Maximum Vicarage

More tea vicar? This is a catchphrase we have in our office at WringCorp. More tea vicar? More tea vicar? More tea vicar?

It’s a friendly way of saying “I’m bored. Let’s liven things up by watching the kettle slowly progress towards bubbly climax”.

It occurs to me today that I don’t know what a vicar actually is. I know they’re some kind of holy folk, but what kind? Catholics have Priests and I think Baptists might have Ministers. Are these all clergymen? Or is a clergyman a person who rods the drains?

It’s shameful that I’m so ignorant in these matters because I used to know a vicar. I could have asked him all about it. His name was Mark the Vicar.

Our primary school sat at the bottom of a steep hill. At the top, there was a toyshop with a clumsy shopkeeper, so we were never short of marbles.

Something else that rolled down the hill every so often was Mark the Vicar.

Mark the Vicar was a well-meaning fellow who took it upon himself to cycle from John o’ Groats to Land’s End once a year, stopping along the way to address the children of any school who’d have him.

Like a moth to a flame, Mark the Vicar came to see us.

Whenever his name came up in assembly, I’d shout “What with?!”

The other children loved this joke without understanding it. I knew they didn’t understand it because when our headmaster introduced an entirely different speaker one day called Madame Claudette, some of the other children shouted “What with?!”

Poor Claudette. She got such a Madamming.

Mark the Vicar’s schtick was to tell us about his adventures in between stints of pedaling in a Cornwallerly direction. He’d then find a tenuous way of connecting those events to something he believed had happened to a certain Mister Jesus.

“I had quite an adventure in Hadfield last week,” said Mark the Vicar, “when I ate some food in a Chinese Restaurant.”

Say what you like about Mark the Vicar, he was never one to use the word “adventure” correctly.

He then segued with the grace of a mangled hunchback into the most bizarre and quasi-religious story I’ve ever heard.

“A man died,” said Mark the Vicar, winning our attention immediately, “and his soul was welcomed into a large reception area by Jesus.”

By this age, I was fairly familiar with New Testament ideas about the afterlife and never up until this point had a reception area been mentioned. I wondered if it had a decorative fish tank or some old National Geographics lying around for while you were waiting.

“‘Take my hand,’ said Jesus to the man, ‘and I will show you your place in Heaven but also what you’ve avoided in Hell.'”

A gifted storyteller was Mark the Vicar. He did the voices and everything.

In a bizarre narrative twist, Jesus reveals that the people of Heaven and Hell alike use chopsticks, just like Mark the Vicar had done for the first time recently. Except, Johnny Deadfellow uses giant chopsticks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

To theatricalise his incredible claim, Mark the Vicar, had brought along (on his bike? From John o’ Groats?) several pairs of six-foot-long chopsticks, with which he encouraged some volunteers to eat some crisps.

Salt & Vinegar Monster Munch, of course, is one of few staples common to Chinese, Celestial and Infernal traditional cuisines.

I wish I could report that the feat was impossible — for Mark the Vicar’s entire parable hinged on it — but one clever girl succeeded in eating the crisps by raising them six feet in the air and sliding them down the chopsticks, fireman-style, into her awaiting maw.

Redfacedly overlooking the girl’s ingenuity, Mark the Vicar revealed the “correct” technique. The volunteers must feed each other with the giant chopsticks. And so we learned a valuable lesson in cooperation.

Readers, please do not confuse the help-each-other-with-the-giant-chopsticks technique with with the putting-on-of-oxygen-masks procedure in a tanking airplane, or indeed any other situation which might actually happen.

“The people of Heaven are able to fill their bellies while the people of Hell are eternally hungry,” explained Mark the Vicar, “Because in Heaven, they have learned…”

He paused, composing himself for maximum vicarage.


In the twenty years I’ve lived since this assembly from Mark the Vicar, I don’t think I’ve encountered such an impressive torrent of drivel.

More tea vicar? Yes, and perhaps a nice happy dose of Mister Benzodiazpam too.

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