Tuesday, 17 July 2012


The train was crowded and I struggled to carry my big rucksack along carriage as I looked for a seat while the train pulled out from the station. I finally found an empty space directly behind some grey hair tied severely in a bun. I hoisted my luggage up into the overhead rack and settled down to read the paper I'd bought in Keswick; I'd been tromping about the mountains for a week so hadn't seen the news for a few days.

Grey-hair-in-a-bun was apparently not alone and she began to address the space next to her, "What's that you're doing? Why have you coloured the sky pink? Have you ever seen pink sky? What's the name of that friend of yours? Why don't you eat your sandwich? Don't you like cheese and pickle?...."

There was evidently a child sitting next to her as from time to time a small voice tried to fend off the barrage of questions with "I don't know, Gran," or "I can't remember". But the contest was unfairly one-sided and Gran continued to rain heavy blows down on the child in the form of relentless questions.

I had to do something if i was ever going to get any peace. "Excuse me," I said, "have you got the time?" 
"What you want to know that for?"
"I need to make a connection"
"Where you going?" "What's your name?" "Where you been?" "Where do you work?" "Are you married?" "Where...why...what....who?"
I parried the questions as best I could while trying to formulate a plan in my mind which centred around asking her how old she was and whether she'd always been such a nosey old.....when something rather marvellous happened.

From under the seat a small blond head was appearing...and two little hands clutching a colouring book and some pencils in a plastic case decorated with pink and yellow butterflies. The head turned up towards me and grinned a gap-toothed smile.

"Where you gone now, you little minx? Where are you? Why can't you sit quiet on the train like everyone else?"
"It's OK, she's here"
"What? Gone under the seat? What you do that for?"
"It's OK, she's fine", I said as I moved over to let the child sit by the window seat.
"Hmmph! Well, if you don't care, I'm sure I don't. You won't get no sense out of her though, I can tell you. They can't do nothing for her, she's got a condition."

Little hands opened the book. A pink pencil wrote slowly and carefully  A - m - a - n -.
A man?
A - m - a - n - d - a - J - a -
A small tongue curled out of the side of her mouth with concentration as she shaped each letter. Grandmother had gone back to her puzzle book leaving me to make of it what I could. The fields, green and yellow, sped past the train window.
Amanda-Jane Writtingstall  the name was finally complete. "Hi, Amanda-Jane, I'm John." I felt as though the reputation of the whole grown-up human race lay on my shoulders.
"Yes" said my new friend.
"You've done some nice colouring."
"Yes.......Oh dear! The pink's broken!"
"I can sharpen it if you like."
"It'll need a sharp knife"
Luckily the people who designed my camping knife had incorporated just such a blade, a special-for-sharpening-little-girls'-pink-pencils blade.

She sat and coloured. Red sky. Blue hair. Green rabbits. Brown balloons and purple dogs. The little tongue firmly in the corner of her mouth. I gazed out of the window at the passing fields and woodlands, the houses and factories flashed by inevitably and without questions. We passed through tunnels and crossed bridges as the evening sky turned slowly pink. 

Take care.


  1. A lovely story John - I can picture it all. I expect little Amanda Jane will remember that day for ever too.

  2. A lovely story. I can see that little girl perched on the seat beside you--I'll bet she enjoyed the time.

  3. A very sweet account, John. You bore the weight of "grown-up-dom" perfectly, too! Kudos.

  4. This had me captivated ..all she needed was someone who had time.

  5. a wonderfully delightful story John. Boy, you'd have fun on our trains and some of the conversations that happen on the mobiles too. We are now running on four-carraige trains a 'quiet carraige' at the front end, or on an eight-carraige they designate a 'quiet carraige' at both ends for those that want a break from loud conversations; mobiles or otherwise.

  6. How fortunate you had that sharpener-for-pink-pencil-blade with you John ....a beautiful story.

  7. What a marvelous story, John. You were just the person that little girl needed to sit beside.

  8. What a wonderful read. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  9. Well done, John. The story, and the compassion. You'd make a good parent.

  10. Sometimes a kind and understanding word or two can go a long way! Good for you John!

  11. She saw without preconception and coloured her world as it was. Great story. Maybe you and your extra-handy knife will feature in a picture she will draw someday. "That's the man who sharpened my pink pencil!" she'll exclaim with a happy smile.

  12. John, how wonderful you were with that little girl. I see so many people like the grey-hair-tight-in-a-bun everyday, and they never seem to leave the little ones alone. I always try to get down to "eye" level with the little ones and talk directly to them. One little girl had gotten eaten up by bug bites and was showing me her scabs from itching them. I asked her if it was because she was so sweet that those bugs couldn't stop eating on her and she said, "no, it's because there's a pond on my backyard and they like to fly and bite me". So sweet and honest. She went on to tell me that she tries very hard not to scratch them, "but those things just bother me, so that's what I do". She made me laugh so hard! I love an earnest face...and that's what you get with children.

  13. Very sweet, John, - the kind of magic chance encounter that morphs into memories.

  14. Wonderful post and photo.

  15. Beautiful story. Puts me in mind of that lovely song by Harry Chapin - 'Flowers are red'.

  16. Respite--for both of you. I could see this little person beside you, coloring so intently. Thank goodness you were there to let her be, and thank goodness she was there for you to enjoy this moment. Granny will never know what she missed. An excellent post, John. One I will be thinking of again and again.


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