Several years ago, the vicar of our local Anglican church was approaching retirement. His house in the country was bought. His farewell parties were held. His leaving present was wrapped.
He was ready to go. The only thing missing was his replacement. Which was a bit of a problem.
But, as luck would have it, a retired bishop happened to live in the neighbourhood, and was prevailed upon to step in and hold the proverbial fort. Being a widower pushing 80, he wasn’t particularly keen, but he eventually agreed. On one condition. In exchange for holding the weekly services, he wanted to be fed. A proper Sunday roast. With pudding.
The parish recognised a good thing when they saw it and jumped at the chance. Not only were they getting some breathing room in their search for a vicar, but they were getting Bishop Hugh, a well-known and highly respected theologian and intellectual. Not to mention a very nice man. And so, they quickly set up a rota. Anyone who was willing to have a bishop follow them home for lunch was asked to put their name down. Practically everyone did. Including, it turned out, us.
That came as a bit of a surprise since most of us aren’t Anglican, and only one goes to the church. But, Tom knew I wouldn’t mind. And, to be fair, I didn’t. Because I was certain that the parish would find a priest long before I had to find a recipe.
Which just goes to show how little I knew about the mysterious workings of the Anglican world, because several months later Tom came home and told me that Bishop Hugh would be joining us for lunch the following Sunday. Easter Sunday.
Now, that didn’t seem right. After all, Easter is a fairly important day in the Church year and we weren’t, how should I put this? Anglicans. Or even particularly religious. Surely he would prefer to go somewhere more…suitable.
No, apparently, not. He was coming and he let it be known that he liked lamb. And roast potatoes.
And so, I spent the week panicking. And yelling at Tom. It was, after all, his fault. I had agreed to lunch, no one had said anything about Easter Sunday lunch. What could we possibly talk to an elderly, eminent theologian about, over lunch, on the holiest day of the year?
As it turned out, we talked about how to roll Easter eggs.
The children couldn’t believe that he did not know this essential skill and could hardly wait to show him just how it was done. He listened, patiently, to the rules and picked up on the only truly essential detail – the last person with an intact egg won.
After lunch was eaten and cleared away, we carefully selected our coloured eggs and headed outside. I don’t know how you roll eggs but according to our system, it’s like bowls or, if you are from New York, bocci. But with eggs.
Bishop Hugh, being the guest, and a bishop, threw the jack egg. We all then followed suit, carefully. We listened for the ominous sound of cracking shells and looked for the telltale sign of crumbling egg whites. And then the children rushed to see who was closest, and to pick up Bishop Hugh’s egg for him. He was, after all, almost 80. They handed it to him, the bishop held it close to his face, he held it at arm’s length, he turned it over and over in his hand and he finally announced:
And, so it continued, round after round after round. Each time, he examined his egg and declared it pristine. Others weren’t so lucky. Bits of coloured shell soon littered the grass. Flecks of egg white started appearing. The tension mounted. The rounds continued.
Now, I would like to tell you that the Bishop won, but he didn’t. This is, after all, a true story and there was that rock in the garden that the rest of us knew about. What can I say? We take our egg rolling seriously in this house. Still, I suspect that when Disney gets hold of the story it will have a different ending.
But what I can tell you is that by the time the last eggs were rolled and the victor declared, we had a new friend. And a new family tradition.
And so, years after the Bishop has left us, and the children have grown and the replacement vicar has, in his turn, been replaced we still hold the annual Bishop Hugh Montefiore Memorial Easter Egg Roll. The rules are simple: the person who gets to say “Pristine” the longest, wins.
As this year’s event gets ready to unfold, it just leaves me time to wish you all a very Happy Easter. May your day be the stuff of wonderful memories and may your eggs be pristine for as long as possible.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)