I found myself watching my good friend Laura’s ‘pin-up vicar’ again this week. Peter Owen-Jones. There is something very comforting about this chap.
It’s not simply his calm, almost langourous air, it’s actually something to do with his earnest kind of mis-placedness. He doesn’t seem to completely fit in this world, and he half knows it. And only half knowing it seems to keep him half searching for something.
His latest three-part doc, How to lead a simple life, is a fairly mis-placed-seeming affair itself. It’s almost like three hours of extras, for fans who really wanted to find out more about the charming, interesting chap who went Around the world in 80 faiths, being hardly structured narratively at all. It’s almost a video diary of this Sussex C of E minister, bimbling about a little haphazzardly, having a stab at living like Francis of Assisi in the home counties. You can imagine the incongruity of this. Especially with a film crew in tow.
You could argue glibly that villages in the sumptuous Downs are actually kind of cloistered themselves – from the real bits of Britain.
Rural parts of the UK can seem like sacred spaces set apart from urban realities and the most cosy of places to attempt to give up the cloying anesthetics of money and consumer sustenance. And sure enough, Reverend O-J has to rely on the steadiness of his parishioners’ incomes in order for him to hand away his wallet. They all turn out to be kindly local community members, able to spare their barmy vicar lifts, chickens, lamb, walnuts or cakes. It didn’t exactly blow wide open the Vicar of Dibley myth of the countryside, or expose the poverty and hardship of many rural livelyhoods. And it wasn’t attempting to.
Ultimately, it was one of the many bleedin-obvious component parts of the average 21st century life that made the wheels come off. When push came to shove, the three-parish vicar’s down-at-heel Vauxhall Astra would have been towed had he not caved in at MOT time and reached for the plastic, renouncing his vow of fiscal abstinence. Dropping a few walnuts in a wheel trim were not to be enough. The experiment could not have lasted for ever.
And you can imagine the cynicism of many commentators afterwards.
Yet there it was; the comfort. Watching this ex ad-man ask fundamental questions, apparently naiive questions, about how the modern world makes us feel and think was oddly encouraging. If you were watching for it, he unearthed some simple but profound truths – about how much we need to rely on each other. Giving and sharing, needing and admitting, spending time, inspiring kindness in eachother… profound human life-givers of behaviour that seem as relevant to us as at any time that Franciscan orders have practiced austerity to highlight them.
Prophetic living, I think.
Don’t you wish you could get off? The pressure to be obviously good at something, to keep your lifestyle in its best shape, to reach that bit further. Cliches of modern living that still seem to smother us with a subtle kind of fear.
We’re looking for a new place to live at the moment, and this seems particularly relevant. On the one hand, a home is a tool – for helping others, and for recouperating yourself, to keep in shape to be of use out there somewhere. On the other, a home is a thing you can’t properly afford.
Momo keeps me at that grindstone, even as it appears to offer me an alternative. It’s not hard to feel busy or to feel fullfilled by a varied-looking itinerary in the studio. I love it. But if you are as concerned about your portfolio as I am, you can end up working very hard for little more than vanity. I don’t remember renouncing money officially. But some jobs are too good to turn down, even though their budgets look decidedly Franciscan.
That portfolio might feed your soul, but it can clog it up too. Straining to do the next good thing. I’d like to give up on it and go get an easy, dull, regularly-paid job. Wouldn’t you? Something with an obvious point and an obvious reward. Something simpler.
For, fitting in is the truly simple life.
And I’d quite like to.
The question we all have to answer periodically is: am I wasting my time? Is this thing I’m toiling at worthwhile? Because, it had better be.
I like to imagine that with some things, it’s still too soon to tell. That way, you can keep having a go until someone blatantly screams at you that you’re an idiot. I am still waiting for someone to do this to me, in manner of Mogatu to Derek Zoolander.
Until this happens, however, I am likely to keep going. Like the charming, comforting Rev Peter Owen-Jones. Searching and trying and looking a little lost, but still having a go.
You never know when you might suddenly, like some old prophet, barking in the wilderness, have some crumb of encouragement brought to you by the birds.