The train door opens and in he jumps.
I thought this odd. This is Three Bridges railway station; not the safest place to get in a carriage on the wrong side.
“Morning lad !” he says with gusto, as if meeting a familiar friend.
Looking up from my book, I reply “Good morning” with a forced joviality which fails to hide my disapproval of what I had just witnessed.
I recognise his voice instantly. Here is ‘Professor’ Joad of wartime radio fame.
We sit in awkward silence; then as the train finally begins to move, he asks:
“Any idea of the meaning of the universe, old chap ?”
“Not today” comes my immediate reply, without looking up.
He chuckles, then continues undaunted:
“Pity. I was trying to think of an answer, just in case I’m asked one day”
“Difficult question”, I blank coldly.
“That’s for sure” he says thoughtfully…and respectfully. “What’s the book ?”
” ‘The English Parish Church’ by Russell Chamberlin” , reading the front cover.
“Fascinating”, his eyes bright with enthusiasm, “Please tell me about it”
This unexpected request takes me by surprise, but it is genuine and sincere, so I respond as best I can.
He is still listening intently while the train slows in its approach to Crawley.
Such is his intensity of interest, I finish my unplanned monologue without realising we had already passed through the stations of Ifield, Faygate and Littlehaven. As we arrive at Horsham, I finally end by quoting from the book’s introduction:
“We take them for granted, these extraordinary structures which strive to give physical form to an invisible truth”
“Thank you so much for that”, he says, then continues “There’s a beautiful little church in North Stoke…”
I am entranced by his eloquence as he shares his delightful gems of knowledge. The stations of Christ’s Hospital, Billingshurst and Pulborough pass unnoticed.
Suddenly, he breaks off from talking as we very slowly approach Amberley station:
“Sorry lad, must away”, and with that he opens the carriage door, jumps out of the moving train, and scrambles down the embankment.
Then I wake up.
This short story was written by Richard W. Symonds