“DO YOU still believe, you know, like we did when we were young and life was so different?” I asked my good friend the Philosopher, as he scooped a dollop of potato from the big dish and dropped it by the fish on his plate, which shone from our table amid the ghosts on the old bandstand of the marble café, hidden off the windiest street in the world.
But I could see from the distant blue in his gaze that he was not yet ready to answer the question. Instead, he ran the prongs of his fork through the potato, his lips gradually moistening.
“You know, I advise the chef here on how to mash potato,” he said. “He’s a fine man, who has mixed sauces and stirred delicate confections for emperors and dandies in some of the finest restaurants in Europe. But the King Edward potato needs peculiar skills, if it is to enhance the juices from a brown trout. When taking the masher to the potatoes, waiting there at full steam in the pan, you must first add a few shreds of mushroom, freshly drawn from the rich soil of Lower Bebington; five slivers of red onion, a sprinkling of Cheddar cheese and a splash of full cream. And that is what you see before me now.”
But first he raised his knife to cut down the line on the side of that trout, staring at us, dead-eyed, on the white china. Then he parted the flesh on either side, revealing the springy bones, each no thicker than a whisker. As he spoke, I remembered boyhood holidays in North Wales – and how the fast, free streams on the holy hill of bruised memory sang and spurted in crazy melody through the flaming gorse, by the spindle-legged sheep, above the spreading valley – with its cottages in gossiping huddles around the squat chapel, the godly slates of which still trembled to the thunderous vowels of the lay preacher, whose tweed jacket swelled when his hammer-thumbs laid dry-stone walls, so tenderly. Then I would dangle my cunning, pink-wormed hook over the bank’s hanging grass into one of the slow, deep pools, gouged off the main stream. And wait and wait for the bite, the twitch, the electric pull of the trout, before hauling it onto land, there to bang its dumb head on a stone and toss its still-flailing body into a bag. I couldn’t do that now. God no.
“We are all fish, drawing from the wells of experience,” said the Philosopher, who had read my thoughts so easily. “But I think your question arises from the coming of Easter. You see we are little fishers. He was the Big Fisherman.”
“Jesus,” I said. “But do you still believe what we were told – that He was born to a virgin and had a ministry of three years, during which he preached before multitudes, performed miracles and taught us to love our fellow man, even our enemies. He knew that was the way to live because He was the Son of God and He would die for the sins of man. For this, they had Him nailed to a cross. But He rose again from the dead to show us that we could have everlasting life, if we believed in Him and God. Do you still believe that? Or, are the atheists winning because science can explain so much without reference to God?”
Silence sank over my friend, as he pressed the last morsel of mashed potato onto his fork. “Perfect,” he said, finally, before adding with a curious smile, “I must congratulate the chef.
“But faith is not a competition, a measure of knowledge,” continued my friend. “Jesus would not exclude the ignorant. He was a man of simple values and deep love. Faith needs no adornment. To Him, the grand palaces of great men would seem truly empty, even those we call churches. Entry into Heaven is not based on Earthly show. To answer your question honestly, I don’t know what to believe. But I do know that I like trout and man did not make the fish or the fishers. Would you care for a nice cup of tea?”
LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcasts at www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk