It had been a rather peculiar day. At that time, I was working in Fitzrovia a couple of days a week for someone who did a lot of refurbishment work for The Salvation Army. I was actually designing a twelve-foot high replacement crucifix for a Sally Army hall in Whitstable on the Kent coast. (Whitstable is quite nice by the way – good for oysters I believe). I was bored. I had been out all night and frankly, I felt terrible. It was one of those days when, you know, you somehow how manage to get in to work because you have to and you need the money and if you miss another day it’s over and you keep telling yourself: ‘just get through this, get through this, then we can get home and get straight into bed and everything’s going to be alright’.
I was nodding off and I couldn’t focus. I mean it's not that hard to design a cross right? I mean all the work’s already been done for you hasn’t it? Well, I was making a terrible pig’s ear of it and I could sense the combination of concern and puzzlement / distaste of the other people who were around. (Thankfully, the one Christian present was being very nice to me.)
Anyway, there I was doodling over this crucifix and thinking about the cross in St. Joseph’s when I was small and thinking about my mother (ex-nun) and wondering ‘where did it all go wrong?’ when the phone rang and it was for me:
‘Stephen, will you be my Jesus?”
“Will you be my Jesus?”
This was said in a heavily accented French female voice which, although I don’t know how to represent in writing, was unmistakeably that of Sophie Seashell, manager of the crazed castrati band The Tiger Lillies, an old friend of mine and, at that time, co-founder of the wonderful art-cabaret club ‘Nux Vomica’.
Apparently, there was a Nux Vomica show on that very evening and Sophie had decided to do a ‘piece’ around Mary Magdalene. She needed some extras. She had somebody who was going to play the Devil and was calling to see if I would take the part of the Son of God. Having had a very strict Catholic upbringing, I was understandably rather superstitious about it…and then there was the matter of the hangover and that promised early night in. I refused. Point blank. And I felt proud.
But anyway, you know how it is. The day goes on. You go out for lunch, wander round Soho a bit, think about life, come back to work, think: ‘I can’t fucking stand doing this for much longer”, the Ibuprofen and the metabolism kick in a bit and you start to feel just a bit perkier. The prospect of an early night now seems rather depressing. Everyone else will be out having fun, you're only young once, you are becoming bourgeoisie, what about Dylan Thomas? etc., etc..
So, I rang Sophie back:
‘Ok, I’ll do it”…
Four hours later, I entered an upstairs room in a pub in Islington and was directed to the ‘dressing room’. This, I kid you not, was the size of a saloon car. Already in it were Sophie, who was wearing nothing but three carefully placed seashells, and a friend of hers' who was wearing nothing but a pair of horns (and a grin). Sophie introduced us:
‘Stephen this is Jacques”
‘Er, oh, hello’
I wasn’t quite sure what to shake.