In 2014 I set up a  second blogging site to record encounters with inspiring, amazing, interesting, sad, surprising – strangers. I bit off more than I could chew!

Rather than lose them when I shut down the site, I’ve put them all into this one page. I hope you find one that makes you feel better about our world.

As for me, it’s taught me it’s worth listening to every random stranger I meet, no matter what the cover of their life book looks like. You can ever know what’s inside that outer wrapping – and if sometimes I wish I hadn’t started a conversation rolling – well, never mind, it’s just another thread in that tapestry!

only connect


The meter reader

Short of stature, slightly flushed of face – it’s cold outside and warm in – he’s wearing a navy blue waterproof with his employer’s name on it. His accent is straight Scouse, the real Liverpool kind, not the phlegmy exaggeration some affect.

He wipes his feet and pads through to the garage, where the meters lurk.

Shines his torch on the electric one across the piles of junk and stands up close to the gas.

How did the conversation start?

The weather, of course. Talking of Sunday.

‘What were you doing in Yorkshire?’ he asks.

It’s like a clockwork figure has been wound up.

‘You’ll never believe this, me nanna lived a mile outside Haworth.’

Born in the 19th century his nan moved to Haworth for work – in the mills. She lost the fingers on one hand, cut off in an industrial accident. We agree that health and safety is unfairly maligned. Just think how many fingers it’s saved.

Lizzie-Anne, the nan, used to sit on the stone the Brontë girls sat on, she said.

Her grandson is one of those ‘don’t judge the book by the cover’ people.

A superficial glance would have him down as a tough character – and he probably is – but while he looks like a football referee or a shop steward, a picture on the wall has him choked up.

When he passed his driving test inthe 1970s, one of the first things he did was to take his nan and his girlfriend on a trip – to Haworth.

It was a moving experience. And not just for his nanna. The house has an atmosphere, he agrees, that’s moving enough for tears. In it you can’t help but feel the tragedy of the Brontës’ lives.

HIs nan talked about that trip for the rest of her life. Her best trip ever.

The conversation moves on to Emile Zola, his favourite author. ‘Better than Tressell,’ he says – and then has to add, ‘you know, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ to enlighten the owner of the blank stare facing him.

‘That’s just about socialism,’ he says, ‘now, Zola,’ and shakes his head, too filled with admiration to know where to begin. Though he does. Pausing briefly on Germinal and La Bête Humaine before settling on L’Assommoir as the best of the lot.

‘I reckon George Orwell used some stuff from Zola in Down and out in Paris and London,’ he says with a grin.

The talk turns to his nan’s advice to him not to take up the boxing beloved of part of his family – or the rugby league she encountered in Yorkshire.

‘I’ve seen men with their ears all bloody, bitten off,’ she told him – and it worked. He’s not boxed, nor chucked the pointy ball. It’s football, for him – well, he is from Everton.

His eyes turn back to the painting on the wall, of the bascule bridge on Liverpool’s dock road. He shakes his head, emotions stirred. This man loves the bleakness – landscapes and industrial remnants alike.

Ranging now through the Lake District, to Lowry, he leaves determined to look up Lowry’s landscapes and seascapes, after issuing instructions to look up a painting of a Lake District slate miner’s hut.*

A shake of the hand, a shake of the head – and a day that’s taken a turn for the better, for two very different people. When would they ever have met, otherwise?

That English penchant for talking about the weather – you never know what hares it will set running.

What a day. (And yes, it’s raining.)

* he can’t remember the artist’s name – and searches are proving futile


If only. One short woman, one big story

Vera’s dad didn’t think girls were worth educating. But he must have realised she had a brain, because he took her to hear the Faraday lectures at a nearby university.

And the subject?

Nuclear technology.

‘Shame he didn’t bother to have me educated – it all went over my head,’ she says, now.

Her one qualification, English Language, may not have helped her understand them, but the lectures were a significant experience in her life. And when you hear her story, you wonder just what she could have done with an education.

Vera (not her real name) is 83 now – and there’s no mistaking a woman with purpose. Diminutive, with several earrings, bracelets, colourful clothes and a bike left at the station, she’s been spending the morning writing Christmas cards to prisoners of conscience.

She was approaching 50 and mother to six children by the time her world changed.

It was 1980.

The British Government had prepared a leaflet called, ‘Protect and Survive’ to be distributed to the public if nuclear attack seemed a genuine and imminent threat.. Its purpose was civil defence, to prepare people to take practical measures to protect themselves and their property.

Not intended for peace time publication, pressure on the Government from the media and campaign groups resulted in it being made available, for purchase, in 1980.

‘Protect and Survive’ was met with disbelief and anger. Disbelief at the measures proposed for the population’s protection, anger that the Government was admitting the possibility of world in which a limited nuclear war was conceivable. One in which Europe was the ‘theatre’ of war.

What had happened to the tense but real deterrent of ‘mutual assured destruction’ that followed the Cuban missile crisis?

The Government had also filmed a series of public information broadcasts showing how ordinary folk could prepare themselves – and their property – for a nuclear attack. Now available online, they were not shown at the time, except in an episode of the BBC documentary series Panorama  – and you can see why. They make black comedic viewing – or would, if they were not so tragically unrealistic.

In response to the Government’s leaflet, in 1980, historian and peace campaigner E.P. Thompson, wrote a polemic, subverting the Government’s title: ‘Protest and Survive’.

This was the point at which Vera became an anti-nuclear campaigner. ‘I knew it was my moral duty to do something,’ she says.

For thirty odd years she’s been a member of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Organising coaches to protests, sitting down in defiance of the police, sleeping out overnight at nuclear bases, crawling under barbed wire fences.

She’s had her phone tapped, been arrested and spent time in police cells.

But before you feel inadequate in the face of this child-sized ball of campaigning energy, her story has a message for people who wish they could – but can’t.

Vera’s done many other things in pursuit of her moral duty, helping her fellow humans, which aren’t for this public forum. She’s seen and heard terrible things in her quest to make other people’s lives better. Sometimes she’s succeeded, sometimes she has failed.

‘You have to be able to put it in a compartment and shut it,’ she says. ‘To move on when you fail and believe that someone, some day, will succeed.’

‘I’ve seen women who’ve given up everything for it. For me, it’s another part of my life,’ she says, ‘not my whole life.’

Will the battle ever be won? What about the young? Are the campaigners all grown old, even if not weary?

‘I think the young are more concerned about climate change,’ she says, with a far off look in her eyes. Possibly wanting this interview to end, itching to move on to her next self-imposed task.

But then she speaks, ‘there are some young people,’ she says, then pauses. Tells a sad story about a youngster who was bullied over his campaigning. Who committed suicide.

He was young.

He was still at school.

On the table lies a coaster with a message. It’s calling for a local nuclear enrichment plant to be shut down. It’s near a school, apparently. Not the same one, but still, it’s a symbol.

In a world of online campaigners, happy to click to the command of ‘sign this online petition now’ – persisting even when the blinking beast demands an email address, a postcode – it’s shaming. Or is it? I think perhaps it’s reassuring. And even if none of Vera’s children has taken up her baton, perhaps her grandchildren will – for climate change, perhaps.

But as she scoops up the soup dish to take it back to the counter of the café, she answers one final question. Or not so much a question, more a speculation.

Her response is sobering.

‘It think it’s possible we will destroy the world. Make it uninhabitable. One day, one way or another.’

There are various YouTube links to the Protect and Survive information films but here is one posted on the UK’s National Archives site – not, frankly, the most chilling of them all:


The beaten heart of Mr Smith

To be honest, Mr Smith he isn’t. But a smith – that he is. So it’s appropriate – and makes a handy pseudonym for – well, let’s call him, Joe.

He’s dressed in black. Not tall, not small and square of frame, in no way fat.

He slumps a little, around the shoulders. Looks weary, a lot, around the face.

Joe’s an artistic soul. Likes to create things, in his forge, from scrap metal finds or freshly hammered iron.

Elephants and giraffes, brought to life on his anvil, lurk in domestic jungles. Dark candelabra light up gothic weddings. A car lamp morphs into the head of a knight – he can’t bear to part with that one, it’s staying at home.

He’s late, Joe. Supposed to he here between ten and eleven – but he isn’t. And wasn’t supposed to be, he says. Never starts work till at least eleven on Monday.

If that seems a trifle tardy for a tradesman artist, think on this – he has three children to look after.

‘So what?’ you might say. ‘So do plenty of single parents.’

Except Joe’s not single. Not married either – and that’s a very big problem for him right now. Because his partner, days after giving birth to the youngest child, had a massive brain haemorrhage.

‘Thank you for the chat,’ he says, as he leaves, more than an hour later. It’s time well spent. The man needs to talk.

The birth certificates don’t list him. He’s had to prove his paternity – and still that’s not enough. Solicitors he can’t afford are multiplying, as they tend to do.

She was in a coma for weeks, his partner. Is paralysed down one whole side.

When she began to recover he took the children to see her. She couldn’t speak, but a smile broke out on her face.

‘I told my son it felt like I’d won the lottery,’ he smiles, looks down at the ground. ‘In the car, on the way home, my son says, “How much have we won, dad?”’

She started to recover, slowly. Can speak twenty words or so. Two of the children’s names are among them – the girls’ – but not the little boy’s. Instead she says, ‘good boy’.

It’s been well more than a year. One side of her skull was cut out to relieve the pressure of her swollen brain. But, in an almost unbearable twist of fate, given Joe’s occupation, the metal plate they put in her head has been rejected.

Joe and the children have moved from her parents’ house, into a rented home. He tries to give them as normal a life as he can, but while Saturday’s free for doing childish things, Sunday’s for visiting mum, miles away in hospital.

He stares out of the window, as he talks, seeing who knows what.

And then, as if to say, ‘I’m sorry. Here, have something nice in your life, no matter how small, today,’ the red squirrel runs along the fence. Sits on the corner post, turns and looks. Waits a moment for Joe to admire him, then jumps across into the pine tree.

Joe talks of gates – so many people now want gates. The creative stuff has to take a back seat. Has to go, really.

A wistful look comes over his face.

‘I did a sliding gate for an old gentleman. Eighty four, he is. His wife died fourteen years ago. When he talked about her his eyes went all shiny.’ He puts a finger to his own shiny eye. Shakes his head. ‘After fourteen years.’

Joe’s sense of time – and what matters – has changed with that random outpouring of blood in his partner’s brain.

He talks of another customer, a soldier, veteran of the Afghan war. He came to the smithy leaning on a stick – it’s touch and go as to whether they can save his leg, Joe says.

And why this particular tale? Ah, well, the soldier, perforce, frequents a centre for rehabilitation. A critical part of the complex is a large, specialist brain injury centre.

‘Don’t give up,’ the wounded ex-soldier tells Joe. Recounts an encounter with a soldier whose injury was so terrible it lost him half his brain. A man who, after several years, can once more eat and drink – and live.

Mr Smith puts away his papers and his measuring tape. Clicks his case shut and slips back into his shoes – taken off in consideration for the carpet.

‘I think I’ll go see the old gentleman on my way home. He lives alone. It must be a lonely life.’

God bless you, Joe.

It was a one-sided chat, but I have a whole skull, can make you a coffee – two sugars, milk, strong – and both my ears are working. You’re very, very welcome.

Caring for the world

Gill* is a woman of mature years. Her eyes shows signs of tears, her cheeks of wintry weather – and possibly ill-health. Worry, certainly.

Today she’s tired, but not as tired as usual, because last night she wasn’t working. She’s had two nights off this week.

Gill works in a care home, looking after people with dementia. It’s a wearing, wearying job and she knows that working nights is not doing her health any good.

She has one weekend in two off and on those weekends what do you think she would like to do?

Go shopping?

Perhaps – but she’s not very well off, so that would probably mean shopping for food, the essentials of life.

A trip somewhere nice?

Well, it’d have to be somewhere easy to reach by public transport as Gill doesn’t have a car – and she doesn’t live in a big city.

And anyway – she doesn’t want those things.

This is what Gill would like to do:

She would like to join other people in grim, cold depots emptying black plastic bin bags. Sorting out donations for refugees.

She’d like to take time off from work – but she can’t afford to.

Not to have a rest or see her daughter or revel in a bit of idleness for a while.

No, she’d like to go to a Greek island to help the poor souls washing up on their shores, cold, half dead and hungry.

People needing the clothes she wanted to sort, needing the food that caring folk have sent or paid for, needing the warmth of human understanding that she, plainly can give.

Gill smiles a wistful smile in the harsh light of the wintry sun as she says how much she wants to help. Tears come to her eyes.

She pulls at her flimsy sweater, wrapping her arms around herself to keep warm. She’s given most of her warm clothes away. Only has two sweaters left.

Gill has several bags of other people’s donations that she’s amassed waiting for collection. And a pram. One of this week’s urgently needed items.

The black bags contain men’s warm jackets.

The smaller ones, open at the top, reveal beautiful striped, knitted woollens for tiny tots – hand made by the older women at her church. Fastened at the shoulder with teddy bear buttons.

And a few knitted bears, too, to go with them.

So much love poured out into the world through all these busy hands.

There are so many people like Gill, yet no-one is like Gill.

In this writer’s humbled opinion.

*Gill is not her real name. Everything else is factual.


A shaggy dog story

A sky so blue it makes your heart ache. The distant sea glistening. Pools of sapphire water framed like jewels by the ochre sand.

Skylarks trill their enchanting song as they rise up out of sight. Swallows skim the rippled sand catching the low-flying bugs that dance over the piles of seaweed abandoned by the tide.

It’s early still, just a few, quiet, dog walkers out for their walks. Vari-coloured, indistinct blobs, like moving dots on a map.

The beach stretches on – and on.

To the south, North Wales is a ghostly, distant grey.

Teresa is on her way out with her two stocky golden Labradors. The one with curly-hair was attacked – and now fears other dogs, gets frightened when they come up close and thinks they’re trying to bite her.

Teresa slips a treat out of her bag, breaks it in half and gives it to the wary one, curled at our feet.

She woke up chilled to the marrow this morning. Could barely move her joints. Put on her thermals as usual and is now looking pink – and not because of the breeze. No, it’s because she’s wearing a woolly polo-neck, a body-warmer and a furry necked parka over her thermals.

She laughs a chesty laugh and looks around now and again to check on the dogs.

Originally from the Isle of Man, Teresa worked for a while in London at the Elephant and Castle. Hated London. Hated the unfriendly world as it seemed to her in her bed-sit where none of the neighbours spoke. Where a crush on the tube left her shoeless and walking to work barefoot.

Liverpool – now that she likes. Friendly people.

Doesn’t like the district of Southport where she first lived – snobby, she says, wrinkling her nose.

Twenty minutes later, we’ve learned where the best places to walk are, learned how many dogs she has had, learned she has lost her husband.

The names are flung out with abandon as if we know each one – her husband, her neighbours, her friend Jean. Just like a small child who assumes you know all the people he or she knows. We nod and smile and listen.

Teresa has had a stroke, has had back surgery, relies on a wooden NHS stick. Her hair is short, her eyes betray some ill-health but her face is one big smile as we chat.

By the time we part we’ve been officially introduced – and we know we’ll see her again. Perhaps down the hidden, sheltered path behind the dunes, ‘you can even take a picnic’. Perhaps around the distant point, with the high dunes and shining white sand.

There’s a man walking what look like huskies. Nods are exchanged and an, ‘aren’t they lovely’ with a proud acknowledgment of a smile. He’s wearing a hat tied up at both sides. Looks like someone who’d like to be a park ranger somewhere in the Rockies.

When we finally make it back to the car he’s parked beside us. The two beauties are in the back.

One of the girls is in heat, the other neutered. He has another back home – a Siberian husky different from these two.

He’s worried that people will think he ill-treats the young Siberian one – its looks are taller and skinnier than Mika and Miko.

The husky man comes here once a week, on a Friday, from Wigan, sometimes spending four hours exercising his beauties. He pulls out an expensive SLR camera and finds pictures for us – Thor is a very pretty dog and noticeably thinner.

As we’re opening our car doors he carries on chatting. Thor, it seems, has a brother who lives not far from him. Thor’s brother is called Zeus.

Zeus has green eyes. Thor has blue.

One day, he reckons, the two will, inevitably, meet.

Thunderbolts, d’you reckon?

The weather is changing now, but the day feels good. The world is still our world, the world of friendly, caring, ordinary people.

There was a general election yesterday.

Today, it feels good, that reminder, that reassurance that beneath the sound and fury we’re all still the same.

Even if … well, never mind.


Four wheels, twelve days

Mervin’s tubby, let’s be honest. In a nice, round way. Not obese by any means, just born in one of nature’s spherically-inclined body shapes.

Probably a nerd, or a geek, or both – a gerd? a neek? – he’s dressed entirely in black. – and black hair frames his tired, pale face. Unruly black hair, but not unkempt.

He’s the kind of person you imagine sitting up all night, alone, playing computer games. Drinking diet Coke and eating pizza.

Merv’s a salesman. He’s sitting with a customer, a woman, at a desk. In a shop that sells washing machines and televisions, refrigerators and computers. One knee is jigging up and down.

Waiting for paperwork to spew from a nearby printer the two start talking – and not about computers.

It’s the mention of blogs that does it. Seems the two of them have a blog in common, one that’s all about four wheel drives – like Land Rovers.

The Land Rover blogger follows the customer, the salesman follows the Land Rover blogger.

It’s odd how non-existent lines intersect in that ethereal universe. Odder still how they intersect on earth. In a shop. In the January sales.

He’s quite young, Mervin.

The words come tumbling out, somehow. Anyhow.

Does he know he’s doing it? Giving away his life story? Revealing it in bite-sized instalments, in between the talk of gigabytes and clouds, touch-screens, tiles and desktops?

Mervin’s split up from his partner, but sees his daughter now and again. She comes to stay. He sets her gadgets to squeal if she leaves them switched on – as, of course, she does.

He doesn’t seem bitter, or angry – not even resigned. Perhaps he’s gone beyond that – perhaps now’s the new normal. He’s just grateful to have a job, a place to live – and a four wheel drive.

Friends and relatives tell him it’s a waste of money. But as he talks about his four by four his face lights up. Animated at last, he looks the customer right in the eye, for the first time.

‘I don’t get on with my dad,’ he says, ‘never have. But now we spend a day a month together.’

They share a passion for the gas-guzzling beast. They drive on the green roads, tinker with the engine. They’re dad and son together, twelve days a year.

Twelve days more than they were before the four-by-four.

The paper’s spewed out of the printer, at last. The customer leaves for the sales desk and the two shake hands, glad to have met.

Knowing there’s a link there, in the ether.

Knowing they’d never have had a connection in ‘real’ life.

Both digital immigrants. Still learning how this brave new world does magic.


Oh no! Santa selling second-hand cars?

The face is round, the belly rounder – and the beard is white. He’s jolly – and he’s selling used Toyotas.

If that sounds like a sad come down for a genial giant, think again. This man is happy. Well, not as happy as he would be if he were selling motorbikes, but – shhh – don’t tell anyone.

Simon’s not stopped talking for hours – or that’s what it feels like. His voice is beginning to crackle with over use.

‘Me mum says I could talk a glass eye to sleep,’ he chuckles.

The accent’s not very used-car salesman. He’s a Lancashire man with a heavy Bury bur. (That’s ‘Bury’ as in ‘buh-ry’ not ‘berry’ by the way.)

Genial he may be, but he’s still a salesman, so the long spoon of devil-supping’s in order. Just a precautionary measure, you understand. Because he’s affable and funny and – never stops talking.

One creature, though, can best him.

His dog.

A little Jack Russell.

A girl.

Simon’s own car has a grill in the back to stop her joining him on the front seat.

How can he? Poor girl, that’s where Jack Russells belong. Paws on the dashboard keeping an eye on naughty sheep out on the road.

Simon reckons she’s mentally disturbed. Has episodes of bad behaviour.

But, Simon, of course she has! Being kept off the dashboard – it’s Jack Russell cruelty.

It doesn’t end there, this Jack Russell tussle for mastery (or misstery). She always, Simon says,  has to have the last word.

‘I’ll tell her off,’ he says, ‘go to your bed!’ (ooh, he does sound stern). ‘And she does. Then I turn around and she goes, “grrr”. Allus has to have the last word.’

He doesn’t say it, the – ‘women, eh?’ thing. A salesman, knows he can’t annoy half the couple. But then, he mightn’t have, anyway.

Being around cars and discussing parking, there’s been talk, inevitably, of women drivers. Who, of course are better …

At which, Simon twinkles, giggles, then launches into – another story.

‘Only had two crashes on test drives – and both of ’em were with men. This chap, buying a car for his wife, says he’d better drive. Implying he were better than her. Drove smack into the back of a Ford transit.’

Shakes his head. Giggles again. Yes, he may be a salesman but he’s really, really cheery.

And he talks a blue streak.

Is this his winning tactic? Wearing his clients into submission?


And perhaps he does.

Two days later, deposit paid, test drive accomplished without prangs, the water dripping on pebble approach has paid him – and the environment – dividends.

A hybrid, with an un-looked for sunroof and a leather trimmed dashboard.

Tha’s done well, Simon, me lad.



Magic. And a wish. A true story for the Christmas season

Woollen shawls are clasped tightly around ample bosoms by hands in fingerless gloves. Stout women, dressed up for this festive ‘Dickens’ day, seem to suit Victorian costume.

The weather’s not very Christmas Carol. It’s cold in a damp way, the temperature just this side of freezing. Rain’s coming down in that nasty, seeping way it has of wetting you through before you’ve noticed it.

A straggle of stalls lines the road, selling homely, knitted tea-cosies and cross-stitched cards with robins. Jars of winter chutney and bags of chocolate fudge. Second-hand books and scented soaps. And a lucky dip, for charity.

The final parade passes through. Local schoolgirls dancing with pompoms. A squeezy concertina band. Clog dancers.

The little fairground rides are busy. Giant tea-cups, peppered with young boys and girls, rotate to the music. A bit bemused, these tiny ones, not quite sure how to take this new experience.

It’s darkening, now – and colder. People wander homewards, many of them train-wards.

Six carriages glide into the platform with a grind and a squeak and a squeal. Doors open and wet people crowd on board. The beep beeps, the doors begin to close.

‘Oi, someone, hold the doors,’ yells a young man, ‘I’ve got my box stuck!’

He’s struggling with a large luggage-trunk. Someone pulls and the trunk makes it on board but the young man’s still outside. A shoulder to the almost-shut door and it gives way. The young man stumbles in and the train departs.

‘Cheers!’ he grins. ‘First time anyone’s helped me with my trunk. Always getting stuck.’

It’s a very infectious smile.

He flops onto his trunk, a puppet whose strings have been cut.

Dark hair frames his face under a slightly battered top hat. Beneath a black tail coat he wears a white shirt with a floppy red bow at the neck Brightly coloured, stripy socks stretch over his ankles under black baggy trousers.

His shoes have seen better days.

‘Have you been at the Dickens day?’ says the door-obstructer. Obvious – but someone had to ask.

‘All day. Juggling. Magic. Since this morning. Worn out.’

Uh-oh. A disastrous mistake, for one wiped out.

‘Hey mister,’ calls a child-like voice, ‘you a magician?’

He leaps up. Jiggles around like a rag doll with a caffeine addiction.

‘I’m a magic man, I’m a magic man,’ he chants, jumping from one foot to the other.

‘Do us some magic then, mister.’

They’re all in sugar-mouse pink, the girls. Not yet out of puppy fat. Pink hats, pink gloves and furry pink boots. Dark shiny hair reaching nearly to their waists – or where they would be if they had any.

The two youngest sit, open-mouthed. In awe.

Magic man tips off his hat, throws it in the air and catches it.

‘Where’s the rabbit then. You a magician or what?’ Rude little girl may have problems with her adenoids. A charitable interpretation of her open mouth.

‘It’s cruel to rabbits to keep them in a hat. How about ribbons instead?’ he twinkles, pulling streams of ribbons from his hat – pink ribbons.

As the train rattles ahead to the next station he performs a few little tricks, enough to entrance his audience of sugared-almond girlies.

Older, cynical eyes watch, surreptitiously, from under brows ostensibly directed at books and mobile phones.

Laughter begins to trickle around the carriage like spilled milk as he teases the girls, like kittens with a ball of wool, their understanding always just beyond their reach.

He does quite a clever a card trick.

‘How d’you do that then?’ demands a pink princess.

‘How do you think?’

‘I know, I know.’ Sugar-plum bounces in her seat with excitement. ‘You saw it in the window.’

‘Yeah. I take a train with me everywhere I go.’

Grown-ups snigger into their hands. The girls go quiet.

Magic man – reprieved, looking tired – sinks onto his trunk.

The train doors open and close. A group of lads climbs on. A surly posse.
Cans in hand, swaggering.

The carriage is quiet. Everyone is watching.

Magic man says something no-one hears. The boys, though, look nonplussed.

The girls move seats, so they’re next to Mr Magic.

The lads huddle together, watching in disbelief, as if hypnotised. Silent as boys can seldom be.

‘This train is for Hunt’s Cross. The next stop will be Blundellsands and Crosby.’

The door-blocker stands and sighs. Reluctant, it seems, to leave.

The young magician looks up.

‘Thanks,’ he says, twice. ‘Thanks for helping. I hope you have a great Christmas. May at least one of your wishes comes true.’

‘I don’t have any wishes,’ says the door person.

The magician’s gaze is oddly compelling.

‘Everyone has wishes,’ he says, ‘whether they know it or not.’

The train rustles on down the track and the dark night closes around it, bright lights shining yellow through the windows, fractured into fairies by the rain.

The magic man vanishes, into the night.

And a wish hangs in the air.

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