On platform 3 of York Railway station, there is a bench to sit on. Nothing strange about that you might think, as benches are present on all of the platforms, their curvaceous shape inviting the traveller to sit and ponder the meaning of life whilst waiting for a train to arrive...if indeed you are brave enough to sit on them as they are often cold to sit on…the cold metal seat stings the back of your legs, especially in winter, and the wind pokes her fingers through the holes that are part of the design making you feel colder still. However, the bench I am referring to is not one of the usual benches. It is a wooden bench and you could be forgiven for easily passing it by without noticing it as on first glance it is fairly non-descript and plain although to parody the television advert, this is not just an ordinary wooden bench.
To the careful observer, it is instantly recognisable… the golden honey patina of English oak…the adzed finish to the seat and back… the exquisitely crafted joints…and if you needed a final clue, a mouse scuttling up the leg as if to try and hide under the arm away from the curious gaze of passers by. This is a Mousey Thompson bench….a commissioned piece of work from the workshop of Robert Thompson, the famous furniture maker from Kilburn in Yorkshire whose tell-tale signature is a mouse carved somewhere on each piece that leaves the workshop.
The bench carries an inscription, a memorial to Kate Dunphy who died in 2005 at the age of 38, and according to the epitaph, is ‘still travelling’.
I have no idea who Kate Dunphy was but I know that she was loved - the bench is testimony to that.
I am a Methodist and there is no tradition within my denomination of praying for the dead but I do know that in the Islamic tradition, it is said that Allah has special concern for the traveller. So, every time I sit on this bench I trace the letters of her name carved deep into the oak and seek out the little mouse with my fingers, and pray for her as she travels… and I pray for those closest to her, those who loved her and want to share that love through the gracious gift of a bench for other foot-sore and weary travellers needing a place to rest awhile…and for the skills of those who work with wood so lovingly…may we all travel safely to our final destinations on time, enjoying the journey as we go…insha’Allah.