Andrew Neaum

August Magazine Letter


I buy free range eggs. I like to think that all the infertile little embryonic embryos I so enjoy eating are the product of contentment.

Free range eggs

It is probably daft. Even with the freedom to range, existence as an egg producing bio-machine is unlikely ever to be a contented. Nonetheless, whenever I revert happily to my childhood and slice off a soft-boiled egg’s cap, dip a teaspoon full of its bright yoke into peppered salt and relish it with a mouthful of buttered bread, it does add to my sense of well being and joy if I know that the egg comes from free-range hens.


So, a typical Anglican, I straddle the fence, considering there to be something good about insisting on free range eggs, but also absurd. Hence my delight on coming across the following in D J Enright’s commonplace book “Interplay”: We like to give animals a run for their money before eating them..... Hence the popularity of free-range eggs and chickens. But a recent purchase from the supermarket carried a chilling story: “chicken reared with freedom to roam outdoors WITHOUT GIBLETS” Surely not much of a run?


It is that last little rhetorical and ironic question that is perfect.


Thank God for a sense of the absurd, daft, ironic, incongruous and funny. It keeps me going. Reassures me that I am no fanatic and am almost certainly incapable of fanaticism. Before I become too obsessive about anything I detect a whiff of the daft, shonky, idiotic, incongruous, funny or ironic which calls it all into question and so helps me keep things in some sort of proportion.

The foolishness of God

Even on the question of God it is St Paul’s notion of his foolishness, the “foolishness of God”, that most compels me. Atheists just don’t get it! Po-faced literalists they want to explain the joke instead of enjoying it. You might be able to understand molecules by spying on them through a microscope, but not jokes. Jokes are understood, appreciated and taken to heart in the flash of insight, in that spontaneous burst of laughter when the point is seen.


Don’t for a minute think that I am not serious about God. Of course I am. Absurdly so. The joke is that God exists.

Bastardry and Cash

My priest father used to say that if anyone ever called him a “bastard” he could sue them. This is because when he was ordained no one could be a priest legally in the Church of England if illegitimate. A stupid regulation if ever there was one, but it did mean that to call him a bastard was to impugn his priesthood and vocation.


If anyone ever accuses me of always talking money I could sue them, because I very rarely do so. Money matters bore me. However the Parish Stewardship Programme is approaching its climax and so I am duty bound to mention this.


On the 24th of this month we are asked to place our pledges on the offertory plate at one of our church services. Please let us all be positive about it and relish letting go of rather more cash for the sake of God, Church and our own well being. What we give to the Church rarely keeps up with the regular increases we receive to our pension or salary.

A new Treasurer

From next year our doughty Treasurer, Norm Mitchelmore retires honourably from his duties after many, many years of hugely committed and meticulous hard work. Many, many thanks to him for this. We intend honouring him more appropriately and fulsomely when he has finally freed himself from these particular responsibilities. If he ever does, for he will remain a valuable back-up and consultant on parish financial matters.


His successor it so be Jeanette Smith. She was the first person I approached and to my surprise and delight hardly hesitated. Like Norm she is a devoted member of our parish. She was baptized and confirmed at St Augustine’s and is a true local, educated at Shepparton State Primary School, Shepparton High School and Melbourne Girls Grammar School. She became eventually the CEO and Managing Director of Lunn and Fordyce, a business established by her father in the late 1920's. We remain in good hands.

Growing old together

On my own in the Rectory with the aging dog Pippin (Diana returns from England only on the 26th of August), I recall the first stanza of a famous, if somewhat long and difficult poem by Robert Browning called “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

                                                                            Grow old along with me!

                                                                            The best is yet to be,

                                                                            The last of life, for which the first was made:

                                                                            Our times are in His hand

                                                                            Who saith “A whole I planned,

                                                                            Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”


Pippin and I are certainly growing old together, though in fact she is more age-smitten than I am, being a very elderly Jack Russel fourteen. She is also stone deaf and a good deal more cantankerous than I am, but remains fairly spry. We eye each other ruefully and sympathetically often.


There is a lot of wisdom in Browning’s verse, especially in that first stanza. Youth is indeed only half the human story, and who can be content with but half a story? Age is more denouement than decline.


There is much that I relish about life in my mid sixties. For a start the freedom from self-consciousness and worry about what other people think of me. I also relish the opportunity to look back on what has been a long and varied life to invest it with meaning, shape and significance. I relish too age’s challenge to let go of acquisitiveness and of possessions and radically to unclutter and simplify my life. Then there is also the pleasing prospect, not yet the actuality, of having the leisure to read more, socialise more and in all probability to preach and live Christianity for nothing, rather than for a salary. Perhaps even in Africa, but wherever there is a genuine need.


Do I relish the prospect of letting go of life altogether though? Don’t be daft! Do you think I am mad?


This letter should have been more about what is happening and has happened in the parish. It isn’t! I am old enough not to care.