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A Pastor In Peril

Elastic Failure: the Naked Truth

I wonder what memories you have of being a child. I hope they’re happy ones. For my part, some memories are very happy indeed; a fair few are rather miserable; and still others are bitter-sweet mixtures of the two. Let me share with you one particular memory that falls heavily into the last category.

I was around five years of age, and my mother had arranged that we would go on holiday and stay with her brother, who lived in Sunderland. (My father, a vicar, was unable to leave his flock.) Our second day there was gloriously sunny, and my mother decided that she wanted to visit an old friend of hers, who lived in Whitley Bay and had two daughters about the same age as me. Oh, how my spirits lifted when my mother announced that we would all go to the beach! – But oh, how my spirits fell when she further announced that she had neglected to bring my bathing trunks! “Not a problem,” said my mother’s friend. “He can wear a pair of my daughter’s knickers to the beach!” And so it happened.

The beach, when we got there, was heaving with holidaymakers. After much sand-trudging, we found a bit of space close to the sea. Now…I have to admit, I was a very shy little boy in those days, and joining in with little girls’ games was not really my thing; but, after some urging, I waded out to join them in the sea. The cool water felt lovely on that hot day, and I was just starting to enjoy myself when, without warning, an outsize wave rolled in and over, and my legs were swept out from under me. Worse, the weight and force of the deluge snapped the thin elastic holding my girlie knickers up!

For many moments, I watched as they rode the foaming wave towards the beach; and then, quickly finding my feet, I waded (as manfully as possible in the circumstances) to catch the flimsy garment. But I was not strong or quick enough. Even worse, the wave went out as fast as it had come in – leaving me naked on the soggy margin of a crowded beach! This, I thought, was the ultimate horror! But I was wrong, because an even worse horror dawned: I had no idea where my mother was!

These many decades later, that knicker-related nightmare still haunts me. And yet, with the benefit of mature hindsight, I can happily tell you this: God was watching over me. How do I know? Well, things ended up rather well: a very kind lady noticed my infant plight, rushed to wrap a large towel around me, uttered a few soothing words, swept me up, and carried me to the coastguards’ office, where I was asked all kinds of questions that – in my embarrassed and confused state – I was unable to answer. The kind lady then decided to carry me (still towel-swathed) to the police station. The uniformed fellow on duty phoned his wife to take me back to their house, where my distress was soon diminished by her correct assumption that small boys loved to eat jelly and custard. Indeed, I was just about to ask for another helping when the front door opened – to reveal my mother at her wits’ end. I had occasionally seen her in that state before; and, as before, I felt guilty…even though none of it was my fault.

In retrospect, the events of that day did nothing to soothe my fretful mindset, nor to improve my self-image…and yet it all left on my young mind a deep impression: that the God my parents served was watching over me, and had heard my mother’s desperate prayers, and had kept me safe.

And I do believe that my mother, to her dying day, felt the same.

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