The New ReligionIt all began the day that Martin Jenkins decided to start a new religion. Martin lived atnumber 42, Richmond Crescent, Bath. He was 53, balding, and his chronic astigmatismmeant that the lens in his glasses were really quite thick. He was deputy head of sales at aphone subsidiary in an out-of-town shopping precinct. "Ill be a director any time now," he boasted to his wife before she ran off with thenewsagent to grow strawberries in Kent. He was an odd choice for a messiah. He longed to work at the companys main branch in the High Street, for a desk with hisname on it and for his team to call him Sir. It was never going to happen. One drizzlyThursday in mid-May he heard that yet again a younger man with lustrous curls andcontact lens had been promoted above him. "Thats it," he said. Martin was not a religious man. Hed fallen out with the local vicar when shed refusedto guarantee his wifes eternal damnation. However, Martin had always had a kind ofspiritual itch. This, combined with his frustration and his ardent belief in the adage if youwant something done well, do it yourself, made what happened next almost inevitable. One evening he was surfing the net. As he ran a search for some new wellies anadvertisement popped up: Cut Price Vestments. Hed never seen an ad for vestmentsbefore and he laughed at first. Then he looked thoughtful. Then he started to scribble. Some weeks later the householders in the Crescent received a flyer through theirletterbox. It read:Living in a religious vacuum?Searching for moral inspiration?Angry with the council spend on recycling?Join Brother Martin this Friday at 8.00 oclock.All welcome. Martin rather regretted putting in the bit about recycling, but the council did annoy him,it really did. It was as if hed personally caused global warming by letting the bin men takehis Daily Mail. < 2 > Hed wondered what to call himself. Saint Martin? Lama Martin? After all, as founder ofa breakaway religion he could take the best bits from everyone else. Modestly, hed optedfor Brother. He could always change it later. He decided to start small. Hed hone his ideas on his core congregation, the localhouseholders. Not all the householders, of course. Hed taken care not to leaflet LucienMarksbury at no 38. Lucien, who always parked his sports car in what Martin thought of as
his parking space. Lucien, whose son Max was so pale, so thin and so frequently clad inblack that he must either be on heroin or plotting a Columbine-style school massacre.Lucien, who never bothered to say hello. He was definitely not invited. That Friday Martin came home from work early. He put the miniature cheese puffs andspicy spring rolls that hed bought from Waitrose into the oven and set out the glasses onthe coffee table in the front room. Then he changed. Hed ironed his new cassock the night before. He pulled it over his shirt and trousers.Wearing a long white dress gave him an unusual feeling. Lovingly, he lifted the red silkchasuble from its tissue-lined box. He slipped it over his head. It fell to the middle of histhighs, the short sleeves brushing his elbows. It was heavy, rich with gold embroidery. Hestraightened his backbone and pulled back his shoulders. He looked in the mirror. Astranger was standing there, a stranger with an air of authority and wisdom. But thestranger had no hat. Martin frowned. He should have bought the mitre offered on thewebsite. There was a ring at the doorbell, dot on 8.00 oclock. Martin nearly tripped in his hasteto get to the door. Realising the problem, he lifted his skirts delicately between his fingers.He opened the door with his other hand. It was Jessie Hicks, no 2, upstairs flat. Her hairwas as wild and wispy as ever and her eyes darted to left and right as she said: < 3 > "Ive brought my viola. I thought - yknow - a musical accompaniment. Do you mind? Ican take it away, but I thought you might...appreciate.... a little light music between the -whatever. Ive brought a selection -" Martin held up his hand. "Thank you, Jessie." He thought briefly about Sister Jessie. "Music is soothing to thesoul. Enter." Jessie scurried in. Martin wondered about his priestly voice. Could he carry it off? Thedoorbell rang again. It was Mrs Frobisher from No 15. A woman of a certain age, she wasan active member of Neighbourhood Watch, the Residents Association, the localConservation Association, the W.I. and, for all Martin knew, every other local and nationalassociation that would have her. "Evening Martin," she said, "Thought Id better come and make my presence felt.Always best to be in on the ground floor. This the first meeting of your new religion, is it?Are we through here?" She swept past him into the front room where Jessie was on thefloor retrieving the music shed scattered. The bell rang again. Martin opened the door to Rajiv, who lived at no 28, and Jonathon and Emma, no 27. "Surprised to see you," he said to Rajiv. "Anything to get away from the wife," grinned Rajiv, his gold tooth glittering. "Like thedress." "Theyre my vestments -" Martin explained, but Rajiv went straight through to whereJessie could be heard tuning up. Jonathon and Emma, a pleasant couple who had recentlymoved to the Crescent, smiled hesitantly.
"We thought -" said Jonathon. "Wed like to meet some of the -" said Emma. "Other people in the street," finished Jonathon. "Welcome," said Martin, solemnly. "Please. Go on through." He was about to follow them when there was another ring at the bell. < 4 > "Ive touched a chord," thought Martin, "The residents are parched for a new way. Ishall quench their thirst." He opened the door. It was Lucien. "Rajiv told me about your shindig. This I have to see. Like the getup, dude," he said andhe was in. Grumpily, Martin followed him into the front room where he found everyone chatteringhappily and Rajiv polishing off the last of the cheese puffs. Martin held up his hand for silence. "Perhaps we can close our eyes and bow our heads for an opening prayer," he intoned -and they did. Martin felt a rush. This must be what the Pope feels, he thought, on thatbalcony over St Peters Square. After the prayer, Martin briefly outlined the barebones of his religion. Obligatoryservices on a Friday, the obvious no murder, thieving, coveting etc, no immoral behaviour,by which Martin meant no adultery (the congregation looked sympathetic), no drugs (Jessietook a worried swig at her wine), no bare midriffs (Rajiv stared at the ceiling - Mrs. Rajivstummy rippled gloriously beneath her sari), no inconsiderate non-neighbourly behaviour(Lucien raised his eyebrows) and a refusal to recycle. To Martins surprise they all seemed keen, although Lucien said that he wanted to pointout, again, that it was unrestricted on-street parking in the Crescent. Then, they started toadd their own ideas. "No music after 10.00 oclock." "No vomiting in the street when drunk." "Compulsory weeding of front gardens." "How about, instead of fish, mandatory curry on Friday?" This was Rajiv. His brother-in-law owned the nearest takeaway. "No dog fouling, punishable by - whats it punishable by, Martin?" asked Mrs Frobisher. "Hellfire," Martin improvised, out of his depth by the religious snowballing. Democracyhad not been his plan. < 5 >
"Marvellous. Dog fouling punishable by hellfire. Are we minuting this? Shall I do thehonours?" A couple of hours later theyd drawn up a constitution, a motley collection of regulationsfor the new religion. Martin was sad there hadnt been time for a proper service as hedwritten a blistering sermon on the dangers of recycling. However, they agreed to reconvenenext week and in the meantime to put together a uniform for their missionary work in thetown centre on a Saturday night. Their aim was to restore clean, quiet and pleasant streetsto residents, using some minimal violence if necessary. Emma had promised to fashion anemblem for them from the feathers of birds killed by her cat, Pickles. As they drifted away,it was felt that an interesting evening had been had by all. As the weeks went by, the congregation swelled. Once, there were 15 people in Martinsfront room. Martin was pleased, particularly as Lucien never came again. A pattern wasestablished - a service, with sermon, led by Brother Martin, followed by a barbecue on theterrace, weather permitting. Jessie provided music, now accompanied by a banjo (no 9),and a piccolo (no 17). The first pair to patrol the streets comprised Martin, in mufti but sporting a magpie-feather badge and Jessie, sustained by a couple of double vodkas. The patrol was not atriumph. They found that most revellers left the pubs and bars in an annoyingly orderlyfashion. Some hours passed before they found a fracas in a back alley. Jessies polite tapon the shoulder had no effect on the two lads involved, so Martin stepped between them.The policeman who arrived shortly afterwards on his bicycle had little sympathy for Martinsblack eye, muttering about vigilantes making his job harder. In the light of this, Martin suggested that his congregation withdrew, temporarily, frommissionary work. "Let us retrench, and focus on the community around us," he said at the end of hissermon, which that week tackled the topic of helping thy neighbour by watching himclosely. < 6 > "Lets take the plank out of our own eye," agreed Mrs Frobisher. "Ill lead a patroltomorrow, first thing. Report back next Friday." Friday brought bad news. Most of the Crescent were co-operative, readily agreeing toweeding, fouling and parking suggestions. However, Martin was not surprised to hear thatLucien had been recalcitrant. Hed even sworn at the missionaries. Martin stiffened his backand straightened his new mitre. "Will we accept this?" he asked. "No!" the congregation shouted. "Bring him to me," Martin said. Rajiv started to laugh, but was met by silence. Mrs Frobisher stepped forward. "Ill go," she said. She was joined by Jessie, Jonathon and Alfred from next door, whohad initially come round to ask for sponsorship for a school bike ride, but had been seducedby the cheese puffs. Mrs Frobisher led her team into the Crescent. The rest of the
congregation waited, gathered around the sausages on the barbecue. Only Rajiv meltedaway. Ten minutes later, Lucien was dragged onto the terrace. His hair was dishevelled andhis face was red. Martin was thrilled. The mighty Lucien, the sneering Lucien, the devil-may-care Lucien, brought to Martins terrace by Martins command to do Martins bidding!Imagining a flaming sword he raised the nearest thing to hand – "Dont you wave those bloody barbecue tongs at me, you weirdo!" shrieked Lucien,"And get your monkeys off me!" "Do you, Lucien Marksbury, agree to abide by the rules of the Richmond ReligiousOrder?" intoned Martin. "No, of course I bloody dont. What are you going to do, make me?" jeered Lucien.Martin turned. He lifted a red-hot coal from the barbecue and held it in the tongs. Hiscongregation gasped. He took a step towards Lucien. "Are you sure?" he said. Lucien took a step back but he was held too tightly to move far. < 7 > "An arm, Brother Martin?" enquired Mrs Frobisher and she started to unbutton Lucienscuff. As Martin took another step towards Lucien there was a scuffle at the edge of theterrace. A camera flashed. Startled, Martin turned. "Ive called the police," said Max, pointing the camera at Martin. "Theyll be here anyminute. One more step towards my dad and its assault with a deadly weapon." The cameraflashed again. Martin blinked his way back to his senses. "Let him go," he said to Mrs Frobisher. Shed already dropped Luciens arm. "Dont think youve heard the last of this," said Lucien as he turned and stumbled out ofthe house. When the police arrived, there was no incident to quell. Lucien decided not to presscharges. The Chronicle, however, published a quarter-page colour photograph of a Bathresident in the dress of a full bishop brandishing a burning hot coal. Love thy neighbour, itguffawed, before warning readers that barbecue coals can be hot. Martins congregationdwindled after that. Most of the residents felt a little sheepish. Even Mrs Frobisher was seento apologise to Lucien. Martin was philosophical. Perhaps some of his popularity was due tothe entertainment options available in Bath on a Friday night. He joined the local amdramsociety and is due to play the vicar in their next production. If hes asked, Martin always says that hes learnt his lesson. But sometimes he thinksback, and he smiles as he remembers that there was just a moment when LucienMarksbury, popular, successful Lucien Marksbury, had looked at him and been really veryscared.