Monday, December 28, 2009


My mother was from a family of Methodists - a religious sect who practice a very dour version of Christianity - they don't like alcohol, gambling or ostentatious decoration. Even their churches look like sheds. My mother wasn't the best Methodist in her congregation. She'd learn her passages from the Golden Book on the bus on the way to church, and her uncle once remarked to her "Our Marianne, you're always last in and first out". Well, it was the 1960s, and she was too busy growing her hair long and wearing a bell. Fortunately, once she left home (marrying a 25 stone hippy with no prospects - my Dad - hurrah!), she stopped going to church altogether (Dad was avowedly atheist anyway, having been brought up Catholic).

But even if you renounce a religion, it's difficult to fully scrub away the stain, and mother brought up her children as Methodists - just without God and the Church having any involvement. So there was never any alcohol in our hygenically scrubbed home (apart from Harvey's Bristol Cream making an appearance at Christmas in thimble sized glasses and strictly for the over 18s). Boasting or what's now approvingly called "self-promotion", was seen as the worst crime ever, and Dad gave us regular sermons about the dangers of getting addicted to slot machines, often illustrated with real-life "Bella-magazine" type stories from his own workplace. The whole family looked down on everyone else in the street, especially those who gave their children crisps for dinner and spent Saturday nights and their Family Allowance at "the Catholic Club" (I never saw inside it, but in my mind it resembles an especially debauched scene from an Hieronymus Bosch drawing).

So we were not Methodists, but we may as well have been. Even now, my sister and I hiss "Methodism!" at each other, when we reveal tales of crazy behaviour that can be traced back to our upbringing. And my fella shakes an imaginary tamborine at me almost daily as a means of mocking my annoying self-righteousness. Our trace-Methodism manifests itself in a blind terror and disgust of gambling (I've never bought a lottery ticket and never will), abstinence and moderation, a Polly Toynbee desire for social equality, yet a rather sneering judgementalism of everyone (which I'm sure you're too polite to say you've noticed). We even hate fireworks - which committ two sins in our Methodist eyes - being both showy and dangerous.

I don't believe in God, but if there is one, I think he's keeping a very close eye on me. Every time that I stray, even slightly from the straight and narrow, I am instantly caught and reprimanded - in a way that makes me feel that I live in the Truman Show. The one time that I played truant from school - I chose to eschew P.E. and instead hang around outside Asda, both of my parents spotted me, separately from each other, within 10 minutes. Co-incidence conspired to place all three members of the same family in exactly the same place at the same time. Last year, one quiet Sunday morning, I decided to take a short cut through town and drive my car the wrong way down a one-way street. Within seconds, I was stopped by a policeman on a bicycle who pulled me over and explained my error to me. I have never seen a policeman on a bicycle before or since. Another time in my youth, I got into a fight on a train - and was lucky enough to have the whole incident witnessed by an off-duty police-lady, who flashed me her badge. I can't think of any other "crimes" I have committed - I know there's no point. But I do know that if I ever need police assistance, I should carry out some minor offence like public urination, because I will immediately be surrounded at gun-point by 20 of them.

It doesn't just extend to the law. I was teetotal for 12 years because my body decided of its own accord to reject alcohol. I never figured out why, but drinking half a bottle of red wine would put me in hospital with agonising kidney pains. It's like my kidneys are possessed by the ghosts of my Methodist great-grandparents. It's finally abated and I can have the "odd" drink - but again, it's more like the occasional glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream. I will never have that popular noughties career - binge drinker. And I remain miserably thin - thanks to decades of sensible eating and regular exercise. Last night, it being Christmas, and the house being full of what my parents call "ket" (sugary calorific food with no nutritional value), I binge-ate for the first time in my life. I had a beef stew, then a Christmas pudding, then some orange juice, then some hommous and bread, then some Cadbury's Heroes, then some raisins, then some petit fours. I watched episode 10 of Dollhouse and fell alseep.

But at 1 in the morning I woke up to gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, which had become bloated and ugly. I was apparently experiencing the effects of gluttony, and I spent the night, bent-over, yelling and incoherent. My long-suffering fella put an episode of Desert Island Disks on Iplayer (David Tennant) and we listened to that, until the 10th Doctor's inexhaustible list of bland 1980s Scottish pop stars put us both to sleep, at sometime around 3.30. So I can add over-eating to the list of things I shouldn't do, lest I be instantly and severely punished. Methodism!

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