Angst, guilt and penance all wrapped up in St Pat's Day
St Patrick’s Day has added piquancy this year as cardinals at the Vatican sent up their smoke signals this week.
There could be a parallel here for Gerry Brownlee and Hekia Parata with their tribulations over embargo-busting journos – sidekick PR spin doctor Nick Bryant could man the smoke stack to give the all clear.
It’s not often we have a similar “cardinals’ vote” in the political life of this country. It’s usually only when a prime minister dies, and the outcomes have not been happy.
St Patrick’s Day was always a highlight of the social calendar for those of us educated at schools like St Bede’s College in Christchurch. In the post-school years, St Pat’s became a de facto reunion at pubs around town.
I remember when three colourful students spiked their jugs (those were the days) of beer with green, blue and red food dye. When the spirit moved, their co-ordinated regurgitation was a scene to behold.
St Pat's evokes fond and uncomfortable memories.
I recall the long walk up the St Bede’s driveway under the trees on my first day in the third form, running the gauntlet of the fourth formers who snatched our caps and bit off the trophy button on top. A foreboding portent of the near future.
Although I’d have to say that in my five years there I never heard a whiff of the sexual scandals besetting mother church. My four sporty older brothers raised unfulfilled expectations about my potential prowess at rugby and cricket when I would have been happier jumping around the gymnasium, if St Bede’s had had one.
High public profile
In later life many ex-Bedeans achieved high public profile – Brownlee, of course, a couple of years ahead of me. He and his mate Richard Holden, now a financial services company director, were the nucleus of the rugby barrackers of their year.
Straight as a die and a serious student but not without humour, MP Damien O’Connor was the same year as me. Also sharing the desks was The Narcs rock band bass guitarist Tony Waine, due to do a revival tour.
Then there was millionaire and shipwreck diver Bill Day, who never showed any sign of his future achievements when larking on the stairs.
Some of the older ones like MPs David Carter and the coiffed Peter Dunne never meant much to me. There was little mixing between the forms.
But I always have a soft spot for Rich Lister Philip Carter, who was a prefect when I was in the third form.
Unlike some of the sadists who enjoyed their prefecture, he seemed to me to be a gentle and good-humoured type who never threatened us with the biff. He seemed an oasis in this edgy oppressive milieu.
Others, like my hyperactive mate Robin Judkins of Coast to Coast fame, regard their time at St Bede's as a test of teenage survival.
If there is any truth to the view that St Bede’s turned out more than its fair share of performers in later life it may be something to do with the old cliché about the strongest steel being forged in the fire – as those of us who enjoyed the tender mercies of the Marist Brothers attest.
They certainly accelerated the path to atheism. God’s love didn’t sit well with the rough daily discipline. And I wondered how some lads could make a confession to the same guy who might have belted them the day before. It seemed a strange bond.
In their defence, few of the Good Shepherds were sent to training college before being thrown in front of a class of 35 boys.
A little tortured
Over the years I’ve met a few of them. Only a handful remained in the priesthood. Most found wives and families. They still seem a little tortured by their break with the church and many have remained active in socially-focused work.
There was also a handful of female teachers who added some sanity and were very popular. At a recent reunion I enjoyed the company of Linn Smith, who pursued a top-level education career in Australia.
Proof that gentler souls survived at St Bede’s is evident in the understated career of guys like poet and musician Bill Direen (he scandalously handed in his prefect’s badge), arts critic Paul Bushnell and many others too numerous to mention here.
I expect to catch up with a few of them this weekend.
St Pat’s in Christchurch will be celebrated at the likes of O’Shea’s and the recently reopened Baillie’s Bar (from the Cathedral Square wasteland to Edgeware Village a couple of kilometres away). But the English-sounding Fox & Ferret will also turn on the taps and several others will cash in on the over indulgence that is a hangover from our more religious past.
This St Pat’s dovetails nicely with the Carlos Santana concert I’m also going to – Latins are Catholics, aren’t they? Albeit Carlos’s Love Devotion And Surrender conjures a different spiritual flavour.
Why the St Pat’s tradition has survived so long is anyone’s guess but it is most likely to do with the curious marriage with hostelries keen for any excuse to celebrate something that involves swilling beer and tinkling tills.
'Apostle of Ireland'
For the record, St Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland”, was a pretty interesting bloke.
At age 16 around 400AD he was kidnapped in Britain and taken as a slave to Ireland before escaping and returning home. But he went back to Ireland to spread the faith as a missionary among the heathen Irish and Scots.
So, the celebration of his birthday on March 17 has become a celebration of Ireland, too.
And what better commentator to end on than Ireland’s comic, Dave Allen. Go to Youtube.
Here is a rough rendition of a skit:
“There was a nun and a priest. The nun asks the priest, ‘Do you think we’ll see married clergy in our lifetimes, Father?’
“The priest replies, ‘Not in our lifetimes, Sister, nor the lifetimes of our children or our grandchildren – but maybe in the lifetimes of our great grandchildren.'”
May your god go with you...