Babies born ‘in the caul’ (when their amniotic sack, or amnion, has not burst and remain intact on the babies head or face like a circular crown) are in many instances worldwide thought to be lucky, special or protected (JSTOR: Folklore: Vol.61, No.2, p.104 in http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness-sailors-charm.html retrieved November 2011).
There I was, hurrying through Worcester Cathedral grounds, late for tea with the Bishop. Suddenly, something flew past my head. I ducked instinctively, looking around to see what it was. A small dark figure disappeared into a grating.
The next instant another one jumped off the Cathedral. A gargoyle! It launched off sprouting little arms and legs. Giggling wickedly, it scurried past to join its companion.
‘Look out,’ I cried, seeing another about to descend. A child laughed and pointed at me crouched with my arms over my head. The child tugged at its mother’s skirt, she shook it off.
‘Don’t be rude, Wayne,’ she said, ‘the vicar’s only praying’.
They couldn’t see the little beasts! I pondered this, now praying fervently as another whizzed past. It tumbled by me chanting ‘Whee … born in a caul, born in a caul, you can see us no trouble at all. Wheee …’ and scampered to the grating. Another followed quickly. I looked up at the scaffolding to see if more were to follow suit. Didn’t look like it. Not believing my eyes, I ran to the grating.
There the four of them sat in a circle. Tiny, childlike voices echoed up to me. ‘He-he-he, we are free, we’ve got an hour, what can we see?’ With that, they all jumped out onto the path and, holding hands, set off towards town. I had no alternative. I followed them, severely doubting my sanity and offering up a prayer for the Bishop’s understanding.
They moved fast for such little blighters. In seconds they closed on a rather large woman bending over her full shopping bag on a bench. I watched in horror as one found a stick and poked her rear with it. She jumped, turning angrily. Then, seeing me, she blushed furiously, simpering ‘Oh, vicar!’
‘Pardon me,’ I said indignantly and hurried off after the little monsters who were well down the path, holding their sides and hooting with laughter.
‘Juggernaut! Juggernaut!’ they squealed, seeing one stopped at the traffic lights. Within seconds they were aboard, moving the driver’s mirror. He straightened it, puzzled. They moved it again. They took his keys; the engine stopped. The lights turned green. The driver cursed, reaching for his keys. Car horns blared. Delighted pedestrians charged across the road at breakneck speed. I joined them.
The gargoyles were now by Elgar’s statue depositing the keys at its base. A mother with a child in a pushchair approached. They snatched the child’s lollipop. He began to scream; his mother searched the footpath for the lolly. ‘What have you done with it?’ she asked him crossly. The child continued to scream while just yards away the lolly was disappearing into the gargoyles’ fleshy mouths. ‘Yummy, yummy, yummy, food for our tummy,’ they chuckled. A Labrador swerved, sensing them, his eyes popping as he pulled his unsuspecting owner into a lamppost.
A policeman strolled along heading for the snarl-up at the traffic lights. Irate motorists shook their fists at the bewildered juggernaut driver. Another rhyme floated back to me. ‘Once in every century we have a chance to dance round free. We have fun and few can see, save those who were born in a caul.’
They turned, heading for the hotel. I’d lost them. Through revolving doors I saw the four of them busily emptying a guest’s suitcase. The guest had her back to them, signing in. Bras and stockings flew through the air, the gargoyles rummaged through cosmetics, smearing lipsticks, emptying bottles. It got worse when they found the talc. I dashed in without thinking and started shoving things back into the case. She turned around. Through a fog of talc I saw her open-mouthed amazement at the sight of me clutching a pair of filmy white panties to my cassocked chest. The receptionist, galvanized into action, reached for the phone. I knew just what was happening, heaven forefend!
The young woman of the underwear found her voice, ‘You’re a vicar! A vicar! What are you doing?’
‘Don’t worry miss, the police are on their way,’ said the receptionist. The gargoyles gambolled with glee, giggling and winking. ‘He-he-he, now you’ll see just how long an hour can be. Back to the Cathedral, that’s where we’ll be.’ They left.
Well … what could I say? The police arrived. The receptionist pointed an elegant, accusing finger at me.
The policeman viewed the devastated luggage and clouded reception area, a look of wonder on his face. He shook his head, saying ‘There’s something in the air today. A lorry driver threw his keys at Elgar, held traffic up for ages, now this! In public! Come along vicar.’
He escorted me to his car. I saw the Bishop in the distance. Beyond him the gargoyles squatted by the Cathedral. I looked again and they were gone as if they’d never been. Someone, as they say, crept over my grave, I shivered. ‘Pon my soul, how am I going to explain this to His Grace?
Polly Stretton © 2012