Tidings of comfort and joy from stranger in the night
A Good Samaritan gives Eric Waugh cause for some unexpected festive optimism
Tis time to be jolly - no? Christmas. Kill the fatted calf. Fill yon flagon and be of good cheer. And yet Scrooge stalks the land.
Bah, humbug finds an echo in the home where a job is at risk. And in another where the would-be breadwinner is a martyr to back trouble and fears for state benefits.
It is a hard, unforgiving world this Christmas. And yet, while there is life, there is hope. Take us two, an elderly pair driving home from a late night out at a concert in the Craigavon Civic Centre.
Bowling along the M1 at a prudent 50, without warning, there was that sinister thumping and knocking somewhere in the back.
Fearing the worst, we coasted gently down a convenient slip-road into the outskirts of Lisburn and onto the back corner of a filling station, still well-lit.
A back tyre, nail embedded, was a sad relic of its former self. In 60 years of motoring across the Rockies and Alpine passes, through Monument Valley and highland glen, I have often changed a wheel.
But punctures are rare things now and I had never had to jack up my present car. When I found the jack, could I open it?
But there was this purposeful-looking, youngish chap with his wife, or girlfriend, about to get into his vehicle on the forecourt.
I showed him the jack. Had he ever seen one like it? He took it from me. By the time he reached the far corner where I was parked, he had it already open and, in spite of my embarrassed protests, proceeded to change the wheel.
Moments later he doubled back to his own vehicle, left arm extended in deprecation of my thanks. On the way home in the drizzle we discussed what to do. A small Christmas hamper, perhaps? But where to send it?
The police check in the Belmont district of Belfast was a routine stop. I told the constable of our benefactor. We had his number. Would the PSNI give me his address? "Of course," he said. "Call at your local station."
Next morning, the confident young policewoman at the desk admitted that we had indeed met a Good Samaritan. But on no account could his identity be divulged.
So, KCZ 5270, sparing your blushes, I hope you read these words and accept my inadequate thanks for an unforgotten, late-night good deed.
So now: is Christmas 2010 as hard-nosed as the cynics would have it? A couple of weeks ago, I got on the London Tube at Embankment.
It was five o'clock. I was packed in like a sardine. But this so-nice young woman rose at once from her seat in the corner to offer it to me. I could not believe it. I was so shocked. I could not accept, thanking her effusively. As the packed train swayed on towards Wimbledon, I re-cycled all the barbed asides I hear these days from the old about the young; and - yes - from the young about the old.
The columnist Petronella Wyatt was sounding off the other day. She was in Gatwick station and asked an elderly, but burly porter for a hand with her luggage. "Do it yourself," he snapped.
I put much of this down to the cold indifference bred by the over-crowding of the neighbouring island. Ted Heath, by taking us into Europe, robbed us of the power to control our rate of immigration.
Blair and Brown, for cynical party reasons, actively encouraged it beyond the zone of prudence. We have more space this side; we can still welcome immigrants willing to work.
But a customer leaving a filling station, stopping to change a stranger's wheel unasked late on a damp winter's night? In Chiswick or Battersea? I wonder.
Meantime, to KCZ 5270, Happy Christmas. If this is your instinctive attitude to your fellow man, by Jove, you deserve it.