You can’t call yourself a Catholic until you’ve wondered why people have so much to say about silence.

God shares the doona

by Michael McGirr

It has been a difficult week for the sacred institution of marriage.

In the small town of Inner Springs, many wives awoke in the middle of the night to find they had the bed to themselves. Their menfolk had left. They had gone off in pursuit of courage, stamina and athletic prowess, even if it wasn’t their own. Their search could have taken them to the end of the earth but mostly it only took them as far as the TV where they had to ask themselves the difficult question: was 2am too late for a coffee or too early for a beer?

Meanwhile, their wives were realising that they didn’t at all mind being on their own in the bed for a while. No snoring. No rumblings of a dark and distant anatomy. No greenhouse gas emissions to contribute to environmental warming.

If anything, the women were disappointed that the soccer was over so soon. A number of them have decided to lobby FIFA for extra extra time and longer penalty shoot-outs. Injury time, they claim, should be based not on the length a game is disrupted by an accident but on the time it takes a player to make a full and complete recovery. If Harry Kewell’s groin flares up again, a condition of which several women said they would like to see more extensive coverage, then the game should be extended for six weeks or so until the groin is restored to its customary vigour. God knows, it’s not as if the players have anything else to do.

The women of Inner Springs have sought assurances from state and federal governments to the effect that, if Australia goes ahead with its bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, then the organisers must ensure that the games are still held at ungodly hours.

The whole point of the World Cup is to allow the disinterested partner a decent night’s sleep. Both the Homebush Stadium and the MCG have lights, so there is no reason the final can’t be held at 2am.

Frieda Bird is one of the chief advocates. Her husband, ‘Thunder’, has refused to fix their roof for 10 years, saying that it was only a problem when it rained and it only ever rained when they went camping, in which case they weren’t under the roof anyway. Besides, there was a drought on and he couldn’t afford such luxuries as a roof.

But Thunder had no hesitation going out and buying a new Plasma Screen TV to watch the World Cup. The screen was the size of a small soccer field; it was so big that it couldn’t fit through the door. Thunder had to strip off the corrugated iron from his roof and lower it in that way. When he replaced the roof, it still leaked. But Frieda didn’t mind. She had reached that brief stage in a marriage, between the honeymoon and the funeral, when she didn’t mind if her nearest was not always so near.

‘Thunder’ got his nickname not because his digestive system was more eloquent than his mouth, although this is a fact. His stomach has a rich and evocative vocabulary whereas the man himself struggles to make it to the end of a monosyllable.

Thunder really got his name because he was Frieda’s second husband. Her first husband was called Lightning and everyone knew that Thunder follows Lightning. Lightning, in turn, got his name because he never struck in the same place twice. He was a carpenter during the week and a golfer on the weekend, filling neither occupation with distinction.

There is sympathy around town for Frieda Bird. Both Thunder and Lightning are heavy weather. So people nod in agreement when Frieda says that her idea of a perfect world is one in which we had the World Cup every year and Christmas every four years. She says that Jesus would understand. Jesus never went shopping.

Of course, there is good news for the institution of marriage as well.

Many former seminarians looked on in amazement as Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban tied the knot in what used to be the chapel of what used to be the seminary perched on a cliff top at Manly in Sydney. The seminarians recall that this place was designed and built with the express purpose of discouraging marriage; some of them had sat in it for years without so much as a single romantic thought. The chapel was always so cold that people who knew it wondered why the seminary bothered to put a fridge in the kitchen nearby. But Nicole and Keith have now been married for four days without any sign of a rift, so things must be fine for the circulation of New Idea.

But it is curious that, just as the women of Inner Springs were getting used to the idea of a bed of one’s own, the ABC announces that its religious program, Compass, is going to concoct a reality TV series in which women will get to live as nuns. It is to be called The Abbey and will be directed by Varcha Sidwell. The men of Inner Springs have been horrified by how many of their wives have applied to take part.

The ABC is generally not popular as it provides no advertisements and hence no real information or entertainment. Inner Springsters are generally willing to put up with a TV program as long as they know they will be rewarded every 10 minutes by news of the latest K Mart specials.

However, the parish priest, Fr Thong, does have some rapport with the ABC, an institution which only has had appointed to its board those people who loathe, detest and vilify it. Likewise, everyone on Fr Thong’s parish council thinks he is a left wing Marxist raving nutter. But it never stops Thong doing just what he likes. If anything, he needs the publicity. He believes it is better for the folk in the pub to think he is a communist than not to think of him at all.

Geraldine Doogue, presenter of the Compass program, is the patroness of the Inner Springs orienteering club. So news rapidly spread of this new undertaking, The Abbey. First to apply was Mrs Ruby Thong, Fr Thong’s estranged wife. Thong, as locals know, left the priesthood, married, got annulled then rejoined the priesthood, all in the same Lent.

Ruby is now the branch secretary of the support group, FWFP, Former Wives of Former Priests, a group that offers guidance and counselling to women receiving offers of marriage from used-to-be clergy. Its main political agenda is the preservation of the rule of priestly celibacy in order to spare other women the hardship of marriage to a former priest. It campaigns for women to be wary of STD’s, Sexually Transmitted Dogmas.

But apart from Ruby, dozens more women have been attracted to the idea of a month in a convent on reality TV. It’s a bit like God, who goes into hiding in order to be everywhere. Here, participants will go into seclusion and be famous as result. Big Brother without the shower scenes.

The makers of the documentary series were faced with the dilemma, however, that if they took all the testosterone out of the Big Brother format, by only having women involved, there would be a danger that some real conversation between participants might ensue. Real conversation would be death for reality TV. The problem was solved by placing the women into a silent monastery. So they won’t have to talk at all. The project will not need to budget for scriptwriters. Plus, the participants will have to get up at 4.30am.

‘That sounds like a sleep in to me,’ said Frieda Bird.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Shallots has been musing on what Jesus would be like as a soccer coach.

‘Guus Hiddink did well with Australia,’ says the kindly cardinal. ‘But Jesus could have taken East Timor to the final where they would have defeated Indonesia. I say he could have. Easily. But he would have chosen not to. Because he would have told the players not to believe in themselves. It would have been a bigger challenge too.’



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