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Fast Fiction: The Reunion

..'Oh, I'm a lecturer in theology,' he almost shouted. 'I'm just about to publish a critical analysis of Browne's Religio Medici.'..

Some folk can be so irritating, as Richard Mallinson’s story reveals.

At a reunion five or six years after the war I went up to the Cockney rating who'd recited a psalm when we'd thought all was lost for us in the submarine.

'What was the number of that psalm?' I asked him. 'I haven't been able to trace it in the Bible.'

'Oh,' he said, 'it hasn't got a number. I made it up. It just came to me ... a bit like the story of Caedmon, the Saxon cowherd, who was inspired -'

'But it sounded so authentic,' I cut in. 'I really can't believe that you . . . Have you recited it since?'

'No - I'm afraid that within minutes I couldn't recall a word of it. It went as quickly as it had come.' There was no trace of a Cockney accent now.

'Well, well,' I said fatuously. 'And what are you doing with yourself these days?' Around us others were noisily talking, chortling, chewing and drinking.

'Oh, I'm a lecturer in theology,' he almost shouted. 'I'm just about to publish a critical analysis of Browne's Religio Medici.'

I took a drink of my whisky.

'Good god,' I said, thinking of my own job as an insurance clerk.

He smiled. 'Yes, God is good, isn't He? I pray to Him every day and more often than not my prayers are answered.'

Almost defiantly, he took a sip of his orange juice.

'And what sort of work do you do these days er, sir?' he asked. 'No doubt it will be exciting. You were a real man of action in the navy, weren't you?'

He smiled again - or did he smirk?

'Some of the men would have followed you anywhere,' he went on, 'but of course you don't need me to tell you that, do you er, sir?'

Now he was definitely smirking.

'Yes,' I said, 'even to the bottom of the sea. Is that what you mean?"

For several seconds I looked him straight in the eye and he flinched. Then I carefully put my glass down and with both hands reached out for his scrawny neck.

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