Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Thursday, April 08, 2004
Vatican Rag
At this time of year, I always feel a bit of a fraud, taking time off for a major Christian festival, when I stopped believing all that Roll-Away-The-Stone nonsense years ago. I think I started to stop believing when, as an infuriatingly precocious kid, I asked Father McCann why we couldn't do something for the poor people by selling all the pretty pictures in the Vatican, and he couldn't come up with a convincing answer.

I can't quite understand what stuffing yourself sick with Terry's Chocolate Orange has to do with the supposed Resurrection of You-Know-Who. In fact, the only thing making this weekend special to Joe Public seems to be the fact there are more Judy Garland movies on telly than is heterosexually healthy, and the shops are full of hot cross buns.

It wasn't always so. I was raised in a religious family and received much of my education from nuns and Jesuit priests. We even used to have the local Father round for tea and Chorley cakes every other Friday. And my Communion and Confirmation photos show that, even back then, young Master Stranger was ever so cute, a good, well-scrubbed Catholic boy, who always remembered to wash behind his ears.

In spite of all this, I turned down the offer of becoming an altar boy, reasoning all of them were nancies, and I was sure my mother wouldn't approve of me mixing with that sort. Thirty-odd Maundy Thursdays ago today, however, I did make it to the altar, when I had my feet washed in front of an adoring congregation by the local Bishop. It's a traditional thing, recalling Christ's washing the feet of his disciples: the twelve cutest boys in the class are chosen as stand-ins for Peter, Paul and Mary, and whatever the other nine apostles were called, and a fat bloke in a frock gets down on his knees in front of each one of them in turn.

All that adulation must have put ideas into the head of an impressionable young boy, for shortly afterwards I announced to anyone who was interested that, when I grew up, I wanted to be the next Pope. To be fair, one had just died, and it seemed a good career move at the time. To this day, my mother won't let me forget this early life choice, and I think that, secretly, she still harbours Hopes.

I'd make a good Pope, as long as I stayed off the incense: I certainly couldn't be any worse than the current one. And, what's more, I'd probably enjoy it, what with its smells and bells, glitz and glamour, skulduggery and infallibility, and more Swiss Guards than you can wiggle your crosier at.

There'll be a job going pretty soon. I reckon I might send in my CV. Just to please my mum, of course.