Idle Eye 149 : The Road Less Travelled

There is a certain issue that instils terror into the hearts and minds of those of us who, for whatever reason, have failed to reproduce. And it stems from that most innocuous of sources, the supermarket, where we like to believe we can conduct our business from behind the veil of relative anonymity. Which, to a point, we can. However, just when you think you’ve come through the process unscathed, an atrocious ritual humiliation lies in wait at the tills. A poison bullet with your name on it. A five word bombshell that suggests that you are pitifully lacking as a human being:

“Are you collecting School Vouchers?”

It is a question both pertinent and unspeakably cruel, for it must be answered on the fly and will be absorbed by many. Rejection of the wretched things is tantamount to saying “I do not care for children. Consequently, I shall not be providing a brighter future for them with my wine purchases.” There will also be a phalanx of affronted mothers behind you, boring fiery holes deep into your soul with the sheer force of their unbridled contempt. At which point, you have two choices:

1)  Announce to the rapidly-assembling crowd that you were struck barren at birth after an unfortunate circumcision accident, and that collection of said vouchers will only add to the escalating mountain of angst you have already accrued. If you can weep a little, so much the better. Just don’t get out the goods if asked to prove it. You’re no Dustin Hoffman. 

2)  Take them. Take them and run out into the High Street in order to create a massive paper rick of lost hopes and dreams. Then light a match and sing ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ in Scottish, like in the Wicker Man. No-one will like you for it but they probably don’t anyway. Sod ‘em.

When I was working in Egypt, I was asked on several occasions how many kids I had and whether they were boys or girls. Initially I tried to set the record straight, but soon found out I was on a highway to nowhere. To them I was, at best, a curio, so I decided to lie in order to get by. I invented a beautiful wife, four sons and two daughters, and by the end of the season had become quite jealous of myself. Why didn’t I have a life like that? And how would I keep my new-found family in the style which we had yet to become accustomed when I got home?

Standard existential stuff and nonsense. But in those frozen moments back in the supermarket, I often wonder how my other self would have felt, watching a middle-aged man bundling booze into a bag and denying the next generation a decent start in life. And if I’m honest, I’d probably be in the vanguard of those livid mums, silently berating myself for having taken the road less travelled.

Idle Eye 130 : The Messiah

As some of you may know, I’ve been working in a Catholic church now for quite some time. My remit is to conserve the merchandise, the latest being a huge gilded reredos with exquisitely carved priests gazing up at a floating Lady of Suffering with her attendant cherubs and, a bit further up, God. With a massive beard. And a book.

Every day I arrive an hour or so before the morning Mass. To get to the scaffold, I have to push my bike past an elderly man lying prostrate on the floor in a state of reverie, touching the feet of a plaster cast of Our Lady with six plastic swords piercing her sacred heart. He barely notices me. Next, I nod graciously at the Silver Vixen (who smiles provocatively back) and then head on up to the tower. Usually I bail out for the Mass itself, but sometimes I catch the last of it. A priest in white and purple robes, looking and sounding like Mark E Smith, finishes the proceedings by chanting the beginning of a hymn and then walking off to the sacristy in solemnity, leaving the congregation to wrap up the singing and follow suit. Which, for the most part, they do.

A few weeks ago, however, a straggler got locked in. She’d passed out on one of the pews and fell under the penetrating in-house CCTV radar. When she came to, frightened and coming down off something, her first vision was that of myself, alone, at height and magnificently backlit by powerful halogens. The following exchange went something like this:

Me:  Are you okay?

Lady:  Who…who are you? Do you want me to sing for you?

Me:  Maybe not now. Do you know how to get out?

Lady:  Are you Jesus?

Me:  Er…

Lady:  Let me sing for you, Jesus.

Me:  I think we’d better…

Lady:  LET ME SING FOR YOU, JESUS!!!

Me:  Ok. What can you do?

Lady:  Tell me what to sing.

Me:  Look, I’m really not Jesu…

Lady:  WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SING???

Me:  Um…How about Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Do you know that one?

Lady:  Just like you, Jesus. A twinkling star. In Heaven.

Me:  Thank you. But I really think you should speak to Father Pat first.

Lady:  I wrote you a letter. Did you get my letter?

Me:  I don’t think so.

Lady:  I gave it to Our Lady. She kept it for you. SHE KEPT IT FOR YOU!!!

Me: I’ll ask her for it later.

Lady:  I need to go wee.

Me:  Wait a minute. I’ll come down and show you…

Lady:  HELP ME GO WEE, JESUS!!! HELP ME GO WEE!!!

So I did. I helped the lady go wee. And then we took a short walk together to the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital where she was taken in and my services superseded by those more qualified than I. Because I’m not Jesus: I’m just a fella.