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'My First Communion' by 'Dr Feelgood'

I think the only photograph from my childhood where I'm actually smiling is my first Communion photo. If you look closely enough you'll see it was a sneaky knowing kinda smile, a bit like the Mona Lisa's but mine was a tad more brazen than hers.

Believe me that smile was a long time coming. A whole year actually. One whole year of persecution, threats, cajolings, countless decades of countless rosarys and the nightmares! God (forgive me father) had surely never placed so much pressure on one person since Moses on the mount or even that lovely priest Fr Merrick in the Exorcist.

From the minute I sat down in first class I was subjected to sheer torture. Cathecism books, Acts of faith hope and charity, Mass, Sacraments, Plenary indulgences (I'm a cert for wings) mortal sins and Venial sins. The teacher, Sr Dolores took me under her wing (snicker) and had a right go at purging my seemingly blackened soul. We were all born with sin she says and only Baptism (covered) and the sacraments could whiten our souls. So I was her pet project or maybe she got more stripes for taking me on. And I did well too. After six months I could tell you who slew who, where it went down and who kicked ass in every town in Israel. I shoulda been in the PLO I knew so much!

Everything was going fine with just two exceptions - My older brothers Jimmy and Raymond. Both had Cows licks-a kinda strange hair phenomenon caused by a devil cow that came in the night and licked unchristian deviants till their hair sloped backwards permanently. I was ok they said-I knew my Cathecism and would certainly be sin-free when receiving my Holy Communion Wafer and then it was just a matter of swallowing same without touching it with my teeth or Gums or fingers! Suddenly I wanted to be Protestant but I heard they had the same craic and had to wear blue jeans n jumpers for the rest of their lives too.

I kinda confirmed things with my Aunt Rita. “Is it true you cant touch the Communion at any stage Rita” I asked. Her cold glare was answer enough so I started practising on bread. I'd leave a crust on the table and position myself over it. Then I'd open my mouth and kinda suck it in, fish-like until it was resting on my tongue. The problem was it just lay there ,solid, waiting for laceration. So I used smaller pieces of dough and things went well until it stuck to the roof of my mouth! I was mortified. Licking the baby Jesus from the top of your mouth was a big no-no and I still can see Sr Dolores's purple face to this day when I asked her how she did it. “Hell and damnation” she bellowed and I knew then I wasn't getting any sweet for that most intelligent question in class.

The week before the big day I was taken from the football pitch and brought to O'Connors to be measured for my suit. It was a woolly thing with short trousers and a red tie. I looked and felt weird in it and it was bought on the never- never along with slip-on black shiny shoes. By now my brothers had me absolutely terrified. I was a cert for a cows lick and the only way out was to put in a perfect round at the church whilst at the same time maintaining a Daz-white soul between confession and Communion. I'd just have to stay inside and pray or something.

My friends were keeping an even lower profile-they weren't allowed near me by their parents until after the ceremony. So I practised my tongueing and prayed like a devil for earthquakes and stuff. The evening of our confession I was fairly sure I was in Saint mode and just to be sure I said a rake of our fathers and a few acts of contrition. I was a little thrown when the priest put his hand on his head resignedly like during my sin list but I got through it okay and was happy with the three Hail Marys as penance. Obviously robbing gooseberrys wasn't all that big a deal in Heaven.

Sunday came and we paraded from school to the church and took our seats in the front aisles-girls in their white dresses on the left and us boys on the right. In no time at all we were forming queues for Communion and suddenly I was there in front of the Priest, alone, being pushed forward by the throng. “Body of Christ”-I stumbled into the kneeling position-eyes closed a little early but still I was doing fine. I remember the Priest placing something on my tongue and grimacing on my way back lest My teeth touch the wafer being held in place by a now expert tongue. Back in my seat I relaxed and dropped my tongue from the roof of my mouth. I couldn't feel or taste anything! But it had to be there-I felt it-almost tasted it and now it was gone. Frantically I turned to my neighbour and mouthed something incoherent-mindful it might still be in there and might pop out. He just looked at me blankly then continued being pious n stuff. I thought about putting my finger in but daren't risk the ensuing inferno. So I prayed. I must have begged every saint of every denomination for help and lo and behold-it worked. After the Mass I had my friend Terry give my mouth a good examination and he assured me there was nothing there.

We had our Party and done our “amint I nice “routine for all the neighbours and then it was off to the photographers for photos. I had fallen the day before and the photographer was putting a plaster on my knee when he said.” There now master McEvoy, a skint knee is easily hidden-not like those horrible cows licks your brothers had on them when they made their Communion”

The smile was brazen-wry-and a long time coming.