The shape of kindness
It was 1992. I was about to embark on an epic journey. The trip would take me across Wales and England from Bangor in North Wales to Great Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire. By National Express. The Host Family scheme had arranged for me to spend my first Christmas in the UK with the Gooches. Great Driffield might as well be Amsterdam. The East Coast seemed like a far-flung country from the green foothills of Snowdonia by the Menai Strait.
I was supposed to be studying for my MA at Bangor. “Supposed” because by the end of the first couple of months after arriving in the UK I felt completely overwhelmed by everything. Even chatting to other students on my floor was an effort. I was done with speaking in English. My single study bedroom became my cocoon. Daily, I wove another layer of frustration to fortify the old ones.
Then, the Gooches’ letters began to arrive. They introduced themselves and expressed their excitement to welcome me to share with them their Christmas. Of course, it was impossible for me even to picture what a “typical” Christmas would be like for an English family. The day finally came – Christmas Eve 1992 – and I got on the bus from Bangor in the morning. I had never travelled anywhere in the UK.
The bus journey was long and tortuous, involving several changes at different places none of which meant anything to me except another dot on the map. Half way through the journey, I became very unwell. I had a throbbing headache and I felt sick. Sitting on the coach for several hours further exacerbated my discomfort. After what seemed to be a never-ending endurance challenge, I arrived in Hull. It was freezing cold. I found myself in a portacabin with a handful of travellers. If there’s any consolation, the sharp cold air cleared my head and I was ready for my final leg of journey on a local bus.
The night fell quickly on Christmas Eve; it fell silent as the darkness dissolved any discernible definitions of shapes and distances. The world outside was hushed. Our bus seemed to be the only object that was traversing in a floating wilderness, meekly illuminated like a drifting firefly in an impenetrably dark night. I sat close to the driver; I handed him the address of the Gooches; he drove on without uttering a word. I was getting more and more anxious. I was on the other side of the country, on my own, in a completely strange place, in the middle of nowhere. Then, the bus came to a halt. The driver signalled me to get off. The door hissed open….
There in the darkness of Christmas Eve 1992 stood Mr Gooch.