East of the M60’s second short story for All Hallow’s Eve
Any reference to persons, public houses or cultural references, living or dead are purely coincidental. Thank you.
For many people, Smallshaw doesn’t lend itself to beach bums and their ways. Though zorbing had been introduced to Stamford Park boating lake, Chadwick’s Dam was hardly Newquay. Nobody told Wendy, in her youth, about that in 1982 when she slipped and end up in the children’s ward of the nearby hospital. Yet, during that strange incident in September 1982, she met Francis Holland, a 12-year old boy who would later become her husband.
Where Francis stood out from his peers was his insistence to play one record. One record, at 8.12am, before setting off to Stamford High School. Every day. Much to his neighbours’ chagrin.
It was ‘The River’ by King Trigger.
In spite of the myriad foam bubbles from Manro, he tried many a time to launch his dugout canoe off Old Street, Stalybridge (close to the clinic). He was thwarted each time. Perhaps rightly so given the state of the River Tame in 1982.
32 years later, B.A. Honours degree in English, a reasonable semi-detached house (purchased through the ‘Right To Buy’ scheme) near the former VG store and a VW Camper, he is happily married to Wendy (née Selby now Holland). They would sometimes drive their camper to Newquay. During the half term holidays, they would go camping. This time, her grandma and granddad were visiting. After a six hour journey from Whitstable, they would do some housesitting and mind their Jack Russell Terrier.
Both Wendy and Francis would love to have taken their dog, but their chosen site wasn’t too Jack Russell friendly. Their chosen site also fulfilled one criteria: Francis’ 45th birthday present could have been tried out nearby. The present, was wrapped up and placed on top of their ‘bay window’ VW camper. He wasn’t allowed to open it till reaching the camp site.
On Monday, the Hollands started packing for their sojourn in Saddleworth. Francis would take the wheel of their ‘bay window’ camper.
‘Got everything, Wendy?’ said Francis.
‘I think I have’ she replied. Then she paused ‘Yep, that’s everything’.
Francis turned the ignition key. Then he shouted:
‘TEA BAGS. Yorkshire Tea’.
‘You and yer bloody tea! Can’t you make do with PG like the rest of them?’
‘Ruins the holiday!’ said Francis rather morosely ‘Can’t we stop off at Raja Bros for some?’
In slightly muted tones, Wendy replied ‘Go on then. On one condition: see if they’ve got any Carling on special offer.’
The camper was packed up with Wendy closing the sliding door and taking her position in the front seat. The two left Broadoak Road for the short trip to Friezland.
As planned, their first port of call was Raja Bros on Egmont Street, Bottom Mossley. The offer was on John Smiths Extra Smooth instead of Carling.
‘Still want me Carling’ muttered Wendy.
Shortly after, Francis said ‘Hey, Wendy, how about some of this for the trip?’ He pointed to an Islay single malt whisky.
‘Thirty-five bleedin’ pound, you’ve got to get your head seeing to!’
‘Quality not quantity, Dear’ as he pointed to the Laphroaig 10 year single malt.
Five minutes later with one 80 pack of Yorkshire Tea, two pints of milk, six toilet rolls, four cans of Carling and a few pastries from the Bake and Bite cabinet, they were moments away from the campsite. Then they drove north, only to be interrupted on Winterford Road.
‘Your money or your pies!’
The person approaching the Vee-Dub was seen in full Mossley Hollins uniform and wore a Scream mask.
‘Pass ‘im t’pies, Francis’ said Wendy.
Francis did, but it was a long defrosted pack of Hollands Meat and Potato pies. And he looked a bit peeved, thinking the hot chicken and mushroom bakes would have been his booty. They continued to drive, but a set of temporary traffic lights thwarted a smooth run along Huddersfield Road.
Worst of all, they were placed at the junction of the Royal George. Near their camp site.
‘Damn’ they both uttered. Minutes later, they got to the camp site.
* * *
Moments later they reached the camp site and found their pitch. After switching the engine off, Wendy found his Manchester City scarf in the glovebox and covered his eyes, blindfolding him. She left her seat, opened his door and guided him to the side of the camper. She took his scarf off.
‘OOOOOHHH YES!’ he shouted ‘Oh YES!’
It was the dugout canoe he had been yearning for since 1982. Ever since he heard King Trigger’s song on Piccadilly Radio. Within moments, Francis dashed towards the River Tame.
‘Francis! Not yet, not till we’ve had our tea!’ said Wendy.
But Francis insisted on finding a spot to start his adventure.
‘I won’t be long’ he replied.
‘But Francis, the pies are getting cold, and I need someone to open the beans.’
He returned to the van, opened the ring pull and placed the beans in a saucepan over the gas ring. Ten minutes later they started eating with their pies being tepid rather than hot.
Shortly after tea, Wendy asked ‘What shall we do now?’
Francis replied ‘Perhaps we could have a romantic boat trip.’
‘Where do you think we are Francis? We’re not on granddad’s sailing boat along the Thames Estuary. We’re in Friezland…’
‘…and it’s freezing’.
‘That’s it Francis, I set ’em up, you make ’em’.
With great reluctance, they carried the canoe to the banks of the River Tame.
‘I think not!’ said Wendy.
Wendy checked her smartphone, loaded Google Maps’ Satellite View and found there was a weir. She later said:
‘How about Chew Brook? Take the van up to Dovvies’
‘Perhaps tomorrow morning’ said Francis ‘When the weather’s better’.
‘We still don’t know what tonight’s plan is, Wendy’ replied Francis ‘There’s a pub near our site we could go to, believe there’s a good quiz night there.’
‘Hmm, at least it is walkable, but I still need to go outside for a fag.’
So they walked up to the Royal George. All went well on their walk till they heard a violent screech of motorcycle.
‘YOU *******! THEN PIES WERE COLD!’
Turns out the cry came from the male in the Scream mask who stopped them on Winterford Road.
‘Couldn’t you use the microwave?’ asked Francis.
‘Did you plug it in’
He drove off in a huff. Then, seconds later, a procession of twenty 125cc motorbikes approached Wendy and Francis, blatantly disregarding the set of temporary traffic lights.
‘You know what Wendy, these cannot be real people. I mean, even the Jeremy Clarksons of this world stop at a set of temporaries’.
Another set of bikers appeared. This time they looked like a Rubettes tribute act, noticeable by their flat caps. They darted towards Shaw Hall Bank Road, apart from one who asked Francis:
”Scuse me Sir, have you got the time?’
‘Sorry mate, don’t have a watch on me’.
He moved towards Francis and replied:
‘LOOK! When someone asks you what time it is, *******’ tell ’em’
He then lunged towards Francis. Francis didn’t move, he tried to punch the biker. Neither the biker nor Francis felt any of the blows. For effect, Francis fell onto the floor and the biker continued towards Uppermill.
‘What a strange run-in that was! Didn’t feel a thing’ said Francis.
‘He’s not real. He’s what they call a hologram’ replied Wendy.
Francis picked his feet up and they walked towards the Royal George.
* * *
10pm at The Royal George, Francis and Wendy sat quietly over a pint. They were eavesdropping on a conversation from the best room.
“Believe this part of the world is part of the world is haunted… UFOs, missing 350s, missing parcels.
“Believe there’s some missing tunnels around here, rumoured to be part of a shadow factory built by the County Palatine Borough of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
“And if you believe that, you’ll believe owt.
“True, but why did I see 33 motorbikes pass this pub an hour ago?
“Yer deluded, no such thing.
“How come I heard them? Double glazing here’s not that good!
“Perhaps it may have been drowned out by the answers to the picture round… sure the film was ‘Psychomania’ not ‘The Wicker Man’. You don’t see that many films where they crash into a Tesco store in full view of Pat Coombes…
“Or was it that three part Carling Black Label advert from the mid-1980s?”
The peace was interrupted by a knock on the door:
“Parcel for Mr. Grant” said the voice.
The person who sent the parcel seemed to have been in dire need of a good lie down. As it turned out, the roadworks on BT and Asda roundabouts meant a change of Special Delivery times. 10am became 10pm as a consequence.
At least that was the story according to the visitor.
‘He didn’t look real that postman’ said Francis ‘The Royal Mail doesn’t do nights’.
‘They tend not to do days either’ replied Wendy.
‘True, unless it’s a pizza menu.’
Heard in the background was Granada Reports‘ late night bulletin. There was reference to zombie postmen on the streets of Saddleworth, a motorbike gang from Ridge Hill and similarly surreal spectral activity. Shortly afterwards, a plug for ITV2’s Unleash The Hounds.
‘Drink up Frankie’ said Wendy ‘We’re safer in the van’.
With great reluctance, Francis followed Wendy to the camp site.
‘Seen in all now… ghostly cyclists, zombie postmen. You know what we could do with now?’ said Francis.
‘Several dogs running amok?’
‘Special Foo Yung, chips and curry.’
‘Oooh, you’ll do for me Frankie… only one question, where’s the nearest chippy?’
‘Greenbridge Lane’ replied Frankie ‘Or there’s that new chicken place on Manchester Road’
‘Maybe tomorrow night.’
Back to the camper, they had mugs of tea and set the ‘rock and roll’ bed up for the night.
‘Night Francis’ said Wendy.
‘Night Wendy’ replied Francis.
* * *
A peaceful night awaited the couple. Or so we thought. The peace was interrupted by a man with a harmonica.
‘Wendy? Did you leave the stereo on?’
‘What stereo? Engine’s switched off.’
‘Just sounds a bit familiar. Not heard this tune since I left ‘home’.’
The harmonica player carried on playing the same few notes, for another half hour.
‘I don’t recognise it, Francis.’
The harmonica man moved towards the Hollands’ Vee-Dub and played a few more notes. He then started singing:
“I can see you in the morning when you go to school…”
‘SUPERTRAMP!’ shouted Francis ‘SUPERTRAMP!!!’
The rest of the campers woke up responding to Francis’ cries. With the sort of choice language you would expect at 12 midnight. The harmonica man would storm towards the Vee-Dub and knock on the window of the sliding door.
“Let me in! LET ME IN!”
Wendy and Francis resisted his request. Within moments, fellow campers rushed to the Vee-Dub and performed a citizens’ arrest on the harmonica man. On closer examination, he was dripping with blood and a picture of Mario Balotelli tattooed on his posterior.
Three hours later, he was still surrounded by campers, pinned to the side entrance of Wendy’s and Francis’ cherished camper van. Police appeared at 3.15am and took the harmonica man to Ashton-under-Lyne Police Station, arrested on Public Order Act offences.
‘**** me!’ exclaimed Francis ‘Time to get some sleep’.
And sleep they did! The Hollands didn’t rise till midday and instead of canoeing on Chew Brook, they opted for the less wild Huddersfield Narrow Canal. On foot to Uppermill. Their next stops were the Waggon and Horses, Betty’s Chippy, and Java.
Thankfully, their walk back wasn’t as incident packed as the previous night. This would change as they walked down Shaw Hall Bank Road.
A motorcyclist emerged from Chew Valley Road. He asked Francis:
”Scuse me Sir, have you got the time?’
‘Not you again, you asked last night.’
‘Royal George, 10pm. Along with the Rubettes tribute act.’
‘You’re speaking to the wrong person, mate’.
‘Well, thank goodness for that! Anyway, the time is 7pm.’
He drove up towards Uppermill negotiating the sharp curve by the railway station. Wendy and Francis walked along Shaw Hall Bank Road, arm in arm, passing its terraced houses, window dressed for Hallowe’en.
All was well with the world, enabling the Hollands to enjoy the rest of their break. After a tempestuous first night, well deserved.
S.V., 30 October 2014.