Jehovah's Witnesses are looking more like regular people every day. Here in contemporary London, the Jehovahs (I like to shorten their name, it's a bit of a mouthful, isn't it) move freely among us.
They have migrated away from their usual environment (the doorstep or the nondescript suburban street) and they've abandoned their chaste, overly formal style of dress in favour of modern clothing manufactured by fashionable sports brands, high street mountaineering brands and multinational sweatshop retailers.
All of this modernising makes me nostalgic for the old Jehovah's women sitting in the shade of the trees in Woodford Square with their hats, their modest flat shoes and thick pairs of tights, some standing, handing out copies of Watchtower with soul-searching titles like Have You Ever Contemplated What It's Like To Have Your Testes Nailed To The Cross? And, Do Rabbits Chase Humans Into Underground Tunnel Networks In The Afterlife?
I would take these leaflets with minimal persuasion. Just a courteous, "something to read, sir?" and I was sold. These were good old-fashioned Jehovahs. Not like your new, snazzy ones we have here in England.
One of the leaflets I took from the Woodford Square posse had an image of a couple on the front, with echoes of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost. The headline asked a question: "Can the dead really live again?" They always ask questions, they're extremely inquisitive people–the Jehovahs.
I stopped in my tracks. I was sweating like a pig in an abattoir and I was flummoxed. There were three possible answers printed underneath the question: Yes? No? Maybe?
"Look here, miss," I said to the woman. "What's the correct answer here?"
"Well, what do you think?" she asked, softly smiling.
"Does it mean ghosts? Or zombies?" I said.
"How do you interpret it?" she asked, still smiling. "Are you going to answer all my questions with a question?" I went on.
"Would you like me to give you a straight answer?" she asked.
"Yes!" I replied.
"Yes I am," she said.
"Well, thank you for your honesty," I said, "and have a pleasant day."
When I reached work I realised that the leaflet's quick-fire survey had failed to give its respondents a "Don't know" option, which (as any market researcher will tell you) would result in poor completion rates.
The leaflet, published in Brooklyn (the Jehovah's HQ), had an online version of the supernatural dilemma featuring an audio recording–the Jehovah's have embraced digital technology as God would have wished–but it was ultimately inconclusive and left things on a real cliff-hanger, referring me to Corinthians 15:26 for further reading. Ain't nobody got time for that!
Here in England, our Jehovahs are trying to bring the kingdom of God into the 21st century, but if you're anything like me, you'll pine for the days when they dressed more piously.
I came out of the tube station the other day and there under the brutalist architecture was a completely normal-looking man and woman handing out pamphlets.
"Is the hospital under threat of closure?" I wondered. "Is a new coffee shop opening in the neighbourhood?" "Oh, it's nice to see the Green Party environmentalists campaigning in the area..."
But no, one of them smiled at me and I realised they were Jehovahs. That classic Jehovahs smile that can suggest, "Oh, you poor dear: you're destined to burn in hell, like, forever."
It's a seductive technique: a mixture of madness, fear and friendliness. They're nice people.
You see them waiting for you after work as the sun goes down. They're quiet, respectful, pleasant. They understand that no eye contact means no.
I could become a Jehovah quite happily, if it wasn't for the prohibition on blood transfusions, their belief that Satan (who controls human governments) was cast down to earth in 1914 and will one day attack the Jehovah's Witnesses, triggering Armageddon and a judgment day lasting 1,000 years, their belief that heaven is a government ruled by Jesus and a parliament of 144,000 Christians, their belief that gambling, drinking, drugs and non-marital sex (especially homosexual sex) are evil and the fact that they inaccurately predicted the end of the world in 1975.
I don't have a problem with the Jehovahs other than those minor points. But I was really put out one Saturday morning when they knocked on my door and we got into a debate about evolution.
"You at least believe that dinosaurs existed though?" I asked the young man as the discussion reached its peak. "Do you believe that dinosaurs existed?" he replied.
I quietly closed the door and put his leaflet in the recycling bin without reading the question written on the front. It was probably rhetorical anyway.