Action Joseph

“You can try the best you can
You can try the best you can
The best you can is good enough.”

  • Radiohead

Once upon a time there was a crib in a church somewhere in, or near Monaghan, the true centre of the Universe. The crib was placed in an alcove on the lefthand side of the church where there’d normally be a statue of Our Lady…looking serene …and gruesomely crushing a snake underfoot. She was sent off on her holidays for Christmas and the crib was installed.

There was nothing spectacular about this crib. There was a Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, a shepherd, donkey, cow, three sheep, and Three Wise Men. Except for one year , when, briefly, there was Mary, an Action Man, Baby Jesus, a shepherd , donkey, cow, three sheep, and Three Wise Men.

A family with young children sometimes went to mass early in order to get the kids settled before everyone else arrived. The couple weren’t long in the parish and were trying to make a good impression. Their children were reluctant mass goers.

In an effort to distract one of the reluctant mass goers , Someone had picked up the Joseph and was showing it to the reluctant mass goer , putting on what he was sure was an accurate north Judean accent, and asking the reluctant mass goer if he had any cotton wool for them to sleep on as the straw they were surrounded by was full of fleas and making them itch.

Someone’s SoulMate told him to put it back.

Someone , still putting on an incredibly funny and accurate North Judean accent, then entertained the reluctant mass goers by saying “ If I had a sheikel for every time Mary told me to put things back, I’d have enough to open my own carpenters shop !”

The reluctant mass goer laughed.

Someone laughed.

Then somehow, Joesph’s head fell off.

“Christ !” Someone’s Soulmate hissed.

This certainly distracted the reluctant mass goer…and may have led to some trauma, and a determined resistance to mass attendance in later life. But right now, the ‘Someone’ who was good natured at heart, really, was left with a headless Joseph. A hollow, headless Joseph, and a hollow Joseph head.

Someone quickly spotted that the ‘reluctant mass goer’s Action man was similarly proportioned to the headless Joseph. Before anyone else had arrived Someone quickly shoved the Action Man into the carcass of the headless Joseph, twisted a tissue around it’s head and set it back in the crib.

The reluctant mass goer was now doubly traumatised. He’d seen Someone decapitate Joseph, and also lost his Action Man. Someone’s solution to this was to move seats, closer to the front, and far away for the incriminating crib.

The church filled, mass started. Many prayers were said, the most passionate of which were being said by Someone, who knew that most families would take their kids to see the crib on their way out of the church when mass had ended. The hollow head of Joseph was not sitting comfortably in his jeans pocket.

Mass ended. Someone carefully moved his flock towards the back of the Church on the right aisle, far from the crib, but able to observe.

No one noticed.

“What are you going to do ?” Someone’s Soulmate asked.

“Nothing. All seems fine now.”

“Really ?”

“Yes. No one will ever know it was us.”

“Us ??? You ! You mean !”

“Whatever. We’ll go into Fleming’s this afternoon and get a new Action Man and ….”

“I want my Action Man !” the reluctant mass goer had found his voice.

“But you can have a new one. A better one ….with more guns !”

“I want my one !”

“OK ! OK! I’ll get him later. He’s on protection duty at the moment, minding Mary and Baby Jesus.”

This seemed to pacify the reluctant mass goer.

It did not pacify Someone’s Soulmate.

“You need to fix Joseph.”

“I know, I know. I’ll pop back later with some superglue.”

They went home ,  had lunch, and Someone went looking for some Super Glue. He was reading the packet in the kitchen to see if it would actually work and twirling the hollow head of Joseph around in his fingers at the same time. If he’d been reading the instructions in the sitting room , he’d have had a chance. In there he’d have had a 50/50 chance of the hollow head of Joseph landing on the rug when he dropped it. If he’d been reading the packet upstairs he’d have had a better that 90% chance landing safely on the carpet. But, no, he was reading the packet in the kitchen. The tiled kitchen.

The hollow head of Joseph didn’t so much shatter on the floor as explode in a wee dull, gentle, puff of alabaster. Someone cursed…and cried at the same time.

He explained to his Soulmate that his new plan was to call into an ecclesiastical supplies shop in Dublin during the week and pick up a replacement Joseph.

“Great plan.” Someone’s Soul Mate said, without installing much encouragement.

Someone’s next problem arrived a few hours later when the reluctant mass goer wanted to say goodnight to his Action Man. Someone was beyond arguing with anyone at this point, so they drove back to the church and went to see the crib and say good night to Action Joseph. Before saying ‘goodnight’ , the reluctant mass goer reached into the crib and placed a little plastic handgun, a little plastic knife, and a little plastic Bren gun, with tripod stand, and Action Joseph’s feet.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Someone said.

“How’s he going to protect everyone without them ?” the reluctant mass goer said.

“Prayer ?” Someone answered, as he gently covered the little plastic handgun,  little plastic knife, and  little plastic Bren gun, with tripod stand, with straw.

They went home.

Someone had tortured dreams where he was being pursued through a desert landscape by a distraught Mary, roaring at him “He wasn’t the best husband….but at least he had a head !”

He drove to Dublin the next morning to South Richmond St. and the home of traditional church supplies. He almost ran into the shop, such was his desperation.

The shopkeeper didn’t seem impressed.

“Do you have any Joseph’s ???” Someone asked.

“Yes. What size ?”

Someone made random gestures with their hand indicating a small one, and tehn seeing that th shopkeeper was backing away from him, said quickly “ For a crib.”

“Ahhh, I see.” The shopkeeper smiled. “The crib sets are over here.” And he led Someone to an alcove of the shop with dozens of crib sets of various sizes and varying degrees of garish colours.

Someone scanned the selection frantically and then excitedly started pointing at one set that looked exactly like the one from home. “That one ! That one!”

“A wise choice Sir, one of our most popular models down the country. And reasonably priced at £297”

Someone was taken aback. That was a week’s wages. A lot more than he’d thought, but then realised that was for the whole set , and he just needed the Joseph.

“How much for the Joseph ?”

“Pardon Sir ?”

“I just need the Joseph.”

“We only sell them as a set.”

“But I only need a Joseph.”

“Sir, please understand. What would I then do with a Joseph-less crib set ?”

You could sell it to a parish in Cavan, they love a bargain.

“Very amusing Sir…but no.”

Someone left the ecclesiastical supplies shop with a heavy heart.

He needed a miracle now.

It was sort of a family tradition that if you were in Dublin close to Christmas you went to St.Teresa’s Church, just off Grafton St. for confession. The reason being that there were much smaller queues than you’d get at home, and there was less chance of you knowing the priest that was hearing your confession. The Carmelites were also generally regarded as one of the nicer missionary orders and their ‘penances’ were rather more forgiving than the local parish priests.

So Someone went to confession.

The little panel slid back in the confessional box.

In the shadows Someone could see the priest nodding in the half dark and took it as his sign to start.

“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 12 months since my last confession and during that time I have…I have…”

“Yes, my son, you can say anything here.”

“I have decapitated Joseph.”

Someone could hear a sharp intake of breath on the other side of the panel.

“I see. Have….have you told the authorities ?”

“No Father.”

“I see. Are you prepared to go to the authorities ?”

“I was hoping that wouldn’t be necessary Father.”

“I think it will be. I can give you spiritual forgivemess. But if you are truly sorry , you will need to confess to the authorities.”

Someone was silent. The priest continued.

“Think of Joseph’s family, they will need closure.”

“They’re OK for the moment. Action Man is looking after them.I was trying to replace him, but you could only but the full set and….”

“I’m sorry my son, I’m confused…but are we talking about an unfortunate accident…is someone deceased ?”

“God No Father. I broke a wee statue of Joseph in the crib in our parish.”

“Thank Christ for that !” The priest started to laugh.

“ I was trying to replace him before anyone noticed and drove up here today to try and but a new one, but they don’t sell then separately, and….”

“Ssssh my son. I know the outrageous prices that are charged. How big was your Joseph ?”

In the half dark Someone again motioned with his hands and then said “The size of an action man.”

“Excellent ! I have a solution, absolution even.” And then he proceeded to laugh to himself for a few moments. “ Where was I ? Oh yes. Did you enter the church from Clarendon St., or Grafton St. ?

“Grafton St.”

“Good. On your way in you passed our little shop and office. Go back there and ask for John. Tell him that you’ve just spoken to Fr.Stephen and that he’s to five you the Joseph from the set we bought three weeks ago. We had an accident here ourselves…Mary…pieces everywhere…terrible sight.”

“My God Father, that’s incredible !”

“ It is , isn’t it ?”

“I don’t know what to say…”

“You don’t have to say anything. But, if you are asked to do something to help someone, I hope you remember this.”

“I will Father, I will.”

“I know you will. Now you say your Confiteor, and I’ll give you absolution.”

“Oh My God I am heartily sorry for all my sins……..”

And then Someone went immediately to the office/shop and asked for John and told him that Fr.Stephen had said he could give him a Joseph from the crib set he’d bought three weeks ago. John rolled his eyes to heaven and went off to look for it, giving Someone the distinct impression that Fr.Stephen regularly sent wayward souls back to the office in search of weird and wonderful requests.

John came back into the office a few moments later and without a word, grumpily handed Someone a brand new Joseph…head intact. Someone cradled it as if it was a new born, and thanking John profusely hurried away.

What Someone didn’t know until many years later was that the reason John had been less than thrilled to carry our Fr.Stephen’s command was that he’d just given away the Joseph from their brand new set, leaving it useless. There had been no accident in St.Teresa’s , Fr.Stephen had simply felt sorry for Someone.

Someone drove straight from Dublin to his parish church. It was just after 6pm, there’d be a crowd gathering for the Exposition Of The Blessed Sacrament at 7pm, so he’d need to be quick.

The church was empty, he quickly moved along the left hand side and was soon standing in front of the crib. He took the new Joseph out of one pocket and swapped it for the Action Joseph, quickly placing him in his other pocket before he heard..

“Good Evening Paul”.

He turned around, startled and bumbled out “Good Evening Fr.Joe.”

“Are you here for the Exposition ?”

“Eh…yes. Yes I am. That’s exactly why I’m here.”

“Good man. I’ve been meaning to ask you if you’d be interested in doing the readings on Sundays…say in May ?”

Someone was on the verge of offering an excuse as to why he couldn’t when, almost involuntarily, he said..

“Yes, of course, Father.”

“Good man !” Fr.Joe was delighted. He was turning away towards the altar, and then seemed to remember something and turned back to Someone.

“I almost forgot. These yours ?” And he put his hand in his pocket and revealed a little plastic handgun,  little plastic knife, and  little plastic Bren gun, with tripod stand.

“Em, yes Father.”

“Thought so.”

Fr.Joe peered behind Someone surveying the crib. He then looked at Someone.

“We had confessions here this afternoon for the children making their First Holy Communion this year. Your wee fella was among them. Great wee fella. Vivid imagination. Can’t tell you what he told me, of course, sanctity of the confessional and all. But you  know , I think I preferred Joseph with the stubble.”

“Yes Father.”

That was many, many years ago.

Someone has been doing the Sunday readings in May in that Church since…except for the time Hilda stole his slot…but that’s another story.

And whenever Someone is asked to do something to help someone else, he remembers  Action Joseph, and does what he can.

Happy Christmas,


Author: paul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *