The Wilkies, the previous owners, had noticed that Paul was quite fond of Panda and the affection was returned. They decided to give the dog to them. Paul had a younger sister, Joanne who seemed to suffer from mild autism or something similar. Their mother, a good natured though somewhat nervous middle aged lady obviously adored her kids and seemed to be in a state of perpetual worry for the family's survival. She also had to deal with her epilepsy and the fact that she had been dumped by the children's father some time back. I was determined not to show any pity since I knew she'd hate that. I'd been the recipient of enough misplaced pity already. Still, my heart went out to her situation. I was too young to have any idea how to express my feelings about it to her so I decided to relate to her with the respect I treated any adult. Since I became Paul's friend the dog accepted me as a member of the 'pack' and literally bowled me over with affection, vigorous tail wagging huge soaking licks. In the next two years, Paul, Joanne and I had a lovely time exploring the historic disused railway tracks all the way to Worsely woods and noone messed with us with Panda guarding us. We'd go through the worst back streets of Patricroft and the local toughs stayed away from us, once begging us to take the dog away!
Back to the house. As I said, it was beautiful to my eyes, fully furnished and with a huge collection of Indian Tree China. I had to laugh because even the toilet bowl was Royal Doulton. I was fascinated that the upstairs rooms were each on different levels. I had chosen the first room on the left which looked out over the concrete back yard towards Liverpool street- frankly an ugly view but I loved the french windows opening onto a nice size balcony. My room actually had a sink and another smaller room leading off which had once been a nursery. There was a large chest of drawers in there I could use for my clothes, girl comics and other paraphanalia, and pretty much no room for anything else. I decided Sandy and Dandy's cages should occupy the rest of the floor space. Since I wasn't a particularly clothes conscious teenager I was not at all bothered that there was no place to hang anything. My school uniform usually lived on a hanger on the french door handle. Of course I could have used space in the dressing room next to my parents' room but it never even occurred to me at the time.
A couple more steps led to the 'holy of holies', my parents' room. I was indoctrinated at an early age never to enter this room, possibly due to the wishes of a frustrated father whose romantic evenings had been interrupted too many times by a toddler entering unexpectedly and wanting to snuggle up to mummy in the double bed. Mum never turned me away but at some point they decided enough was enough and made their space out of bounds.
Then, after a few more steps and the dressing room came the enormous bathroom with a nice size bath, the China toilet, a bidet and a kingfisher engraved on the mirror. Of course, being a bird lover I noticed this right away. The Wilkies confessed they had never noticed it at all. A small flight of steps led to a little attic room with a dormer window and a very complicated ceiling, all strange angles. This would be Paul's room and looked out over my balcony. When we first viewed this room it was full of junk, boxes and a tiger's head! I hated that dead thing and think I remembered asking mum to please make sure they got rid of it but I couldn't help feeling disappointed about its absence later.
High up over that last flight of stairs there appeared to be a trapdoor in the sloping roof which had been papered over. We could see from the shape of the roof on the outside there must be space over my parents' bedroom and dressing room and this must give access to it, and it probably extended over my room too. That space must have been huge! Sadly my parents were not curious enough to get that trapdoor uncovered and force an entry. How disappointing!
They were also not curious enough to investigate the house's other physical legend, a secret underground passage which was supposed to lead to another clerical house around the corner. We knew where the entrance was, a dusty dark hole behind a tiny door under the stairs but we were forbidden to try it with dire warnings that it was old, unstable, likely to cave in at any moment and trap us down there, bury us forever. My agonized curiosity was kept at bay by a strong sense of self preservation.
The rest of the downstairs consisted of a large rambling combination sitting room, dining room, a rather small kitchen with a sunroom leading off it and opening onto the back yard, a long 'utility room' for washer, dryer, ironing, airing cupboard and such, that leading from the space. with the door leading to the 'dark and ominous hole' , a more formal living room with fireplace and black leather upholstery, (the natural home of the television we decided), and finally, my favourite room was dad's study simply because of it's curious aromas. It smelled of soft leather and something like rattan or bamboo, I couldn't quite place it. There were a couple of gorgeous soft leather pouffes which seemed to be some kind of Asian or native American craftsmanship. When dad wasn't about I loved to read in there.
Our neighbours on one side appeared to be Hindu. We were never quite sure just how many people lived there since there seemed to be a constant coming and going of relatives but they were all gracious and quiet and pretty much kept themselves to themselves. Paul managed to get some kind of rapport with the youngest boy there, though I don't know how he managed it since the little one seemed both shy and knew very little English. They must have used sign language or something.
Just beyond the alley on the other side was an ugly old building that was used as a youth club and thumped annoying music a few nights a week. The proximity to Liverpool Road, the youth club and the generally decrepit old neighbourhood were factors that made the beautiful old rectory such a fantastic bargain and affordable for us.I wasn't complaining, we never had any trouble from the neighbours, even without Panda to guard our place. It's possible any local burglars assumed she was still there, (especially since I was so often seen with her!)
The other legend of the rectory was the ghost. Unfortunately we never had any hard information about the supposed origin of this haunting but the story certainly titillated the nascent gothic aspects of my teenage psyche and I always hoped for some 'experience' . I was naturally disappointed that my most down to earth mother and Mrs. Bracegirdle that 'enjoyed' a 'sighting'. I overheard my mother tell over the story to friends one night and the hushed tones attracted my attention so I crept down the stairs as far as I dared without creaking the staircase, to listen in. The next day I badgered my mother about it, let her know I'd heard enough to want me to just get the details I hadn't quite heard clear in my head. Somewhat reluctantly she told me.
She and the neighbour were sitting by the dining table when they noticed movement outside. They raised their eyes to see a strange figure crossing the yard in the middle of the day. He wore a typical old style Lancashire flat cap and coat and he had no business being there. Both the gates to the alley and to Lynwood Avenue are noisy and usually kept closed and no noise was heard at all, yet he passed right through and then was gone. My mother said as soon as she set eyes on him she felt something was wrong, her hair stood up on the back of her neck, all the classic 'symptoms'. I wondered later if he lacked a shadow or something else that would make him seem so strange. Our neighbour's reaction was even more dramatic. Right after seeing him she went into a grand mal seizure. She had just finished calming down after this, having a cup of tea with mum, when I arrived back from school. Mum had always been an open minded person but no flake and had never reported seeing anything like this or believing in ghosts at any other time I knew her.
A lady who owned a petshop on Liverpool street used to live in the rectory years before- we found this out since that's where we bought the seed for Sandy and Dandy. She told us about the old ghost legend and that many years before, perhaps two decades, she had seen a man of the same description in the house.. right on the stairs where I'd first overheard the story.
Though disappointed I had not seen the man in the flat cap I did have two strange and rather disturbing memories. First was when my grandmother came to stay. She slept in my room and I slept in a makeshift bed in the little nursery. I have never suffered from claustrophobia yet for some totally unaccountable reason I spent much of that night in a state of terror. I had not had such a feeling before or since. I'd slept in my grandmother's house before, when my brother was born and felt comfortable with her proximity but that night was somehow different. It was so strange, I was never given to night terrors like that and yet it seemed to me that there was some ominous presence above me, not in the room but just beyond that might descend into the room if I should let down my guard and fall asleep. I did not want to disturb grandma or my parents with my obviously irrational fear, I didn't think they'd appreciate that, so I stayed where I was. I must have found a way to comfort myself, prayer perhaps, I don't remember, or just simple fatigue or both. At any rate I fell asleep at some time and remember no disturbing dreams.
The other experience was more bizarre and very vivid. It was so real my memory could not tell if I was awake or just in a very vivid dream, though it must have been that. I was lying in my own bed, as I'd been when I fell asleep. The room was filled with light though it seemed to be the middle of the night and the light not natural. Everything in the room was where it normally is except that a figure stood between myself and the french door. I could not tell if it was male or female, it seemed to be veiled in black from head to toe. It felt menacing and aware of me but just standing there utterly still. Then suddenly a nasty little thing swooped by on a broomstick past my left ear, dressed like a little harlequin but with an ugly malicious grin and cackle of laughter. I felt totally freaked out by that even though it was so small and didn't actually hurt me. Then the dream or whatever it was just winked out and next thing I knew I was waking up to normal morning lighting.
Well, we lived there for a little over two years until a job opportunity opened up for my father in Cardiff. That was an agonizing decision for him- to stick with Assistant Town Clerk in Manchester with the hope that one day he might be the one promoted to Deputy, or to seize the opening for Deputy available right then in Cardiff with the knowledge that there was really no going back. As it turned out he made the right choice but this did mean a major move and some sacrifices and he conferred with all of us about how we felt about the move. Changing high schools would be a huge move for me, especially when I was settled, loved my friends and was doing so well academically (See the Bolton School memoirs). Still, though I was naturally a bit upset about leaving my friends I was excited about the adventure and changes ahead. To move to south Wales sounded truly wonderful and I was happy to give dad's career move my enthusiastic blessing.
Return to my Memoirs page