"Where's Sam," I ask, seeing a strange face behind the bar - probably his wife.
"Gone bloody caving." Snorter tells me and indicates his empty glass, now I am not a resentful person nor am I paranoid yet I do find it strange that Snorter's glass is always empty when I walk into the Thorns. I must remember to study the way that I open the bar door.
"Where's he gone caving?"
Little Nancy wonders where the caves are in Torquay, "I was caught short there once and I couldn't even find a toilet."
"Someone your size is bound to be caught bloody short."
"Torquay's got a lot of history."
I am wondering how someone the size of Sam could possibly go caving, maybe he's part of the ground crew or whatever they call it in caving circles. "Catacombs," I say.
"There's a lot of those in history."
"What I mean is that the whole of Torquay is built on catacombs."
"That explains a lot about Torquay."
"It was in Torquay that I first thought about reincarnation."
Nance is frightened by the prospect of death and therefore quite keen on reincarnation, "Do you believe in it then Stanley?"
"Well, I'm not sure anymore."
"Tell us what happened in Torquay." says Little Nance.
"I was renting a cottage on the outskirts of the town in Downwidcombe Road it was, number fourteen; I'd been left a little money and decided to spend the summer researching there.""I'm keen on research."
"Yes, we know you are John. As I was saying, I had been staying in Woodsedge Cottage some three weeks and during that time I had entered a phase of purposeful introspection which no doubt led me to be sensitive to those things that are all around us but which we fail to see."
"I think I'd like to research alchemy although it might be messy."
"Good idea John, you could always get an industrial vacuum cleaner. Anyway, in the sitting room there was a divan and when the phone rang I happened to be lying on it with my feet in the air."
"Playing bloody dead were yer?"
Ignoring the Snorter I continued, "Torquay 639"
Nance looks shocked.
"Stupid if you ask me."
I wasn't but feel that I have to give Snorter his due, this last remark being artfully subtle given his aforementioned predilections for framing questions, although I have no inclination to tell him. "It was not the fact that my feet were in the air, thereby driving blood under pressure to my brain which was responsible for my telephone manner. It was, I am convinced, the divan that caused my childlike behaviour - how, you may well ask, can I be so sure. Now you all know that I am an objective person, no new age gully sandal me. I observe, make notes, compare results, make tentative hypothesizes and then test them.
First of all the divan, it was hideously cheap, full of right angles and so designed that one night on it would awaken the dead. The kind of divan that if set on fire would seek out the occupant of the cottage and throw gallons of fume-laden molten plastic at him. Little wonder it was under a dark blue sheet. Careful observation of my behaviour lead me, initially and erroneously, to the suspicion that I was suffering extreme and irrational changes of mood and for some time I feared for my sanity.
Gradually I began to realise that I was being subjected to external influences and at first I equated my mood swings with my reading material. I was contented and happy until it dawned on me that I did not read whilst on the telephone and that my behaviour only changed when I was laying on the divan. It was at this point that I knew that I was in sniffing distance of one of those intuitive leaps that made Edward De Bono a very rich man. The previous night I had dreamt of Freud - he was holding my hand and showing me around a very posh furniture store. That clinched it.
The only possible solution, one that explains my alternate moods of seriousness and regression, has shattering implications for our attitude towards inanimate objects. Put simply, my cheap-jack divan was the reincarnation of Freud's consulting couch. So, to fully answer your question Nance, while I am yet to be convinced that you or I will be reincarnated I have known from that time in Torquay that the material things around us are reborn. Anyone for a drink?"
When I return from the bar John and Nance are talking about the Nam, who is due back any day now, Gordon is the village New Age Man Complete with Pony tail. Now I have a great liking for Gordon because he is earnest and means-oh-so-well. The Snorter hates the Nam and the Nam tries hard to like the Snorter. Little Nance has a lot of time for the Nam and I believe that he does a lot to help Nance's difficulties with feelings. John is indifferent to the Nam because being New Age the Nam is not yet part of history. In fairness to the Nam, I should point out that John is indifferent to any person or thing that is not a part of history.
"I'll say this for the silly Nam," the Snorter says grudgingly, "he grows bloody good onions, it's all that relationship stuff I can't stand, all that bloody having to understand. What's he doing this time?"
"I think it's another rebirthing," replies Nance nervously.
"When the hell is he gonna find the right womb and get on with it, that what I would like to know."
"History is the womb of civilisation."
Little Nance has trouble dealing with biology and blasphemy in close proximity and is pretending not to be close to tears. Now I don't always feel like rescuing Nance, not when the imp is in me and, like a parent, I need a night off. Tonight I feel like a night off, not that I would ever be cruel to Nance - just leave the water wings at home. Anyway, I am rather pleased that the Nam will be back soon and that the Rev is getting over his tonsillitis. "I must admit, that having been born once, I'm not sue that I would want to go on doing it."
"I think it's a load of old rubbish."
"Well I admire his questing, you have to admit that he is always changing and on the move, always offering a new perspective on things." I say to the table.
"Did I see you talking to the copper earlier?" asks the Snorter.
"He was in the car park, playing with his panda, gave me quite a turn."
"I had just walked into the car park and was pretending not to have seen him when he shouts out."Hey Stanley, do you want to score?" Well I froze, so did my mind. Was it a trap. Could I pretend that I had not heard him? You know that he would like to be a CID officer and then there's all that TV crime he watches and you have to allow that a man has to be devious in the first place to be a policeman."
"Golly! What did you do Stanley?" asks Nance, arms full of glasses.
"Well I remembered what the Nam say about taking deep breaths, took a few and said," Evening Sergeant Brightstone." He gave me a queer look and by now I was feeling a White Slaving Triad member wanted on four continents who breathed deeply and shook all over. "On Saturday man, the match against East Fartherdowne, can you score for us?""
"They played cricket in the 14 th century you know, they didn't have wickets but used a hole instead."
"They bloody well would, wouldn't they."
"Well anyway, I will be scoring on Saturday."
"But Stanley, you can't abide cricket." states the sympathetic Nance.