The Priest And The Prostitute



Many years ago I had a small computer company and one Sunday afternoon I went down Manchester city centre pushing sales leaflets through letter boxes. The business district with all its tall sky-scrapers and offices was strangely quiet. It put me in mind of the time when shops had to close by law on Sundays. As a boy I remember going down Manchester to collect my grandad from the train station and the city centre seemed almost deserted except for pigeons and echoes. Now sacred Sundays are as busy as Saturdays.


I walked up through Piccadilly Gardens and saw the polarity of rich and poor: expensively-dressed people were passing tramps and dropouts who were hogging a soup van. It was winter and members of The Salvation Army were tending to people dripping bread rolls in their soup. I can remember one tramp had a spine so acutely bent he was shaped like a boomerang.


A priest was helping out and I had a bit of a chat with him. He said volunteers took the soup van into the city centre twice a week and occasionally he joined them. I always feel uncomfortable around clergymen - Iím sure they can see into my mind and that landscape of sin, depravity and blood-dripping whipping dungeons. He was a friendly chap who seemed too young to carry the responsibilities a dog collar brings. He said he visited prisons to warn of the evils of drugs, visited pubs to discourage drinking and red light districts to discourage prostitutes from the darkened path they had fallen upon.

Anyway I went down a few more streets shoving envelopes through doorways. An hour later I was heading up through the rabbit warren of streets behind the Britannia Hotel. I didnít feel safe and wanted get back to the my parentís car parked on Back China Lane. This area, near Chorlton Street Bus Station, is well known for lingering prostitutes and there were some bobbing about in doorways. They scared me.


Suddenly a priest stepped down from the steps of a doorway, the canopy of his coat blowing in the wind theatrically. I had to look twice: he was the priest I had spoken with in Piccadilly Gardens. No doubt trying to guide a woman away from the dark path she was treading. I can still see in my mindís eyes the contrast of priest and prostitute as they occupied the same broad concrete step. It cut a groove in my mind as in my diary on 26th November 1989 I wrote, ďSaw pros and vicar talking, def not Ďnormal peopleí going to a Tarts And Vicars fancy dress party. Just wanted to get back home.Ē


Iím not sure if it prompted this small simple painting - probably. Its only a small canvas and I did it in muted shades in two or three sittings. I don't know where the corridor and doors came from but I put in light cast from right to left to highlight the two figures. I took a wee dab of white and painted a collar on him. I tried to get the purple shade of his shirt right. - some priests seem to wear purple ones.


I spent about 5% of time and effort on the walls and carpet and 95% on the two figures. I like painting shadows.


Once I saw a priest walking a greyhound and took a photo (shown here.)  I had just found the flat where Ava Gardner died (if youíre interested: 34, Ennismore Gardens near Hyde Park in London.) Before my camera lense retracted I saw him and realised I had never seen a priest with a greyhound before. I managed to take a photo. I have seen a nun driving a white Golf GTI but I have never seen a midget up a ladder.


In the painting I put a cigarette in the priestís fingers. When I was a boy I was pretty naive. I was surprised when I saw a vicar smoking in the street (didnít they were allowed such vices.) I remember going to see a play my sisterís all-girls school; I canít remember the play - all I remember is that the headmistress was smoking a black cigar - shocking stuff! Yes, I was pretty naive - I used to think couples could only marry if the man was older/taller than the woman, you only died after age 70, thunder came from clouds banging together, if you swallowed an apple seed a branch would starting growing from your brain, you could easily stab yourself to death if you carried scissors down some steep stairs and took a tumble. Better not mention any more.


I didnít know the difference between a vicar and a priest. I asked Jeeves who said a priest does mass as transfiguration/communion and a vicar does a service in remembrance only. Can you trust the internet with anything? I put in a symptom and found I probably had 4 fatal illnesses and would probably not be alive by Christmas.