It was one of the most anxious days of the year at Swanvale Halt church: the Infant School Palm Service. The anxiety arises not from the children, who despite their excitement are generally very well-behaved, but from the cause of their excitement - a brace of donkeys.
The donkeys are well-behaved too; at least, they've never been anything else. They have been coming to the church on the Wednesday or Thursday in the last week of the Spring term to take part in the Palm Service for years, and nothing untoward has ever taken place. The problem is that, while they used to reside in a field in a nearby village, now they live quite a drive away in Liphook, and have to make their way north along the A3 just at the time many, many people are making the same journey. And anything can happen.
Should the donkeys not make it, the children would be most disappointed. But it doesn't end there. The main problem is finding parking for them and their trailer, given the busy-ness of the centre of Swanvale Halt these days, made worse by the fact that a new pipeline is being run to a block of sheltered housing next to the church, occupying the parking spaces there. So while depositing Ms Formerly Aldgate back at her flat last night I put out our bollards politely asking drivers to please 'leave this space for donkeys' and hoped for the best. They were still in place this morning but there were a stubborn two cars parked in just the position to make it awkward for the trailer to park, and when, to my delight, it appeared further down the street, and I removed the bollards so Mr & Mrs Donkey-Wrangler could park, instead they turned into the driveway of said sheltered housing and another car nipped in to the space where the bollards had been.
Of course it was all OK. The Donkey-Wranglers negotiated with the workmen and the children followed the donkeys around the churchyard waving their palm crosses before going into the church for the rest of the service. The headmistress has a new speaker to link to her phone for playing the children's songs which despite its exceedingly modest size can fill the whole church. I sat listening to Out of the Ark's 'Hosanna to King Jesus' being sung by dozens of small voices and kept my eyes fixed on the rafters above, in case emotion got the better of me.
PS. The children went back to school to mark a 'pause day', in which the curriculum was set to one side to concentrate on storytelling, prayers, quiet times, and other activities looking towards Easter. It takes quite some confidence on the part of a head teacher to do that and I think it's great.