|James Flynn, paviour, seated, fourth from the right.|
Here's what happened.
I was in the middle of edits and writes, checking all kinds of dates and relationships to make sure everything hung together properly, and deep into the story of what had happened to poor John Manley, who was murdered in 1881, in Leeds, and what happened afterwards to his surviving sisters - and what became of his eldest sister, my great grandmother Mary, who had eventually married a good man called James Flynn. He was remembered as a kindly, gentle, generous man by those who had known him, and he certainly helped to change for the better the fortunes of at least one member of my family, blighted by terrible events.
It was a very chilly, sunny morning and I was walking through - of all places - Morrison's car park, on my way to the store. The low sun was dazzling me, and the car park was faintly misty as the early frost dissipated. I was preoccupied, thinking about the book, as I was pretty much thinking about the book all the time back then, when I felt a touch on my arm, and raised my head to find myself confronted by a middle aged man. I stepped back off the kerb in surprise, and he very gently assisted me onto the pavement between cars. He called me 'Madam'. He told me, in a quiet, but unmistakably southern Irish voice - a soft, rural voice - that he was very hungry, that he had had no breakfast that morning, and nobody outside the store would help him. The sun was still dazzling my eyes, but he was dressed in working clothes and boots and he looked - as I described it to my husband afterwards - 'dusty'. He was dusty from head to toe. Not dirty, but dusty like a working man is dusty.
And he had a kind face.
I took my purse out and gave him the only note I had in there - a £5 note. If I'd had a tenner, I'd have given him that instead but it was probably enough to get him some breakfast. He shook my hand, and he said 'God bless you, God bless you, madam,' and then he headed off through the car park.
When I turned around to see which way he had gone, there was nobody in sight at all.
It's hard to describe how this meeting affected me - and let's face it, I make things up for a living! I could feel a lump in my throat and tears starting in my eyes. I felt shaken. I had to go and sit down in the cafe to pull myself together. I wanted to tell somebody about the encounter but there was nobody around that I knew, and besides, it would have sounded daft beyond belief, because I'd have said, 'I think I just met my great grandfather.'
But even now, many months later, I still think I did.