Thursday, 27 December 2012

On God 3

God moved off stage for a while after Mr H. The cold draught of a co-ed secondary school - a London state grammar in my case - blew Him down the street and round the corner. School itself was a matter of negotiating classes, homework, corridors and certain members of staff, never mind the more menacing students.

If God was anywhere at that time, He must have been in the RI / RK lessons with scripture teacher, Mr R, sharing His tweed jacket, looking through His stern but helpless glasses, trying to hold the attention of classes edging into equally helpless sexuality. Mr R's God was a paperclip version of the earlier Mr H. God made us learn the names of the books of the Old Testament and pointed us to maps of the Holy Land but failed abysmally to make us learn anything else. Having brought in his small electric organ for hymns he had instead to put up with pretty teenage girls offering, sotto voce but just about audibly, to play on it. 

This was tough on Mr R who was batting on a far stickier wicket than ever Mr H had to. Mr H was dealing with the impressionable: Mr R was dealing with the unimpressable. Mr R stood stiff, every limb at attention as if electrocuted. He stamped his feet, glowered, and issued threats without force. If Mr H lived in a world of manna and thunder, Mr R lived in the corner of a minor Samuel Beckett, buried up to his neck in cold sand.  To return to the cricket analogy, Mr R was a figure out of Sir Newbolt's Vita Lampada who finds:
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.

He had, like the cricketer in the poem, an hour to play and was the last man in. He was the boy with his finger in the dike. He was the boy who stood on the burning deck. He was, as I understood at the time, a tragic figure, doomed to unhappiness, a perception that filled me with a less comprehensible mixture of pity and horror.

I use the pronoun 'we' to represent the class that Mr R must have thought he was facing, but as an individual I could hardly focus him. I couldn't read God into him. I hadn't yet met this form of evangelical, short-back-and-sides, hair-plastered-down, respectable, good-boy, tea-drinking, square, heavy-humoured, faintly-mad, anglo-teutonic kind of suburban God.

The class reaction to him was to move from one caricature to another. The caricature Mr R/God was to be opposed by the caricature Satan he warned us about. This Satan took the form of Beelzebub, a name we found so comical as to be irresistible.  The comedy was increased when it was decided we should mispronounce the Evil One and call him Beezlebub instead. In break times, occasionally in lunch times, members of the class would assemble in the form room under the aegis of The Beezlebub Society.  The Beezlebub Society had no programme of activity, no rule book, no rituals. It existed to do one thing and one thing only: to sit on chairs arranged in a rough circle and to declare itself The Beezlebub Society. I sat at the fringes of it as did a few girls, though essentially it was a boys' club. It lasted maybe a year. It confirmed its members in direct opposition to Mr R's God.

We were, without knowing it, Blake's Orc and Milton's Lucifer, impotent rebel angels of 1963, our rebellion a matter of sitting in chairs and declaring ourselves enemies of God. We had no metaphysical yearnings. Girls and survival were what we yearned for. It was an interim stage. We weren't serious. Nothing was serious. If only life could remain that way.

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