Tomorrow morning, I’ll be setting sail for Winchester once again, this time primarily to sample the delights of its annual Christmas Market. I somehow completely neglected it during university, so I look forward to rectifying that, but I’m also excited by the prospect of any other new discoveries I might make. On my last trip there – during a mid-August heatwave – there were several, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember decorative hares dotted through the city for charity. There was also the refurbishment of my favourite coffee shop, a new ice-cream parlour (which I couldn’t take advantage of thanks to a pesky front step), and – most bafflingly of all – a monk standing at the bottom of the high street. Yes, you read that last bit correctly.
I had the good fortune to chat to him for a little while, not that I’d originally intended to. As I’m sure many of us are, I’ve always been quite wary of anyone who hangs around in the middle of town trying to sell something. Winchester seems to be a hotspot for that sort of thing, so over the years I’ve become adept at spotting people in my peripheral vision and weaving around them in such a way that doesn’t make it obvious I’m avoiding them. Unfortunately, that skill had deserted me on this particular summer’s day, and in any case, the street was so busy that I couldn’t have given this gentleman the slip without mowing down a number of other pedestrians in the process. I was funnelled directly into his path, albeit so suddenly that I hadn’t even seen him coming until it was too late.
I can’t remember his name, but he was around my age. He asked me how I was, who I was, and where I’d come from, and even though I was naturally perplexed by what he was doing there, we struck up a conversation. From the outset, he was keen to stress that he was “not a skunk, and not a punk, but a monk” (that’s a blog post title if ever I’ve heard one, I thought). He also told me how much he liked my “vibes” and how laid back I was, and he asked me for my secret. How could I be so chilled and calm? If the truth be told, in that moment at least, there was no secret – I’d stopped questioning the situation and was going with the flow, since it was pretty clear he didn’t mean me any harm.
However, it was also pretty clear that he indeed hoped to persuade me to part with my cash, and before long he’d handed me some kind of spiritual self-help book, whilst looking at me with those pleading puppy dog eyes. As brilliant as I’m sure the book was, I had no interest in paying for it, so I mumbled something about already having spent too much that day (which wasn’t entirely untrue – it was so hot that I’d just been forced to fork out £12 for a cap in Marks and Spencer). I thought that would be that and we’d both carry on with our business, but if this whole exchange hadn’t already been bizarre enough, what happened next really took the biscuit. He told me that I needn’t worry because he also accepted Visa and MasterCard, and with that, he produced an electronic card reader from his robes.
I stifled a laugh, which remained bottled up until I’d declined the purchase and left the monk’s company, at which point I was in hysterics at how surreal – and utterly brilliant – the conversation had been. I’d been a little bit annoyed when I first got stuck with him, but in hindsight I’m glad that I did, because those are the moments and the stories I live for. I’m a writer, I mine material wherever I can, and that afternoon I struck gold without ever expecting to. Until I started writing this post I’d kept it to myself, because I wanted to make sure I did it justice, and now that it’s finally out there I’m really hoping I experience something just as noteworthy this weekend. I’ll definitely be looking and listening, but I’d say I’m unlikely to find another monk near the shops. After all, at this time of year he might freeze to death without a big coat!