Russell Miller, an elegantly tall, charismatic figure, of slender build, greying hair, and wearing a white short-sleeved shirt, an outrageous Mr Silly tie, beige flannel trousers above sockless feet in yellow crocks, appeared from the Post Office. He had to come into the city before work to post a birthday card to his eldest son, now living in Hong Kong. Each year he worries whether the card will arrive by the appointed day and, this year, he knew he was being a little over-cautious with the timing, but it mattered to Russell; these things always did.
He did not want to face anyone this particular morning, for he had had a rare disagreement at home, and left for work somewhat deflated, knowing that he had been more than fifty percent in the wrong. It was some small consolation that he planned to buy a suitable bunch of roses on the way home, and say `sorry` to Tanya – his wife for the past 23 years – to whom he was devoted.
The problem with going to such a public place was that, being locally famous as a popular voice on Cornish radio, he was usually prevented from walking directly from a to b, being diverted by kindly folk who wanted his autograph or just a moment`s chat. In all honesty, this was the most rewarding part of his work, but today he was not at his best and, after a brief word with others in the Post Office, he endeavoured to walk across the square, in front of the Cathedral, without making eye contact with anyone.
That did not work. For one thing, he had to look up occasionally for fear of ploughing into someone, and, for another, he noticed, even at this early hour of the day, that chap with his cards was standing in his usual spot. Russell could not avoid him and, almost mechanically, held out his hand to receive a card as he passed by and returned a `thank you` in response to the man`s seemingly genuine wish for him to `have a good day.`
Russell slid the card into the breast pocket of his shirt and thought no more about it until after presenting his late afternoon `Going Home with Russell` programme. Tired from the intense concentration needed in his work, anxious to buy the peace offering, and eager to get home, he walked briskly to his car, parked near the river that flowed through the city. His hand brushed against his shirt pocket and, surprised by the feel of something within, he removed the card; having completely forgotten he had placed it there. As he walked on, he first looked at the brightly coloured, abstract photograph on one side, then turned it over to reveal some cryptic words, neatly typed. He stopped instantly. He read them again. It was as if they had been written especially for him. How did that man know?
The next day
By lunchtime, the Cardman had already handed out his entire day`s supply of cards; such were the hordes of tourists who ventured into the city on that beautiful, sun-drenched late-May day. Quite content with life, he returned home on his old, rusty bicycle and proceeded to prepare the next day`s issue.
As he worked away at his computer, he listened, online, to the local radio programme. With hindsight, it was a little unfortunate that he decided to withdraw to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee, when he did. In his absence, the `Going Home` programme began and Russell Miller`s enthusiastic tones filled the empty office. After his introduction and a few minutes of contemporary music, Russell included a dedication to the `man with the cards` outside the Cathedral, to whom he offered a very warm, yet discreet, `thank you`. The Cardman, however, failed to hear it as Russell`s words battled, and surrendered to the roar of his electric kettle.
However, it was heard by hundreds of others in Cornwall, and elsewhere with online connections. The almost cryptic broadcasted remarks would have meant absolutely nothing to most people, but, for some listeners, the dedication resounded with the clear image of the `man with the cards` standing in his favoured spot outside the Cathedral. Unbeknown to him, he had now taken on celebrity status.
At the same time as the Cardman was boiling the water for his coffee, Jayne Wilkinson was bored stiff. She was utilising some of her valuable spare time at home to study the in-depth consequences of man`s ignorance to the plight of the diminishing rain forests in South America. To offset her annoyance at having to be inside to study on such a hot, spring afternoon, she turned on her radio, with eyes reading, yet ears attending to Russell Miller`s programme. The instant she heard the dedication for the `man with the cards`, she pulled open the top drawer of her desk and removed the card she had recently been given by him.
`Mum, mum,` she called out excitedly, as she ran downstairs, descending two at a time. `Mum, guess what?`
`What is it dear?` her mother replied over a shoulder as she removed the contents of the washing machine into a wicker basket.
`I`ve just heard a dedication for the `man with the cards`, on the radio.`
`Oh, that`s nice, dear,` her mother responded, indifferently, still facing the washing machine.
`Yes, Russell `what`s-his-name` played a record for him …`
`What card man is this, dear?`
`You know him,` her daughter persisted, `the one who`s always standing by the Cathedral.` Her mother, now having turned, clutching the overflowing washing basket, recalled him. `He`s an odd sort, isn`t he?` she said, thoughtfully.
`Well … perhaps … but, never mind,` Jayne replied. And, with that, undeterred by her mother`s apparent disinterest, Jayne returned to her bedroom and picked up the card, once more.
`Mum doesn`t understand; but I do,` she said to it, as if she was confiding with her favourite cuddly bear. Then she kissed it, as she had done five weeks ago, and hid it even further from sight.
Russell was passionate about his radio programme. Broadcasting from Monday to Friday, it was the staple diet for drivers returning home after a day`s work. Not that he often thought much about how he may have sounded through the hundreds of car radios, or transistors echoing away in busy tea time kitchens. He was always too busy presenting the shows to analyse the wider picture.
He left for work earlier than normal, needing to visit High Cross on his way to the studio. To his relief, the Cardman was already in the Cathedral square. He approached him.
`Good morning,` he said with the charm that had warmed even the coolest of listeners.
`Hello Russell,` the Cardman replied, recognising him immediately. `Or should I call you …?`
`How do you know?` Russell interrupted.
`I just know,` the Cardman smiled, clearly unprepared to elaborate.
`And the other words on the card. What do you mean?`
The Cardman just smiled; Russell was intrigued.
`If I invited you to be interviewed on my afternoon programme, would you explain to me what these words mean?`
The Cardman nodded. `Yes, I certainly would, but, if I were you, I would rather keep the nickname to myself.`
`You`re right. I don`t want anyone to get hold of that,` Russell laughed, `but … will you accept my invitation to be interviewed by me?`
`Yes. I`d enjoy it,` the Cardman replied, surprising Russell by his enthusiasm. Usually when he invites people to be interviewed on the radio they are hesitant and, sometimes, even reluctant. Unlike the Cardman.
A Friday in July
On the air
It was almost three o`clock when the Cardman arrived at the radio studios. He approached the reception desk and introduced himself to a smartly dressed lady wearing a lapel badge bearing the name Audrey.
`Russell is expecting you,` she told him, `you are very welcome.` Then she picked up the telephone; dialled a number. `Yes, Russell, it`s Mr … Mr? … you know the man you`re interviewing this afternoon. Good, you`re on your way down. I`ll ask him to take a seat.`
Hearing one side of the conversation, the Cardman smiled at Audrey and sat down in a comfortable armchair, near to the desk. Russell was soon with him, offering his right hand in welcome and then leading him to the studio in which he presented his programme.
`This is where `going home with Russell` is broadcast,` he proudly announced. `I don`t come on air until four, but I need to do some last minute preparations before then. Firstly, do you want a cup of something? No? Okay. Well, if you sit here,` he pointed to a seat behind a large half-circular, wooden desk, `and put these on,` handing him a pair of headphones. `Don`t be alarmed if you hear other voices through them – that`ll be the producer giving me prompts. Now, when it`s time for you to speak, do so into the microphone, here. It`s `off` at the moment. When it`s live, the dome becomes red. Okay? Good. Now, here`s a list of the questions I might ask you. Perhaps you could spend a few minutes considering your answers.` He passed the Cardman a pencil for any notes he wanted to make. `Okay. There`s still 35 minutes before we go live, so it would be good to test the levels.` He called to the producer to tell her he wanted a sound check. Sheri Cartwright appeared from an adjoining room and greeted the Cardman. He stood up when she came over to him.
`Ah!` he exclaimed, `I listen to your Sunday morning programme every week.`
`Great,` Sheri smiled, `most of us, except Russell, alternate between presenting and producing programmes. It works well.`
`Well, I love your programme. You seem very broad with your understanding of the Faith,` the Cardman told her.
`Thank you. I try to give all traditions a fair amount of air play. I hope it works.`
`It does,` the Cardman assured her, with a convincing smile.
`Well, you two, I have a radio programme to present in … in less than half-an-hour. Can we please check the levels,` Russell insisted, playfully.
With that Sheri returned to her room and her voice was soon heard through the Cardman`s headphones.
`We can do a check now, Russell; if you please.`
`Okay. Now, sir, would you please answer my simple questions, speaking into the microphone,` Russell instructed the Cardman.
`Are you sitting comfortably?`
`What did you have for breakfast this morning?`
`Corn flakes, orange juice, two pieces of toast and a mug of coffee …`
`Not close enough, Russy,` came Sheri`s voice in the Cardman`s ears.
`Okay. Could you please speak a little nearer to the microphone?` he asked the Cardman, his words also coming through the headphones. .
`Yes. Sorry, I`ve not done this before. Corn flakes, toast and …`
`Excellent,` came Sheri`s affirming voice.
`Good. Let`s leave it like that, then. Sound check over,` Russell announced. The light on the microphone went off. Instinctively, the Cardman removed his headphones.
`Are you nervous?` Russell asked.
`Yes, a little.`
`Well, don`t think about anything other than talking to me and getting close to the `mike`. Sheri will signal to me if you need to adjust your position. Don`t worry, everything will be okay,` he said, with experience.
Russell busied himself with other matters requiring his attention before broadcasting commenced. Then it was 4pm. Suddenly, the room became alive with the news, being broadcast from another studio. After which, the microphones glowed red and Russell was `on air`.
`A very good afternoon to you all,` he began. `Let`s start with something from the 60s.` The Beatles bellowed out through the headphones with their haunting `Strawberry Fields Forever.` The Cardman smiled and tapped his feet.
And so the radio show progressed. The Cardman sat back and listened, recalling the many times he had heard Russell`s voice online. And here he was with him. He felt privileged to be, as it were, behind the scenes and learning something about the skill required to present a radio programme. Then it was his turn to contribute.
Russell said, `a week or so ago, you may have heard me talking about someone who is affectionately called the `Man with the Cards`. He is one of the most well known characters in Truro at the moment, and I`m very pleased that he`s agreed to come into the studio this afternoon to speak with me on air. So … good afternoon to you, sir.`
`You know, it`s a bit of a mouthful calling you the `Man with the Cards`. What would you like me to call you?`
`Well, Russell,` the Cardman replied, sounding surprisingly professional, `I actually rather like being called that.`
Russell did not expect that reply. He moved on, quickly. `You have already made a reputation for yourself, giving out cards to people in the square outside the Cathedral. You gave one to me recently. Why do you do this?`
`It`s my ministry, if you like to call it that. It`s my work of mission. I hope it helps people to find God in their lives.`
`Ah! So, you are an evangelist?` Russell asked.
`In a way, yes. I try to find something appropriate and helpful to give to everyone I meet.`
`Some of our listeners have rung in to say that they are a bit suspicious of these cards. What are you trying to sell them?`
`Sell? That`s an interesting way to put it, Russell. I have nothing to sell; everything I give is free, entirely without obligation.`
`So, what can you give these people who are sceptical about your presence in the square outside Truro cathedral?`
`Hope; reconciliation; some insight into the love and forgiveness of God; to help them see the relevance of God in their lives,` the Cardman answered, articulately.
`Mm. You also caused quite a stir with your contribution to a pre-election debate, back in April. Can you tell the listeners a little about that?`
`Yes,` the Cardman replied eagerly, `I wanted the candidates to tell me how much they loved. Because love should be the most important item on anyone`s agenda, let alone in a political manifesto.`
`Why do you say that?` Russell challenged him.
`Life without love is not life at all. Above all things, we need love. God is love and we all need God, even though so many people don`t realise this.`
`I think there are many who would agree with you, but, equally, many who would not. What would you say to those who feel they have no need for God in their lives?`
`Yes, I am used to this one,` the Cardman confessed. `I say to them that they need to be true to themselves. If they don`t believe in God, I may ask them to remember that many people do and that if, and when, they do feel a need for Him, He will always be there for them. But, as I`ve said, there is no obligation.`
`That sounds very non-judgemental,` Russell observed.
`Only God can judge.`
Russell, aware of the strict timing of his programme, moved the conversation on. `I have heard many people talking about you, Mr Cardman. The questions on their lips have been what is your agenda? and who are you? Some say you are an evangelist. Others, a prophet … and some say you are like Jesus and just a good man. How would you answer them?`
`Well, Russell, to answer the first question, I didn`t know I had an agenda,` the Cardman laughed. `However, if you asked me why I am here, I would answer, quite simply, I have come so the `blind` may see.`
`In answer to the second question,` he continued, `I can understand why people might think of me as an evangelist or, even, a prophet. But Jesus, as `just a good man` does not exist.`
`Does not exist?` Russell reflected, excited by the controversial comment. Sheri spoke urgently into his headphones, `probe him, Russy, probe him!`
`Can you elaborate on this for the sake of our listeners?` Russell pressed him.
`Of course. Jesus cannot be called just a good man. You may be aware from the Gospels, Jesus claims that he is the Son of God; the Christ. Well, having said that, he cannot be just a good man. The Son of God is much more than just anything. Now, if he is not the Son of God, then he is a fraud, and not a good man at all. So, you see, there is no way that anyone can call Jesus just a good man. He is either the Son of God, or a liar.`
`Thank you,` Russell replied, open mouthed. `I think that will give our listeners plenty to think about. But, I noticed you referred to Jesus in the present tense. You said `he is` a few times. Can you explain that for us?`
`Yes, indeed. The foundation of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus, who is the Son of God, was crucified on the Cross and then, on the third day, rose again, overcoming – for ever – the power of sin and death. Without the Resurrection there is no Christian faith. So, because he rose again, he is alive now. Therefore, he is.`
`Thank you, sir – Mr Man with the Cards. It was good of you to come into the studio this afternoon. Indeed, you have given us all plenty to think about.`
`Thank you for inviting me,` the Cardman responded.
`Now, another piece of topical news is that …` and Russell continued with his programme. The Cardman sat back, a little relieved his part was over, and listened. He watched the light on his microphone go off, removed his headphones and relaxed in his chair. He was enjoying himself.
The radio programme finished at the six o`clock news. The Cardman had remained in the studio and watched Russell presenting the show. Sheri joined them when it had finished.
`That went well,` she said, obviously pleased with the programme.
`Yes,` Russell replied, `I think our `Mr Man with the cards`, here, was the star. Thank you for your contribution,` he said with a beaming smile.
`I enjoyed being here,` the Cardman replied, modestly. `I hope it may have been helpful to some people. That`s what matters most to me.`
`I`m sure it was. But, there`s one other thing I need to ask you,` Russell said, removing the card he had been given, from the breast pocket of his shirt, and holding it so the Cardman could read the words, that ended with, “Yes – I`d love to!” `You told me you`d explain this. For a week or two, I`d been toying with the idea of getting you to join me on the programme. Did you know this?`
The Cardman smiled, mischievously. `Only God knows all things,` he replied.