How I got arrested for sleeping with the Virgin Mary
(Don’t worry, she was still intact in the morning)

By ROGER TAVENER

SO, the first thing that hurts as you prise open your super-glued eyes and haven’t a clue where you are is the banging head.

Your mouth is dry as the Aussie outback and you’re dreading the hung-over day ahead.

I get the feeling I’m not alone in bed. I must have pulled. A momentary flash of macho pride is tempered by reaching over to touch my partner, only to find she’s stone-cold. Dead.

Jesus. A fucking corpse. That’s going to take some explaining to the desk.

Panic.

I can’t recall scoring last night. Mind you, I can’t remember how or when I went to bed. Or even where I am.

It’s coming back to me…

I realise I’m somewhere in Northern Ireland. Yeah. The nightclub bomb that killed 17 and maimed dozens. Another 80’s atrocity. 

What the fuck did I file? Did I file? Do I even have a job ?

Maybe I can shift the stiff out and pretend it’s another casualty. It’s a thought.

It’s still early. I have an hour to get something sorted before I check-in to newsdesk.

Good. I’ve a large vodka and coke on my bedside table. I might forget everything else, but I always remember to take an emergency supply for the early morning kick-start. 

Swig. Deep breath. Slowly draw back the duvet.

A shot of electricity zaps my whole being. I blink. And shiver. What’s this, the bloody Turin Shroud? Wrong religious icon.

It’s only the Virgin Mary under the sheets. And she’s giving me a very funny look. Just staring at me. Christ, this is weird.

Mother of God, I’ve been in bed with an eight-foot statue, but not just any old sculpture, the most important icon in Catholicism.

It’s not an ex-bird, bereft of life, pining for Lough Neagh; in fact it’s much worse than that. 

I’ve been set-up by my Fleet Street rivals. It would take at least six people to carry Mary from wherever she was stolen. No-one’s owning up though.

Maybe it’s pay-back for “assassinating” Jonathan Margolis of the Mail on Sunday sometime before. I always carried a replica handgun and percussion caps. But that’s another story.

So I go to reception. There’s an 18-year-old behind the desk.  I ask if she can arrange to carefully remove the Virgin Mary from my bed. 

She almost faints.

What the feck? Yes, I know it sounds a little odd, but I think a joke has been played on me.

Ballykelly is swarming with cops and soldiers. The Droppin Well pub down the road had been bombed by the INLA and this was the aftermath.

There’s always black humour in these situations, not that hacks don’t understand the grief, but we travel from outrage to outrage, disaster to disaster. The bombs and bullets are still going off and reporters aren’t much liked. They all want to shoot the messenger. We have a defence mechanism.

But defiling the Virgin Mary is something else entirely. I’m about to learn it’s as bad as it gets when the Royal Ulster Constabulary turn up and arrest me.

I’m loaded into a police car and taken to Londonderry and the fortress cop-shop there. I’m allowed the statutory one phone call and choose the Manchester newsdesk, which is technically handling coverage as it’s in its patch.  I don’t know if or when I will be released.

blenkinsop

Legendary: Stan Blenkinsop

Legendary news editor Stan Blenkinsop answers. “Good morning and thank you for calling the newsdesk of the world’s greatest newspaper,” is his welcome to every caller. Every day.

It’s me Stan. The paper hasn’t got here yet.

“Roger, Roger, Roger, how the devil are you. I think you’ll be very pleased to know your splash and six pages absolutely beat the opposition hands-down. Their coverage is very poor. The Mail and BBC are already having inquests.

“Now, what have you got today?”

Working on it Stan. I’ve got some good leads and I gather Express reinforcements are on the way. We’ll stay ahead.

“Good man. Good man. Let’s continue to show the Mail how to do it.”

Will do Stan. (When I’m out of jail).

Interviewed by the local commander of the RUC. He gets it that I was obviously pranked. But it’s still an offence to be in possession of a stolen statue and possibly an act of sacrilege, which carries a heavy penalty.

They’ll have to forensically check out the statue. Fuck me, that’s sick. 

I’m bailed to turn up for further questioning once they have spoken to the local parish priests to see if they’ve lost a Mary.

I turn up the next day and there’s a lovely Father Ted-style priest from Ballykelly’s St Finlough’s church.

It’s not his Mary and hasn’t heard of one being stolen. The mystery deepens. And he’s got far more serious matters to contend with.

None of my sobered up rival/colleagues are admitting to anything. There’s a wall of silence. Well, maybe a bit of sniggering. 

parry

Express international fireman Mike Parry, pictured right, has turned up. We cane the opposition and a few days later head home on the Derry to Belfast road. I’ve been released without charge.

We stop at every pub on the way to celebrate.

We’ve both hired Ford Granadas, the fastest, most expensive cars available.

But Parry is all over the place on the country roads and he’s going at about 40 mph. A few beeps does nothing. I figure he’s falling asleep at the wheel.

So I gently bang him in the rear, so to speak. He’s not too happy judging by the hand signals.

He drops off again. I ram him again. I’ve already had to deal with one “corpse” this week.

Parry pulls in and signals me on. It turns out to be an ambush.

Ok, we’re up to 80mph now and then he starts to hit me in the seat. I’ve obviously perked Porky up and he’s mighty peeved.

What follows is high-speed dodgems on Her Majesty’s highway as we manically crash into each other for miles. We stop a few times to top up and examine the damage.

It’s adding up with every shunt and damage must be in the thousands now. They’re dented front and back and the number plates are falling off. Bumpers are swinging in the wind.

The Belfast hire-car depot is thankfully closed. It’s a protestant firm. 

“It’s OK old boy,” says Parry. “We’re fully comp and I’ll tell them we were attacked by the IRA in Londonderry. They’ll do alright out of this.”

He did and we beat that rap too. It was that kind of place.

Word reaches me that Mary had been abducted from the garden of a nearby convent and hadn’t been missed for a few days.

Prayers were said and the Blessed Virgin was cleansed of all Tavener traces.


© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre