We had met at college, when Laura's devotion consisted of no more than a few Bible readings and a visit to the local church once a week. The readings I even found endearing, until she got into the Old Testament and utilised her drama school training. Laura and her friends were "House Christians" who held prayer meetings and Bible readings in each other's homes. When I picked her up one evening it felt like wandering into a white clap-board country church in the US midwest. (And we were only in Streatham.) The mood got so overwrought that I expected to see Robert Mitchum as the preacher from Night of the Hunter gripping the holy book with his Love and Hate tattooed hands. I stood quivering in the kitchen, hoping they could stave off the day of judgement a bit longer so we could catch the last Tube.
As Laura's fervour grew, so did her group of friends - they all wore brown cords and flowery cardigans long before style magazines announced the nerd look as being hip. Probably because they were nerds, though judging by their beatific grins you'd think they were doing the sort of Ecstasy that hard-core clubbers pay way over the odds for.
Unfortunately, nightclubs were frowned upon and in time Laura and I stopped going altogether. "They are dark places full of people wanting to escape reality," she argued fiercely one night, as she prepared to go out to a prayer meeting in a dank basement flat in Victoria, hosted by somebody who thought two candles befitted the meeting's mood better than electric lighting.
Music, too, caused rifts and, like many couples in their early twenties, we argued about it relentlessly. She refused to let me play my old gothic and heavy metal records in her presence. Admittedly they were a sad by- product of my adolescence, but now they were classed as "evil and bad". It's a good thing I wasn't into Rap, otherwise I would have spent a lot of time returning CDs at Our Price. A compromise was struck upon Bob Dylan, but only the series of records he made when undergoing his religious conversion, generally perceived as his worst musical period. Some nights were spent listening to such awfully penned songs as "God Gave Names to All the Animals".
Our relationship drifted on over the next few months. I was rapidly wishing I hadn't exaggerated my spiritual dimension to impress her after we'd had a few drinks and made our first tentative passes at each other. (I continue to be a rather pathetic lapsed Catholic who can't even maintain a decent guilt complex, which I don't feel bad about in the slightest.)
Our association deteriorated further when born-again virginity began making headlines. An American concept, the idea is to preserve any sexual activity until marriage. She solemnly made me read a magazine which depicted hundreds of otherwise healthy adolescents with photo-flash grins, proudly holding hands while planting white crosses in the ground with their names pinned to them. All had undertaken a pledge not to have sex and dedicate this sacrifice to Jesus. Laura was so inspired that she wanted us to give it a try. I swallowed hard, arguing that maybe we were too late for the programme. Apparently that didn't matter. Instead, I resigned myself to the fact I would be agreeing with my parents on Catholic doctrine, and that sex before marriage held no temptation for Laura and me.
The crashing realisation that we weren't speaking the same language finally occurred when she came back to say she had spent the night "speaking in tongues". This was a moving experience for both of us. Laura because the spirit had moved her, and me because it meant I had to move out of the relationship. Not least, because this earth-shattering experience had somewhat euphemistically taken place with a mysterious figure called Piers at the London Healing Mission, a centre for Evangelical Protestants. Piers was lantern-jawed, over 6ft tall, and dragged his hands through meticulously conditioned black hair when he flirted with my girlfriend. He was taking a theology degree and made Mother Theresa look like a reckless hedonist. He also found Laura devastatingly attractive and almost said as much as she giggled coyly when they met at prayer meetings.
Following the recriminations of our subsequent break up she sent me a card which read "Don't Worry, Jesus Still Loves You." The subtext obviously was "even if I don't any more".
For now, though, I am dating somebody else. When she says I am opinionated, rude and selfish I applaud her in gratitude. More importantly, what makes me think the relationship will last is when she says, far from being "God's gift", I am an "ungodly pain in the neck". That I can live with.Reuse content