I hope you like the photo, this could have been the field beside the house I lived in, lovely isn’t it. Maybe it will help make my story real.
The rest of that day was fairly normal, no more crazy winds or thunder storms. We just had our lessons like any other day. Instead of a normal lunch that day, we had egg and cress sandwiches, provided by the big farm-house down the lane (the one with the nasty dog) because the man who normally delivered our lunches couldn’t come, there had been some damage to his van during the thunder-storm. There weren’t many kids in school to feed so it wasn’t difficult for the housekeeper at the farm to put together sandwiches and bake us some oatmeal biscuits. It was actually very good, even though I liked the school lunches, this made a nice change.
While I was sitting with Judy eating lunch, I heard Mr. Robinson and Mrs. Ball talking. Mr. Robinson was telling her that he had been listening to the radio and the thunder-storm had done a lot of damage on its path across the country. It had been a fast and angry storm. Also there had been reports of a couple of ships in distress on the English Channel and just across the channel in Calais along with one or two other ports in Northern France. The weather men had missed this storm in their research. It seemed to blow up out of nowhere I heard him say. I remember thinking how glad I was that the storm waited until my holiday in Blackpool had finished because I wouldn’t have been able to play on the beach or in the water if there had been a storm like this. It would have been even more frightening by the sea. I got that funny uncomfortable feeling in my rib cage again, and the sunstroke dream flashed through my head. I closed the door in my brain to shut it out though. I sometimes joked with myself that there was a spare room in the back of my brain and I shut all unpleasant things in there, like the bad old days with my dad, when he used to hit my mum. The sunstroke dream was locked away with those bad memories. The door was locked to keep it there. I knew one day these bad memories would all come tumbling out, but I wasn’t ready for that yet.
Judy looked at me, and then knocked on my head….which made me laugh because I had just been thinking about locking a door. I laughed out loud, and startled her, but she started laughing too. We were laughing so loud that the kids around us looked at us funny, which made us laugh even more. Soon everyone was laughing. I think we all needed to, the day had been far from normal and laughter was the best medicine (that’s what it said in the Readers Digest anyway).
The two teachers smiled at each other, clearly pleased that we were all laughing instead of crying. This day could have turned out much worse….or so I thought. The day wasn’t over yet! We worked on our lessons all afternoon, Scripture (yes back in the day we had scripture lessons, not even sure what you call them now as religion is such a taboo topic), history and an arithmetic quiz to finish the day as always. I used to be good at arithmetic. The day ended on a much happier note with blue skies and a warm breeze. As Judy and I left the playground to walk back down to the ‘road ends’ to get our bus home, a big yellow van arrived, with big panes of glass strapped to the back. It looks like we would have a new window by the morning. The branch that caused the damage still hung from the window like a severed limb, but it was no longer twitching and kicking like it had been when it did the damage. It just hung there now, useless and isolated, and not nearly so frightening.
Judy and I picked up our pace so we could get to the ‘road ends’ quickly and take turns on the make shift swing, which had been set up on the tree that served as the bus stop. It was a big old oak tree which was much-loved by everyone who had attended that school and waited for the bus. It was a parent’s nightmare, as when you swung high, you almost swung onto the road, and if you didn’t time it right when you jumped off, you landed right in the middle of that road. There wasn’t much traffic in those days, and I would guess the top speed was about forty miles an hour, as the road was pretty narrow and not very straight, but mothers liked to worry. They had nothing to worry about that night because the well-loved, well used swing was no longer there. It lay on the side of the road, along with the branch from which it hung. Judy and I stood and looked at it mournfully. Neither of us spoke. We both climbed up on the fence and sat there in silence. I suddenly remembered I had not given my Blackpool rock out. I had forgotten about it with all the other happenings of the day, so I reached in my bag and took out two sticks of the pink and white treat. Judy’s face lit up and she thanked me. We sat there on the fence sucking our rock and waiting for the bus to come. Five minutes later, it slowly rounded the bend and came into view, we heard it before we saw it. In fact I think we smelled it before we even heard it. I don’t know what sort of fuel those old ‘OK’ buses used, but it smelled bad, something like the smell that made you sick on a fairground after too many rides on the waltzers. It wasn’t the spinning that made you puke, it was that awful smell of fumes. That’s how the bus used to smell. Not all busses, sometimes we went on school trips, those busses were special. They were coaches. Jack Hall used to always drive us on our school trips. I liked him, he used to sing and we would all join in. We sang songs that were specially made for school trips. ‘I love to go a wandering, along the mountain track, I love to go a wandering with my knapsack on my back’ was my favorite. When he sang that one most of us just listened and watched his reflection in the mirror at the front of the bus. His big face looked so happy and full of fun, his big bald head bobbing around as he sang.
Judy and I got on the bus and paid our money (you could tell at a glance this bus driver wasn’t going to sing), two halves (there we were again, not whole people, only halves). The bus didn’t take long to get home, along to the next road ends, past the quarry, past the village hall, past Gibson’s cowsheds, the milk stands and the manure heap, past the little red phone box and then the bus stopped, just by the driveway to the big house my mum worked in. Judy and I climbed down the steps off the bus, candy rock stuck in our hands. It was so sticky by now that it would have to be peeled off our fingers. I watched Judy cross the road to go home to her house, I felt I had to as I was older than her and had to watch out for her. When she was safely on the grass at the other side, I waved at her and then turned around to go home. I looked at my house and there was a car parked outside. It was my cousin, John’s car. That meant my Aunty Laura was probably visiting, as John and his wife Josie wouldn’t come without her. I don’t know why I wasn’t excited about their visit, I just wasn’t! Aunty Laura was nice enough sometimes! She was little and a bit funny looking, and used to criticize my mum a lot, but that’s because she was her older sister. Older sisters always thought they knew best. My brother called her the poison dwarf! Her life ended very abruptly several years later, in a very violent and unexpected way. Unfortunately (or fortunately for you) I can’t talk about it, but it wasn’t the way anyone would expect to meet their maker. I walked slowly to my house, but that funny feeling was back in my tummy and I didn’t know why.
I walked around to the side of the house. We always used the side door unless we were expecting visitors. The front door opened into a little hall way and living room, but the door at the side opened right onto the kitchen. When I got inside my cousin John, who I loved to be with because he was so much fun, was sitting at the kitchen table with a very somber look on his face. He smiled when he saw me though. The door to the living room was shut, it was never shut. I was going to go through when he stood up and stopped me. “Let’s go for a walk” he said. I can see his face now, he looked uncomfortable, not quite sure what to do. I thought I could hear my mum crying, which made me feel uncomfortable because I hadn’t heard her cry since my dad used to beat her. I looked up at him. “My dad hasn’t been around has he?” I asked. “No nothing like that” he said. I felt like I was going to cry. “I know let’s go for a ride in my car, let’s go along the road to Inglewood and get some fish and chips”. Now he was talking! We got into his car, which was a pretty green color, with grey leather seats, it felt very comfortable. John backed out of our little driveway and drove slowly to the road. Inglewood wasn’t far away so we were there in about five minutes. I liked cars! My mum was learning to drive, I couldn’t wait until I could learn too. I opened the window and let the breeze blow in. John didn’t say anything. We went past Johnny Conner, who was biking along the road. Johnny Conner was a nutcase who had a metal plate in his head. It picked up radio signals and made him crazy. He had long white hair and spent all day biking along the country roads. All the school kids (including me I’m ashamed to say) tormented him and sometimes he got off his bike and chased us. Look John, Johnny Connor! My cousin John knew all about him, he had been around for a long time, and sometimes biked past his house too.
We got to the fish and chip shop and the smell made my mouth water. John ordered cod and chips twice and they came fresh and crispy served in newspaper. We sat on a bench outside and ate our fish and chips, washed down with a bottle of dandelion and burdock. Delicious! I forgot about my mum crying and just enjoyed the moment. While we were sitting outside eating, Johnny Connor came along, parked his bike and went inside for fish and chips. I was shocked. I had never seen him talk to anyone, in fact whenever I saw him he was either biking along the road, or chasing me. I don’t think I had ever heard him talk. He sounded normal. The woman in the fish and chip shop was talking to him and they were laughing. He walked out of the fish and chip shop with a big smile on his face and sat down at the next bench. He gave me a big wink with one of his piercing blue eyes and started to eat his fish and chips. I stopped eating and just watched him. I could hear John laughing beside me. Johnny looked up and laughed to. “Hey, even us crazies have to eat love” he said. I had a feeling he wasn’t crazy at all, it was just an act. I carried on eating again, but kept my eye on him, just in case. When we finished eating, we wandered across the road and threw some stones into the beck. The water was clear and gurgled over the pebbly bottom. Too shallow for fish, but there were a couple of frogs hopping about. “I think we should go back now” John said “Your mum will probably wonder where we got to” I started to worry a little bit again. “Is everything OK?” I asked. “You should talk to your mum, everything is OK, just been a little set back, that’s all”. What was a little set back? I wondered. We sat in silence going home. John parked the car up in our little drive again, and as he shut the gates, my mum appeared in the yard, her eyes all red. I slowly walked over to her and she bent down, not too much because I was tall for my age, but she bent down just a little and hugged me. We didn’t go into the house, we went into the front garden and I sat on my swing, my mum stood behind me and pushed me gently. “Sheila, something bad happened today during the storm” I could hear her voice breaking as she talked to me! She was trying to stop herself from crying. I could see Aunty Laura peering out of the kitchen window. My mum stopped the swing and crouched down next to me. She was crying and could hardly talk. Now I was really scared, what could be going on? Josie came out, she was a headmistress in a school and she was very matter of fact and knew how to handle emergencies and things. She was bossy too, she touched my mum’s shoulder and said Aunt Enid, go and sit down with John and my mother, let me talk to Sheila. My mum did as she was told, she was still crying. I looked at Josie, her face was composed and she spoke gently but directly to me. “Sheila, you know how nasty the storm turned this morning!” I shook my head and kept my eyes on her face “Well in the Southern part of England, across the channel and in Northern France it was even worse. Houses were damaged, boats and ships were damaged, and worse than that an airplane got struck by lightning and crashed just off the coast of Northern France, not far from Calais” My eyes must have been huge, I felt the blood drain from my face. Why was she telling me this? My dream, my sunstroke dream! Was the ball of flames in the sea a burning plane? No no-no, it couldn’t be. “NO NO NO” I screamed, I really must have been screaming. My mum, Aunty Laura and John all came running out. Josie looked at them. “I haven’t told her yet” She said. “Mum, mum, Maurice told me it was a sunstroke dream, it was just a dream, tell me this is just a dream too”. I was distraught, screaming sobbing. It certainly got my mum’s emotions under control. The neighbor’s were looking over the fence to see what was going on. My mum put her arm around me and took me inside. I was screaming, sobbing, choking and talking all at the same time. Finally John brought me a hot milky drink, I think it had something from the cocktail cabinet in it because it tasted sweet and strong all at the same time. It made my tummy burn. Finally after my second cup of hot milk, I stopped screaming and my mum hugged me close. Still no one had actually said the word so I did. “Maurice and Tim were on the plane weren’t they?” My eyes were red and puffy, I was shaking, I think I had scared my Aunty Laura, she was sitting at the other side of the room looking at me like I was in some sort of freak. Josie was on her knees in front of me, my mum was hugging me. “Yes hunny” my mum finally said “we won’t see Maurice and Tim again”, and she started crying quietly again. John was outside sitting on my swing drinking a glass of whiskey and watching the sun set behind the trees in the wood at the bottom of our garden. I suspected whiskey was in my hot milk too as my second cup was having the desired effect on me and making me drowsy. Despite my sobs and aching heart, I was calming down a little. I wanted to tell them about my dream, even though it didn’t involve a plane, I knew it was a premonition of this. I couldn’t tell them though! They would all think I needed a spell in Sedgefield, and I definitely didn’t want to spend any time there, I didn’t really know what ‘Sedgefield’ was, but I knew that if you were a nutter, they sometimes locked you up there for a very long time. Sometimes forever! I got my sobs under control, for now. John came over to where we were sitting and he lifted me up. “Put her in my bed” I heard my mum say. As John carried me upstairs I heard drinks being poured. My mum probably needed a drink more than anyone. She had finally found a man who was good to her and made her eyes sparkle, and then she lost him. Just like that! My cousin John put me in bed fully dressed, and despite everything that had happened, I did fall asleep. I was vaguely aware of my mum getting in to bed and cuddling up next to me. I slept deeply and undisturbed, I had hoped I would dream of Maurice and Tim, but I didn’t. They were gone now. I knew they were alright because I had seen them in my sunstroke dream. I wish I could have told my mum about it, but it would have been too much for her. She would have never understood. Not then, and as time passed, it would have been too painful to talk to her about. Life had scarred my mum, and she locked things up in the spare room in her brain too. We had to do that just to protect ourselves. Sometimes it made us both appear hard and uncaring, but those people who knew us, knew it was the only way to survive. Life went on!
The next day was tough and exhausting for me. I did go to school because I thought it would be less upsetting than being at home with my mum, who was trying hard to pull herself together and get on with her life. On my long walk along the road I told Judy about the plane crash, she held my hand all the way to school. Sonia wasn’t at school that day, she had a head ache. No one ever talked about the incident on the way to school the day before. The storm had confirmed my story and I think she may have forgotten I hit her. There were a few broken branches in the orchard at the back of school, but the window was fixed and all of the petals gone from the playground. Lessons that morning, were boring, but a welcome distraction from the horrible things in my head. During our morning recess Melvyn came and found me. “Look at our tree” he said. I walked to the edge of the playground with him and looked at the tree. There were still ribbons tied to it, pink ribbons. It seemed no one but Melvyn and I noticed them. He looked at me and said. “My granddad comes and visits me sometimes, in the night. Do you have visitors too?”
I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, someone else saw the things I saw too, Melvyn’s granddad had died when he was five, so I understood why we were the only two people who saw the ribbons in the trees. We weren’t crazy at all! Instead we had a gift, or talent or ability, whatever you called it, I think this was the first time I came to terms with it. This was my ‘second’ encounter with things I couldn’t explain. The first one had been locked away in my brain, and I might revisit it sometime in the future.
Life went on, my mum went to a Memorial Service for Maurice and Tim! They were both remembered in the same service. My brother Bobby, took my mum, but I chose not to go, instead I stayed with another of my Aunties. Aunty Jane, I will tell you about her later. She was one of my favorite Aunties, and quite a character. She always smelled of gin. I hoped I would be visited by Maurice again, but I wasn’t ever! Funny how things worked! I did see the little girl again, at times I least expected and for reasons I couldn’t explain. I still have a lot to learn!