Two strands have never unravelled

My 1956 diary presents a vivid portrait of adolescence. Aged 16, I forged notes to be excused cross-country, then sang "Lead me, Lord, in Thy righteousness" at choir practice.

My 1956 diary presents a vivid portrait of adolescence. Aged 16, I forged notes to be excused cross-country, then sang "Lead me, Lord, in Thy righteousness" at choir practice.

I left the City of Norwich School with four O-levels, gave up my grocery and morning paper rounds (Bulganin and Krushchev were the national news) and started work with the bus company - first at Head Office, then as clerk to the garage foreman at Surrey Street depot, drawing £3.3s.6d per week.

I sang in Stainer's Crucifixion; collected Ted Ellis's nature notes from the EDP; started smoking a pipe, visited new friends at their Blofield farm - ("really swinging the tractor about, now"); saw The Quaker Girl at the Theatre Royal, and Three Men in a Boat at the Regent - ("a wonderful 1/10d. worth"). Russia invaded Hungary. We invaded Egypt. I feared another war.

Energy abounded! One Saturday I cycled to Bacton to visit friends on holiday. We cycled back for speedway, intending to return afterwards! It rained, so we waited and started out again early next morning.

After another day in the sea, I returned to Norwich in the evening, as the sun set across ripening cornfields. (Today, I would struggle to reach Catton Woodman!)

There was emotional energy, too. It grieves me that, of the three girls with whom I was most hopelessly in love (never with any chance!), two have died (though Sally is well). Here was the arena of greatest confusion. "Why do fools fall in love?" we sang. Friends were equally important; I sledged down Hill House Road with Alan.

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When the 'pretty little Quaker' sang: "'Follow on, follow on, when the light of faith you see!'/ But they never proceed/to follow that light/ but only follow me!" her problem interested me. Girls, friends, God, sex - life was complicated.

But religion had become central, and evangelism my new passion. I began to undertake small devotional tasks - a lesson, a prayer, an epilogue. After I led the Christian Endeavour meeting, a girl I liked said: "You did very well." I was pleased!

In May, at the annual London Weekend arranged by the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, we performed a pageant in the Albert Hall, worshipped in Westminster Central Hall, and listened admiringly to Dr Donald Soper at Speakers' Corner. That weekend I knew I wanted to be a Methodist.

The President of the Conference, Dr Leslie D Weatherhead, preached in Norwich on June 21, and I listened spellbound. A month later, on July 22, I was received into membership.

My first short addresses from Methodist pulpits were delivered in the chapels at Lingwood, Thorpe Road, and Blofield, at services taken by the CE (motto: For Christ and the Church). I was being gently 'pushed'; Vic Hardy said: "You're a born preacher". Heady stuff to a shaveling!

My friend Russell Webber (now of Thetford) took up local preaching. Another became fully accredited - and after John Beebe's recognition service, the Superintendent minister, the Rev FW Loy, said: "You'll be the next!"

On October 4, I heard a third famous Methodist preacher, Dr WE Sangster, at Chapel Field Road: 'first class - a really inspiring and wonderful address'. A few weeks later, though barely 17, the circuit quarterly meeting gave me a 'note to preach', and authorised me to accompany an experienced and popular local preacher, David Allison.

Yet - just as Celtic and Roman traditions intertwine in early English church history - my diary reveals a surprise: the existence of a parallel religious strand, galvanised by my conversion, but rooted in my love of history and nature.

'April 23rd - went round the cathedral this morning alone, and worshipped. Felt proud of ancient buildings in The Close, and of Nurse Cavell and Nelson.' I attended matins and evensong frequently enough for Canon Edwards to notice me. I discovered the Book of Common Prayer and delighted in working out how collects, psalms, gospels and epistles slotted into place.

One hot afternoon I cycled to Tunstead church for its rededication 'by the Lord Bishop'. His imposing presence impressed me deeply. Christmas Eve found me at St John Timberhill (which my friend Roger Smith still attends), where the celebrant was Fr Medhurst. I wrote: "I enjoyed midnight mass: plenty of incense about."

On December 30, I listened to a wireless programme entitled 'Village Cathedral', celebrating the millennium of Southwell Minster (which I would not visit until 2005!). I was moved and wrote: 'I could easily have put on a minister's collar!'

Yet I added: 'For the first time I'm really beginning to doubt if I've done right in becoming a Methodist. I enjoy so much the church services. Maybe I can enjoy both without being disloyal to either. After all, I was baptised 'church'!'

The theology improved; but those strands never unravelled.