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Who is Colin Hodgetts?

Do you ever wonder if Colin Hodgetts is one and the same person? When I read the descriptions of me that Satish puts at the base of this column I do, for they vary. It might read, Formerly the Head Teacher of the Small School, Hartland. Or Colin Hodgetts is a composer. If there is room, who lives in Hartland may be added. The day will come when writing this column is the most significant thing that I do. Then Colin Hodgetts is the writer of the Touchstone column will identify me. I will not be happy. I shall insist on asserting my rights. You’ll see.

This week ‘Concerned of Hartland’ tendered sympathy because I have had to officiate at two cremations and a memorial service ‘when you are supposed to be retired.’ I don’t know where this ‘retirement’ perception has come from. Perhaps a spy has been at our post: my brother-in-law gave me a subscription to The Oldie for Christmas. That must have done it. Then there seems to be the rather odd implication that retirement is a full-time occupation. Colin Hodgetts is a retirement executive. He is too busy being retired that he has little time for anything else.

My publicity machine has been pumping out the message that I have not retired from the race but changed horses and my major activity now is writing music. Perhaps the composition of music comes across as a pleasurable indulgence earned by a life devoted to teaching and various other activities with which I won’t bore you. And this week, instead of doodling on a page of lines grouped in fives with a glass of claret at my elbow and a log fire at my feet, I have had to venture along twenty-five miles of icy road to take my place in the crematorium queue. Real work!

There is the further implication that being a priest is a job. I, a long-time believer in worker-priests, resent that. That aside, why has Satish never described me as a C of E cleric? Perhaps, in the light of the doddery state of the old girl, he feels he is doing me a favour.

Well all this mirror gazing brings me to a favourite story told by my friend Keith Walker, whose wedding I have just conducted, in assembly. For eight years he worked on primary health care projects in India. In order to return home on a visit he arranged for money to be transferred to the State Bank of India. There was one small problem. The money order was made out to the Bombay, not the nearby Madurai branch. There is 1,000 miles between them.

The bank manager had to authorize payment. He examined Keith’s passport and the money order: ‘How do I know that you are the same Keith Walker as named on the money order?’ The passport photo was not enough. Keith explained that he had been working with leprosy sufferers and needed to buy a plane ticket, but to no avail.

‘Is there anyone here in Madurai who knows you and who could come to the bank and identify you?’ Keith was sure he could find someone to vouch for him. Brother James Kimpton, with whom he was working, had also set up a project called Boys’ Town where orphan boys trained in metal and woodwork. They had a shop in Madurai. Brother John, the shop manager, agreed to go with Keith to the bank.

He introduced himself to the manager and said, ‘This is Mr. Keith Walker. He has been doing very valuable health care work in India for many years and I can vouch for him.’

An exasperated bank manager exclaimed to Keith, ‘You don’t seem to understand my problem. I don’t know this man either’’ He indicated that they should leave.

Keith was at a complete loss as to what to do next. He might have to abandon thoughts of returning home. Then, as they walked through the main hall of the bank one of the tellers, a friend of Brother John, called him over. They chatted and explained why they were there. “Give the money order to me. I’ll cash it.” And within five minutes Keith was leaving the bank with the wherewithal to fly home.

Something similar happened to me at Madras airport. To pay for some duty free I handed over my credit card and signed the chit. The assistant looked at the card. ‘This isn’t your signature,’ he challenged. I have had enough to do with Indians to know that there is nothing they love more than to get into high-flown philosophical and theological debates, but this was neither the time nor the place. I walked away with my identity intact and his whisky on the counter.

Such experiences as these have a long history. Keith reminded me that Nasruddhin Hodja had been similarly challenged. The Hodja went into a bank to draw out some money. ‘Can you identify yourself?’ demanded the manager.

The Hodja pulled a mirror out of his pocket and examined the image carefully.

‘That’s me alright!’ he said.

And here is another.

The Hodja was travelling with a caravan on a long journey. So as not to get lost he tied an aubergine to his belt. In that way he would easily be recognized. One night, however, when they were all asleep in the caravanserai, a practical joker removed the aubergine and fixed it to his own belt.

When the Hodja woke up the first thing he saw was this man with the aubergine on his belt. It puzzled him.

‘That is me there,’ he exclaimed. ‘But…who am I, here?’

I know a warning when I see one. Anyone trying to remove my aubergine had better watch out!

Colin Hodgetts is 6’2” and asserts his right to be identified as the Colin Hodgetts who is author of this work in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.

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