• Matthew Norman

Thought For Today: Water into Wine?


Thought For Today: Water into Wine? One of my favourite narratives in the bible is that of Jesus turning water into wine when he attended a wedding party. Weddings and wine are two subjects close to my heart. One of the wonderful privileges of being vicar is conducting weddings. As for wine; I like to envisage the Jesus was a Maître Sommelier of divine origin, and that his demonstration of aquatic transubstantiation resulted in a rich Chateauneuf du Pape or a quaffable Merlot. Last September, my wife Sharron and I, rented a holiday gite, set within a working vineyard in the Loire area of France. One of the pleasures of this was choosing a few bottles (cases!) to bring home – the last of our summer wine.

Of course, as soon as I mention ‘last of the summer wine’, your own thoughts may have instantly gone to ‘Compo’ ‘Cleggy’ and ‘Cyril’, a trio of old men and their youthful misadventures. Alongside Holmfirth’s femme fatale, Norah Batty, they formed the key characters of Britain’s longest running TV Sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine. Broadcast by the BBC from 1973 to 2010, and shown in over 25 different countries, it depicts three elderly men who never seem to grow up, and who develop a unique perspective on their equally eccentric fellow townspeople. The title, ‘Last of the summer wine’ was an adaptation of a common adage, a euphemism that our latter years can still be filled with fun, joy, and the pleasures of our youth. (Or, if you’ll pardon a similar adage, ‘there’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle’)

As well as verbal humour there was a certain element of slapstick stunts that added to the charm of each of the episodes. There always seemed to be something that went disastrously wrong - but occasionally the disaster was for real. One such time was when filming the trio rowing a canoe. The intended scene only involved some scripted verbal banter, when an unscheduled real-life disaster intervened: 'Action!' called the director. And so off went the canoe, carrying its anxious crew towards the famous bridge at Bolton Abbey. In the bow was Bill Owen, who as a young actor had once been under contract at Rank film studios and who was hoping that the role of 'Compo' would give him a final tilt at fame. In the stern was Michael Bates, a former Gurkha officer who played the part of Cyril. And in the middle was a shaking Peter Sallis, probably wishing he'd never accepted the part of Norman Clegg. Sallis, usually a highly confident actor, was shaking because he had a personal fear of water and he couldn’t swim. The canoe shot under the bridge, as planned. Then it started to wobble and shudder. And then it capsized and sank. The non-swimming Sallis would later recall that he managed to escape the river only because he was able to stand on a hard object under the water and lever himself out on to the bank. That hard object turned out to be Bill Owen's head.

295 episodes of pure silliness gives a reminder that we are never too old to have fun. For those above 70 years of age, who are now required to self-isolate during the Coronavirus, having fun may be a particular challenge. During the present crisis, fun and laughter may sometimes seem insensitive or inappropriate. But it isn’t – we will all need a bit of silliness in order to stay sensible. We will all need laughter to mop up the times of tears. We will all need to remember that we are never too old to allow Jesus to turn our water into wine.

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