1965, the year that changed my life
Concerning the “Second First Visit” to Manchester
Saturday 6th February 1965
1. The second visit of Chris, Peter and me to the Williamses in Manchester, and our first visit to the church Sharon — or at least our first visit to within the church; we had already seen the outside of the church — took place on Saturday 6th February 1965.Victoria Station. And there was a bus strike in progress, so we couldn’t get a bus to Upper Chorlton Road.
So Chris was nominated as spokesman; he rang up and spoke to Hazel. (Chris always was the spokesman: I was afraid of using telephones and Gooding had a stammer, so Chris was the obvious choice.) Chris rang up, and it was Hazel who answered the phone. He didn’t know her yet, of course, but it was a girl’s voice, and it later became apparent that the speaker had been Hazel.
Chris asked to speak to Pastor Williams, and said who it was speaking; and Pastor Williams came on the line, and Chris explained that there were no buses. And he said, “Rright! Wherre are you? Victorria. I’ll come and pick you up.” (Pastor Williams spoke quite gutturally and seemed to have a uvular as well as an alveolar trill to his r’s.)
And within about a quarter of an hour he was there. This was at about half-past four in the afternoon. We were standing outside the station, on the taxi rank, and he pulled up in his old Morris Oxford, the registration number of which started with JCP, the initials of our names: John, Chris, Peter. (Someone remarked on this at some time.)Deansgate and commenting on its being the main road through Manchester, the A56. “It cuts straight across the city centre like a knife through cake,” he said. (The A56 came in from Bury, down under Exchange Station, along Deansgate, and then out to Stretford — a main road, running through the centre of Manchester, uninterrupted by one-way systems as a lot of the other streets were.)
And he commented about the bus strike; and his Christian principles became apparent, as he said, “It all boils back to ‘self’, doesn’t it!” He made a comment about it all being based on self; and we all said, “Yes– yes– yes” — all anxious to agree with him, and learn what we could of his principles.
Pastor Williams took us in; Mrs. Williams greeted us: “Hello, boys!”; and the offer of a cup of tea was made and accepted politely. And not long after that a girl — somewhat older than we were, petite, with long, somewhat flyaway, blonde hair — appeared; this was Hazel, the first of the Williams daughters to meet our eyes. We perhaps shook hands and she said rather diffidently, “Pleased to meet you” — not, I noted, the more customary British “How do you do?”
She was quite friendly; straight away she started to make conversation with us (though she was a bit shy) and asked us if we would like to listen to some records. And she immediately went and got the record player out — a portable one, made by Philips, with the loudspeaker in the detachable lid. Peter and I were not overly impressed with it; we considered it a bit “scrawpy” (a word coined by Peter). Hazel plugged it in, and she brought out a pile of records and said, “What do you prefer?” Peter and I thought of ourselves as the experts on records; we sifted through them, Peter turning his nose up at a lot of them. We narrowed it down to a little stack which we put on.
Tea was prepared, liquid tea that is. We were waiting for Pamela, the second daughter, whom we had not met, to arrive home. (Pamela worked for Boots, a pharmacy chain, as Hazel did, but at a different branch.)
5. We unpacked after drinking the first cup of tea. Our sleeping accommodation was in the front lounge, the adjacent room to the living room-cum-kitchen we had just been in. A bed settee had been made up, and beside it to the right, facing the door, was a mattress. Chris and I fell on the bed immediately on entering the room, in raptures over Hazel. Peter remained standing, while Chris and I exclaimed, “Cor! Whew! What a bird! What a bird!” (I guess nowadays we would have said “babe” not “bird”.)
6. Then we went back into the living room. Pastor sat down and talked to us. There was conversation about Pamela, the other daughter whose appearance we were anticipating at any moment. They talked about Pamela coming home from work and the bus strike, and how she was expected to be late because of the bus strike. And Pastor said, “Oh, well, she’s only a young lass; it’s only three miles, it won’t take her that long to walk.”
“Oh, Dad!” said Hazel, horrified. “It’s a long way.”
But “Dad” was unrepentant, chuckling to himself.
7. We may have started our tea before Pamela arrived. If she didn’t finish work till half-past five and she had to walk, it could have been well after six o’clock by the time she arrived home; but maybe she got a lift. But Pamela appeared, and we were introduced to her. She was smaller in stature than Hazel, and had long, dark hair. Pamela was younger than Hazel by two years; she was sixteen, and that made her two years older than we were. It seems likely that we had had our tea by the time she arrived.
We, the three of us, discussed our preferences: Chris said that he preferred Hazel, I said that I preferred Pamela; but Peter then pointed out that my preference for Pam was invalid because I had already committed myself to Hazel because I had already had a rolling on the bed in her honour. So, slightly tongue-in-cheek, he concluded that Pam was reserved for him; and Chris and I would have to fight out for ourselves who would get Hazel.
8. As we were undergoing this second rapture-session, we heard one of the girls, Pamela in all likelihood, go from the lounge to the their bedroom. (Turning left from the lounge-cum-kitchen, she went down a couple of steps, then up to where the bathroom and toilet were, and their bedroom was right at the end of that passage.) And as she emerged from the lounge, we caught the tail end of her conversation: “…Oh, I think they’re queer!” she said.
And we immediately thought that it was a reference to us. “Do you think they were talking about us?”
“Of course they were talking about us!” asserted Peter. “It’s obvious. We were talking about them, weren’t we?”
9. That Saturday evening, there was a meeting at Sharon — our first attendance at a meeting at Sharon. It was a youth meeting.
It seems likely that this was the time when, prior to leaving the Williamses’ residence, Pastor Williams warned us that the meeting might seem strange to us; he prepared us beforehand about what we might expect, so that we wouldn't be put off or scared. He talked about people “speaking in tongues”. (This was Chris's impression; my impression was that Pastor Williams gave the “warning” the following day, before the Sunday morning meeting.)
11. This was the first time we had actually been in Sharon. “This is it!” we thought. “This is what was on the telly!” We looked around, trying to see something familiar that we remembered being on television just a couple of months before. An actual meeting at Sharon! In fact, a whole new world to us!
12. It was perhaps Pastor Williams who led the meeting. A group of the young people sang; that was what the microphones were for. The meeting was fairly lively; and we felt a bit strange — strange, and yet it fulfilled our expectations. We expected it to be like this: completely different from our usual church services. So the feeling we had was that of fulfilment of expectations, mingled with a bit of fear and apprehension because of the outbursts of the folk there, and the unfamiliar sounds of people in fervent prayer and praise.
For God really “was there” in the early days. God is still with us, of course, but it was evident to us that he was there then. There was something vivid about the feeling — awe of the presence of God — that we experienced in that place.
14. After the meeting, we didn’t return straight along Chorlton Road, via Brooks’ Bar, to 69 Upper Chorlton Road; we took a detour round the streets to the back of the church with a group of other young people who had been at the meeting.fish-and-chip shop; and one lad said, “Best fish and chips in Manchester, this! Well, Stretford, actually, ’cause you’re in Stretford now.” (The Manchester-Stretford boundary ran quite close to there; in fact, the church is in Stretford. If you walked along Chorlton Road from Stretford Road, there was a sign before you got to Sharon saying, “Borough of Stretford”, then when you got to Brooks’ Bar, there was another sign saying, “City of Manchester”. 69 Upper Chorlton Road is in Manchester, but the other side of Upper Chorlton Road is in Stretford.)
15. Then the group dispersed, and it came as quite a surprise to me when I unexpectedly found myself in Upper Chorlton Road and “home” after emerging from this maze of back streets. Back at the pastoral residence we partook of more gallons of tea; then we went to bed, and talked about the girls, although Peter didn’t make much comment at all, apart, possibly, from informing me that Pamela was his since both Chris and I had plumped for Hazel when we first saw her.
The “Second First Visit” to Manchester — Day Two
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