In The Beginning

Entry by: Paul McDermott

15th May 2015
In the Beginning

"In Principio erat Verbum ..."
Thin wisps of incense curled into the dim shadows high above the main altar of St. Oswald's church as Father Duggan chanted the opening words of the Gospel according to John.
The six altarboys knelt ramrod-straight on the lower steps, scarcely daring to breathe for fear of attracting the Parish Priest's attention. He was known to have a short temper, and they were convinced he had an extra Eye hidden on the back of his neck.
Father Duggan reached the final, triumphant Latin phrase of the Gospel. The servers and the packed church responded with impeccable timing, two thousand voices thundering as one:
"Deo gratias"
He turned to face the congregation, and with a voice so clear and vibrant it could have belonged to a man fifty years younger, he intoned the final Blessing:
"I - I - Ite ... mis-sa est ..."
The congregation responded automatically, thanking God for His word and for the fact that their Sunday obligations were now fulfilled for another seven days.

"I wish High Mass started earlier" Paul grumbled to Tom as they completed their allotted chores in the Sacristy. Paul was cleaning out the thurifer he'd carried during the service: Tom was giving the brass cross a thorough, meticulous buffing.
"Why's that?"
"Look at the time: nearly half past twelve, Sunday's half gone already! By the time we get home and change it'll be nearly tea-time and the day's over before it's really begun!"
"Especially if you haven't done y'r homework yet!" Tom nodded his reluctant agreement.
Paul was aghast at his cousin's confession.
"Really? We get tons at the weekend - double-bubble, four hours minimum! If I didn't lock my bedroom door on Friday night and get my head down I'd never even begin!"
Though they shared most things (including an unquestioning blind devotion to the Blue half of the city's footballing giants) Paul and Tom were at different secondary schools which had very different policies regarding homework.
"It's getting started, that's my problem" Tom admitted. "I don't know how you manage. I have a bedroom to myself, it must be like Lime Street Station in your 'ouse!"
Like most Scousers, Tom had a healthy disrespect for words starting with h. Paul was blessed (or cursed) with being the oldest of five siblings and shared his bedroom with two brothers.
Paul inspected the thurifer critically one final time, then hung it in place.
"In Principio erat Verbum" he quoted solemnly, and grinned.
"Get the Words done first!" he intoned " I always begin with the Language homework - English, Latin, French - before I tackle the rest. Somehow it seems easier that way!"
It was nowhere near an exact rendering of the original phrase, of course, but both boys had picked up a working knowledge of Latin from serving on the altar even before they started formal lessons in secondary school. Paul also had a fondness for language-related jokes, especially puns and deliberate "mis-translations". Tom threatened to crush Paul's skull with the heavy cross he'd just finished polishing, then hung it carefully in place on the wall.
"I suppose a kickabout in the park's out o'th' question, then? Orrite, best get goin' ... unless I can tempt yiz t' come over an' help us a bit ...?"
Of the two, Paul was the more academic type and they both knew Tom was the better all-round sportsman. Generally they were inseparable, and Paul saw this as a way of achieving a few hours' peace away from a crowded house.
"You're on, Our Kid: happy to help ..."
"In Principio ..." Tom mimicked.
"That 'n' all!" Paul rejoined " ... but only 'getting started' - no way I'm doin' all the work for yiz!"
Shrugging into their jackets they left the Sacristy and strolled out into the bright sunshine. Private phone lines were still relatively scarce in Liverpool, so they detoured past Paul's house to inform his mother where he was going.
Paul's mother pretended indifference.
"If yiz amn't back in time, yer dinner'll be in the dog!" she sniffed unconvincingly.
"Now, yiz was both servin' Mass, so y've been to Communion. I know our Paul didden 'ave brekkfuss so I s'pose yiz 'ave also fasted, Tom? I'll make yiz both a samwich: I can't 'ave yiz faintin' of 'unger on th' way over t' your 'ouse now, can I?"
They stayed just long enough for Paul to change out of his Sunday best and pick up a few books which he thought might prove useful. Two 'doorstops' loaded with a liberal helping of home-made jam disappeared in record time and the boys were soon headed at breakneck speed for Tom's house and the inconceivable luxury (from Paul's point of view) of a private, unshared study space.
This was the beginning of many small changes for Tom and Paul. Like the path not taken, diverging in a wood, simple decisions led to unexpected results which could never be altered or modified.
Following the worst winter in more than a generation, the summer of 1964 was the hottest and driest on record, leading to rationing and legislation on the use of water. The sun still shone every hour of the day on some part of the British Empire: that year many thought it shone exclusively on GB, and all day long. There were still 240 pennies to the pound, and twelve dependable, solid, measurable inches in a foot.
Tom had never taken school books or studying too seriously. Sport was always more interesting, and he discovered early on that he had a natural flair for anything he tried. Football, rugby, cricket, team sports of any description and individual skills such as tennis, squash and athletics: he excelled at them all. He was watched carefully by a number of Scouts and was signed by his beloved Everton before his fourteenth birthday.
Paul's development was less spectacular but equally rewarding. Tom summed it up one evening, just before they were due to start the Autumn school term.
"I wish the teachers at my school was as good as you ..."
"You mean 'were ...' " Paul corrected. "Teachers is plural, so it has to be ..."
"Yeah, exactly!" Tom interrupted. "Nouns and Verbs and everything, you explain it so easily and I remember. I think you'd be a brilliant teacher, I really do!"
Paul stiffened. Tom's suggestion had never once occurred to him. He'd thought about training as an RAF pilot and passed the rigorous medical with ease, but failed the maths test: he wasn't sure where to look next.
Tom leaned closer to reinforce his point.
"You've always had the 'gift o' the gab' Paul - we both know that! I'd never have done as well in school if it hadn't been for you baling me out, time and again. You'd be a natural - think o' the long hols, an' everything!"
Like most people, Tom believed absolutely in the old wives' tale that teachers spend almost half the year doing nothing. Paul was astute enough to notice that none of the teachers he knew drove big flashy cars, but beat-up wrecks with mountains of unmarked books piled high on the back seat. And yet ...
"Tom, you might have a point: I'll think about it, okay?" he said, hoping he sounded more convincing in his cousin's ears than in his own. Tom appeared to take his words at face value and turned back to concentrate on his books once more.
"I'll never get me 'ead round these New Pence!" Tom growled as he rejoined Paul outside the local pub. He'd gained six inches in height and now sported a beard, partly to avoid young female autograph hunters whenever he was out in public.
"It's easy enough, Our Kid!" Paul responded, pulling a random collection of coins from his pocket.
"The Decimal System's based on multiplying and dividing by Ten instead of Twelve, Twenty and other random numbers: it makes things easier, really ..."
Paul shoved coins back and forth as he spoke, combining and stacking them. He'd found it logical and easy to make the switch: Tom (and many others, especially the older generation) had found this particular 'new beginning' more difficult.
Paul broke off in mid-sentence as he sensed a grimace of pain shoot across Tom's face. The Elephant in the Room had to be acknowledged.
"What's the news ...?"
He nodded towards Tom's heavily bandaged left leg.
"Not good. The fracture's complicated and it's not healing properly. The Physio thinks I might not play again."
"Crap! I don't know what to say, Kiddo ..."
Tom had made his debut as an Everton player coming on as a substitute against their deadliest rivals, Leeds United. Within five minutes he had to be stretchered off after a vicious challenge from a defender known for violent conduct, earning himself his fourth sending-off of the season and effectively ending Tom's footballing career.
"The club's Academy have been brilliant. I've kicked on from what you used to teach me, and I got smart. The Academy helps everyone realize, sooner or later we all have to hang up our boots and we'll need other skills to earn a living."
"I knew you'd be smart enough to do that!" Paul nodded, "So what did you ...?"
Tom grinned.
"My choice? It was really down to you, in a way! But tell me this: have you any idea how many players there are just at Everton, right now, who don't count English as their First Language? Go on, have a stab!"
Paul blinked: this was the last question he'd expected from Tom. He thought rapidly and made a wild guess.
"Let's see: I know your squad numbers go into the Forties, soooo ... I'll go for about the half: say, twenty-three?"
"Not quite - and the squad includes Yanks, Aussies and South Africans who all speak English: but still, there are eighteen "English as a Second Language" players, just at this one club. I don't suppose it's much different throughout the Premiership and at many other clubs."
"I've done some 'crash courses' in all the major Euro languages, Kiddo, an' the seed you planted when I told you how good a teacher you are seems to be working."
"I'm staying 'on the books' at Everton while I get all the medical Rehab they can offer, and I'll stay on at the Academy even if I never play pro football again. But here's what I think!"
Tom was excited now, the pain of his injuries forgotten.
"You'll be fully qualified in, what? Eighteen months from now? We should set up a private Language School, offering lessons to all the overseas players in UK clubs .We can help them with other things: contracts, legal matters, properties - and we don't have to restrict ourselves to footballers. There are more overseas players in rugby clubs, cricket teams ..."
Tom waxed eloquent as he outlined his plans. He'd had plenty of time to think them through during his period of enforced physical inactivity and any number of long, painful nights when sleep would not come easily. Paul touched him on the wrist, temporarily halting his flow.
"Remember when this all started? That day after Mass, when I quoted the Latin phrase "In the Beginning" to yiz?"
Tom nodded slowly, but there was a look of doubt in his eyes: it wasn't immediately clear to him where his cousin was going with this.
"There's another phrase, later on in the same reading" Paul said " ... where it says ... et Verbum Caro Factus est - ... and the Word was made Flesh ... or 'becomes reality', if you want to think of it that way!"
He stretched across the table and took his brother's right hand in both his own.
"Tommy, I think we've got ourselves a Deal!"