The area we cover is really a series of small towns and villages spread over quite a large area and thus managed in area teams. It is really interesting how different teams, although a scant few miles apart, have different personalities. At one end of the scale we have Atown. Atown is built around a docks and is a little down at heel. It specialises in lasses that look as though they were raised on pies and for whom no good night out is complete without a large quantity of alcohol, a kebab and a fight. The people are what I would call "salt of the Earth" types in general. They don't have much in the way of material wealth but there is a community spirit. Those who are a bit eccentric or even downright unwell are largely accepted with affection and the older people still live in communities where they are known and usually to some degree looked after by neighbours and extended family.
At the other end of the scale is Btown. If Btown was a human being it would be a middle aged lady who wore white cotton gloves and court shoes that matched her shiny leather hand bag. The bungalows look out on gardens that are manicured to perfection and the little market square boasts four different establishments where you can purchase ye olde scones and Earl Grey tea but nowhere you can buy a loaf of bread or a pint of milk. Btown has it's own eccentrics, there is an enclave of local artists who have studios in the area and can be seen drifting around in strange hats and Peruvian hand knit sweaters although, in Btown, this is probably termed "Bohemian" rather than "oddball". There is still a sense of community, our relative isolation as a County ensures that people know each other and have a sense of local identity, but in Btown there is more of an expectation that people will conform to social norms than there is at the other end of the scale.
Mabel was the local vicar's wife until he retired some fifteen years ago. Vernon is in his eighties now, a gentle scholarly chap who is a little vague but who still enjoys reading and spends a lot of his time tending his garden and feeding the birds that visit from the neoghbouring spinney. Mabel is also a little vague, unfortunately she is a little less genteel about it. Some people who are exhibiting signs of dementia will also become disinhibited. This is thought to be linked to deterioration in the frontal lobe of the brain. All I know is that, after a lifetime of the ultimate conforming role of vicar's wife, Mabel is kicking over the traces.
Some of the issues are distressing. Mabel will set out to go somewhere, often inappropriately dressed but always with her wicker shopping basket over her arm. I think that catching sight of the church triggers memories and she will suddenly appear there, distracted from wherever she was going by an urge to see Vernon. She completely forgets that Vernon is long retired and that she has just left him at home and she is then to be found crying in the church yard because she cannot understand why the doors are locked or, worse, bursting into a mother's meeting or a service and demanding to know where her husband is and swearing like a docker at the startled congregation. Even more worrying, Btown is something of a tourist spot and there are several buses to and from there which go all over the County. Mabel is quite fond of jumping on one of these buses and winding up thirty miles away with no idea where she is or indeed, who she is. This last was fairly easily solved when I hit upon the idea of circulating her photograph and details to all the police stations in the area and, more than once, Mabel has rolled up in the back of a squad car. She makes an incongruous sight, her hat on askew and her coat buttoned up wrong and her wicker basket on her knee, sitting with the bearing of Mrs. Vicar in the back of the panda car, but she never seems any the worse for her outing and dear old Vernon barely seems to notice she has gone missing at all.
The local people are generally pretty tolerant of Mabel, they let her go first in shops, because she sails to the front of the queue anyway and if they find her wandering and distressed in the town they take her home. There are mutterings about whether she "should be allowed to stay at home" but Btown people do not usually make a fuss out loud and the esteem in which Vernon is held ensures that any criticism is kept to a whisper. However, things have taken a sinister turn. Mabel has decided that the new vicar is an imposter and she has taken to stalking him. We now sit with her during Evensong. She retains the inner clock that tells her it is six o clock on a Sunday evening and, if left unattended, she will appear like the wrath of God himself and will charge down the aisle screaming obsceneties at the interloper who is impersonating her husband. At other times she lurks in the church yard and leaps out at the poor man as he walks up the path. He seems a lovely man and says he understands completely but I wonder if he is especially nervous this week.
Each year the Bishop comes to a service in the square on Rememberance Sunday. The great and good of the County gather to lay wreaths and remember those who fell in the service of their Country. This scene is enacted all over Britain, but I doubt anywhere else in Britain has a Mabel. Last year, the first of her vicar stalking obsession, she spent most of the service standing quite still, her eye fixed firmly on the poor vicar as he conducted the service with the Bishop. At the end of the formal service the Bishop worked his way around the crowded square, shaking hands and chatting to the townsfolk. Everywhere he went Mabel worked her way towards him, edging through the crowds and never taking her eyes off her quarry. When she finally reached the poor man she started to belabour him with her walking stick screaming to the Bishop "Look! Look! this man cant be a vicar - I was at school with him and he used to put his hand up my skirt!" Even allowing for the fact that Mabel is eighty and the vicar is probably forty at the most, it's still not in the top ten things you want your parishoners to hear is it? The Bishop was somewhat taken aback, Vernon, when told of the incident seemed mildly amused, a fact that may be due to his own memory loss or to the fact the Bishop is said to be not a terribly popular boss with his Ministers.
Anyway, It's that time of year again and the neighbours are suggesting we "do something". I expect we will have to do something, what I am not quite sure, but Mabel must be distracted. I can't help thinking it's a shame though. In Atown she would be just one more well loved local providing a bit of colour, in Btown she has crossed the line. The real shame is that if we sold tickets for the event we could probably raise enough money to fix the church roof. It was certainly embarrassing for the vicar but anyone who was there and witnessed Mabel hunting him down through the crowd with a light of battle in her eye had to admit that, it may have been inappropriate, but it was still rather funny.......
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