Sunday, 26 September 2010

Talking to God on the big white phone

I was intrigued yesterday by an art installation outside Ramsey Methodist Centre (it’s actually just a church, but they rebranded it ‘centre’ in an attempt to suggest some community relevance a few years back).
Well, I think it must be an art installation, because it has a touch of the Tracy Emin about it. On the other hand, as ‘proper’ Manx artists tend towards either (a) insipid oil or watercolours which suggest more than a passing acquaintance with the art therapy room at a long term mental institution or ( b) cack-handed ‘explorations’ of ‘Manx identity’ which get easy heritage money it can’t be their work. I would happily recommend this piece for an arts council grant, but it’s far too interesting and professionally executed.
So, the ‘installation’ is placed just outside the church within the yard and consists of a white toilet inside a little shed with the door open, facing the street. It has notices on the roof and sides, but as you’d have to enter the yard to read them I don’t know what they said.
As I mentioned recently (‘All Over Bar The Touting’) it’s Back To Church Sunday today, and the Methodists decided to throw their house open for the entire weekend, with little flyers distributed to all the local houses. The installation, I suppose, was meant to draw folk into the church for their display yesterday, but as even whimsical humour couldn’t get this family through their doors I’ll just have to pass on the ‘real’ explanation and wonder instead.
My first reaction was, is it a cruel teetotal reference to the euphemism ‘Talking to God on the big white phone’?
For those who lack imagination (or have no memory of Freshers Week at university) that refers to the moment when a hopeless drunk is on his or her knees in front of a pebbledashed toilet bowl, having regurgitated several meals he or she has no memory of eating, moaning “Oh God”.
But, on a Saturday night, how crazy would you have to be to leave a toilet in plain view on your property if it lies the opposite side of the road to a major pub with a bus-stop outside it?
Or was it just a bizarre attempt to cash in on the unwitting public service offered by one of the town’s odder cults, also close to that pub?
The thing is, the alleyway on the side of the pub offers faster relief to the weak of bladder than queuing for the pub toilet. Patrons of a charity shop housed there are already asked not to leave donations in bags overnight outside the shop.
The doorway of a small church at the end of the alleyway isn’t an obvious makeshift toilet, partly because it is at the crossroads of busy walkways joining local streets, partly because the bloke in the house facing it breeds Rottweillers. On the other hand, the back of the church is more sheltered, and must see far more congregants around Friday or Saturday midnight than the inside ever sees during Sunday opening hours.
Who says churches cannot offer a valuable public service to those in desperate need?

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