Orthodox Crossing: First Dibs Michael!

Picking things is great. That sense of personal agency amongst the sweet wafting aroma of options. It could be just grazing your eyes down the biscuit aisle of your local vendor or something altogether more romantic like when I used to own a lovely big beemer estate and would pick the outside lane of any given motorway. It’s where it belonged, just like my hand around a packet of Digestives.

I tend to choose the same old things. I am old enough to have narrowed it down with great specificity, but then there are choices in life which are one-off’s like wives (hopefully) or that time my youngest elder brother took me to a big beer shop in Birmingham and told me he’d pay the bill; these are the choices that you really want to bullseye. It doesn’t matter if a packet of digestives is disappointing to a palette that had an eye on the ginger nuts, although I personally understand that it is disappointing in the moment, like speed restrictions on any given piece of motorway, but the point that I am hindering myself getting to is that some disappointments are passing; you will get four or five clear miles of motorway at some point (it has to happen, surely?), but some stick around and make you realise you should have been paying better attention, and then gives you plenty of time to think that over during the coming years.

When it came to choosing my church godfather I knew I wanted to be paying attention, but then I worried to my wife Anna that I wasn’t when she was, and how bad was I. Then Fr Stephen jumped straight in and asked me who I had chosen about ten days before my family were to undergo chrismation. He’d already asked Anna about hers and given a respectful nod to her choice, bully for her, but I was panicking because obviously it was me next… and obviously there was only one choice, and had been for some time; the problem was that I hadn’t even circled the subject with him yet. I’d been asking him about nineties techno instead. I was a fan, he was a DJ…

I spoke to him after Divine Liturgy once if he ever used any Utah Saints records in his DJ sets and he laughed at me with a disappointment in his eyes regards my taste in popular dance music.

But it was a trick on my part! I do not like the Utah Saints, but I knew it as a measure of bad taste amongst proper techno nerds, and I really didn’t mind that he thought less of me for asking it. He was into proper techno, and unbeknownst to him, so was I, broadly, if I’m being nice to myself.

His Utah Saints displeasure gave me some understanding of him though. Michael knew what techno could do and I had always thought techno unique among other music. Familiar to many things, but entirely other in execution. The deep waves of bass tones… those plinks of synthetic melody… that mid-nineties fusion of classical composition and audio-futurism.

The sense of endearment of it between Michael and me was fast meaningful in some way, at least to me, and settled things more broadly between us.

I must hasten to add at this point that Michael has recently been ordained as Choir Tone Maestro (I think that’s correct. Footnote; Anna has since told me that he is a Reader.) and is, as far as I know him, an Orthodox man of session musician ability. Seasoned. Michael was my bullseye but I really was going to have to get around to asking him if he was good to be in on it as well. Granted, we were on common terms with sharing a hug after liturgy, and a cigarette (not shared), but however much that might have confirmed him to be godfather at my end, I knew nothing of his reciprocation.

So I went to see him at his shop, which back a couple of years ago was in Oswestry. He is in Shrewsbury now, not to digress, but to note. Go see him at Rowanthorn. Those couple of years ago though, it was on the crescendo towards Pascha and me and mine were due to be introduced into the church on Lazarus Saturday. It was now the Wednesday leading up to it, so it was Michael or nothing.

Luckily he greeted my appearance in his establishment well. To be honest, I don’t get into towns much, so my being there was a surprise for him.

‘What brings you into town?!’ he asked, knowing enough of me and my general movements. It was the same sort of greeting as when I did my tours for Shrewsbury Street Pastors, the other pastors greeting my arrival like I was a roving hill farmer or something. I’m not a farmer, for the record. Now, I do garden for farmers, currently so and comprehensively in the past, including a currently retired chicken farmer, but it is just gardening. I know where to find WHSmiths.

‘I know where town is,’ I told him and flicked a cigarette out through the door, perhaps, but not really. Really I did my best greeting and let a moment’s pause happen between us before I went for the question that I already thought answered. Bit of tension, like the static before a pleasant record begins.

‘Michael…’ I said, still letting things linger a little. I love a delay over an important matter. It’s what makes them important.

‘Michael,’ I said again. ‘You know we are all being chrismated this Saturday?’

‘Yes I do, John,’ he replied. ‘I am singing there.’

I hear the call of a DJ in my heart then; the promise to bring the beat… the deep beats… the ones the DJ saves for after three a.m. Now we were cooking.

‘Michael, I don’t have a godfather for this weekend…’

‘I’d love to!’ he said and his face lit up in a manner that came across to me as genuine happiness. Yes, I was arguably in a desperate situation, but by grace or else a good shove, the pieces were coming together.

‘I’d only really thought of you, Michael.’


‘You know that you don’t have to. I don’t want to badger you.’

‘It’s fine. I’m honoured!’


‘Well, I can say no if you keep it up.’

Another delay.

‘Thank you, Mike.’

‘Much better.’

And that my friends is a bullseye! So thank you, Michael. Sorry about the Utah Saints confusion. I should have said ages ago that Leftism is my favourite techno tickle spot, and maybe you’d think better of me, but I don’t mind.

Reach for the lasers. God bless.

JW Bowe

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