BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
Walking along the seafront between two Devon villages, our walking companion warned us that a very black cloud was about to open up overhead, but we should not worry as there was a lovely café a couple of hundred yards away where we could take shelter. So we sped up a bit – with dogs and children in tow – and we made it to the café along the promenade.
Alas, the café was full. The rain was starting to mizzle.
“Don’t worry,” said our ever-optimistic walking companion, “there is a shelter a hundred yards away in the cliff wall and that will fit us all quite comfortably”.
By the time we reached the shelter the rain was sloshing it down. There were only half a dozen people in the concrete shelter rammed into the cliff face, which looked like a brutalist bus shelter one might find in Abkhazia or Turkmenistan. A French couple were sheltering there and busily studying a map. Also present were a couple of middle-aged gentlemen who, rather peculiarly, were sporting suits and ties. Wearing such clobber and polished black brogues on a Devon beach promenade seemed very odd attire indeed.
While we all looked at the rain pouring down on the beach below us and splashing out at sea, our walking companion struck up conversation with the men in suits. She talks to anyone and everyone, including herself. She began telling them that we had spotted a seal in the sea a while earlier – they seemed interested.
At first I felt relieved. Our walking companion suffers from cacoethes loquendi (a severe affliction of verbal diarrhoea) and I had feared the shelter might render us a captive market to yet more of her incessant drivel. But my relief soon faded…
I had clocked a banner on a metal stick which one of the suited fellows was part obscuring. I fast realised we had stumbled into, and trapped ourselves in, a cunning raintrap set by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Worse, our walking companion was already chatting away with them. We were doomed. There was no whisky left in my hip flask as I had glugged it near Sidmouth while our walking companion was rattling on about her aunt’s thrush issues. How long was this rain going to last?
After a while, the Frenchman also spotted the banner. He cast a fearful glance at the Jehovah’s witnesses then sought sympathy in my direction – with our eyes we exchanged a regard of solidarity and offered each other a nervous smile. He then warned his wife and she smiled across also – with a pair of most kissable Piafian lips. And still our walking companion yattered on obliviously… now she was talking about buzzards.
Then I heard one of the besuited gentlemen make his first move:
Our walking companion did not click immediately. She always was a fluorescent tube. She seemed more shocked that someone dared get a word in edge-ways. Then she too clocked the suits and the banner and sent a startled look in my direction.
I looked away. Her problem. She was not going to involve me in some impromptu Bible class.
For ten minutes they tried in vain to sway her. For ten minutes we pretended we didn’t know her. In the meantime we formed a circle of protection and struck up a totally different conversation about what we might eat for supper. Black pudding and other blood products did get a loud mention. In any case they seemed to give up on our walking companion when she started talking about divorcing her third husband – she was clearly too much of a longshot for them and the cloud could not empty itself forever. They were not interested in us, thank Jehovah. Perhaps they had smelt the sulphur on us or, more likely, didn’t like the look of our growly terrier’s jaws.
One of the Jehovah’s witnesses then leaned towards the French couple and asked in a low voice: “Do you love Jesus?”
The French gentleman looked up from his map-reading and then paused for a brief moment. Cool as a cucumber he replied, “Yes, sir, I love cheeses! I am French! I quite like your English cheeses too but most of all I love our French Camembert with a glass of Sauvignon.”
And with that the rain stopped.
Sunlight from heaven soon beamed down on our pagan heads and we all scarpered.
As the French couple scurried off, the French man turned round in our direction and smiled, gesturing as if to wipe his brow.
Un trait de genie. The clever bastard.
Dominic Wightman is the Editor of Country Squire Magazine.