At the tender age of nine, I arrived at morning assembly at school to find that a priest had taken over the stage. I'll call him Father Burk. Anyway, I decided on that day that I wanted to be a priest. Not because I was religious... I simply liked his frock. A gangly man with an unruly moustache and a penchant for mint imperials, Father Burk told us to reconsider our evil ways (having scanned the room and spotted the drinkers and womanisers amongst us). He spoke at length about the horrors awaiting us in the fiery pits of Hell. Graham, my dancing partner at the time, had to be taken away by the deputy headmaster, who assured him that there were spare trousers in the headmaster's office, and every child present left the assembly hall with a mission... to find Jesus, as he'd apparently been lost. None of us knew where to start looking, but we did know where not to look. Father Burk had made it very clear that Jesus was not in the bottom of a glass. No glasses needed to be upturned or scrutinised.
When I got home, after informing my mother that I was going to join the priesthood when I came of age, I informed her that I wanted to go to church to check out that frock again and, as she has always been a very accommodating parent, I was taken the following Sunday morning. Father Burk stood at his pulpit, spitting and waving his arms about as he begged every man and woman present to give up fornication, gambling and the imbibing of copious amounts of alcohol... all of the things which they enjoyed (according to my mother). I double checked that his entreaties hadn't included the abandonment of lemon sherbet and, upon being reassured that sweets were not the work of the Devil (although the church was undecided about chocolate in large quantities), reaffirmed my desire to become a man of the cloth.
Another member of the congregation got up to speak that day. Not a priest... a politician. He talked a lot about loose women and the theft of traffic cones, sang louder than anyone else present when the time came to 'Go Tell it on the Mountain', and then wanted to kiss me on the forehead, along with every other child of ten years or less. Father Burk received a handshake from him, and I opted for the same, being almost ordained myself.
'What are loose women?' I asked my mother, assuming that they just needed a bit of tightening. My grandmother, who was an expert on the subject as she'd once visited a red light district, having taken a wrong turn on her way to visit my uncle in the city, filled me in. I scanned the streets for them from that day forward... hoping to spot one in action. I wasn't all that hopeful of doing so, as my mother had been instructing me to look out for monkeys in trees for years and I'd never located a single one. Wherever the monkeys and loose women frequented, it wasn't anywhere near my back garden or the streets between my house and the greengrocers.
I learned a number of new words from Father Burk during the following few weeks, most of which my mother insisted I wouldn't need until I was forty at the very earliest. Finally, following the cancellation of Father Burk's third speaking engagement at my school, I encountered the word 'hypocrite' for the very first time. As a fireman, who'd been called in at the last moment, spoke to us about the dangers of setting fire to our grandmothers, I listened in to the deputy headmaster informing my registration teacher that the priest wouldn't be coming back ever again on account of his association with a lady well-known for her physical agility and tremendous skill with a whip. The newspapers, which didn't evade discovery by me, despite being hidden behind a cushion, which was in turn hidden behind my grandfather, carried the full story along with accompanying photographs. Both the good clergyman and his friend the politician had been 'outed' by the lady in question, who was giving up prostitution to become an actress. Presumably, considering her new found vocation, she would forego mere local priests in favour of bishops... at least, that was my grandmother's opinion.
I took off my makeshift priest's smock, which pleased my grandfather no end as it had been fashioned from his bed sheet, and decided to become a librarian. From that day forward, the sheets stayed on the beds, the telephone book (as my household was Bible-less) ceased being thumped down on hard surfaces for dramatic effect, and the bookshelves were always neat and tidy.
Causes Gina Collia-Suzuki Supports
The World Wildlife Fund
Cancer Research UK