Boys are idiots. I should know I was one. A friend of mine once ate a church candle to impress a girl, I kid you not. We were twelve years old and rehearsing for the Easter play in the local church. For us it was a great doss and we took every opportunity to dodge genuine school work when it came along.
“Who wants to be in the Easter play?” Ah yes Brother Donard, you knew that every hand in the class would go up, but not because we loved or admired you – unholy, sadistic Bas**rd that you were, no, it was to get the hell out of Dodge for a couple of hours rehearsal every week. Ah the freedom.
It didn’t matter whether you were a narrator, a cruel Roman Centurion whipping the lard out of Jesus as he crossed the altar, or the big man himself, all that mattered was you were free from school for a bit. The context of what you were doing mattered little.
Now my friend Barry was a show off. He talked the talk and told us about stuff he did that he hadn’t of course, but we chose to believe him because that made life more interesting. But he was an awful twat sometimes. The biggest problem we had for that particular performance was not our diction or acting skills. They didn’t really present a problem. We were twelve year old boys; all we did was mess and act the eejit anyway. Dragging a huge wooden cross across the altar on Easter Sunday, dressed in a sheet draped over you in what was the most unauthentic representation of the Crucifixion you could imagine, really only presented a challenge in not laughing. Like I said, we were just a bunch of messers.
The biggest problem was that they were letting us ‘work’ with girls from the Dominican convent! I say ‘girls’ as though it was an unimportant word, but we were generally kept away from them as much as possible, so we only knew one way to act in their company – like complete morons.
At twelve it was awkward. We had the auld bit-of-a-notion and a hint of something stirring, but we weren’t exactly au fait with the whole purpose or mechanics of anything we were feeling or thinking. Back in the seventies in Dublin, none of us Christian Brother educated boys had a clue about sex. Girls were for marrying at some point and the rest was a feckin’ mystery.
One fella, a story I know I’ve recounted before, explained to us in great detail how impregnating a girl involved a substance obtained from a lad’s ear. I won’t go into any greater detail except to say, there were fingers and belly buttons involved and fortunately it turned out that he had got that one completely wrong.
We’d all kissed a youngwan at some point of course, but any of the boys who said it hadn’t involved spinning a bottle was a damned liar. Kissing was still mentioned in a laddish way, but often accompanied by a slight sound of disgust. The exception, was when a top class fibber went off on how he had ‘got off’ with so-and-so at the back of the sheds late one night. In truth, we all knew he would have been tucked up in his bed at the time he suggested that he was out sewing some wild oats we didn’t fully understand anyway. Still we listened to such tales with fascination, perhaps in the hope that we might gleam some valuable insight into the world of girls and kissing, but I can’t recall a single useful nugget from those times.
The candle eating incident occurred behind the altar. Strictly speaking there are differing definitions for an altar depending on ones persuasion, but from our perspective, the altar was the entire space around the altar table where mass was performed. Hidden from view, there was a door to the sacristy and we all had to wait there at some point during rehearsals. There were about a dozen of us boys and girls involved with various speaking and acting parts and it was deemed inappropriate for a bunch of naredowells like us, to be lounging about on the altar unless we had a specific function, so this is where we waited in the wings so to speak.
During rehearsals, we had a nun in charge. She was generally on the altar at all times, making sure we pretty much genuflected at every conceivable moment. She struggled with the logistics of the whole thing. The trouble with the performance was that in her world, one had to genuflect in the presence of the blessed sacrament which on mass days, would be present whether in the tabernacle or on the altar, or in the priests hands at some stage. As our ‘’Homage’ to the great occasion was not structured in a single flowing presentation, but rather as small broken segments to be performed throughout the mass, the poor auld sister had to work out when and where the blessed sacrament might be at any given point, and where we might be in relation to it. As far as she was concerned, you had to genuflect each and every time you crossed the altar. Had it been one of the Brothers, they would have handled it differently. They frightened the hell out of us and I knew they could do what they wanted. Nuns were different, altogether more holy and reverential somehow. This one certainly was.
I swear to God it wrecked her frazzled little head. Worse still, she was one of those very holy types, who wasn’t happy with a casual, quick knee-bend as a genuflection, oh no. For her, it had to be thoughtful, unhurried and not careless. But there was more. Typically she would have made a sign of the cross, but the guy playing Jesus (yes that was me, I was the star of the show – how ironic) had to at all times drag a big heavy cross across the front of the Altar – no free hands to bless ones-self. The worst part for me was that the cross was made of solid wood! I don’t know where they got it from, but I was a skinny arsed ,undernourished, twelve year old boy. The feckin’ thing nearly broke me.
She just about coped with not signing the cross, but the genuflection was a deal breaker. I cheekily told her that you only needed to genuflect once as you passed or approached the altar, but she pretty much damned me to hell as a Godforsaken heathen for even breathing with a thought like that in my head.
Her solution was to work every movement in the proceedings so that with one or two absolute impossible exceptions, no one crossed the front of the altar, thus avoiding the need to genuflect. But then Fr. Cleary came in to watch rehearsals one day and he stopped us in our tracks.
“Why is Jesus doubling back? He’ll have to go all the way around to get to Calvary on the far side.”
She started to very deferentially and softly explain that she was thinking… but he cut her off by shouting rather loudly and ignoring what she was trying to say.
“Hey you … Fecky-the-ninth.” I was shocked at the curse in his mouth, but he was talking to me so I followed his instruction, all the time watching the poor sister unravel beneath her habit. Not only was he about to override her instructions, but he had just called Jesus, Fecky-the-ninth!
“Keep goin’…and you… Head-the-ball,” (he was referring to my centurion, whose sole job was to demonstrate how cruel the Romans were to Jesus by whipping me as I walked) “put a bit of wellie into it. You’re supposed to be lashing him out of it, not tickling him.”
He buggared off for a smoke, leaving our holy sister wholly disheveled, but perhaps secretly relieved at having been absolved of her responsibility to police rigorous genuflection by the interjection of a higher power.
But I digress. Backstage as it were, while one of the narrators practiced,myself and Barry were chatting away when we saw one of the Dominican girls approach. She was a rather pretty blonde, a wisp of a thing, full of a sense of her own importance. She had told me at a previous rehearsal that she wished she had been born rich rather than beautiful, without a hint of sarcasm I might add!
We watched her swish towards us, all hair and smelling of some freshness we boys were largely unfamiliar with. She swung her yet to appear hips and her very much below the knee skirt ,swirled about her as she sashayed towards us. Barry gave me a knowing wink. He had this. He was going to do or say something so cool that she would be bowled over, I just knew it. He called to her as she approached.
“Hey gorgeous…” My god I thought, the nerve of him, the shear confidence to call a girl gorgeous. For a moment I was in awe of his flair… “wanna see something deadly?” She tried not to break a smile as he reached back and from behind him, produced a long, thin white candle. He raised it to his mouth and took a chunk off the top, biting through at least four inches and started chewing as though he was eating something delicious.
My jaw dropped. What the… He winked at her as she passed and began talking to her with his mouth full of candle wax. I say talking but all he said was, “Huh…Huh…” as if to ask, ‘Well what do ya think darlin’ ? Impressed? – Good eh?”
She chose the commonest insult from our childhood lexicon and while highly offensive and today very much incorrect, back in the seventies it was the insult of choice among us school boys. It was a single cutting word that she flicked at him as she passed without even looking in his direction and I would have been devastated.
I looked at Barry as he continued to chew. We didn’t speak for a couple of minutes as he for some reason unbeknown to me, chose to continue to eat the wax in his mouth rather than spit it out, even though she was long gone. He swallowed with a loud gulping noise and winked at me.
“I’m in there!”
Boys are idiots, need I say more…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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