She had a T-shirt that said ‘Cute but Psycho’. I doubt she was the latter

Walking the beach on Good Friday, when a relentless east wind was whipping the legs off small children and big dogs (both species happily engaged in chasing frisbees), I observed a young couple walking hand in hand along the shore. Bearded and lugubrious, he was stoically clomping through the wet sand while his partner, a pale young woman with blueish hair, walked beside him, her coat flapping open in the torn-up wind.

It was her T-shirt that caught my eye. “Cute but Psycho,” read her chest in large white letters on a backdrop of black cotton.

The pair continued their placid journey along the shore, passing a small knot of bathers, an older, weathered cohort who were emerging from the pink waves as simmering lobsters after their daily dose of sea swimming.

They walked on further, past a clutch of rubber-booted toddlers filling castellated buckets with a gray sand, and finally disappeared from sight under a scattering of seagulls, the hungry birds combing the shoreline for crabs and crusts.

I wondered, as the blue-haired girl disappeared from view, what made her choose the T-shirt. “Cute” is such a tricky little word, especially in this country where you can be as cute as a daisy one minute and a cute hoor the next. And I suspect that if you were feeling psycho (whatever that means), you wouldn’t be searching your drawers for a signifying emblem.

Used to be

Walking the busy, blustery beach on that once-sombre holiday, I thought about the way things used to be on Good Friday, in the days before we plodded the shore in sardonic tops or immersed ourselves in the brine to know what it is to be alive.

I recollected those long childhood Good Fridays when death and resurrection were the only things on the box, and the radio in the kitchen played dirges, and even the budgerigar looked depressed. I remembered my friends and I, bored and restless, drawing stigmata marks on to our fat little palms with red biros.

I recalled, too, the surprise of finding my father marooned in the house like a great gasping shark, washed up on the shore of domesticity for a day, with all the pubs and clubs shut tight.

We all have our crosses to bear, as the nuns said, and I thought that maybe my father’s cross was watching the bottled Guinness he brought home in a brown paper bag flatten and fall in the small teacup-sized glass he took from the kitchen press .

While we walked that Good Friday, heads bent against the wind, I told my companion about a funeral I’d recently attended for the father of an old friend. He was a kind, soulful man who had lived his life among family, friends and neighbors, and who had died a dignified and peaceful death surrounded by those who loved him.

The Catholic church where the funeral mass took place, I told my companion, had itself seemed like a kinder, more inclusive place than the churches I remembered from my childhood.

“For instance,” I said, “when it was time for communion, the priest offered the congregation a low-gluten alternative.”

“And what?”

“The priest offered a low-gluten alternative – you know, for coeliacs or whatever.”

“I thought it was the body of Christ. How can you have a low-gluten god? ” asked my companion, who, not having had a religious upbringing himself, pays attention to the details of such matters.

“I believe there’s been some debate about this in the Vatican,” I told him. “Apparently low-gluten’s okay but no-gluten isn’t.”

“Would that be an ecumenical matter?” asked my companion.

At the funeral, I’d stayed in my pew, as I always do, while the gluten-lite wafer was being distributed. I’d been surprised at how many of the mourners, of all ages, had received the host.

The whole experience, I tried to explain as we walked, suggested a conscious effort to be more open. And the congregation felt gratitude too, of course, for the ritual, for the custom and formality, for the warmth.

Still, when my time comes, I said, I’d like to be scattered into the sea, among a communion of bouncing dogs and bucket-wielding babies and blue-haired young women in contradictory T-shirts and the waves and the islands and the even bluer horizon.

“I think I need a pint,” my companion replied.

We walked on. Two goosepimpled young women ran towards the water, screaming in anticipation of the cold before their limbs even touched the ripples, and an old yellow Labrador barked its gravest approval.

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