The Way to the Manger

I cannot take you there now. I can but point. (Though it would be a place in the air).

In my mind I can see it. (That place). I can see the surroundings.

There was grass. There were low fences with fine iron wire netting. There were bus stops. Some even had shelters.

Bus Stops. The bus stop nearest the end was for the 54. The camber of the road was peculiar. If the 54 pulled up there, it leant over. The buses were not old but they looked old. Slow and ponderous like elderly grandparents. Some even had grey roofs. Their quiet engines like whispered comments as they passed.

The 54 shared with the 142. The 142 was spry and infrequent and noisy. Young but really fuss about nothing.

The 59 had the shelter. This was a trunk route. It was always busy. Red and cream liveried fast and roaring buses worked this route. No grey roofs here. The 59 was jointly worked with a neighbouring corporation. Its buses were a sort of magenta and white. They sounded powerful. And no wonder when you saw the hills they climbed in their home town. But their stop signals screamed upsettingly. Frantically even.

At the other end were the 12 and the 159. The 12 went its way around the old town. Its shoulders almost touching the houses at one point. This was the route that went to my Gran’s. She was old. Her house was old. Everybody there was old. The bus moved in that way. Stiff.

In contrast, the 159 ran exotic liveried single deckers. White – or red and white – or red white and black. “Where does it go?” people asked. But nobody knew where the final terminus was. It darted like a startled rodent in and out of strange roads. It picked up from strange-smelling factories and other places too. The gas works; the town desructor; the dyers; the cigarette factory; the vinegar works; the bleach works; the pet food place; the brewery.

It then escaped through the mousehole under the railway. The final indignity being the stop at the Sewage Works. After that who cared? It ran with permanently open windows.

On the very edge of this place of importance would appear a visitor. The visitor (I learn) was annual. We waited for the visitor. Yet nobody ever saw the visitor arrive. Or leave. Yet the visitor had come to see everybody.

We knew about it because it was announced in the paper. The local paper. This paraclete informer calling itself “Guardian”. With strange literary angles espousing civility and civics it did not look far. But it took on anybody and everybody in the town. It made fish of some and flesh of others. All served with shoulder chips. It spoke to friends and made up foes. All the while imprisoned by the langauge of its dictionaryless and solitary editor.

The little white car had made mother happy. Never was her delight as visible as when setting off. And for a while that was enough. It delighted us too. I liked the tick tock of the direction indicators. There were little clocks in the dashboard too. Their needles moved tentatively. We went to lots of places. We delighted in leaving. But each setting off begets a returning. (Every up having its down). Sundays would sometimes take on a heightened joy. But the joy would go. We came to know the circularity of time – all the while singing something simple.

Daddy stopped the car. He could not do that now. To stop there now would violate several laws. It was Sunday anyway so parking laws did not apply.

Thinking now I cannot remember having been out that day. It would not have been “out” out anyway. How could it have been? Maybe we went a ride. It was what we did. Sometimes we might visit somebody in the next town or further. The longer journeys sometimes giving me a glimpse of a tiny gas lamp. That was in a Crescent off Crompton Way. I imagined the homes. They looked neat and friendly. Cartmel it was called.

We walked around the little garden in the Market Place. It was not a bus day. But just at one end of the base of this isosceles oasis was a hutch. A little wooden hutch. I looked at the hutch and realised that it was painted cream or ivory. Those colours perhaps cheaper to manufacture (cheaper than pure white anyway) but their names alone peculiarly representing then high value products.

“It’s empty”. Mother’s pronouncement. “I thought I could show you that. You could see it. Back in the car then”.

The last three quarters of a mile show the yellow sodium lights incomprehensibly changing the colours of my clothes. Home. Tea. Bath. Bed. In my dreams I smell the shampoo again. It is called Clinic.

In coming years this part of my town is well trodden by me. The embarrassing Sponsored Walk. The nightly walk home. The first visits to new friends. Even my rights as a pedestrian at a Zebra Crossing (by then a briefcase carrier). But I always carried a bag anyway. Most did not.

Sometimes in the week we have to go down town with Mother. It is always before tea too. I get hungry quickly. I learn to shut up about that. We go to the Post Office before it closes for the day. The tiles are always wet. There are puddles inside. Pens and ink and new style pens on little chains too. I don’t always go in. Sometimes I wait by the letter box let into the wall. There are people behind that and I can hear them. You can also learn the most propitious time to post your letter for towns near and far. Post still comes on a Sunday too.

We walk along. The streets are dark but lit. We cross by the remnants of the double kerb step. In the bank. It is not a nice night. Now the road is shining. All the lights of the cars and buses shine in the road. There are even hints of colour there.

Suddenly my attention is called by a waste paper bin. It is coloured plastic. It sits inside a metal frame. The metal frame stands on one leg. As I stare at the bin I also see more colours on the road. There are blobs of yellow, orange, green, red, even a little bit of blue. I follow the reflection.

Mummy sees me looking. She smiles. I forget the cold and the rainy wet. We walk up past where they sell material. We pass where Nana buys soup. We cross at the zebra. We both stand on the non-slip flags. In the Market Place. We look at the tallness of it. The colours of it. The shades of it. “Mummy” I say. “There is a real star at the top of it”.

The star is Gold. And right at the top of the Christmas Tree in our town is a star. It has a light inside it. There are little holes in the star. Out of the holes come the tiniest beads of white light. I don’t even remember the rain now. Mummy walks past the tree and down to the other leg of the triangle. She beckons me. I walk down.

There on the edge is the little hutch. It is not in the middle. It does not face the main road. It is almost where you would not see it. Anybody hurrying to work – or home – would miss it. You would have to make an effort to notice it. We look.

Behind the glass screen is a crib. And for an instant the story comes alive. There is even a star in the crib. After a while we go home. We walk.

But some days later we are back. There is also a brass band. Other people have come too. The band plays some carols. The people sing. There are little children. Tiny children and older ones hold hands. There are some parents. There are some older people too. As the band plays I look around. The music goes a bit quiet in my head. I see some of the children look at their parents. I see some of the parents look at their children. I see some older people look at the children. Some look at the pavement. But it is their eyes that are singing. Singing softly and quietly. After all there is a new baby there. In that hutch. You wouldn’t want to wake the baby. But there is something else there as well. You can’t really see it at home. Not in our house much.

Perhaps it is in the rain. Perhaps in the air.I don’t know what it is. But I think it makes the people gentle.

I stop looking and sing. I follow the words. But I look again. It is curious.

We walk home a different way tonight. We go past the Toybox. We don’t see anybody else. But it was very special.

We had a lot of churches and chapels in our town back then. But it was Market Place where kindness came. And we weren’t waiting for a bus either.

It’s not there now.

But I remember it was then.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Georgina Rossetti


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