Monday, April 20, 2015

I Dare You!

Above photo is a Ramsbottom's picnic spot on Pilling Sand in 1946. The house in the background is Ramsbottoms house.

 On the right is Pilling Sands at dusk

I Dare you!

We were enjoying ourselves. We’d been out since daybreak on that dusky autumn dawn fully prepared for an adventure. His Mam had made him cheese sarnies, mine a boiled egg and an apple. We were doing all right.

At least we though we were.

The whole trip had been prepared several days before. The previous Saturday my mate, Stuart had burst into our kitchen clutching a map of the Fylde. It was the ordnance survey map we’d been saving for. There it was neatly rolled up, sealed with government brown paper and stamp of authenticity. The excitement was killing us. The cat was pushed out its sleeping place in front of the roaring coal fire and the map carefully rolled out and held flat at the corners with empty bottles of Jubilee stout.

Had I asked my Mam? Had he repaired his puncture? Had I fixed my bicycle chain? What time should we leave? Just the two of us or should we ask Dale to come? Was Toddie full? These questions fired between us like the speed of a machine gun.

It was decided that October the eleventh would be the day!

The 11th turned out to be a beautiful day. The air clear and crisp with hardly any wind and we were at Glasson Dock well before our scheduled lunch break.

“Let’s go down to the dock,” I said, “There are lots of boats coming in.”

I looked down at the habour and the sudden spurt of activity. “Why’s that? I ventured to Stuart but he was too engrossed in eating his Mam’s cheese sandwich. I’d already polished off my Mum’s offering of the apple and egg and I was still hungry.

“Y’ fancy some shrimps Stu?”

He didn’t need much persuasion as the smell of freshly caught fish wafted up from the trawlers unloading in the docks. Off we cycled down the hill and over the small hump back bridge to the small Fylde harbour.

The fisherman were running back and forth unloading their catch and carried heavy laden wicker baskets of freshly caught fish to the waiting trucks. Interspersed with their labour and taking a well earned cigarette break a heavily set and overweight fisherman sat down on the rear tail gate of a truck. As he exhaled his first nicotine drag he said, “Never seen owt like it!”

“Me neither.” Replied his mate, obviously the junior as he continued moving the loaded baskets.

“Has Stan got back? He were a long way out? It’s weird!”

“Dunno,” replied junior.

“Soona the betta, I reckon.

Stu and I had been listening from nearby.

“What are they on about?” enquired Stu.

“Haven’t the foggiest, but something’s bothering them. Think we should ask?”

“Why not?” said Stu timidly. I hesitated as I too was a little nervous about confronting the large overweight fisherman who looked like he played rugby for the local team and I was concerned on intruding.

“Well, go on!” continued Stu.

With Stuart prodding me in the back and taking a slug from Toddie I sauntered over looking as confident a ten year old school boy could. I decided to ask the younger fisherman as the fat one, who was still smoking seemed to be in a trance looking at the darkening horizon.

“What’s up?” I asked junior, trying to lower my voice to its lowest register.

The fat one suddenly broke his trance and yelled, “Mind ya own f’ing business! And Tommy get a move on! I need a pint and we ‘aven’t got all day!”

“I’m sorry Sir, but what’s the trouble?” I asked pleading in an innocent and naïve way.

“There’s a squall ont’ way, me lad! Look at it,” he boomed, “It be right across Pilling Sands by t’evening!”

“Who will?”

“The sea lad! The sea! Tek a look!”

I strained my eyes looking in the direction he was pointing.

“You mean the sea will be right across the Pilling beach road?”

“Aye lad. A Spring high tide with wind right up her arse. Wouldn’t surprise me if she don’t wash right into Presall, ain’t seen anything like this since thirty-nine. Washed old Ramsbottom’s place right away. Took the whole lot of ‘em! Except t’ daughter. Lucky filly was in Blackpool at the time. It were nasty.”

A shiver ran down my spine and I could see panic sweep across Stuart’s face. The thought of drowning didn’t appeal to either of us and The Pilling Sand’s Road was our short cut back home. We’d come the long way round through Garstang. The Pilling Road route would save us about twenty miles on the return trip.

“All dun boss,” said junior, “don’t suppose y’ll buy us pint too?

“A pint!” roared the fat one, “Ya’ll be needing sumat stronger than a pint if that blighter comes right in!”

The fat fisherman rose up and closed the tail gate of the loaded truck and told the driver to scarper.

I plucked up courage and asked him, “You think we’ll make across to Presall?”

“Ont’ Pilling Road?”

“Yes, we’re cycling back to Cleveleys.”

“Wouldn’t like to say lad, but suppose you could have a bash. If t’ warning flags is up y’ could come back, wouldn’t tek any chances though.”

I only half heard his final comment as I’d made up my mind and was peddling of back to Glasson village with Stuart following.

We zipped through Glasson at maximum speed and down to Cockerham village, gateway to the Pilling Sands Road. The air was still relatively calm and the road from Cockerham was flat but an ominous cloud was hanging in the distance over Morecambe Bay. Our cycles rattled over the rusted cattle grid. The local farmers were fully aware of the danger of the Pilling road and had installed the cattle grid to prevent their animals wandering onto the open marsh land.

My arse was sore from the morning’s ride and the cattle grid increased the pain. I stopped and Stuart move in next to me. The red danger flags were flying the wind and grains of wet sand lashed into our faces.

“Think we should try?’ asked Stu.

“Why not?’ I said trying to sound confident, “It’ll take us half an hour if we pedal hard.”

“It’s six miles,” said Stu, trying to hold the folded map steady in the wind, “And look, it’s pretty bloody black over the bay. The flags are up, he said come back if they were!”

“Yeak I know, but the sea’s still along way out, I dare you!”

At that instant the sky went black as an unseen hand blocked out the hazy sunlight. The wind whistled through the spokes of our wheels and seemed to speak. “Come, come if you dare, if you dare!”

“Oh, come on.”I said trying not to sound chicken, “High tide ain’t till three o’clock; we saw it the Gazette last night!”

“I know,” said Stu, “but I don’t like the look of it!”

To this day, sixty odd years later, I have difficulty remembering what I did next.

All I do remember is seeing Stuart waving frantically in the distance. I looked over my shoulder expecting him to be right behind me but he looked like some character in the closing shot out of a silent movie waving his arms up and down on the horizon in the same rhythm as to my legs pounding my bike’s pedals.

Before me stretched the long straight road across Pilling sands.

The turf from Pilling is now world famous and is used on golf courses for the greens, the open expanse would be a dream for any golfer, no bunkers, no undulating ground, just a vast expanse of lush green for that final hole.

I cycled on into the centre of the green. The wind was increasing so I was lifting myself out of the saddle to exert more pressure on the pedals. My bike was a Heath Robinson construction with a fixed wheel.

So I battled hard against the wind. Head down as low as possible gripping the BSA low slung handle bars I built up a constant speed.

Gasping and panting I slowed down as I came to a small rise where Ramsbottom’s farm had once stood. It was silhouetted in the setting sun. Adjacent to the ruins were a favourite spot for weekend picnickers. In the summer months they came in their droves, bicycles, motor-cycles with side cars and a few cars.

They came for the solitude escaping the hustle and bustle of Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. The pick pockets, the scroungers, the drunks and the other assorted filth that Blackpool attracted over the summer months.

Today the place was deserted; the ruins stood looking like a broken down Norman Keep shimmering in the hazy light; surreal.

Shock is like floating; fear is like choking.

As I reached the top of the rise I floated and choked at the same time.

I sucked in the salty wind in short sharp gasps, panting as I stood stride my cross bar.

The road in front of me was under water. The sea was still relatively alm but far out in the bay I could see huge white crests moving in. I guessed by the time they reached me they would be twenty foot waves crashing onto Ramsbottom’s rise.

The other marsh lands inhabitants were scuttling about, field mice rushing away from the water line like lemmings in reverse. Suicide was definitely not in their minds, nor was it in mine.

But I could not move. I was rooted to the soggy marsh ground with a cold sweat running down my legs. Second by second the sky darkened and a thick salty mist engulfed me. The outline of the ruins were just visible and I though I saw a light. How was that? I didn’t stop to answer myself and with sudden effort I ran pushing my bike through the soggy earth towards the perceived light.

About twenty more strides and suddenly the mist lifted and in front of me was the impossible; what I heard was impossible.

Voices loud and clear, a song coming from a scratched record on a wind-up player drifted on the air.

 I leaned against a weather beaten stone wall  and saw six other bicycles, some looking as if they were made in the last century; next to them an empty more modern looking pram.

I was in a trance as I walked forward towards a door. The ground was firmer, sky clear and sunny.

Approaching the door it swung open and a deep warmth flowed out and dragged me inside.

There were about a dozen people cramped in small groups occupying the room, all dressed in weird clothes from a bygone eras.

An old bearded man approached shouting, “Gazette! Evening Gazette! Read all about it!” I reached out and tried to grasp the newspaper he’d just taken from the canvas bag hanging over his shoulder; I opened my mouth to speak and he vanished, leaving the newspaper floating on an unseen eddy of air.

It landed gently on the ground, the headlines glaring up at me, CHAMBERLAINE REJECTS KRUGER’S OFFER. I crouched down to look at the date-line; October the 11th 1899.

Where am I? What’s happening? Who are these people? My mind raced remembering all the recent horror and Sci-fi movies I’d seen on my Saturday mornings at the local Odeon.

I swung round to the door and grabbed the handle. It didn’t move. I turned back and looked into the room, slowly sliding down the old wooden door till I was on the floor. A young woman suddenly appeared in front of me pushing a pram, her dress and make-up were out of place, she paused looked at her crying baby and lifted it into her arms. She then stared at me.

“What’s going on?” I asked as she completely ignored me and continued gently humming to her baby.

Tears began running down her alabaster face. A shiver ran down my spine and her cotton dress shimmered. She was a step away now and my legs blocked her path. As I looked up again my whole body shivered as a warm and gentle caress swept over me and she was gone. I tried to scream but nothing came out, I was being invaded, my body, mind, my soul, words floated in my head, “Come, come, come if you want”. The smell of the sea was over-powering and Neptune with his servants had come to collect me.

I curled up into a fetal ball and cried.

My first recollection of the next day was the warmth of the sun falling on my face, I rubbed my eyelids and forced my eyes open. There was my mother dressed in all her fan-dancer’s regalia. She leaned over me and grasped my water-wrinkled hand and squeezed it gently, “God you were fucking lucky, you really were. Y' gave me the Willys, the police dragged me out of my rehearsals.” She lent down, hugged me and started crying.

It was several hours later that woke up again and looked around the hospital ward I was in. On top of my NHS bedside locker was a bowl of fruit and a newspaper.

I was front page headlines, with my smiling cherub face greeting the readers, “SAVING CESS POOLE” was the headline, I glanced down at the article reading every word.

In the early hours of Saturday morning twelve year old Cess Poole of York Avenue Cleveleys was lifted to safety by an air sea rescue helicopter. Cess was spotted by flight officer Cumbrink from the chopper. He was about a mile out to sea in Morecombe Bay floating on what looked like an old wooden door clutching a baby’s rattle. Major Cubthbert of air-sea rescue said. “Damm lad was very lucky, he should have heeded the warning flags before trying to cross Pilling Sands just before that terrible storm we had last week.” The alarm was raised by Cess’s friend Stuart Baily who did not attempt the crossing and cycled back to Cockermouth to get help.

This area of the local coast line has claimed several lives. The most bizarre suspected fatality occurred six months after the great storm of 1939 when Ramsbottom’s farmhouse was completely destroyed. On the 11th of October that year the only surviving member of the Ramsbottom family, their daughter and her baby were reported missing. She had gone with her baby to visit the ruins of her old home. What happened to them nobody knows and their bodies have never been found.

I had dared.


Anonymous said...

Love it, fantastic read...

Маргарита Гуминенко said...

You're a very lucky man, Ron! You lived through it and now you can tell!