Our hero of this tale is Bible John an unconventional, non-conformist, wandering Fenland preacher. The illustration shows Bible John with his deaf Parson Jack Russell/Border Terrier Cross called Ruffe and his sack of souls on his back, tramping the banks of the Sixteen Foot Drain silhouetted against a biblical sky. With thanks to John Andrews for his pen-portrait. Now read on and enjoy.
Whilst you stoke the fire on a cold winter night far beyond the boundary of the village itself upon the empty wetlands of the Fen there is a wandering preacher known only as ‘Bible John’ who stands seven foot tall in boots too tight which gnaw at his feet and a wide brimmed felt hat that covers his eyes from view. Local legend has it that he was born one autumn night in a flooded dyke the result of a tryst between a chip shop worker and a sugar beet cutter. His youth was wild, abandoned and ruled by hedonism. His moment of evangelism came whilst on the bus to Manea one wet Tuesday afternoon. He could take no more of village gossip and idle tittle tattle and begged the driver to stop the vehicle. To a silence he departed theatrically using the newly fitted wheelchair ramp and started his long walk along the Sixteen Foot Drain to enlightenment. He spent the early years of his fledgling ministry touring the outlying villages of the Fen, the black dot like places that the mapmaker could not be bothered to record but where the seeds of discontent are sown with the seasons. In time he had a reputation that travelled before him like an ill wind blowing off the Steppe. It was said he could halt a wind turbine with a glance, reduce a mobile telephone signal to one bar merely by raising his left hand and sharpen a bow saw with a smile. Not that Bible John smiled much for not only had his contract with Orange long expired but he was perturbed by the virus that spread along the A10 where warehouse sex shops and unlicensed food wagons threatened to turn the place into a depraved annex of the Deep South. As for electricity he had no need for it, the places where he spent the night often being homes he borrowed and lit by miracle and failing that the back-up of a gas-lamp. All along, subsisting on a diet of the Old Testament, and cups of gumbo made from Slush Puppy and pickled eel, Bible John stole himself and fought back. He took casual work on a coconut shy stall and whilst working at the funfair was inspired to build a travelling troupe of his own. And so it was that on the darkest of winter nights when not even the bright lights of Peterborough troubled the sky and the Multiplex in Huntingdon was showing re-runs of Hollywood Blockbusters he pitched his borrowed tent by the side of the road and spoke with eloquence, accompanying himself on an out of tune harmonium, sometimes stringing a sentence together. Deaf dogs barked without interruption, wild geese gandered, and petrol fires were lit by the under-fives as more and more fell under his spell. And so, if you walk upon the Fen and feel the chill wind touching your neck and tickling at your throat then quicken your step, for if you look up you will notice that the view to the horizon is suddenly clear and in the distance there will be a figure in black silhouetted against the big sky. It will be Bible John, the man with dust upon the hem of his coat, Norfolk Reed poking out from his cuffs, the wandering preacher of the Fen. He may seem far away, but just because he is don’t think he isn’t coming to get you.
Further instalments will follow based on sightings, hearsay and rumours of the enigmatic preacher. So remember, don’t pick up hitch-hikers, lock your windows and keep your children and pets in your sight.
If you are a pike or zander fisherman who enjoys the loneliness of fenland, all curled up and cosy in your bivouac in the middle of the night, and the canvass begins to shrivel… run, because your mobile won’t have any signal and neither will your bite indicators.
I leave you with one of his favourite and cheeriest quotes from the Old Testament, one that nearly brings a smile to his face.
For man dieth and wasteth away yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he. Job. 14. 10