The Rev Cardew Patterdale enjoyed everything a man might delight in as the vicar of a prosperous living in a southern county of the United Kingdom apart from faith. This small blemish, failing, disconcerting uncertainty or however you characterise it was something he made considerable efforts to ignore. Let us not be too harsh, it had not always been so: as a young man his faith in God and the Angels had been unquestioned and it was only with passing years that something of this divine awareness had quietly leached out of him and then vanished from his mind or soul, depending on your point of view.
That apart, he was in general terms, a kindly and well-meaning man who consoled himself with the thought that “it is not necessary to worship a product in order to sell it:” every computer salesman, property vendor or purveyor of any other goods or services need not necessarily believe they were the very best in the market in order to sell them: in all other areas of his responsibilities he was a diligent and caring individual. Sermons were a bit difficult as references to the Bible made him a little uncomfortable. To be fair to him, he was not a hard line atheist or a hard line anything: more a polite agnostic: a man of previous certainties who had drifted into the world of doubt, and who now clung to manners and appearance as his beliefs deserted him. Now he was of the opinion that evolution necessarily involves chaos, and that morals were man’s attempt to give order to any one civilisation in any one era. This may or may not have validity, but it was not a philosophy one could declaim from a church pulpit.
Two things kept him balanced: the discretely hidden supply of dessert wine which nestled behind “Knightly’s Guide To Rockery Plants: volumes 1 to 3, and the site of young Jennifer Croft who came to clean his house on two days a week, and made a kindly fuss of him. At thirty-eight years of age he was still young enough to dream that he might not have to live his life alone but old enough to understand that admitting to anyone but himself that he was living some kind of lie might affect his job prospects. He had learnt that people are always very nice to individuals of his calling as long as they are what they appear to be: admitting to doubts or appetites which extend any further than a longing for home-made marmalade would be unsettling to people who wanted order in any appetites but their own.
Never the less, as his emotions developed he felt compelled to start asking Jennifer those hard edged questions which identify that some kind of formal union could be discussed which was not necessarily built on religion. It should be noted that Jennifer was a devoted member of his flock and honoured to serve the pastor in any way possible. At last he could remain silent no longer, and having swigged generously from a bottle of Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2007 he asked her, “What are your views regarding thick versus thin cut marmalade” Thus proving that the most profound of debates or conversations often open up with the most innocuous of questions. Could she love a man without faith or him if he was no longer a pastor? Would it be more honourable to resign before beginning the wooing process? These and other vexing questions consumed him as he discovered he had finished the entire bottle of dessert wine. She noted that his cheeks seemed unusually flushed, and that Marmalade was clearly a subject on which he held deeply founded opinions. She loved Marmalade too, although she considered that apricot jam remained a viable alternative in its absence.