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I don't have much to survive to be honest. As my Christmas only ever involves a total of 3 people.

On Christmas Eve I went to Mass, it's the first time in a verrrrrrry long time that I've set foot in a church of any description. It's so long since I've set foot into that particular church that I barely recognised it, as it now sports plush red carpeting throughout and gold chandeliers hang majestically in a line down each aisle. The vaulted bits above the altar have been painted various shades of red/burgrundy, fading to pink as it comes outwards, putting me in mind of a Dulux shade card. Gone is the chilly blue altar decor, bad lighting that made your eyes go funny if you looked at your Mass book too long and ancient austere linoleum I remember from my youth. There is even a new glass screened off area at the back where they keep the Mass books and assorted leaflets offering various services, one entitled 'Hurt by Abortion?' caught my attention.

We arrived with a good 15 mins before the start of proceedings to find the pews were all crammed, so we stayed in the back area, or 'narthex', as my mother later informed me of the correct ecclesiastical term. There were 3 chairs stacked by the visitor book and my dad, ever solicitous of my inability to stand upright for long, got me one and sat me just inside the door.
'We'll stay back here, at least you can breathe here.'

He was right, for a while anyway. My mother blustered in having 'just' managed to park the car and Dad offered her his seat, which she took. My mother, not a born Catholic, doesn't do martyrdom. She insisted, with the help of the people to her left who seeing my dad's age thought that he should take the remaining seat for himself.

The narthex was filling up rapidly. People had been dispatched for more chairs from the Parish Centre next door and were bringing them back in and arranging them in a line in front of us. Even when these were all taken people were still spilling in and I found my position by the door to be increasingly uncomfortable.

A bolshy woman who pushed in with about 2 minutes to spare kept treading all over my feet repeatedly. My small ouches were ignored til I raised my voice and announced to all within earshot,
'You're standing on my feet, for about the fifth time!!'
She glared at me and did not apologise, surveying the scene she barked at me directly
'Why don't you move forward then we can stand behind you'
It wasn't a request it was an order.
'And why don't you fuck off' I was sorely tempted to respond. I was sitting at he narrowest point of the narthex. There was nowhere for me to move forward to without bashing my knees on the seat in front and tucking my feet under me, which due to my knee problems, is a physical feat I'm incapable of thesedays.
I glared back at her, unmoving.

My dad, having grown up in a house dominated by females of a fiery Irish persuasion, had honed his ability to detect when things were about to kick off with the accuracy of a reed in a light breeze. He got my attention and gestured for me to change seats with him.

I wasn't too thrilled about it as he was sitting next to a small just-toddling creature and her family. We exchanged seats, bolshy bitch shut up and didn't bother my father with any more of her demands, convinced perhaps that apples don't fall too far from the tree and we weren't a family to be messed with.

The small creature toddled up to me. I got my rosary out and rattled it in front of her. She stared at it in rapture. I waited for her to reach out but she didn't, she just stared transfixed and then looked up at me with her huge brown eyes.

I proceeded to be seduced by the little person for the next 65 mins. We played pass the hymn sheet, her granny informing me
'She'll want it back, she's not at the stage of understanding sharing yet'
I smiled inwardly, as, based on my observations of her behaviour, I had already scored her as being high in markers for sociability and emotional stability. Here was a kid who would pass 'the stranger test' with flying colours. She was almost out of the oral stage of investigation and was starting to prefer the 'look and touch' approach. She was way ahead developmentally of her chronological age.

Watching her investigate the inside of her coat to find her spare buttons her granny smiled and told me that she had a 'thing' for buttons.

I flipped back the placket of my long wool coat so that the spare velvet button sewn inside was visible and on her eyeline. She stared at it for a while and then reached out a forefinger to touch it. The furriness of it under her finger transfixed her for a few seconds. I sang 'Away in a Manger' to her and she came to sit closer by my foot. At one point, when something above her head caught her attention, she tipped so far back it caused her whole body to roll backwards, the back of her head landing abruptly on my shoe.

I leaned forward and said 'boo' and stroked her plump little apple of a cheek. She grinned up at me unfazed by the momentary change of her orientation. This was one well-adjusted kid.

I think we were up to the homily by now. Given by the new priest who came to the parish just a month or so ago. I'd seen him on my way in and my gaydar went off immediately.

Mary 9 months pregnant on a donkey. I tried to silence my thoughts that there is strong evidence that Jesus was in fact born in Galilee, and that journey never happened, but was invented to accord with him being from David's line, which in fact he was not. Tried to silence too the evidence that he had brothers and sisters, that Mary was no more a virgin than I am.

Here I was, the heretic in the narthex.

My small friend, having hauled herself to her feet with the aid of 2 fistfuls of her grandmother's trouser legs (which I prayed did not have an elasticated waist!), had been picked up and was staring into the foyer. I followed the direction of her gaze and saw that it too was crammed with more people.

Then I saw it, there on the wall, looking down with an expression of faux benevolence. The leader of the Roman Catholic church; Pope Rat himself. I wept when I heard Cardinal Ratzinger had become pope. They were not tears of joy. Pope Benedict the God-knows-what #, for to me he will forever be Pope Rat or Pope Bling, given his penchant for wearing diamond pins on his outer robe, the name of which I do not know, though no doubt my mother does. B asked me what is the deal with his red shoes. I never noticed until he mentioned it but Pope Rat does seem to have a preference for those too. I'm going to the leave the 'because he's a friend of Dorothy' gags well alone!

I consoled myself with the thought that the placement of Pope Rat's portrait was such that he was consigned to the freezing cold austerity of the stone entrance, rather than the, now boiling, heat of the church itself.

One of the church 'officials' came and told us
'BL (deacon) is going to stand THERE ...' (pointing at me) ' you'll have to move and make room'

Fuck that malarky again, we'd endured it before at the beginning of the Mass when we were told to make room for the Procession that had to come through. The crucifix wielder came through barking 'GET OUT OF THE WAY' to two Filippino men standing crushed by the door.
'And a Merry fucking Christmas to you too!!'
I thought inwardly, as they proceeded to file past us grim-faced and glowering, candles in hand.

Well I wasn't going to move for BL and so I sat with the flappy sleeve of his robe in my face while 200 or so souls rolled up in front of me for Communion, many stepping aside and blessing themselves directly in my eyeline. I looked downward at the variety of feet shambling along, some shoes in appauling states reminding me that, despite the town's outward affluence, there are still some really dirt poor people here. I closed my eyes, clutched my rosary and attempted, unsuccessfully, to pray. I was roused by giggling and opened my eyes to see 2 Filippino women behaving in a reproachable manner for this time at the Mass. Clearly the dourness of the Parish had yet to affect them.

Many people bolted straight for the door after Communion so that things were less cramped thereafter. Cards had been stamped, job done. I stuck around for the final hymn before high tailing it (as best one can in my state) for the exit, followed by the 600 or so others.

On my way out while I was hanging onto the handrail for dear life someone behind me caught my heel with their foot.
'Oh I am so, soo sorry!' was the cry that went up. I turned around to see a very poor, elderly gentlemen in his 80's who was still apologising profusely despite my protestations that it was nothing and to please not worry about it. The contrast with bolshy bitch was stark. I could see he felt genuinely awful.

I finally made it out past gaypriest who remarked he was 'in a similar state' last week as I staggered past him. It was probably meant to be a remark of solidarity but I found it ill-judged to someone whose disability you know nothing of.

I crossed at the crossings of 2 main roads, clinging to my father who instructed me 'don't hurry take your time'. The motorists held up by the migrating tide of 600+ Catholics probably thought otherwise.

'I always think once you've been to Mass, Christmas can really begin' remarked my dad with a certain childlike glee, as we pulled out of the car park and headed home.

Date: 2008-12-27 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was really well written and a joy to read, although I'm left not really knowing whether you enjoyed it overall or wished you hadnt gone to the Mass? It was interesting though, to read. Especially your little friend! I'm glad she wasnt the screaming tantrum type, they give all small people a bad name when many are truely delightful. :-)

Date: 2009-01-01 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks so much :) I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I suppose I felt a bit ambivalent about the whole experience, though it was one of the more positive I've had in a church!

Date: 2008-12-27 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think you are really lucky that you get such a good congregation. Here they are dwindling so mych and catholic priests are not beoing replaced soi it means you have to drive to find a church service as some are only once every few weeks....very sad

Date: 2009-01-01 09:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think they get around 300 or so for a normal Sunday. Christmas is a bit exceptional!

Date: 2008-12-27 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I probably would have stayed home.... but I do miss church.
The darling little girl sounds so wonderful. I love spending time with small children.

Date: 2008-12-29 01:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh I love that icon~!

Date: 2009-01-01 09:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
She really was a delight and made the whole experience a lot more bearable.

Date: 2008-12-27 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh the joys of being crushed into a church. Thank goodness for the light of the little girl -I want to cuddle her, she sounds so adorable.
And Rat - oh yeah.

Date: 2009-01-01 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And Rat - oh yeah.

Oh yeah indeed!
*tries to banish thoughts of 'why doesn't he hurry up and die already'*

Date: 2008-12-27 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really enjoyed reading that.

Date: 2009-01-01 09:27 pm (UTC)

Date: 2008-12-28 06:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's a lovely Christmas story...your a good writer!!!

Date: 2009-01-01 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks Nicole. I hope you managed to have a good Christmas, without too much exhaustion.

Date: 2008-12-28 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm pleased to hear you managed to make it to Mass, sounds like where you live you have a good congregation as well. Well done for managing through the service :).

I didn't manage to make it to Mass this Christmas and haven't been in ages due to not being well enough, I miss it. Our congregation here is not very good and very small, am looking forward to moving down south to a larger and better catholic community. At least then if I am not well enough to make it I might be able to still get some support from them. Opps sorry rambling.

Glad your xmas went well and you got to go to mass xxx

Date: 2009-01-01 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi Rose, it was nice to finally get there. It's been so many years I can't remember the last time I went.

I had no idea you were going to move. I hope that all works out well for you and that you have a wonderful 2009.

Date: 2008-12-29 01:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, so you apply your degree-related knowledge to everyday life, too? *haha* You seem to enjoy children, though. I found that part of your recollection a bit heartwarming. I'm mostly, "Okay, small creature, stand away from me and do not touch." Inwardly, as you say.

My GOSH, are people in England always that aggravating?! And on Christmas eve! (I have to agree with you about the sisters and brothers of Jesus, eternal Virgin Mary, and all of that.. stuff.)

I'm glad you were able to get out, at least! =)

Date: 2009-01-01 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
you apply your degree-related knowledge to everyday life, too?

Yes I do. Is it a curse or a blessing? I'm not sure.
My friend who works in mental health is even worse though. She was telling me she went out for drinks under duress with someone she knew in primary school and met this womans dodgy relatives, one of whom was particularly aggressive, and described it to me like this...

'Oh she was sooo borderline it wasn't true. All evening she was trying to intimidate me, so I just sat there with really open relaxed body posture and every question she asked me I nodded answered as best I could, then asked her the same thing. It really threw her and finally she left me alone'

My GOSH, are people in England always that aggravating?!

No I think it's mostly my town. It has a reputation for being particularly unwelcoming! There are the sort of people who have been here forever and think they own the place. Big fish small pond mentality, coupled with the fact the place attracts a lot of 'offcomers' who move up here to look at the pretty views before they die retire, so the locals, feeling put out, tend to close ranks.
Edited Date: 2009-01-01 09:39 pm (UTC)


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