Thinking back over many years, I feel rather ashamed of something I did at the tender age of nine. Following is a description of my misdemeanour:
Copyright J. S. Raynor 2005
At the age of seven, I was a very sickly boy. My young frame was always thin and seemed to succumb to every bug that decided to make its presence felt in my home town of Oldham in Lancashire. Around this time, the family doctor suggested that my health may improve if I moved to a less polluted climate than that of Oldham, which, in the nineteen fifties, had quite a reputation as a busy, cotton mill town.
It did not take long for my parents to decide what to do with me. As long as I could remember, the family holiday had always been spent at the seaside town of Fleetwood, a close neighbour to the more famous Blackpool. So close, in fact, that we had, on many occasions walked along the promenade between the two resorts. My father held very strong beliefs about the recuperative effects of the sea air at Fleetwood. True, it could be very bracing, but it could also be bitterly cold, miserable and wet.
Anyway, I was given no choice in the matter. There was no possibility of being able to afford the cost of the whole family moving the fifty miles, so I was to be dispatched on my own. After all, this was 1951 and the austere post-war climate affected our family in much the same way as everyone else.
‘Being dispatched on my own’ sounded pretty awful, but, in truth, the whole family travelled to Fleetwood, that weekend. My father drove the Sunbeam motorbike, my sister, Pauline, rode pillion, my mother was in the front of the side-car and I was squeezed into the tiny space behind her. I can neither remember nor imagine where all the luggage fitted, but this was a popular form of transport for families of low income in the fifties, when one could travel for miles without seeing another vehicle.
In all the years my parents had spent their holidays in Fleetwood, they had always stayed at the same place. The guest house of Mr. and Mrs. Maye at number twenty-one, Hollywood Grove had almost become a second home. This grand sounding place was, in reality, a small cul-de-sac full of large, semi-detached and terraced houses. The couple who ran this guest house had agreed to look after me during my stay. It must have been a terrible moment for all of us at the time of parting, but my own feelings are lost from my memory through the passage of time. I do remember my parents telling me they would visit me as often as they could.
I had no idea how long my isolation from the rest of my family was to last, but, with each month that passed, I adjusted to the situation without difficulty.
Mrs. Maye was a kindly, warm person who fitted into the role of surrogate mother quite easily. To me, as I remember her, she always seemed quite elderly, had curly hair and a large mole on one cheek. She had two nephews, Michael and Frank Waring and a niece, their sister, Kathleen.
Since my schooling obviously had to continue, I was to attend the same school as the Waring family, which turned out to be a Catholic school. Although I was not of this faith, I was made very welcome and soon began to enjoy my new-found home.
The fishy smell of Fleetwood, particularly around the dock area, was infinitely preferable to the dusty air of industrial Oldham. The time seemed to pass very leisurely and I have fond memories of sunny days, happy hours spent at the pier and a school far better than that I had left behind.
My parents did visit me once every few weeks and my stay lasted a total of nine months. Again, I have no idea who decided when enough time had passed for me to have to return to my birthplace.
Of course, I was now very sad at having to leave behind the friends I had made, but the decision had been made for me.
I do not remember much about the next two years, other than the fact that, not only my health but my education had improved so much, thanks to my temporary Catholic education, that I was allowed to move up to the next class in my year.
At the tender age of nine, I decided that events were not to my liking when I had to go with my parents to visit an elderly great-aunt at a time when I had no wish to be with them. I remember getting in terrible trouble with my dad for sulking during the whole of this imposed visit.
“This just will not do”, I thought to myself. What could I do to free me from this life which, to my junior mind, imposed far too many limitations?
There was only one answer. I must run away from home. And, where to go? Well, it was pretty obvious, really. To me, there were only three places in the world. Oldham, Manchester and Fleetwood. Oh, I mustn’t forget Blackpool as well. My geographical knowledge was limited to these few places, giving me little choice.
I knew Fleetwood as well as my home town and, what’s more, I had friends there. I emptied my money-box and greedily counted the pile of coins spread over my bed. Ten shillings and six pence. It was all I had, but, hopefully, it would be enough.
I decided that I must wait until the following Sunday. When the day came, I felt nervous, but resolute that I had to take such a drastic measure. I collected my meagre savings, put them in my pocket and told mum that I was just going out to play.
Typically, I did not consider this to be a lie. Satisfied that she had accepted my story, I walked to Manchester Road and caught the 98 bus into Manchester. At Victoria Station, the man at the ticket desk looked suspiciously at this small boy in short pants, asking for a single ticket to Fleetwood. My heart began to race as the official asked me to wait a minute. Was I going to be stopped after having travelled only seven miles?
My worst fears were realised as a tall policeman approached me. “Come over here a minute, sonny. I’d like a word with you.” Obediently, I followed the officer. He led me away from the queue of people. I felt like a convicted criminal as their eyes followed me.
“Now, I understand that you have asked for a ticket to Fleetwood.” I nodded, too nervous to say anything. “Aren’t you a bit young to be travelling such a distance on your own?”
Plucking up courage and an instant lie, I meekly answered, “Oh, it’s alright. My aunt is meeting me at Fleetwood station.”
Surprisingly, this lie seemed to satisfy his suspicious mind. “She knows that you are coming, does she?”
“Oh, yes. She knows.” I surprised myself how easily I told him such a lie.
“Okay, if that is the case, then we had better get your ticket.” He led me back to the desk and straight to the head of the queue. There, he interrupted the ticket clerk, telling him that he was satisfied that I was genuine. I am certain that my face must have flushed with the embarrassment of the situation. Still, I, at last, had the all-important ticket.
I proudly gave it to the man at the barrier, who punched my ticket and handed it back.
The train for Blackpool and Fleetwood always left from platform eleven at Victoria Station. I probably did not know it at the time, but platform eleven used to be the longest platform in Europe. The steam train always had many coaches to pull towards such popular destinations.
There was an elderly lady in my compartment who also seemed concerned that I was travelling on my own. Again, I repeated the lie which had convinced the policeman. It did seem to convince her as well and she, rather maternally, took responsibility for me during the journey. Thankfully, she was leaving the train before Fleetwood, otherwise, the lie would have been discovered.
When I eventually reached my destination, the sea-air greeted me and I felt comforted by the familiar territory. It was a pleasant day and I happily walked the twenty-minute journey to Hollywood Grove.
My juvenile mind had not thought out all the consequences of my actions as I approached the door of number twenty one. Bravely, I knocked.
“Why, hello, John. What a surprise. I had no idea you were coming. Where are your mum and dad?” Mrs. Maye’s voice was warm, deep and reassuring.
Lie number two now became necessary. “They are at the Waring’s. I wanted to come and see you.”
Although this may have sounded improbable, she seemed to accept it. “Come in, John. Come in.” Happily, I walked into the familiar surroundings and took one of the comfortable seats in the lounge. I was treated to a drink and a piece of cake, which were very welcome, as I had not eaten since breakfast.
Both Mrs. Maye and her husband, a big, lumbering Scot talked quite happily to me without asking any compromising questions.
After a while, I felt that I should not chance my luck and decided to make my way to the Waring’s house. I excused myself, saying that I would see her later. It only took five minutes to walk to Poulton Road.
The Waring’s were equally surprised to see me and invited me in. “Where are your mum and dad, John?”
“They are at Mrs. Maye’s.” Three lies in one day! The hardest had been the first, but, after that, they became much easier. Again, my story was accepted. I was invited in and given more drink and cake. This was sheer heaven. I hoped, somewhat foolishly, that this could last.
After a while, I sensed a feeling of unease in the household. “Don’t you think you should return to Mrs. Maye’s and your parents, John?” Mrs. Waring obviously began to smell a rat.
The time for truth had now arrived. Plucking up as much courage as I could, I quickly blurted, “Mum and dad aren’t at Mrs. Maye’s.”
“Well, where are they?” She looked concerned.
“They are still in Oldham.” I took a deep breath. “I’ve run away from home. Please let me stay.”
My appeal was ignored as they realised the implication of what I had just said. Mrs. Waring telephoned Mrs. Maye and I could sense the anxiety in her voice. Within a few minutes, Mrs. Maye had come to the Waring’s house.
“You can’t stay here, John” she said in a kind, but firm voice. “Do you not understand how worried your parents will be?” I nodded, tears beginning to run down my young cheeks. “I know you would like to stay here, but your parents will want you home. We must let them know – they will be worried sick.”
My plan had not worked. I naively thought they would let me stay with them, but it was not to be. A telephone call was made to mum and dad to tell them of my whereabouts. I had just three more hours of freedom before they arrived.
The look of disgust on their faces said it all. Within a very short space of time, we were back on the road to Oldham. They waited until we arrived home before any recriminations were made.
I had seen dad angry many times before, but his anger hit new heights that night. I was sent straight to bed in disgrace, but worse was to come. The ultimate penalty – no pocket money for a month and my “Dandy” and “Beano” comics were to cease for the same length of time.
Still, it was a good adventure while it lasted!
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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