Thursday, March 19, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 6, 7 and 8
“You want me to go and look for Jesus?”
“No, I don’t... the Apocalypse Committee do.”
He’d taken the news better than she’d expected him to. Upon returning from the latest Apocalypse Committee meeting Sarah had found Hamish sitting and reading in the living room. For some reason the sight of him reading had surprised her - she’d sort of supposed that there was just no point in reading now that the world was over. Not that that made any sense, really, there was as much point in reading now as there had ever been. Maybe she’d take a book on this expedition - if he agreed to go. She regaled him with the events of the meeting and was both amused and surprised in turn when he joked lightly and asked questions about what had gone on.
“Well, they want us both to go really.”
“We’re all going on a Christ hunt... we’re going to catch a big one...”
“Will you please take this seriously?”
He looked at her with one eyebrow arched to the heavens. The supposedly empty heavens, given that Jesus and his minions were assumed to be lurking near Frome.
“You would like me to take our mission to go and find Jesus and guide him to his surprise party more seriously? You would like me to go upstairs and pack a little bag and put my walking boots on and come with you to hold his hand all the way back to Norton Fitzwarren?”
“Don’t mock me. It wasn’t my idea - we were voted.”
“The Apocalypse Committee.”
Sometimes he wondered how on earth it was possible for Sarah to be all the people she was at one time. How could she be so fiercely independent, intelligent and remarkable, and yet so loyally constrained to the idiocies of those around her. It was like she’d had it drummed into her at too early an age to even consider that, just sometimes, age did not bring wisdom. Sometimes your elders are just wrong and you have to start telling them. He wasn’t sure he knew anyone else on the planet, apocalypse or not, who would come home with this kind of news and not want to laugh about it over a cup of tea.
“And you think we should go?”
“I don’t really see that we have any choice.”
“Of course we have a choice, we simply say ‘I’m sorry Mrs Shoe, I can’t go and look for Jesus this week but I am happy to put up reward posters on all the lamp posts in town in case anybody else has seen him.’ If she argues with us we can counter with the get out clause: ‘I know for a fact I am the only vaguely ethnic person in this village and so he is clearly not here yet. Were I to be the one to find him we would almost certainly be arrested immediately for looking like a terrorist cell.’”
She stood looking at him with her head on one side.
“You can be very cruel sometimes, you know.”
“Cruel? Me? How was that cruel?”
“You’ve lived in this village for four years and you still mock them every step of the way. They’re good people, they’re just a bit sheltered that’s all.”
He grunted and went back to his book. She waited a few seconds before continuing, “So, are we going to tell them we’re not going? We might not get into Heaven if we don’t act like we’re keen.”
He dropped the book. “You don’t even believe in Heaven!”
“So how on earth can you be worried about not getting in? You don’t think it’s there! You might as well be worried about never seeing Fraggle Rock!”
“Oh I don’t know, Hamish! I’m sorry my upbringing wasn’t as beautifully liberal as yours. I suppose I’m just still slightly bogged down in, oh I don’t know, everything I was taught for the first 17 years of my life. It is not that easy to shake it all away. I love these people and just because I disagree with them doesn’t mean I want to make a mockery of everything they believe in.”
He had no desire to upset her, no real energy behind his anger. Perhaps it was all this “living in Armageddon” nonsense. It was a lot less Bruce Willis and a lot more Royle Family as far as directing style went. He was tired and frustrated... what were they meant to be doing? How could the world have stopped and yet life have continued? If they didn’t simply know that the world was over, how would you even tell? Or, was that what it was, just a sense of communal depression and innately knowing the end had come? He was almost jealous of the folks with religion, at least they had something to focus on, something to be cross with. Ha, cross. At least they were busy. For Hamish, it was like an endless cycle... no real reason to get up and nothing to prepare for once he was up. Like August as a student.
Even discussing his proposal to Sarah seemed like a waste of time. Could you get married once the world was over? It seemed ludicrous to mention it. If it wasn’t small mindedness holding you back it was the complete cessation of life as we know it. Jilting would almost have been easier to swallow. What a mess.
Maybe he should go and look for Jesus? Maybe it would prove to her that he loved her enough to put up with all the difficulties of being a mixed race couple in 2012. Let’s amend that, shall we; put up with all the difficulties of being a mixed race couple in the Gilmore family. Maybe they would actually find Jesus and he could perform some kind of Jedi mind trick on her father to show him that black people have all the same vital organs and moral stances as white people? He might even be able to do some damage limitation on the Scottishness too while he was at it. Privately, Hamish was a little concerned that Jesus’ inability to change Frank Gilmore’s mind would bring about the downfall of the Christian church. Water into wine would seem like a walk in the park after that.
It wasn’t that Frank Gilmore was a bad man. He wasn’t part of the EDL, he wasn’t a Neo-Nazi. He had always been very polite to Hamish, tea had been drunk, meals had been shared and conversations had loitered firmly around goals and referees. But there had always been the underlying understanding (two words that are seriously underused in tandem) that Hamish was not a permanent fixture. He was a wonderful oddity, an excellent exotic pet to talk about in town... but he wasn’t settling.
When Sarah and Hamish first moved in together Frank had been so quiet and grim about the scenario that Sarah had still not invited them round to see the house. It had been four years. The strangest effect it had had was the guilt that Hamish frequently found himself enshrined in. Guilt for giving Sarah the black mark, if you’ll excuse the pun, for tarnishing her perfect record with her family.
For her part, he thought perhaps she was still playing the ostrich. Assuming that it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal, or that perhaps one day Frank would just realise that he was wrong. It’s hard for a little girl to think badly of her father - Hamish understood that. Perhaps he was just working up the courage to walk away and find someone who wouldn’t be a little bit frustrated with her future husband.
In his darker moments he wondered if Sarah thought of him as different... he wondered if her little white brain thought his little black brain might be wired differently. He’d always been grateful she wasn’t the sort of girl to ask, ‘What are you thinking about?’ but nowadays he couldn’t help but consider that the reason for this was that she just assumed the answer would be “My excellent sense of rhythm”.
“Why wouldn’t we go, anyway?” Sarah stirred from her own thoughts and her voice petered into Hamish’s.
“What do you mean?”
“We either go, or we stay here and… and do this. We don’t have anything else to do and, I don’t know how to say this, but I don’t think I can carry on in this… atmosphere. Maybe the challenge would be a good breath of air?”
Hamish thought for the briefest moment and conceded.
“We’ll go and look for Jesus.”
Some people had a baby to rescue a relationship, they were going to try and get a Jesus.
He watched her eyes scanning him. She had to love him, didn’t she? If she looked at him like that?
“Yes. I’d do anything for you.” It sounded ridiculous quite frankly, but he was going to allow himself the luxury of melodrama given the circumstances.
“Right. I’ll put a picnic together.”
Someone, somewhere raised an eyebrow and adjusted their plan accordingly.
*Author’s Note* It wasn’t ‘someone’, they weren’t technically anywhere, and ‘they’ didn’t have an eyebrow to raise. I’ll explain later.
No one in the village quite knew what to do about Friday. Friday had been marked in the diaries of the residents of Norton Fitzwarren ever since Staplegrove had held the most successful bake sale in a decade and the villagers had felt a strong urge to retaliate. Not one, but four meetings of the Entertainment Committee had been held before the options for a village gathering had been narrowed to two to be voted on. Once the final ideas had been confirmed, a ballot box was put by the till in Nigel and Beryl’s shop and each villager was allowed to vote once on what the occasion ought to be.
There’s a danger here that you will imagine villagers casually filling in a form as they stand idly by waiting for their change at the till. It would be doing a great injustice to the efforts of the people involved for you to scan over these words and form that impression in your mind. For a decent head start on picturing how it played out, take some time out from reading this book to watch The West Wing. Now, eyes back on the page and imagine that the Republican Party have given up on the White House and would sorely love to have a Meat Bingo. Meanwhile the Democrats have lost hope for America and decided to funnel all their funds and effort into the greatest Line Dance ever seen. They’ve both decided to hold their events in a tiny West Country village in England.
There was canvassing… members of both factions went door to door to impart passionate speeches on the villagers and explain the merits of both good quality fillet and communal exercise. The village shop was picketed while Tom Sanderson, a twelve year old with high hopes of becoming the next ‘Norton News’ editor, could be found doing exit poll interviews whenever his mother didn’t need him back at home.
The usually quiet lanes of the village were alive with banners, bunting and motivational posters commanding residents to get out there and use their vote. The local estate agent’s phone didn’t stop ringing from local homeowners calling to check that the lunacy of the dedicated few wasn’t seriously affecting house prices in the area.
The Vicar stepped in to cool things off twice. Once, when Mr Baxter’s dog Rufus was kidnapped during a particularly stressful day when the Meat Bingo campaign decided to try and blackmail their way to victory. Rufus was found safe and well wearing a knitted jumper that read, ‘I Love Meat Bingo’, and Mr Baxter claimed it was anger at the jumper that brought the tears to his eyes. The Vicar’s second intervention came the morning of the ballot count when it was the Meat Bingo factions turn to suspect foul play when they failed to recognise every other name scratched onto a ballot paper. The Vicar had the laborious job of checking them all against the electoral role and was disappointed to discover that a high percentage of the Line Dancing votes were indeed fictitious. He managed to entertain himself by guessing who had created which fake ballot. He suspected it might be Arthur Arthur who expected Henry VIII would vote with dancing, while Martin Young’s Mr Me T. Bingosucks elicited a stifled snigger from the bored Vicar.
The results were announced in The Ring of Bells pub to a packed house... Derek the landlord sold more packets of pork scratchings that night than anyone could remember. It was a close run thing, but, as the village waited with bated breath, it was revealed that Meat Bingo had narrowly missed out to Norton Fitzwarren’s first ever Line Dancing evening.
Of course, not a single member of the village knew how to Line Dance, but this didn’t matter a jot.
“It’s the taking part that counts.” Reminded The Vicar as the supporters of Meat Bingo raised their objections noisily and vigorously to the festivities.
“That’s easy for you to say,” grumbled Mrs Shoe, “You haven’t had 2 hip replacements in the last 4 years have you?”
“And you’ve not been waiting for two hip replacements for 6 years, have you?” Countered Leslie White.
Mrs Shoe drew her coat tighter around her, “Listen, it is not my fault that you’re still on that waiting list. How many times do I have to tell you, I do not run the NHS?”
“Would it have been so difficult to have politely refused your second operation and shared the wealth?”
This was a regular argument that rattled around the lanes of the village. At the merest mention of an itchy scar or a particularly icy snap, the subject of joints would be rolled out and the two aged Gladiators took their stances. Of course everyone agreed that Mrs White’s waiting time was a little inexcusable given her age, but they all concurred that it would have been rude of Mrs Shoe to turn down a willing surgeon. Besides, no one was fooled by Mrs White’s assertions that she and Mr Baxter were simply firm friends, and they all knew that her hips couldn’t be that bad if two people were making that much noise on such a semi-regular basis.
Some villages had a terrifying old man who lived in a terrifying house at the top of a terrifying lane that parents would use to terrify small children into behaving, and teenagers would use to dare their peers into social hierarchy. Not Norton Fitzwarren. In Norton Fitzwarren you proved you had hair on your chest by seeing how long you could stand to eavesdrop on the White/Baxter sweet nothings when the pair were engaged in a particularly enlightening session. It would seem there is absolutely nothing you cannot learn or be open minded about given enough decades around the block. Not a single child in the village would refuse to eat broccoli again after listening to Mrs White go no handed.
The Vicar sighed quietly to himself and activated his most soothing tones, “Ladies, I think this option appeals to everyone. After all, music is a universal language. I would suggest that those of us not feeling quite up to dancing prepare to enjoy a fantastic evening of music and laughter, whilst the more adventurous will relish the opportunity to strut their stuff on the dance floor. I am looking forward to seeing all generations enjoying each other’s company at this spectacular event.”
Even to him ‘spectacular’ sounded a little optimistic. The line part of the evening was sure to be no problem, they all loved queueing. It was the dancing that was going to be the proverbial fly’s spanner in the metaphorical works’ ointment. For this dance to be a success, all those attending were going to somehow have to manage to move in unison, or, if not unison, at least the same direction for a brief while. The Vicar had the privilege of watching them all trying to cross themselves at the same time every Sunday and even that was a challenge. He was amazed every Sunday that more people didn’t leave with black eyes or the sneaking suspicion that perhaps dyspraxia was worth Googling.
Nevertheless, there was a mass exodus to the town to purchase chequered shirts for the frivolities and everyone seemed to be in high spirits at the thought of a good knees up.
So when the apocalypse came about and time stood still, naturally people worried that to go ahead with the Line Dance was disrespectful to the people they assumed must have died somewhere. It was a complicated matter though, as a lot of people had already bought their tickets and the Village Hall deposit was nonrefundable, apocalypse or no apocalypse. The Vicar pondered for a day and then declared bravely that the dance would still go ahead.
“It’s just like the war,” piped up Mrs White, “We’ve got to keep morale up.”
“It’s not just like the war,” chimed in Mrs Shoe, ever on the look out for a way to be contrary to anything Mrs White said, “There are no Nazis.”
“No,” said Mrs White, confidently “We’ve got the Devil instead. Which is arguably worse.”
“Worse than Nazis?”
“Of course he is, he invented Nazis.”
“No he didn’t. Hitler invented the Nazis.” Mrs Shoe was not going to be embarrassed in front of The Vicar by a woman who didn’t even have the common sense to keep the window shut when she was getting her jollies.
“Well who do you think invented Hitler? And don’t you say his mother you sour old...”
It was a novel version of the old chicken and egg row, The Vicar had to admit. However, as a man of the cloth he felt it would be irresponsible to allow a full scale cat fight to break out between two upstanding members of the community. The NHS really didn’t need the strain of Mrs Shoe needing two entirely new hips just before they had an apocalypse level of death to deal with.
“Ladies, I think you are both absolutely right...”
“How can they both be right when they’re arguing opposite points?” offered Mr Young, ever happy to stir the pot of bickering octogenarians.
“They are both right, Mr Young, because I think, deep down, they are both arguing fervently for the morale of the village to be boosted by way of a coordinated shindig.” Did young people still use the word shindig...? Did anyone still use the word shindig? Why on earth had he used the word shindig?
“Besides which,” he continued, shaking off the residue of his antiquated word choice “It will make a perfect send off for Hamish and Sarah as they leave on their very special mission to assist the village in finding out the whereabouts of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour”
And so it was decided, the party would go ahead with a special send off theme for the valiant explorers. They were, understandably, delighted.