"Hello, we're from the Church Of Jesus Christ Of The Latter Day Saints…"
"Great," I said, "Come in."
Mormons who are out cold-calling don't normally expect that kind of response. Abuse, yes. Door slamming, undoubtedly. There was even one sad occasion involving hot pursuit with a blow-torch, the two smart young men informed me after I'd finally persuaded them to cross my threshold and drink some water - not tea, they don't touch caffeine. My enthusiasm had floored them. It was only when I explained that I was writing a book about cults, cranks and religious eccentrics that they began to understand. They were so unsettled that they agreed to talk to me anyway.
It was less than a week since I'd signed my contract and I was already completely obsessed. I knew that I was because of the wistful half-smile on the face of my long-suffering girlfriend Eloise when she came downstairs to discover me and my new Mormon friends deep in conversation about the angel Moroni. The last time I'd seen that look had been in a multi-storey car-park in Luton where I was taking pictures of obscene graffiti for my previous book about Crap Towns. It's the kind of expression I imagine a doting mother adopts when her young child proudly presents the 'art' it's created on the walls of her living room.
Back then, Elly had allowed me to persuade her to spend extended periods of time in Thurso and Morecambe and even Hull. Small wonder that she blanched visibly when I started to rant enthusiastically about Findhorn, a foundation in the windswept far North East of Scotland established because of the communicative powers of the local cabbages…
Trooper that she is, she didn't complain. Not when she found her house full of Jehovah's Witnesses, nor when a peaceable evening stroll a few weeks later ended in us being chased up the road by a member of the Jesus Army who was shouting: "To think that Jesus died for you."
However, I still count it fortunate that Elly was spared my most debasing experience. This occurred in the Scientology Centre on London's Tottenham Court Road where I blew a whole afternoon's patient research with one foolish remark:
"This isn't quite what I was expecting," I said. "I was told there's lots of stuff about aliens."
"What a load of crap!" yelled the now furious, but hitherto cloyingly polite representative. "Where did you hear about that?"
"Come on! It's bullshit! Do I look the kind of person that would believe in aliens?"
"Er… maybe I read it in relation to Tom Cruise or something. Something about…"
"Oh please. Tom Cruise is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Do you think he looks like the kind of person that you'd find dancing around with aliens?"
It was a question I honestly couldn't answer.
Appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 1 Jan 2006.
I had to leave the Scientology Centre in a hurry as a result of this exchange.