Assigned to an anonymous town in the English Midlands, in order to prove that even the most seemingly god-forsaken places are not completely beyond redemption, Jesus’ diaries continue the story of His life in the UK. Even a prophet needs a bit of downtime.
The Jesus Diaries – Chapter 2 Verse 1
It was my birthday, the other day. Not the official one, of course, that’s in December and invariably overshadowed by Christmas. It’s not my favourite time of the year, to be honest. Try as one might to avoid the sin of pride, there is something utterly humiliating about seeing pictures of yourself with reindeer everywhere you look. I’ve nothing against reindeer, I must stress, I just struggle to see what they’ve got to do with a bloke from Nazareth who now lives in England.
My real birthday – the one in May – I tend to keep quiet about. It’s one thing for The Queen to have a two a year, but let’s face it, she’s no spring chicken and all of those birthdays aren’t helping on that front. If I was to adopt the same approach, I’d be 4,041 right now. Anybody who tells you that life begins at 4,040 is probably putting you on.
This year, though, has been very different for all of us. After several months sitting in a hotel room, it seemed only right and proper to nip out to the pub for a cheeky birthday pint or two.
After my last foray into the would of pubs, I was determined not to repeat the mistake of going to Wetherspoon’s. I would confine myself to the real thing. Duly armed with a twenty-pound note, a newspaper, a biro and a packet of baccy, I headed for The Flying Bishop on Sheldon Street for an afternoon of quiet contemplation.
Things Used to be So Much Easier
The best-laid plans of messiahs and men, however, often do something or other in Scottish.
I went round to the Bishop’s back-door – nobody wants to look like a tourist – and found Ed the barman, waiting at the entrance.
“Hi, Jesus, how are you?”
“I’m good, thank you. Blessings upon you and all of that palaver. Would you have a spare table?”
“For you, mate, of course, we do. Providing you’re not bringing twelve of your mates, of course. Do you have the app on your phone?”
“Ah, my venerable Nokia 3310 doesn’t really do apps, I’m afraid.”
“No problem, we can sign you in, the damned thing doesn’t actually work, anyway. What’s your address?”
“I’m staying at the Wilton Hotel.”
“Ah, we need an actual home address, I’m afraid.”
“I’ve been there for over a year now, it certainly feels like home.”
“Yes, I know, but a hotel technically counts as ‘no fixed abode’ and the Home Office don’t like that. Can you use your family address?”
“Sure. It’s Chez Dieu, Kingdom of Heaven, H1 1AA.”
“Do you have any proof of address? A gas bill or something?”
“No, we don’t need heating. The downstairs neighbours have theirs on full-blast, all year round. It’s terribly wasteful but it saves us a fortune. I’ve got a crappy blue passport if that’s any help.”
“I love you Jesus, always ready with a joke. Let me get the gaffer. We should be able to squeeze you in.”
Mick, the gaffer, is a decent enough bloke. Not exactly someone you’d tell that you’ve got two dads, but he’s generally a good egg. And sure enough, he was only too happy to bend the rules a little and turn a blind eye to my newly discovered homelessness. We agree that The Wilton Hotel would be fine if we missed out its name and just stuck to its street address. They could do with a few like him at the DWP.
It was nice and quiet inside. That’s probably a good thing. You’d need a PhD in string theory to work out the one-way system that had been carefully marked out in yellow tape. The usual suspects were all present and correct – Railway John, Dangerous Dev, Cross-Eyed Mary, Unpronounceable Polish Guy, and Geordie John who’s actually from Sunderland. Most pubs around here seem to have a bloke called Geordie John who’s actually from Sunderland. Maybe it’s the same person.
Apart from the face masks and not being able to stand at the bar, it was almost as if Dad’s latest plague had never happened.
There were, however, three very noticeable improvements brought about by Dad’s latest bout of retaliatory people-bothering:
Firstly, the bandit was turned off. There is nothing that quite wrenches the soul more than the sight of someone trying to look happy as a handful of coins are returned from their week’s wages. And, let’s be honest, the flashing lights and incessant bleeping are almost as irritating as a Saturday night on BBC1. It’s also nice not to hear the old “Hey Jesus, I just made a prophet” gag – especially when you know full-well that they’ve lost a small fortune.
Better yet, there was no Sky Sports. Quite why people in the Midlands need to be reminded of their football clubs’ league positions on a regular basis is entirely beyond me. There is a streak of masochism around here that I fear I will never fully understand. I was, admittedly, left wondering whether young Chukwuemeka would get a start for the Villa on Saturday but I don’t feel that not knowing is too high a price to pay for not having the bloody telly on all of the time.
Best of all – no jukebox. There were a couple of strangers over by the dartboard that looked like they’d be only too eager to share their love of Progressive Rock with all and sundry. It is one of life’s great injustices that Prog Rockers get five times as much playing time from a jukebox as normal people do. Maybe the whole ‘flu thing was a cunning plan to get rid of that particular injustice. Dad certainly moves in mysterious ways but he often gets it right.
A Prophet-able Day
Aside from the obvious issue of being yet another year older, it was certainly one of my more enjoyable secret birthdays. A quiet session in the back-bar of The Bishop might not be everybody’s idea of a big day out but it was lovely to be back to some pretence of normality. And believe me, by the time you’ve had a couple of thousand birthday bashes, you really have covered most of the options. I can’t remember if it’s recorded in the latest edition of The Bible, but Batham’s certainly make the best liquid birthday cake on the planet, and it was a sheer joy to escape the usual diet of afternoon quiz shows.
Whilst I don’t think I’ve made a ton of progress on my Mission from Dad, I did, at least, discover that the Midlands are almost bearable when there isn’t a lot going on. That has to count for something. I may have to go back for some further investigation.