How Hugo Deadman went from punk singer to speechwriter to priest (extracted from Idler 85, out now)
It is 1988. I am at Peterborough United football ground for an anarchist festival. I am on stage, the singer of a punk band, Chopper, supporting a better-known punk band called Chaos UK. Tom, now Idler editor, is on bass, and contributor James on drums. I am pencil-thin, with a shock of peroxide hair. I am shouting the chorus of our show-stopping, if brief, anthem: “We’re So Skinny, You’re So Fat”. An anarchist from Peterborough has taken umbrage, leapt on stage and punched me. As I fall, I think: “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.”
Now it is 2019 at Portsmouth Cathedral. Alas, I have no hair to speak of. There is considerably more of me, so I am in no position to sing that chorus. I am leaning against a wall and throwing up = because I’m just about to be ordained as a clergyman. Once again, I’m thinking, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m not up to it. I’m a fraud.”
I still think that every day. I’m a priest in Portsmouth, in the sort of old-school, working class community my grandparents came from: resourceful, resilient and remarkable. Like most jobs there is structure, graft and frustration. I’m in church at 8.30 to say prayers on behalf of the whole community. We pray for every street in the parish every month. We pray for people who have been asked to be prayed for – and for people we know who are sick. And we ring the bell to let people know that’s what we’re about. There was genuine grief in lockdown when people didn’t hear the bell. People lost a pulse and a comfort in their day.
Days often involve putting together labyrinthine liturgies, a great deal of admin, wrestling with photocopiers, dealing with suppliers – all the grit of working life, but it does get in your eyes. There’s also a great deal of pastoral stuff; calling people, taking communion to them at home – and especially at Christmas and Easter, huge numbers of school assemblies. I did 14 in the fortnight before Easter.
Food is a big issue in ministry; it’s a very cake-heavy environment. Lunch is usually a cheese and Marmite toastie at Milton Park, run by the excellent Shaun. I spend a lot of time sitting in cafés. You get known. People see someone with a collar and want to talk, often to unload. Then it’s back to church at 5.30 for more prayers.
Sundays are full on; mass at eight, again at ten, then often a baptism or two – and then night prayers at 8pm. It’s always great. But it does leave me whacked.
My one great indulgence is football. Fratton Park is in the parish. The challenge is to remember you’re wearing a collar at the match. My language has occasionally not been from the Book of Common Prayer.
The full version of this piece appears in the new edition of the Idler (No85 July/August). Don’t forget, you can now buy the Idler in your local bookshop. We’re also available in larger branches of WHSmiths, Waitrose and Booths.
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