-Wednesday July 12th-
I remember my nanny once looking up from her copy of Bella and explaining to me, aged 26 and fully aware of the deets, the evils of the Holocaust.
‘He locked them all up and cooked them,’ she said, without needing to explain who he was. ‘He wanted everyone to have blonde hair and blue eyes. Cooked the poor buggers in them big warm ovens.’
I remember it because even though she was talking about mankind’s lowest ebb, an event so horrific that a moment’s exposure to footage of those white, twisted limbs is enough to make you sick, she somehow made it seem not that terrible. Cooked the poor buggers in them big warm ovens. In one sentence she’d numbed death’s sting. She’s good at doing that. She can dilute any ill tonic. Donald Trump? ‘Silly oul fool.’ Terrorists? ‘They oughta know better.’ Brexit? ‘That’ll all be alright.’ North Korea? ‘There’s always someone.’ Etc. Etc.
The reason I’m telling you about my nanny’s ability to filter tragedy is that I’ve realised Emmerdale does the same thing. It gives us the horrors of 21st century life as seen through an elderly person’s bi-focals. It presents danger with a blurry outline; a watery, dreamlike vision of suffering. A savage midnight street fight as depicted by Monet. A tragic road accident reconstructed with Playmobile. In Emmerdale everything goes wrong but it’s not that bad.
Realising this, nevertheless, doesn’t make watching it particularly more palatable.
Even with drug fights and secret pregnancies, this week’s Emmerdale moved at a cruel pace. And tonight’s show was the slowest yet. If anything, it veered away from drama and more into Summer Rep territory. It all started with a farcical set of events involving Stubble-Sporter and Lady Vicar. After an initial tiff outside the village shop in which Lady Vicar vented her frustrations at being dragged into Stubble-Sporter’s dodgy dealings, the odd-couple were soon patching things up, getting deep, down and dirty in the vestry.
Now, as we all know, vestries are hallowed turf, a place where the weightless glory of the Holy Spirit and the saggy shame of the human spirit interlock. It’s where the vicar stands and nervously adjusts his or her dog collar in the dusty mirror before going out and giving the public what it wants of a Sunday morning: theology in the form of extended metaphors. It’s also where they keep the hymn books (printed in the 1970s and called things like Mission Today and Let’s Sing With Him) and where there’s a little wooden cupboard for storing plastic cups and bottles of Ribena. Other than muttered complaints about the organist and the occasional choir pep-talk, vestries see precious little of what you or I might class as ‘action’. But we know our Emmerdale vicar is anything but traditional. She drinks beer and likes motorbikes. And she doesn’t think twice about using the vestry as a place to come before God.
One golden rule of Summer Rep farces is that if ever a vicar gets fruity with a parishioner in the vestry, the church door must open and the county Bishop must enter on a random inspection. Adhering to a Great British tradition, this is precisely what happened here. Lady Vicar – blouse untucked, boobs all over the shop – breathily ran out to greet Bishop Barry (actual name) and ask what he was doing in Emmerdale (the village, not the soap). Like all good Summer Rep Bishops, Barry smelt something fishy. He barged his way past Lady Vicar and into the recently sexified vestry, where the smell of fish was even more pronounced. Lady Vicar watched and winced at the thought of her boyfriend being caught with his trousers down. But for once his dangerously low IQ came up trumps. Listening to the discussion outside the door, he’d acted fast and whipped on a dog collar. Bishop Barry entered the vestry to find not a middle-aged man with his nob out, but a fellow member of the cloth with his nob in.
‘Oh,’ said Bishop Barry, always happy to be acquainted with one of the ordained. ‘And you are?’
‘I’m Father…’ replied Stubbly, before pausing to weigh up his three options: Ted, Time or Christmas. ‘I’m Father… Gideon,’ he said, plucking something from left field.
Regardless of the name’s implausibility (something akin to a footballer having the name Willy Score), Bishop Barry appeared to buy it. He engaged the poor novice in theological discussion then threw the age-old question at him:
‘So, what’s your favourite hymn, Father Gideon?’
‘Probably…’ said Stubble-Sporter, scanning the room for ideas and finding nothing until, possibly inspired by a white stain near the zip on his trousers, he said, ‘I’d have to go for… Kum Ba Ya.’
Bishop Barry nodded. Lady Vicar smiled. Stubble-Sporter smiled. Bishop Barry nodded. Lady Vicar looked at her watch.
It was all kicking off.
The Summer Rep vibe abruptly ended when Bishop Barry confessed to knowing all about the couple’s saucy relationship. He’d been playing the fool deliberately. He downgraded Father Gideon to ‘Father Scum’ and made references to Stubble-Sporter’s ‘unsavoury’ history of fighting, dealing, stealing and cousin shagging. ‘I’ve been doing a little digging,’ Bishop Barry said, crisply.
‘You go digging,’ replied Stubble-Sporter, happy to be ex-communicated and therefore free to adopt a less ecclesiastical lingo, ‘and you’d better be careful where you put your spade.’ His eyes narrowed as he said it, in a way that Father Gideon’s never would.
As threats go, it was pure Emmerdale. You don’t get many spade references on Hollyoaks.
Stubble-Sporter exited, leaving Lady Vicar to do the explaining.
Vestry hanky-panky aside, Emmerdale is a Godly village all round. Emma, of camera-soaking fame, decided to get away from it all tonight by going to a retreat to ‘try and reconnect with him upstairs’. (I assumed she meant God and not a particularly fussy lodger who refused to be talked to via anything other than phone calls from distant health spas.) Not to mention the busy choir practice from Monday’s episode and the fact everybody in The Woolpack knew who the vicar was. Even the deceased bridge-loiterer Ashley was a vicar and his wife, Zumba Mum, still wore a cross around her neck.
Less spiritual, however, were the tag team of Aaron and Jake Humphrey. They spent the episode arguing about the unborn son that was currently slacking about and absorbing nutrients in the Posh Edinburgh Festival Girl’s womb. (As a bit of back story, Jake Humphrey had slept with the Posho whilst Aaron was in prison for being a big ol’ scaghead.) Although more than happy to have his own mistakes forgiven, Aaron couldn’t let his husband’s misdemeanour slide. He got so incensed about it that he grabbed a framed photo of the couple’s wedding day and smashed it in an act of blunt symbolism.
‘See that?’ he said, pointing at the smashed glass. ‘That is us.’
(Sometimes symbolism does still need to be pointed out within the dialogue. Regardless of how blunt it is.)
As a solution to their woes, it was heartening to hear the couple suggest the classic soap opera quick-fix for mounting problems: running away. Jake Humphrey said that it was a perfect solution. They could just go. Leave it all behind: the baby, the drugs, the scandal. They’ve got the money, he said, plus unlimited access to the BT Sport app. Why not just go? It was then, as a vision of freedom from the chafing yoke of Emmerdale (the village, not the soap) flashed across their faces, that the credits rolled. And I experienced a similar feeling of liberty.