Background

Man-Made God

Posted on 13 June 2012 | Narrative

“Can I lend your rubber, Johnny?”

“Max! Why always so loud?” The voice of Mr Watt was not really loud, but immensely powerful.

“Just asking Johnny to borrow me his rubber, sir.”

“No, Max, Johnny has a rubber so he can lend it to you. You need to borrow one. He lends, you borrow.”

“Oh yer. Did that last week, sir. Anyway, can I lend his rubber?”

“NO! Borrow this one if it will keep you quiet.”

Sir was in a good mood. Time to ask a silly question and set him off on one of his ramblings. Anything was better than doing sums.

“You gonna be God, sir? Marco’s dad read it in t’ paper.”

John Watt glanced at his watch. Forget the National Curriculum. Enough maths for now. If they think it’s an interruption, I’ve got their complete attention for the next ten minutes.

“I wouldn’t say that, Mary, but I’m hoping to be the voice of God for the York Mystery Plays.”

“You gonna be on TV, sir?”

“Na, he’s gonna be a film star.”

“What’s a mystery play, sir?”

“I know, like Agony Christie – The Mousecrap.”

Ten minutes later, the class knew quite a lot of local history. The plays are medieval, performed every four years. The Mysteries were of the Creation, Incarnation and Redemption, not who bashed Miss Scarlet’s head with a candlestick in the library.

“Gonna have a long nightie and white beard, sir, like on Spitting Images?”

“No, Johnny. I’ll be speaking into a mike, not appearing.”

“More like sound effects, sir?”

“I can do sound effects. Can I do the thunderbolts, sir?”

“Don’t think there are any, Max, but if there are, I’ll suggest your name. Now who’s finished their sums?”

Mr Watt didn’t say, ‘Back to work,’ – his voice said it for him. No ten-year old could argue with that voice, which could silence the school canteen with a single word – usually Max! John was proud of his voice. He couldn’t sing like Pavarotti but was sure he could sound more awesome than John Wayne in the ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’ It was flattering his number one teaching aid was to be given wider recognition. John had buried his widowed mother three months ago and was ready to reactivate some social life. Perhaps even forget Daisy Maybank.

As John watched his ten-year olds he recalled being the same age when first he met Daisy-May. She came to repossess her brother, Tom’s marbles. Tom cheated.

John punched him, took the marbles. Big Sister intervened. Well brought up boys like John did not fight girls especially not strapping lasses like Daisy. John talked fast and sweetly. Instead of a kick Daisy gave him a kiss, and took the marbles.

At secondary school, Daisy still a year ahead , their doomed relationship developed. John read Romeo and Juliet, Daisy read Jackie and their kisses became more passionate.

At 16, Daisy swapped her school uniform for that of a Rowntrees chocolate packer. John stayed on for A levels, always had lots of homework. Daisy had ‘lots’ of money and could easily get served in pubs. So John found it hard to compete with Daisy’s many admirers, even before the accident which put his mother in hospital.

John could be tough. He made it to the back of the church on Daisy’s wedding day. Through his tears she looked stunning, if rather overweight. Six months later, John, pushing Mum’s wheelchair, met Daisy, pushing her pram. A brief conversation revealed her son’s name was John. John wheeled his mother off quickly, knowing he would never forget Daisy.

Over the years, in his fantasies, John was always with Daisy and his mother was gone. Yet when Mum died it was a terrible shock. Three months later John was trying to build a life for himself, starting with the audition for the Mystery Plays. God wasn’t the biggest part but it was a start. He could move on to better things. Perhaps too old for Romeo but he wouldn’t mind Casanova or Don Juan.

Such thoughts put a spring to his step on his way to rehearsals. Two pints with an old pal had been relaxing. He was armed with a half bottle of whiskey which could give his voice a rasp or come in handy calming any stage fright. Enjoyment of the calm warm summer evening was jarred on spotting Max, lurking near steps leading to the city walls.

Max, forever guilty looking whenever near Mr Watt, stuffed a roll of tickets into his pocket with suspicious speed. John’s excellent memory recalled the arrest, a year ago of one of York’s best known drunks for selling tickets to tourists who didn’t know that entry to the city medieval walls was free.

Max was sometimes a quick learner.

“Selling many tickets, Max?”

“What tickets, Mr Watt? Oh there’s my bus. Seeya Monday, sir.”

John allowed himself a smile, passing through Bootham Bar, an ancient gate in the wall. The crowds of visitors clogging the narrow street did not amuse him, however. He slipped down the snickleway beside the Hole in the Wall pub, to the tranquility of Precentors’ Court, a deserted cul-de-sac parallel to bustling High Petergate. Soon, he was in the paved area before the main door of York Minster.

This too teemed with camera-laden Japanese, gangs of French teenagers on exchange, Bermuda-shorted Yanks in stetsons. Nothing remarkable there, ’til a beautiful young student chalking on the pavement caught John’s eye. He never saw the skate-boarder ’til he ploughed straight into him. As John crashed to the ground the broken whiskey bottle gashed his arm. Too shocked to detain the skate-boarder as he scooted away, John hoped he wasn’t an ex-pupil. The message scrawled across the disappearing back read ‘Skat bording is not a crim, so leff us aloan.’

John was still trying to stop the bleeding, surrounded by milling crowds when the ambulance arrived. The ambulance men listened politely as he explained he didn’t need a doctor, but smelling the whiskey on his jacket and the beer on his breath, they ushered him firmly into the vehicle.

At the hospital, John decided on a low profile. He could see the Evening Press headline – Creation Delayed, God Found Drunk in Gutter. Peeping beneath his 20-year old Punch magazine, he couldn’t help noticing a nice pair of legs arriving, reminding him of Daisy. When he risked a glance over the top, it wasn’t Daisy’s smile which greeted him but a very pleasant one, nevertheless. An equally pleasant voice said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

It turned out she remembered John from the auditions. She was at the hospital to pick up a friend then going on to the rehearsal. John knew he didn’t really need a doctor and was more than willing to accept a lift from the lovely Janet.

The friend got in the back while Janet and John chatted in the front of the car.

“What part did you get?” she asked.

“The voice of God. And you?”

“Mary Magdalene,” replied Janet, with a charming laugh.

Who wrote this script, thought John, Dan Brown or Mary Whitehouse?

Anyway he couldn’t help hoping the old saying would prove false, Don’t cry over spilt milk – wait ’til you spill the whiskey.

- F.B. Granger