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Always God for a Laugh
Neil Marr

It's hot on the French Rivera in summer ... hot as hell.

Vacationing WASPS fly home looking like Grace Jones and Bill Cosby.

We've got topless beaches, jet-ski rides to Monte Carlo, circuses, street entertainers and the swishest al fresco restaurants and open air nightclubs in the world. There's even a swim-in cinema down at the beach. Honest!

Pretty young private nurses will come to your villa or hotel suite to rub soothing oils into your sun-blistered skin. This is the millionaire's playpen.

But the best fun and value-for-money home entertainment has got to be God's Goon Show. And it's a home delivery service.

For years, stray members this troupe of crazy Christians would visit the shady terrace of my home to remove their blazers and loosen the perfectly-knotted neckties they wore even in 110 degrees of heat (these people wear ties religiously).

They placed heavy black bibles on a table shadowed by a parasol, sipped iced tea or mineral water and fanned themselves, like fat ladies at a revivalist meeting, with the leaflets they always brought along (presumable for that purpose as they are seldom read) ... and then they'd do a turn just for me. Me and my cat.

Word soon got around that my terrace was an easy touch for an hour's respite from the sun and free kiddy drinks. I began to wonder if - like professional tramps - the godly visitors had chalked some secret welcome sign on my gate.

They were a delight, and - like all cuckoos - heralded spring. They were as entertaining as any of the army of other busking bonzos who invade St Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo and Menton in the midday sun.

They so loved my chilled tea and biscuits that I was promised everything from wings and a free harp to sex with a pretty, blonde-haired angel in God's heavenly house of fun. And I was never short of leaflets to fan myself with.

Never did I discover the migratory route the troupe - mostly American, British or Dutch - followed when the tourist season ended in September.

I did find out a few other things, though. I found that most had read nothing but the James VI bible and that few had even read that properly - just the passages marked by yellow post-it slips between the pages. I found how they financed their long vacations in the earthly paradise of the rich, famous and gullible. I found not a one of the heavenly-minded had been any earthly good: they all seemed to have discovered their God through failure; psychosis, drug abuse, alcoholism, disasters in love or crime.

I found their silly attempts at conversation bored my cat (whose sense of humour was not as finely tuned as my own). I found that - unlike the other Riviera buskers - they weren't too good at their jobs. Lousy celestial salesman. They looked funny enough, dressed as FBI men in a land of sandals and shorts, but they couldn't juggle for toffee.

I also, sadly, found how to take the sunshine out of summer by scaring these Nerds of Paradise away.
There are four commandments to follow if you are to be assured of repeat performances for several seasons from the cast of God's Goon Show:

a) Thou shalt not contradict quotations from their big black books by pointing out the performer's errors in several different translations and original language texts of the Old and New Testaments.

b) Thou shalt not heckle by pointing out contradictory passages they have not got around to reading yet and which might ruffle their immaculately groomed cuckoo feathers.

c) Thou shalt throw a sheet or blanket over the theology, History and Science section of your library before they pass through to the loo. It frightens them to see names like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens ... puts the fear of God into them!

d) Though shalt not invite qualified physicists, physicians, geologists, astronomers, historians or even magicians to share the iced tea.

I made all of these gaffs and have suffered excommunication from the audience of God's Goon Show as a result.

Couldn't help myself and my big mouth. You see, I have studied their various shades of Christian religion for thirty five years, not through devotion to any deity, but more with the fascination of a doctor studying AIDS. He doesn't love or worship AIDS - as interesting as he finds the disease - he studies to trace the origin and evolution of the global malady in search of a cure. (OK, some smart alec will pick me up and say 'Yeah ... but he does believe AIDS exists!' I'd point out that, spelled out fully, the medical term does not refer to existence but to a deficiency thereof - a bit like atheism, really).

Inadvertently, I let let this slip one day, and that was the end of the free show.

The first couple who came to call, a handsome young man and stunning young girl (most probably lapsed virgins until they were forgiven and born again intact), accepted lemonade, showed me their teeth, and asked me when I had last looked in the Good Book.

I was a novice at this stage and did not think to quickly whisk away the stack of bibles on my terrace table. I was researching a book and - in my innocence - I pushed over a wad of papers I'd been working on for some weeks detailing and charting, chapter-and-verse, gaffs in the four gospels and Acts. They finished their pop and left without even telling me which particular God club they belonged to or revealing what was their speciality act.

But I was older and wiser when the second pair arrived for refreshment, and they were much better value. They even extended their run.

I allowed Ian and Mike to talk on and on and kept a poker face. They left me totally fulfilled and with a mountain of literature, which kept me in stitches (and satisfactorily fanned) until their next visitation the following week. It was a hoot. Their parting shot was how Jesus loved me and God had me in his care - "Just look how healthy you are and praise the Lord, they suggested. (I didn't want to spoil their fun by revealing that my wife had leukemia and that I'd suffered five major heart attacks and that surgeons were even then discussing whether my legs should be amputated because of unholy vascular problems. That wouldn't have been cricket).

A week later, they were here again. Mike even accepted a small beer, informing me that Jesus had said: "Take a little wine for thy stomach's sake." I corrected him on his attribution of the quote. What a gaff! There followed the inquisition and I had to confess to having known more about their subject in my teens than they did now. A visit by Ian to the aforementioned loo and past my diabolical collection of specialist books - many written by notorious atheists - sealed my fate. I never saw them again.

Graeme, a canny Scott became so pally he'd call in almost daily on his way from a mountain caravan he'd been given by one of his flock to free lunches in Monaco provided by other sheep (he now lives on a small yacht donated by a millionaire fisherman who moved on to a landlubber hobby).

Graeme had been a hard-bitten businessman who'd failed and, poor as a church mouse, discovered Jesus and how to be an international gigolo at the age of almost seventy. His trips around the world - especially to America - were and are free and first class. He always came back with his sporran well stuffed.

In a gesture of Christian brotherhood and benevolence, Graeme loaned me a huge and special Bible he carried everywhere. "The only book I've ever read," he once told me proudly. He explained that this leather-bound Bible, unlike others, would be enlightening because each chapter and verse contained references which could be checked to overcome all argument.

I was intrigued until I found the references cross-referred only to other chapters within itself. A little like Sherlock Holmes proving his existence by advising you to have Dr Watson vouch for him.

Now Graeme had been visiting my wife and me for three years for meals, drinks and the occasional bed for the night. All it took to have him cancel all future appearances at my home was the mistake I made in pointing out his error when he suggested that my complete collection of Josephus had been written by the husband of the Virgin Mary.

I was also skeptical when he boasted that he could cure cancer by laying his hands on the head of a victim, suggesting that this was just one of the very real dangers of 'faith'.

I've not seen Graeme again either.

A British guy who ran the Southern French and Italian end of a Swiss radio station heard that I'd once worked for the BBC and invited me aboard. He was here time and again, drinking my whisky, beer and wine and telling me all about his family castle in the North of England and how much his Swiss bosses would pay me for half-hour recorded shows.

I was invited to his palatial mountain home in Italy where I heard his station for the first time. Radio Kost, it was called. The religious ranting and raving (mostly recorded in darkest America) was of the finest quality, the music exquisitely dismal; and I stumbled around his studio, banging into things because I was blinded by tears of laughter. He ordered me out - carefully making sure to keep the unopened litre bottle of single malt, books and new video tapes of recently released movies I'd brought along.

Another source of high octane amusement lost and gone forever because I sometimes lose control when exposed to the priceless patter of The Chosen, like a two-year-old being tickled or the Carry On team under the influence of a dentist's laughing gas.

Who writes their scripts? They're so good, even I suspect they're heaven-sent, like the Book of Mormon - the Christian equivalent of the Beano Bumper Book of Fun. I miss these clowns profoundly.

My all-time favourite (I'm ashamed to admit I've forgotten his name but, there again, some folks might even have forgotten George Burns and Bob Hope by now) was an Irishman who'd arrived here to peddle a new sect. He, his wife and his children had been living in a tent and were filthy. My wife and I brought them home for showers, gave them all new clothes, a square meal and money. They returned several times and - in touching repayment - told us all about God's House of Love (the pleasure palace I mentioned earlier).

They gave me a gaudy, ill-drawn poster which showed blonde-coiffed, overly busty and scantily clad angels, lounging at a poolside and, through an arched window, God himself was clearly having a high old time on a canopied bed with one who looked a little like the late Jane Mansfield, only holy. They promised me sex with an angel if I converted and joined the club - oh, and I'd have to die, too.

It was two days later when they left town. That was the day they found out from another member of the comedy team that I was a journalist (God's salesmen never ask about you because they're too busy talking about themselves and Jesus and stuff) and that his sect and his poster had made the front page splash of a major national newspaper in the UK and a two-page feature spread in a big USA magazine.

Last summer was a a crushing disappointment. Not a single missionary muppet has called to brighten my days with any brand of half-baked tomfoolery.

Maybe - again like the tramps - they've scrawled a new secret sign on my gate: "BEWARE OF THE ATHEIST!"

If they're right about where I'm going, though, we're sure to meet again ...

Doubting Thomas on 09/25/2008 10:45

I'm sorry you lost all that entertainment. I'm just glad the God Goons don't visit me like they did you. They have stopped by a few times in the past, but it's been many years since any of them darkened my doorstep.

Photon on 09/26/2008 13:55

Hilarious compilation, Neil! We regularly get godbots at our door as well, but if my wife gets to the door first, she sends them on their way, rather quickly, and there's no opportunity to play with them.

Hypatia on 10/02/2008 03:08

Whatever do you do with your days now Neil since you no longer have such entertaining visitors?

This is one of my favorite of your articles - I believe you posted it on, or perhaps I read it elsewhere.

BTW - I do happen to remember both George Burns and Bob Hope. Now I wonder why I can't remember some of the things I need to remember.

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