Keeping order in the parish

In my part of Ireland, the police remain personae non gratae at intimate family gatherings. So other, more acceptable authority figures are mandatory when these gatherings - at the best of times as combustible as plutonium - spiral into domestic affray; either ourselves or the church or, better, both of us together, in the glorious music hall tradition of the comedy double act.

On this occasion, Fr Joe and myself were the lucky chaps.

When I arrived, suppressing a strange desire to say 'Well, well, what's going on 'ere, then?' and to beat a confession out of any convenient victim (the participants were quite homogeneous, milk-white skin and curly red hair, so scapegoating on racial grounds was not possible), I saw Fr Joe proceeding before me in what P G Wodehouse would have described as 'a dignified procession of one', the brawl parting miraculously in front of him, like the Red Sea before a rather portly, self-important Moses.

'They seem to be all good Catholics and their spiritual welfare is not in peril,' said Joe, surveying the scene. 'I'll leave their temporal bodies in your good hands.' He waved grandly to the crowd and disappeared though the front door.

I attempted to quell the disturbance. 'That's enough of that now,' I said, which I felt was rather tame, but to my amazement was partly successful, mainly I am sure, due to the respect owed to our ancient calling, but also because they never know when they are really going to need us, so better stay in our good books, what?

I selected one at random, stuck a few bandages on him just for the look of the thing and took a few blood pressures as an encore - it's expected.

After a while Joe re-appeared, looking unusually secretive, and made his way surreptitiously across the room towards me. Unfortunately, Joe trying to be surreptitious is like a man in hobnailed boots trying to tiptoe across a polished floor. It is simply against his nature. He may as well have had a big neon sign flashing above his head shouting 'I know something you don't.'

He pointed outside and made a flapping gesture with his hands. This spectacle was much more interesting than any trivial quarrel over what their Deirdre had said about our Doreen at Maggie's wedding last year. There were a few shouts of 'two words', 'it's a film' and 'The Birds'. By the time he reached me the fight had stopped completely and all the combatants were staring at him in fevered expectation.

Portentously discreet, Joe whispered in my ear; ' We're in the wrong house, doctor, the real fight is next door.'

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haynet.com

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