Saturday, February 9, 2008

Attack of the black-eye telescopes

I was in the lift a few days ago - going out to lunch - when a man got on who looked like the victim of a practical joke. He had a large black smear on his forehead, it looked like the sort of stain you might get from wiping your brow after replacing a laser printer toner cartridge. It also made me think of my old comics in which every issue always had a story that included some humourous japes with a black-eye telescope

I stood there looking at this poor unfortunate, about to step out into busy Manhattan not realising he'd smeared toner on himself.

"An American would tell him", I said to myself, "they would say, 'Excuse me, you have a mark' and he would thank them. Because he's in a lift with an Englishman that won't happen."

"If I told him, I would be taking a step towards one of the American traits I find admirable", I thought. Then I did nothing for a bit and we reached the ground floor and went our separate ways.

Five minutes later I saw a woman with a grey cross smeared on her forehead. Then a few minutes later two more people with grey/black blobs. My keen mind began to sense a pattern. By the end of the day I'd counted more than 20 similarly daubed faces.

It turns out that on Ash Wednesday Christians smear ash on their foreheads. I never knew that. Looking back, I can't recall ever noticing anyone do that in the UK. I've never seen it mentioned on British TV or news, it is completely new to me. This suggests either it rarely happens in Britain or I am woefully unobservant. I'm putting it down to the practicing nature of American Christians, compared with their British counterparts. English Christians (and by that I mean the people who when asked what religion they are, respond, "Church of England") mostly see their religion as something inherent within them. Something they were born with, like their pancreas. They don't really know what it's for, they don't think about it more than twice a year, but they know it's inside them somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. Oddly enough I noticed this exact same phenomenon when I too was visiting a country for the first time on the day that turned out to be Ash Wednesday.

    I had never seen it before either.

    I first spotted the dirty mark on an Old Woman. We (the Old Woman and I) were in Belfast - though we were not there together. I was in transit with a multi-millionaire, and I assumed she was a tramp.

    She may well have been a tramp but the mark in question was not grubbiness more a religious daub. This became clear as I passed by an elderly coupe similarly smeared with dirt and carrying a wicker shopping basket together. Next down this busy street there came a few more, and then, as we rounded the corner, we discovered the source: a church, and outside it - another couple of hundred mucked-up Emperors. I started calling them Emperors because they struck me as a herd of deluded sheep. Like the Emperor in the fable - they were walking around in public looking ridiculous and no one thought to laugh at them. It crossed my mind to stand there and start pointing – like the hijacked driver in Raising Arizona “Son – you got a panty on your head…”

    I was about to commence my metaphorical disrobing when I suddenly thought about all those frustrated knee-cappers with nothing to do now the Troubles are over. I decided that statistically there must be one or two amongst this crowd of devout ash heads. As I looked at the menacing throng of religious fundamentalists I thought I saw the telltale bulge of an electric power drill under the jacket of more than a few.

    Despite there being no obvious place for them to plug-in, my resolve was fatally weakened and I stooped for a cigarette butt and wiped the stub on my forehead.

    As Scott Adams has observed – Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into Jet Engines. Better that they continue their silliness and I continue to benefit from limbs that bend in the middle.

    Strange that we should both be thus enlightened on the opposite sides of the same sea on the same day.