Friday, September 5, 2008
Gloucestershire, within whose green hills the village of Tatfield lay*, was in the process of receiving a month’s rain in one day by the time I got there. Quite which month I wasn’t sure as it had rained incessantly during much of July and August already. It was possible that they were being credited with next February’s rain, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
The drains were already overflowing. Three months of low rainfall** had left the sewers clogged with beer cans, condoms and dried leaves and many had blocked completely leading to flooding of several roads. It was only 10:00 AM now – what it would be like by 5:00 PM was anybody’s guess. Perhaps God had elected to drown just one portion of the British Isles, though in which case why hadn’t he picked Birmingham?
It was fortunate that Frank Bembridge lived in a small bungalow near the top of a hill and was thus unlikely to flood. Satellite television and two phone lines attested to his addiction and I was able to blag my way inside with a story about his brother leaving behind a safety deposit box, undiscovered until now.
Over a cup of tea and a slice of cherry sponge I’d brought with me Frank told me all about his brother and their early days in the Christian Youth. God was bred into them with every waking moment along with the threat of Hitler and his bombs and the importance of clean underwear. When the war ended Matthew had been eight and Frank five. They slipped into the fifties with the threat of communism, the Korean war and the sense of urgency that God was preparing the world for Armageddon.
With the sixties came Vietnam, the threat of the Bomb and the Devil walking abroad***. Frank and Matthew joined the militant branch of the Catholic Church and that’s when things began to go wrong. Frank wasn’t as passionate about it as Matthew and when his brother trained in an underground Bible Camp and learned how to kill with seventeen verses of the Gospel, Frank urged him to re-think his career and leave the Ascension Army.
Matthew had been killed in 1971 in an attempt to fly-paste leaflets onto the old church in Laverstone and Frank hadn’t said a prayer since that day. He’d been so honest with me I was almost sorry to tell him what I’d brought for him.
The story about the safety deposit box was true enough – Matthew had kept their parent’s Family Bible in there, but the real gift was the photograph of Matthew in his Ascension Army uniform, and the wicked-looking saber he held out for the camera.
*As opposed to Tatsfield in Surrey which is a dreary place, most noted for the neatness of the central reservation of its Dual carriageway.
** Lower than today, anyway.
***In a general sense, rather than taking the odd week in Torremolinos.