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Reform Magazine | November 25, 2020

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I made an accidental prophecy’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I made an accidental prophecy’

Paul Kerensa makes an accidental prophecy

When the nights draw in, my diary normally gets busy. Colder months need a bit of cheer, so my comedian colleagues and I would brighten dark days via light entertainment. Oh and a raffle. We all love a raffle.

This year, of course, that’s not quite been possible. Where I usually visit two or three churches a week, I’ve done just one in-person show since March – and that was in a car park. (It was a lovely car park – the jokes worked on many levels.) This winter’s diary pages are as blank and white as snow.

I’m impatient to get back onstage, to return to familiar faces, venues, churches and motorway service stations. One return visit a few years ago particularly sticks in the memory.

My first visit to this church was for a Christmas show. We had a sing song (remember those?) to that familiar carol, ‘Fairytale of New York’. Alright, we Christianified the lyrics, changing the boozy original to ‘Fairytale of Bethlehem’ (‘Joe’s handsome, Mary’s pretty / Once in royal David’s city…’ etc).

For the song’s start though, I lined up some non-nativity, bespoke lyrics, based on that particular audience. I’d deliberately bantered with the crowd at the start of the show, asked for a few names, then added them to the PowerPoint presentation in the interval. Voila! A nice surprise for some of the audience, that they appeared in the song.

You may recall that the Pogues’ original referred to this year being ‘for me and you’. At this show, I changed that. We sang that this year would be for a certain couple in the front row, Jenny and Dan. (Those aren’t their real names. Or they might be. I’ve forgotten their real names. Maybe they were called Jenny and Dan. But that would be a massive coincidence.) I finished the song, finished the show, went home, and finished the year.

Twelve months later, I returned, due to either popular demand or a mis booking. I was greeted by a pleasant woman, who said that Jenny and Dan said hi. Who? I’d forgotten their names (as I have now). ‘The couple from last year’s front row,’ she said. ‘You mentioned them in the song. You said this year would be for them.’

It was starting to sound a bit accusatory. I hate to say, but I’d thought nothing further of them. I’d even done the song elsewhere with different names. Shocking, I know.

The woman explained: the previous year, when I’d said/prophesied/sung that this would be Jenny and Dan’s year, the audience had collectively held their breath. They all knew that this young couple had had a monstrous year: struggles to get pregnant, a loss and heartbreak had all featured.

I suddenly felt awful. I’d not realised that I’d touched so personal a nerve when I flippantly wished them a good year in the song. I hadn’t considered the weight of my words. I simply wished them well.

The greeting woman beamed. This year had indeed been the year for them. After a several-year struggle, Jenny finally had a successful pregnancy. The reason that this woman was passing on Jenny and Dan’s hello, was that they couldn’t make the show. They couldn’t get a babysitter.

How fabulous! An accidental prophecy, the greeter called it. Coincidence? God-incidence? Just one of those things? Regardless, it was great news. It certainly makes that gig stand out in my memory: the time I serenaded a couple and they had a good year. I doubt the two are connected.

It’s tricky to savour those moments and connections without turning up to places. I look forward to gathering again, when we can, getting those chances to wish people well, to laugh and sing together, or to laughingly sing.

For now, all I can say is, though this year may have been a challenge – I’ve got a feeling that next year’s for me and you.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster

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This article was published in the November 2020 edition of Reform

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