Can the games and dares of children temporarily stir and reveal the spirit of someone long dead? If they could would they see a spirit pale, dim and shadowy in form? Would they be greeted in a friendly manner as a thank you for giving the spirit a moment away from their eternal rest? Or would the spirit haunt and scare the living daylights out of the children for their audacity to stir it in the first place with a chilling warning to be left in peace?
For Barry these questions will never be answered.
The ‘Dare of Dares’ was always ‘On’. But as to whether it was ever achieved I can’t tell you. Yours truly certainly participated in the ‘Dare of Dares’ without completing the ‘last lap’ to win it. Not surprising really because the whole exercise was extremely spooky – to say the least. Oh sure, other ‘Dares were taken on and completed with various results. But not the one we called the ‘Dare of Dares’.
‘Dares could be anything from climbing tall trees, knocking on doors, pinching fallen apples and walking along the tops of wooden picket fences. The only time we didn’t refer to such behaviour as ‘Dares was when we were jumping over various stretches of Bucknall Brook. On those occasions we called them ‘Doffers’.
‘Doffers’ were simple acts of jumping over water without getting wet. Hang on, did I say simple. On recollection that may not have been the case after all.
Long before Hanley High School was relocated and built on the land behind the junction of Corneville and Langford Roads, Bucknall our access to the ‘Brook was unrestricted and provided a safe children’s playground returning many happy hours of enjoyment including: playing football and cricket; fishing and catching frogs; scaring the girls with the frogs; swimming in the Duck Pond near Spring Cottage; and, of course, ‘Doffers’.
The area of the ‘Brook used for ‘Doffers’ started at Banky Brook near the edge of Brookhouse Farm and ended near the bridge at the bottom of Malthouse Road, Spring Cottage.
Bucknall Brook meandered over a time worn course. In places the water would hurry over small waterfalls, elsewhere it rippled and babbled over beds of shiny pebbles. For most of its journey it would be shallow to a depth approximately ankle deep with occasional deep water such as that at the Duck Pond. Sometimes the water would wind its way through overgrown reed and moss beds that would collapse beneath you should you be silly enough to stand on them. There were many points along its course where the land on one side of the water was higher than the other which, when it came to ‘Doffers’ was very significant. But whatever games we played in and around Bucknall Brook it was a children’s paradise par excellence.
At one time yours truly was both a choir Boy in Bucknall St Mary’s and a Cub, then Scout in Bucknall 3rd City. Choir practice was on Wednesdays, Cubs on Tuesdays and Scouts on Thursdays. Several of my peers also enjoyed dual membership of the choir and Scouts. This information is significant because the ‘Dare of Dares’ could only be performed near the South Nave of St Mary’s, Marychurch Road, Bucknall – and only when it was dark.
Looking back I still remember feeling strong remorse for behaving in such a sacrilegious way. Still, peer pressure was often hard to ignore for fear you would be called weak for not, at the very least, giving it a go.
What? Oh, you want to know about the ‘Dare of Dares’. Well now, let’s see. It was simple to understand; difficult to do.
There was one particular headstone in the graveyard near the South Nave that was, as far as I can recall, a memorial to someone who had died many years before we were born. The dim light from the South Nave reached out to the headstone casting an eerie yellow glow around it. The other headstones were hidden in the darkness of night. This then, was the scene of the ‘Dare of Dares’.
The local folklore included an anecdotal invitation to anyone to walk slowly thirteen times anticlockwise around the grave and headstone if you wanted the ghost of the dear departed to rise and greet you. Daft, I know. But we were young and would try it many times without completing the thirteenth lap. I know, I know, impossible and improbable a ghost would appear. But as I said earlier, the sacrilegious nature of it all stopped us each and every time.
Then one dark winter’s night after Scouts when walking home from Trent Bridge – near the junction of Werrington and Dividy Roads – we dared each other to walk through St Mary’s churchyard, down the eastern slope, over the fence and across the wasteland to Pennell Street.
The dare was reluctantly accepted.
As we neared the south western gate in Marychurch Road my heart was at a racing pace. By the time we reached the South Nave of St Mary’s the yellowing glow of the Nave light on that lonely headstone seemed to mockingly dare us to do what no one had previously achieved.
Huddled together in the South Nave we dared each other to do the ‘Dare of Dares’ and although the process of choosing who would go first escapes me, it was yours truly who stepped out and started walking anticlockwise around the grave. By now my heart was pounding and I’m sure the temperature had dropped to zero.
With pleas of ‘Let’s go home’ falling on deaf ears I must have walked anticlockwise eight or nine times when we all saw the outline of what appeared to be a head rising from the ground about twenty feet away. Needless to say we didn’t stop to make further enquiry. No sir, we took off down the eastern slope with all speed, clear jumped the fence, ran over the spare boggy land, scrambled over the second fence into Pennell Street and just kept running till we reached our respective homes.
Rushing into our kitchen I excitedly told my mum and dad what had happened. At first they both had incredulous looks on theirs faces followed by a long silence before they started laughing – not at me, but my interpretation of the so-called spooky events.
Oh dear, it was explained to me – as it was to the others by their parents – that the local gravedigger had been working overtime into the night to prepare a burial site for the next day.
After that I never again took on the ‘Dare of Dares’. Oh, and by the way, no matter how many times I tried afterwards to clear jump the fence at the eastern end of the churchyard I failed miserably.
See you later…
November 22, 2004