AS ever when blessed by Norman Deacon’s green fingers, the flower festival at St Philip and St James’ church in Tow Law proved a magnificent occasion. As with so many other churches, it was also good to be there and not be attending a funeral.

Norman, winner of numerous national accolades for his art, had the week previously celebrated the diamond anniversary of his marriage to the splendid Betty, an MBE recipient in 1997 after more than 50 years service at Tow Law post office.

Norman had worked in the building trade. “On Fridays the lads would be talking about which pubs they’d be going to. I said I’d be flower arranging,” he recalled. “I’m not sure they knew what to make of it.”

He’d also spent 35 years on Tow Law Town football club committee. “They only put me on because they wanted me to build a urinal,” said Norman. “It didn’t take me 35 years.”

The festival’s theme was “What a wonderful world”, displays reflecting all points of the compass. The Australian stand included a can of Foster’s, an Ashes urn and a sign warning to beware of koalas – recalling Fr Peter Davis, an Australian monk who was Tow Law’s vicar at the turn of the century.

Poor Peter found acclimatisation tricky, swore that all which kept him insulated was a cupboard stocked floor to ceiling with Campbell’s lobster bisque.

He was last heard of manning a buffet car on the West Coast main line, though it’s doubtful if they sold lobster bisque.

Back at St Philip and St James they charged just £2 admission, a few coppers for a cup of tea and a braw buffet in the church hall, raised £3,170 50p for church funds. “We’re chuffed to little pieces,” said Norman.

THUS fortified, and with a slice of diamond wedding cake for supper, we headed across to the match – and at once bumped into Tony Wright, another former Tow Law vicar, and his wife Ann. Did he know that Norman, his former churchwarden, had just celebrated his diamond wedding? “I should do,” said Tony, “we celebrated ours the same day.”

DAVE AYRE, lovely man, was also at the flower festival and celebrating his 88th birthday that day. A lifelong and still active trades unionist, he’s spent all but the first of those years a couple of miles along Windy Ridge on Stanley Hill Top.

He still races round on his bike – “cheating, it’s electric these days” – still annually organises an International Workers’ Memorial Day service at St Thomas’s church.

It was there in 2005 that we heard Dr David Jenkins, then retired as Bishop of Durham. “The most obvious and chief reason for not believing in God,” said Dr Jenkins, “is the words and actions of those who say they do.”

We’d last been in Dave and Doris Ayre’s house in June 2008, when he’d co-written a book called The Flying Pickets. Though it was mid-summer, the coal fire was still in. Was it that flower festive Saturday? “Oh aye,” said Dave, “you can never be too careful in Stanley.”

WHILE Norman Deacon and friends deck the aisles with rich floribundance, at Rochester Cathedral they’ve turned the nave into a crazy golf course and in the cloisters at Norwich erected a 40ft helter-skelter.

Letters to The Tomes are predictably thunderous – “incredible, shocking and sad” – though Albert Roxborough from St Peter’s in Stockton strikes a more emollient note.

Two years ago, he writes, they staged a planes, pulpit and pews competition in which the prize went to the person who flew a paper plane furthest from the pulpit.

“Conceived for children, it attracted many adult competitors,” he adds.

Albert tells the column that it was all to raise funds for an onoging re-ordering of the church – wing and a prayer, no doubt – which involves replacing pews with chairs and making it a seven-days-a-week operation.

No crazy golf? “Probably not yet,” says Albert.

WE’D last spoken to Albert Roxborough in 2010, after his history of Wolviston Cricket Club – near Billingham – had cause to recall Lindy Delapenha, a Jamaican footballer with Middlesbrough in the 1950s, but who also played cricket for the Wolves.

His summers at Wolviston, wrote Albert, were chiefly because there was an inside track to Cleveland Park greyhounds – “he made more money on inside information on the dogs than ever he did playing football.”

Delapenha was also one of those folk able to read his own obituary, an approving account published in the Jamaica Gleaner in 2011. Save for Stanley Matthews he’d have played for England, it said – and he should have been world dominoes champion, too.

He really did die in January 2017, aged 89.

LAST Friday we took the Wensleydale Railway to Redmire, the high road thence to Swaledale reopened only that morning after the great flood. The dales slowly recover. Four days after the worst of it, Redmire’s annual duck race – lovely weather for it – raised £760 for village hall funds. The first duck home was sold to Mr Waterhouse, the third to Mrs Pails.

THE column two weeks ago recalled a 1980s raid on the bairns’ sweet stack by Darlington MP and future defence secretary Michael Fallon. It reminded Peter Ellis of another good evening for the MP.

Peter had started a parcels company on the Albert Hill industrial estate, Sir Michael (as then he wasn’t) invited to perform the official opening. Bar and buffet were laid on.

Job done, word arrived that a large hole had been dug in the access road – long story. “Obviously the bar had to go on a bit longer, but the MP seemed to be enjoying himself,” says Peter.

Eventually they found some scaffolding panels to bridge the gap and, two hours after he should have done, the honourable member walked the plank.

…and finally, back to the Lord Bishops of Durham. It’s 100 years ago this month since Dr Handley Moule, then holder of that high office, wrote in the Expository Times that the second coming would be in the following year.

It would be attended, said Dr Moule – pronounced as in black furry creature, enabling him to be known as Holy Mouley – by the resurrection of the dead and the rapture of the living.

He’d also forecast the end of the world in a sermon at Etherley (of all the expository places.) “It caused a great sensation in the crowd, some became almost hysterical,” wrote an observer.

1920 proved relatively uneventful, though it did mark the death of the Bishop of Durham. Unless his prophecy proves to be of the better-late variety, the column returns next week.