Job satisfaction.

I have come to the conclusion that what I enjoy most about my work is job satisfaction.

Every day I leave knowing I have completed my tasks successfully and to the satisfaction of my employer. It promotes security and reduces crime levels.

I get to work with mechanical contraptions and there is also a very big part where I work closely with people.

I do my best to meet their specific needs and never yet had a complaint from anyone. Though my own might be there is too much to do.

I do so enjoy being a hangman.

Michael Birchmore

A knock on the door.

“Och, that made me jump,” said Felicity, a six year old blonde girl with curly hair who was playing with her crayons.

“Steady on midget,” replied Roland, her 10 year old elder brother. “It was only thunder.”

“No it wasn’t. That was the front door,” continued Felicity as she ran out to look.

“Yes, I was right, Mum!”

“What? What’s the matter?” said Madge as she came from the kitchen with flour on her hands.

“There’s someone at the door.”

“Eh? Here? Oh, yes, I see.”

Wiping her hands Madge opened the door a couple of inches.

What greeted her was a sight she was certainly not expecting.  A bedraggled, sodden mass of clothes wrapped round some sort of human life form. As it moved a face appeared and a female voice emanated from within the dripping mass of hair.

“I’m so sorry to inconvenience you but do you suppose I could use your phone please? I’ve broken down on the Oban road and can’t get a signal on my mobile.”

“What? Yes, yes. Do come in. Are you on your own?” asked Madge.

“Oh yes. Very much on my own. You sure about coming in? I’m a bit of a wet mess.”

“Yes, of course you must. Never mind the floor. That can be wiped dry. Anyway, you’ve got to come in if you want to use the phone.”

The mass moved and squelched as it did so. It was almost as if a life form had ascended from a local swamp.

“Erm, you are human aren’t you?” joked Madge.

Raising her head and parting the hair from her face the reply was “Yes. Be assured I am definitely human and friendly.  Although I do understand why you’re questioning it.  Sometimes I’m not overly sure myself.”

There was a snigger from a nearby doorway.  Like something out of a Mickey Mouse cartoon there were four heads peering round trying to see what was going on.

“Hello. I think we’re being spied upon.”

“What?” said Madge turning. “Oh that’s my brood.  Steven! Could you bring a towel please?”

“Hello, I’m Felicity.”

“And I’m Roland.”

“I’m Jack” said a small boy of three years and just as many feet in height.”

“and I’m Angus” came a deeper voice from a 20 year old male that emerged from the doorway holding two towels.

“Oh thank you Angus. “

“Not sure if dad heard you as he is in deep meditation over next Sunday’s sermon so I got them.”

“Thank you.  I, your bedraggled interloper, am Eloise.”

She stood there rubbing the towel over her blonde hair that just reached her shoulders.

When finished she folded it and gave it back to Angus.

“Thank you Angus.  If I could use your phone please?”

At this a much older male appeared. Bearded, greying wearing all black which was relieved only by the white flash of a dog collar.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I’m Steven by the way. Madge’s husband and guard for these rebels we call children. Reports just in that a lightning strike has brought the line down. We are, sort of incommunicado. Somethings, like this, you just can’t foresee happening.”

“And you a vicar saying that too,” commented Eloise.

“I know. Promise you won’t say anything or I’ll get drummed out of school.”

“ Look, we’re going to eat soon and there’s always enough for more…and its more interesting than loaves and fishes believe me.  Not much you can do anyway apart from trudge back and sit in your car waiting for dawn. I’ll see if Madge can find you some dry clothes and you can get presentable.”

“Well, if you’re sure I won’t be an inconvenience.”

“Not at all. I won’t hear of it. A way of buying your silence from the parish council.”

“Well that’s a deal then Father.”

So Eloise was guided, still leaving some drip marks up a deep, plush, carpeted stairway to a room in which was a large bed. In the corner was a shower with big fluffy red towels.

“Help yourself,” said Angus, smiling. “and bring your clothes down when you’re ready. We’ll put them up in the conservatory to dry.”

After the cold rain, the wind and the wet clothes clinging to her it was blissful stripping them off and stepping into the hot wetness of the shower. It may not have been a hotel but all the soap provisions made the place look as though it could have been. There was even a new toothbrush available in its wrapping.

Later round the table they were all eating their way through a big bowl of pasta verdi.

“More wine Eloise? “

“Thanks but not sure I should if I have to drive.

“Well to be honest, we don’t know when the line will be fixed. In this weather it could be ages,” said Madge.

“Look, we can offer you a bed for the night if you want. We often put people up. Students and so on so we always have a room ready. The room where you showered I mean.

“Well, if you’re sure. Thank you. Why not? “

“Hopefully the line will be repaired by tomorrow and we can get the AA or whoever to come and get you mobile again. Angus can run you back to it in his midget mobile to save you trudging across the fields again. How did you manage that to get here? Did you come across the fields?”

Eloise nodded. “Oh yes. I saw your lights on and being the only ones I could see made a bee line for them.

“Good for you,” said Steven. “Though not a hike many would want to take on.”

“Well to be honest,” replied Eloise,”I’ve done it many times in the army.”

“Where were you coming from? Are you still in the army? “ asked Angus.

“No, I left earlier this year. I was up at the Cruachan Reservoir today doing a maintenance check. I live in Edinburgh. Where are the other children I saw? ”

“They’re upstairs with their nanny. They eat earlier than us and now it is bedtime. I’ll go up and check on them when we’re finished,” said Steven.

“I’m hoping to join the army,”said Angus. “ I want to be in the Black Watch. “

“Hey, good for you,” answered Eloise.

Madge and Steven looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes. This wasn’t news to them but they easily recognised when Angus was flirting.

Eventually all stomachs had been fed and everything cleared up.

“That was fabulous. Thank you Madge and Steve, you too Angus. I’m very grateful for your hospitality. I’m feeling really tired now so if it’s ok with you I shall go on up. See you in the morning.”

“Ok Eloise. Sleep well,” they chorused.

Steven came back in to the room.

“How weird,” he said. “The children are fast asleep and not bouncing around and listen…the wind has dropped and it’s stopped raining. “

“Hey! I’ve got a signal on my phone too. How odd. Normally it takes them ages. Shall I go and see if Eloise wants to phone the AA?”

“No, Angus. I don’t think so. She can do that in the morning.  Besides, even if the AA do make it to her car tonight she can’t drive anywhere because of the wine she drank.”

“Oh yes. Good point.”

The family were up reasonably early the next morning and found the sun peaking down through the valley.

“Steven, will you watch the eggs and toast please and I’ll go and see what Eloise would like?” asked Madge.

“I’ll go,” said Angus a bit more enthusiastically then he meant.

“No, thank you Angus.  I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes later Madge returned to the kitchen looking bemused.

“What’s the matter?” asked Steven.

“She’s not there.” Replied Madge.

“Not there?” asked Steven. “Is she in the other bathroom?”

“No, I mean she’s not there, anywhere, and if I didn’t know better I’d have said the bed hadn’t been slept in and the shower not used.”

Angus came in.

“Her clothes are gone too. The ones she put up on the drier.”

“That’s the only evidence that she was here. The clothes I gave last night are folded on the bed as if they’ve never been worn,” continued Madge.

“Did anyone hear her leave?” asked Steven.

Everyone shook their heads and said no.

“How odd,” said Steven.

The timer pinged and the toaster ejected 6 slices of toast.

“Breakfast’s ready children,” Madge shouted up the stairs.

All sat round the breakfast table. Children chattering. Mouths munching.

The noise was interrupted by the metallic knocking on the door.

Everyone looked around at each other.  What was most strange about this was no one ever popped in on the off chance. They had chosen this parish for Steven to minister in not just for the size but the location. The peaceful solitude enabled Steven to work on his theological writing when not doing parish work.

“I’ll go,” said Steven.

As he approached the door Steven could see the dark, tall outline that suggested the visitor was male. He was right because the visitor was none other than PC Hamish Campbell. Behind him was a WPC Steven did not know.

“Good morning Father,” said Hamish.

“Morning Hamish. Hello. What can I do for you?”

“Well two things. One is we’re just checking on our more isolated residents checking they’re ok after last night’s storm but we’re also doing general enquiries to see if you knew anything of last night’s road traffic accident up on the main road?”

“Accident? No. With all that wind and rain we saw and heard nothing. Certainly didn’t venture out either. What happened?”

“Oh it was quite tragic really. Young woman. Mid 20s. Looks like she lost control of her car and ran into a tree.”

“Is she ok?”

“No. Fatality unfortunately. Judging by the clock in her car it happened about 7.30 last night.  A young lady by the name of Eloise. Pretty she was too.“

“What did you say her name was?”

“Erm, yes, Eloise.”

“But…no, couldn’t have been…”

“Father?” queried Hamish.

“Oh nothing. Just  a thought crossed my mind about something else.  Something I need to put in my sermon.”

“Ok then. Sorry to have troubled you.”

Next Sunday at St John’s cathedral Steven stood in the pulpit.

“For my text this morning I want to use the text from Hebrews 13:2 which says  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Michael Birchmore

The Day I Taught a Cripple To Fly.

This is the story of Octavian. Not the whole story but the more the start of his story.


Octavian was an orphan I met in Romania. It was 1991 and just after they had deposed Ceaucescu from power. I had been working in an English institution as a Registered Nurse for the Mentally Handicapped. When masses of international aid started pouring in I was able to get employed as part of a team working in one of Romania’s orphanages. Fortunately for me I went to one in Bucharest, the capital. I say fortunate as those in outlying cities and districts were by far the worse. It was those where windows were often missing exposing all the inhabitants to the winter cold and disruptive children often tied to the beds in an attempt to restrain them. Of course, in turn this made their behaviour worse when all they wanted was some attention and stimulation.


The one I went to was by far from perfect but they were just coming out of an oppressive regime where it was very much lunatics who had taken over the asylum since the rulers were exhibiting psychotic tendencies themselves.


In the “ward” where I worked there were four rooms. Warm, but bleak. Each room approx. twenty feet by ten feet. Painted stone walls. Brown. There were plenty of windows but no double glazing. One room was supposed to be a play room but the children had no idea what playing was and none of the Romanian staff were interested in teaching them. One of the attitudes was if their children had to go without, why should these orphans get privileged help. This is why much aid in the form of clothes and toys came in the front door but was diverted out the back into hands of black marketeers. The staff knew as did many of the aid organisations but the imposing threat of the “Securitate” meant they often turned a blind eye.

Even among the babies and toddlers with whom I worked there was a pecking order imposed by the Romanians. The best treated were the “normal” children put into the orphanages by families who couldn’t cope. Next down the order were the children whose mothers were prostitutes and there quite a few of those. At the bottom of the heap were children who had some sort of handicap. These were given little more than the basic care. Being fed, washed and changed whenever it suited the staff. Being fed meant they lay back in their cots with a bottle in their mouth. The bottle was held in place by leaning it against the cot sides. When the baby pushed it away to breathe it then leaked all over the child and the child could not go back for more. The child went hungry, stayed in wet clothing and often gained such ailments as glue ear. One child, Christina, had severe hydrocephaly. Her head was bigger than her body and was covered in pressure sores. My role here was to offer as much care to the children as I could. There were other aid workers in the other rooms but in mine there was just me with the occasional Romanian who I couldn’t communicate with nor she with me.


I was at least able to make sure that the children got better fed and changed more often when they were wet. They didn’t have proper nappies or diapers. Just bits of cotton cloth which, to be fair is probably the same as what many of the women used when menstruating.

I comfort myself in the thought that at least Christina died being cared for and loved. She was never going to live long in her state as she was way past being helped by surgical intervention.


Strangely, when she did die, the Romanian staff were afraid they were going to be blamed for it and disciplined. Another example of the insane ideas many had. What did surprise me was that many Romanians were very well read as they all seemed to have classics on their bookshelves. Shakespeare, Tolstoy and so on. But their approach to health care was so bad. They wouldn’t allow children to play in the play room because they were afraid the children would be affected by “the current” or draughts and get sick for which they would be blamed. Imagine a society very influenced by superstition and you’ll have some idea of what I am on about.

Of course, in one way I shouldn’t have been surprised since none of the staff had received any training other than the doctors in charge of each ward. We, the aid workers, were looked on with some suspicion and I know many of us had phone lines tapped. It was going to take a long while for them to shrug off their communist ideology.
We started to make some progress. We were able to initiate some training and passed on some ideas we brought but considering it was not unknown for surgeons to smoke during surgical procedures they had a long way to go.

Then one day, not long after Christina had died, I had a new arrival in my room. A little baby boy called Octavian.


He wasn’t the only new arrival. There was a little baby girl too called Nicoletta.

They both had handicaps. Nicoletta’s wasn’t so obvious. Her’s was her heritage. She was a “Roma”. The Roma then, and I think still are, one of the most despised races in Eastern Europe. They are certainly the most displaced race in Europe. The Roma were considered unclean and all criminals just because of their race. Many resorted to crime because if they were going to be regarded as criminals then that was how they’d behave. Also many had little choice other than begging.
Octavian’s handicap though was much more obvious. He was born with only one arm and one leg, Not so obvious was a scoliosis of the spine. Nicoletta was also a few months older and had learned a few basic skills like being able to sit up unaided. Octavian was little more than a month or two old in total.

When I saw him lying back in his cot I knew how heavily the odds were stacked against him if he was to survive. That was why there and then I promised him that I was going to do all I could to help him.


The ridiculous thing is, is that it wasn’t that difficult. Paying him some regular attention, talking to him and encouraging him was a start. If I paid him more attention than other children in my room it was because I thought he needed it.


He was an alert baby and responded well. I can remember we used him as an example of how to create individual care programmes and an American physio, who was also a volunteer aid worker, did a case presentation on him because of his scoliosis.

Apart from giving him a decent amount of attention there were two things I did that I think made a big difference. One was I used to turn him over onto his face and encourage him to push himself up. This helped boost his upper body strength and also, eventually taught him to sit up on his own. I can remember how fulfilling that was for me when he did that. I thought then that if he could do that then the rest should follow. Of course it took time for him to achieve that as I was the only one working with him like that. The Romanian staff saw him as a handicapped child and therefore the best thing for him would be to die.


Another thing I did which I think I used on other children as well was to get in a child’s car seat. They weren’t as soft and comfy as the ones of today are. This was just a child’s plastic moulded seat. I’d sit Octavian in it and put a toy in front of him. This would more than likely be one where the child could press buttons to ring bells and so on. Octavian soon got the hang of it and was happy bashing away at it with his one hand.


When the Romanian staff saw what a happy baby he was they started to take a shine to him themselves and it wasn’t long before some of them actually started to carry on what I was doing and even took him in to the play room which we, the aid workers, had started using.
As a result it wasn’t long before Octavian learned how to crawl around with his one arm and one leg. To him it was all he had ever known.


Eventually my time in Romania came to an end. I’d spent 15 months there. When I left I knew that some of the aid workers would keep an eye on Octavian and do what they could to continue helping him progress.


I know they did this because not long after I left a couple from Alaska arrived looking to adopt a child and guess who they chose? Of course it was Octavian.


I suppose Octavian would be around 25 now. I can only wish that he has gone on to live a happy and fulfilling life.


When I see people like the evangelist/motivational speaker Nick Vujicic who was born with no arms or legs but is married with 2 children and owns property I like to think that he could be achieving much.


Wherever you are Octavian, good luck.

Michael Birchmore

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