...I didn't know he was lost.
So while I was in Nottingham, at Wollaton Hall café (see previous blog post), I got chatting. There I was, minding my own business, polishing off my jacket potato and veggie chilli, alone, when a voice from the next table said "Was that good?" "Absolutely delicious", I said, looking up at an elderly man in a beige suit, white socks, pale slip-on shoes and with very few teeth. "And what was it?" he asked. "Veggie chilli and a jacket potato" I replied, in a way that I hoped made it clear that I wasn't really in the mood for idle chit-chat (I had a blog to draft, after all).
Undeterred, he went on with the small talk and within a few minutes of perfectly pleasant chat, I'd discovered that he lives locally, comes to the park every day, has a niece who lives in Hove, thought I was either Australian or from Cambridgeshire (?!), had been a mathematician, retired at 52, and had written three books since retiring. Innocently, I asked "Oh, what were the books?" "Funnily enough, I have one here", he said, pulling a small white book from his equally white jacket pocket. I glanced at the cover, couldn't work out what it was, so I flicked through a few pages and was none the wiser. I saw poems, personal memories, fables and a random list of chapter titles with no discernible connection. I made a few suitable noises of appreciation and handed it back. He started to talk about chaos theory and how mathematicians try to make sense of everything around them, trying to make order out of chaos, he mentioned the butterfly effect and various other concepts I'm relatively familiar with.
And then it came - "You see, as a mathematician, I see life as a journey, a logical progression, from questions to the final answer, from ignorance to knowledge and that only comes when we understand God and Jesus and the real love which follows." My heart sank. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with religion - when it's kept private but I could see where this was going. He continued for a good four or five minutes while I shuffled my feet and nodded politely, until he reached "Don't you see? You'll finally be complete and free when you love Jesus." I couldn't take any more so I was quite diplomatic (for me!) and said "Well, of course, everyone's entitled to their own opinion and no-one actually knows who, if anyone, is right. But I'm an atheist, I feel perfectly complete and free already thank you, and I personally disagree with your views on the subject." Unsurprisingly, he ploughed on, not aggressively and not exactly preaching, but not letting the subject go either. I picked up my bag, put on my jacket and received a rather convenient text which gave me the perfect excuse to leave.
It was a shame - he'd seemed like an interesting person to talk to at the beginning but once the topic had headed to where he clearly wanted it to go, it was pointless. The subject wasn't going to change and he clearly wasn't prepared to listen to my views even though he thought it was perfectly acceptable to foist his on me. I really don't understand it - most religions preach tolerance and yet seem to be entirely intolerant of anyone who doesn't share their views. Personally, I'll never understand why anyone would want to live their life being told what to do by an invisible entity, a big book or some bloke claiming to be speaking for the invisible entity. Personal responsibility, people! Do what YOU believe is right and take the consequences if there are any! OK, I'm getting down off my soapbox now before I'm accused of foisting my views on anyone! ;-)
So, a potentially nice chat spoiled! What a shame.