Broken Window

Growing up on a council the council estate had some very interesting aspects. One was the social bubble. As a child, I played within the confines of the local area, and so didn’t really see much else of different social class other than on the TV. The other was the steady stream of temporary friends from the two children’s homes on the corners of Chelwood Close and Cuckmere Way.

I lived in the ground floor flat of one of the grey-faced, 3 story buildings that had been scattered across the hillside just after the war. My bedroom window had an unobstructed vista of the pathway that lead off the Close, which gave me a great view of the children’s home up the hill. The one opposite this was covered in by bushes and trees.

One night all the children were suddenly removed from the home. Me and my brother were woken up by engine noise and lights. Our parents were in bed so it must have been very late. We looked out of the window to see the kids being marched up the bank and into a minibus. Once they left 3 removal trucks pulled up. We sat silently as they took furniture and boxes, loaded them on the trucks and drove off. There was a woman shouting at a couple of police officers. I recognised her from home. A tall thin woman often dressed in jeans and a white shirt. Her loose permed brown hair bounced in the street lights as she was forced in the back of a police car.

The next day the home was still, though the net curtain still gave it a sense of being inhabited, Nobody spoke about what had happened, we all just accepted they were gone, like other friends that had ‘moved on.’

After a few weeks we started playing in the gardens. Teasing each other with ghost stories and throwing stones at the windows. Many got broken, but always quickly replaced, probably by the invisible caretaker. It was this instant fixing that gave me the idea of how we could get into the house.

The Trouble with broken windows is 2 fold. 1, it makes a lot of noise, so once a smash occurs, running must ensue, and 2, broken glass is sharp and can cut you so climbing through can be dangerous. However, what I noticed was, once they were replaced the glass, was the putty.

I was playing with one of the kids from the other children’s home that was still operating. I never knew his real name, we just called him Smurf. He was about a year older than me but much more worldly wise. The authorities had taken him from a family of Gypsies. This was his fifth home, he’d run away from all the others.

“I’m born with travelling blood, no one can keep me in one place.”

We were in the garden of the abandoned children’s home. The high hedges closed the area in away from prying eyes, which was perfect for getting up to mischief. It also had an unusual effect on the sound. The estate was built on top of the South Downs, so even though there wasn’t a lot of traffic noise, there was quite a bit of nature. Birds, wind, trees, all make a sound. Most of the time you just filter it out, walk around oblivious to it, however, once you remove it, deaden it down, you notice. It heightens your senses, putting you on edge. It didn’t matter how many times we played there, the feeling of excitement was always amplified.

I walked over to the kitchen window next to the back door.

“We broke this window yesterday.”

“I know,” said Smurf lighting a cigarette, “They’re always fixed the next day.”

“Watch.” I dug my finger into the putty, which was still soft.

“So.”

I continued to scrape away at the putty until it was no longer stuck to the window glass or the frame. I was left holding a small ball of blue tacky dough.

“Great,” he said, “I have Plasticine at home.”

I smiled and squashed the ball on to the middle of the glass then, using the putty as a makeshift handle, pulled the glass clean out of the frame.

“Mother shit balls.” Smurf dropped his fag and ran over to me. “You little genius.”

Laughing he put his hand through the opening and undid the latch of the window. The frame swung open. Without hesitation Smurf climbed through the opening and into the kitchen.

A muffled voice echoed out of the window, “There’s a key in the back door.”

A rattle and click later I was in the kitchen. Everything had been stripped. Bare floorboards, gas pipes sticking out of the floor where the cooker once lived, capped off water pipes. Whoever emptied this place knew what they were doing, not a cabinet left. Even the light bulb was gone. The doors, however, were still in place.

We walked through to the front of the house where we thought the dining room would be. Again, the room was bare, the gas fire, table, chairs, carpet, all gone. The only thing remaining here was a black and white photo of 5 children in the back garden. 2 girls and 3 boys, all different ages, they looked like they going to a fancy dress party all wearing old clothes, but not from the same time period.

We moved through to the living room. Fireless, carpetless, bare and void of anything, it was hard to imagine that there used to be 12 children and 2 adults living here. The hall had the same bare floorboards with wooden stairs leading up to the first floor. On the window ledge at the bottom of the stairs was a cream coloured telephone. Smurf picked up the receiver.

“Dead!”

As he replaced the handset the phone bell gave a solitary ding. The pair of us stopped, my heart raced. The seconds felt like minutes as we stood like statues, then, simultaneously, we both just started to laugh. I walked up the stairs followed by Smurf.

It was darker up there. The doors to the rooms were open, but there were wooden shutters on the windows. For the first time I felt an atmosphere. The empty rooms downstairs were just that, empty rooms. These felt, I don’t know, it was like we were explorers entering a freshly opened tomb. I entered what I assumed to be one of the bedrooms. As I passed the door I notice a bolt on the outside. “They used to lock them in?” I thought.

I turned to talk to Smurf about it. He was stood silent at the top of the stair holding his finger to his lips to tell me to be quiet. It was then I heard the sound from downstairs; heavy footsteps and a scraping sound, like stone on wood, like something being dragged. Smurf furiously waved his hand to tell me to hide.

I looked around. There was a cupboard built into the alcove so I moved as quickly and quietly as I could and climbed inside with the dust and spiders. There was a gap under the door so I lay down to peek through. Being towards the back of the cupboard restricted my view. The footstep got louder as, whoever it was climbed the stairs, the thump of whatever it was being dragged made my heart skip as it hit each step.

Suddenly the sound stopped. My heart beat so hard I thought the sound would give me away. My breath so shallow and quick I felt dizzy. Then came the scream. For all the maturity I thought he had, for all the bravado that came from his Gypsy blood, when terror struck, his scream was that of a child in absolute terror.

The dead sound, like someone smacking a meat cleaver into a cabbage, silenced his fear. I could hear movement, not walking, more shuffling, small movements, the sort of repositioning you do when lifting something big. The heavy boots I heard climbing the stairs entered the room. Behind them, dragging on the floor wasn’t stone on wood, it was metal. A huge single-headed axe with a wet looking edge scraped the floorboards. The noise made me want to scream. I put my hands across my mouth.

They came closer to the cupboard but stopped in the middle of the room. My mind raced with ideas. I could burst through the doors shouting at the top of my voice and make my escape before they knew what was happening. Or I could slowly sneak out of the door and crawl unnoticed. Or wait for the door to be opened and…

There are certain sounds you never forget. Like the sound of the car door being closed the last time you saw your father, or the crackling radio on the hip of the policewoman as she tried to explain to your mother why it was the last time you saw your father, or the dead thump when a bloodied body is dropped on a wooden floor headfirst. This was followed by Smurf staring at me under the door. His eyes lifeless, blood splattered across his face. The angle of his limbs was wrong, all twisted. There were no plans in my head now, no way I could think of to get out of this alive.

Staring at the crumpled body of my friend I didn’t notice his murderer walk over to the cupboard. Not until I jumped at the head of the axe landing hard on the floor directly in front of me, followed by the tap as the wooden handle was rested against my hiding place. I urinated.

The killer then pulled the axe away, dragging it across the floor. I saw killer’s hand as they stooped down to grab Smurf’s foot. Then, as if they were dragging a sack of potatoes in each hand, left the room and headed downstairs. I heard 3 very distinct sounds on the wooden steps; the killer’s boots; the metal head of the axe and Smurf’s head. I lay perfectly still in a puddle of piss until there were no more sounds.

I pushed the door open and tried to stand but it was pointless. Fear had taken the bones and muscles from my legs, it was like trying to stand on a space hopper in a high wind. I fell forward on to my hands and knees and vomited. With tears in my eyes, puke on my shirt and wet pants, dragged myself to the door.

Out in the hallway the light of the afternoon sun exploded up the stairs. This gave me the impetus I needed to run. No waiting for the killer to return, no thought that they might just be waiting downstairs to hit me in the chest with the axe as I tried to run past. All I wanted to do was get home.

Down the stairs and out through the back door. I didn’t scream, just ran. No one was in as I got back to the flat. I stripped and washed my clothes in the bath before putting them in the washing basket. In my bedroom I closed the curtains and sat on my bed. I wanted to find my mum and just cuddle into her, I wanted to phone the police but what was I going to say. Me and my friend broke into a house where he was killed by a mysterious person and yes, that Gypsy kid who keeps running away from children’s home is missing, again! They wouldn’t give a toss, and all I would do is alert the killer to my presents. I made a packed with myself to never tell another living soul about this, ever.

*****

A few years had passed. Me, mum and my brother had moved to the town centre. I was in my last yeah of high school and had been invited to a Halloween party at Mike Burnage’s house. This was quite a surprise as being a bit of a loner; I wasn’t invited to many places. My best friend Dylan had requested I go, I had a knack for remembering ghost stories and he thought it would be a good place to share some of them without looking weird.

I dressed as a vampire. I liked the supernatural stuff, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, all the stuff that wasn’t real. Serial Killers were not high on my favourite scares list. I still had nightmares but kept the fear in by filling my head with this horror nonsense.

It was a typical teenage party. The hard boys were getting off with the popular girls. Everyone cheered when a beer was opened. The music was loud yet nobody was dancing. I went to junior school with the lad playing the music. His parents had bought him a couple of turntables as he wanted to be a part of this new DJ thing that was on the rise with all the new hip-hop and dance music coming out of the States.

As the evening wore on the numbers dropped, soon there was just me, Dylan, Mike, a girl called Tracy, her friend Lucy and the DJ Chris. Some tunes played softly in the background and Dylan suggested I tell a couple of spooky tales. This had the desired effect of getting Tracy to cuddle into Mike, and Dylan to play the big hero with Lucy. Just after I had finished the tale of the ‘Queen’s Park Grey Lady’ Chris asked the group if anyone had ever done a Ouija Board. The girls look scared.

“No it’s fun,” Chris tried to reassure, “Mike, have you got Scrabble.”

“I thought you wanted to contact the dead, not play word games with them.”

“No dickhead,” Chris used his hands to mimic a board, “We can make one with it. We put the letters in a circle and use an upside-down glass.”

Mike stood up and fetched the board game from the shelf, “Wine?”

“Yes you do,” laughed Dylan, “A fucking lot as well.”

“The glass,” Mike flicked his middle finger at Dylan, “will a wine glass do?”

Chris took the board game and started to set up on the floor, “Yeah, that’s perfect.”

He placed the board facedown and sorted the letters so that the entire alphabet was in a circle. In the centre he placed the wine glass so that the base was up.

“Right, now everybody place the index finger of your right hand on the glass.”

We did as he asked. There was some nervous laughter and name calling. Mike and Dylan being all manly to prove they weren’t scared, yet their eyes told a different story. Chris had the air of a scientist conducting an experiment. I was just doing it for a laugh, it was the living that frightened me.

Chris asked the question in a strange deep voice, “Is there anybody there?”

Everyone went silent; Chris asked again, “Is there anybody there?”

Just then, Dylan farted. The nervous tension released in an explosion of laughter. It took at least 10 minutes for us all to compose ourselves again. We all resumed the position.

“Is there anybody there?”

The glass twitched, then smoothly slid across the board coming to a stop by the ‘C’. Before anyone could speak it was off again, ‘O’, then again ‘L’

“OK, ” I said, “who’s pushing it?”

It kept moving ‘I’, ‘N’

“Why has it spelt out your name Col?” Mike said

“I don’t know?”

Chris joined in, “I don’t know either, that’s only 6 points.”

The glass kept moving, letter after letter, ‘Remember’.

My heart was beating fast, “This isn’t funny guys.”

‘M’, then with a violent scrape, ‘E’. The glass started to move round and round, faster and faster. A jolt, like static, pushed our hands off the vessel. The glass flew off the board narrowly missing Lucy’s head before smashing into the wall. The girls screamed, Chris, Mike and Dylan yelled. I sat in silence.

Mike threw a litter at me, “Colin remember me. What the fuck man?”

I couldn’t speak. The others all raced around, shouting at each other about cleaning up, scaring the girls and mum’s best crystal. I just sat there. Mike called me many names, all of which referred to mental health but none of it mattered. Without any control I spoke softly.

“Smurf?”

“SMURF?” Mike was furious, “You need locking up!”

That was the point when I realised he was blaming me for this. I stood up, holding back my tears. I fixed eye contact with our host.

“Trust me,” there was a cold reality in my voice, “there is no way in the world I would do that. What I want to know is, who fucking pushed it?”

Something about me made everyone very aware that I wasn’t messing about. Someone here either knew something about my past, or had just luckily stumbled on a random phrase that hit the mark. Either way, I was now in a very unstable frame of mind.

“Fuck all of you!”

I left.

*****

I was restless, feeling a need to return. I moved away from the South Coast nearly 30 years ago. Pushing all the memories far down, so far that I didn’t even talk to my brother anymore, nor did I make the 300 odd mile trip to visit my mother now her and dad were back together again under the same stone. But I felt restless, and I needed to go back.

I parked the car at the bottom of Cuckmere Way and walked up the hill, the same route I used to take home from school. I reached the corner of the Close and looked further up at the old children’s home. It was now a private house. I turned my attention to the building on my left. From the outside it looked no different. I approached the gate that lead to the front door, the open front door.

Curiosity got the better of me. I opened the gate and approached the entrance. As I walked through the gate the sound changed around me, that deadening of nature. It was like being 11 again. I slowly walked towards to door calling out to see if anyone was there. I could see the hallway had a carpet as did the stairs, it looked like this was also a private dwelling. I peered inside and called out.

“Is there anybody there?”

For some reason I felt compelled to step inside. Like flicking channels on a TV my mind switched between the lovely decorated home before me and images of the bare heartless building from my youth. I walked through the living room and into the dining room.

“Hello, is there anybody there?”

In the middle of the oak table that now furnished the room was a black and white photo. I picked it up to have a look. Confusion filled my mind, this was the photo from all those years ago, I recognised the five kids at the front dressed in different period costumes only, this wasn’t possible, there where now loads of other children, all dressed from different time periods. And there, just behind the boy from the original, was Smurf.

I swallowed deep to hold back the vomit that wanted to escape. I turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back, then flipped it over to the image again. Nothing made sense, it was impossible but then, oh then I saw it, and fear gripped me. Stood at the back of all the children, was me. Everything around me disappeared. The room, the furniture, the carpet, the only thing I could see was me stood at the back of a photograph of children from over 30 years ago. Then she spoke.

“Did you think I’d let you go?”

I turned around. Standing there was a tall thin woman wearing jeans and a loose fitting white shirt. Her soft permed brown hair bounced against her pale sharp featured face. I looked down at her feet. Those boots, oh my god those boots. I urinated. Looking up I saw the axe coming down…

‘Twas the night of Halloween

This #Halloween retelling of the “Visit from St. Nicholas” adds wonderfully #spooky and #ghoulish fun to the season of #fright.

So gather the little ones around the fire on this cold #Autumn night, and share in this tale of #ghosts, #ghouls, #zombies, #vampires, #werewolves, and #creatures. #HappyHalloween everyone, I hope you sleep tight.
Colin Davies, the author of the Mathamagical, has blended his love of #spooky stories with the most traditional of #Christmas #poems to create this illustrated spook tale to enhance the atmosphere on a #HalloweenNight.

https://tinyurl.com/y9kouuec

The Wrong end of the World

Glancing up from the cold meat counter, our eyes met for the first time over a supermarket refrigeration unit. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but when Arthur returned every morning at the same time for 2 slices of ham, I knew it wasn’t just sandwiches he had on his mind.

“Can I have four slices today please, Mavis?” he asked one morning.

“Oh, that’s not like you Arthur, won’t you be in tomorrow?” I’d miss seeing his friendly face.

“No… It’s not that…” He sounded nervous. “I just wondered if you might join me for lunch today. A picnic, maybe?”

Of course, I took Arthur up on his offer. No-one had ever asked me out before. I took an early lunch break and followed the directions Arthur had given me.

“Hmm, St. Peter’s cemetery? This can’t be right?” I thought to myself as I reached my destination. Just then, Arthur pottered around the corner wearing a pair of overalls, wiping his hands down the front of them. I was at the right place after all.

Arthur told me he worked for the local council as a groundskeeper. He’d worked here in the cemetery for the past few years and really enjoyed it.

“It’s so peaceful.” He told me.

He laid out a rug and a basket of goodies on a patch of grass where no-one had been buried yet. I remember thinking how considerate that was of him. We ate our ham sandwiches and talked about ourselves until I realised the time.

“Oh no. I’m late for work. Can we do this again sometime?” I asked.

That was how my life with Arthur began. He was my first and only love. We had so many wonderful times in those early years. We got married on my 40th birthday in St. Peter’s church. Beautiful day it was. A few years later I fell pregnant with our son. Arthur spent a lot of his time down the cemetery looking at the names on headstones. He said it would save us a bit of money, not having to buy a book of baby names. He’s always been full of ideas, my Arthur. Anyway, we finally decided upon John, after the man who had lived the longest life in our town. He died aged 104. We hoped this meant our John would have a long and prosperous life.

I never went back to work after John was born. It was hard sometimes, not seeing another grown-up all day until Arthur got home for dinner. My sister suggested I get out a bit more. She said she went to the Bingo hall each week and that I should go with her.

“But who will look after John? You know how Arthur feels about changing nappies.” I said.

“There’s a lass who looks after my neighbours’ kids once in a while. I can find out if she’d sit with John for a few hours on a Thursday night.” She told me.

The next night, my sister came round with a pretty young woman called Alice. I watched as she played with John and his cars. She was a natural. She told me she was studying childcare and wanted to open her own nursery in the town. I didn’t hesitate when she offered to come round and watch John. I was desperate to get out the house. I told Arthur that from now on, I’d be going out on a Thursday so would leave his dinner in the oven. He said it was good I’d be getting out more.

Over the next few weeks I joined my sister at the Bingo. It was good fun and I felt like I was in a better mood at home because I had something to look forward to each week. Arthur didn’t seem to mind either, he told me Alice looked after John wonderfully when I was out. She even heated up Arthur’s dinner for him before putting John to bed.

Early one Thursday morning, Arthur got a call from his boss. He had to go down the cemetery immediately – it appeared someone had been desecrating the graves. Who would do such a thing?

“I’ve got to go down and help the police with their investigations.” He said.

That night, I was ready to go out but Arthur wasn’t home yet and he hadn’t phoned to say he’d be late. It wasn’t like him.

“Don’t worry. From what you said he probably just had some extra work to do. Go out and enjoy yourself.” Alice reassured me. Looking back, she practically pushed me out the door.

I couldn’t relax when I was out. Something wasn’t quite right. My sister said I was being silly but when you become a mother you know to trust your instincts. I decided to go home.

The house seemed quiet when I got to our street. The lights were off.

“That’s odd.” I thought to myself.

I got into the kitchen, through the back door. There must have been a power-cut because the cooker clock was off too. I thought I could hear faint noises coming from the sitting room. My heart began racing. I peered round the corner, the room was dimly lit by the full moon outside.

“Oh my God!” I heard myself say but no noise came out.

Lying on the sofa with her legs sprawled was Alice! My Arthur was writhing around on top of her making noises like I hadn’t heard since our secret twilight romps in the cemetery! How could he?! She was less than half his age. I trusted both of them.

I began to shake. I felt sick. I wanted to shout out, to confront them, but I couldn’t speak. I backed away from the door and went upstairs. John was asleep. I scooped him up and wrapped his blanket around him.

“It’s ok son. We just have to pop over to your Aunt’s tonight.” I managed to say.

I carried him downstairs. As we walked past the sitting room, I could still hear Arthur groaning. I couldn’t bear to look. I went straight through the kitchen and out the back door. I carried John the few streets to my sisters. On the way I noticed an ambulance parked outside the Wilson’s house, lights still flashing. I normally would have stopped and shown some friendly concern but not tonight. I was a broken woman.

I let myself into my sister’s place. She wasn’t home from Bingo yet. I put John in her bed and he drifted back to sleep. For the next hour, I sat alone in the dark. I wanted to cry but I felt numb so no tears came. I could hear more ambulances outside, or was it police cars? It seemed fitting, the noise, seeing as my world was ending around me.

My sister didn’t get home until the early hours of the morning, she seemed flustered. I explained to her what had happened. She tried to tell me that Arthur wasn’t himself, that he was sick or something.

“Yes. Sick in the head.” I thought. Why was she trying to make excuses for him? She shuffled me into bed beside John and told me to get some rest. I must have nodded off because the next thing I heard was an almighty crash. I looked out the window. A car had smashed into a house across the road. I recognised it from the Bingo hall, it belonged to Mrs Brunsteed. My bets were on her still being drunk from the night before.

I left John playing with some toys and went downstairs. My sister had her D.I.Y kit out and some planks of wood.

“What are you doing?” I asked. She didn’t answer me. She started to nail the bits of wood over the windows and doors. I know she was trying to protect me, she knew I wasn’t ready to see Arthur, but I felt she was being a bit excessive. She didn’t need to spoil her paintwork to stop him trying to talk to me.

That was three days ago. I don’t think Arthur has been round to explain himself and I can’t face going out. I know my marriage is over but I would still like to know why. What did I do wrong? I suppose I might never know. All I can do is try to survive each day.

Is this where we came in? (Is there anybody out there walking the wall pt6)

The morning arrived and the last day of the walk began. The boys had decided to return to Newton and the phonebox of the living Triffids aka, the place we got a taxi from yesterday. I found this admirable, that despite the cock-up with the daily segments, these 2 are making sure they get every single mile in. For my part, I chose not to. Not just because I couldn’t stomach the extra walking, more the fact that I needed to drive for at least 2 hours once we get to the end. The signs on the M6 do say ‘Tiredness can kill” so the extra fatigue could prove to be a safety issue.

The plan was now for them to set off after breakfast and I would wait until around a quarter to 11 before setting off back to the place it all began for me, back at Bowness-on-Solway. I packed my bags, looked up the start of the path from Carlisle and stepped forth into the warm damp air of Cumbria. I was feeling pretty good. The extra rest had cleared my head of the Trammy fog I have become accustomed to.  A quick stroll through the town lead to a rather beautiful public park by the river Eden.

Wooden signs pointed me in the right direction. Mick started broadcasting his position live on Facebook messenger so I knew how far behind me they were. Over the last couple of days, my comrades of the Roman Grand Designs were pacing a good deal faster than my expertly executed trudge. We were aiming to meet at the Greyhound pub en route. Unless they could catch me before we reached there.

The path down the side of the river was glorious. The movement of the water, wonderful bridges, beautiful river banks. I had found a happiness on the track. The path rolled on under railway bridges and through woods where the brambles encroached across the walkway. Dog walkers exercised their best friends. One chap had 4 different breeds swimming in the river. Stone steps took me up to winding tracks and down to steel footbridges. My eyes were full of wonder and my mind allowed me to find a comfortable feeling from the memories of my happiest stonings.

Trees to fields, sheep to cows, all the time the boys were getting closer. But this was not a race. I felt at ease knowing that should anything happen to me, if I needed to stop, that they would find me and I would be saved. With no maps, no use of Google spy and no one to follow, I hunted for the acorn symbols and took the paths indicated by the ‘Hadrian’ Wall’ signposts. My legs hurt and my feet hated me, but my mind was good. Down the sides of old farm buildings, past ponds and brooks. I was heading back to where I came from on Friday and yet I hadn’t walk a sing step on the same roads.

I reached a point where the path was diverted by white laminated signs. With no sight of an obvious obstruction, I automatically assumed this change of course was some sort of serial killer’s elaborate trap to lure backpackers down a Wrong Turn. Then I remembered the couple I had met some 10 minutes before walking in the other direction. They weren’t stuffed and mounted to decorate the wall in some incestrial love nest. This convinced me that it was safe to proceed.

By now I was beginning to flag. Having not previously come this way I was unsure of how far I had to go to get to the pub. I passed a parish hall. then some posh houses the likes of which I hadn’t seen since attending Steve’s wedding.  The hill up to the village green was tough and my tiredness was starting to impair my thoughts. I couldn’t figure out the best course of action so I pulled out my phone to consult the satellites. No sooner had I opened the cover than the battery died. I had no way of looking up the direction, and no way of contacting the boys, so I decided the time was right to go old school. I found a bench, sat down and waited. Before time had a chance to make another hair grey they arrived. I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to see a couple of 50 plus-year-old men in my life.

Through the guidebook, we found that the pub was about 2km away. So just as the rain started to fall we marched on. Tracker tracks lead us to Bough-on-Sands and for the first time, roads I had previously walked. With cloud seepage dripping from our breathable fabrics we arrived at our resting place only to find they’d stopped serving food. Crisps, chocolate and Haribo’s would have to do.

Leaving the village took us on to the road without end. On my first day, I walked along this 4k stealer of hope with a full pack in desert-like sunshine. This time it was raining and I was with my friends. It was still a road where despair came to lose hope, but the company was great and we laughed our way through. By the time we got the end of that road we were ready for home, however, we still had another 6km to go.

It is funny how the closer you get to the end the further away it seems. The greyness of the sky was making its way into our mood, more paths, more roads. Even the couple engaged in charving parking didn’t draw much more than a cursory glance as we passed. The coast of the Solway twisted around until I could finally see Nina, my car. She was peering out from behind a Ford Fiester looking for me. I patted her on the roof and said “we have one last thing to do,”

Down the side of a house, the final path took us to the coast, the end of the wall, the finish. The boys had picked up stones from the East Coast to bring to the west. They got one for me as well which they gave me on the Friday night. We threw them on to the West Coast shoreline officially bringing this journey to an end. All that was left was to do was return to Nina, go and collect our bags, then drive home.

The sense of achievement is quite something. I know this kind of challenge is beyond the reach of my friends and others who suffer from ME. At times it was the thought that they would probably love to try something like this but can’t that stopped me giving up. I think we all got something special out of the adventure. I know Mick loved it and I think Steve enjoyed the fact it was a tougher challenge than he thought it was going to be. Me, I went through the mill and came out of the other side leaning one very important lesson. The next time Steve says “I’ve got an idea” just say no.

Photos by Mick Arthur

 

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Changing Landscapes (Is there anybody out there walking the wall pt5)

Photo by Colin Davies

The sun broke the darkness of our room as an end came to a rather nice Tramadol and Paracetamol cuddled sleep.  Pain was very much still deep within my legs and even the task of getting to the bathroom seemed harder than ever before. The previous day had seen me broken, battered, chewed up and spat into a taxi while the lads, as brave a tigers on magic mushrooms, soldiered on until the cold and need for a pint caused them to halt the impossible day. So no matter what, they were going back to complete the missing 10km.

My head was still slightly to the left as a clambered down the stairs toward the breakfast table with all the grace a dead baboon with rigor mortis. Over morning caffeine delivered as tea for me and coffee for the other 2, we discussed the day ahead. It was looking very much like the people we paid to organise our walk had messed up the distances. This had lead to the boys having to backtrack a couple of times. It also looked like the full distance would not be achievable so something would have to be skipped. Some of the most interesting parts of Hadrian’s Wall were on the bit missed last night so if they were going to jump past any of it, they wanted to skip it closer to Carlisle. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do, then the food arrived. This chewable joy lifted my spirits and I agreed to go back with the boys and continue the walk from where they left off.

The owner of the Bush Nook Guest House was a rather lovely fella called Malcolm. During our discussion about the walk and what could be missed we enlisted his local knowledge. This lead to him offering to drive us back to the Mile Castle. This act of generosity would save us at least an hour of the day, and we happily accepted.

Back on the hills and my first worry wasn’t about getting my legs moving, the stiffness would soon pass. My first worry was about returning to the darkness of yesterday. I knew the boys with their superior fitness and Dory like ‘Just keep swimming’ attitude would take them away from me at times. I needed a way to level my head. My wonderful painkillers would help in one way, but I also needed to keep moving forward and I doubted ambling along in a cotton candy glow would get me very far.

I decided to play in my head, and sing out loud, Pink Floyd’ The Wall for both the joke and as a challenge to see if I could remember all the words. As I looked up at the first of the rocky clambers that the day I mentally put the needle in the groove, I was playing the vinyl version I’m not a barbarian. This allowed me to fall into my own world, my own movie. When the boys waited for me to catch up the soundtrack would fade and the dialogue begins. For the next 3 hours, I was very tired but quite content.

The harsh rock encrusted landscape came to a very abrupt end at Cawfield Quarry, turning into steep yet rolling farmland. This gentler terrain was still tough, just less arduous. It rose and fell like undulating waves leading us trepid explorers back to Gilsland and the Samson Inn for a lovely Sunday lunch.

The afternoon carried on in much the same way only this time I couldn’t figure out which of my record collection I wanted to recount and stepped forward with the sounds of nature. We continued up and down, through forests and across farmland. Many a sheep were seen but far too many to count safely without falling asleep. Time moved on and trudging became the order of the day. My mind started to over think a past that could not be changed and it was time to stop for a rest. Steve’s guidebook informed us about the Hayton Gate Hut, a most wonderful place with tea and coffee and crips and juice and chocolate. All supplied by the wonderful people of the cottage and paid for with an honesty box. It is simple little havens like this that fill me with hope. There are nice people out there who genuinely care.

Time was not for waiting and we had to push on. As fatigue started to take hold my mood did darken. We were all tired and just wanted to get to our next stopping point. Through fields we marched, step after step. The gap between me and the boys was winding and in turn, I was starting to fall inwards.  We passed more sheep, through woods, farmyards, through gardens, and just as I was about to declare myself done, I found the boys by a village green calling a taxi. This was the end of our walking today. Now a ride into Carlisle for pizza and medicated slumber.

Photos by Colin Davies and Mick Arthur

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The Trial (Is there anybody out there walking the wall? pt 4)

Our first full day walking as a three turned out the be very interesting. The boys really enjoyed it because for the first time the entire day was spent walking across fields and not on the roads. I was feeling OK, though after the day before, a little apprehensive. Onwards and upwards, the walk started by climbing and carried on that way. This path would take in 3 trig points which should give you an indication as to how high we were going.

There was rain in the warm air and a very slight breeze. Something about the open hills, the relentless upness of it, and my own personal feelings of not being as capable of this challenge as my non-Samoan friends. My non-attorneys were a few steps ahead of me as the enormity of the outside world feel on my thoughts. A darkness loomed and as the clouds grew blacker, so did my spirit. As we reached the first trig point I was holding myself together. That’s when the rain started.

At first, it was just heavy warm water falling from the clouds close enough to touch. Then came the wind. A howling monster whipping raindrops as big as your fist thundered against us causing me to exaggerate. We pressed on, fighting the elements. Soon the rain stopped however, the winds decided to stick around. Everything was going OK. We had found a coffee van which gave us a rest bite and a much needed hot chocolate. Mick and Steve drank coffee, they’ve always been much more grown up than me.

This part of the walk seemed very popular with many other walkers joining the path. Quite a few of the elderly enthusiasts out for a Saturday stroll with their sticks raced past us. They reminded me of Landstriders from ‘The Dark Crystal’

The terrane became harsher and more violent. The Romans had picked quite the most inhospitable site to build the highest part of their wall. Sheer cliff faces gave us some quite breathtaking views. Though with the wind pushing us in the direction of the drop, quite scary ones too. By the second trig point my mind was racing with fear, excitement, despair and doubt. Being up on the hill getting battered by the wind was thrilling, but in the back of my mind demons where plotting.

The walk continued over the very rough landscape. Through woodlands and over rocky climbs. Steve trundled off in front for a bit while me and Mick chatted silliness about the state of Roman building regulations. We found Steve waiting for us by a very large pile of ruins. It looked like a fort. This was also the most people we had seen, all clambering about the wall and the fallen stronghold, despite what the signs were telling them. We passed through and up a small but steep hill to an avenue. It was here that my mind fell in on me.

By the time I caught up with my friends I was struggling. Not just physically, though my legs were hurting, but mentally. We had at least 8km of this relentless rock path to go before we could stop and I had entered a personal crisis that only I could sort out. I told the boys to carry on, stop waiting for me. Reluctantly, and only because this part of the path was well populated, they agreed.

So now I was on a journey to beat my own mind. Up and down of rocks and hills. Just pushing through. Not allowing myself to give up. Tears and turmoil ravaged my thoughts. At one particularly low point, both mentally and geographically, I got talking to some people we had seen a few times on the trail. I chatted with them for a short while before they kicked on towards their destination. This small interaction helped me more than they would ever know.

Time marched on and I did too. Then came a phone call. Mick was telling me they could see the pub we were stopping at. From checking the distances I wasn’t far behind them. I pressed on through the fields, finding the easier paths rather than the dangerous looking rock climbs. Soon I could see the little white build my friends had reached. Pushing against the wind I fought on through. Hurting and emotional I got to the Twice Brewed public house. The first people I saw was the group from the hill. I gave them big hug before sitting down with the boys. They had already ordered me some food and for that, I was so grateful.

I decided that was it for me, so after food, I got a taxi to our next digs while the boys went back on the hillside for another couple of hours. But there was no time to rest. As soon as I got to the guesthouse I was told I had to get ready to go to the pub as Malcome, the guest house owner,  had it all arranged that the bys would be meeting me there. One very painful and quick turn around later and I was meeting some lovely people while waiting. My friends soon arrived and the plan for the next day was decided.

I went through hell on those hills, but like the sun spreading warmth as the cloud moves out of the way, my friends helped me back to my version of normality without having to do anything. That and the kindness of people. The world can seem like a dark and lonely place at times. Today I was reminded that there is still hope.

Photos by Mick Arthur

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Hitting the Wall (Is there anybody out there walking the wall? pt3)

So it has begun. This morning I woke at 5 am, left the house at 6 am and hit the road, destination Bowness-on-Solway. But first a diversion. The day before a lorry drove rather inconveniently into a bridge spanning the M6 between the M55 and the Lancaster turn off, otherwise known as, the bit I wanted to get on the M6 at. The driver is not dead and accounts claim him to be much less injured than one would expect from the photos.  This has pushed all the traffic heading to and from Scotland onto the A6, which is never a good thing.

So I decided to head to Lancaster via Shard Bridge. With the sun hanging low in the east, a light early morning mist rising from the fields and Kate Bush’s ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’ playing, a moment of contentment happened. My smile was heartfelt and the day seemed right.

With the help of GPS, I found Bowness-on-Solway, parked the car, gathered my pack and headed off in the direction of Carlisle train station some 22km away. Radiohead was playing in my ears and I will admit a slight bounce in my step. For the next couple of hours, I walked the twisted roads of Cumbria. Radiohead turned into Jethro Tull and ‘Aqualung’ became the soundtrack for the adventure.

Now I might be making this sound nice and easy. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t. In fact, it was as tough as I thought it was going to be, and being as I have been trying to talk myself out of it for months, I thought it was going to be pretty tough. You see this first bit for me was on my own and with a full pack. The rest of the walk will be hard, don’t get me wrong, however, we have paid for a firm to take our heavy bugs from digs to digs, so we will only have our day packs with us. And the extra weight makes quite the difference. On top of this, which I found out later, all the sugary stuff I bought to give me that extra boost when needed as in fact sugar-free. So as I was walking in the oppressive heat of the sun, without a cloud in the sky to hide it, my energy levels were just continuing to drop.

I viewed this part of the walk as akin to writing. Being alone with my own thoughts, seeing beauty all around, struggling every so often to find the right path, finding it a drudge and just having to push on no matter what, hating it, loving it and ultimately having to push really hard to get to the end. There was one part of the road that summed it all up. 3km of open land, a straight road that you can see the end of but never seemed to get any nearer. Bulls just wondering around and cars flying past you at daunting speeds. This section took some mental strength.

Time moved on and the destination moved closer, only thing was, I was getting weaker. I reached the outskirts of Carlisle, a mere 5km from the train station, that’s when it started to bite. I started to think about resting up for half an hour. Maybe in the next pub, get some food and a pint of cold. But the next pub never came. Another 2km down the road and I hit the wall. Everything was hurting but mainly my shoulders. The pack was feeling very heavy, my hands were shaking. I had to stop but there were no shaded areas. I just halted and sat on a garden wall, that’s when a panic set in. Shortness of breath, thoughts of not being able to carry on. I took the pack off just to release the pressure. I started to calm down. I just needed energy, that’s when it hit me.

My friend Simon Jay, feels like this from the moment he wakes from his restless sleep to the moment he returns to the bed for another go at slumber. Rich Davenport has these aches and pains just sitting down to watch the telly. Suffers of ME have to endure this kind of fatigue all the time. I can stop this, in fact, I did. Once I got to the station, waited half an hour for the train to Hexham. Sat resting on the tracks for 50 minutes. I left the station, looked at the 2-hour walk ahead of me, and got in a taxi. I couldn’t take the weight of the full pack anymore.

So now I am here in the hotel waiting for the boys to arrive. They will undoubtedly be naked from their endeavours of the day. Now I have rested I feel I little more confident about tomorrow.

I have completed something that I never thought I could, and actually, during it, never thought I was going to.

Photos by Stephen Barr and Mick Arthur

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The journey of many steps starts with a Fitbit. (Is there anybody out there walking the wall ? pt2)

The journey of many steps starts with a Fitbit.

So it has begun, the boys have completed their first day while I was still stuck in an over-warm office. The only communication I have had with them has been via Facebook as they have briefly updated their statuses.

This, however, has caused me some trepidation. You see in this world of technology we are now able to monitor our activities and produce numbers we never had before. Like the walk the boys have done today. In the past they would have reached their stop off point, having walked about 20 odd miles, it would have been quite warm and taken about 7 hours.

But we now have Fitbits and Garmin watches. We now know it was 20.6 miles, had an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius and, according to Mick’s Fitbit, took 43500 steps. When the stats are wooly it makes it easier to face. 43500 steps seem like an awful lot. I know Mick has little legs, but not so short as to make a massive difference in the step count between us.

On top of this Steve, the supper fit channel swimming challenge setter, has posted that after that first day’s walk he is ‘tired’. So Mr Adventure is feeling the burn, what hope do I have? Me, who sees 5000 steps a day as exceeding his goal.

Well, tomorrow is when reality bites. I shall stride forward with a determination to succeed. With kindness in my heart, the love of my friends & family, and the words of my late father in my ears as I recount exactly what he used to say when others would take on such challenges. “What the bloody hell do you want to that for. Go back to bed!”

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Is there anybody out there walking the Wall? pt1

How it all began.

Before I take 1 step, pack 1 item or drive 1 mile towards the challenge I feel I must explain a few things. My name is Colin Davies and I’m about to walk, most of Hadrian’s Wall.

Here is the plan. I will be driving up to Bowness-on-Solway early on the Friday morning. Here I will park the car before walking the 14 and a half miles to Carlisle to catch a train that will take me to Hexham. From there I will then walk the 5.9 miles to Chollerford where I’ll meet up with the ‘boys’

I call them the ‘boys’ due to the fact that they both identify as male, though I think Steve identifies as more male than Mick, even though Mick would probably disagree. Let’s just say they are both fit from all the running and the swimming. I, on the other hand, have been getting fit, mainly through swimming though I do run very badly.

The ‘boys’ start their walk from Wallsend on Thursday and will have covered about 30 miles by the time we meet. So across the entire walk, I will be about 10 miles behind them.  I’m quite pleased about that. I was disappointed that I couldn’t spend the time to do the whole journey with them.

When mentioning this excursion many people that know me and my lack of interest in exploring the great outdoors have said to me “Wow! How did that come about?”

The whole idea started when Steve was up in Blackpool on one of his Christmas visits. I’ve known Mick for 30 years and he has Known Steve for even longer. Steve loves Blackpool. He moved away to get educated which proved successful because he never moved back. We went out for our annual curry, a modern tradition but one I like. During the many conversations where we were asking Steve what his next challenge would be, 2017 saw him take part in a cross-channel relay where he swam the final third of the distance, he mentioned that he fancied walking Hadrian’s Wall, and so it was agreed. Though I must admit when I heard him say “Who’s in?” I thought he was asking about ordering poppadom for the meal.

So the idea was born and before I could pull out of it Steve had it organised. We picked the dates and now it’s a reality. That lead me to think, if I’m doing this stupid thing anyway, why not do it for a good cause. So I set up a Just Giving page to raise money and awareness for  ME. 

ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy), or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is an illness that blights the lives of 250,000 people in the UK today.  Even the smallest exertion can floor them; their joints and muscles ache unbearably; restful sleep eludes them, and ‘brain fog’ clouds even the smallest judgment.  It changes their lives drastically – disrupting education; making employment impossible; and straining family relations to breaking point. People may be housebound or confined to bed for many months or years.  There is no known cure. 

I know people who suffer from this and trust me they do suffer.

I will be posting on here every night during the walk to let you all know how things are going, If you are lucky I might have been inspired to write some poetry. If you are really lucky, I might forget to share it.

Until Friday. Peace.

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‘Rok of the Reds’ – What a great Comic

Let me tell you a little story. Last year (2016) I was scrolling down my facebook wall when I noticed an advert for the Southport Comic-Con. On the guest list was John Wagner. I’d missed John at the ‘International Film Festival’ in Manchester where he did a Q&A following a screening of ‘Dredd’ and I was gutted.

So I talked my partner, and a couple of friends to take the short drive across the river from Blackpool so I could take my son to meet one of the greats of British comics. Who, for my mind, is also one of the great pioneers of all comics that have lead to the multi-character universes we have in our cinemas today.

The convention was quiet and as we arrived John had left for his lunch. We wondered about a bit, enjoyed the cos-players, investigated the stalls. My son bought a dragon skull but I was waiting to see what Wagner Wears I could get. When he returned I was shocked and delighted that no one was stood at his table. In February of 2017 at the 2000AD 40th convention you couldn’t get near him.

I wondered up, fan boyed it for bit. Told him how amazing I thought he was and thanked him for just being something I really liked. I purchased a signed Judge Dredd poster that also had the signature of Carlos Ezquerra on it. I might have given out an audible squee when I saw this. It was then that John showed me the first issue of ‘Rok of the Reds’ a brand new comic from him and another comic great Alan Grant. I said “cool”, and “the cover is nice”. That is when I learned that the artwork was by Dan Cornwell. John had the first 3 issues and I bought them all because, well, John Wagner told me to.

I was all smiles at home with my poster and threw my signed copies of Rok on my book shelf. About 6 weeks later I was knocking about the house wondering what to do when I saw Cornwell’s Demon looking artwork, wonderfully coloured by Abigail Bulmer, sitting unread. So I picked it up and fell into the world where an alien on the run hides on Earth my morphing in to a body double and then absorbing the persona of a bad boy footballer who had let his career slide down the toilet.

Once Kyle Dixon, the footballer, had been fully extracted his shrunken body was kept safe for when it needed to be returned. Rok needs to go unnoticed so keeps his head down and stops Kyle getting on the wrong side of the law. This leads to Rok falling in love with football, and connecting with the people of the local community.

The story moves through each episode by introducing more of Roks back story and more hope that the Radford Reds can go on a giant killing cup run.

From the first issue I was hooked. It’s a beautiful mix of classic British comic heroes. Dan’s artwork channels Joe Colquhoun while being fresh and exciting. There is a consistency in his work that holds Wagner & Grant’s script together. The 2 Scottish scribes have fused Sci-Fi and sport in a way that’s new, yet somehow feels retro. The humour oozes off the page. Not as smack in the face set-up, knock down jokes. More as a real love for what they do.

The combination of the script, the artwork, Bulmer’s colour choices and Jim Campbell’s choice of font, make ‘Rok of the Reds’ a most pleasing experience. The end may have been a little predictable, but in a good way. Like the taste of your favourite meal cooked by your favourite family member (usually mum but, you know, modern times). It leaves you feeling warm and wanting more.

I can only say thank you to John Wagner for both writing such a fantastic comic, but also for making be buy it in the first place.

All 6 issues are out now, you really should buy them.

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