No jokes, no twist in the tale, this is the true story of the freakiest thing that has ever happened in my life.
In the early-1990’s, I rented a small terraced house for 6 months in the beautiful small town of Haworth in West Yorkshire. I won’t tell you the name of the street because I know what you are about to read, however, here is a picture. I lived about half way up on the right-hand side.
When I first moved in, the landlady gave me a little tour of the old house. It was very small with a tiny entrance behind the front door and a living-room with a micro-cooking area at the back. There was a double bedroom on the first floor and another smaller spare bedroom in the attic. From the kitchen area, there was a door leading to stone steps down to a dark, musty cellar. It stored some old brooms, some essential tools and spider-web covered wine bottles. It was the first of only two occasions I ever went down there.
Every house has its own sounds, and I eventually became used to what was normal. As the months went by, I became increasingly aware of other strange sounds. Floorboards would creak in the middle of the night, the door leading to the attic would slam at unexpected times and every time I checked, it was closed solid. I would occasionally feel a temporary breeze flow through my bedroom, and yet all windows and doors would be closed, there were no vents in the walls. These events were more frequent when my 3-year-old son stayed with me. I have no idea why but that was an undeniable fact.
Those who know me will understand there is a logical scientist inside, trying to get out. I have little time for UFO enthusiasts, ghost-hunters and anyone attempting to convince me about religious creation theories. It is for this reason that what I’m about to tell you cannot be dismissed as the ramblings of someone who wants to believe in the unbelievable.
Towards the end of my six-month tenancy, the strange unexplainable happenings had escalated to daily occurrences. I admit I always thought it was an odd house but at no point was I ever worried or scared. My son was not with me on this one particular night. I was awoken at around 4 am with a loud bang in the kitchen right beneath me. I genuinely thought there was a burglar downstairs, so I hurled myself out of bed, out of the bedroom, launched myself down the stairs in the darkness and burst into the living room/kitchen. High on adrenaline, I turned the light on ready for a confrontation, but there was no-one there. I scanned the room, even looked behind the settee in case someone was hiding, but I was on my own.
I checked the front door, the only way into the house – it was locked – then returned to the living room. Somewhat puzzled I walked into the kitchen, and my heart literally skipped a beat; that’s when I noticed the weirdest thing I’ve ever witnessed. On the draining part of the kitchen sink was a wooden chopping board. Slammed into the board was my super-sharp bread knife, recreated in the picture below. It was swaying from side-to-side.
I had not used that knife in the days leading up to that night, nor had I ever kept the wooden chopping board on the sink. I looked to my right and saw that the door to the cellar was ajar by about three inches; it had been shut since the day I moved in.
Now I admit that at this point I was starting to worry. Using more force than I thought I would have to, I extracted the bread knife from the chopping board pushed open the cellar door and turned the light on before descending, holding the knife in front of me. It was only a small area, and all I could see was the broom, the tools and the spider-webbed wine bottles. There was no other way in or out.
I cannot explain the events of that night. I promise you there was no alcohol involved that might have clouded my judgement and there’s absolutely no exaggeration for story-telling effect. A few days later, I handed the keys back to the landlady. Of course, I recounted these events to her but she just smiled in puzzlement and said that she’d never experienced anything like it while living there herself, her previous tenants had never mentioned anything either. She probably thought I was a nutter!
It was September 1980; we had just finished our A-levels and were about to embark on our university education. Along with 4 other friends, I took the opportunity to go camping in the South of France for two weeks. We stayed in a small resort called Sanary-sur-Mer not far from Toulon, more precisely at Portissol Beach. This is what the beach looks like today, but back in 1980 there was a lot less going on, and instead of holiday chalets next to the beach, there was a huge campsite.
On a warm evening during the first week, I joined two of my mates for a few beers in a local bar (or it could have been some very cheap white wine, I can’t quite remember!). We strolled back to the campsite in the moonlight and noticed some French boys messing about with a football on the beach, so we popped down to introduce ourselves and hopefully have a kick-around. It became apparent that it was not an organised event and that they were all basically trying to impress a girl who was watching them while sat up against the wall.
The boys were probably around 16 years old, the girl with them was 18 as I found out later; one of the boys was her younger brother. They viewed us with some trepidation as we approached and they quickly closed ranks. The girl shouted “Hello” to us, so we went to join her. She was called Claudine and was the proud owner of a pair of beautiful big brown eyes, long and curly jet-black hair, and an infectious smile. Although a little on the short side, there was definitely something about her that made us quickly realise why those younger boys were out to impress, but making themselves look like immature idiots in the process.
We were able to have a laugh thanks to a mix of Claudine’s broken English and mutual sign language. If this chance encounter was a race for her affections, then it’s fair to say I was leading the race. The reason was not due to my good looks or my intelligence, of course. One of my mates was much better looking, and the other was far more intelligent. Now I’m definitely not saying that the brainy one was not attractive, nor am I saying that the handsome one was thick as mince, but if you swapped over those traits to create two separate people, they would both be dangerous. No, the reason why I was leading the race was that I was the only one who had a GCE ‘O’ level in French and I could manage simple communication when spoken slowly.
My friends decided to join the French boys in a game of football leaving me to chat to the lovely Claudine. Things were progressing nicely, in fact, she had raised the subject of skinny-dipping, but then things took a seriously bad turn. Two policemen arrived on the beach, and it was evident they weren’t messing about. They spoke no English, and their French was so fast I could not understand what they were saying. Claudine did her best to translate; it transpired that we were breaking the law by being on the beach after dark. The cops didn’t seem too concerned with Claudine and the French boys, they were more focused on the three English holidaymakers.
Claudine said, “let me talk to them”, and she walked about 20 paces away with the two policemen. After chatting to them for two or three minutes, she returned with an explanation. With the two cops leaning against a railing a short distance away, Claudine said that they would allow our French friends to go home if they went straight away, but we were given an ultimatum. If we agreed to meet them at the local bar near the top of the hill the following evening when they were off-duty, then they would not arrest us; if we did not agree, then they would take us down to the local station and charge us.
At this point, we looked across at the ‘gendarmes’ in an entirely different light. What did they look like? Take a look at this picture of the Village People.
Now try to imagine the guy on the right, wearing the uniform of the guy on the left. I hope you now understand the position between a rock and a hard place that we found ourselves in. We obviously didn’t want to get arrested, so we agreed to meet them in the bar the following evening. Claudine went across to tell them, and without a word of a lie, the more senior cop blew a kiss at us. Holy crap! Claudine came over to me, planted a kiss on my cheek and said goodbye. I never saw her again.
Did we go to the bar the following evening? We most certainly did not.
Did we return to the beach on any of the remaining evenings of our holiday? Not on your Nellie!
Looking back at this incident almost 40 years later, I’m now starting to think they may have been joking with us but I would not bet my mortgage on it.
My daughter, Bethany, told me a story about something good she did at work, but circumstances dictated that she was unable to claim any credit for it. It reminded me of a rugby league story which I’ve since recounted a few times.
I used to play rugby for Sunderland in the mid-1980s. We played a friendly match against Clayton ARLFC in Bradford and afterwards, 5 Sunderland players were asked if we would like to join the Clayton team on a short tour to the South of France to play two matches in Toulouse. We were not really part of the Clayton team but we were welcomed anyway, and made lots of friends. At this point, I could tell you stories of some of the events of that memorable trip, including:
a drunken visit to the Pernod factory,
indescribable mass seasickness on the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry,
the time I fell asleep in a French café/bar and awoke with my right arm completely clean-shaven,
getting lost in Auterive and having to blag a lift back to our base using translation skills gained from my French language O-level,
an England v France size contest (I’ll leave it to your imagination to determine what was being measured, suffice to say the little French scrum-half won after the English prop-forward quickly admitted defeat before having to remove his trouser belt).
This particular story is about one of the best moments I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch. In a tough game played in blistering heat, the score was 20-20 with less than a minute to play. Our French opponents were in possession, virtually on their own line, but in a final display of Gallic flair they whizzed the ball out to their left-winger who cut through our defence and went flying down the touchline. I was the only Clayton player who made an effort to chase. With every stride I was slowly gaining ground and, after a 90m run, we arrived at our try-line together. He glanced across at me and put in a full scale dramatic dive into the corner to claim the match-winning try. I did the same thing, smashed him in mid-air with every ounce of energy I had left and managed to dislodge the ball and prevent him scoring. The final whistle blew immediately afterwards.
The French winger and I gathered our breaths back – or as the Australians call it, “sucked in the big ones” – we shook hands, helped each other off the ground and joined our teammates at the other end of the pitch in an act of cross-channel, end-of-match camaraderie.
Back in the changing rooms, all the players were buzzing; no one had expected us to even get close to the French team, let alone leave the match with a draw. I’ll never forget the moment that our captain was talking to all the senior players in the team and said “What a fantastic match, but who made that crunching tackle at the end to stop them scoring?” No one said anything; inside my head, my brain was screaming “Tell them, tell them it was you”, but I didn’t. I thought in that moment that I would come across as a needy little nerd in a team of relatively tough rugby players, so I opted to sit there in silence.
Did I do the right thing? I’m not sure, even to this day.
I have always wondered what the point is in having children if you can’t have some fun at their expense. Last week, it was time to extend the theory; what is the point in having parentsif you can’t have some fun at their expense?
My dear old Mum had a new boiler fitted on the wall of her kitchen, beside the sink. There is scope here for an “old boiler” joke, but I’ll let it pass because I love her too much. The boiler had some unconcealed pipework beneath it; Mum thought it was a bit of an eyesore. She asked me if I could look on “that Internet thing” to see if I could find anywhere that sold some kind of prebuilt casing that could be used to hide such a visual monstrosity. It had to be something removable so that she could clean behind it and, more importantly, access the tap should the water pressure need to be increased.
She gave me the measurements, and I did some web searching. I found a couple of companies, but any prebuilt casings were the wrong sizes so our only option would have been to have an expensive bespoke job carried out, perhaps by a joiner.
It was time for a bit of fun. I found an old empty TV box at home and cut it to the exact measurements. I deliberately picked out the most garish colours to be positioned on the visible side; they look great on a TV delivery box but would not look so great when situated underneath a white boiler.
The corners were fixed with a tacky piece of Sellotape, and I took the hideous contraption to her house. Acting in a way that could only be likened to the great Sir John Gielgud, I told Mum I had solved her problem and positioned my invention underneath her boiler. It fitted perfectly but looked like a carbuncle on the backside of humanity. For 5 minutes, I pretended to be very proud of my handiwork, knowing that she wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings by offering her opinions on this piece of garbage.
The intention was to come clean and throw it straight in the bin. When it came to that point, Mum said that it was OK and to leave it there for now. At this point, I thought I was the one being wound up which brings me back to my very first point, what is the point in having children if you can’t wind them up? I guess I’m still their child, after all.
When I revisited my parents a few days later, I was stunned to see what my artistic 79-year-old mother had done. She had taken my TV box, turned it inside out and covered the exterior in white sticky-back plastic which she had hoarded away back in the 1970s next to the Fairy Liquid bottles to keep up with the latest Blue Peter trends. [Seriously, who keeps sticky-back plastic?]. She then found some white plastic edging – probably left over from a 1980s MFI flat-pack cabinet – and connected that to the top and bottom of the box. Finally, she found some Velcro stickers which she used to connect it to the posts on the wall underneath the boiler so that it would stay in place and yet be removable. Here is a photo; amazing eh?
For once, I’m happy that my joke backfired. Maybe there is a business opportunity here? It’s possible that she took her inspiration from the days when she attended the same art school at the same time as David Hockney. As a postscript, and partially unrelated to this blog, here is a picture of her latest painting which I call “Wet Westminster”. I’m very proud of her.
When our three children were young, we took a family holiday in Puerto Pollensa on the island of Majorca. The apartment block/hotel had its own swimming pool and bar, serving drinks and light snacks. We spent most days relaxing by the pool, and the kids loved it. It was, however, the height of summer and many other families had the same idea, so the pool area was always well-populated.
Our apartment was a mere 30-seconds’ walk from the pool. Angela and I were relaxing on sun loungers one afternoon when our young daughter, Loren, shouted within earshot of the entire area that she needed a poo. A few people laughed as she ran back to us with one hand on her bottom. Obviously, that situation resolved itself without any particular drama, albeit a little embarrassing.
I dreamed up an idea that evening which we all thought was funny and would definitely work. If a similar situation should arise during the rest of the holiday, the kids should use a code by saying something like “Can I go and make a call to Mr Brown to see if he’s OK?” It became a bit of a joke for the next few days.
The penultimate afternoon of the holiday arrived and, as usual, Angela and I were relaxing with books on our loungers while the kids were in the pool having fun. There were lots of people in close vicinity; everyone was happy and occupied with whatever they were doing. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take a peaceful 10-minute break to – how can I put this? – make myself feel a little more comfortable. From the swimming pool, Loren saw me stand up and head towards the apartment. She shouted at the top of her voice “ARE YOU GOING TO DO A MR. BROWN?”
All the Brits in the surrounding area, including the loudmouth families who had adorned their apartments with St George flags, were laughing. How was I supposed to react to that? All I could do was accept defeat, so I rolled up my Sun newspaper and placed it under my left armpit in true British, ‘tourist-abroad’ style, and then shouted back “Yes, Loren, I am!” before purposefully marching back to the apartment.
My son, Craig, used to play for the local junior cricket team. His slightly younger sister, Loren, was taking part in a school project researching the Second World War. Apart from the fact that these two events were taking part at the same point in their childhood, you might not think these facts are connected, but let me tell you a little story.
One day, during the early part of summer, Craig came home from school and unusually found Loren playing in his bedroom. She had located a hand-sized plastic object and had it over her mouth and nose deeply breathing in and out. He said, “Oi, what are you doing in here?”
Loren replied, “Never mind that, what are you doing with a gas mask in your bedroom?”
Craig said, “That’s not a gas mask, it’s a cricket box!”
This apparently meant nothing to Loren until Craig explained about the part of the male anatomy protected by a cricket box while batting. I do believe that this was the first time Loren had voluntarily dashed to the bathroom to scrub her face and to clean her teeth.
Here are two images for you, the first to explain what Loren thought she was doing and the second to illustrate what she was actually doing.
To say I was excited about going away for a week to a forest was an understatement. It was only a two hour trip to Cropton in North Yorkshire but every 5 minutes I thought it would be funny to ask “Are we there yet?” by popping my big head over the back seat. I quite like having a sneaky lick of Dad’s ear while he’s driving at 70 mph on the M1, oh and depositing a bit of my gourmet-class dog drool to create a puddle right where Dad likes to rest his left elbow. I offered to help drive but Dad said my lack of opposable thumbs would be a disadvantage when taking the steering wheel… that and the fact I don’t have a licence.
The forest cabin was brilliant I particularly liked the hot tub but Mum wouldn’t let me in with her, there was some rule about it apparently.
An Indian takeaway meal was delivered to our door and Grandma Becky could barely muster up the energy to go mental like she usually does when someone has the temerity to knock on the door at home, I think we had already walked the legs off her by then.
On the first night I couldn’t settle and kept knocking on Mum and Dad’s bedroom door until they let me in. I then took up my position right in the middle of the bed between the two of them. I want a duvet from now on. I slept with my long legs resting over Mum; Dad slept with his arms around me. When Dad woke up he surprised himself at his unconscious display of ‘bro-love’ and quickly turned around.
Day 2 – Whitby and River Fun
Glorious sunshine welcomed the first full day so we went to Whitby with the intention of taking a walk in the dog-friendly parts of Sandsend beach. Unfortunately we hadn’t allowed for the fact that other people were also on family holidays and everywhere was packed with no place to park up so Dad took us directly into Whitby. There were loads of people and I was a bit nervous at first but I thought I hid it very well. Becky demonstrated her nose-stamping technique which she had perfected in her early years at Centerparcs – I don’t know where or what Centerparcs is but she told me I’d find out someday soon. Nose-stamping involves pressing her nose against people’s legs as they walk past without them knowing until later on in the day when they discover a mirror impression of a Becky’s nasal features.
We had fish and chips from the Quayside takeaway because the wait was only 25 minutes instead of 1 hour at the world-famous Magpie just down the road. Whilst tasting the wonderful fish batter Becky said to me, ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’….. No, I have no idea what she was on about and carried on devouring. Returning to the car from the harbour involved a long and winding road back up the hill rather than a more direct route of around 200 steps; Dad said this was for Becky’s benefit, but was it really?
In the car on the way back, Dad took a sharp turn and I unbalanced and landed on a sleeping Becky, she called me a “Clumsy Oaf”. Care was required driving across the moors, there were loads of sheep roaming around in and amongst the roadkill. At one point we slowed down so that I could pop my nose out of the window to take a closer look and I came to the conclusion that if sheep are supposed to be moderately intelligent then I must be Stephen Hawking; good grief, they are thick creatures.
We had a bonus stop on a riverbank for a bit of fun at Castleton on the River Esk. It was my first sighting of a shallow river and after dipping my toes for a few minutes I dived off a semi-floating log thinking it was only a few inches deep on the other side, it was probably a couple of feet and it was quite a shock. I now know why Labs have webbed feet. Becky drank so much of the water she that it ended up more like a stream than a river, the fish and chips must have made her thirsty. Some people came to warn Dad about parking near to an entrance and said that the farmer gets very cross if he can’t get his tractor through. He then told a story about a young couple that decided it was a good place for a picnic and outrageously sat in the small clearing on a summer’s day munching on some sandwiches when the farmer came along and was livid with them. Just behind the guy telling the story we noticed his wife setting up two director’s chairs and unfurling a picnic blanket – pot… kettle…. black. Shortly after this ‘misunderstanding’ we decided to leave but Becky couldn’t climb the small uphill mud track to get back out and had to be rescued, Mum lifting her collar and Dad with two hands under her wet and muddy back end.
Day 3 – Cayton Bay
Mum decided to take me and Becky for a walk early the next morning. She got up at 6:30, pottered around, fed us then checked the time; it turned out to only be 5:30. Becky’s body-clock is all over the place. We left Dad dozing and went for a long walk in the forest for 90 minutes, got lost and had to retrace our steps. In a repeat of an incident yesterday, Becky managed to fall into a deep puddle and had to be yanked out, she was a right mess.
Cayton Bay is a dog-friendly beach and at last I was able to set foot in the ocean. I met loads of doggy pals but one little yappy thing decided to chase me around and my only option was to go bombing into the sea, a move I regretted and didn’t repeat. On the steep walk back up the track from the beach Dad pretended he was going slowly because he was worried about Grandma Becky getting exhausted. As it turned out, Becky beat him to the top by about 45 seconds, I laughed my jowls off!
We had a very late lunch at the Bull pub in Gristhorpe near Filey, Mum typed in “dog-friendly pubs” into Google Maps and it returned with this little beauty. On the way back to Pickering we came across a farm shop to get something for a late supper but Dad left me and Becky in the car with the windows half open and locked it. I thought it would be fun to set the alarm off so Mum had to come back out of the shop to switch it off. Two minutes later I did it again so in order to avoid a telling-off me and Becky put our best cheeky smiles on after she came out again.
Day 4 – Robin Hood’s Bay
We spent a long time in the car today, partly navigating through very thin winding roads around the North Yorkshire Coast and partly trying to find somewhere to park. Eventually an opportunist pair of very nice hippies decided to ‘make a few bob for themselves’ by renting out their back garden to use as a car park at a fiver a time. The man actually had a bit of pork pie stuck in his 12 inch grey beard but we hadn’t the heart to tell him and, as tempting as it was, I hadn’t the nerve to tidy it up for him.
If Cayton Bay was good yesterday then Robin Hood’s Bay was fantastic. The beach wasn’t very big and it was full of holiday-makers – many with dogs – but we had a great time. Becky got into the swing of things and showed me how to chase into the sea after anything that Dad decided to chuck in. Normally a grumpy old Grandma, today I caught a glimpse of what she must have been like as a puppy. Although it wasn’t nice to think about it, Dad said that if today turns out to be the last time she sees the ocean then she isn’t going to die wondering.
Unfortunately Becky suffered a bit of burnout and Dad had to carry her up some steps from the beach as all the people around kept saying “Aw, bless her”. It was a fair old walk up the steep hill back to the car and Dad was huffing and puffing a bit by the time we got there.
Each day of our holiday has ended up with Mum and Dad relaxing with a beer / glass of wine in the cabin’s outdoor hot tub. I liked to pop out from time to time to make sure they were OK and we all watched the swallows work the thermals. I have to say it was a beautiful sight until one of the blighters crapped right on my head. Dad told me it was a sign of good luck but I beg to differ.
We celebrated the last night with a Chinese takeaway which Dad fetched from Pickering. It has to be said that I do love a prawn cracker.
Day 5 – Epilogue
When we arrived home – after Mum and Dad had rather cruelly laughed at all the Bank Holiday weekend traffic jams around York heading in the opposite direction – Becky was reeking and had to have a bath; for the first time in her life she appeared to enjoy it. Afterwards the bath was a third clogged up with Becky fur, a third was disintegrating mud and the remainder consisted of a Cayton Bay beach takeaway. I hid behind the door in case I was next in line but kept peeping round to see what was going on. I think I got away with it (for now), Becky’s tight perm has now returned.
Mum and Dad keep talking about “Stan”… I dunno what they’re on about but my canine instincts tell me there is something afoot.