Opening gambits

Sitting in the shelter on Platform 7 this morning waiting for the London train when a young woman came in and sat next to me. “Excuse me”, she said, “but can I ask you a question? What do you think of when you think of Jesus?” She seemed like a nice person, so I replied politely that I didn’t think of him at all. “What about God, then?” “Ditto”, I replied. “Are you a scientist?” she asked. I replied that I was an engineer. “Same thing”, she said, knowledgeably, “and the same cop-out”. I said, mildly, that some people might regard a belief in God as a cop-out. She gave me a pitying smile and then my train arrived.

Strange what people believe. But it’s not the strangest conversational opener I’ve experienced. Once, many years ago, I was seated at a magazine lunch next to the late Russell Harty, a very camp but charming TV chat-show host. His opening gambit was to say “What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Do you pee or brush your teeth?” Slightly miffed, I replied that sometimes I did one and sometimes the other but generally I started the day by reading the works of St Thomas Aquinas”. “Oooooh!” He exclaimed delightedly. “An intellectual!”

(Full Disclosure: I’ve never read the works of the aforementioned Aquinas. But I thought Harty’s impertinence ought not to go unpunished.)