We received an invitation to attend the christening of Steven's niece, somewhere in the wilds of North Wales. We've never been sure about these odd religious ceremonies that people have. I always worry about spending time in churches. What if I catch something? But nevertheless, we went.

What on earth do you buy for a christening? The traditional presents seem to be useless silver knick-knacks and leather bound Bibles, and neither of these seemed to be quite the thing. I lamented in the pub. "A silver photo frame", said all my mates. "With a photo of the baby in it." Well, did we have a photo of the baby? We did, we took a nice one at Christmas. And, lest it be suggested this is in any way indicative of photography skill, a good many crappy ones. Surely it couldn't be very hard to find a nice silver photo frame?

We got up early on Saturday, and after considering our options for likely places to shop for photo frames, settled on Milton Keynes, because it was On the Way and because you can definitely park at the shopping centre. Plus it has a John Lewis. Very important. We'd park, nip into John Lewis, buy a silver photo frame, and continue on our journey.

Milton Keynes is quite interesting in of itself, of course. It doesn't rain there; they just put up the dome. And you've heard of Rome being built on seven hills? Well, Milton Keynes is built on seven roundabouts. Or seventy seven. Or something. It feels like seventy seven. Perhaps there are seven principal roundabouts?

One (rather truer) thing you may not know about Milton Keynes is that the main street through the centre of the town is called Midsummer Boulevard. This is because the town is designed so that on Midsummer Day the sun rises, shines directly down Midsummer Boulevard and is reflected in the mirror finish of the railway station, much in the manner of the Ancients, who were much known for their use of mirror finish railway stations. However, there are actually far too many mirror finish buildings in Milton Keynes, to the extent that as you drive down any boulevard, at any time during any day of the year, the sun will be in your eyes, either directly or reflected off some building or other.

So, we spent a gloriously sunny but perishing cold day in the warmth of Milton Keynes' indoor shopping centre, looking at photo frames. We must have looked at hundreds of photo frames. We saw wooden frames, and brass, and silver, and pewter, and resin, and papier maché, at all price ranges. There were frames we liked that were too cheap, and frames we liked that were too expensive, ones that were too big and ones that were too small. We took frames apart, visualising what they would look like with a cropped picture of a baby in them. We bashed the photo quite a bit, messing it about. We found musical frames that were inlaid with tasteful pictures of humpty dumpty and the cow that jumped over the moon, and that played a selection of unpleasant nursery rhymes. In the end we didn't buy a frame at all, but rather a marquetry box with a photo frame in the lid. Made entirely from sustainable marquets, too.

This all took some hours. And at the end of it, we were tired, and hungry, and still nowhere near North Wales. So we drove onwards, stopping for dinner at a likely restaurant in Chester, and eventually arrived with Steven's parents. Steven's mother explained that this christening was going to be in a different church from the one where Michael and Paula had been married, and where their other daughter had been christened. The reason was immensely complicated, and turns on the precise difference between Queensferry, Shotton and Connah's Quay, something that I've never quite understood. We turned down offers of more food, but accepted offers of beer.

This was probably a mistake. We fell to discussing what we should write in the card we had bought for the occasion. You may have noticed that I hadn't mentioned the baby's name. She is called Isabelle Scarlett Cain. Discussions of bicycles and Gone With the Wind followed. Perhaps, mused Steven, we could put "Isabelle Scarlett -- frankly my dear, was it really necessary?" We worried about the risk of her falling in with a bad crowd, like that Professor Plum. We considered writing something about the baptism itself, like Splashdown!, or Happy Baby Dunking. Hmm, baby dunking. We wondered if that was any relation of Bobbing for Babies, and I was reminded of the Scottish version of bobbing for apples which involves dropping a fork from between one's teeth into the apples from a height. Eventually, Steven came up with a little poem.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Isabelle Scarlett
Or some other hue?

We were utterly creased by this. Little things, I suppose. I gave in and wrote the card. "For Isabelle Scarlett, on her christening day."

On Sunday morning, we found ourselves in the Catholic church in Connah's Quay, ready for the service. We knew there was going to be trouble when we discovered that the priest was -- quite literally -- plastered. And at that time on a Sunday morning, too. He had broken his leg some weeks earlier and was conducting the baptism from the confines of a wheelchair.

The baby turned up, along with various family members. Not, however, Steven's sister and her family. Where could they be? Steven's mother began to worry. What if they'd gone to the wrong church? Eventually they arrived, late, breathless and grumpy. "You might have mentioned it wasn't in the same church, Mum", said Janet.

The ceremony was completely surreal, and was made more so by Steven whispering to me in likely moments. The priest started by explaining that he would ask Paula and Michael two questions he already knew the answers to. The first was "What have you decided to call your baby?" Isabelle Scarlett, they explained. Steven whispered ...and the second question is "What on earth possessed you?"

The priest then went on to anoint the baby's head with the holy oil of salvation™, and explain that the shawl and the candle were symbols of the baby's new-found rank as a saved Catholic. Or at least a proto-saved one; I confess that my doctrine's a little shaky on things like this. I did notice him clearly asking for God's blessing for all the baptised at one point; clearly all the rest of us heathens can fend for ourselves. It was probably a good thing that this was a specific baptism ceremony. In the Church of Scotland, parents having their children christened have to sit through the ordinary Sunday service, before getting roughly two seconds of christening per child. In the church I attended, they did christenings once a month, and the minister had a special sermon which he dusted off every time, and bleated on for forty minutes about how people who only came to church for special occasions would burn in hellfire and brimstone. I had been quite looking forward to a sermon in a Catholic church, especially the Q&A. I did know enough not to blithely say three more lines of the Lord's Prayer than anybody else, luckily. But I digress.

They wrapped the baby in the shawl and lit the candle. Steven whispered, ...and now they use the candle to light the shawl, and with all that oil the baby will just go whoof! in seconds, oh, don't tell me it isn't a human sacrifice, I want my money back...

Afterwards we trooped off to a hotel for a dodgy buffet, and Steven and I both made a dash for the cake. This is because we'd been worrying about how the baby's name was spelt; Steven's mum had explained that she was sure that Scarlet only had one t. The cake had a pair of delightfully understated booties made of spun sugar, and the name Isabelle Scarlet picked out in pink letters. Whoops. Steven explained that he'd been sure that it wasn't Scarlet, that Scarlet wasn't a name but merely a description of a woman of doubtful virtue, which surely Isabelle couldn't be quite yet?

Steven's sister came over for a chat, and mentioned how pleased she was that Steven had been whispering to me in church. I wondered why, but she explained that otherwise he'd have been whispering to her, like he'd done throughout their childhood.

Steven & I then fell to discussing possible fannish baptisms. You'd definitely baptise the baby in beer, and perhaps endow it with traditional symbols of fannish activity, such as a propeller beanie and an electrostencil. You'd want to inscribe some appropriate sigil on the baby's forehead, perhaps a ringed planet, and give it likely presents, like leather bound copies of Warhoon 28 and silver tribbles. And you wouldn't give your child a silly name like Isabelle Scarlett, but rather a good science fictional name like Pod.

Two snails drinking out of a Confabulation glass

Figure 1: Baptising Snails in Beer

The proud father came over, and thanked us for the marquetry box. We apologised for spelling the name wrong in the card. "No, no," he said, "you've got it right -- they got the cake wrong".

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