Traveling back to Scotland from a holiday in England, my family was to board a busy intercity train in the middle of its run. We thought we would be okay as we had booked seats, but the train was just chaos. The booking system had broken down and everyone just sat anywhere. Our family were scattered throughout the carriage. The next stop was a busy one and a whole lot more folks got on. It soon became apparent there wouldn't be seats for everyone -- actually nowhere near enough seats. I had noticed we were traveling with a Scottish Scouts troop (neckerchiefs, brown shirts and kilts), and the boys were engrossed in the usual games and chat. Then, all of a sudden, the leader stood up in the middle of the carriage. "Boys!" he shouted. "Let's be gentlemen!" Without a scowl or a grumble, twenty young lads stood up and ... Read Full Story >>
I was heading to my writing group yesterday. Standing at the bus stop I decided to run back for a book to read on the journey. (Something I don't normally do.) While waiting for the bus, I flicked through the pages and found my place. Because it was an old book I didn't want to "dog-ear" the pages, so I searched in my pockets for something to use as a bookmark. All I had was a couple of ten pound notes, so I carefully folded one of them and slipped it between the pages. Sitting on the bus I took the book out and was about to read but and I was distracted a young woman behind me who was speaking on her cell phone. She was talking to her brother. She wanted to know where he was, why he wasn't where he was supposed to be, why he had lied to their mother again and ... Read Full Story >>
A little part of me thought about going to another checkout line. This one had the shortest queue, there was only one guy in it, but he was in a wheelchair and there seemed to be some complications going on. Well, I stamped on that little part, and we stepped in behind him. At first, he seemed to be having difficulty getting his groceries onto the conveyor belt. But after a while, I realized that what he was actually doing was separating it into two lots. Still, getting the stuff up there was no easy task in itself. I offered to help, but he and the checkout lady had it under control. He asked Julie if she would mind putting his empty basket away. Then he reached for his wallet which was in a pouch on one side of his chair. The way he was positioned and the fact he only had ... Read Full Story >>
When Julie and I were on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic we were mostly cocooned in one of those all-inclusive resorts. (The image of paradise was slightly altered when I discovered that the far reaches of the beach had armed guards!) We went on a coach trip across the island to visit the capitol city (where Columbus first landed in the New World, I think.) We had a good day and were well fleeced as tourists should be. On the way back we were driving through a jungle area. The kind of place where women still wash clothes on the rocks by the rivers. The driver pulled over and let a matronly lady, loaded down with bags, climb on board. She sat well away from us tourists and never said a word. But an hour into the journey she developed one of those really annoying, dry, tickly coughs. They were really ... Read Full Story >>
Mr Mitchell was our neighbour for a while. He and his wife had been the terrors of the local kids before we came to the square. If a ball went into their garden it was never seen again-- that kind of thing. Well, she was gone now and Mr Mitchell was in his late eighties. The rose garden he had planted for her was an overgrown jungle and that was how I came into his story. I knew he was infirm, but I didn't know if he had any help and none of the other neighbours cared anymore. (They'd put up with it a lot longer than we had.) One summer Mr Mitchell was taken into hospital for a short stay. While he was away I thought he might like to come home to a neat and tidy garden, one he could sit out in on sunny days. Even to get into ... Read Full Story >>
A few weeks ago an anonymous Smile Groups friend gifted me £100 to do good deeds with. Since then I have used the money in the U.K. and the U.S. It has helped family and strangers, and generally raised a lot of smiles. They have warmed my heart, but none so much as the gift I was able to give just an hour ago. I was in a charity (goodwill) shop looking at the second hand books. It just so happened that the book shelves were next to the toy section. After a few minutes I became aware of a group of women standing behind me. They were poorly dressed and spoke in what sounded like an eastern European language. As they looked through the clothes rails a little girl, about three years old, came over to the toy section. Imediately her attention was caught by a toy pram. What is it about little girls ... Read Full Story >>
We were having a mini heat wave yesterday and I was in the supermarket, stocking up on juice and ice-cream. Now, I'm not much of a fan of the hot weather and I was enjoying the fact that it was cooler inside than outside, but the lady behind the checkout was suffering. I asked if she was looking forward to getting out in the sun after her shift was finished and she replied that she might not last that long. She was melting! She explained that she shouldn't have been working that day, but she had agreed to cover someone else's shift. Now she wished she hadn't. She felt like she might die! I paid for the shopping and headed for the exit. Half way there I remembered something I had wanted to get for Julie, so I went back in. On the way to where I wanted to go, I passed a rack of ... Read Full Story >>
Perhaps forty years ago Sadie left her drunk and violent husband. Needing shelter for herself and her young son she took a job as a warden in a housing project for elderly people. It meant she could live "on site" in one of the flats. Eventually, she got to know the residents. One resident, Archie, didn't have a family of his own but his nephew's wife and her kids would pop in from time to time. The nephew's wife was there to help the old guy but the kids were probably more of a nuisance than anything else. Still, they would visit and Archie would give them a few pennies for sweets whenever he could. Sadie helped care for Archie as he battled illness and it was she who called the doctor who diagnosed his terminal cancer. She remembers him fondly as a sweet old man. Time passed. Sadie's son grew up, got ... Read Full Story >>
All the money I had on me yesterday was some loose change, so I went without lunch (I had a freezer full of food back home but I was out and about) and well, hey, I could stand to miss a meal or ten! Luckily, it was the end of a little financial lean period. That evening a sizable payment for some work I had done arrived in my bank account. Great! Which bills to pay first? But before dealing with any of that I had the strong urge to say thank you for my blessings. (Oh, it wasn't as clean-cut as that. I had more than a little mental turmoil about giving away money I could be reducing our overdraft with.) I decided to give a percentage of my payment to a young woman I know who works with abandoned children in Romania - so I electronically zapped the money over. This morning I had ... Read Full Story >>
I hear some actors keep a sad thought or memory tucked away to help them with scenes where they might need to cry. I think we should each try to find the opposite; a happy memory, something to lift us up on those inevitable down days. I’m saying this because I think I just found mine! I had some work in Glasgow today. I was on a really tight schedule, which meant I would have no time for myself (or my own work) all day. I was having one of those days, the train was completely packed out and the conversation going on around me seemed to be particularly inane. On top of all that, I had a bit of a headache. Walking briskly across the concourse, I fished some change from my pocket. There was usually someone at the exit selling The Big Issue (a magazine that helps homeless folk earn ... Read Full Story >>
This is the story of someone else's good example. A retired gentleman who lives a few doors away from me can occasionally be seen with a bag and a "picker-upper." (You know. One of those long-handled gadgets for picking up litter.) He goes out by himself and plucks plastic bottles from the long grass, retrieves plastic bags from the bushes and disposes of pieces of wind-borne paper. He does it all cheerfully and never complains. I mentioned the children in the nearby school who are probably responsible for some of that litter and he was nothing but charitable. "There will come a time when they know better," he said. "It's just not yet. So, I'll do it for them." Well ... this morning I was out walking my neighbour's dog when I saw another neighbour, a much younger man, out doing the same thing! He had his two young sons with him and they were ... Read Full Story >>
The late evening train from Glasgow was battling the worst of the winter weather and the driver was proceeding more on hope than anything. Weeks of rain had meant the line might or might not be flooded - and he wouldn't know until he got there! Well, it was flooded. So he backed up to the nearest station where we sat and waited for about half an hour with no one knowing what was going on. I didn't mind. I wasn't going home to anyone, I had music to listen to and it wouldn't be the first night I had slept on a train. But not everyone would be in that position. Then the lights went out. Still there was no announcement. We sat another half an hour then the driver announced he was taking the train back to Glasgow and anyone who didn't want to come with it should get out now. ... Read Full Story >>
Teenagers! What can I say? My daughter is 12. Sometimes she is a crazy bundle of fun and sometimes she seems to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. This was one of her down days. She was bored and sad (and making a meal out of it!). Every time she complained about being bored I would suggest something she could do, but there were always bucketloads of reasons why she couldn't do any of them. The suggestion that she might enjoy tidying her bedroom just provoked a look that reminded me of thunderclouds -- she's been good at that look since she was two! I was getting a little fed up with all this negativity, but I kept my patience. I gently suggested that possibly the very best way in the world to have a good day was to try and make it a better day for someone else. Then I suggested ... Read Full Story >>
I had posted an earlier story about a supermarket checkout operator who had risked her job to help an old man find his wife’s favourite talc. Well, I was in her queue again today. In front of us were a woman and her young (maybe around 10 year old) daughter. As part of their shopping they were buying a DVD which had to be brought from elsewhere in the shop. While the chechkout operator was scanning and bagging the rest of the shopping she chatted with the mother about Easter eggs, grandkids and other stuff. I just happened to be looking at the daughter when another member of staff brought her the DVD. The girl’s face really lit up with delight and appreciation. Sad to say, it’s not a sight you see so often. When it came my turn to be served I commented on the girl’s obvious happiness with her DVD. “She has ... Read Full Story >>
Good sense might have suggested I stay in today. There was snow on the ground and we really don't have any money to be spending right now. But, there were a couple of things I needed, so I gathered what cash I had together and hopped on to the bus to the next town (hoping it wouldn't slip off the road on an icy patch.) Once in town one of the first thing I saw was a brass band! They had taken over an empty shop and were setting up to perform in the window. I didn't get to hear a toot out of them, but I did see they were "busking" for donations. The money raised would buy gifts for local needy children. A I slipped a note into the collection bucket the woman holding it finished a sentence to another man with the words, "... even the bad times are ... Read Full Story >>
Last year I bought lunch for a guy who had scraped his pennies together for a cup of tea. He rewarded me by telling me a little about his life, how he had lost the battle with drink but how faith had turned his life around. Now, when most men his age would be enjoying their retirement, he lived in a hostel and spent his time distributing religious tracts to shops, offices and strangers in the street. Well, yesterday Julie and I were back in the same coffee shop. Julie looked over my shoulder and saw the same man, sitting there with a solitary cup of tea, dressed as he had been the time before despite the fact that the outside temperature was sub-zero. We finished our bowls of piping hot soup with crusty bread then I got up and walked over. Knowing he would not remember me I sat down beside ... Read Full Story >>
Since I have come to any kind of spiritual maturity I have believed we get out of this world what we put into it (... and then some!) Usually, the rewards are indirect and sometimes hard to recognise, but every once in a while what you give comes back to you there and then! A couple of days back my step-son, Josh, was preparing for a big event. Children from his primary school were going for their first trial day at the secondary school, so they would know what to expect when they started after the summer holidays. A big day for an eleven year old lad! I was in the middle of some stuff when I noticed him searching in a clay pot where we keep pens and pencils. In primary school they use pencils, but secondary kids get to write with pens. And Josh was looking for a pen. He came out with ... Read Full Story >>
If seeds could think the one that fell into the builder's yard must have thought itself really unlucky! It had drifted down through chain link fencing, perhaps rolling off angle iron struts. Eventually it landed on the rubble and rubbish strewn soil - under two discarded metal gates, each of which would have needed two strong men to put them there. What chance did it have? What could grow under all that iron and debris? It should have given up. Instead it tried. It grew. A little shoot not big enough to move any of the rubbish around it, so it grew around it. But surely those great heavy gates would stop its efforts coming to anything. So it grew some more. It found spaces, grew through them, grew around them, and joined up on the other side of them. It kept going. Now there's a twelve foot tree in that space. Metal struts are trapped ... Read Full Story >>
We were sitting on the bus and the guy behind us was on the phone. After a "business" call he phoned his sweetheart. He explained that some money he was due wouldn't be paid in one lump but that they would get it even if they had to wait a while longer. It didn't sound hopeful. She must have asked what he wanted for dinner and he replied that the last thing he wanted her doing on her birthday was cooking. I got the impression her birthday had been a poor affair. I don't know if he'd got her a gift but her not cooking seemed important to him, as if it as all he had to give. So he suggested he picked up a take-away and said he knew a place that did a "munchie box" for a very reasonable price. For "reasonable" I heard "cheap." Then she must have explained ... Read Full Story >>
As I sat down to dinner yesterday the phone rang. It was a child's voice on the other end that I didn't recognise. He explained that they had found the phone he was calling me on. They had looked up "Home" in the contacts file and so they were phoning the number that turned out to be me. From their description I recognised my step-son's phone. He'd left it at the football pitch where he'd been playing. I asked them to wait a few minutes, put my dinner in the oven, and headed over to the location they had given me. When I arrived I saw a group of five children, aged about 7-9 years old. They came running over to meet me and were just charming and well-spoken kids. They told me how and where they'd found the phone. They also told me some bigger kids had tried to take it but they hadn't let ... Read Full Story >>
I was in the queue for the supermarket checkout earlier today. All of the checkouts were busy and the woman behind me in the queue was not happy! Every word that came out her mouth was negative, a complaint, a moan, a whinge! She wasn't happy with the number of checkouts opened, she wasn't happy with the amount of shopping some people had in their baskets, she wasn't happy because this supermarket didn't have a stand where you could scan your own shopping. She wasn't happy! I listened to her without looking around as I loaded my stuff onto the conveyor belt. I didn't want anything to do with that kind of attitude, and if ever I had felt like letting someone go ahead of me, it wouldn't be such a moaner! But then I glanced back. Standing beside the woman was a five year old girl, possibly her granddaughter. The girl's part of ... Read Full Story >>
I wrote my first Christmas card on Sunday 28th September!
Believe me, it's not like me. I usually put these things off to the last minute. But, after church on Sunday, one of the ladies from the Mothers' Union handed around some cards that they were planning to send to inmates of the nearest prison.
She asked that we each put a personal message inside - but what do you write to someone when the only thing you know about them is that they have committed a crime?
Oh, it was hard! I tapped the pen on the table for a long time searching for inspiration. In the end I had to look past the prison walls and the crime to the heart of the man.
I wrote, "Each day brings the promise of a new life. Have a Merry Christmas and a better New Year. Love. David."
It wasn't exactly inspired, but new life is what Christmas is all about and each day we have a fresh chance to make a new beginning.
I can't take credit for the idea, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we each reached out this year and shared a little love with someone who needs it?
I had an errand to do in Saltcoats today. I arrived early so I decided to go for a walk by the harbourside. It was pouring down with rain but I had my new waterproof jacket on so I didn't really mind. As I was walking along, I met someone who wasn't so lucky. He had swept back salt 'n' pepper hair, a bushy gray beard, sky blue eyes - and he was soaked through and through. "Could you do me a favour?" He held his hand out. "Probably not," I replied. Things had been tight financially and for the past fortnight I'd been telling my kids we can't do this and we can't afford that. "I've been trying to chase up the price of a beer," he continued. Well, I admired his honesty. If I'd been living on the street like he obviously had, a beer might have been important to me too. I ... Read Full Story >>
Nearly thirty years ago I was a trainee engineer based in Liverpool. I was hundreds of miles from home, but I had a nice place to live, wasn't overworked, had a good bunch of friends and plenty of money in my pocket. One Saturday morning I decided to walk into Liverpool city centre and buy myself something. I didn't need anything, I was just going to spend some money! The walk was about four miles and took me through Toxteth, an area which two years later would erupt into rioting, largely because of the poverty of the place. I stopped into a newsagents/general store to buy myself some sweets for the walk. While I was making up my mind the door opened and in walked this "ragamuffin". She looked like she might have been four years old (at the most), was wearing a summer dress and sandals even though it was a bitterly cold day, ... Read Full Story >>
For my birthday, Julie booked a coach trip to Liverpool. It's where I went to college thirty years ago and I hadn't been back since. We had a great time! Watching the passengers embark on the coach as we got ready to head to Liverpool, I was a little dismayed to see a couple get on with two boys, both under five. We were gonna be on the coach for four hours. Would they act up? Or be sick? Or would it just be too boring for them? It turned out they were great! No doubt about it. Travelling like that with two lively little boys would take both parents full attention. And they did seem to work well together. In the hotel (a hotel that was once the pride of the city, now a bit dowdy, but still spectacular!) the parents got through the meals by working as a tag-team and never leaving ... Read Full Story >>
My wife and I were out on the perimeter road that runs around where we live. Two dog walkers passed by and we heard one of them say, "Never seen that dog around here before." We looked down the hill and saw an old black labrador stumbling painfully up the hill. It reached us, and its legs kinda fell out from under it. We bent down, talked gently to the mutt and patted it. I checked and there was a collar. There was a phone number on the collar, but no one answered. The dog was so painfully thin that there seemed nothing between its ribs and its pelvis but spine. It didn't have many teeth left and, well, it just seemed done. My wife ran home to get some of our dog's food and mush it up in some milk while I tried to entice the dog to come along with me. By the ... Read Full Story >>
My 25 year old daughter moved house yesterday. It wasn't a big move. Just around the corner, in fact. But she was moving from a flat to a house with a little garden so her son would have space to play. The distance was probably too short to justify hiring a removals company, but it was long enough to make carrying all the stuff a real pain. But we didn't have to. A neighbour offered the use of her Transit van. She reversed it up to my daughter's front door, then went home while we loaded it up. Then she came out, drove it to the new house and walked back home for a cuppa tea while we unloaded. Then she did it again. And again. All offers of payment or petrol money was waved aside. My daughter got her a big bunch of flowers later as a thank you. Before I left, I ... Read Full Story >>
I was doing some yard-work yesterday. It was a mellow evening and I was making the most of it. Now, there is a path that runs alongside our garden fence. After I had been out there a while I heard a neighbors' voice coming from the path. "That's no place to be sleeping!" he said. "What a ridiculous state to get yourself into. Get up and get home. I'm telling you, you'd better not be there when I get back!" I looked over the fence as the neighbor walked away. There didn't seem to be anyone else there. Then I looked down. There was a man lying on his back on the path with his eyes closed. I recognized him. I had seen him doing the drunkard's walk along that path on several occasions. My mind went over the telling off I had just overheard and a little voice in my head said, "Oh, ... Read Full Story >>
There’s a park that runs through the centre of Edinburgh. Sitting beneath Edinburgh Castle, the Princes Street Gardens are full of families, sunbathers and, of course, ice cream stands on sunny days. The weekend my wife and I spent in Edinburgh was scorching. We had an amazing time, seeing the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and being entertained by street performers along the Royal Mile, all rehearsing their acts for the Edinburgh Festival of the Arts. Well, all good things must come to an end. So, we packed our bags and left the hotel. The gardens were empty at this time of day so we decided to walk through them on the way to the station. That’s when I saw the old fellow. Picture a “salty old sea-dog” with deeply lined face and bushy white beard. He was wearing the tattered remains of several coats, which seemed to be lined with black, plastic bin ... Read Full Story >>
It was a bad time for me. I was low emotionally and tired physically. Probably because of this I hadn't shaved for a few days. Also, because I had been doing some repairs at my daughter's house, I was dressed quite scruffily. Boarding the bus to go home I saw it was almost full so I found a rail to lean against. That's when a young woman, sitting with her child, stood up and offered me her seat. 'Wow!' I thought. Out loud I said, "Do I look that old and tired?" She replied, "You look like you've had a tough day." I thanked her sincerely and stayed standing. A moment later a man rose from his seat at the back of the bus and made his way towards me, squeezing past several people on the way. Then he told me about his addiction problems, asked my advice, and just chatted about ... Read Full Story >>