Do you have little thoughts that make you smile wherever you are and whatever you’re doing? Little jokes that tickle the funny bone and always have? I have a few – and I heard one brought to life yesterday. June Whitfield, a very talented comedy actress for the last 60 years, died over the Christmas period and a TV tribute was aired last night. When I was a child, she was in a radio comedy called ‘The Glums’. My parents had just acquired a TV but the sitting room was out of bounds to me so I would be in another room, apparently doing remedial arithmetic in preparation for the 11plus exam but really listening to the radio.
It was a long time ago but there’s a joke from the Glums that I often smile over: Eth (a sweet but simpering woman) and Ron (her clueless dim fiancee) are in a gent’s outfitters, waiting to buy Ron a new suit. The assistant has gone missing and Eth whines something like “Oh, Ron, this isn’t good enough, the service is terrible.’ and Ron says, in his vague way, ‘Yes, Eth, it’s a flipping rotten disgrace that the blooming’ assistant isn’t blinking stinking here.’
“Oooh, Ron!” wails, Eth, dismayed ‘” Your language!”
“It’s alright, Eth” says Ron, “Look, there’s a sign. Modern men swear.”
They played that clip in the TV tribute and I laughed aloud again, suddenly back there, in a sterile room in my parent’s house, my head close up to the family transistor, the volume down low in case they heard. You know, when everything’s crap, and you think you’re the one person in the universe who wasn’t made to be loved and who will never learn to love… laughter is a great source of strength and encouragement. In laughter and warmth you will find the spark of life you need to keep going.
The radio played a huge place in my teenage years too. I was allowed to sit with my parents only on rare occasions so radio comedies and dramas were a lifeline. The best present I have ever had was from my brother, a little green tranny all of my own, and when he came on leave he would bring me fresh batteries, when he served abroad he would send them in the post.
After The Glums came ‘Beyond Our Ken’ and great chunks of that programme have stayed with me and still warm the cockles of my heart; Gruntfuttock, for one. I know, I know – it sounds rude, but it was meant to, in a 1960’s cowardy-custard sort of way. In its day it was outré and daring. And it didn’t stop with that; a gay couple in ‘Beyond Our Ken’ were full of double entendre and polari when respectable people like my parents didn’t even believe in homosexuals. Just as well they were in the sitting room and I was in the back room, out of sight and out of mind.
I wonder if Beyond Our Ken would make me laugh today? I’m not sure. But I do still love the memory of it. These were the people who showed me that life was to be celebrated – Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Bill Pertwee and all the rest. There were other comedies like Hancock’s Half Hour, and together they opened the door on a warmer world than mine, and I wish now that I had met some of these people to thank them.
The TV tribute was a good reminder of another funny time – one of the people paying a tribute to June Whitfield was the actor Sylvia Sims and I remember going for a walk with Sylvia (she was in Peak Practice, and was feared for her sharp mind and even sharper tongue) with my bulldog, Mr Punch and her dog (a Scottie, I think). We walked along a bridle path where a corn field, just about ready for harvest, fell away steeply at the edge of the path. The dogs had a mad five minutes, charging in and out of the golden swaying corn, full of energy and life, chasing and play-growling, and then Punchy ran back onto the path and leapt back into the field, and missed his footing, rolling over and over. Sylvia thought it was hilarious! How can a dog with a leg on each corner still manage to fall over? She thought it so hilarious that she also slipped off the path and into the corn, face first. She was quite ‘grand’, was Sylvia, and a bit fearsome, so I did my best not to laugh at her, scrambling down to help her up – but of course, flat footed me, I stumbled, fell, rolled. And then that was it. We lay there, pierced by corn (jolly sharp actually), covered in dust, jumped-on by over excited dogs…. All her grandness had gone, all my shyness and awkwardness…. we were laughing so much we could hardly breathe, let alone get up.
And there they both were, on my telly, here in Wales, all these years later. Taking me back to laughter. Thank you, Lord, for memories like that. Thank you for strands that meet and make sense of life. Thank you for laughter. And thank you , Lord, that when I was so alone and so lost, you were waiting.
After all my moaning about New Year, I’ve had an OK one. Largely down to Isaiah. I’m trying to say his name as ‘I say ah’ and not as ‘I sigh ah’. When you’re fairly new to the Bible, as I was a few years ago, and you haven’t heard some of these names spoken, you can get them a bit wrong and I did. It wouldn’t matter so much if it was Jehoshaphat, but I bang on about Isaiah so much that I really ought to get it right.
If you don’t want to hear about him, look away now. But listen, before you do – I’m reading a commentary on Isaiah and it’s all about the real world, the law of gravity, and consequences and love and trains on railway lines (in a way. You’ll need to read that bit for yourselves), it’s fascinating…. look , listen…. here’s a bit from this commentary by Oswalt.
That’s a small excerpt from a chapter looking into the first nine verses of Isaiah. It’s a damn great thick tome, this Oswalt Application Commentary and when I first saw it I was daunted, but I read it a couple of years ago, and it’s great. There are huge chunks I skimmed over because my brain was on over-load, my circuits were shorting, alarm bells were ringing and my software had failed. This year I’m starting to read it again and maybe this time I’ll take in a bit more. Mind you, my software is a couple of years older and the damp is definitely getting into my circuits, so maybe not. But I know that however much I can take in, it will be just right for where I am now.
The Bible (all 66 books, and every commentary you could ever read) amounts to a huge massive celebratory meal, but here’s the thing; we don’t have to eat absolutely everything on the table at once, or even ever. If you look at a feast imagining that you have to clear away every morsel, your appetite is going to leave you pretty damn quick and the whole thing will become an impossible task, not a delight. But if you go to the table looking for the food you love the most, the stuff you can digest and savour…. if you relax and take your time and sit with friends… then… what’s the saying? “Enough is as good as a feast”.
This particular commentary is great because it’s all about application – it’s not aimed at yer Hebrew scholars, it’s for you and me, for every day. That’s not to say we can’t engage our brains, we must, but this commentary takes the teachings and the prophecies of Isaiah, and it applies them to our lives in 2019. It’s practical. And so, in just the first 9 verses the writer touches on natural law, personal freedom, gratification and possessions, truth, persecution, sexual morality, parenthood, integrity, consequence, rebellion, creation, obedience and…. hang on! What am I doing to you? If that sounds like the worst catechism class any humourless teacher could ever devise, relax… this section ends with a simple three letter word, JOY.
Yep. The Bible is a happiness inducing book. It may not tickle the funny bone in the same way as 1960’s comedy, but they share DNA. Humanity. Compassion. I don’t quite know how to put into words the fun and thrill of discovering amazing new stuff in the Bible. That thrill does, literally, absolutely, make me laugh aloud sometimes. And of course it brings weeping too, understanding and peace and sometimes deep deep sorrow. All life is there. All life in all its colourful rich confusion. Rich.
Today I re-read chapter 1 of Isaiah and then chapter 2 of Mark. These authors wrote over 700 years apart, but both spoke to me so clearly. So exciting! I mean, that I, me, bonkers old Luce, after a lifetime of adventure and lousy decisions, of self and brokenness, should today be sitting under a grey Wales sky, knowing God. That I should sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him so clearly saying “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Hooray! That’s just brilliant. What a relief! And like an over-eager show-off in a year 4 class I shoot up my arm, bouncing in my seat, waggling my fingers, calling “Me, Sir! Me, Sir! I’m a sinner. You came for me! Sir! Sir! Me!”
In my last blog I quoted a chunk of Isaiah, and on New Year’s Eve someone lovely phoned me (you know who you are) to say that he read it in the middle of the night, and that this little excerpt drew him into reading more, right there and then. That’s what the Bible does, it engages and intrigues and comforts and scolds and guides and encourages and nourishes and excites. Man, if I could only find the words to really show you. What other book can do all that?
Listen, my little bloggettes, if you think the Bible is not for you, why not test it? Why not go to Bible Gateway and start reading? What have you got to lose? Only your preconceptions. Ooh. Get me.
If you like olde world stuff (I don’t) then look for the King James Version. If you like modern easy language, go for the NIV or if you’re cool and hip and down with the kids, go for The Message or the Living Bible.
Relax. Read it. Enjoy it. Don’t approach it as if it’s a massive undertaking. Read as much today as you need today. Think about it. Let it seep into your bones.
I believe that God is always there for you, even when you don’t know Him. But when you’re lost, and know that you’re lost, and that you need more than you have, the door between you and Him cracks open. If right now you’re feeling alone, or misunderstood and unloved, or just thinking ‘there must be more to life than this’, think of that door. Think of love. He has given you all you have needed to bring you this far, to the first day of 2019.
But there is more. There’s a great big universe out there, full of truth and adventure, read all about it.