As little children we learn to sing songs before we can read, which occasionally led to misunderstandings. For ages I thought the lyrics of the jaunty hymn Lord Of The Dance were: ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be, I am the lord of the dance settee.’
I imagined that Jesus had a massive sofa up in heaven that he could dance on any time he liked and never be told off by the grown-ups. He was doing the Twist on there, or the Charleston or the Hucklebuck (if you don’t know how to do it, then you’re out of luck). Sometimes he’d bounce around free-form like he was on a trampoline. I really envied Jesus.
But it was his dance settee. If anyone else tried to get up on the dance settee alongside him, Jesus would kick them off saying: ‘No, I am the lord of the dance settee!’
I think most of my disillusionment with organised religion came from the fact that it turned out that Jesus wasn’t as much fun as that casual mishearing had made him appear.
If adults had told me that the reward for being good my whole life would be my very own heavenly dance settee, I would have been Archbishop of Canterbury by now.
I didn’t really care for school assembly at the time, yet one of my other favourite childhood memories comes from another hymn, the mournful dirge When I Needed A Neighbour.
Each verse asked a question such as: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there? I was hungry and thirsty were you there?’ before repeating the same refrain about creed and colour and age being unimportant because all that was important was whether we were there or not.
The hymn recounted the suffering that Christ endured on our behalf and reprimanded us for our indifference to his plight. This seemed a bit rich as we were only nine years old and wouldn’t have been much help even had we been alive almost 2,000 years before.
But of course it spoke more of the suffering of humanity generally, trying to teach us, albeit in a pompous and judgmental tone, that there is something we can do for every suffering person. And the ultimate reassurance that if anything bad happens to us, Jesus will be there. Unless it coincides with his time on the dance settee, in which case you’re on your own.
And as admirable as it is to try to teach children these lessons, the adult world had, as so often, miscalculated. Because one of the verses started: ‘I was cold, I was naked, were you there? Were you there?’ While we were no doubt supposed to be thinking of Christ’s suffering as he dragged his cross to Calvary, all we had heard was the word ‘naked’, so we would all dip our heads, keep singing rather shakily and snigger.
Then we’d laugh more because whoever was cold and naked was hoping we’d be there to see his cold nakedness. Why would he want that? If I had been cold or naked I’d have hoped no one would have been around to see my embarrassment (as I sometimes call it).
It made us laugh every single time we heard it. It never got old. In fact I am still chortling about it now as I type. It was even better than when we had to sing ‘Sinners all are wee’ or about the ‘Lettuce with a gladsome mind’. Those rare glints of light in those dark, bum-numbing, fart-shrouded, endless assemblies.
Where’s my dance settee?
Richard is filming a new stand-up series, Richard Herring’s Meaning Of Life, at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on Nov 17 and various dates in 2014. For tickets, see www.richardherring.com