My name is not important, but my story, is unusual, to say the least.
It took place in, London, on a wet, and miserable, Christmas Eve, in nineteen, sixty, seven.
I was twenty-one, years old, at the time, and, like, many, young Irishmen and women, had moved to England, in search of employment.
As times were dog rough at home and without much hope for the future, we had little choice but to emigrate.
I got a reasonably good job in the Ford motor factory in Dagenham, and I was doing well, thank you!
In that year there was an outbreak of “Foot and Mouth” disease in England, that had the potential of killing off the entire cattle population of that country.
If this disease was to ever reach our shores it would have a devastating effect on the already weak agriculture economy.
To try and prevent this from happening, the government requested the Irish people residing in England to cancel their trips home over the Christmas period.
To their credit most did including myself.
The day of Christmas Eve found me walking down Oxford Street absorbing the spirit of the season and trying hard to ward off the heavy burden of loneliness on my shoulders.
I stopped to gaze at the wonderful display of colourful and outlandishly expensive children’s toys in the windows and wondered how many parents could afford them and how many children would never hold one.
For myself, I had a fist full of money in my jacket pocket but unfortunately no one to spend it on.
As I looked in the window I saw the reflection of a man, lying on the pavement, outside the shop.
Wondering what had happened and if he had hurt himself, I rushed outside to see if I could be of any assistance.
He was trying to get up and was visibly shaken so, I gave him a hand and asked him if he was badly hurt, and should I call an ambulance?
He replied, rather shakily that he was fine, and not to worry, it was just an old injury to his leg that caused him to lose his balance.
I half carried him into the shop, and, explained to one of the shop assistants what had occurred, and could he rest for a moment just to compose himself?
She said it was no problem.
I got a class of water, handed it to him and sat him on a chair.
He was old all right, and I could see by his white bearded face and ruddy complexion, that he was a much-travelled man and may have been a sailor in his young days and had suffered many a winter storm and gale on his worldly travels.
That’s what I imagined, at least!
But, as you will see later, I was way off the mark there.
I asked him once again if he was feeling alright I was afraid he might go into shock after his fall.
But he was a tough old bird.
And he replied, “ No, I’m fine, the good doctors tell me, I have strong bones for someone of my age.
They say, I will live for ever, and who knows, they may be right.”
“But, for the moment, I’ll just take a short breather and if you don’t mind staying with me for a while, I would be greatfull.
After introducing myself and telling him I was from Ireland,
And the reason why I am stranded here for Christmas.
He looked at me in a quizzical sort of way and said “Foot and Mouth Disease???? “
“Well, it just goes to show you can never trust nature or its diversity of moods.
Just when you think everything is going fine and all is well with the world, that’s when nature says…”
“I’m still here, you know and just in case you become a bit self-satisfied, with yourself, I could hit you, with a volcano or two, an earthquake, or I could lay waste to your fields with locusts, until there’s nothing left, but famine”
“Coming from Ireland”, he said, “Then that’s, something you should know a great deal about”.
“My God” I said, “But aren’t you the cheerful man on this
happy Christmas Eve,
You must be great craic at a funeral”
I asked him his name and where he was from?
“My name is Nick,” he informed me,
“And, I come from the north country and that’s all you have to know for the moment.”
“You tell me, you are from Ireland,” he said, “Well, I visit there every year, but I’m not at all happy about it.”
“Why not?” I replied, “It really is a beautiful, country.”
“I had an unhappy experience there, many years ago, but my work brings me back and I’m a dutiful man. I never let anybody down.”
He asked, if I would like to hear his story while he had a few minutes to spare before he had to leave.
“While on a short visit to the south west coast of Ireland,” he began, “ I arrived one evening in an enchanting but almost deserted village on the wild and wonderful coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
As time is of the essence, I will shorten my story for some of it is insignificant and may well bore you and I am eager to be gone.
Although, some of the people of the town were friendly others were sullen and suspicious, but despite their affectations, I decided to stay for a while in order to absorb the culture and language of these somewhat unearthly people.
It was during this time I met Aoife, and although I was very much her senior we fell in love immediately, and of course promised each other eternal love.
But sometimes promises like that can be dangerous. They can incite jealousy in the cold hearts of others and fan the fires of hatred.
As you will discover in a moment.
Aoife had the sweetest voice I had ever heard. a voice that could shame the birds in the trees and she could dance the buckles off her shoes till the sun rose in the morning.
But as I said many were envious of her beauty, her charm, and of our undying love for each other.
In a drunken frenzy one dismal night, during the solstice of that year a raging mob gathered chanting and screaming like banshees around a withered old hawthorn tree.
They called on the evil Sluaghs ( Celtic, restless spirits of the dead) who lived deep within the dark forests and were neither welcome in heaven nor hell to come, and remove, this retched , creature, from their presence.
And as we held each other in fear an ominous wind came howling out of the skies engulfing her in its arms, and took her away to a world, from where she would never return.
All that was left of her was a blue taffeta dance shoe, lying forlornly on the scorched grass.
In the agony of my grief, I picked it up and hid it away in my satchel and left that God forsaken place forever.
I have kept it with me, all the years of my life.
It will be with me until the day my dancing girl returns.
I could see he was still unwell and had become upset by the memories he had stirred up, of what must have been a traumatic night so, I asked him what time his train was due to depart, and that, I would be privileged to accompany him to the station.
I had grown fond of this enigmatic old man, for in the short time we were together he had fascinated me with his stories, and I was reluctant to part with him just yet.
He told me he lived in a small cottage in the far distant north and was supposed to take the night train to be there before the clocks struck midnight but alas! he had lost, his wallet somewhere in the city and because of this he hadn’t the price of a ticket.
Alarm bells began to ring in my head and I thought this might be a bit of a scam.
But this was, nineteen sixty-seven, and back then rip -off’s like that were few and far between.
But then the spirit of Christmas whispered in my ear
“Give the poor man, a chance, will you? at least, give him, the benefit of the doubt, he may well be, genuine. And you will, be sorry later,”
So, I said, “ I’d be glad to pay for, your, train ticket, Nick, if you don’t mind. I think you well deserve it.”
He asked, “Would you do that for me?”
“I would” I replied.
We caught a bus to Euston Station and on arriving there I realised he must be hungry, so I asked him if he would give me the pleasure of joining me in a Christmas dinner before parting for the last time.
Minutes later, we were happily devouring a delicious Wimpy Burger a burned bun and a cardboard plate of chips.
It turned out to be the most unusual and happiest Christmas dinner I ever had.
I looked at him and saw he was smiling at me in a strange way.
But his eyes were growing misty, and I knew the time had come, for us to say farewell.
I asked,” If we would ever meet, again “?
“I don’t think so” he said,” You are too old, now, but, you see, I did meet you before in the past, you were much younger then and your mind more open to the miracles of the world.
It was a long time ago, I’m sad to say”
Then, rising from his chair, said,” Auf Wiedersehen, my kind friend,” and that was that I mistakenly thought.
I watched him, limp down, the platform, and noticed how the other passengers stood respectfully aside to let him pass as though they recognised, he was a very special man.
Then he stopped for a second and stepping back through the black smoke and flying sparks of the steam-engine he waved and was gone.
I could not get him from my mind as I walked home to my flat in Edgerton Gardens
That night I had the strangest of dreams. I found myself transported to a frozen land, far, to the north where no mortal man had ever walked before.
Towering above me, snow-capped mountains, reached to the sky and a white blinding wilderness stretched before me to the very edge of the world. With not a splash of green to be seen to remind me of home.
In the twilight of the evening, I could see the mystical beauty of the Northern Lights dance and swirl silently in a sparkling sky.
As I gazed up at them, in childlike wonder I was suddenly distracted by the sight of a small delicate creature standing quietly watching me with large soft brown eyes.
My fear dissipated as I realise it was nothing more than a tiny reindeer, with a large set of, antlers that seemed far too big for his small handsome head.
I watched, him wondering if I should approach him when suddenly he raised his delicate head to the heavens and twitched his ears.
And then, I heard, high up in the black threatening clouds, the jingling of sleighbells, and watched spellbound as a gayly coloured sleigh approached slowly from the sky until it gently came to rest behind a mound of snow scattering everything around it in a whirlwind of glittering snowflakes.
As I watched, in stunned silence a grey heavy mist suddenly descended from above as if to hide this wondrous contraption and to shield it from the prying eyes of the menacing creatures who dwell in the shadows of the long Arctic night.
As I pondered over what I had witnessed and the unbelievable riddle of it all I remembered that this was but a dream and that in a moment I would waken to see, the welcoming dawn of a Christmas morning.
Then, I said to myself “ Nick, you, crafty, old man, you thought you had me fooled, but you didn’t. I knew all along, I think”
But as, I stood there, stamping, my feet, on the hard, frozen ground, I saw, a small, brown, wooden house, with a slopping roof, covered in a blanked of soft snow.
A whisp of smoke climbed slowly from a red brick chimney and the light that shone from the windows cast a warm glow over, the ground at the front of the house.
As I watched, I saw a tall winsome young woman standing at the front door looking anxiously into the night.
She had sparkling blue eyes and her long dark silken hair fell gently on her shoulders.
And I knew in my heart and soul she was Aoife.
Then she smiled in joyous relief as a small limping man in a fur trimmed red suit drew close and embraced her tenderly, then they kissed with a passion found only in heaven.
But, before entering the house, he paused, and looked towards me, and I swear, I heard, his voice, drifting softly, on the Polar breeze as he said,
“My good friend, look to the skies every Christmas Eve and between the stars and the moon you will see me, bringing joy and happiness to the children of the world.”
As I began to drift out of my dream, I looked to the breaking dawn of a Christmas morning and wondered at the sight of a brilliant white star hanging in the sky sending a beacon of light that seemed to point to somewhere, far beyond the, eastern, horizon.
“God bless us everyone!” #
# (Tiny Tim, in “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens)
“Happy Christmas, my dear friend’s and to you all, a good night,”