Have you ever done anything unbelievably stupid or dangerous that's
worked out ok? Well, I want to tell you about one of mine.
So, I’ve been up to Newcastle, its my first time in Newcastle and I’ve
been for an interview at the Polytechnic and I'm on my way back to the
South West not aware at the time that I'd got myself a nasty dose of
bronchitis thanks to the North east winds. I remember the train is rickety,
but worse of all, it was late. It's late enough for me to miss my
connection at Birmingham New Street for Biscester, near Oxford where
I'm spending the weekend with some friends. It's about 7 or 8 o'clock in
the evening. The next train would have got me in at past midnight, and
after that there was one a 6am.
I know my hosts were the early to bed early to rise sort and that a late
arrival would be a problem for them, so I decide to ring them, tell them
I've missed my connection and which would they rather I did; get the
next train or wait till morning?
They say 'wait till morning',
They can't have understood my situation. I've got no choice but to spend
the night on Birmingham New Street station.
I can feel my heart pounding and my stomach sinking. A night slumming
it on Birmingham New Street station is not the place for an innocent
young country bumpkin and I'm scared. I go into the cafe, explain to the
lady behind the counter that I'd like to stay in there for the night. She
says 'ok Duck, but you'll be turned out at 5am for cleaning'. Well, what
choice did I have?
There's already a number of unsavoury characters in the cafe and I
carefully choose a table that's free and that's not in a corner. I sit down
and try to mind my own business. Minutes later, there’s an influx of
people, all shapes and sizes. I try even harder to keep myself to myself.
I suppose it's got to happen eventually, but I can't keep my table just to
myself. A man sits down diagonally opposite me and within minutes he
starts talking. My stomach sinks further, my heart pounds faster. I try to
give him all the 'go away' signals I can, but he persists in talking to me.
He extracts from me where I've been and where I'm going and the fact
that I'm spending the night on New Street station. He says 'it's not safe
to do that'. He tells me he lives in Oxford, which is near Biscester and
that he can give me a bed for the night.
A bed for the night!!! I bet he can.
Does he seriously think I'm going to take an offer like that?
I say 'no' as politely as I can and give out more 'go away' signals.
He says, 'well, think about it. You've got half an hour until my train, and
you're not safe here'.
What on earth am I do to?
I put my arms on the table and my head on my arms and start praying
like mad. Believing in God, praying is not new to me and I feel like I
could do with God right now.
The announcement for the train to Oxford lifts my head to finally say an
emphatic 'no'. My eyes scan the table, his books and papers. He's been
writing a letter. Headed paper. I read 'Rev David Banting' and out of my
mouth came 'yes'. He says he'll phone his wife so that a bed would be
made up ready for me.
What on earth am I thinking of?
Following a strange man on to a train?
He sits diagonally opposite me and doesn't try to make conversation.
Following him to his car.
What am I thinking of?
I follow him up the stone steps to this front door, to his wife, into a home
with greetings cards and am given a single bed. The sheets are a bit
damp; not properly aired. I don't sleep well from it being a strange bed
and occasionally I worried that he could come into the room at any
moment and I'd have no defence.
Breakfast in the morning; I'm a bit overwhelmed. Such kindness!
Then the kindness comes into clearer focus. The greetings cards are
birth congratulations mixed with sympathy. So this was the kind of
people I'd stumbled upon! People who have space in their broken hearts
for a stranded student stranger. I suddenly feel helpless; inadequate. I
realise two things; 'thank you' are two woefully inadequate words and I
feel shame at my lack of experience and shallowness in the face of
grieving parents. I hated myself for saying nothing, but what was there to
Many years later, I'm sitting in a church service. The vicar tells us about
a project he's involved in and mentions one of his close friends who's
also involved - David Banting. One day, I hope he'll visit my church and
maybe, I'll find I now have enough experience and enough reserves to
finally say 'thank you'.