers. Most unusual, and such a lovely tie in with the theme. And so nice to have such an organised piece of children's work, it really looks quite professional. And this piece, the doves- simply beautiful. A lovely, peaceful image."

"We have no argument at all with the quality of the work." Mr Agnew pointed out. "Merely the placing of them."

"Which is what?" The Bishop said with interest. "Distraction? Yes, a very important issue. But placed here at the back and the side- really they're in no way a distraction to the service and they do add a great deal to the beauty of the interior. Which is important, where is there a better place for art and beauty after all? Particularly the efforts of the church's own people. And they both are rather lovely meditation themes and thought provokers, very in keeping with this season. You know the flowers in here are gorgeous Andrew, you must congratulate your ladies, they've done a really excellent job this year."

"Mrs Dunwoodie heads the flower arranging group, with Miss Richards." Andrew said warmly, "Along with the cleaning. You can see the church is immaculately kept, I haven't found a speck of dust yet."

Mrs Dunwoodie bridled, not quite sure whether she ought to be releasing the cheshire cat smile she was currently flashing at the Bishop. The Bishop returned the smile just as warmly.

"A truly excellent job Mrs Dunwoodie. Well thankyou for showing me these two really wonderful additions to the church Mr Agnew. I thoroughly appreciate your care in selecting appropriate decoration for this wonderful building and for your parish, and I think that the Vicar has chosen most wisely. It's been a real pleasure to visit and to see them, I hope maybe in time I can see one or two more? And Miss Richards, I do hope you'll consider making your beautiful art work more widely available in the diocese?"

"Does that mean the pictures are staying?" Mrs Dunwoodie demanded, smile rapidly fading. Mr Ackwell put a gentle hand on her arm.

"Now Bella-"

"They're a disgrace to the church and so I've said! Daisy Richards and her strange colours and her stranger boots hanging PICTURES in the church and calling that ART-"

"Ladies-" The Bishop began soothingly. And jumped, as Daisy snatched a handful of daffodils from the vase beside her and smashed them over Mrs Dunwoodie's hat.

"You wouldn't know art if it bit you, you interfering old bat!"

Mrs Dunwoodie screamed like a stood on cat. Andrew leapt in between them and Gideon confiscated the daffodils, wrapping an arm around Daisy and steering her rapidly down the aisle, still hissing and spitting.

"Oh!" Mrs Dunwoodie screeched, still dripping water and daffodils. "Oh!"

Andrew, aghast and trying not to laugh, brushed the daffodils from her hat and then seeing the tears start, bent and put an arm around her shoulders, hugging her gently.

"Allright. Allright love. Come and sit down. Jo, be a star and put the kettle on in the vestry?"

Mrs Dunwoodie, finding her head against a sympathetic masculine shoulder, even if it was the vicar's, began to cry in earnest. The Bishop sat down on her other side and handed her a handkerchief, patting her hand gently.

"There there my dear, the artistic temperament- very unpredictable, the price of genius you know. We must learn to be patient…. Well Andrew. I said that St Michael's was just the challenge- er parish- you were looking for."

"She's an old boot and she deserved it." Daisy was still saying as the Bishop and Andrew and Mr Ackwell reached the rectory garden. Her arm was tucked through Gideon's and she was walking calmly enough around the rose beds, but her look was still frankly challenging as though she'd break another daffodil as soon as look at it.

"That will do." Gideon said quellingly. "It was hardly ladylike and hardly suitable for a church, most embarrassing for all concerned."

"Hag." Daisy commented, mildly subdued.

Gideon gave her a look Andrew recognised, which made him stifle a smile. Six parallel lines under his trousers, still sore, ensured very well that no such comments ever escaped his lips when Gideon looked at him like that, but Daisy didn't notice.

"What a novel colour for the front door!" The Bishop exclaimed, walking up the front path.

"Ah." Mr Ackwell said, rubbing his head. "Yes, well-"

"Andrew you've revolutionised the place already, it looks a hundred times more welcoming and more cheerful." The Bishop said happily. "Is this one of the children's drawings you have here?"

Andrew explained the hello bee.

"Can we offer you a cup of tea and a scone your Grace?" Gideon asked, still patting Daisy's hand at intervals on his arm.

"The hello bee! How charming- tea! Yes, tea would be lovely. My goodness who's this? More parishioners Andrew?"

Two cars had swept up outside the hedge, and disgorged three ladies in sweeping Regency dresses, plus another woman in jeans, carrying a box and clipboard.

"These are clients of mine your Grace." Gideon said mildly. "I have an appointment, but we'll work in the garden, we won't be in the way."

"What lovely dresses!" The Bishop commented, delighted. "Gideon, my dear fellow what is it that you do? I never have been quite sure."

"He's a choreographer your Grace." Andrew said as Gideon went to greet the approaching actresses with Daisy who was already scanning the costumes for mistakes. "Specialising in historical forms and patterns of movement, the BBC use him frequently."

"How interesting!" The Bishop gave Andrew a pleading look, glancing back to the women in the long dresses. "You know I never do get to do anything interesting ordinarily on a Friday Andrew, would it be too much to ask to have our tea out here and watch do you think?"


"FRED!" Mrs Ackwell greeted her husband, peering over the nets into the Rectory garden. "You'll never guess what they're doing now."

"I don't have to guess." Mr Ackwell said with dignity, taking his coat off and hanging it up in the hallway. "Mr West is over there teaching the Bishop how to walk properly with a parasol. He says you never know when it might come in handy."

~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010


lusiology said...

Absolutely delightful! I know that type of parish well.

Ranger said...

Thank you! Delighted you enjoyed it :)

youampme said...

I'm with lusiology. Absolutely entertaining!!

Ranger said...

Thank you! :)

Key said...

still laughing at Andrew painting the front door hot pink!

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

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