1981: Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks

Last weekend my husband and I described a dystopian scene to our daughter. A world where Disney Junior did not exist, there were only three television channels and I spent Saturdays prostrate on the living room floor watching Dickie Davies’ World of Sport with my Nan. Romilly looked at me as though I’d shat on her Buzz Lightyear (nothing compared to her face when I YouTubed it and showed her two colossal men with diametrically opposed hair growth in spandex bouncing off each other), but to me it’s one of the things I remember most fondly about my childhood.

I know that I rattle on about my wonderful late Nan a lot, but there’s a bloody good reason for it. She’d never tolerate a fuckwit, had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known and a line in swears and projectiles that I can only aspire to. Those afternoons of sitting by the gas fire under a fug of Embassy No.1 were hilarious, warm, comforting and safe. I sat at the foot of the family matriarch, munching crisps, swatting away various rescued animals and consequently was taught some of my most important life’s lessons. The most valuable one was this:

An arsehole is an arsehole.

There aren’t Fifty Shades of Arsehole. They can be identified quite easily:

  • They tell lies.
  • They treat people disrespectfully.
  • They bully.
  • They cause intentional pain.

Now think about that for a minute. And think about how many people you can apply all those unpleasantries to. Shocking innit? Because they’re EVERYWHERE. You might be an arsehole. I know I am. Arseholeness has no sex, colour, nationality or…religion.

Most of us aren’t all of these things all of the time. But we can all think of someone who is. In my case the Catholic Church is my lying, disrespectful hurtful bully. For others I know, members of this church also caused them inconceivable levels of intentional pain.

I went to Catholic School from the age of five to nineteen. I met and befriended remarkable people that I will continue to adore for the rest of my life. But I know that we are also joined by an unseeable bond of shared frightening experiences. An environment that taught us that women were worthless, set child against child and used the fear of god as a smokescreen for everything and a reason for us to stay quiet.

I’m not about to give detailed case studies. Many of these examples are not my stories to tell, but I am happy to discuss any of them with anyone who has the time and frankly the sheer fucking stomach. It’s not for the faint hearted.

  • Teenage girls being openly called bitches by male teachers.
  • The hounding, bullying and mistreatment of teenage girls by pro-life teachers based on gossip.
  • Teaching staff referring (in casual parlance) to a 17 year old girl who chose a termination as a ‘murderer’ and encouraging pupils to do the same.
  • Lies told to known volatile parents by ‘school psychologists’ (Nuns) about non-existent sexual activity between pupils in order to bring their wrath.
  • 13 and 14 year olds being locked in a room and shown graphic videos of late-term abortion and foetus incineration.
  • Unruly children being locked in store cupboards.
  • Sexual and physical abuse of children.

I could go on. And on. And on. And on. And on…

I just don’t understand.

At the end of this week I will have lived on this earth for 38 years and the more I know, I’m no closer to understanding why these people did the things they did in the name of the Catholic Church. Teachers, priests, nuns…and I break my heart for the poor parents who genuinely believed that these people represented the best possible option for their children’s future.

I was so lucky to be female. Not a statement I repeated after the age of 12, where my dreams were shattered by an institution that holds every vagina-owner in the universe responsible for the death of John the Baptist. But at least I was never eligible to be an altar boy.

The legend of my grandmother will live on because she acerbically skinned the liars, bullies and cro-magnon cunts who spent their days elevating themselves through the pain of others. Whilst at the same time she opened her home, protecting those who had already been through life’s thresher and fallen out the other side raw, bruised, confused, frightened and unprotected. She had limited dealings with Proper Catholics, but was never afraid of them, preferring to regard them with a mocking contempt that I attempt and fail to emulate. I walked away from the car crash of Catholic schooling physically (if not mentally) intact. By regarding the institution with anything less than absolute repulsion, I would be disrespecting those who weren’t so lucky. Nan had an absolute knack for pairing swears with situations, but in this case she wasn’t equipped with all the facts. These people weren’t and aren’t arseholes. They are inhuman villains.

They are scum.

They are monsters.

Because of these people I don’t believe in god, but I believe that the devil walks among us. My daughter isn’t allowed within a country mile of any institution that preaches inequality, vilifies women and turns a blind eye to sickening abuses of power. And just like my grandmother, I’m sat on the couch cuddling my little girl tight and trying my best to teach her how to identify both arseholes AND villains at fifty paces. And in between we watch people falling over stuff on the Idiot Box because laughing at the daft shit that humans do never gets old.


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