I’m going to take you back to 1985. Back then I was 8 years old and still have extremely vivid memories of my childhood, which was an up and down one, but overall was blissfully happy.
In 1985 I lived with my Mum and Dad and Sister in a little village called Sherburn-In-Elmet. I was an outdoor adventure kid. It was rare to find me *not* in a tree or upside down somewhere to be honest. Making a “den” was my favourite activity and investigating came as second nature. The ideal scenario would see me reading my Secret Seven books at the top of a tree, with a harmonica stolen from my dad’s collection in my pocket, ready to experiment with once I’d finished my chapter. I was as happy playing alone as I was with other children, as my imagination filled all the gaps, but as luck would have it, back then I was to meet two people who would help me and change my life, forever.
A rare commodity when you are 8 years old, to have good friends who wouldn’t let you down.
Friend one was Claire Limbert. Claire lived next door but one to me and was in my year at primary school. She was a tom boy, who LOVED animals and so we got on famously well. We used to play pretend horses, galloping round a pretend jumping course on my old filly “Rose”. We had a few fights too, and Claire would miraculously win those, but we always became friends again and couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring. Me and my sister would stay over at Claire’s house now and again, and despite the obvious power struggles that go on when you’re 8, it was clear that I had found a friend who I never wanted to let go of. Claire was my best friend, and despite going through bullying at a similar age, she helped me to protect my sister where she could, and taught me how to fight.
Fighting was not in my blood. It was forced upon me. Andrew Smurfwaite was my first nemesis. He found that if he picked on my sister and hit her or threatened her, that he would guarantee a fight from me. Fight one saw a unique style. The Catherine wheel. You set your arms going in circles as fast and hard as you can and run at your target shouting as loud as you can. There is only one way to counter this, which Andrew duly deployed, which is to step to one side and lift me up onto one of the coat pegs, punch me in the gut and leave me there. My first fight was the last fight I ever lost.
Greeny was the big one. He was the school bully, known as “T’ Cock o’ t’ School”. We never fought, but he terrified me, and he made me learn all the ways back to my house without being spotted.
Sherburn Hungate Primary School was my first school, and after a term I started to spot that there was someone else who was about to walk into my life.
Nigel was in my form, but he lived on Wolsey Croft, which was at the other end of Sherburn-In-Elmet to me. My first memory of him was in Mr Latham’s class during break, Greeny had said something yet again about me being “smelly”. I wasn’t smelly of course, but kids pick on your insecurities and that was the big one for me. Nigel came in and stuck up for me. He didn’t cause a fight or anything, he just told Greeny to shove off like he wasn’t scared of him. Soon enough, I made it down to Nigel’s part of town, and before long we were ‘knocking about’ together.
Wolsey Croft was a long street and Nigel lived nearly half-way up on the far side. Behind his house was quite an expansive wasteland, which had thickets and puddles and allotments and places to hide which was any young boys dream. We used to get our least favourite trainers on and head out with a stick in hand, and would investigate for hours, wandering round climbing trees, just seeing what was there. I still remember one day, that a large muddy puddle had made itself known to us, and that we tried to jump it. I didn’t make it and I left a trainer behind, which did NOT impress my mum when I got home.
My strangest and most grotesque childhood memory enters at this point. During one long summer on another wasteland trek, we wandered further than normal with sticks in our hands. I was nonchalantly hitting the tall grass from side to side when I came across a black bin bag. I hit the top of the bin liner carefully to knock it off whatever it was covering. What I found was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.
I found half a dead dog. Not just any dead dog either. It was a shepherd-like mongrel which had been cut down the middle (that’s how it looked) and it resembled nothing but orange and yellow and red muscle with gangrenous furry edges so that the dog looked as though it had been perfectly lasered length-ways down the middle and then left to rot. In truth, it had simply decomposed for a long time but my 8 year old brain thought of lasers. You have never seen an 8 year old boy run as fast in your life. I loved animals and seeing a dead one in such a state so close to me freaked me out completely. Nigel kept me calm and put it down to just another adventure.
I’d get home from seeing Nigel always as dusk drew in and a chorus of barks would chime up as I entered our busy zoo of a house. At this time we had; 13 chickens, 16 rabbits, 2 cats, 2 German Shepherds, 8 German Shepherd puppies, 2 guinea pigs, 2 Hare’s, 3 fish (one called Billy) and a goat that used to come round to sample the curtains. Life at Springfield Avenue was pretty wild. Mum was a great Mum who seemed to be able to cope with anything.
For a long time we struggled with money. We were always against it financially, and I witnessed this as for a long time, we would get a new television, only to have someone come and take it away again a week later. Mum was working as a nurse and dad was jumping between jobs whilst maintaining the perfect equilibrium of living more happily ‘because’ we weren’t rich. My best toy as a boy was a cardboard box which was designed funny, which allowed me to cut it in a couple of places to turn it into a transformer. I played with that thing for months.
Now I’m 10. I’m in year 5 at school and I’ve been given a letter to take home. There is to be a school trip! I didn’t get too excited as we weren’t the sort who could afford to go on school trips, but this was a rare trip… it was to a place called Elslack. It was to go walking up the side of a river and stay in a youth hostel for a couple of nights and it wasn’t much money to go. Mum and Dad allowed me to go and I had a whale of a time.
My dad picked me up from school when I got back and took me home. When we got in, the mood at home was different. I unpacked and later that evening I was called downstairs with my sister.
It seems something was afoot.
Dad told us that we were in financial trouble, and that people called bailiffs were after us. He told us, that we therefore had to do something drastic, which was to move house. Now.
He told us that we didn’t have any choice (him and mum included) and that it also meant that we wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with anyone from Sherburn-In-Elmet in case the bailiffs found out where we were going to.
I was mortified. I was bewildered and remember being inconsolable at the thought of not being able to even tell my friends what was happening or that I was about to disappear. That moment has stayed with me my entire life.
I remember going to bed and being stirred again at 4am to be put into the car whilst still snoozing. We woke the next morning in a new house in Pontefract. Mum had a new job, Dad started a new band and within a couple of weeks me and my sister were at a new school, with new bullies.
I cannot begin to put into words how gut wrenching it was to be torn from a happy little village with two amazing friends to be dropped into a strange town and not being allowed to even tell my friends where I had gone. I felt guilty, and responsible for creating a hole in their lives… surely they would wonder what became of me? Surely they would worry? I hated that, and I have held onto that sense of loss for 26 years ever since.
That is a LONG time. I have daydreamed about what might’ve been and remembered my two friends vividly and often ever since. When Facebook came along, I longed for them to join so that I might get lucky when hopefully typing their names into the search window… would they appear? Might I get chance to explain?
About 3 years ago I got a hit. It was Claire!
Claire had finally taken the Facebook plunge and a random search brought her up and I instantly got in touch. It was a happy meeting. I got the chance to explain what had happened, and that I’d randomly remembered her birthday was 17th April, and I apologised for having to leave in the way that I did. The relief I felt was enormous. A loose end I had kept tabs on for so long was finally sewn up.
Then there was one remaining. The search for Nigel continued… and went on.. and on… until I got a hit.. of sorts.
I found a chap called Nigel Lupton 2 years ago on Twitter. I explained my situation and he freely admitted to *not* being the Nigel who I was searching for, but turned out to be a top chap all the same and we ended up following each other anyway.
The search went on again…
On Saturday night I ran another random search. I got a hit, AND it was backed up with the phrase “Sherburn High School”… Surely…
I sent the message.
I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I got a reply from my old friend. He spoke as though we’d never parted, even though there was stuff to learn about each other again, he was a gentleman, and I recognised him even in his turn of phrase through a chat window on Facebook. I apologised and finally explained after 26 years what had happened, and why I had vanished, which likewise, he’d wondered about for that same time. The circle was complete and Nigel told me he still walks his dog near where that wasteland used to be.
I’ve told Nigel I might join him one night to take his dog for a walk… maybe grab a pint. Whenever it happens (which it most certainly will) doesn’t matter, but I can’t wait.