At this time of year when we run into the traffic of so many reconciliation events - clustering around the Spring festivals like bad social history around the Easter Bunny - people often come to me and ask, "what must we do to be saved from having to make bodily contact with other people?"
And it's a question I really have sympathy for. Let's face it, people, in the main, are ghastly. And even where they're not, you don't want them clinging onto your neck on the pretext that we are all, in some way, one body. And with some of them you get the impression that there's more of a desire to be one flesh there than you really would want to consider, if you're not a member of the Beaker Fertility People.
The Fertility People, by the way, are very glum. They reckon it's been two years since the weather was last dry and warm enough to celebrate the joys of nature. They're just slopping around in baggy sweaters and glum looks like a bunch if Presbyterians on a particularly locked-down Sunday.
But back to avoiding unwanted bodily contact at the Shaking of Hands or Cuddle of Peace. Obviously you'd think, being British, that merely standing with your arms crossed and a threatening look on your face would be sufficient to drive the hand-shakers and huggers back. Yet being notorious extroverts as many of them are, some of them will grab your hand and shake it anyway - or even insist on hugging you, regardless. In this circumstances, making your elbows as pointy as possible and driving them into their ribs may be your only limited protection. After all, you've got your arms folded so you've already lost your first line of defence.
Standing up and heading for the door whenever hugging breaks out may result in people following you out, assuming you're so overcome with the peace, love 'n' understanding of it all that you really need to be hugged somewhere quieter. So if you're beating a retreat, it's best to adopt a pained expression. Wearing an SOS medallion that says "Weak bladder sufferer" may well help in these circumstances - as will shouting "I should never have eaten that prawn madras."
Mace is still illegal in this country, even when the church's most notorious hugger is heading for you. But, importantly, passive defences are allowed - particularly if you wear a notice round your neck - "Warning, this sweater contains an electric fence" will normally gain the attention. As will wearing a spiky collar. Albeit if you do put one of those on, some people may confuse you with the vicar.
A normal court injunction is probably ineffective in keeping huggers and shakers at bay - this part of the service rarely goes on for more than twenty minutes, and huggers are busy people, with a lot of personal space to invade. They're more likely to hug first and deal with the Contempt of Court case on Monday. No, a UN resolution is more likely to keep them back. Especially if you can get yourself protected by a couple of helicopter gunships.
Or you could join the Choir? Traditionally this has always been a real refuge for people who don't need bodily contact during worship. In many Anglican or Methodist choirs, you are well-protected from front and back by the extra-high stalls, while conveniently being in possession of many large music books. You can hold these firmly - thus putting off all but the most determined hand-shakers - and, in the case of a truly determined hugger, smack them over the head with the books.
In the Moot house, I have drawn a circle around the "non-contact zone". Anyone who can get there safely un-hugged, is officially protected for the rest of the Occasion.
So I hope my thoughts on personal safety during the Cuddle of Peace are helpful. Who knows, introverts and pestered people of the world? If we get this right, we may be able to get to the sort of haven where the "courteous nod of peace" is accepted as sufficient human contact for one day. But I harbour the hope that, in heaven, gratuitous eye-contact during blessings is also surely a thing of the past - wiped away like the tears in our eyes.