by Robert Ward
Earl Grey tea with crumpets- a fourth helping!
Summer in Burrington was a time for festivals. Flags lined the main street in the holiday season as if it were a seaside town, and there were times when Millicent could easily have believed that the sea lay behind the high street, just out of sight. She had to remind herself on occasion that the town lay almost as far from the sea as it was possible to be.
Music festivals, folk and rock and jazz and soul, jostled for space in the summer programme with drama and performance festivals of various kinds. Stalls which ranged from chocolates, fudges and coconut ice to aromatic oils and healing crystals filled the parks and the pavements; and on 15th August, in celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patron saint to the town, it played host to an annual street fayre, said to date back to the Middle Ages, but traceable only, like so much else in Burrington, to the second half of the nineteenth century. In the middle of it all, Millicent and Winchcombe, out for a stroll after one of their periodic lunches in the theatre bar, stumbled across a stall manned jointly by the Burrington Circle of Psychic Deliverance and a succession of bright young things, whom Millicent recognised vaguely as students from the theological college, less easily recognised for being minus their cassocks. Prominent among them was their Senior Student, whose eyes flashed in momentary discomfiture as they came face to face over the counter.
‘Well, fancy seeing you here, Father,’ the young man purred, through a sibilant smile. Winchcombe looked at him over his spectacles, as if to say, ‘I could say the same about you.’
‘This is all about inclusion, Father,’ said the other, clearly sensing disapproval. ‘Showing willing. Working with others in a common cause.’
‘He who’s not against us is with us,’ said another, coming from behind: a burly middle-aged man with whiskers. ‘Isn’t that what Jesus says?’
Millicent recognised him from their earlier visit as the man who‘d kept the tea shop, and he recognised her in return. 'It’s Miss Lake, isn’t it?’ Breaking off to look at his watch he added, 'High time we had some lunch. Won't you join us?’ He called to a fellow volunteer behind the desk and asked him to look after things whilst he and his younger friend took the older couple to the tea room just a few yards away.
‘Seems such a shame to me,’ said Winchcombe to the Senior Student, whilst their little party waited for tea and crumpets to arrive. ‘The college misses so many wonderful celebrations outside of term time, during the holidays. The Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All feasts that bring the unseen world so much closer, wouldn’t you say?'
'Absolutely, Father. And lots of us are local, anyway. The students tend to come from nearby parishes. Places associated with the college community for generations. There's an ethos here which goes on cloning itself, as you might say, year on year.'
'Like many a small town,' said the older man. 'Maybe specially in places like this. Generations of in-breeding. Everyone knows what that leads to.' He levelled a look at the two outsiders. Winchcombe contemplated his tea cup, but Millicent saw an opening which she simply couldn't resist, and seized the moment.
'Funny you should say that,' she launched in, energetically. 'My friend and I were wondering... about the similarity in looks and mannerisms and ways of speaking... between so many people here in Burrington.' Winchcombe looked as though he would happily have got up and left, but Millicent pressed on. 'Fr. Wiesoslavski, for example. With a name like that he really couldn't be a Burrington boy, surely. Yet... when we first came across him at the guest house earlier in the year, we almost thought - ' she smiled at them all, disarmingly - 'we almost thought the two of you were brothers. And my friend the Canon was quite sure he remembered him from years ago... as groundsman at the college. That can't have been right, surely?'
The proprietor of the tea shop stretched out his legs, took a deep breath and leaned back in the little wooden chair, far too small for him. He regarded them for a time from behind his whiskers, the ghost of a smile playing round his lips. 'You want me to tell you? Well... perhaps I will.'
Millicent smiled at him encouragingly.
'Pieter went away from here, many years ago. He was my cousin. Always had a taste for the unusual, you might say. Came back a priest. Said he'd taken up with some Eastern types. Religious, like. That's where the name came from. Had something to do with some community of monks he'd been with out there, and in particular, with one who'd been his mentor. He took the name as a kind of homage.'
'Eastern European, to be precise. Into bi-location and levitation and goodness knows what else.' He grinned broadly. 'Not so strange for Burrington. Healing crystals, sacred springs... you name it, we've got it. You saw those stalls back there. Fits in here with no trouble. Hence the need for people like us.' Her gestured towards his companion, known to them hitherto as the leader of the student posse, the senior student.
'I really don't quite follow,' put in Winchcombe, uncomfortably.
The student, Barrett, smiled. 'The Circle for Psychic Deliverance,' he explained, in a slightly self-satisfied manner. 'We join up from different perspectives. Those of us from the college and those from other disciplines. We want to restore the balance. Keep a place at the table. Not let the devil have all the best tunes....'
The day drew to a close with tunes of quite a different kind. A brass band took up residence in the bandstand in the centre of Priory Park, and led the singing and the dancing with a rousing rendition of numbers ranging from the Beatles to the Methodist Hymn Book, from Abba to The Merry Widow. All in all, thought Millicent, a fitting end to a day which crowned the summer with extraordinary celebration.
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