I don’t know whether or not Dot noticed that an advertisement for ‘Complete Funeral Undertakers – Day and Night’ happened to be printed on the reverse-side of the page announcing my baptism in the Parish Magazine. The irony would have been lost on her though; given a preference, she’d have attended a funeral over a baptism any day.
The hand of my father (son of Dot), a Sunday-painter, sketched the outline and I added the colour, in this Sunday-school depiction of “The Cradling of Baby Jesus”.
Looking at it now, I appear to have got my bible stories reversed. My image reads more like the post-crucifixion gathering at Christ’s tomb than the ‘Birth of the Infant Child’: Mark 16:1-4 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
It’s not much of a leap: from cagoules to sleeping bags, via a cycle cape (doubling as a surgeon’s gown). Especially when bridged by a vicar called Seal. But isn’t the concept of hermetically sealed metaphors a contradiction? Vicars, like the rest of us, when sealed in hooded-sleeping bags, resemble seals. Perhaps now you can see why I’m so obsessed about stalking Peter Storm in Peter Storm in a storm (see “Storm-Proof”, 26/11/09). Larkin was right: you can't escape your wrong beginnings. But they are great levelers, sleeping bags: they reduce us all to the same sealed, seal state; as well as making us vulnerable to the same fate: very difficult to defend yourself against a golf club attack when you’re in a sleeping bag.