WHISPERING SMITH: A summer’s day, a church and a pipe dream

St Andrews Church, Didling
St Andrews Church, Didling

On a sunny day last week, fed up with elections, the scheming and the dreaming, I head out to spend the day doing one of the things I love most, visiting old churches and enjoying some solitude.

I head out Midhurst way, Didling Church, 13th century, St Andrew’s, also known as the Shepherd’s Church.

Chris Adam Smith

Chris Adam Smith

It stands isolated, grey, looking its age.

I turn the corner and find I am not alone.

He is sitting there on the grass overlooking the graveyard, enjoying the hot sunshine, gazing out across the fields and the dirty bottomed ewes with their bouncy spring lambs.

An elderly man, knees up under his chin, muddy hiking boots, a Thermos and a Tupperware sandwich box, he is drawing deeply on a blackened old pipe.

He waves at me and in no way resents my intrusion into his morning.

He smiles and we exchange good morning greetings and I tell him that I do not believe I have ever seen a man so at peace with himself and his pipe.

He thinks about that for a long moment and then tells me, sadly, thank you, and that this is the last pipe he will ever smoke.

A dark moment for me, lost for words – a question or something more godly?

What do I say to man enjoying his last smoke?

Seeing my concern, he smiles again and tells me he has been to the doctor that morning, picked up patches and gum, bought his e-cigarette and is now enjoying the last dusty knockings of his tobacco pouch and wondering what will ever take its place.

When I come out of the lovely plain but charming building, always open to wayfarers such as I, he is gone.

I look out toward the gentle rolling downs and watch his upright figure marching resolutely across a distant green field, happy with the fact I had not told him that nothing ever will take its place, not ever...

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