by Canon April Heavisides

OF COURSE the really, really exciting news is that Joe has been chosen to play Pope Joan in the new, great West End Musical. They said that they wanted a real live nun (!!!), and that Joe, in any case, just looked the part. (‘It must have been the shoulders that did it!’, said Brigitta, our friendly local Vicar; and certainly Joe is not flat-chested.)

Anyway, whatever it was, there she is. And just now she is having long sessions of ‘coaching’ from Peter Stanford, who cleverly established himself as a world expert on transvestite ecclesiastics just in time to latch on to the Pope Joan thing. (Peter, incidentally – who was once an editor of The Catholic Herald and a world expert on Catholics and Sex long before he was a world expert on Pope Joan – is nowhere near as camp in real life as he appeared on the television programme).

I think Joe is rather enjoying it all, and getting psyched-up for the part. She is to be seen, after a hard morning slaving away at the Today Programme, wandering backwards and forwards in the downstairs sitting room in a triple tiara and something chic from Jaeger.

What, you will ask, has Pope Joan got to do with the Millennium experience? Well, I will tell you.

The new Millennium is going to be the Millennium of Woman. All previous millennia have been ages of Brute Force and Patriarchy; but the third millennium will be free of all that. Technology has finally eliminated the physical superiority of Man; and, liberated as never before, Woman will come into her inheritance. Of all that Joan, the She-Pope, is a powerful symbol . As she sings in a marvellous torch-song (her first act closer): ‘I did it our way’.

Changing the subject somewhat, numbers of you have written to say how sad you were that I was omitted from the special Newsnight programme on the Dome. Yes, it was really, really disappointing! I have always wanted to meet feisty Kirsty, and where better than in my own big top? But it was not to be. A person called Beaver in Church House (probably a misogynist control freak, like the rest of them) decided that it needed someone ‘weightier’ than little me. So they got Richard Harries instead.

Not that we disapprove of Richard, you understand; Joe and I think he has all the right opinions about everything, and loved his coffee table book on the Nativity! He did us proud. There he was, holding his own among all those clever people like novelists and captains of industry: a churchy lovey in a hard hat, talking about good and evil and culture and things like that, with all the disguised bitterness of an artificial sweetener.

Which is more than one can say for D. Hope. The truth is that I feel awfully let down. The news that he thinks the Dome is an act of ‘hubris’ came on the very day when my new Millennium chasuble arrived from Wippell’s, and it quite spoiled the fun. Trust a crusty old catholic to talk to the papers in Greek! It’s so elitist!

But my come-back was swift and multilingual as well! What the Archbishop has forgotten, I told press, is that ‘duomo’ is Italian for ‘cathedral’; and that’s just what the Dome is! Like the cathedrals of old, it’s a meeting place for the whole community, a celebration of our common achievements and a symbol of hope for the future! I am there to see that the People’s Church has its place in the People’s Dome – and that Jesus is given a seat at his own birthday party. That’s something the Archbishop should be supporting – not attacking! He’s beginning to sound more and more like that crotchety Archdeacon of his!

On a slightly different tack, I suppose that we will never meet Mandy now! More’s the pity!! Joe and I are desperately New Labour; but it is all rather confusing at the moment. What did he do wrong that he had to resign? Extravagant life-style? I’ve known the Church Commissioners spend more than £500,000 on a house for a suffragan bishop! Borrowing money? If it’s a crime to get a little help from your friends, then call me, Joe and the Beatles guilty!

I admit that I wouldn’t want to befriend Geoffrey Robinson myself; but then I wouldn’t want to marry either Robin Cook or his first wife! If your aim in life was to restrict your acquaintance to nice people, you would presumably not go into politics in the first place. So, from the depths of deepest Charlton we cry out with one voice: Come back, Mandy, the Millennium needs you!

And of course it does! The Dome needs to be sexy; it needs a bold, glamourous image. It needs someone who’s a bit of a showman. Put it into the hands of a whole load of accountants and civil servants and it will go up like a lead balloon. Mandy was the Millennium. He epitomised where we are at: a scion of Old Labour, dressed in designer casuals, with a touch of the wide-boy and clutching an invitation to Highgrove.

Readers, I am sure will want me to finish with news about Tom! The little man is just starting on an exciting adventure! He began, after Christmas, in the nursery class of our local Church School. And that was the result of some heart searching, I can tell you!

Derek, you see (Tom’s father) is not a Christian. He’s the sort of person who thinks that the pyramids were built by aliens and the Knights Templar were all descended from a passionate fling between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalen. He wanted a Church School (we suspect) on purely elitist grounds. Joe, on the other hand (who attended a convent school that came dangerously close to turning her into Marina Warner) is anxious that Tom should not be indoctrinated. She wants him to grow up and do precisely what he wants with this tabula rasa.

It looked as if we were heading for one of those domestic gridlocks that I hate so much when I had a bright idea. I invited Penny, my friend from the diocesan board of education, round to meet them both. Penny really did the trick. Derek was delighted to hear how hard it was to get into a Church School; and Joe was reassured by the fact that they have a definite policy of teaching Christianity only in a ‘wider cultural context’ – which effectively means not at all!

So we’re out of the wood for now.

To reassure Joe, I’ve put a cutting from an American newspaper on the back of the loo door:

‘I used to be a Roman Catholic nun, until I stopped believing in God. Now I have joined the Episcopal Church.’

Isn’t it great!

April Heavisides is Archbishops’ Chaplain to the Millennium Experience. She is a Canon of Southwark.