MICHAEL WOLSEY: The holy show where angels fear to tread
This is a Nativity story. It is not my story and I must admit that the man who told it to me is prone to exaggeration. But so, I suspect, were Matthew and Luke who gave us the original. No doubt there’s a core of truth to all their tales.
Since I would like my friend to remain my friend, I will change a few names. Let us call him Jack; so his wife must be Jill. In the interests of symmetry I will name their daughter Phil and the school Colm Cill.
It is a very good school and Jack and Jill had to pull a lot of strings to get young Phil on its exclusive roll.
They also have to behave as good Colm Cill parents do by helping out with fund-raisers, turning up for school events and so on. Which explains why Jack was now seated two in from the right, three rows from the front, at the junior Nativity play, the nearest he has come to a religious experience in many a long year.
He was a bit surprised to find both Mary and Joseph dressed in jeans and t-shirts and to discover they were heading for Bethlehem in a car with engine problems. He was more surprised still to learn that the cause of their journey was broadband failure which had prevented them from paying their taxes online and forced them to the Revenue office instead.
Even with his limited recollection of the story, Jack sensed this was not entirely orthodox. He checked in a whisper with Jill but got no answer. She was in a bad mood because of the disgraceful treatment that had been meted out to their daughter.
Phil had been in line for the role of Mary but had got into a vicious argument with the other main contender and their teacher, let’s call her Miss Herod, had demoted them both to the ranks of the angels, the Nativity equivalent of the chorus line.
Phil had been distraught and her despair was not eased by the news that the other girl’s parents had bought their daughter a fancy tablet in a pink case as consolation for missing out on the leading role, an act of generosity Jack and Jill had neither the cash nor the desire to replicate.
The season of goodwill was off to a very poor start. But Phil had brightened up considerably on learning that the angels were the only members of the cast not confined to jeans and t-shirts. They were allowed wings, and Jill, seizing the opportunity to snatch triumph from disaster – and get one up on Little Miss Tablet – had made Phil a magnificent pair from silk cloth and gold foil.
But the play’s the thing, so back to it. Mary and Joseph had reached Bethlehem to find there was no room at the inn – the Holiday Inn, that is. Joseph had no luck either with Travelodge or any of the other budget hotels he checked on his smart phone app.
The couple looked set for a night in a cheap B&B but Jack never found out what happened there because a fight broke out backstage between the two would-be leading ladies.
The other angels joined in and the row spilled onto the stage. A horrified Miss Herod rushed to break it up but succeeded only in breaking off one of Phil’s beautiful wings.
The child burst into tears, jumped down from the stage and ran towards her parents. Jill, sharing the anguish, made to embrace her daughter but the hug missed its target and she broke off the other wing.
Phil, both wings clipped, stood aghast and issued an oath as inappropriate to an eight-year-old as it was to an Angel of the Lord.
“Hush!’’ said Jill. “Shush!’’ said Miss Herod. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’’ said Jack.
“Well we know where she gets it from,’’ hissed Jill, as the three beat a hasty retreat from the school hall.
“The flight into Egypt,’’ I said, and, for the first time in all the telling of this wondrous winter’s tale, Jack looked puzzled.
“What’s Egypt got to do with it?’’ he asked. “Things are complicated enough without bringing Egypt into it.’’