Happy Chappy

I forfeit bomb-making in Sussex in favour of a fervent clap-along

I had picked up four jars of very expensive chutney in Ireland to take along to the lunch. They were confiscated, along with my contact lens solution, at the airport. One of the chutneys, I remember, was gooseberry and kumquat flavour.

Apparently bombs are easily made from Irish chutney and 120ml of Bausch and Lomb conditioning fluid. Security seemed surprised that I didn’t know that.

I arrived, chastened, for the multiple christening I was to attend, parked my car in the Sussex sun to keep it warm and headed up the hill to church. My spirits soared suddenly, not from religious fervour that would come later, but at the unusual sight (in the Sussex countryside) of my host, also church-bound, pushing a wheelbarrow filled with bottles of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel.

A plethora of Poms already filled the pews (or the village hall chairs which had inexplicably replaced the pews in this otherwise impressive Norman worshipping spot). Several members of the congregation had, in the mid 1990s, lived in Johannesburg where they had carried out various high-powered banking functions in the days when the Brits were still respected as bankers, hence the South African connection; hence the Simonsig.

But, wine apart, it was all thoroughly modern English. There were no hassocks or hymnals. Instead a PowerPoint presentation posted the words on a 900-year-old pillar. The vicar told us his name was Alan, good to know, and explained that we were at a regular morning worship. We were a rather dominant 90 in our party, at least 40 of whom were under 13 , and Alan had his work cut out.

We started with a hymn, if you can call it that. “The Lord said to Noah, there’s going to be a floody-floody; get my children [clap] out of the muddy-muddy, rise and shine and [clap] give God the glory-glory, Children of the Lord.”

Not your thing? Not mine either really.

“The animals, they came on in twosies twosies, elephants and [clap] kangaroozies roozies”.

Lunacy, but I recovered my composure, stopped sniggering, concentrated on getting the clap in the right place (if you see what I mean) and it was actually quite fun.

By the time the children had been doused with holy water and handed a candle and a gold helium balloon emblazoned with the date in red lipstick, Alan had won me over and I was positively pelting out the glory-glory-alleluias in The Battle Hymn of the Republic. So caught up in the moment was I that I had momentarily forgotten about the champagne, but I can report from unexpected experience that Simonsig is better than any throat lozenge as a cure for a happy-clappy, song-strained voice.

After the service, I helped push the now half-empty wheelbarrow back down the hill and the rest of the celebration passed in a feast of smoked salmon, champagne, gammon and puddings. The sun melted a bitterly cold day, the children played football and the South Downs swept away from us to the sea.

“How’s South Africa?” was the question on every lip.

Well, at least South Africa is warm, it hasn’t reached the point where we need to sail away in an arky-arky built out of gopher barky-barky and Simonsig is readily available (although, admittedly, not usually by the wheelbarrow-full).

And, mercifully, Mrs Ball’s chutney is rarely used to manufacture explosives.