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Joolz Encounters The Jesus Army

Joolz Denby

It was the mid-eighties. My partner and I had moved from Bradford to London because he was in a rock band recently signed to a major label and I was - still am - a writer. We didn't like it much, we were used to people who spoke to each other in the street and the shiny impersonality of London masking the grim, dirty reality beneath was a burden to our spirits.

One night, to cheer ourselves up, we decided to go to the pictures: a new film, much heralded by the alternative critics with a supposedly brilliant soundtrack. It was called 'Near Dark'. Dressed in my Gothic finery, my waist-length hair dyed brilliant scarlet I left the cinema that night full of energy, feeling better than I had for days. We discussed the film excitedly as we crossed to the Leicester Square area. I noticed a small temporary stage had been set up - at that time of night - and a crowd was listening to a speaker. Curious, we went to have a look, after all, we'd nothing else to do . . .

A silver-haired man was preaching - oh, I realised pretty fast this was a Christian meeting - to a bunch of street people and others dressed in fake combat gear, as if it were a uniform.

I've always been interested in religion, in faith, like my father before me; my dad, the soldier-scholar, always seeking for the truth. I've studied religion, and still study it, in all it's forms for many years now, but then, I was young and didn't know what I know now . . . As I listened to the man preach about how he could heal the sick, cure cancer, get addicts off drugs and drink simply by the laying on of hands (his hands, of course), I felt anger at his cruel lies rise in me.

Maybe I was over excited by the film. Maybe I was outraged at his lack of conscience or maybe his oily, self congratulatory tone raised my hackles.

'You lying bastard' I yelled, 'how can you say stuff like that? Cure cancer? You should be ashamed . . .'

Before my mouth closed I was surrounded by the combat gear people.

I was grabbed by the arms, boots kicked my shins, I struggled as punches were landed in my ribs, carefully, so they couldn't be seen. Furious, I lashed out at whoever came near, shouting for my partner, but he couldn't get to me as the press of people around me was so solid.

They held me as I thrashed around and then one of them, a pale, acned young man with wonky black framed glasses put his clammy (it was, I remember, looking back I think he was more frightened than me, I was just livid) hand on my forehead. I tried to bite him, but he kept me at arm's length while the others kept hitting and kicking me when they could, but always, always, out of sight of any witnesses.

The pale boy coughed. 'Demons' he said in an unconvincing nasal voice, 'demons, come out of this woman . . .'

A chorus of 'praise the lord' rose from my assailants.

I stopped struggling for a moment, fascinated.

'What?' I said.

'Demons, come out of this . . .'

'Hold on a minute . . . Demons? Are you real? D'you think I'm - no, it's - d'you think I'm posessed?'

'Well, you are . . .' he quavered.

'I'm not.'

'You are . . . You are, they said you are and . . .'

'Oh, bollocks. I'm not. I'd know, wouldn't I? I think I'd at least have some fucking idea if I was demon possessed, wouldn't I? Eh? My head would spin round or something and I'd sick up mushy peas -oh, come on, honestly . . .'

'Well . . .' He looked slightly doubtful.

'Oh, stop this, it's silly - demons! Honestly, what are you thinking? You're English, for God's sake, making a scene like this in public, what would your mum think, eh? Eh?'

He took his hand away and looked embarrassed; the kicks and punches re-doubled. Later, I'd sit in the bath and cry with the pain of my bruised ribs and aching, black and blue shins. But at that moment, I was plain old angry.

Then a big, bearded fella stepped in and clamped his huge paw on the pale boy's head, nearly pushing him to the ground and dislodging his precarious specs.

'Demons!' He growled in a bass rumble, 'demons! Come out of our brother - we know you've got into him from this woman! Come out, demons!'

The combat gear people dropped me like a hot brick and clustered round the pale boy like flies round jam. Their faces were blank and insectile, their voices robotic. Their eyes were empty, like shark's eyes. For the first time, I felt a shiver of fear - and repulsion. My partner grabbed me and we ran off.

I looked back, and saw the silver-haired preacher watching me, his face in the flickering London neon unreadable; then his voice started up again, repeating the same lies as before.

Then suddenly, I felt a hand on my arm. I spun round, ready to fight - but it was an elderly couple.

'I'm sorry, Miss' the old man said in a gentle voice, full of concern. 'I saw what happened, we both did, didn't we, dear . . . I - we - well, we wished we'd had the courage to speak out. We're Christians, you see, but that chap and his people, they're wicked, they're - it's not right. Thank you, for what you did . . .'

I couldn't think of anything to say. The old couple smiled and walked slowly away. I'd started shaking and my partner was worried about me. He put his arm round me as we walked. I leant against him, my mind whirling.

'Those bastards' he said 'did you see those bloody fake army outfits? I picked up a leaflet, they call themselves The Jesus Army - mad, the lot of them . . .'

The Jesus Army.

That was my first encounter with Noel Stanton and his true believers, but it wasn't my last. I hope Stanton remembers that night; remembers the red-haired Goth woman who his Christian brothers and sisters beat up.

Because these days, my hair is grey and I'm not a Goth, but I haven't forgotten him - oh, no . . .

For more of Joolz work, and details of live readings around the country, visit her official website: