Once upon a time a young lad was out riding his pony deep in the Scottish countryside and, when they came to a lowish wall, the pony baulked and the rider flew out of the saddle and landed in an awkward heap on the other side of the wall.  When he tried to get up, he found he could hardly move without feeling a terrible pain in his right leg and he feared he must have broken it.   He realized he was in trouble.   The light was fading, the area was remote, and he feared the onset of the bitterly cold Scottish night.

Suddenly another young lad rode up on his pony and helped him to his feet and managed to sit him astride the pony who was still waiting anxiously.   The newcomer explained that he was a crofter’s son and he and the crofter lived in a cottage not far away.   They made it to the cottage where the old man sat him down by the fire and tended to his injured leg with the gentle care he would have offered a new-born baby.   He placed a splint around the leg and bandaged it securely.   He then gave the boy a bowl of hot gruel from the tureen hanging over the fire.

When he sensed that the boy was sufficiently recovered, the old man harnessed the pony to the trap and helped him in.   The boy gave directions and the old man was surprised to find that he lived at the Manor and that his father was the Laird.   The old man carried the boy to the massive front door which was opened by a manservant who took the boy in his arms.   Will ye no come in?’ he invited.   ‘I’m sure the Master would like to thank ye.’   But the old man wouldn’t hear of it, and just set off for home.

It was a few days later that the old crofter heard a knock on his door and opened it to find the Laird standing there.   He invited him in.   ‘I want to thank you for looking after my son so well,’ said the Laird, ‘and I’d like you to accept this purse of money as a token of my gratitude’.  

‘Och, no,’ said the man, ‘I’ll nay tak yer money, sir.   What I did for your son I’d do for anyone, with no thought of gain.’ The Laird frowned and wondered what he should do next.   It was then that he noticed the crofter’s son sitting by the fire reading a book.

‘In that case,’ said the Laird, ‘I’ll make you an offer.   That boy of yours looks to be the same age as my son.   I’ll offer to pay the same sum of money for his education as I’m spending on my own son’s education.’

The crofter looked across at his son.   ‘ How d’ you feel aboot that, son?’   The boy nodded eagerly and thanked the Laird.

The Laird was as good as his word and the crofter’s son, no stranger to hard work, was an excellent student who, several years later, became world-famous as Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin.

And the Laird’s son also became world-famous as Winston Churchill, the man who led our country to victory in the Second World War.

What isn’t so well known is that, when Winston Churchill was a young man, he was struck down with tuberculosis and would almost certainly have died without penicillin.

So, if this little story has brought a smile to your face, may you dance as if no-one’s watching, and may you love as if you’ve never been hurt.   And, if you enjoyed the tale, maybe you could pass it on to someone else.

I came across a wonderful quote the other day from Benedictine monk Christopher Jamieson talking to an atheist towards the end of his TV series ‘The Big Silence’: ‘The God you don’t believe in doesn’t exist.’   (But on second thoughts what would the monk have replied if she’d said ‘That’s why I don’t believe in him’?)

I’ll never forget the line D.M.Thomas included in ‘The White Hotel’ – ‘Always give to a beggar’.   It was a very generous statement because, as I remember, it wasn’t particularly germane.   These days there are so many, along with Big Issue sellers, that I’ve decided to ration my donations of a pound coin to one beggar and one Big Issue seller.   (This applies to Leeds rather than Otley, where there is only one occasional Big Issue seller and the odd busker.)   A while back I made regular train trips to Southport when my father was ill and I passed a beggar on my way to the station.   He always had the same pitch, sitting on a concrete ledge opposite BHS where he sat with head bowed until he looked up to say ‘Thank you’.   I got to know him.   ‘Mick’ was in his mid-thirties, with wild hair and a full beard.   He wore a rotting parka and slept rough in the shelter of an overhang at West Yorkshire Playhouse. The site was plagued with vermin surfing litter. When he mentioned that it was his birthday, I bought him a pair of good, thick socks. He’d had a good job until his addiction to heroin robbed him of the job and any hope of a normal life.   He said he was doing his utmost to free himself of the addiction and would leave the streets mid-morning when the dealers hit town.   When he spoke, his eyes held a fierce intensity.   ‘ Keep fighting the good fight, Mick’, I’d say.   I told him about my book and gave him a notebook and a pen.   ‘Can you write it all down?’   I asked.   But, although he took the book and the pen, it was beyond him.

On my father’s (and Riley’s) birthday I was waiting for a light to cross Boer Lane just down from Mick’s pitch but I hadn’t seen him because it had become a building site.   Suddenly someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Hello’.   I stared at an almost familiar face.   ‘You don’t recognize me, do you!’ The eyes were familiar.   But not the neat hair, the clean-shaven face, the clean clothes.   ‘Hello, Mick’, I said.   ‘How’re you doin’? ‘ We shook hands warmly.   ‘I’m O.K.’, he said eagerly. ‘ I saw you looking across for me.   They were setting on at Morrisons and I went for an interview and I got the job and I start Monday.’   The lights changed and I was running late.   ‘Thanks for everything,’ he said. ‘ Good luck,’’ I said.

Another reason for smiling all day.


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