Today has been a strange day in the life of a Pastor. I have, for a short time, been cultivating
a mole. The little rascal just appeared one morning, and has been growing ever since. Now
this mole is not the lawn variety, popping up to annoy the gardener. This little bugger is likely
down to several months lying under an ozone hole on a beach in Queensland, researching the
possibility of an antipodean diocese, while waiting for the surf or my hangover to slide. My G.P.
assures me that everything will be alright, but he would like to dig the pesky rodent out of its lair to be sent off
for tests (not basic skills or literacy I might add).
I duly attended the doctor’s this fine morning, arriving a little early. Rather than be bored, I delved into that den of
germs and disease, the surgery magazine pile. There wasn’t much to read, apart from a squalid wank-stained
copy of Heat, various Women’s Titles, a history of the National Trust, and something I had never seen before:
Saga magazine. Townsend wanted to die before he got old and, having read Saga, I can now fully understand
Rabbi Williams take note; getting old looks like hell. It’s all chair-lifts, baths that take days to empty before you can open the door, holidays from hell with miserable old people on cruise ships, obsessions with knee joints and local planning issues. There is little to look forward to during the onset of one’s autumn years. No wonder old people go senile, it’s the easy way out.
I shall digress from my medical drama at this stage and ramble on about John Nettles for a while…
Having scanned the pages of Saga, avoiding advertisements for pile creams, articles about sex after the menopause (that’s your gran there giving head, not a nice thought), and wrinkly folk in Tacky’s doing daft exercises, I was confronted with an article on Jersey. This isle is one of a few rocks scattered off the tit of France which belong to the crown, yet keeps its independent status as a tax haven. This particular isle is shouldered by Guernsey and Sark, and is a stone throw from the Frogs, which must annoy them no end, being British (of sorts, probably more Portuguese or Polish than British to be honest). There is little to bring this place to the world’s attention, despite being home to many off-shore tax outfits, new potatoes, lovely flowers, Gerald Durrell’s zoo, and endless millionaires.
Now, some years ago, there was a TV series called ‘Bergerac’ starring that ripe old thespian John (‘Midsomner Murders’) Nettles set here. The TV company thought that using Jersey might make the programme exotic somehow, probably
because of the rich folk who avoid paying tax, natives eating mussels in garlic, houses that look French, and
the fact you have to travel there by boat or plane. The problem was that, just like in Midsomner, the writers
could only plausibly stage a couple of murders a year. Tax evasion was and is what keeps the place going,
and stories revolving around that particular crime got lame pretty quickly. But through it all that wonderful
professional, Dame Nettles, kept a starved-of-anything-exciting audience entertained during the winter months.
I once spent five days in Jersey looking for John Nettles, or places where a plaque might have been erected to acknowledge his contribution to the place. I even wrote a piece about my search for Bergerac, which covered this week of journalistic investigation into bars and park benches during the early hours. What I didn’t know was that Nettles, so famous for bringing this little rock into the limelight, could never have lived there. The island only wants really rich folk, like that bloke who invented the Black and Decker Work-Horse.
After four days of fruitless searching, I eventually located a toothless local farmer who was spending
his time as a guide for German ex-soldiers and their families, viewing the places Uncle Adolf hid
during the war, beating to death Ukrainian slaves and building a pointless underground hospital. This
molar-free individual informed me he had once watched Nettles (Bergerac) break his leg falling off a
bicycle whilst filming in his driveway. This was the only time in five days I had met someone who’d
actually seen Nettles. In fact, up until then, I was beginning to wonder if the series had actually been
shot on the Isle of Wight, like Capricorn One (yes, and you thought the moon landings were done in
California!) Having advertised this place to the world, Nettles was snubbed. It is apparent that the States of Jersey sarcastically shouted "Good Luck" to the ageing thespian as he filmed for their glory. Or was it "break a leg"?
Back to Holby City….
But this mole wasn’t a Russian spy, they all work in Jersey for gold mining companies, or so I am reliably informed. Unfortunately this little fella had made his home on my groin, approximately 17.5mm from the Reverend’s John Thomas, and therefore I had to be shaved (something I would always undertake anyway as a considerate lover), and anaesthetized, which I accepted as part and parcel of this minor op. Needle in, a few sharp cuts, and Mr. Mole is off for biopsy while I am stitched and taped. Game over, mission accomplished, or so I thought.
Yet because of the close proximity to my manhood, the anaesthetic they applied not only numbed my groin, it
crept on into the genital area, and the opposite of what I expected happened. Instead of being Mr. Floppy, I had
become Mr. Iron Rod, but with no sensation or feeling. I left the surgery with a large banana in my pocket that
possessed a will of its own and, as I sit here typing this, the sensation is only just returning to my love trumpet.
Fuck Viagra - direct injection of morphine to the nads is the only way forward for Father Figgis as he approaches
the golden years. Look out you Saga bitches; the Pole of Steel is coming to a sheltered home near you. Pray for
forgiveness, and the Bishop will be there to give you a damn good beating.
Marriage And Lesser Evils
Sunday morning, a beautiful day outside, but I'm indoors; curtains drawn, one of the undead. It's not as if I
had a late night, I took a few shots, got bored and walked home. But it's the start of the ‘silly season’, when
this town hosts visiting idiots, gangs of cross-dressing men, lame overweight bunny girls, and this year’s
mind-bending fashion interpretation; plastic, half-arsed pirates. We inhabit a nation of traditions, customs
the English observe that set us apart from the rest of civilization, pastimes like football hooliganism, Fawlty Towers worship, and stag party weekenders. We have a take on existence that makes us different, makes us unique, makes us ashamed.
Every year, as winter breaks its frosty hold, like the start of Grouse season, Spring arrives, and with it a squawking army of foreign birds, to shit and piss on our pleasant land. This town has more gargantuan stretch limos than Vegas, each packed full of screaming idiots who force the world to share in the humiliation of future brides and their frightened male counterparts.
Now, I am a deeply religious fellow, and I find it ironic and hypocritical that the solemn act of union should begin in this way. Where is it written that the romantic bonding of two people must commence in a frenzy of drunken idiocy, perpetuated by so-called friends who dress their victim up like a sacrificial trophy to be paraded, Christ-like, for the world to mock? Where is it decreed they should invade a sleepy seaside town with their alcoholic crucifixions, forcing us all to suffer mind-numbing repetitions of hackneyed renditions, pantomime dames, or touring ladies’ rugby teams. All centering on a token fool displaying a titlus red ‘L’, the friends walking in front or behind, but never, as Camus observed, beside?
Like some coastal no-man’s land, these shopping precincts transform into a battleground of drunks as
dusk falls. I take cover and wait for the shelling to stop, until it's safe to look again and I can retreat,
heading for the sanctuary of my safe haven, then wait for dawn’s early light. But sometimes, as on this
night, my journey back can take on a surreal turn.
The return leg must be undertaken along one of three routes.
1. Directly down the main road. Dodging drunks, suicidal taxis, half-eaten kebabs, puked food
from every direction.
2. The scenic coastal walk. With placid sea air gently willowing on my right, and boy racers comparing the latest Max Power bolt-on bumper syncopated-to-deafening-bass assault in the normally peaceful environment next to my left ear.
Or… Option 3. Risk the gauntlet of working girls offering their services near the train station and 24-hour garage on the seedier side of town.
I choose option 3, the least dangerous and lesser of this evil trio, making my way home on foot with the alluring possibility of perhaps saving a fallen woman en route. My journey is over-lit, the luminescent glare deterring sex traders, kerb crawlers and the like. This course is usually quiet, save for the slow motion, anonymous cars driving past looking for bait. I've walked this path before, there’s no risk to a man of the cloth, people transit here to buy or sell flesh, at night it’s almost peaceful.
As I begin the last weary, lonely steps home, a lady of the night approaches me for trade. She is unbelievably young, sixteen at most and obviously savvy already. More a child of the night, with no allusions to lost innocence. I avoid eye contact, I'm not buying. She tries to start a conversation: “Hello, going home?” I pretend not to have heard, striding forward to my vestry. She tries again. "You’re out late.” Funny, that’s exactly what I was thinking about her.
Then I realize, this would make a good photo. A street-walker so young, so alone, so exposed. I turn, camera in hand, and shoot. Normally I would have the equipment set to low light, no flash. The artificial orange sun she stands beneath is enough to capture the dinginess of this situation. But I’ve forgotten, it’s set to flash.
In that millisecond of instant glare the damage is done. She leaps from casual ‘lamppost lean’ to ‘full headlong hedge-jumping gazelle’ in the blink of an eye. All I catch is a hazy shot of two skinny legs fighting their way into the undergrowth. She must have thought I was either the Old Bill out to nick her, or some religious fruit loop after her fallen soul (although, to be fair, the latter isn’t too far from the truth). Either way, she was having none of it. Off like a March Hare pursued by an angry dog. I look into the bushes, wanting to apologize or explain, but she’s long gone.
I’ve had some bizarre reactions to my photographs recently, but this was the oddest and most comical yet. It's not
often you whip it out on a ‘brass’, and frighten her so much she takes flight through heavy thorn bushes. I hope she's
at home as I write, contemplating the error of her chosen profession, while sticking plasters on her multiple cuts.
Visions of the Crown of Thorns and Mary Magdalene spring to mind, but I was no threat to her, and little damage
was done. As George Formby would have noted: "Turned out nice again!"
As for that barmy army of wedding hopefuls, I hope they have the opportunity to repent the error of their pre-nuptial
sins. Statistics show that one in three marriages will end in divorce, so perhaps we should start a new tradition
whereby the stags and hens celebrate their impending matrimonial doom together, perhaps inviting a bunch of moneygrabbing solicitors along for the evening. That way they could see what they were letting themselves in for, and call the whole thing off before it was too late.
Will the bride and groom now please embrace, and leave a few quid in the collection box as it’s passed around.
Confessionals and Confusionals
Good morrow my flock. One of my parishioners recently described me as being “very metrosexual”. I had
no idea what she meant. The phrase was lost on me, being a Bishop, until another female friend said the
same thing. Yet I had heard this description before, but possessed no idea I was being categorized, bundled into a specific sociological group, with a back-handed compliment to boot. But I’m not ashamed to admit that ‘Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’ is an amusing take on male presentation, and that practical advice for the new man is always welcome. The concept of having a gaggle of male dressers to prune and advise is not as vain as it first sounds. Although Heaven forbid they should get into an altercation. Who’s going to argue with a group of screaming queens? One of them will no doubt cast the first stone, and the others would cause such a fuss I should not escape this debacle unharmed. But the role of what constitutes masculinity is shifting fast. I can’t keep up. Rather than be left behind in the post-postmodern race for manliness, I decided to find out who I am. Or rather, what I am to my flock.
I searched the net for Metrosexual and found this definition:
A ‘Metrosexual’ is a clothes-horse, wrapped around a dandy, fused with a narcissist. Like soccer star David Beckham, who has been known to paint his fingernails, the metrosexual is not afraid to embrace his feminine side. Why "metrosexual"? The metro- (city) prefix indicates the man's purely urban lifestyle, while the -sexual suffix comes from "homosexual," meaning that this man, although he is usually straight, embodies the heightened aesthetic sense often associated with certain types of gay men.
Ok, so far so good. I’m not gay, so my Mother will be pleased. Yet it seems I might now be ‘Retrosexual’. This will please my Father, as he thinks 'Men’s Products' are prophylactics the barber offers you for the weekend.
It is entirely appropriate ‘retrosexual’ should come up next. That is, man as the anti-metrosexual. Also, there is another sense of the word, which refers to a person who hasn't had sex in a long time.
The most interesting thing about the surge of retro-sexism is how unprepared feminists and other enlightened thinkers are for dealing with it. The ironic tone of the material defeats them. Feminists seem to know they are being toyed with. They don't want to appear as earnest plodders in the face of hip, playful gestures, and they certainly don't want to grant that anyone is more postmodern than they are. The British feminist Imelda Whelehan wrote a book on laddie culture called ‘Overloaded: Popular Culture and the Future of Feminism’, in which she seemed completely flummoxed by the phenomenon. "Classic notions of distinctions between the sexes appear to be reinforced, but it is never easy to determine to what extent parody and irony support or undermine those distinctions," she wrote.
—David Brooks, "The Return of the Pig," The Atlantic Monthly, April 2003
Return of the Pig. A confusing description to a man of the cloth. Perhaps I am ‘Technosexual’. I have a PC and various bolt on bits. Maybe this, with God’s good grace, is my middle ground.
A ‘technosexual’ is not simply in touch with his feminine side, but is connected to it on multiple platforms. He likes gadgets that have a lot of gigabytes, but are small enough to fit into his pocket.
Then again, perhaps I am suffering from ‘I M S’. I have endured depression in the past due to years of celibacy. Onanism is of little comfort to those guided by God’s good hand.
‘Irritable Male Syndrome’, that state of hypersensitivity, frustration and anger now used to describe men who suffer from testosterone deficiency. While the condition may have been around for a long time, this diagnosis suggests that men are just as vulnerable to the complexities of biology as women. "This is very common," says Dr. Philip Aliotta. "Low levels of testosterone manifest in irritability, depression, weak muscles, loss of self-esteem. Men have no interest in the joys of life. Their libido has dropped. Their interest in intimacy declines. Sexual function diminishes. Work performance suffers. Often they are misdiagnosed as depressed.
Now I am confused. Is this where I’m headed? But wait a moment, I’ve passed twenty-something, so I must have had that some time ago. The Church and a strong faith are the structure for my life.
‘Quarter-life crisis’ - A period of mental collapse occurring in one's twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments, coupled with a realisation of one's essential aloneness in the world. This often marks induction into the ritual of pharmaceutical usage.
I would like to see myself as a ‘Toxic Bachelor’, but the only lady I could ever wish for God to spurn would be Brittany ‘Queen of the Chavs’ Speers (Sister to Albert, Hitler’s architect), for that irreverent song and associated puerile video.
I hope no one gave you ‘The Rules’ for Christmas girls, because I'm afraid that the idea men could be brought to heel, like dogs, is completely over. There is a triumphalist whiff of testosterone in the air — the ‘toxic bachelor’, formerly known as the cad, the rake, the bounder and the ladykiller, is back in town.
—Jane Campbell, "Watch out ladies - the toxic bachelor
is coming to town," Independent on Sunday, January 6, 2002
It is apparent I am all and yet none of the above, which leads me to the best monicker I can find to
describe the Reverend Figgis and his view of the ecumenical world. I must suffer from ‘M A S.’! Sadly I
have no idea what I’m talking about. Does this mean I can claim incapacity benefit and get state benefit
to buy a motor car? That little blue wheelchair badge would certainly help when parking outside the
Rectory, and it’s not too far to wander from Church if one has imbued too much Holy Wine after evensong.
‘Male Answer Syndrome’ n. The tendency for some men to answer a question even when they don't
know the answer. Also: MAS.
Aesthetic sense, clothes-horse dandy, urban lifestyle, straight but associated with gay men, parody,