-Strange – 4 Pages –
This concerns one night some considerable time ago and is a true story.
Locations are accurate, only my name is true, the others have been changed for protective purposes.
I was driving home after a night out with my friends. I was 17 then, I had just passed my driving test that day, 17th December 1968, 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon. I was elated of course and when my father came home and there were still “L” plates on the car he looked disappointed until, before he came in the house, I ceremoniously ripped them off in front of him. Of course, you couldn’t separate me from my car for all the money in the world. I was driving a Mini. At the time I thought this was really cool – if you know what I mean! So, the first time ever, I was out without a Driving Instructor or Father in the passenger seat.
Of course I went to pick up all my friends and have a drive around. It was around 1130 pm and I had just dropped the last of my friends off and was about to set off down the hill on Reckitt Lane. It was a rather wet night with the rain falling gently.
The place is near Ashton-Under-Lyne in Lancashire. The place is called Audenshaw and the street is called Reckitt Lane.
Reckitt Lane is one of the short cuts to where I live. Rather than take the main A road to Ashton, I used Reckitt Lane frequently like hundreds of other motorists eager to avoid the many traffic lights on the way to Ashton. There are many factories down the lane, and although there are many trucks on the road, it is by far the quickest route to Ashton.
I had just started down the hill when the engine gave up. Typical, I thought, why me? The rain didn’t help matters and I thought that I would get quite wet. I could see by the gauge that it was only a shortage of petrol. I coasted down to the bottom of the hill and parked it safely as not to impede any traffic in any direction.
I got out of the car and opened the back and looked for the petrol can. I found the metal can and locked the car. There were no hazard lights on cars then, so I left on the sidelights.
I started walking up the hill back to where I had come from, as I knew there were a few all-night petrol stations along the busy route to Ashton. The nearest one was just over a mile away and I calculated I would be back in about 40 minutes.
As I started up the hill, coat over my head to protect from the rain, petrol can in hand, a car pulled up alongside me. The car was a rather old Morris Traveller, made sometime in the 50’s, but obviously still running well.
The passenger window rolled down and a man spoke. “I’m going to the petrol station anyway” he said, “would you like a lift”?
Now in those days, there were very few stories of abductions or kidnapping etc, so I said I would.
I got into the car and politely thanked the man who offered me the lift.
We exchanged pleasantries, he asked my name, I asked his, he told me his name was Gregory Dawson and lived at the bottom of the hill on what we called the crescent, although it was called Maskell close. The reason we called it the crescent was only because it was shaped like a crescent, with houses on both sides. He told me he lived there for a number of years now.
Eventually, in about 5 minutes, we arrived at the petrol station. I thought it was odd that this particular one was open this late at night, but still I got out and went to one of the pumps to fill the can, he got out and started to fill up his car.
I put in a gallon and walked over to the door of the Petrol station, opened it and walked towards the cash desk. The man behind the counter was wearing a Sherlock Holmes type hat because of the cold, but differently, he was smoking a cigar. It was then I realized I had left my wallet at home. Gregory walked in through the door and realizing I was about to get into an argument with the cashier asked what was wrong. I told him I had left my wallet at home and apologized profusely. He offered to pay for the petrol “I’ve done it a few times before” he said. “It’s lucky the people around here know me and my car, otherwise, I would have a long walk home to get my money. I’ll pay for your gallon of petrol” he said. “Just come around and pay me back when you have the time”
“Gregory, thank you for that, I am most embarrassed and I will bring you the money tomorrow evening” I said.
“That’s quite alright” he said as he paid for my gallon of petrol and his own.
We both walked to the car, me quite embarrassed, he, as though he didn’t have a care in the world. To say something, I just blurted out “Your rear number plate is broken Gregory” He said he knew about it and was going to get it fixed probably the next day.
All throughout the short journey, I was reaffirming my intention to pay the following evening. Within five minutes, we were in front of my car. I was just about to thank him yet again and get out of the car, when I suddenly realized, I hadn’t got his address. I asked him his address and he asked me for a piece of paper so he could write the address down. I didn’t have my wallet and no piece of paper could I find in my coat. He asked me to open the glove compartment in the passenger side and took out a book. It was a Penguin classic book by Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights. I will never forget it to this day. He opened the book and tore an odd shaped piece of paper from the corner of the book at the last page. “It’s so she won’t think I damaged her favourite book” he said wryly, wrote his name and address on the corner of the sheet. “Here, Alan”, he said, “just so you won’t forget”. He gave me the piece of paper and then put the book back in the glove compartment, wished me luck and drove the 80 yards down the road and turned left into the Crescent. The number plate was a little odd, having the rear number plate broken in half. The registration number was UNE 560. I watched his tail lights disappear.
Suddenly, I heard an almighty crash coming from the direction where Gregory had just turned into. I immediately ran the 80 yards or so to the crescent, looke up and down, saw no evidence of any accident and just assumed it was one of the many engineering companies on Reckitt Lane that was responsible. I went back towards where I had parked the car,went to the rear of the car, opened the petrol can and poured in the life giving substance.
Thirty minutes later I was home and probably an hour later I was fast asleep.
I got up as usual the next day, went to work, filled up the car, saved the right amount of money for Gregory and went home for tea. In Lancashire, where I live, Tea is what you would normally call dinner everywhere else. Tea starts at around 1630 and lasts till late evening.
After tea, I decided I would go and pay Gregory for the kindness he showed last night and then go out with my friends.
I drove up Reckitt lane this time coming from Ashton, turned right into “The Cresent” and went to number 30. It is called Maskell Close as there is only one entry point to the close. It has a sign that says Cul-De-Sac in black writing on a white background at the start of the close and a T sign with the top half being red in colour, signifying, no way out. The Close is quite pleasant, having all the gardens at the front of the properties with wooden or Asbestos garages aside the entrance gate to the houses. This one had a rather nice looking wooden garage outside, obviously well-cared for and the number 30 on both the gate and the garage. It was getting fairly dark, so I decided I wouldn’t stay too long and drive the car for a few hours.
I got out of the car, armed with the piece of paper and the 7shillings and 8 pence for the gallon of petrol.
I walked up the path to the front door, knocked on the door and a lady answered the door. I said “good evening, my name’s Alan Smith, I’m here to pay Gregory what I owe him from last night. – Is he your Husband?”
She asked me if I was playing some kind of joke. I was a little puzzled and related the story of the previous night to her. I even showed her the name and address on the torn off piece of paper he had written on. She looked curiously at the torn off corner of book and said that it was indeed Gregory’s handwriting. She asked me again how I got the piece of paper. This time, I was puzzled and again related the story that happened the previous night.
She asked me inside, so I went in. What a beautiful clean house I thought, very neat in every aspect, not a thing out of place. There was a strong smell of gas and I remarked that I could smell gas of some sort, “Oh don’t worry about that, it smells like that most days, it’s that damn methane gas from the nearby rubbish site” She motioned me to the dining table.
Again she asked me where I got the paper from, again I related the entire story, exactly as it happened. She asked me what sort of car Gregory was driving, so I told her it was a Morris Traveller. Now I pride myself on recognising any car, even from the headlights in the dark, sidelights, rear lights and shape, as my Father always asked me car questions when I used to ride with him a lot in his job. It was then that I got this knowledge of cars.
She beckoned me to go out to the front of the house. I followed and she took me to the garage, opened the door and asked me inside the garage.
It was quite gloomy in the garage and looked as though it hadn’t been used for years. In the center of the garage was a shape I barely recognized under a quite heavy canvas sheet. She asked me to help her remove the canvas sheet and I did. It came off with relative ease considering the weight of the canvas. Underneath was what was left of a Morris Traveller. The front end was completely trashed and the roof seemed squashed somehow. I looked at the back of the car where the number plate was. It was still broken and read UNE 560. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I was pretty speechless and after a few – what seemed like minutes – I said, “how could this have happened in only a few hours?”.
She opened the car door on the passengers side. The car smelt very old and very damp, not like the previous night.
I watched her go to the glove compartment in the car and take out the familiar cover of the Penguin series books. This one looked a little older than what I saw the previous evening. The book last night looked new, this one looked a little worse for wear. She asked me where in the book did he rip out the corner from. I told her the last page and she opened the book where I had described. She asked me for the piece of paper he ripped out of the book. I handed it over and she carefully placed the torn out piece with what was left of the original page. It was an exact match. The strange thing was, the piece of paper I had was predominantly whiter than the page she put against the torn piece I was given last night.
Mrs Dawson then said something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. She said it didn’t happen last night or this morning, but about 15 years ago on the 18th December 1953. She said it was a truck that hit his car head on coming down the hill. He was just going to turn into the Crescent when an out of control haulage wagon swerved and hit him head on. “He didn’t stand a chance” they said.
He died in Hospital, he lived only a few hours after he was pulled from the car and taken by Ambulance.
She led me back into the house. Gave me a cup of tea and again asked me the story from the previous night. She asked me how he looked and what he was wearing the previous night so I relayed to her what I perceived he was wearing down to his work boots. “Those were the clothes he was dressed in when he was coming home from work just before the accident” she said with a tear in her eye. Again I looked at the book, the Penguin Classic, the unmistakable orange of the cover. I looked at the last page, the torn piece fitted exactly.
“Are you sure it was last night?” Mrs Dawson asked politely.
I explained about the course of events, how I had passed my test earlier in the day, how he took me to the garage, how he paid for my……Just a minute, the guy at the Petrol Station, he can surely vouch for me and how I forgot my wallet and how Gregory paid for the petrol. I’ll go and ask him what he heard and saw. “Do you mind if I come with you?” Mrs Dawson asked. “Of course you can” I said hurriedly, “let’s go”
We both climbed into the Mini and set off for the Petrol Station. It was around 6:55pm when we arrived at the Petrol station. I drove up to the entrance and a man came out and started to lock up the garage. “Sorry Mate ‘ he said, “I’m locking up now, you can get some petrol at the Shell garage down the road if you like, but I’m closing”
I asked him what time he was open until. He told me he always closed at 7pm every night. “But what about last night….You were open till at least twelve o clock l;ast night” I added urgently.
“Naw, I haven’t opened that late for at least ten years, not after my Brother died ‘ave I opened that late, I’ve nobody to look after the Garage now y’ see, I don’t trust any of them buggers runnin’ my garage, I’d be ripped off in no time”
I described the man who was behind the counter in an effort to gain back some of my credibility. “Aye, that were ‘im alright. He always wore that ‘at and smokin’ them smelly cigars, it were a wonder ‘e didn’t blow the place up wi all them petrol fumes around”
He died probably fifteen years ago, just before Christmas as I remember. He was driving a truck not far away from here. Police says his brakes failed, but I reckons he dropped his cigar and was tryin’ to find it when he crashed into this poor bloke going home after work. I said that smoking them bloody cigars would be the death of ‘im!
I looked at the owner who said something like you have seen a ghost or something, but it didn’t register. I was too amazed and flabbergasted at what he said. Suddenly, I was brought back into reality as I was tapped on the shoulder by the Garage owner.
“Did you hear what I said? How did you know my brother anyway, was he a friend of yours? I don’t think you would have known him around then, I suspect you were a bit too young then.”
I nodded at him in a daze. What could I say – that I had seen him last night?
I looked at Mrs Dawson, tears in her eyes after what the garage owner had said.
I thanked the garage owner and motioned to Mrs Dawson to get in the mini.
I drove back to her house in a sort of daze, dropped her off and said goodbye. Too numb to think anymore I left her on the pathway to her house.
I was thinking about this for a further few days and whilst I was driving to work, I noticed the Penguin book, the one Mrs Dawson had left in the car.
Meanwhile, later that afternoon when I finished work, I decided to go and pay a visit to Mrs Dawson and return the book from her husband’s car.
I turned into the Crescent, headed up a little and parked outside the path of no 30. The garage was there, but definitely not like I saw a few nights ago. This one was definitely not the right garage. The number 30 was still on the gate to the house, but not in as prisitine condition as it was, the number 30 on the garage had disappeared. I looked inside the garage, but the windows were filthy on the inside, so I could not see inside.
I opened the gate, now sounding very rusty and entered the front garden, towards the house. I looked up, the house, lights burning brightly, and someone in the front room.
I knocked on the door and waited for an answer. Nothing. I knocked on the door, this time a little loudly and this time a dog barked. I didn’t remember a dog yesterday, still, maybe her son was taking it out for a walk or something.
A rather disheveled man came to the door, shouting at the dog to stop it barking.
“Who are you?” the man asked in a gruff voice. I said “My name is Alan Smith, I came here to see Mrs. Dawson.”
“Mrs.Dawson” I said.
“There’s nobody here by that name”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, I’ve lived here nearly ten years”. “Ethel”, he shouted to his wife – “How long we lived here?”
A rather portly woman came to the door. “Nearly ten years” she said with a questioning look.
I thought instinctively, I’m in the wrong house, but corrected myself.
“Is this no 30, Maskell Grove” I asked
“Yes it is” said the portly woman.
It can’t be, I was here a few nights ago with Mrs.Dawson. I am here to return her book she took out of the car in the garage, the one her husband was killed in some time ago.
The husband and wife both looked at each other in silence. The husband turned to me and said that they remember the woman who used to live here, but quite a long time ago.
I asked them about the garage.
“The garage isn’t used any more, I can’t afford to have it refurbished and I certainly can’t afford to have it pulled down. It’s got a concrete base and to dig that up is expensive. It will extend the garden, but at what cost?”
I asked if there was a car in the garage. He said it had been removed some years ago by the scrapyard. “He gimme Ten Quid for the car” he volunteered.
“What happened to Mrs. Dawson?”
“I don’t know, the house was empty when we moved in, the garden was overgrown, I don’t know where you would go from there. Anyway, we have to leave in a few minutes, don’t think I am being rude, but I ‘aven’t got all day to talk to you – goodnight!”
I walked away down the path, still not believing what I had seen.
I have a day off tomorrow I thought, I’ll see what information I can get from the library.
Next day, bright and early (well, bright and early for me meant 1130) I was at the library looking through all the old newspapers. I came across the newspaper dated the 18th December 1958, on the front page of the local newspaper was the article “Man killed in head-on collision”. It mentioned Gregory Dawson and another man in the collision. The other dead man had been driving a lorry.
I skipped a few days and found another headline “Tragedy strikes twice in two days”
Mother of Two, Edwina Dawson died yesterday at her home of gas poisoning. Her husband, Gregory, had died two days earlier in a fatal car accident involving an out of control lorry. This resulted in death to both drivers.
It was suspected that Mrs. Dawson turned on the gas in the living room and took her own life when her husband had died.
She is survived by a son and a daughter. Funeral takes place on Friday at St Stephens Church in Audenshaw.