My Granddad was a big pigeon man, who showed Long-faced Tumblers. His friend in the next street was just as big, but as a pigeon racer. Mr Pulham had played cricket for Sussex in Ranjitsinjhi’s day, and was the soul of kindness, taking me to the Oval to see Sussex play Surrey.
Mr Pulham’s kindness seemed not to extend to his wife. They lived in the same house, but it was known that they had not spoken for twenty years. This worked on my youthful imagination, till I seemed to see Mr Pulham as a gentle fraud, like the White Knight outside, but concealing inside rottenness. It did not strike me till later that Mrs Pulham, who seemed a decent creature, might share responsibility.
It was my first glimpse of marriage breakdown, which in the circumstances of the Twenties and Thirties of last century, like tuberculosis and cancer, was unthinkable, not to be mentioned. I suppose it was then that I resolved, if ever I broke off from those I had loved, that I must never let it affect my kindness and courtesy towards them.
You will see where I am leading: to our own relationships within the Church we love. Goodness knows what the poor Pulhams had done to each other, but they remained married. Goodness knows what our poor Church has done to us, or we to it, but it remains our Church.
You do occasionally come across couples who have reached breakdown, but who continue to live together, having agreed, as the saying is, to ‘go their separate ways’, without reaching non-speak. This at least preserves courtesy, which is important, but under today’s social code it is in unstable equilibrium, waiting for some new person or consideration or failure of kindness to upset the applecart.
But what would have been the best solution for Mr and Mrs Pulham? Answer that, and it may help us today. It is immensely sad that two people or groups who once wished and vowed to spend their lives together should end in coldness. What would be intolerable, if we lived together but ‘went our separate ways’, would be if one partner had rights denied to the other.