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Fathers, I have sinned

I graced the PTA with my presence last night, a rare occasion for me and, I'm sure, a big surprise for them. The alternatives were to dye my greying hair, (thanks to Nice N' Easy for masking the ravages of time), or join Himself at a rugby quiz night.

The PTA had a more cerebral focus - the content of the sandwiches at the next social event or the identity of Miss Murray's new boyfriend. Some thought he was a professional footballer, others reckoned they had seen him in an "art film".

The good members had decided to hold a Halloween disco for the Primary 7s and use the hall decoration for a parents' disco later the same evening. I expressed my concern over the appropriateness of this, given our status as a beacon of True Faith and Enlightenment. I was met with a stony silence from the assembled throng. I felt a migraine coming on.

Suddenly, the prospect of the rugby quiz seemed attractive. As the debate deteriorated into a discussion of witches, vampires, demons and ghouls, I made my excuses and left. Twenty minutes later, and I was relaxing on the settee sipping a glass of G and T and trying to catch up with the recording of Corrie.

Himself arrived home full of Guinness and self-congratulatory smugness. I bet the tie-breaker was to guess the number of pigs in the story of The Three Little Pigs. I feigned fatigue and quickly dozed off.

I remember the phone ringing. It was about 12.15am and it was Aileen. I remember various words such as "decided", "cancel" and "something else", before I rejoined the half-finished dream of my weekend away with Brad Pitt. I don't know why Brad wanted to go to Dunoon, but then a dream is a dream.

A few days later, Aileen left me two tickets for what was called the "PTA autumn fundraiser". Himself was duly bribed to make an appearance as my consort, and we thought nothing more of it.

Father McGregor was going to be there and he was bringing the new diocesan education adviser. Community involvement and social inclusion had reached the dusty pews of the local church, and parental participation was seen as a good thing, provided they did as they were told.

Himself insisted on a pre-event anaesthetic at the rugby club, and we duly arrived at the school some 20 minutes late. As I went into my room, to leave my coat, I bumped into Father McGregor. He was engaged in animated conversation with three other clergymen. Obviously the Bishop's men were out in force.

They were certainly young and enthusiastic, and the discussion revealed a sound knowledge of the real world. The good Father was enjoying the craic and the company. He seemed to have some difficulty in following their train of thought and lines of conversation. He whispered to me: "Bridget, who is this Britney Spears character? Father Thomas seems obsessed by her."

I knew priests were sociable, but it was unusual to see such a rapid consumption of alcohol and so many men of the cloth with a detailed knowledge of the rap scene. Father McGregor was waiting for the education adviser to arrive. He admitted he hadn't been aware that other priests were coming, and certainly hadn't met them before.

I could hear the disco blaring in the hall, and the autumn fundraiser was obviously in full swing. As we went down the corridor, we bumped into four more priests. My heart started to thump. A voice shrilled down from the entrance, "Hello Father, am I too late?" It was the diocesan adviser, 80 if she was a day. I remember seeing someone like her on the cover of a Woman's Weekly in a dentist's surgery in 1956. She had the complete works - twinset, pearls, Nora Batty stockings and Miss Marple's hat. "It's nice to see so many young men joining the Church, Father. This way, gentlemen." She ushered in another six priests, but only before they had extinguished their cigarettes and adjusted their cassocks.

Himself had released the effects of the three pints of Guinness, and took me aside. The boys' toilets were full of priests. What was going on?

Jim the Jannie came up the corridor, reeking of aftershave and After-Shock.

He was obviously enjoying the evening. I pinned him to the wall, hoping he would not misinterpret the gesture.

"What the hell's going on in my school!" I rasped through gritted teeth.

Jim explained the exact nature of Aileen's "something else", the alternative event to the Halloween disco. The idiots had only arranged a tarts and vicars party.

There was divine intervention when the entire neighbourhood was plunged into darkness and the event was cancelled. To this day, only Jim and I know the cause of the biggest power cut ever seen in the area.

Bridget McElroy

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