|1965, the year that changed my life
Chris has another fit
Chris wrote in 1967: "Finally we decided to go, but it was not a weekend, it was on a Wednesday evening after school. I rushed round to my friend’s house, feeling determined to go. The weather was terrible, and it was no night to set off hitch-hiking anywhere. My other friend was at John’s house. This was strange, because it was very rare that he ever went round there after school, but he had called for something. I thank God that he was there because John would not have agreed to come if Peter had not been there. At first they thought I was out of my mind, wanting to go all the way to Manchester just like that, on the spur of the moment, especially on such a terrible night, but eventually I persuaded them. We went home and began to make preparations, very discreetly, as we could not tell our parents where we were going, they would have thought we were mad, especially going in the middle of the week when we should have been at school. We had arranged to meet at the traffic lights near our home at 6.30pm."
Wednesday 13th January 1965
1. On the following Wednesday, which was the thirteenth of January 1965, at school, Chris had the sudden impulse to do what I had suggested the previous Saturday: go to Sharon to be cured of his fits. Not only that, he also felt a great sense of urgency about it: we had to go that night. Because he had decided to go, he wanted to go straight away. He hatched the plot during the afternoon, and made up his mind to go round to see me immediately after school.
Chris had a pass for the S2 bus which went from Baines’ Grammar School, Poulton-le-Fylde, and entered Thornton the “back” way, via Skippool, so the nearest it got to my house was Four Lane Ends. Alighting, then, from the maroon Ribble bus at Four Lane Ends, Thornton, Chris rushed off along Fleetwood Road in the direction of my house.
2. At about 4.15pm, returning from Fleetwood Grammar School, I got off the Ribble bus No.162 at Neville Drive, the stop after Four Lane Ends. With me — unusually — was Peter Gooding; Gooding usually caught the S3 bus which turned left at Four Lane Ends and proceeded in the opposite direction to Chris’s S2. This day, however, Gooding went home with me because he wanted to borrow some records.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” he said, looking warily past me, and, apparently not satisfied that we weren’t being heard, added in a low voice, “It’s a secret.” His suspicions were in fact justified, because my Mum was hovering in the doorway to the kitchen, ears flapping!
3. If I had not seen Chris since Saturday, this would be the time when he related what had happened after he left my house: “You remember when I left you the other night? Well, on the way home I went in one of those new bungalows and I had a fit.” I particularly remember the flat, underplayed tone he used to say “I had a fit”, and the way he closed his mouth on saying it so that the final “t” was not articulated.
He went on to raise the subject of “that church in Manchester” that he and I had been talking about, and then simply stated: “Well, I’m going there tonight.”
4. I was astounded. Chris must be out of his mind, I thought, if he wants to go all the way to Manchester, just like that, on the spur of the moment. Undeterred, Chris went on to tell me about the dream he had had the previous night. (In fact, he was lying and there had been no dream, but he only admitted that much later.) In the dream, he said, his late grandmother had appeared to him, telling him that he had to go to the church Sharon, where he would be cured of his fits. To add weight to his wanting me along with him on the trip, he told me that his Grandma had said that both he and I were to go.
5. I did not doubt his story. I may have called to mind the incident in our living room downstairs when Chris had broken down as the record Rag Doll was being played, and when he had said it was as if she had been there in the room.[more] But that didn’t make me feel any more inclined to agree to go with him. I was afraid of getting into trouble. There’d be trouble with my parents and also at school if I just upped and went with him in the middle of the night. It was all right for Chris, he was an old hand at running away! I probably voiced other objections, like: “Where would we stay?” and “How would we find the church?” And the weather was terrible; it was no kind of night to set off hitch-hiking anywhere (which was Chris’s plan)
6. I looked to Peter for support. So far, he hadn’t joined in the conversation to any great extent. But Peter just nodded, and added in a very unconcerned tone, “I’ll go along.” So I felt then that if that was how things were, I had better agree to go too.
Later on, when we reviewed the events of that January evening, we would see the whole adventure as a series of miracles or divine undertakings on our behalf, the first of which was Peter Gooding’s unaccustomed presence with me at my house after school; if Peter had not been there I wouldn’t have agreed to go with Chris.
7. We agreed to collect some blankets in case we had to sleep rough, say, in one of the derelict houses Chris and I had seen on the programme, and to meet at Four Lane Ends at half-past six. Before they left, they may have made suggestions about what to write in a note to my parents. The note went something like this:
Dear Mum and Dad,About 4.40pm
8. Having agreed on a course of action, we all went downstairs and they let themselves out. It was very windy that evening and it was raining. The meeting had lasted about twenty minutes.
9. I went back upstairs again. Now whether I came down again immediately afterwards for my tea or not, is not remembered. But I had my tea and I did my homework; and I was downstairs again by a little before half-past six.
And my Dad was out; he had gone to the Blackpool Park Golf Club where he was barman.
10. When I came downstairs and said that I wanted to go and see Chris, my Mum said, “What about your homework?” And when I said I had done it, she was nearly silenced forever! As a rule I wouldn’t do it until considerable parental pressure was brought to bear. My Mum marvelled that I had already done it.
She was in the kitchen doing the ironing on the kitchen table, right in front of the cupboard where supplies I would need were kept, which was somewhat of a hitch in my intentions to provide for the night.
It was raining — it was coursing down with rain. I said that I was going to go out, and my Mum said that I couldn’t possibly go out on a night like this; and I was nearly in tears. I said, “But I’ve promised Chris.” I was so distressed and upset that she had to let me go.
And I had a new raincoat, a blue, foam-backed raincoat, and my Mum wouldn’t let me put it on — because it was raining! — because I was supposed to be going to use it for school, so she didn’t want it to be soaked through. So she told me to put an old light-coloured one on, which was my Dad’s; and I agreed immediately. I certainly would not have done normally: it reached nearly down to my ankles, and was all dirty and stained.
And she gave me a bob [a shilling (12 old pence or 5 new pence)] for the bus, but whether I used it for that, given how unsightly I looked in the raincoat, or whether I walked, I don’t remember.
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