‘Are you alright Oliver?’ Blast, it was the verger’s wife Mrs Mutton wandering through the churchyard and there was no lookout to give us our coded warning – ‘Baaaa’.
Gerald Godfrey or ‘Horse’ as he was known to his friends and I were lying in the poorly maintained, long grass, the result of the verger Mr Mutton being off sick with a bad back. We were trying to hit pigeons in the yew trees with marbles fired from my catapult.
‘We were watching the pigeons and wondering if they ever get bored Mrs. Mutton.’ It was all I could think off the top of my head and no warning. At that moment we were saved as the first bell began ringing for Morning Prayer.
‘You boys really have some daft ideas Oliver. But there is the bell so you’d better get yourself into the vestry and get changed before the choirmaster is out here looking for you. Go on – do pigeons ever get bored, what ever next?’
‘Phew that was close, Horse.’ I whispered as we got up and ran to the back door of the vestry stuffing my catapult into my blazer pocket as we went.
Inside the vestry the creep, Melvin Walton was pulling the bell rope making it look like it was some form of a dark art when in fact anybody could do it. I even did it one Evensong when I happened to be the first there to volunteer and Walton was away.
Fifteen minutes later and we were all in cassocks, surplices and ruffs and positioning ourselves in two lines behind the creep Walton who not only claimed the position of bell-ringer, but also the carrier of the stave and brass-cross leading us two by two up the aisle.
This is the part I liked best as we silently walked up between the assembled parishioners trying our best to look meek and mild while sneaking looks to the nearest pews to see if there was any new young girls present. Horse and I led behind the creep with me on the left in order to peel off left and get the nearest seat on the left-hand pew and the best view of the congregation.
Our choir-master and organist, crabby Crabbe was bashing away on the organ using the mirror placed above so he could see us filing into place and when to end his opening piece. His playing was quite amusing, pushing and pulling various stops, playing the keyboard in a very dramatic way, his head moving in time with the music. His antics, swaying and exaggerated hand movements making it look as though he is on some famous stage rather than hidden behind the choir stalls where only the choirboys opposite could see him. He loved these opening pieces, they were his pride and joy and he attacked them with gusto. It was the only time he ever appeared to be really happy.
Once the last of the grown-up singers were in position behind us trebles and the creep had secured the stave and cross, made a big deal over his genuflection as though he was Gregory Peck or something while we prepared to lower the hinged choir-stall seat into position.
It was at this point when my plan to ogle the blonde girl in the front pew went horribly wrong. The bench seat we seven choirboys sat on hinged up until we were all ready to sit down; when the time came for us to sit we lowered the seat onto three wooden brackets. I was sitting over one of the end brackets and my longest finger got trapped between the seat and the bracket.
How I managed not to scream out I will never know. Trying to explain with nudges and sign language to six idiot choirboys to get up sufficiently for me to get my finger free took forever. Close to fainting, leaving the stall from the side nearest the congregation, I quickly crossed myself and shot towards the altar and out of the other side door by old Crabbe. I could sense him glaring at me with that look of his that we all knew so well from rehearsals.
Once out in the open churchyard I was able to let out a huge yell and burst into tears. My right hand long finger was white, twice its normal width and hurting like I have never felt in my life. My yell must have alerted Mrs Mutton who came shuffling round the corner with a sickle in her hand. Scared and frightened as I was I thought she was going to attack me and I cowered away from her.
‘What on earth are you yelling about Oliver, what the Dickens is wrong with you and why are you out here?’ I couldn’t speak, words wouldn’t come out I continued crying and hung my hand up to show her my injured finger.
‘Well boy, that be God’s retribution for attacking his innocent birds and telling lies. That’s what that be.’