As everyone who goes walking on a regular basis will know, it is the countryside law to have a brief and cheery exchange with any person you pass.
Should you fail to do this it can result in five years jail-time and the confiscation of your favourite waterproof trousers.
Normally the chat is limited to ‘lovely day for it’, or ‘great to be out isn’t it’, but this time it was different.
I could tell there was something different about this gentleman from his demeanour.
A fixed smile adorned his face and he looked incredibly cheery, but in a false way – a bit like when you accompany your partner to the wedding of someone you don’t know and have to pretend you’re happy to be there.
We said hello to each other and then he added, ‘what a day to be out’.
I said ‘yes, it’s lovely’ and started to edge away.
But he stopped, exhaled deeply with a dreamy faraway look on his face – as if imagining sharing a bubble bath with Britt Ekland circa 1972 – and announced with gusto, ‘is there anywhere else you’d rather be?’
I was tempted to reply ‘yes, about 100 yards farther away from you’ but didn’t for fear it might cause offence, so simply replied, “no, it’s certainly beautiful” and took a purposeful stride away.
But he said, ‘well let me to show you something’…
It was at this point, given we were alone and several miles from civilisation, that I became briefly concerned he was about to pull a pistol from his pocket and blow my brains out.
The worst thing was that I knew this would forever remain an unsolved case as I hadn’t told anyone where I was going.
And it would be a motiveless crime (which I know from watching Juliet Bravo are devilishly hard to crack).
Indeed, I could already envisage the Channel 5 documentary, ‘Shot In The Head: The Mystery Police Couldn’t Solve’ featuring an interview with my weeping mother talking about how the last time we’d seen each other she’d told me off for opening a new packet of cheese when there was already a half-eaten Double Gloucester in the fridge.
Anyway – and I’m not sure if this was preferable to a bullet or not – he pulled out a leaflet which clearly had some religious illustration on it.
He started to approach but – thinking on my feet – I said, ‘in these Covid times I’d better not touch that’.
He appeared not to register my comment for he moved to within about two inches of my face – he’d definitely had garlic in the previous 24 hours – pointed at some words, and said ‘how would you like to live forever? Does that sound good? Eh?’
‘Well, no, actually it doesn’t,’ I replied. ‘I’m quite looking forward to a long lie down.’
‘What? You don’t want to exist for ever?’ he said, a bit taken aback.
‘No,’ I repeated. ‘I’ve got two young kids, I’m knackered, and I’m quite looking forward to the day when I can have a proper rest.’
He told me he was a Jehovah’s Witness, and I asked if he was going to live forever.
I admired the way he confirmed, with complete certainty, that, yes, he was going to live forever.
In response to this I told him I already had all sorts of aches and pains at the age of 45, not to mention terrible varicose veins in my left leg, so wasn’t he a bit worried about what state his body might be in when he reaches the age of 1,000?
‘No,’ he said, bright red Berghaus jacket gently flapping in the breeze, ‘because when Jehovah comes to Earth, he will return us all to the age of 30.’
“So, let me get this straight,” I said, “when Jehovah comes back from wherever he is, everyone will be turned into a 30-year-old.”
“Even dead people?”
‘Yes,’ he confirmed.
“Even Adolf Hitler,” I asked.
‘Well, that’s up to Jehovah to decide,’ he responded, looking slightly uncomfortable, ‘but if he thinks Hitler should be resurrected, that’s what will happen.’
I struggled with this concept.
I mean if there is a God or a greater being who has the power to resurrect us all, surely he should be a bit more picky about who he brings back?
I mean for a kick-off no way should Hitler or Stalin or the makers of X-Factor be allowed another chance.
“But if he brings everyone back, where are they going to live?” I enquired. “I mean, the planet’s already vastly overcrowded as it is.”
‘Pardon,’ he responded.
I asked again to which he replied, a bit hesitantly, ‘well, there are lots of deserts in the world. They could be used to house people,’ which I thought – as arguments go – was a tad on the weak side.
However, the conversation greatly enlivened my lonely trek and we continued it for a while longer before parting ways, and I must say that I can’t help but slightly admire him.
I mean, as a lapsed Catholic (if you hear a noise from above it’s my grandma turning in her grave), I am always envious of those with such strong faith and I just love the fact that people in this world are so different and unique.
However, on the other hand - and as much as I respect his views - it seems slightly on the bonkers side to stop a complete stranger on a remote hillside and try to convert them to your religion, and does, I think, undermine the credibility of what they’re trying to do.
Still, good luck to him, and he’ll be the one laughing when (while still looking 30 years old) he’s celebrating his 2000th birthday in the year 4022, by which point, my great great great great great great great, repeat 50 times over, grandchild might just be starting school – hopefully not with Hitler as his headteacher.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.
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