Pearson's soirées were always a source of intense pleasure to me. Having made
her acquaintance through a mutual friend I was enchanted by the lady
immediately and delighted to soon be invited into the inner circle which dined
at her house on three or four occasions each year.
Annette was a first class cook and took great
satisfaction in preparing the evening repast. On my first visit I was
understandably rather nervous upon arrival, but within the space of a few
minutes the assembled guests had put me quite at ease with their warm, friendly
welcome. I soon discovered that there was neither bore nor boor among them.
The company varied, but there was a hard
core of five who were constantly present. These were Annette, myself, John
Richardson, his wife Flora and Henry Strickland. Eight was Annette's perfect
dinner party number and so three others were invariably present to make up the
party and I never yet felt ill at ease in the company of anyone Annette invited
into her home. Conversation was always lively, with wit, jest and intellectual
stimulus unfailingly on the evening's menu.
The particular night I wish to speak of was
one in which only the hard core five I mentioned earlier were present. It was a
bitter winter's night and I believe the three others who were supposed to join
us had been forced to cancel owing to travel difficulties due to the inclement
Being five old friends, the atmosphere was
relaxed and intimate. Having polished off an excellent meal, drinks were poured
and, in the case of the men at least, trouser belts let out a notch. I believe
it was Henry who set the tone of the conversation that ensued....
“As fine a dinner as you've ever
cooked,” said Henry.
“Compliments to the chef are certainly due
Annette”, added Flora.
“Oh I'm just glad it all turned out so well”,
said our host with a hint of a blush.
“I can't understand why you don't go and find
yourself a husband. You certainly know the way to a man's heart,” said
Henry with his customary chuckle.
“Are you volunteering?” Annette asked.
“Eh? What!” said the flustered Henry as
we all laughed at the discomfit of this self —confessed confirmed bachelor.
“You let yourself in for that one
Henry,” I said. “But I don't suppose there's the ghost of a chance of
gaining access to your heart via your stomach.”
He snapped his fingers sharply. “Now that's
the very thing I propose we discuss tonight,” he said.
“Marriage via the alimentary canal?” I asked.
“No — ghosts.”
“Ghosts?” said Flora sceptically
“Yes — I was wondering earlier if anyone had
ever seen one.”
The assembled company shook their heads and
there was a moments silence until....
“Can't say I have,” said John Richardson, “—
though I did have an odd experience many years ago.”
“Something inexplicable?” asked Henry.
“It was certainly something I personally could
find no explanation for.”
“Then it's the very thing we want to hear
about!” said Henry excitedly, “— if everyone is in favour?”
We each gave our enthusiastic consent and
turned our attention to John as he began to speak.
THE TEST OF TIME
I can think of no greater horror than the Christian concept of eternal life,” said
Ormerod, spearing a roast potato with his fork. “Stuck up there with a crowd of
harping cherubs? No thanks!”
surely the idea of being reunited with loved ones on the other side is a
reassuring one,” I replied.
ones?” my companion snorted.
father, mother — and didn't you have a brother who passed on?”
on? Passed on indeed! Died! My brother died Hopkins. Let's have none of this
passed on nonsense. And as for being reunited with them: my father beat me
mercilessly as a child, my mother died from cirrhosis of the liver — owing to
the usual cause — and my late brother once attempted to drown me in the bathtub
due to his insane jealousy. I can assure you I have no wish to clap eyes on any
of them ever again either in this life or another.”
view life as being essentially without meaning?”
“Completely pointless old man — chaos in
Christian I'm afraid I can t agree with you.”
an atheist I can no more agree with your belief in a supernatural deity, or a
child born without intercourse, given that it was pre-IVF, who could bring the
dead, himself included, back to life.”
are trying times to be a believer,” I sighed. “I suppose that's what
having faith means.”
The complete suspension of all logic?”
sipped our wine.
“Perhaps in time all will become clear,” I
the first sensible statement you've made all evening Hopkins — though for all
the wrong reasons,” Ormerod replied.
you believe we will get to the bottom of things in time?”
believe time is the bottom of things,” said my friend. “It is the very heart of
all things. The man who understands time will understand everything.”
don't quite follow you.”
me,” he said, “what is time?”
question left me flummoxed. “Why, it's the — the continual moving forward — of events,” I finally managed triumphantly.
“Poppycock!” he replied.
what is your own definition?” I asked, taken aback by his abruptness.
none,” he said simply.
we can at least agree that time moves forward?”
no,” he responded.
“Because I have serious reservations regarding
its very existence.”
doubt time exists?” said I, bewildered by the turn our conversation had taken.
he answered, sawing at his well done steak.
how can it fail to exist? We walked here using time — my watch hand is moving
forward — ”
watch hand?” he burst out with a guffaw. “What has that to do with time — save
to show it as a man made concept?” He leaned across the table, his voice
becoming more animated. “What is this present we inhabit Hopkins? When does it
become the past and what is its link to the future? I tell you the present no
more exists than your Yahweh. It is impossible to pinpoint it — forever on the
brink of the past and the future.”
you at least believe in past times and future times?” I ventured.
replied, refilling his glass. “I cannot find it in me to believe in
what of history?”
of it?” he countered nonchalantly.
my head incredulously. “And yet you say that time is at the bottom of
seems to be a riddle with you,” I said, exasperated.
Hopkins,” he replied. “It is — but one that I hope to solve some day.”
future?” I replied, with my tongue firmly in my cheek.
my friend,” he laughed good-naturedly, clinking his glass to mine.
. . . .