Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
I can just picture the scene. There I am, genuflecting in front of St Peter at The Utimate Portal Of Immortality, and he’ll be staring disapprovingly at me, clicking his tongue and shaking his head.
St Peter (sternly): You once said the word "arse" in church, during Mass?
Authorblog (stuttering): Er, yes, but can I explain, please?
St Peter (totally ignoring my pitiful attempt to justify such a shocking act of indiscretion): And you once placed a bet in church, during Mass?
Authorblog (ready to make an eloquent appeal to the members of the jury): Er, yes, but can I explain, please?
St Peter will raise his eyes to the heavens. Well, forgive my use of the metaphor, but I guess he won’t actually be raising his eyes to the heavens – for the simple reason that we will be IN heaven. Not to put too fine a point on it, I’ll be there very briefly, just for the interview and no doubt for the banishment that will follow. He’ll be in heaven and I won’t.
St Peter will hand me over to the Patron Saint of Dungeons who will lead me to the Fiery Nether World.
But I’m not kidding. I must explain. So allow me to state my case here …
I was brought up to show respect to all and to show special reverence in church. Some of my earliest memories of reading relate to being able to read the brass commemorative plaques in St Nicholas, the Missions to Seamen church not far from Dumayne Avenue, where I grew up in Calcutta. As I grew up, I became an altar boy in that church and on one memorable Sunday morning I was told I was finally old enough to ring the bells before the service began.
My older brothers and I knelt when we were supposed to kneel, we sang when we were supposed to sing, we stood when we were supposed to stand, we sang hymns when we were supposed to sing hymns and we bowed our heads when we were supposed to bow our heads.
You get the picture, right? I'm not a yobbo who picks his teeth in church.
But last December, while I was briefly in Singapore, an old friend (and former colleague) stated, hand on chest, that the only time he has spluttered with mirth in the silent, hallowed confines of a church was during a wedding of another colleague of ours.
Let's call my Singapore-based friend Mister Northbridge. According to his recollection, he and I were standing (reverently) at the back of the church, waiting to usher the latecomers in as the nuptials began. At that point, Mister Northbridge and I both espied someone we knew rather well. He wasn't someone we fraternised with, either by choice or by necessity.
He was kneeling. Nothing unusual about that. But he had left his pew and was kneeling - very theatrically - in the middle of the aisle of this wonderful church. Not the sort of thing you'd do unless you wanted to draw attention to yourself.
Really draw attention to yourself. And as we watched him, he began to bow, so far that it seemed his nose would touch the cold flagstones and he would completely surrender to every gravitational force known to man.
It was exhibitionism like we'd never seen before and will probably never see again.
According to Mister Northbridge, I put down my hymn book and took out my wallet. According to Mister Northbridge, I pulled out a tenner. According to Mister Northbridge, I gave him the tenner. According to Mister Northbridge, I whispered out of the side of my mouth: "Give ya odds of ten to one the daft pillock falls on his arse.''
I have to say, it's all true. I'm so sorry, St Peter.
It ain' every day you see Kneel Armstrong in church.
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