blook

a n   i n t e r n e t   b l o o k   b y   a n v i l   s p r i n g s t i e n

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Contents:

introduction: ‘Antipasta, or Prawn Cocktail?’

chapter 1: ‘In the beginning…’
chapter 2: coming soon…
chapter 3: coming soon…

Antipasta, or Prawn Cocktail?

I didn’t initially intend to write a foreword or introduction to this piece but was persuaded to after discussing the concept with friends. The consensus was that I ought to explain, if not in detail, at least in outline, the general idea. Okay, for what it’s worth, here goes;

I wanted to write a new comedy show to take up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For reasons I’ll try to explain later, the theme of the show turned out to be about religion – specifically the three main abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So far so good.

But where to start? Well, I honestly didn’t know, and, at the time of writing this introduction, I still don’t. And there, my friends, is the idea – the concept; to write the show as it happens. Not a finished product but a work in progress, notes, warts, and all. Hopefully, in twelve months time the show will be finished and will open at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to huge plaudits, ignored completely, or given a jolly good panning! Maybe it won’t open at all? Maybe I won’t raise the £5,000 to £8,000 it takes to put on a show in Edinburgh these days? Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus next week? Maybe, given the provisional title of ‘God is a Cunt!’, I won’t get a venue? Who knows? Who cares? Well, laying my cards on the table – as if the title didn’t do that already – I’m willing to bet that ‘God’ doesn’t – on both counts! There, the first joke of many – let’s hope they get better.

Please feel free to contribute or comment on any aspect of the text, narrative, spelling, ideas, grammar, philosophy, science, spleen-venting, fuck-wittery – whatever… although it should be emphasized here and now that they may be reproduced in this very document and, who knows, may even end up in the show.

So there you have it – or rather will have it; the process of construction of a comedy performance. Not a blog, not a book, but an anatomy of an Edinburgh show (I think I’ll call it a ‘blook’?). I look forward to all our contributions, however, let me end this brief introduction with an even briefer disclaimer; Always read the small print;

1) This is not an attempt to dissuade you from the way of the Lord/God/Gods/Allah/Zeus/Vishnu/Jupiter/Samurai or whatever. I don’t believe this is possible and quite frankly I’d rather teach my dogs to chew their own food.
2) This is not an intellectual tract – I’m not that clever! That said, whilst I feel fortunate that natural selection has provided me with a brain large enough for me to understand just how stupid I am. I am equally aware that there are other members of my species that have not yet been so lucky – but hey, that’s evolution for you.
3) Content May Offend – That’s what the ‘X’ at the top right hand corner of your screen is for – Use it now! For those who continue reading and continue to be offended; Well I’m sorry if you are offended but we live in a democracy so let me read you your rights; You have the right to be offended and I may help you exercise that right by offending you. You do not and should not have the right to silence my ridicule of religions either by law or threats of violence in this world or, as you may or may not believe, in the next. By stopping me from offending you, you deny yourself your basic human right to take offence – and it will make you unhappy! It therefore may follow that by offending you I am contributing to your total sum of happiness… Don’t bother to thank me…

…just strap yourselves in, buckle up, this could – or could not – get a bit rough!

Anvil Springstien.

‘Comedy is the new priesthood’ – “The essence of ritual is performance”. Wittgenstein

In the beginning…

“Anyway, I was fucking this dead Nun… up the arse!” That’s how it all began. I ought to point out that I didn’t actually fuck a dead Nun… well, not up the arse? (Sorry, couldn’t resist the joke there). What I meant to say was; I didn’t actually fuck a dead Nun up the arse, leastways not in the literal sense – not in the, dare I say Biblical sense. Confused? Perhaps a bit of background information would not be remiss at this point. Let’s start with an introduction; my name is Anvil Springstien. I’m a Stand-Up Comedian, one time Columnist, some time actor, part-time raconteur, full-time drinker and a writer, of sorts. I live in the UK in the beautiful northern city of Newcastle upon Tyne. I am the proud father of two beautiful grown–up daughters (although in my stand-up set they are both still ten & eight years old allowing me to cling to the cheap gag; “10 & 8… that’s their ages, not how much they cost in old money” – sometimes you really do just have to be there.) My partner is an architect, has dreadlocks and listens to loads of crap music. I love her very much. We have two dogs; ‘bark’ and ‘molt’. Not their names, just what they do. I hope they will soon die.

So, where were we? Oh, yeah; “Anyway, I was fucking this dead Nun… up the arse!” That really is how it all began…

It was nearing the end of my working week. I’d just finished two shows in Edinburgh, one in Glasgow, two in Carlisle and was now standing in front of a microphone, half-way through my last show in the city of my birth; Liverpool. They were rolling in the aisles… no, honestly, they were.

I was explaining to the audience just what a shithole Carlisle was – for foreign readers Carlisle is one of those English towns that would look a lot better underwater. Indeed after last year’s record rainfall which had absolutely nothing to do with Global Warming and everything to do with what gay men do to each other’s bottoms, it actually did look a lot better – underwater. By the way, if you’re one of these Americans who according to Gallup Polls can’t point to America on a map of America – you may not know precisely where Carlisle is? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you; Nineteen Hundred & Seventy Three. That’s where Carlisle is; 1973. You can tell it’s 1973 ‘cos everybody’s hair still smells of Vosene. Carlisle, like many of my jokes, is both old and parochial – though some of my jokes can be quite dry. It’s the kind of town where you’d get off the train, throw your arms in the air and shout; ’Hello! I’m from the future!’ Creationists who constantly parrot the lack of transitional evidence for evolution should visit Carlisle.

That said, this weeks visit to Carlisle had began quite well; I’d checked into the hotel around midday (I say ‘hotel’… imagine something between a B&B and a Bail Hostel), the air was cool, the sun shining bright in a wonderful Simpsons sky. I’d been working on an episode of a sitcom called ‘Off the Wall’. It’s about a group of Roman Soldiers who, whilst the rest of the Empire burns, live quite comfortably halfway along Hadrian’s Wall in a small fort called Bobadobadinium. In episode 1 our protagonists, in order to continue living in safe, cushy, lovely Bobadobadinium, persuade Rome that the barbarian hordes north of the wall – actually very friendly people called ‘Jimmys’ – have developed weapons of mass destruction. The plan starts to fall apart when Rome sends a Weapons Inspector resulting in what we in the sitcom writing business refer to as ‘hilarious consequences’.

For the purposes of a particular scene I needed to Google a few examples of ‘Clarkes Third Law’ which states that: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

Of course 1973 did not possess hotels with internet connections but what better day to throw the laptop in a bag, take a stroll through town and look for a hotspot.

Thirty minutes later I was sat on a bench in a pedestrianised square overlooked by three or four coffee shops, five charity shops, six ‘Everything For a Pound’ type shops and a block of council dwellings. Here in the Entropics, I mused, the sun shone, but increasingly few felt the warmth of her rays. I opened the laptop quickly, determined to write that line down. I repeated the line over and over in my head so I wouldn’t forget it in the age it took Vista to load; ‘Here in the Entropics…’

Damn! I hate my memory. I normally carry around a small black notebook for occasions such as this but on this particular occasion I’d forgotten it. I once read a book called The Technique of Memory Retention which took 879 pages to say this; Place the thought/face/name/number etc’ in an incongruous setting. Well, I thought, you can’t get more incongruous than Carlisle.

‘Here in the Entropics…’ Vista whirred in the background.

I pictured David Attenborough, his head lying gently in the lap of a silverback mountain gorilla; he opens his mouth and whispers to the camera “Here… in the Entropics…” This is always the way with writing; if you don’t get it down before someone or something distracts you, then it’s gone. During the last presidential elections I was cycling home when I came up with a gag about Bush getting re-elected after producing a plan to get the meek to pay inheritance tax in advance. Someone waved at me from the pavement; ‘Hi Anvil!’ Gone…

This time it was a noise that was at fault. It was the actual rhythm of the noise which first distracted me. A stamping-clapping beat similar to Queens ‘We Will Rock You’; Stamp-Stamp-Clap! Stamp-Stamp-Clap! I love that song. How did the lyrics go? Was it Brian May who wrote it or was it… Oh shit! The line? What was the line? Something about Gorillas? Someone called Ray? David Attenborough blowing a Gorilla? Argh! Too late. Gone.

I looked up in order to vent my spleen at whatever it was had caused me to forget whatever it was I’d forgotten. The Square was now full of people. All of them pointing, not, as you would expect, at the ginger kid who was hanging by his bound hands from a nearby lamp-post. No, everyone in the Square was pointing at me?

What?

The noise grew louder, almost deafening. More people joined in – pointing and chanting; Stamp-Stamp-Clap! Stamp-Stamp-Clap! Then the rhythm coalesced into words; “Magic Book!” “Magic Book!” “Magic Book!”

I’d bought my Dell laptop from PC World. The guy in the shop had said ‘Feel how light it is!’

After ten minutes of running with it slung over my back it felt as light as lead. The baying mob were gaining. “Magic Book!” “Magic Book!” “Magic Book!” I turned left. I turned sharp right. I turned left again. Shit, dead end. Shit! Shit! Shit! I dodged into a doorway and pushed, hoping upon hope it would yield. It yielded. I slammed it shut and, breathless, rested my cheek against its cool painted wood.

‘Tourist Information, can I help you?’ said a voice behind me. I spun around. ‘Welcome to Vista’said a voice behind me. I spun around again. ‘Tourist Information, can I help you?’ said a voice behind me. I spun around once more, this time gripping the edge of a desk – in part to steady myself, but mainly to stop myself spinning around yet again as a voice behind me said; ‘Vista has encountered a problem and needs to close.’

Sat at the desk in front of me was what I can only describe as a Council Foetus. The Council Foetus wore a Council Jacket and on the lapel of the Council Jacket was a Council Name-Badge, on the Council Name–Badge a Council Name like Kylie or Tracy or Chlamydia. I’d never seen so many spots. Her face, more puss than flesh, resembled one of those pictures where if you were to concentrate real hard… ‘Tourist Information, can I help you?’ ‘Er, yeah, sorry love, couple of seconds… just catch my breath.’ Her focal depth seemed to exist either a foot in front of my nose or two feet past the back of my head? It was quite frankly hard to tell.

Proof that the soul doesn’t enter the body at the moment of conception?

Possibly. Then again, I recalled, Cartesian theistic dualism posits a situation where mind and body exist as separate entities and that the mind – or soul – can exist independent of the body, ie;without the body. This position, through logical reasoning and the use of a large Cartesian crowbar, allows for immortality, an afterlife, and the existence of God. Furthermore, Descartes asserts, that as with one, so with the other; if the mind can exist without the body, so the body as a separate entity in and of itself, can exist without the mind. This is, of course, a complete and total load of bollocks… Honestly Rene, what were you thinking? However, as I stared at Kylie or Tracy or Chlamydia or whatever, I was overcome by a strange cognitive dissonance. I had what St Thomas would have called a slight momentary doubt?

Perhaps I was being overly harsh? Perhaps this seemingly mindless body in front of me was merely the result of a minimum wage job in a minimum wage town resulting in a minimum wage life? Believe me, I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. I’ve had many a job where it was easier just to set your focal depth on infinity and leave your soul at home.

I was recently reminded of one such experience whilst waiting for a newsagents to open; I’d taken a new show up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the press had been in the night before. I was desperate to read the reviews hence my position, at 6.45am, outside the yet to open newsagents. The papers arrived long before the owner of the shop. I looked at the bundled papers and waited. I waited some more. And then some more still. After thirty five seconds had passed I could wait no longer. I shoved a £5 note through the letter box and cut the string on each of the eight bundles of papers with a Swiss Army knife I no longer carry around for fear of the amount of people I might now stab in any one day. Closing the blade of the knife, I removed one copy from each pile and retired to the wonderful Princess Street Gardens to peruse my critics.

Most Comics have the skin of a rhino. They need it. Eight papers – three reviews; the first one stated my name; Anvil Springstien, the name of the show (‘Bingo Nanna’s & Other Causes of Terrorism.’), then; ‘One Star’ following by three words; “Average pub comedian.” My heart sank. The second was better; ‘Three Stars’ and I was the “hidden gem of the festival.” The fourth was the best review I have ever had in my life. The wind was picking up and I struggled with the broadsheet to find the right page – but boy, was it worth it; “Five Stars! An hour in the compelling company of ex-security guard, Anvil Springstien, is an hour in the company of sheer comedy genius…” after that it just got better. I won’t bore you with any more. Suffice it to say it made me feel great, justified the three days I’d put into the writing of the show, and gave me firmer erections for about six months.

And hey, c’mon… five stars… not bad out of twenty. ‘Average pub comedian’? My arse! I took out my notebook and wrote down the line;

‘As Marx said; Form is temporary – Class is permanent.’

Well, at least semi-permanent. I smiled, shivered and pulled the zip of my hoodie hard against my neck. The wind was turning into a gale. I folded the good reviews and wedged them into a back pocket. The rest I threw into a re-cycling bin near the gate of the park, not wishing to add to the quite enormous amount of newsprint that was already blowing about. Scruffy lot, these Scots, I thought. A piece of baling string hit me in the eye.

By the time I’d returned to my rented apartment I had the review off by heart. Strangely enough, the phrase that kept tapping me on the temple was ‘…ex-security guard.’ Ex-security guard? It was I suppose technically correct. I have been a security guard so in a sense I’m now an ex-security guard – but equally and to a much greater degree I’m also an ex-child, an ex-catholic, ex-forces, ex-boyfriend, ex-lover, ex-climber, ex-teacher, ex-social worker. You see I was a security guard… but for one night – twenty three years ago? One night! How would they know? How could they know? Like, just how good is Google?

I’d been unemployed for more than six months. Back then, under Maggie, if you’d been unemployed for more than six months they would call you in for something called a ‘Job-Seekers Re-Start Interview’. If you couldn’t prove to their satisfaction you had been actively seeking work they would give you a job. I walked in for my ‘Job-Seekers Re-Start Interview’ as a highly skilled but highly unemployable ship-builder. My interviewers were playing the old Bad Cop – Bad Cop routine;

Fascist #1: ‘What’s your Trade?’
Class Hero: ‘Ship-builder.’
Fascist #2: ‘Comedian are we?’
Class Hero: ‘Trying.’
Fascist #1: ‘You’re telling me.’
Class Hero: ‘Sorry?’
Fascist #2: ‘He said; You’re telling him…’
Class Hero: ‘No, I heard what he said, I was just sorry, that’s all.’
Fascist #1: ‘Smart-arse here, Ted.’
Fascist #2: ‘Tell us a joke, then, smart-arse.’
Class Hero: ‘I don’t know any jokes.’
Fascist #1: ‘Do some of that subtle political satire stuff.’
Class Hero: ‘I don’t know any fucking jokes, alright!’
Fascist #2: ‘Tell us a joke or we’ll stop your Dole.’
(pause)
Class Hero: ‘Subtle political satire?’
Fascist #1: ‘You heard.’
Class Hero: ‘Knock knock.’
Fascist #1&2: ‘Who’s there?’
Class Hero: ‘Margaret Thatcher.’
Fascist #1&2: ‘Margaret Thatcher who?’
Class Hero: ‘Margaret Thatcher Bastard! How’s that for subtle political satire.’
(pause)
Fascist #1: ‘Don’t fuck us about son! That’s not very subtle is it?
Fascist #2: ‘And it’s not very topical either is it?’
Class Hero: ‘Subtle and topical?’
Fascist #1: ‘You heard!’
Class Hero: ‘Knock knock.’
Fascist #1&2: ‘Who’s there?’
Class Hero: ‘Margaret Thatcher.’
Fascist #1&2: ‘Margaret Thatcher who?’
Class Hero: ‘Exactly!’

Fascists 0. Non-Working Class Hero 3.

I walked out an hour and a quarter later as a Security Guard on £1.49 an hour. They gave me a uniform and a dog – an Alsatian dog – ‘Nobby’ the dog. ‘Nobby’ was on £4.00 an hour!

My first ‘gig’ with Nobby turned out to be my last. Building site – middle of nowhere – midnight-till-eight-shift. We have a concept common to western society called ‘fear of crime’, an understanding of which does not make one immune. Midnight-till-eight-shift – I was shitting myself. All manner of thought ran through my head; they’ll ram-raid the gates, bugger Nobby, beat me to within an inch of my life – they might bugger me! And for what? A few pieces of scaffolding and a cement mixer? What kind of low-life would do such a thing? Bugger a defenceless animal for no reason whatsoever? And the Police; where would they be when I needed them? Too busy crucifying some poor sod who was only trying to protect his own property! Human rights? Don’t make me laugh? Just look at the sentencing! Colour Telly’s in the cells. Believe me, hangings too good for scum like this. The lash, that’s what they need! Stick ‘em in the Army, that’ll sort them! I fingered the multiple blades of my Swiss Army knife and voted mentally for capital punishment and the introduction of sharia law. Midnight-till-eight-shift – nothing happened.

Nothing that is until about five thirty in the morning when a company van pulls up with breakfast for me and Nobby. It was an All Day Fried Breakfast in a plastic microwaveable tray and a tin of dog food. On £1.49 an hour, the last thing I expected was breakfast. On £1.49 an hour the second to last thing I expected was that the breakfast would be nice.

The tin of dog food on the other hand was of the cheapest variety available. The kind of dog food my own dogs would turn up their noses at. I felt a twinge of sorrow for Nobby as I peeled back the plastic cover from the All Day Fried Breakfast. It looked like it had just come out of a pan; it was moist, it was perfect – even the yoke on the fried egg was wobbling in that just right porridge sort of a way. It was at this pointI went a bit mad; inside the shed we used as a shelter I found the stub of a green candle which I lit and put in the middle of the table. I put the dog food on a tin plate on the table and persuaded Nobby to sit on a chair; ‘C’mon Nobby, up boy!’ I thought; I’ll have breakfast with Nobby.

The candlelight flickered in Nobbys’ eyes. He sniffed the plate of dog food, a seeming look of distaste discernable on his face. ‘Ah, well’ I thought, ‘that’s the way the cookie crumbles.’ I smiled and put a bit of everything on my fork, the way you do with an All Day Fried Breakfast. To this I applied a small amount of sauce from the plastic indentation in the tray reserved for such delicacies. I then dipped the whole lot in to the golden yellow yoke of the egg, the way you do with an All Day Fried Breakfast, and I was just putting it to my mouth when out of the blue came this voice;

‘You’re new here, aren’t you mate?’

I looked around! There was no one there, No one. I swear, Just me, and Nobby. Nobby, and me. I looked at Nobby, he looked at me. Trembling I said ‘Nobby… did you just… did you just speak to me?’ He said ‘Yeah…’ he said, ‘How much are you on?’ I said ‘£1.49 an hour? Why?’ He said ‘I think you’ll find that’s my fucking breakfast.’

I know, I know… a talking dog. Still, a lot more imaginative than a talking snake. But more of that later. For the moment we’re talking about Nobby – if only I could remember why?

‘Tourist Information, can I help you?’

‘What?’

‘Tourist Information, can I help you?’

‘Oh, yeah, sorry love, I was miles away there. Er, yes. Er… sorry.’

Now, what could I possibly do in Carlisle?

It transpired I could do two things in Carlisle – neither of which were in Carlisle. I could go to Gretna Green were all the young folk ran away to get married – that’d look good, I thought; tattooed middle-aged man, hoodie-top, walking ‘round Gretna Green, on his own? Now there’s a Stop & Search if I ever saw one. My second choice was a coach trip to Sellafield Nuclear Re-Processing Plant – think Chernobyl without the ‘Closed’ sign. Sellafield has made the Irish Sea into the most radioactive sea in the world and was thought to be responsible for the increased rates of cancer on both the west coast of England and the east coast of Ireland until the UK government said there was no such link – phew, that was close! Still, that said, you’d have to be a right twat to visit Sellafield Nuclear Re-Processing Plant.

Okay, you’re going to think I’m a right twat – ‘cos I went… C’mon, I was in Carlisle – there was fuck all else to do!

Get this; thirty minutes out of the Tourist Information Centre – minus £7.50 out of my pocket – I was on a bus with forty seven other fuck-wits (who had also spent £7.50 to go on a visit to Sellafield Nuclear Re-Processing Plant).

We get there – it’s just a load of nuclear propaganda. Who’d have thought? So I bunked off the tour and ended up in the local pub, talking to the local mutants. Now that really was worth the £7.50! There must have been sixty or seventy of them in the pub – all with one eye – not each, mind – between them. They had to pass it around to look at me. No one would talk about the Plant, why? ‘Cos they all work at the Plant! You’ve got to admire their stoicism, though; all their children are being born with all kinds wrong with them but they just look down at the new born baby;

‘Ah well… two heads are better than one.’

or;

‘Ah well, many hands make light work.’

It’s true too; put a light bulb in the baby’s hand, it’ll come on!

When I eventually got back to Newcastle I went straight to the hospital to get my sperm tested. Didn’t want to take any chances with all that radiation. Of course, the British National Health Service on its 60th anniversary is falling apart faster than a leper with an itch so I didn’t get to see a proper Doctor;

‘However the old woman who was mopping down the corridor…
she said… well, she said it tasted just fine!’

I expect you may have groaned at the last line. Don’t worry, you were meant to. The audience in Liverpool groaned too. I expected the audience to groan. They groaned in the way a British Pantomime audience groans; they know when it’s time to groan and when it’s time to groan they will groan. Why? It’s all to do with the structure of the performance. Structure is essential to the show and this is what makes Stand-Up (and pantomime) so special as a performance medium. We watch a play or a movie essentially as passive spectators, whereas a good stand-up performance seeks to slowly transcend the space between stage and audience. Both audience and performer grow together as a room and become more than the sum of their parts. They have defined themselves not as an audience and a performer but as a group – as a band. They know who they are, and perhaps more importantly who they are not; insiders and outsiders – us and them – allies and enemies. We are all in the same boat. We are ‘complicit’.

I’ve tried in a very small way to recreate the structure of a performance in this first chapter of ‘God is a Cunt!’ – lite’, I’ve tried to write as if for the spoken word, but it can never really be the same. It’s so much harder in written words; I can’t judge your reaction and tailor my response. Nuance is lost as are pathways less travelled. In writing it’s there, it’s down, it’s done. It’s in black and white. It’s immutable. Sometimes you really do just have to be there.

In Liverpool that night we really were complicit. Very complicit. It was a great gig.

Structurally, in a performance, what happens next (after the ‘groan’) is this; the performer makes a faux apology for stepping over a boundary but then points out that the audience followed him or her willingly, the audience agree. Complicity is maintained. This leaves the performer in a ‘Well, we’re here now’ situation allowing him or her to make an even more outrageous statement. The peak of the wave-form is reached and, tension released, we race down the trough of hilarity, the subject is changed and the whole process begins again. I’m aware this all sounds a bit technical but it is what happens – or should I say what normally happens; In Liverpool that night, something odd happened.

‘However the old woman who was mopping down the corridor…
she said… well, she said it tasted just fine!’

I looked around at the happy, smiling, laughing, groaning faces and I thought; this is why I love my job. This is why I do this.

‘Ha! Looking around at some of your faces I’m not too sure whether I’ve disgusted you all…’

Brilliant. Wish I’d have videoed this gig!

‘…or maybe … just maybe … found your level?’

The noise was phenomenal!

‘Let’s run with it shall we?’

Here we go – the killer punch.

‘Anyway, I was fucking this dead Nun… up the arse!’

From this veritable cacophony of noise…Silence. It seemed to last an age, only to be broken by a whisper from a woman at the front, her eyes appeared hooded and bloodshot, her mouth a thin, sharp red gash in the flesh of her face;

‘You’re going to fucking HELL!’

I tried to dig myself out of the hole but the deeper I dug… well, I’m sure you can imagine. What had I done? With just a throw-away line; ‘I was fucking this dead Nun…’ it felt like I’d offended a whole city. I walked off that stage to boos and jeers. The one redeeming feature of the night was when an old geezer came up to me and, shaking my hand, whispered something in my ear – I took out my note book and wrote it down;

‘You didn’t offend me, mate… and my Mothers a dead Nun!’

I slept uneasily that night after an unusually long journey home. I couldn’t help but keep replaying the gig over and over in my head. Sunday and Monday I stayed in and got drunk.

Later that week a friend of mine dragged me out for a lunch-time pint. I explained what had happened in Liverpool. Being the sage that she is, she simply said; ‘Ah fuck ‘em! All religions are shite and God is a cunt!’ she turned to the barman; ‘Hey, Jimmy, turn that telly on will yer!’

She made me laugh but I still couldn’t get it out of my head. The Liverpool of my childhood had indeed been a fairly religious city, but surely, not now? How could I have been so mistaken? I’d honestly thought that religion, indeed God, was dead. A thing of the past. I thought science had won. I thought that we had cast aside all this superstitious nonsense through the slow but inexorable march of reason and inquiry. That we now existed in a world which had developed a body of knowledge – medical, sociological, and scientific, that stood up to examination, to scrutiny. And if it didn’t it was discarded. Cast aside onto the dung-heap of history or put into a museum where we could see it for what it was; a part of antiquity.

How wrong was I? Well, very wrong as it turned out.

A woman screamed from the back of the pub, we all looked up and saw a plane fly into the side of the World Trade Center.

No, not 9/11 – just The History Channel showing yet another ‘War on Terror’ Special. A hail of Dry Roasted Peanuts and Bombay-Mix flew toward the TV. The date, nevertheless, was to burn itself into the memory of a nation. It was the 22nd of November, 2007.

As Jimmy the barman rapidly worked the remote we all turned to the screaming woman at the back of the pub; it was Sarah Morgan, a local social worker. She was being fingered by one of her case-load and he’d broken a nail. Community punishment isn’t what is once was.

Someone shouted; ‘Lost his Tag, has he, Sarah?’

She stood, red faced and angry; ‘Fuck you lot! You can all burn in hell!’

‘Insha’Allah!’ chorused the pub as she fled – her smiling shell-suited charge in tow.

The invocation of Arabic phrases had become a bit of a running joke in my local ever since the evening of the 7/7 London bombings when a tense enough night was exacerbated by the mysterious – and very loud – explosion of a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. The initial shock descended into uproarious laughter as one Geordie wag exclaimed aloud ‘Allah u Akbar!’

After that people began greeting each other with ‘As-Salamu Alaykum’ and upon hearing good news would throw their arms in the air and say dramatically ‘Marsh‘Allah’ in a heavy Geordie accent.

After nearly two and a half years it was beginning to wear a bit thin.

Bored, I looked back to the TV and saw the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a large aggregation of Bombay-Mix covered the face of a suited gentleman next to him. Jimmy pumped the volume as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said, to a back-drop of applause, thunderous enough to dislodge the Bombay-Mix from the screen at precisely the appropriate moment: “I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church.”

Sorry? What?

The usual barfly’s parroted their Arabic. Others made exaggerated signs of the cross, whilst still more pointed at the TV screaming ‘Anti-Christ! Anti-Christ!’ in pale imitations of Ian Paisley.

Everybody laughed, uproariously.

Except me.

I ordered a large whisky from the bar.

Had I really heard this correctly? The man who had taken my nation into an illegal war based on a tissue of lies and resulting in the death of over six hundred thousand people (and counting) had just joined an organization largely responsible for, amongst other things, the annual deaths of 1.6 million Africans due to its dogma on contraception and birth control – and people were actually applauding?

I lifted my empty glass and signalled to Jimmy.

My head was spinning. What did this all mean? Well, for a start it meant that when Tony Blair said that an invisible man had told him to go to war he was being serious. This wasn’t just a cheap bone thrown to a certain section of his constituency by a member of the ruling elite (which I had always presumed these things to be). No. Tony Blair actually really honestly truly believes that he speaks to an imaginary being!

‘Another large one please, Jimmy?’

Shit! That means that George W Bush may also actually really honestly truly believe in all that evangelical nonsense he spouts about the return of Jesus in his lifetime, The battle on the plains of Armageddon, the Day of Judgment and The End of Days? The endification of non-americanational societisationalism, as he might say.

‘And again, mate!’

Shit! That means that ‘President I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket’ of Iran may also actually really honestly truly believe in all that Islamic nonsense he spouts about the return of the twelfth mufti, a sulphurous hell, the end of the world coming within the next twenty years, and that humans with tits shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car?

‘Jimmy?’

Yes, I though, I will always remember this day – even if nobody else does – forever burned into my memory; the 22nd of November, 2007. The Day Tony Blair was confirmed in the eyes of the Pope as a Roman Catholic and, in the eyes of many, as a fool who believes in invisible people who live in the sky. How could I ever forget this day?

I pulled out my notebook and wrote it down in case I forgot.

I then wrote;

‘Who was it who said that a bad man will normally do bad things and a good man will normally do good things, and whilst it can be difficult to get a bad man to do good things it’s real easy to get a good man to do bad things… to get a good man to do bad things he simply needs to know that his God told him it was okay to do bad things for then he would believe they were good things even though they were really bad things and not good things at all! – I think it was Voltaire?’ Maybe it was Kant? Or Spinoza ? Elvis maybe? Anyway, I’m sure It wasn’t me?

As drunk as I was I still managed to look it up when I got home: I was right; it wasn’t me.

It was indeed Voltaire. And he put it far more succinctly than my own clumsily scribbled attempt;

‘For a man to commit atrocities he must first believe in absurdities.’

Both my friend and Voltaire had hit the nail right on the head, All religions are shite and God is indeed a Cunt! I opened the fridge and spied a half-full bottle of cheap white wine; ‘Allah u Akbar? You’re having a Giraffe!’ I said aloud to no one, ‘God is not great…’ I continued, ‘God is a fucking absurdity!’

Of course deep down, subconsciously, I already knew all this. The big shock for me – the bigepiphany for me, which began in a Liverpool comedy club and culminated – hold on, I’ll just check my notebook… oh, yeah – on the 22nd of November, 2007 – was the realization that God, far from being dead, was alive and well, that God was indeed all around me – exactly like the priests had said! Had I just not seen him? Had mine eyes been closed to his glory but he was really there all along? God really did seem omnipresent of late. Not just in New York, London, Tehran, Baghdad, Basra, Helmand and Madrid but in our pubs and clubs and schools and parliament – and in the deepest recesses of our minds. Why hadn’t I seen him? Why?

I finished the wine in three gulps and opened another bottle of the acid horror that is Chardonnay.

From now on, I promised myself, wherever I looked I would look to see the hand of God. Newspaper articles and government white papers would have a metaphysical memo at the bottom of each saying; ‘ALLERGY WARNING: May Contain Traces of The Lord’.

‘May Contain Traces of The Lord’ – That’s good, I’d better write that down… I looked around for pen and paper just as my head started to spin. Oh, dear. Relegating the pen and paper I stumbled into the kitchen and grabbed the edge of the sink with one hand as a strange tingling sensation began in my scalp and grew in intensity until it felt like my head was full of bees. Bees? Wasps, locusts possibly? The noise was phenomenal, the pressure immense. I felt I was standing upright riding an old wooden rollercoaster. Something, somewhere, had to give.

I tried to focus on my reflection in the blackness of the window above the taps.

TO BE CONTINUED – SOON…

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