The regular reader might have deduced that I am not a terribly religious chap, despite (or perhaps because of) my possession of an O Level in Religious Studies and some fading – if once more detailed – knowledge of the literary oeuvre of St Luke (though not, I hasten to add, in the original Greek). I generally ignore religious festivals and saints’ days, except to the minimum level required by their impact on the functioning of civil society or their tendency to cause unnecessary crowding or travel issues.
It must be said that, over the years, I have enjoyed a lot of music written for ostensibly religious reasons: either through real faith or the fact that the church was a major source of funding for a jobbing composer in days of yore. Some of this tends to be available, live, on a seasonal basis and I enjoy a bit of ritual as much as the next human (possibly more) and do like to enjoy music (as well as fruit and veg) when it is “in season”. Indeed, as I type this post I am listening to Bach’s St Matthew Passion as a mark of seasonal respect. I’m afraid this respect will not last as tomorrow I am hopping on a plane (quite a feat on the narrow steps of a Dash 8 Q 400) to visit Edinburgh to attend its annual science festival. I suppose religion and science are not technically antithetical, but religion does have an unfortunate tendency to park its tanks on science’s lawn and then become rather obstreperous when its sacred heavy armour is assailed by facts.
Despite my rather secular nature, this year I have performed rather more of the standard rituals that accompany religious observance than for many a long year. This started on Shrove Tuesday when – in some freak planning accident – I made and consumed pancakes on the traditional day. I think these were my finest ever pancakes and I can’t help wondering if this was, at least partially, due to the timing of their creation and subsequent, all too swift, destruction. Were the heavens trying to send me a message through the medium of crêpe pan and batter? If so, I fear I must report that this particular lost sheep has yet to return to the fold – but I certainly enjoyed their culinary input (subject to its existence).
As the Ides of March passed, and I remained unstabbed by a group of my closest friends and colleagues, for the first time ever I found myself marking St Patrick’s Day in a somewhat appropriate fashion. I think we must, largely, blame peer pressure for my actions – though I am more than willing to admit that I enjoyed them. In fact, I also made a passing genuflection to St Gertrude (of Nivelles) who also shares the day, despite never having been formally canonized. Based on her miracles, she would be handy if you’re caught without a torch in a power cut or need ridding of a sea monster during a tempest but for some reason she became associated with cats in the 1980s. I suppose it is very much to her credit that she continued to find gainful employ despite having died in 659: many lesser saints would have been enjoying a well earned rest some 1320 years after their death but Gertrude was taking on new responsibilities. Was there a recruitment process and interviews, I wonder, or was (St) G the only volunteer?
My March 17 observances were very much based around two of the primary loci of my life in Southampton: the Talking Heads and the Guide Dog. Both can offer that seductive combination of good company, beer and music. On the 17th, the Talking Heads also offered me a chance to show off the broad, if somewhat random and pointless, collection of knowledge I have acquired (and failed to lose) over the years. This was in the form of a special, Irish-themed quiz (not part of the continuing quiz “league” but a “friendly” fixture), and so would also provide an indication of whether I had absorbed anything over the last 30 months of flitting back and forth across the Irish Sea. This was jolly good fun – as all of 2018’s quizzes have been, they have been a proper highlight of the new year – with just the right level of challenge for an alcohol-imbibing afternoon crowd. I can reveal that I had acquired some Hibernian general knowledge over the years and my team did not disgrace itself.
As the image shows, I even partook of a pint of Guinness – despite being some distance from St James’s Gate and my general view that the iconic stout doesn’t travel well from its homeland – as well as some rather fine mashed potato (not shown, I like to leave some work for the reader’s imagination) that was available to the early drinker. However, I abandoned the Heads before the crowds and mean level of drunkenness became too great and – after lining my stomach – wandered down to the Guide Dog to make obeisance to the recently appointed patron saint of cats: a tenuous link I will admit, but not mine. I surrendered height (not something I do lightly) as I was going to enjoy some great beer and some glorious swing thanks to the excellent Bad Cat: now with expanded repertoire! They do, however, remain a lightening-rod for snow and I believe can be booked for any Alpine resort which finds its pistes a little shy of powder.
My alignment with the rituals linked to the Passion has continued to this very day. Yesterday, despite the weather growing confused and attempting to re-enact Noye’s Fludde (without the music) I ventured out in search of hot cross buns. My seeking was amply rewarded by the Art House – another of my local loci – which provided a particularly excellent example. It then provided another as the first seemed to melt into air: I may yet wander out this afternoon in search of a third (as I believe things coming in threes is spiritually relevant). However, I have made my own buns – albeit without crosses: not due to my (non-existent) militant atheism but due to my (all too existent) militant laziness. While waiting for these to rise (the Easter-metaphors are everywhere – but luckily they did not take three days) I wandered down to the Guide Dog for a pint of Red Cat’s Minor Swing (in preparation, I did listen to the tune of the same name by Django Reinhardt as I take my drinking seriously): a lovely pint and another stunning pump clip. On my journey I passed an extraordinary number of people carrying small wicker (or faux wicker) baskets. I assume this can be explained by my proximity to a Catholic church and most seemed to contain iconic Easter items: the eggs, bunnies and the like which I remember were so prominent in St Luke’s account of the Passion. However, one clearly contained a rather exciting looking sausage and much of a cruet set. I am assuming this must be part of a Polish tradition: either that or the sausage has been added to the role call of seasonal (and seasoned) essentials since I parted company with the education system. Many representations of the crucifixion can be rather graphic – carpentry and a bit of parable-telling are clearly great for the abs (and yet you never see them mentioned on the cover of Men’s Fitness) – but I always assumed they’d draw the line at showing the “holy ghost”.
I feel that I probably ought to bring matters to a close before I wander even deeper into doctrinal matters: or worse, some dread admixture of heresy and blasphemy. However, I do still feel that arranging to have an aspect of yourself nailed to a tree is a trifle passive-aggressive as a way to get the humanity to behave a bit better (and is taking a while to bear fruit): it makes angry post-it notes on the fridge look positively measured… Suffice it to say, some level of observance of events spiritual in inspiration can be a great deal of fun if done with friends.