“Um, OK,” announced Eli, “I guess since it was my idea to conduct this research here tonight, its up to me to get the first round in. So what are you having? “
“Guinness”, from Chel.
“Really? You still sticking with that? I thought your experiment didn’t end well last time?”
“Lager”, said Greg.
“I’ve been told it’s best to persist. Although the original, as brewed and served in Dublin is unbeatable, apparently, there is sufficient of note in the pale shadow that is the exported version to keep at it. One more time. Tonight might as well be that time, especially since you are buying”, Chel continued.
“In for a penny”
“Well, sadly it will be more than a penny, but yes, ok. Which lager, Greg?”
“I will go with the draught of the day”, from Ian.
“There are several”
“The most expensive one, then.”
“And I shall chance a bitter. No I won’t. A wheat-beer. Why keep trying to fool myself. All the rest of the beers taste sour. Only the wheat-beer actually tastes pleasant.”, piped up Beryl.
“You just don’t get it, do you? Beer isn’t supposed to taste nice. It is sold in quantity to induce belching and farting, and sexist comments. How can you become one of the boys if you persist in misunderstanding the underlying philosophy of drinking beer?”
“Fine,” faux-huffed Eli. “Mine’s a Newkie Brown. Getting them in before they replace the carcinogenic brown colourant. But you didn’t need to hear that since I’m buying. Back in 5. But meanwhile, could someone set this up somewhere dry in the middle of the table so it can pick up all our voices?”
Weaving towards the bar, scoped out the gaps and the activity. Who was newly arrived. Who was about to leave with their assortment of drinks. Would the can’t-take-my-rucksack-off tourist rotate left or right. Where did the bar staff tend to linger. The bar was packed. Perhaps 3 deep in places. No obvious spaces. But there was a potent scenario he could ease into.
A short young lady surrounded by tall blokes, seemingly frustrated with not being served, not yet learnèd in the art of elbows, eye contact, and general bar queueing scrummage techniques. Eli sidled up behind and to the side, not quite waving his £20 note. Caught the eye of the barman and pointed at the lady. The barman nodded, and finished off his current order. The young lady had glanced up in frustration and was about to let rip verbally when she realised she was being served. Eli sidled into the gap as she left, returned her grateful nod, and quite naturally become that barman’s next client. Five minutes saved. It’s the little things, but this was a nice moment. The evening had started well.
Arrived back at the table, bedecked with the full round of five drinks, in what he liked to consider was his pub party piece. “How did Eli manage to carry back the full round by himself”, no-one asked. A large bottle in each side pocket, and 3 full pint glasses, two of which were nestling in empty pint glasses for the bottles. Everyone grabbed for whichever pint was theirs. Beryl may have grimaced as he pulled her pleasant-tasting bottle of beer from his end of the week trouser pocket, but he chose not to notice.
The first sips took place in general silence. Some contemplative “ah”s. A considered look into the foam and at the general cleanliness of the glass. And then one by one, the group looked up, first at the recorder, then at Eli. He had bought their attention for the next 10 minutes. The floor was his.
The recorder was resting on an upturned condiments bucket. Eli switched it on. The red light lit and the wheels turned, and he began.
“I’ve asked you here this evening to help me solve a puzzle, and it is this. What is religion all about then? How do you get it? What does it make you feel and do?
I ask because the topic, to me, is an angry mystery. Its a mystery to me why anyone. I mean, its like smoking. Most people who do it would rather they could stop because it is bad for them and they know it. The whole thing seems to be an exercise in regret and hypocrisy.
And I’m getting angry already. It makes me so frustrated trying and failing to express my thoughts on the subject that I lose control of my tongue and collapse in a heap of angry spittle.”
“A heap of angry spittle?”
“OK, so perhaps I need to work on my visual metaphors. I ask because I want to give my characters religion. I want it to be realistic. I want them to behave, to act, to make choices like true believers would. In order to give it to them, I need to understand it. And I don’t.
Please help me give religion.”
Eli looked up, once that little speech was over. It was awkward to open up like that. He feared he was going to become unpleasant in the coming discussion, if there was one.
This was a topic they’d never discussed as a group, not even slightly. However, he had a sneaking suspicion that Greg was a card-carrying believer who hid it well, and that Chel had dabbled if not succumbed. The other two could talk guff about any subject from a standing start.
“Told you”, said Beryl to Chel. This confirmed another suspicion of his that there was a shadowy cabal exchanging info and analysis about the goings on in the company, and that he was the wrong gender to join.
Eli continued. “The recorder is so I can participate in the discussion and not get distracted by taking notes. On a training course, a couple of companies ago, it was made clear to me that I was an extrovert, albeit of the shy persuasion, and the (or a) technical definition of an extrovert is that they have to speak in order to find out what they think. That’s me. Not one for introspection. I code by myself, but verbalise with others, often with beer.
If the recorder is too off-putting, we can switch it off, but then I’ll be wanting to take written notes and the table is already sopping wet, Ian of the most expensive pint in the pub. These notes are for myself and myself only, and once I’ve transcribed them I’ll erase the tape, and there will be no names mentioned. Chatham House rules.”
“Fine by me”, said Ian, sweeping away the excess wastage with a beer mat, onto the floor rather than back into his glass.
“I am aware of my spittle-inducing, rabidly antagonistic reaction to all things religion. I wish to understand, but I might come across as a bit of an arse, so I plead special circumstances, Chartham, Chatham House Rules, crappy NPCs in our game, and a chance to set me on a path to understanding.”
“Well, you did buy the first round.”
“And I bought the first round. If this goes well, I may buy the second round too. So yes, that is perhaps a better way of phrasing my request. Keep this discussion interesting and enlightening, and I will keep the beers flowing. Deal?”