Finding Judas at the Ministry of Minchin
So, this summer, my dangerous living programme of fun, fear and frolics, screeched to a shuddering halt, along with my PhD progress, and any capacity for creativity.
My head was overloaded, I felt rough as buggery, and I barely stepped outside the house – no, not even to attend Uke Club! Instead, I skulked around in a dressing gown and fluffy mules, like a less sociable Eleanor Rigby, wholly submerged in the dark waters of a full-on blue funk.
It started with cold sores – truly the Devil’s work – and though age has lessened their aesthetic impact, blisters up both nostrils, with a hefty propagation across my philtrum, wasn’t a great look. Plus the associated nerve pain’s a bitch. Add in a stomach bug, toothache, and screaming sciatica, and I hope you’ll appreciate why I maintained article silence for a few weeks.
Tim reckons stress was at the root of it all, and he was probably right. House renovations were causing metaphorical, and literal, headaches, with the work still grumbling on, months after we should’ve been the proud owners of a shiny new bathroom, and a flat roof that could successfully withstand anything our wonderful weather chucks at it.
We’re also still sorting out Mum’s deathbed demands, re: desirable ash-scattering locations.
Most of her is still sitting in her Moët bottle on the hearth, and whenever I pass by, I just know she’s glaring accusingly through the green glass, and muttering, ‘Get your arse in gear and book that ferry to Ireland, a weekend in Padstow, and don’t forget about the Ardèche Gorge’. Sigh.
Then, to cap it all, I had to fork out £595 for a new crown. WTAF? For that price you might well assume I’d procured something on a par with Camilla’s coronation headwear.
But no … just one bog-standard, fake tooth, and that didn’t even include the £157 I paid to join the dental practice for just one year, OR the £60 to see the hygienist. Grr!
Anyway, suffice it to say, for the last few months, navigating normal life has been more than dangerous enough. However, there were some highlights, the most notable of which was finding Jesus, or more accurately, Judas, on YouTube.
I’m not religious. I only ever skimmed my junior Bible – it had great pictures, especially the ones of a flaxen-haired Jesus prepping a fish supper for 5,000 covers – but I can still recall when the Gideon Brigade came into school, distributing their burgundy books with an eager enthusiasm that was compelling to a swarm of suggestible ten-year-olds.
That day, my pals and I became extremely virtuous, spending lunchtime pretending to read the good book and thinking godly thoughts.
It didn’t last; twenty-four-hours later we’d reverted to our usual, unsaintly selves, much to the disappointment of our teachers.
And even though I’ve previously written that I’m always up for a wedding, or funeral – both great opportunities to dust off the old pipes and belt out a few hymns – I’ve never discovered anything, in any church, chapel or otherwise sacred space, that has made me want to become a regular.
Frankly, religion of whatever persuasion, seems to cause nothing but trouble, and thus, is best avoided.
My family were eclectic when it came to their beliefs. One set of grandparents were strict chapel, and on those few occasions when I accompanied them, found the fanatical fire and brimstone terrifying. Even though it was delivered in deafening Welsh, I didn’t need to understand the language to know that the minister, and his God, were certainly not the forgiving types.
My other grandparents were Church of Wales, and I liked that vicar, who was comfortably in his eighties, rosy-cheeked, with a halo of white hair and a shy smile. But his oratory skills in the pulpit – reading verbatim in a voice that barely carried past the first two pews – didn’t set the congregation alight.
In fact, the acoustics frequently picked up hissed whispers, and the occasional ‘Ow’, indicating that someone had dozed off and received a sharp poke in the ribs from their mortified spouse.
Dad fancied the idea of reincarnation, preferring to ‘keep busy’ rather than kicking his heels in either Heaven or Hell for an eternity, and Mum would pop to our local for the odd harvest festival, or Easter service, but she didn’t seem bothered about weekly attendance.
And me? I guess pragmatic-atheist-with-shades-of-optimistic-agnosticism probably fits the bill.
So no, I don’t buy into the big beardy in the sky, but I’d actually quite like to believe. It would make the bummer of dying so much more palatable if I honestly thought I’d be greeted with a pearlescent balloon arch, unlimited wine (obvs), and a throng of family, friends, and, best of all, pets.
How wonderful to have a knees-up, and paint the town – or clouds – red. (Ooh. Maybe that’s what sunsets are – welcoming parties for new admittees?) But, after some consideration, even if I am judged virtuous enough to make it up the stairway to Heaven, that, in itself, might cause problems.
See, last year, in one of the trippiest experiences of my life, I spent an unforgettable hour, Vaseline-smeared, sweating and starkers, bobbing about in a sensory deprivation tank. Memorable for many reasons – not least being the total absence of pain for the first time since 2015 – during those sixty minutes, my consciousness dipped in and out, before finally settling into a spiral of increasingly bizarre hypotheticals. For example:
If I had sex with a car, which would be the tenderest lover? An Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite. He’s 100% the man for the job.
Would Tim stay with me if I morphed into a dog, but could still talk? Happily yes, but only if I was a Golden Retriever, and definitely couldn’t talk! (Eye roll)
Can you sin in Heaven?
And it’s this last one that bothered me most, because if, as you’d expect, there’s a pious party-line up there that you’d probably have to toe, I’d be in trouble.
Tim (Catholic – lapsed) thinks it’s all bollocks, but hypothetically, if it isn’t, says he’d hate to be plonked for perpetuity in a place where you can’t smoke, gamble, or have no-strings-attached sex.
And that’s the key issue I have with the idea of an angelic afterlife, because though I’m not majorly depraved, I’d definitely want to sate some minor lustful, gluttonous, and slothful tendencies.
I mean, what if I ran into Alan Rickman, togged up in his Sense and Sensibility military garb (swoon), and fancied a quickie? Would that be allowed, or is marriage mandatory before indulging in the sins of the flesh? (Saying that, if there happened to be a celestial Ann Summers – unlikely, but go with it – I’d probably just pick up a cherubic rampant rabbit, and matrimony be damned.)
I’d also need regular Hawaiian hedonism (extra pineapple, added anchovies – I’m hoping incorporeal weight gain isn’t a thing), along with extended sessions of cider-induced indolence, a weekly delivery of Golden Virginia, and some quality iPad time.
The point being, if you can’t indulge your vices up there, I’d be picking the locks on those pearly gates, and hot footing it south asap, where such behaviour might not only be tolerated, but I suspect, actively encouraged.
Anyway, back to YouTube and the audiovisual highlight of my two months of misery. Now, I love a good musical, and there’s no doubt that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are one heck of a team, but this one had completely passed me by.
The 1973 film version pops up on telly occasionally, mainly at Christmas, but I’d usually swerved it, settling down to watch something less secular, and much less psychedelic, like Death on the Nile, or Elf.
But this version, filmed during the 2012 live arena tour, showcased a grittier, contemporary production which, if you swapped out Jesus (a brooding Ben Forster who’s tastier than the massive French Fancy of my dreams), for Jeremy Corbyn, would have proved terrifyingly prescient, especially viewing the crucifixion scene through allegorically-tinted specs.
And it was when Tim Minchin (Judas) sang the opening number – with a voice that would surely make the rock opera gods exhale in orgasmic delight – his kohl-rimmed eyes brimming with tears of exasperation and anguish, that I was hooked.
Add in Sporty Spice as the plucky, lovesick Mary Magdalene, and the holy trinity of Jesus Christ Superstar(s) was complete.
A traitorous kiss
That weekend, I obsessively played, and replayed it, watching the narrative unfold from this unusual perspective – despite its title, this is Judas’ story. And whilst all the cast shone, Minchin was phenomenal.
His every scene was mesmerising, filled with tortured emotion and incredible rapid-fire vocals. But when he finally realised exactly what his actions had triggered, and how he’d been ‘Damned for All Time’? Well, he certainly left his heart and soul out on that stage for all to see.
His scenes with Jesus were testosterone-fuelled voice-offs, and in a finale rammed with corseted, frilly-knickered angels, frenzied flashbulbs, and a bemused and beaten Jesus, Minchin was magnificently mental, blowing the press a traitorous kiss, before going all out on a tambourine. Utterly bonkers, but abso-bloody-lutely brilliant.
Soon my Tim was begging me to either ‘turn it down or turn it off, ‘cause I can’t take any more of that sodding racket’. Lol! I dug out some old headphones because he did have a point. But things didn’t end there.
Along with a major ROMI (Rapid Onset Minchin Infatuation – seriously, that guy’s eyes are something else … longing sigh), I was also filled with a, hitherto unsuspected, thirst for theological knowledge.
But it was Judas who’d bewitched me. Was he as treacherous as the good book painted him, or simply a disposable pawn in God’s ineffable, and it has to be said, rather OTT, plan? I needed answers, and in the absence of a family bible, I visited the fount of all wisdom … Wikipedia.
I read a lot of bible passages, studied many scholarly interpretations, and ended up swirling down a frightening number of holy wormholes. I dived into religious Twitter – no matter what Elon says, I’ll never warm to X – where the gospels were rich fodder for numerous ‘experts’ to engage in highfalutin arguments, and where one of them was helpful enough to direct me to BBC Bitesize which ‘has the basics explained in a way even you’ll understand.’ Hmpf. Rude!
Anyway, it was noticeable that even in Christian doctrine, the versions of events, and Judas’ death, differed significantly, and it seemed that reaching any definitive conclusions was as likely as me turning a two-litre bottle of Evian into a fruity little Merlot.
But it was fascinating all the same, though not convincing enough for a heathen like me, who is clearly missing the je ne sais quoi that true believers of any denomination have – aka faith.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit envious (Oops, another deadly sin), of those people who do have it; those who require no evidence or proof, but simply nurture that unshakeable certainty regarding the existence of the Big Man/Woman/Man-lion/Bull etc. But sadly, since I’d need some tangible substantiation before committing, that’ll never be me.
Mind, Dad once told me about a medical experiment in which a doctor placed dying patients on a weighing scale – WTH? Guess medical ethics weren’t a thing back then – and was ultimately able to hypothesise that the twenty-one grams (approx.) lost at the exact moment of death, was the weight of a human soul leaving the body.
Wow. If that could be fact-checked and validated then I might be up for boarding the soul train, last stop Paradise Central, but until then … nope.
Modern day miracle
But, in what could be classed as a modern-day miracle, I subsequently emerged from my doom-scrolling, ditched the dressing gown, and made a tentative return to my dangerous living regime, and ukulele club.
It was a ‘Strange Thing, Mystifying’. Had I been infused by the Holy Spirit and was getting a crafty, celestial helping hand? Or was it that JCS had acted as a type of televisual tonic, causing me to not only contemplate my religious convictions, but by default, my own mortality?
I dunno (shrug). I’d certainly had an epiphany of sorts, coming to the realisation that life is much too short to waste weeks of it, hosting pyjama-clad, table for one, pity parties.
But what I do know is that twenty-three banging songs, extraordinary acting, and sheer musical genius has certainly ensured that ‘Everything’s Alright’ in my little world right now … and that’s despite a swollen water-logged bathroom ceiling that is bowing quite alarmingly. Well, we have had some semi-biblical downpours of late.
But now you’ll have to excuse me, because I’ve got a date with YouTube, where Heaven, in the form of the aqua-eyed Mr Minchin, will most definitely be on my mind.
And amen to that.
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