3rd April


There was once a man so old that most of his family, and all of his friends, had left the world long before him. He had been in ‘the war’, and when he spoke of that time it seemed to anyone watching that he was not only mentally but also physically reliving his experiences. Even when, overcome by the power of imagination, he lapsed into silence, his legs and arms would jerk and twitch, his whole body move as he refought battles. His young relatives, for whom ‘the war’ was only history, were thankful that they had not had to undergo such experiences.

Increasingly infirm, and having gradually but completely lost his sight, the old man had to move into a residential home. One morning the staff found his room empty, his bed not slept in. A search was undertaken, but without success. Then the telephone rang. A neighbour had discovered him outside his old house, cold but in good spirits. She was now giving him his breakfast. How, though, had he got there during the night? The house was five miles away, along a complicated route, and he was a blind nonagenarian who could not ordinarily reach the dining-room without assistance.

When questioned, he vigorously denied phoning for a taxi or having been given a lift. He had walked all the way with his comrades, he said – naming three men who had been dead seventy years – and whenever one of the party had tired the others had taken it in turns to support him as they went. He never wavered from this account, and no other explanation of how he had made that journey was ever found. A few weeks later he had a fall, and shortly after that he died.

It was the old man’s grandson who told me of that last march. The story has stayed with me ever since. It makes me think of the dying Balzac, who looked at his doctor and cried out, ‘Send for Bianchon!’ When mere mortal physician could do no more for him, the author called for one of his own characters. And who can say that Bianchon did not come, and did not bring relief ?

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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