Breachwood Green was a quiet village in the years following the second world war. We hardly ever saw a car. There was a bus to take us to Hitchin or Luton, the nearest towns. There was a post office, next to a pub, The Red Lion, and beside that the forge where my grandfather, William Tripp, used to have his blacksmith’s workshop. I never knew my grandfather. He died before I was born.
When I was old enough, I went to the Baptist Chapel on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t far from where we lived, and I walked there on my own. You could let five-year-olds do that in those days. I don’t remember the singing or the lessons, but I can remember very something I did one day. I brought home a hymn book. I don’t know why I did it. My mother was furious with me. I think she saw a life of criminality and theft ahead if it wasn’t stamped out there and then. She insisted that I went to the Sunday school teacher’s house, said sorry and gave the books back. She sent me off on my own, clutching the wretched book, a sense of terror rising with every step.
The Sunday school teacher lived at the end a very long drive, and she had a very snappy little Jack Russell dog, who guarded their property with something bordering on mania. I’d already had a bad experience with a dog, so I was filled with dread when I arrived at the gateway to find Snapper-jaws on duty. Tears slid down my cheeks. I wanted to run and run and run and never go back. However, I didn’t dare go home with the Sunday school book still in my hand. It was a no-win situation.
I’ll tell you what I did, and it was very naughty of me. I threw the book into a ditch underneath a sprawling hedge. There, that was the end of that!
I don’t know what I said to my mother when I got home. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the truth. Sometimes when you’re grown up you have to forgive yourself for something you’re sorry about, something you may have done years ago. I’m sorry I threw the book under a bush. I’m sorry I told my mother a lie. Without Snapper-jaws on sentry duty, I might not have remembered this story so clearly.
I’m sure all my mother wanted was to teach me a lesson – that if you’ve done something bad, it’s right to be sorry. You should own up and apologise, and then you’ll have every chance of being forgiven. I know now that God is the greatest forgiver of all, which is a very good thing.
Anyway, whatever happens, you can always learn something from it.