Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

For a brief and magical interlude it was like watching Shakespeare scratching furiously away at a manuscript; or the light of discovery dawning in the eyes of Archimedes; or Michelangelo applying the final coat to a ceiling; or Stan Tablets throwing an abusive schoolgirl off a balcony. What I mean to say is that it was a far more fulfilling experience than observing mere run-of-the-mill, everyday genius at work, and it inspired not only the standard sort of awe, but also that rare sense of witnessing history in the making, of actually being there, and I felt both humbled and privileged, and more than a little susceptible to the temptations of hyperbole.

It's difficult to convey adequately the sheer joy of knocking off early and shutting up shop for the long Bank Holiday weekend, gratefully casting from the mind all thoughts of the lame ducks and lunatics of the parish, and looking forward to a few precious days of rest in which to commemorate the magnificent achievements of Messrs. Pilate and Iscariot with a few glasses of beer and a plate of roast potatoes. With hindsight, perhaps it was the feeling of calm repose and blissful tranquillity brought on by the impending break, coupled with the drowsiness induced by the generous portions served in the St. Bernard's canteen, or it could have been one of those pills I'd nicked off that patient, but as I sat in the messroom that afternoon, it was as though a divine aura had descended, and all at once I felt myself to be in the presence of something supernatural and miraculous, and was indeed on the verge of telephoning His Holiness with the news when the spell was abruptly broken and normal life allowed to resume.

I was watching Albert Harness in the act of thinking. He lay totally at rest, reclining on the sofa, his eyes closed, their lids flickering almost imperceptibly, his lips moving slightly as though silently articulating the ideas which were forming there and then, before my very eyes, somewhere in the unfathomable depths of that gargantuan mind. I pictured the cogs and wheels of a huge and impossibly complex calculating engine noiselessly turning, digesting, processing, designing, constructing, and I wondered how a brain so massively fertile could be contained in but one fragile human skull. His lips parted slightly as if about to speak, and I awaited the inevitable words of wisdom with bated breath, excited, taut to an excruciating pitch, like a small and rather simple child on Christmas Eve. I knew with the absolute certainty of the unquestioning believer that my life was somehow about to change for ever, and I felt I ought to be making a humble gesture of faith and penance, like washing the feet of a tramp.

And then Albert inhaled sharply and produced from the back of his throat a noise exactly like the protestation of an asthmatic pig upon snaring its testicles on a barbed wire fence, before settling into an unbelievably loud and rhythmical snorting that rattled the cups on the shelf and provoked a swift retaliatory barrage of divers missiles and verbal abuse from the assembled ambulancemen who were trying to take a peaceful snooze after lunch.

I thought of pedestals and idols and feet of clay, and with perhaps greater force than was strictly necessary hurled a No. 3 dressing at his face.