I am aware that there are no touchier subjects than religion, but I have to frame the context of my tale this week. I am not a religious man these days and in fact I haven’t been since I was about thirteen. After saying this, there have been things that have happened in my life and in the lives of my family that have either been very lucky, or coincidental to a surprising degree. Now, luck is an interesting issue and there has been research on why some people are luckier than others. I believe they suggest that the more positive and optimistic you are, the more likely you are to be lucky, or at least perceive the things that happen to you as lucky.
I have been run over by an MG Midget, hit by a bus, twice, I think, set myself of fire, been involved in two armed robberies in Yorkshire (not as one of the criminals), been attacked by axe-men in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, experienced a, 6.9 earthquake (on the Richter Scale) and was on the next flight behind the plane that was shot down over the Ukraine. From these happenings, you can see me as very unlucky, or conversely, very lucky, but I am still here. Just to add intrigue, my wife’s distant relative was Captain Smith of Titanic fame, so some of it might be her doing!
When I qualified as a teacher I got a job teaching in a school in Rotherham, but I rented a bedsit in Sheffield, in Upperthorpe. It was part of a larger old house and rooms were bedsits, with cookers, sinks etc in the room, but there was a shared bathroom. Upperthorpe had a bit of a bad reputation, particularly the Kelvin Flats at the bottom of the road, but I enjoyed my time there. It was quite old-worldy, in the late 1970s, with a cooperage (barrel makers) just down the road. There was a lovely local pub at the top of the hill and they had great folk nights, but I am digressing. The house front door was rarely shut and never locked. This was fairly slack as anyone could walk in and help themselves to the post, or the bathrooms, but they were quite hippy times and each bedsit door was locked. I well remember leaves blowing into the house during autumn and filling the corridor. My room was small and I had decided to give the wood-chip wallpaper a new coat of paint as it was pretty grotty when I moved in. I was buying records regularly at the time and Genesis had just released And Then There Were Three, after Steve Hackett had left in 1978. I had also bought Wind and Wuthering and on that cover there was a watercolour picture of a tree and a flock of birds circling away from it in light greys. I loved the album and the cover and decided to paint the same picture on my wall. I have to say that I did quite a good job of it, but when I left I made sure to paint it out. There were two flats opposite mine and an international student was in one and a girl who had psychological issues in the other. Late one night I was woken by bashing on my door and I sat up, and put the light on. The light under the door must have warned them and then there was a bang and a crash and the sound of splintering wood. A few moments later there was the sound of breaking crockery and coins. I was out of bed at this point and I was pretty sure what was going on. I opened my door a sliver to see what was happening and saw a very tall man with a pistol in his hand leaving the bedsit and he had a sports bag. He didn’t notice me, which was probably a good thing, and I immediately checked out of the window to see when he had left and which way he had gone. I then went out and looked into the bedsit opposite and the door lock was broken. I went downstairs to the public phone in the hallway and rang 999. The police turned up very quickly and I explained and a search was made for the man who had broken in. The man whose flat it was arrived home with a friend, and he was truly upset by the whole situation. He had been collecting all his change, for a long time, in a large piggy bank and it was tens of pounds worth, and that was a large amount in those days. The police told me that I was lucky that I hadn’t confronted the man. I never heard anything more and moved out fairly soon afterwards. Immediately after this incident, the front door was regularly locked.
A second armed robbery took place opposite our house in Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. Across the road from our house on Wrenthorpe Road was a hairdresser’s and a off-licence/general store. The village was quite uneventful most of the time, with a local cricket club, a working men’s club and two rather nice pubs. One summer afternoon, on a Sunday I believe, I was working in the garden when there was a loud bang, bang, bang and then crash of breaking glass. I am not sure why, but I rushed out to the front gate to see what was happening, but then a young man came walking down the pavement on the other side of the road. He was just strolling along with a bag in one hand and a pistol in the other. He wasn’t rushing, looked relaxed and turned up the entrance to the primary school directly opposite my house. He walked up the drive and disappeared. I walked over to the shops and saw the main window smashed. The shop was run by two sons and their father and the man had walked in, produced a pistol and demanded money. The father locked the front door and so the robber was trapped inside. I am not sure if he took the half a billiard cue off the son, or whether he had it with him, but he smashed the lad in the face, took some money from the till, and decided to smash the front window to get out. A teacher I worked with had the police wandering through her garden that backed onto the school. Apparently, the thief had thrown the pistol into hers or one of her neighbour’s gardens. I believe they caught the man as the helicopter was quickly above the scene and tracked him down.
Another incident happened at the hairdresser’s. This was late at night and the shop was broken into and they stole the whole till. The owner was very upset as she didn’t leave any money overnight. The till was dumped in the park.
My younger brother has kept up the family tradition and he pulled up to the car park in Tescos on Roundhay Road. This was probably six years ago. I believe his window was wound down and he was busy doing something when a man approached him and he turned to look. I think he thought the man was going to ask for change, but the man said, “Get out!!” My brother replied, “Pardon?” and the man once again said, “Get out!” and he held a screwdriver up to my brother’s face. As luck would have it, my brother really hadn’t taken in what was happening and the hijacker thought he was dealing with either a very brave man, or an idiot. He obviously wasn’t prepared to take the risk and he walked off to try his luck with someone less brave or puzzling. My brother, at this point, realised what had been happening, and how close he had come to being injured. He used his mobile to call the police, and they turned up and took a statement.
I keep thinking that I have finished these tales of danger, but then I remember another. After we moved to Australia, it took thirteen years before we returned to Leeds. The reason for the long delay was the cost of coming back with four children, and so we paid for my mother and my wife’s to come out to visit us. The first time we came back, I did find Leeds quite intimidating. It was almost as remembered it, but it was so much busier than sleepy Perth in Western Australia. The boys were old enough to leave on their own, or so we thought, and our mums were ill and so we were back. We had a hire car from Manchester Airport and the drive on the motorways and over the Pennines was challenging, with some reckless driving at high speeds from the locals. We arrived at Manchester to discover that the airline had lost our entire luggage. This was a bit of an added setback, but we got the car and arrived safely in Leeds to stay with my mother on Shadwell Lane. We had no underwear or toiletries, or warm clothing for that matter, so we decided to go to Tescos to buy some basics. We weren’t greedy, and just got some cheap gear and we were driving back to my mother’s house and were approaching Roundhay Park tennis courts and Canal Gardens when a car shot past us at breakneck speed. It stopped at the zebra crossing outside the gates and another shrieked past and stopped behind it and then I pulled to a stop behind that. A man jumped out of the driving seat in the car in front, and ran to the driver’s door of the first car, where the window was open. He started shouting at the driver and pulled out a knife and I was in two minds whether to drive and run him down, as I thought I was about to witness a murder. Luckily, I didn’t, and the man with the knife didn’t and he ran back to his own car, got back in, and the people crossing the road had gone and the two cars sped off. We were both shaken as it wasn’t the most welcoming start to the return to my home town.
As it is, I am still here to tell the tales and so are my brothers, so I guess we have been very lucky, and I am very grateful for it. There are many who don’t get to learn from their experiences, but I am one of the fortunate ones, though I am not sure how much I learnt.
There is one coincidence that relates to my older brother, that I think is quite amazing. For many years from the mid 1980s he worked at a high school in Cyprus. He was head of religious education at the school and he loved his time there. On one occasion, he met a retired British gentleman who was living on the island, and after several conversations his war-time experiences came up. Apparently, he had been in the submarine service, and my brother pointed out that our dad had been in the sumarines too. Further discussion came about and it was mentioned that he was on HMS Scotsman, and by chance, that had been my father’s vessel. My dad was chief Petty Officer, and was an engineer. He didn’t discuss his war service often, as many didn’t want to dwell on it, but I know that he was colour blind. He could only tell the traffic lights by the position of the light. Red and green were indecipherable to him, which must have made electrical work interesting. The man went and fetched a photograph of the submarine and it had been signed by the crew at the time. My brother looked at the signatures, and sure enough, my father’s was there and I have added a copy and you will see J H Cameron. The chances of Andrew catching up with someone who had served with my dad was remarkably small, but it happened.
I guess that the longer you live the more things happen to you, some good and some bad. The thing that I do enjoy is being creative and I thank everyone who finds my stories interesting. I am just finishing my latest novel and this is a thriller, called Dead Men Don’t Snore, so I will let you know when it is ready. If you think my life has been eventful then the protagonist in the book is on a very different level.