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The Kindness of Strangers

Posted Mon 25th Apr 2022 at 09:00
by Non Evans

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This story is dedicated to the kind strangers whom we meet on life’s journey, with thanks.

Travelling with children with hidden disabilities can present many challenges, not least of which is the lack of empathy and tolerance from fellow travellers. As the mother of a teenage son with neurodevelopmental difficulties including Tourette’s Syndrome, my family have endured the tutting, the stares, and the awkward glances. These are painful reactions for adults to witness and devastating for our children to endure.

But travel we will! New challenges enable self-esteem and resilience to flourish, and we all have a right to enjoy these experiences. This is how we found ourselves, 4 mums and 8 children, escaping a sweltering hot London Euston in the summer of 2018 on board the Caledonian Sleeper train to Scotland to climb Ben Nevis. We felt as if we had stepped into the pages of an Enid Blyton novel bound for exciting adventures in the country! We were all proud to reach the pinnacle of the British Isles:

“Mum, are we the highest people in the world?” 

All too soon, it was time to step out of the storybook and head back to reality. We arrived at Fort Willian train station in the early evening looking forward to enjoying our well-earned beds for the night. Alas, it was not to be! At midnight, we eventually left the station on a four-hour bus-replacement-service through Glen Coe to Edinburgh station to board the ill-fated sleeper train. This was frustrating for all of us, obviously, but it was a huge challenge for my autistic son.

It could have been a disastrous situation but for the kindness of a stranger.

I had explained our situation to one of the stewards as soon as we were informed of a delay. He did not tut or judge. Instead, he offered us a quiet space to wait away from staring eyes and kept us informed. He offered us understanding and empathy. He did not travel with us on the nausea inducing coach and we finally boarded our train at Edinburgh station in the early hours of the following morning. My sons were asleep immediately but as I lay awake waiting for us to depart, I heard a familiar voice on the platform:

“Have the mums and their children from Fort William been berthed? There was a very anxious boy. Is he OK?”

 It was the voice of the steward who had finished his shift but still went out of his way to check on us.

I was so tired, relieved, and touched by his kindness that I could not help the silent tears that slipped out in the darkness.

Once safely home, I wanted to let this stranger know what his kindness had meant to us, so I wrote a card. I only had a first name, and I knew that he worked from Fort William on the Caledonian Sleeper train so I addressed it thus and posted it hoping it would reach him!

A year on, summer 2019, and it was the ‘dads and sons’ turn to embark on their epic adventure to Scotland on board the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. Their challenge was to cycle the 75 miles of the ‘Great Glen Way’ to Fort William over three days. They did it -wow! Weary and saddle sore, they found themselves at the station in the early evening looking forward to a well-earned rest in their bunk berths for the night. Unlike the previous year, there were no delays!

As they were boarding, my son spotted a familiar face:

 “Dad, that’s the guard who helped me last year!”

They went over and my son asked him:

“Do you remember me?”

The steward’s face lit up and he reached into the pocket of his uniform blazer. He pulled out a familiar card and said:

“I carry your card with me always and when I am having a difficult day then it reminds me of the real reason for helping people. It reminds me that I can make a difference.”

What can I say? When I am feeling that the world is against us then I remember these trips and I remember the kindness of strangers. Thank you, whoever and wherever you are.


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