Pyjamas and Pentecostal theology in the Midlands
The price of mince pies got up my nose in a fancy bun shop on New Year’s Eve: €5 for a coffee and one little pie. I said, “Mince-pie season is over. Do you not realise what a mince pie represents?” The girl with purple eyelids hadn’t a clue.
I said: “It’s an image of the manger at Bethlehem. In fact, they were once banned by a certain Mr Cromwell, and now, after centuries of struggle to attain the freedom to eat them with devotion, you hike up the price.”
She said she didn’t own the shop. “Try the special,” she said, “a slice of apple tart and a tea for €3.” I took her advice and sat in the corner, listening to the buzz of the world as I waited for the General.
Two young women were having soup at the next table; one of them was on the phone. “I’ve a lot of shopping still to do,” she said. “I’ll be home when I’m ready.” Then she hung up.
“That’s the way to talk to him,” her friend said, and they laughed with the relish of women who enjoy telling men what to do. At another table, two men were talking about abortion with the pernickety precision of men who enjoy telling women what to do.
One was blond and magisterial; a preacher man in modern clothes. The other was a pimpled youth with greasy black hair, denim trousers, cheap shoes, and a face as derelict as the moon.
“People who defy God will burn,” the blond man whispered, “including the women.” I nearly choked on my apple tart as I realised he was serious.
“And they will have bodies in hell,” he added. “Bodies that can experience pain.” “Hard to imagine,” said the milky boy, his face contorting as if he was constipated.
“It’s three o’clock,” the magisterial man declared, looking at his chunky gold watch. “I have an appointment.” Before he left, he went to the toilet, leaving the milky-faced wretch to pay through the nose for the mince pies they had been picking at.
I was reminded of an ancient folktale I saw satirised in an art exhibition in Paris recently, in which a woman was being chastised by her granny: “Your hot p***y will land you in hell,” the old woman screamed in the art video. “You will hang from a hook by your tongue while flames leap up and singe your thighs through all eternity.”
I would have enjoyed a chat with the blond preacher about art or satire but he looked as if he was in a hurry as he emerged from the loo so I let the moment pass. And besides, the General had arrived in a great fluster, like a walrus in a storm. “I’m having erotic dreams,” the General confessed. “Clearly it’s a sign that my health is improving.”
I didn’t want more information, but he insisted. “I’ve endured another winter of depression,” he explained, “but I think I’m out of the woods now. I dreamt last night that I saw Sandra Bullock beside my bed, in a nurse’s uniform holding a syringe.”
“That doesn’t sound very erotic,” I said, and I suggested that his pyjamas might be to blame; the ones his ex-wife gave him for Christmas.
“She’s toying with me,” he had declared on Christmas Eve, looking at the “Medium” label on the package. “She knows bloody well I’m triple extra-large.”
“Were you wearing those pyjamas last night?” I wondered.
“As a matter of fact I was,” he admitted.
“Well that’s it,” I declared. “It’s a well established fact that wearing uncomfortable clothes in bed can induce disturbing dreams.” The General was amazed. Then I told him about hell and the preacher.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “There’s still lots of zealots out there whose deepest desire would be to see all women hanging from their tongues over the flames of hell. But tell me this,” he added. “Has anyone ever studied the influence of pyjama bottoms on Pentecostal theology in the Irish Midlands?” I confessed I didn’t know.
Eventually, we splashed out on mince pies, those little empty mangers that Puritans once feared might turn the poor into gluttons, and suddenly the General’s eyes bulged like a bull in an abattoir as a terrible thought arrested his mind.
“I wonder,” he whispered, “what kind of pyjamas the bishops favour?” I said, “I haven’t a clue.”
“None of us do,” the General agreed. “As yet, none of us do.” And we both fell silent.