John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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I meet Chris

Early Days

 1. One Saturday afternoon I had nothing to do. I suppose that Jones wasn’t available that day for me to visit; and whoever else I was friendly with at this time couldn’t have been available, either. So I turned over in my mind what I could do, and my thoughts lit upon Chris Woodhead, whom I’d met fairly recently through Jones.[more] I’m not sure whether I remembered him also from the time, about a year before this, when he was brought round to my house by Timothy Leech.[more] But for some reason I thought of Chris, and I decided I would try to look him up. I think I must have met up with him again after the fiasco with The Game, when as far as I was concerned he wrecked it, because I don’t think that encounter would have been sufficient to make me want to visit him this day. At some point, I was briefly a member of Chris’s and Jones’s EMB&H Club; so I may have seen Chris in connection with that, and found out that he lived in Ascot Road, Thornton—or I may even have been round at Chris’s house on one occasion, say, with Jones. Two things are clear: I didn’t know Chris very well, I didn’t count him as one of my own friends; and, while I knew that Chris lived in Ascot Road, I was unsure of the exact location of the house.
 2. So, I decided to set out and try to find Chris. I had nothing to lose; even if I couldn’t find him, I would have filled up an otherwise uneventful afternoon. I approached via Four Lane Ends and Victoria Road;[1] and I was just rounding the corner from Sandown Road, turning left into Ascot Road, when I noticed four or five boys, aged about seven, playing around someone’s front garden and wall. They were perhaps a little apprehensive that a “big boy” was coming towards them, looking at them intently. I addressed them with the words: “Does anyone know Chris Woodhead?”

“The corner from Sandown Road, turning left into Ascot Road”, 1979 photo

 One of them, a chubby little boy with a cheeky face, stepped forward and replied, “Yes! He’s my brother!” He delivered these words in the fast, staccato style that I later discovered to be a characteristic of certain members of the Woodhead family.
 This was a piece of good luck! The little boy, who, I later got to know, was called David,
[2] even offered to lead the way to their house. All the houses just there looked very similar to each other, which was perhaps why I couldn’t remember which one was Chris’s—similar, except that round-arched front doors in one semi-detached pair alternated with squat triangular, almost Tudor-styled ones in the next pair. So I found myself facing triangular-arched number 19, the right-hand one of the pair. This was separated from round-arched number 21 by a single, shared, tarmacadam entry-drive, which widened at the back of the houses to give access to their respective garages. David led me to the top of this entry. It was quite usual to go to the back door when calling on friends; so I walked down the drive, turned left through a small wooden gate, and turned again immediately to knock on the back door: Knock, kno-knock, knock!

“Triangular-arched number 19”, 1979 photo

[1] I approached via Four Lane Ends and Victoria Road: There was another route, down narrow passageways (or “ginnels”, as we sometimes called them) from Fleetwood Road to Aintree Road, and from Aintree Road to Ascot Road.
[2] David appears again in the story David Charles Woodhead and David Charles Jones.
 3. A few moments later, “the boy with the blond hair” (or, according to those less sympathetically disposed, “the boy who has fits”)—Chris Woodhead—opened the door.
 “Oh, hello!” he said, cheerfully.
 We exchanged a few words, and Chris invited me in. All I can remember from passing through the kitchen is seeing, against the wall to the right, just this side of the door to the dining room, a huge, white refrigerator, almost as tall as I was, with a dented door. Chris’s Dad, formerly a merchant seaman, had bought it in the U.S.A.; and British Railways got the blame for bashing the door when they were transporting it from the ship. I didn’t notice on that occasion the biscuit
[cookie] tin on top of the fridge. We didn’t usually have biscuits at home, not ones in a tin, available for casual consumption; I think my Mum’s reasoning was: “Oh, well, they’ll only get eaten!” So in succeeding months, once the function of the tin on top of the fridge was known to me, I devoured considerable quantities of its contents. I particularly discovered a liking for fig rolls: dried figs, shredded and pressed into a sort of squashed cylinder shape, with a crisp baked-dough covering.

 4. It was not by the dining-room door that we left the kitchen; Chris took me through the door ahead of us into the hall. On our left side was the staircase, which we entered at the far end of the hall; at the top it had a ninety-degree turn, again to the left, and a couple more steps, before reaching the landing. To the end of the landing we went, into the small front bedroom which was Chris’s, with its window directly above the front door. I took in the scene there—a small wooden bureau against the right wall, with a little lamp made out of a sea shell on top of it; the bed lying against the opposite wall, with another lamp at its head (to the immediate left as we entered), of a type I hadn’t seen before: the tungsten filament was a strip in a thin glass tube, not coiled in a bulb. And Chris took out a map of Lincolnshire, took it out of a cardboard tube, unrolled it and enthused about it as he showed it to me. He had got it by mail order from Lincolnshire Life. He explained to me that he came from Grimsby in Lincolnshire.

 5. I noticed a teddy bear lying behind the head of the bed. Its abdomen had been slashed and stitched in a number of places, and Chris explained that he pretended to perform surgery on it. He also showed me his prized hypodermic syringe which he used in giving Teddy his injections; I marvelled that the poor teddy bear wasn’t full of mould by now.
Chris’s fascination with hypodermic syringes
Chris’s Aunt Jess, who lived at 99 Armstrong Street, Grimsby, was a diabetic, and she kept her syringe and things in a sealed jam-jar on a shelf in the kitchen. Chris remembers that one could smell the surgical spirit as soon as one went through the back door. She had to inject herself, using the syringe and a needle, every day — which used to give Chris the willies, even though he developed a fascination for the things himself.
 The fascination started with Aunt Jess, but came to fruition after his first visit to the premises of “Robert Kitchen, Surgical Appliance Maker, 142 Victoria Street, Grimsby” [Kelly’s Directory 1926]. Chris wrote:
“[The shop] was run by two older ladies, and it was with my Nanny Woodhead that I first visited the place. I think she used to get some kind of corsets from there. She must have known the ladies because she spent some time chatting with them at the counter. During this time, I wandered around looking at the various glass cabinets, which contained all manner of medical and surgical instruments. After I’d made the acquaintance of these two ladies, I used to go back on my own sometimes and ask them to show me various things. They always seemed to have time, and this never seemed to bother them. It was then just a matter of time before I could save up the required 10/6d from my pocket money in order to purchase my first hypodermic syringe. It was packed on a bed of cotton-wool in a small metallic box. Needles could also be bought separately; they were just packed in a paper sleeve and had a wire through them for cleaning purposes. I can’t remember how my conversations with the ladies went, but they always seemed to be smiling, and were quite happy to sell these things to me. I probably told them that I was going to become a doctor, or something.… I could never imagine a 10-year-old boy getting such things over the counter nowadays! My, how times have changed!”

[Image from Google Street View.] Kitchen’s was the first of two shops on Victoria Street between the building on the corner of Pasture Street and the Hope and Anchor pub. In this photo, it is now Fast Frame. “Above the two shops,” Chris wrote in 2011, “the building looks much the same as it always did.… My own memory of the shop is that the door was on the right-hand-side: that you came in, walked past the glass cabinets and that the counter was on the left-hand-side, running from front to back.… To reach their side of the counter, the ladies used to appear from behind a curtain in the back left-hand corner. That means that the counter-area would have originally been the hallway, and that the curtained arch at the back would have led to the stairs and the back room.”
 Thankfully, the only recipient of Chris’s attempts at administering hypodermic injections was Teddy. Chris can’t remember exactly what happened to him, but thinks he must have ended his days in Thornton.
 Ownership of a syringe and needle wasn’t entirely without its hazards, however. While the family was still living at Felstead Road, Grimsby, Chris had a girlfriend called Susan Grimmer, who lived nearby in Elm Avenue. One day she came round and wanted to be admitted into his game, saying that she would be the nurse. Chris agreed to this and even entrusted her with his precious hypodermic — a bad decision, because she promptly plunged it into his arm, which hurt like hell! The game was immediately halted — and not resumed.
 It was probably on the same occasion that Chris made his first (and only, and last) attempt to kiss her. When he did, she immediately took offence and stormed off! After a few yards, she spun round dramatically and called back, “Now you’ll NEVER see me again!”
 It was shortly after that, that the Woodheads sold up and moved to Thornton.
Map showing Felstead Road and Elm Avenue, mentioned above. At this time, Chris went to the junior boys’ school (marked B), and Susan Grimmer went to the junior girls’ school (C).
 6. It’s possible that the subject of the Emeralds, Mallards, Broadswords and Hellfires Club was introduced to me at this point. I may have noticed the Club Shield hanging on the wall, inscribed with the legend Victoire. But it’s also possible that I was already familiar with the Club; I can’t remember when my brief membership of the Club started.

Chris’s own sketch of the Club Shield, late 1970’s
 7. The existence and operation of the “tissue floors” was shown to me. Enemies barging in would step unawares onto a floor that was seemingly solid, but find too late that it was in fact made from flimsy tissue, and fall suddenly through to their doom. Fortunately, since I was deemed a friend, adjustments to my weight had been made—as Chris demonstrated to me on some (appropriately tampered-with) bathroom scales. It was then, perhaps, that Chris revealed to me that he was in fact not from this world, and indeed that the house itself was not what it seemed, but was a vehicle rising at a rate of about a centimetre a century, taking Chris back to his home planet Mars.
 8. One of the subjects of that afternoon’s meeting must surely have been David Jones. The seeds of my subsequent turning from friendship to mockery of Jones would have been sown then, as the two of us compared our experiences of him with eruptions of great laughter.

 9. And so I returned home after an enjoyable and fruitful afternoon with Chris. I can’t remember what sequence of events took place after this, how the two of us started seeing each other and became firm friends; but that, in fact, is what happened.

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