Up to then life had offered Robert Clive Smith no great surprises. Things had gone as he would have expected and as his comfortable countrified middle class parents would have hoped for.
As the only son of the Reverend Michael Smith of the Parish of Rigby-upon-Moor and Mary Jane Smith, second daughter of Bishop Dawber of the neighbouring diocese of Christwhistle, it was highly unlikely that things wouldn’t go smoothly. In a household distinguished by sensible books, a predilection of the occupants to watch National Geographic documentaries and anything featuring Melville Bragg unless the topic was world religions, and excellent home-made English dishes produced by the aforesaid Mary Jane Smith each evening after she had prepared her lessons for the next day’s classes at the village primary school at which she taught both English and religious studies, there was very little chance that Robert would end up like some of those youths slouching around outside Greggs in Rigby Town, smoking, chatting idly, some of them waiting for their turn at the tattooist just two doors beyond the payday money lender offices now in the premises recently vacated by Subway who felt that the town had gone so far downhill that they didn’t want their logo associated with it.
Thanks to financial help from Sons of the Clergy (motto: Working together to support the clergy) Robert attended a good albeit low profile independent co-ed school whose teachers had all been screened to ensure those usual and rather unmentionable independent school teacher-on-pupil carry-ons were kept to an absolute minimum, did well at sport becoming scrum half reserve for the first rugger team, while academically surprising his form teacher and his parents by getting high enough marks in his final examinations to gain entrance to St Gibbon’s College in Cambridge at which he read Insurance Law and, more importantly, met Felicity Thomas, youngest daughter of Major and Mrs Bletsham of Tonbridge, at an educational and social evening organised by the College’s Gardening Society one Friday evening during the third term of his second year in Cambridge.
It can’t be said it was love at first sight. After all, Robert’s instincts would have ensured that any passion would be suppressed especially when considering a nice girl such as he judged Felicity Thomas to be after fifteen minutes of discussing the staple diet of the stone-age Marutsi peoples of south eastern Java. But Robert considered Felicity to be well-spoken and respectful enough to invite her to meet his parents at some point during the Easter break. Because of bedroom issues at the Rigby-on-Moor vicarage, it was agreed that Felicity would stay in a local bed and breakfast and that if she wished her parents to keep her company and ensure propriety, the Reverend and Mrs Smith would be delighted to meet them and show them around the parish.
And so a PowerPoint presentation on the joys of compost-making led to parental meetings, to hand-holding, long walks, and eventually a kiss. It wasn’t long after graduation that the Rigby-on-Moor parish church witnessed an exchange of wedding vows presided over by the Reverend Michael Smith, and only two years later, the same Reverend Michael Smith had the pleasure of baptizing Mary Elizabeth Smith, the blessed offspring of his well-balanced son, Robert and his wholesome wife, Felicity.
For the happy family and their respective parents, the cup ranneth over. Long may things continue thus, they thought to themselves. Long may the fickle finger of fate point elsewhere, ideally at those small gatherings in the vicinity of Greggs in Rigby Town.
But of course it doesn’t always work like that. And so, one Wednesday lunchtime, gently nudged by the aforementioned finger, untroubled faithful husband to untroubled faithful Felicity, proud father Robert Smith, junior clerk in the well respected Rigby Town firm of Esterbarn Insurance, penciled in by senior management for a middle management role at some point in the distant future, walked out through the revolving doors of Esterbarn House and turned left in the direction of the High Street where he would buy a bottle of a recently launched No7 perfume from Boots as a birthday present for Felicity before returning to his office to sit down to his customary cheese and chutney sandwich so carefully assembled by Felicity only that morning, his short journey to take him past that very same tattoo parlour outside which the youths of the town tended to gather.
And as he walked past the tattoo parlour, the fickle finger tapped thrice on the window, and against his better judgement, and doubtless the advice he would have received from Felicity, his mother and his father, his mother-in-law and his father-in-law, his school teachers, and the man from Sons of the Clergy who had interviewed him every two years or so in connection with his bursary, had they been there, he slowed down and peered in.
And that, dear reader, was that!
For who should he see, cigarette in hand, relaxing with a copy of Hello – the cover pulling in extra readers by featuring both Kate Moss and Kate Middleton – on a comfortable sofa, black black hair swirled up on top of her head a la Amy Whitehouse (although at that stage he was yet to be initiated into that diva’s oeuvre), tattoos running up each arm disappearing into places that made him double visioned, ears, eyebrows, cheeks, chin and tongue adorned with a few month’s worth of production from one of Sheffield’s more productive steel mills, and almost modestly attired in black t-shirt and leopard skin leggings, but ex class-mate Zoe Walters, bête noir of the mathematics and physics teachers by virtue of the fact that she was smarter than they were, and one of the very few members of the opposite sex who had voluntarily spoken to him in all those years at school.
Now did that fickle finger also nudge Zoe Walters and cause her to look up through the window directly at Robert Smith at that very moment? It most certainly did. And ditto did it cause Zoe Walters to smile broadly and with an imperious movement of her hand, compel Robert Smith to put his shoulder to the tattoo parlour door, walk in and stand speechless before her? It did.
Thus at the age of twenty-four began the life of Robert Clive Smith, a life full of passion and adventure, a life of rollercoasters, roundabouts, crocodile wrestling, fire-eating, volcano surfing, and all the fun of the fair.
He lived deliriously for ever after.
And, dear reader, I hear you ask about Felicity, the one left behind. I’m delighted to reassure you that her life was one of great happiness for soon after the initial shock when Zoe Walters broke the news to her, she was appointed Second Gardener at the local National Trust property Rigby House, a post which exposed her to any number of enthusiastic male amateur and professional gardeners, most of whom found irresistible the earthy smell of compost and soil that she carried with her, and so it wasn’t long, after considerable and pleasurable research, before she found her several true loves. She and Robert remain friends and he sends her the latest No7 for her birthday each year. She doesn’t have the heart to say she doesn’t use it.
Mary Elizabeth Smith, for we must not forget her, will do just fine and is destined to be the first woman bishop of Christwhistle.
And there we have it.