Sample chapters 1-17

Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole, Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith and Tim Healy
In A Haunted House Near Carlisle, 1984

By Lee Gale (

© Lee Gale 2022

Note: In total there are 33 chapters in the novel. The 17 chapters here are the build up to the six main characters arriving at the mysterious, deserted Hangingbrow Hall near Carlisle and the realisation that all is not as it seems. It will, in all probability, go through another re-write and there could be a phrase or two that are repeated.

The first chapter may be dropped. It’s a January 1984 scene-setting sequence and ties in with the last page of the book. The connection may be too vague. In truth, it is a silly story, puerile even, but I think it has pace and some half-decent dialogue. Well, I’ll let you find your reading glasses… (they’re on your head)


  1. Old haunts

There is a familiarity to this place, yet it is a universe away from the rows of coffee shops, mobile phone outlets and cut-price fashion emporia that characterise your modern high street. There are no Café Rouges or Greggs bakeries to sate your appetite for pies and fancy sandwiches, no Apple stores to sample the latest smartphones and no H&Ms or Urban Outfitters to buy skinny-fit chinos and Dickensian chimney sweep-inspired boots. On the left sit the glazed fronts of C&A, Woolworths and Our Price, to the right, Wimpy, Richard Shops and the Midland bank. Despite the garish window stickers offering prices ending in 99p, the hues in this curious setting seem somehow muted and bleached, like the contrast has been incorrectly set, like the buildings, pavements, fences, faces, pigeons, vehicles and sky are nearer to black and white than colour. Perhaps it is the filter of memory.

And yet here you stand – and it is an incredible feeling. All around you there is movement. You can feel the wind on your cheeks, smell the exhaust fumes and burning coal, and taste the pollution. All this has been lived, but it is happening before your very eyes.

Most males aged seven and upwards are wearing snorkel parkas in navy blue or a chip-shop mushy-pea green replete with orange interiors and pile-lined hoods. On their feet are Clarks Polyveldt, Puma Match or Pods. Young ladies are in pinstripe jeans, Wham!-style slogan T-shirts and oversized French-blue coats, topped off with pointy heels, white stilletos or brown slip-ons. Hair tends to be big. Men age 50 or over look like Elvis Presley, while their be-permed wives resemble Vera from Coronation Street.

A small, geeky teenager with fit-the-best-Everest large spectacles and a haircut like a fawn crash helmet is enjoying a day away from the rattling radiators and raised voices of the classroom. He isn’t “twagging” – playing truant. It’s a glorious day of teacher’s industrial action. He passes a new shop – not a store – called Primark, pronounced by the interested locals as “Preemark”. This pauper’s outlet sells, among other things, cheap jeans whose material is closer in composition to cardboard than twill. Wear them and you’ll need to soothe your chaffed-raw legs with Germolene.

Children, when not being smacked in public for showing their parents up are greedily scoffing Rowntree’s Cabana bars, an exciting chocolate-covered coconut-and-caramel treat laced with processed chunks of dried cherries, reminiscent of the garnish that grannies use with their Snowball cocktails at Christmas. Cabanas are “ace”, “lush” and “topper” and are sealed in an electric-blue wrapper that features yellow-to-orange lettering, like a tropical sunset. It’s hard to believe, but Rowntree’s release of this exotic offering in selected trial areas is fairing poorly, but for the alternative-minded sweet-toothed kid, it’s a jewel, just edging out the new, velvety-smooth Wispa. You have been taught all this in lessons by experts of the period.

To see a child given a public walloping by an enraged mother is anathema to your digital-era sensibilities, yet it is curiously watchable. Upon seeing a pre-teen being led by the arm to a clear space in which they can be freely clobbered, your reaction is to mediate, but the firm hand on your upper arm and the command, “Leave them – we can’t interfere,” halts you in your tracks.

Glancing now at an ABC cinema, you see that Scarface, Sudden Impact and The Dresser are advertised with large black letters hung on a white background. In a nearby park, teenagers idly zigzag on their BMX bikes and ageing Raleighs. Grifters and Choppers are regarded as yesteryear’s get-arounds, replaced by the slimmer, lighter, £120-and-upwards Raleigh Burner. Bicycle motocross is a craze comparable with skateboarding, the latest in a long line of youth-leisure imports from America. Like a Ford Escort XR3i on two wheels, BMXs come in lurid shades, but mainly blaze blue with bright-yellow Simplex mag wheels. Ingeniously, Burners have a foam frame protector to cushion testicles when performing calamitous bunny hops or endies. The more adventurous cyclists excitably express their desire to jump from garage roofs using their Super Tuff steeds while expecting to remain upright in the saddle throughout the precarious flight. Burners are stop-gaps: everybody wants a magnesium alloy Mongoose, but them what wants can’t always have. “Two-hundred-and-twenty bloody quid?” dads quip. “I’ll get you two!”

You are handed a tabloid newspaper by your superior to further revel in your secretive trade. You read the date. It is Friday, 13 January 1984. Instinctively, you turn to the back page. As usual, Liverpool lead the First Division, sponsored by Canon. Joe Fagan, 62, the Reds’ manager, was promoted from the position of assistant manager in the close season after the hugely successful Bob Paisley, a former coalminer and soldier who was present at the liberation of Rome in 1945, had retired. Of Liverpool’s 21 players, only one – the wacky, cap-wearing goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar – is from outside the British Isles (Zimbabwe). Bullet-headed striker Ian Rush is well on his way to scoring 47 goals. FA Cup holders Manchester United, managed by luxurious West Midlands bon vivant Ron Atkinson, lie second.

On the road, a Leyland Atlantean double-decker in drab livery growls loudly towards passengers who are waiting in a bus shelter that is daubed with National Front motifs. The bus decelerates with high-decibel squeaky brakes, while upstairs on its top deck, people smoke. It defies belief.

The Ford Sierra, launched in 1982 and already Britain’s second best-selling car behind the Escort, is a sight to behold, standing as a daring vision of the future, a sleek, streamlined hatchback that many think has been lifted from Tron or Blade Runner and deposited on the driveways of Barratt Homes.

As a Sierra driver tips the contents of his ashtray directly into the gutter, the close harmonies of the Flying Pickets drift from the vehicle’s interior. The band have been No.1 for almost five weeks with their own barbershop rendition of Yazoo’s “Only You”. As the door slams shut, the unmistakeable bump-bump-b-b-b-b-b-bump of New Order’s huge-selling 12” “Blue Monday” begins. Britain is the world’s laboratory of electronic music and with these new sounds, culture change is afoot. Drugs are increasingly a lifestyle choice, although for most, pints of Skol, Harp and Hofmeister suffice.

On the BBC weather forecast in the window of Radio Rentals, the reverend-like Ian McCaskill, with his magnetic strips, simple fluffy clouds and areas of low pressure, is mentioning the possibility of unusually thick fog affecting parts of Glasgow, Dumfries, Cumbria and south along the Irish Sea coast, possibly as far as the Fylde. “Driving conditions may be treacherous,” he warns, “so remember to buckle up in the front seat.”

“That’s enough for one session,” you are told. “Time to get back to the vehicle… What do you think – of this place?”

“I think I want to visit my mum and dad,” you admit.

“Ha – a lot say that.”


  1. Wooooaaaahh, that’s crap… That’s crap!

Brian Clough, the 48-year-old manager of Nottingham Forest, was driving his Y-reg Mercedes-Benz S Class southbound on the motorway between Glasgow and Carlisle. It was Friday the 13th, unlucky for some, but not for Clough, who, hours earlier on this finger-nipping January afternoon, had convinced the largely untried Celtic midfielder Jim McInally, on loan at Dundee, that a shift to the English First Division would benefit player, Nottingham Forest and Scottish football alike. The player made up his mind in less time than it would take Bob Holness to introduce the opponents on Blockbusters. Clough instantly rang the City Ground: “He’s ours for next season.”

Clough saw untapped potential in the Celtic reject, yet Ol’ Big ’Ead’s skill for scouting future stars was, by his own admission, not much cop. The true talent spotter had been Clough’s former assistant Peter Taylor, his right-hand man who’d brought the likes of John Robertson, Archie Gemmill and Kenny Burns to his attention. But Taylor was a rattlesnake. Taylor had retired, his nerves shot to pieces, and then, just as quickly, returned to the game to manage Derby County – Clough and Taylor’s beloved former club. Taylor had written a book, Taylor On Clough, about the highs and lows of their twinned careers. Clough never asked for the biography to be written nor would have given approval. Taylor would have been better off writing a manual on how to identify emerging talent. That was his true calling and it would have sold in bucketloads. Clough had heard nothing about Taylor On Clough until its publication, even though Taylor’s office had been along the corridor at Forest’s stadium.

As Clough hurtled towards the border, with the taste of hotel sparkling wine now acrid at the back of his throat, the winter clouds hung heavy as an eiderdown, a threatening grey mass stretching to England – England, the country that had rejected Clough’s services, the country that had brought in West Ham’s general manager Ron Greenwood, not the actual team manager, in 1977. The job should have been Clough’s. The country still wanted Clough as England manager. They loved him for his outspoken views and forthright opinions, and for how he played the game – attractively, to feet and on the floor. It wasn’t enough to win. Clough wanted the game played as performance art, as a visual feast. They were in the business of entertainment. But his genius was shared with Taylor, and his management style was already becoming a parody of itself. Clough’s was already a career in decline.

Clough fixed his eyes on the bumper of a brown Vauxhall Chevette hatchback, and visualised the pinnacle of his managerial years, when everything was going so right… Through swift-moving red and white shirts he saw Forest’s wing-wizard John Robertson finding space on the edge of the box when, just seconds before, there was no space to find. His foot lifted like the hammer of a rifle and seemed to hold for an eternity, before the marksman’s killer shot, directing the ball neatly and meticulously past the Hamburg SV keeper Rudolf Kargus. In the build up, every loose ball was fought for and every loose ball was won. Determination. Speed. Brutality. Ruthlessness. Accuracy. Madrid, 28 May 1980, the world watching the red of Nottingham Forest, of Brian Clough, of Peter Taylor, not the red of Liverpool or Bayern Munich. Memories emerging and drifting in banks of Border-country fog.

In the murk above Clough’s sleek Mercedes, a deep-grey, egg-carton mass of clouds gave an otherworldly violet monotone to the undulations of Dumfries and Galloway, an eeriness that you witnessed once a decade, like it was the end of the world. It was a relief to Clough when the sodium streetlights flickered into friendly life along the carriageway, strawberry-coloured illumination gradually warming to tangerine, stretching for miles towards, what seemed, a cloud curving to the ground and consuming the horizon. Clough plotted the course in his head: M6; A66; A1; then the M1 home to Derby. There’s so much bloody driving in football, so many bloody miles to cover. ETA… 10pm, at best. Tea in the dog. Clough could have murdered a drink. He wished that Taylor were with him.

The needle on the fuel display indicated that the tank was only an eighth full and with no knowledge of garages across the unwelcoming, bleak Pennines, the Forest manager pulled in at a Fina service station near Gretna, just to be safe. The air temperature was bitterly cold, biting, raw. It must have been close to freezing. Clough reached for his flat cap from the back seat of his car and placed it firmly on his head. The service station’s canopy offered little protection from the elements. While Clough pulled the trigger on the pump, he was recognised by a tall man with white hands the size of a yeti’s, who was filling up his Bedford CF van with derv.

“Now then, Mr Clough – business or pleasure?”

“Bit of both,” Clough cheerfully responded across the forecourt.

“Up here for a new player?” the van driver pushed.

“Eh, what team do you support?” Clough asked, ignoring the probing question.

“Liverpool. Funnily enough, I play for Gretna.”

“Northern League Division 1?”

“That’s right – do you know it?”

“I do, a lovely league that – Blyth Spartans will run away with it this season,” Clough predicted.

“Decent side,” the van driver admitted. “North Shields are scoring all the goals, though.”

Clough replaced the nozzle on the pump. A full tank.

“What position do you play?” Clough called over.


“He-he, that’s a good one!’ Clough chortled.

“I’m a goalie – a sub goalie.”

“Goalie’s most important position on the pitch!” Clough barked. “Eh, Nottingham Forest will buy your petrol – put your wallet away.”

“Blimey, thanks Mr Clough.”

“It’s Brian. And your name is?”

“Barry. Barry Gilfillan.”

“What do you do, Barry, when you’re not on the bench?”

“Fireplaces. Hearths. Grates. Fog’s coming in heavy, Brian – keep off the A66 if I were you. It’s icing up, as well,” Gilfillan warned.

“Thanks for that advice, young man,” Clough said, approaching Gilfillan with a finger raised. “But I’ll tell you what, it’s not as cold as Elland Road’s training ground. Coldest place in Europe, that. Now, listen to this: you work hard, listen to what the manager tells you and get off the bloody bench. Nobody ever won a thing sitting on their arse. Train, train, train – put in the extra hours. That’s how I managed to score 267 goals in 296 league appearances for Middlesbrough and Sunderland, that’s how my mate Geoff Boycott became one of the greatest batsman of his generation, that’s how Seb Coe is winning gold medals left, right and bloody centre, that’s how John Robertson scored in the European Cup Final. You never know – you might end up playing for me one day. Now give us a kiss.”

With a signature signed on Nottingham Forest-headed notepaper, a peck on the cheek and two lots of fuel paid for, Clough gathered speed once more, overtaking a fleet of Cumbria County Council gritters. On “Diddy” David Hamilton’s Radio 2 slot, Frank Sinatra crooned, “There may be trouble ahead.” Clough smiled and joined in at full volume. “But while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance – let’s face the music and dance…”


  1. Totally weird


Mark E Smith, the 26-year-old lead singer of alternative Manchester band The Fall, had just woken, having fallen to gentle, fluffy sleep shortly after leaving a low-end B&B in Giffnock, Glasgow. His driver Rob Carroll, a 6’2” scaffolder and part-time roadie from Bury, was acting suspiciously, his driving supremely exact, like a robot from the future – from the year 2000, perhaps.

“Where’re we?” Smith enquired in a low-frequency growl.

“Not England yet.”

“You alright?” Smith asked.

“Yeah… yeah, why?” Carroll replied, snapping out of his deep concentration.

“You know it’s dusk?” Smith pointed out.

“Is that a rhetorical question or a pleasant observation?” Carroll followed.

“Are we goin’ to talk usin’ questions ’til we reach home?”

“Are you annoyed with me?”

“Rob, you twat – you haven’t got your fuckin’ lights on.”

Rob flicked the light switch of his seven-year-old Vauxhall VX. “Happy now?”

Smith didn’t drive. There was too much to concentrate on, like you were rubbing your tummy, tapping your head and scratching your armpits all at the same time. He had enough on his plate keeping the band under control. He needed these opportunities to think and sleep, to recuperate. It hadn’t been a spectacular night. There had been an argument with a Scottish promotion duo following a gig in Ayr. For Nick Low and Graham Cochrane of Louden Furious Music, this was their first foray into promoting a tour and it proved a baptism of fire. Both had been physically threatened. The Fall’s van had broken down en route, so more money was demanded to pay for repairs. The rider was incorrect – there were 24 cans of pale ale, but Smith insisted that he’d ordered Red Stripe. Drummer Karl Burns, in a state of mobile agitation, punched a door off its hinges after catching Low and Cochrane tapping out rhythms on his drum kit. Drugs were demanded but none were supplied, resulting in Smith singing “It’s like trying to get a line from Nick and Graham” in one of the songs. A spotlight caught fire. There was a stage invasion. Low and Cochrane haemorrhaged money on the tour. The band’s van had to be left behind and was still being fixed in Ayr but luckily Rob The Roadie was located and miraculously appeared, having arrived from a fishing trip on the Spey.

Smith had recently married Brix Salenger, a glamorous blonde American musician and socialite who he’d met on The Fall’s 1983 tour of the US and Canada. Within a year of tying the knot, Brix Smith had been drafted into the group as guitarist and second vocalist. Her arrival coincided with a shift to a lighter, poppier sound and an all-round smarter look for the band. As a result, Mark E Smith on this foggy early afternoon was sporting a turquoise cable-knit jumper – a Christmas gift from his wife. Brix, meanwhile, had booked into a business hotel in central Glasgow to rest, having thrown up through the night due to mixing her many, many drinks. She expected either death or partial recovery by Saturday and would catch an electric British Rail West Coast train. Smith lost patience and bolted, having handing over a wodge of cash for taxi and plush room. Stopping over an extra night in a strange city was money wasted, and anyway, he needed to get back to Manchester to feed the cat.

“What’s this shite on the radio now?” Carroll ventured. “Hooray, hooray, it’s a holi-holiday? Bit cold for holiday songs, Janice Long, sister of Keith Chegwin – it’s freezin’ fog.”

“Eh, don’t knock Boney M,” Smith cut in. “You could learn a lot about timin’ from a group like that.”

Carroll didn’t push his argument – it was pointless with Smith. The highly opinionated singer had an answer for everything. It was like Smith had been given all the day’s questions the night before and had practised his responses in readiness. Smith performed underbites and overbites in timed rotation as the three minutes and 56 seconds of reggae-tinged Euro pop joyfully played out, before screeching, “Disco Fieber!”

Janice Long on Radio 1 seemed lost for words, as if she’d heard Smith’s enthusiastic squawking, but once the DJ had composed herself she led into an on-the-hour news bulletin. Gales, Ethiopia, Arthur Scargill… Voices drifted away in the din of six lanes of traffic.

“I don’t mind Scotland, it’s just a long way away, in’t it?” Carroll said.

“You haven’t got a fuckin’ clue about distances,” Smith said, screwing up his face and then changed tack. “I like the place, don’t get me wrong. And they can drink their whisky. Not like that lot in Prestwich, brawlin’ postmen goin’ through divorces.”

“It’s kind of in-keepin’ for The Fall, playin’ places like Ayr, don’t you think?” Carroll added. “Your sort of folk.

“I couldn’t stand the support.”

“What, the audience?” Carroll asked. “A bit raucous.”

Christ,” said Smith, annoyed that he had to explain himself, “I mean the support band, fuckin’ Del Amitri – that hippie, student dirge. What were the promoters thinkin’ of? It was like a personal dig, like they were takin’ the fuckin’ piss. It was fuckin’ planned. I’d rather have just had a church organist hold down the note of F for an hour. At least that builds atmosphere.”

As Carroll formulated a reply, the car strayed into the middle lane of the motorway and a booming horn sounded from a Ford Transcontinental freight lorry to the rear.

“Whoooa,” Smith squirmed – seatbelt not attached. “Juggernauts! Fuckin’ hell, our wheels are on the line – I can hear the bangin’ from the cat’s eyes. Shift over! Eh, have we still got that bottle of Bells?”

“Bells – we didn’t have one in first place,” Carroll replied, nervously straightening the car.

“Must’ve dreamt it – we should call off somewhere and get one,” Smith suggested. “And drink it.”

“S’pose so, but it’s gettin’ foggy Mark,” Carroll warned. “Anyway, I find this speed is doing the job.”

“Speed? What, 70mph?”

“No, speed. In my wallet.”

“Speed, as in the powdery powder? You’re driving on speed?”

“I often do – it passes the journey along top. As I say, Scotland’s a long way off. This brings the hours in. All the HGV drivers do it.”

“I thought you looked a bit red.”

“I overheat on it,” Carroll squirmed. “We’ll try and find an offie near Carlisle or someplace cos I might need a dandelion and burdock or cherryade. I’m not one for drinkin’ and drivin’. Maybe we should stay in Carlisle with this fog and have a night on the town, courtesy of The Fall! I’ve got a gram of this shit. I was gonna go to the Haçwhen we got back.”

“Not gonna happen – the band’s a business.”

“I’ll waive my long-distance taxi fee if you’ll pay for a B&B.”

“Fee? You’re not getting paid anyway – the payment’s in the thrill of drivin’ me about, an alternative-music god what writes lyrics that Jim Morrison could only have dreamt about.”

“You might be right,” Carroll mused. “Jim Morrison never sung about slags, lorry drivers and urgent calls to smile.”

“You’re not goin’ to crash, are you?” Smith asked. “Drivin’ on that shit.”

“Doubt it,” Rob said. “Never have done before. Do you want some?”

“No. I mean yes. I mean no. OK, yes. No… no, no. Maybe. I don’t know. Yes. Maybe later. After the whisky. Actually, I’d like Whyte & Mackay if we can get any. The Double Lion Brand. 40 per cent. Head for an offy in Carlisle. I’m not an alcoholic, though.”


  1. Fresh from the captain’s table

The white-walled, 18-room, outrageously-pricey-for-what-it-was Regency Hotel in Ambleside, Cumbria stood in stark contrast to the battleship-grey surface of Windermere. At almost eleven miles long and a mile wide, Windermere is Britain’s largest lake, although the usual spectacular views of sailing craft, pine woodland and Loughrigg Fell’s dry-stone walls were, on this forbidding Friday, totally obscured by dense low cloud. On craggy slopes and narrow lanes, visibility was restricted to mere feet, precarious conditions for navigation on land or water, but an ideal setting for a secret rendezvous. For sacked Yorkshire cricketer Geoff Boycott, a clandestine hook-up with key members of the Reform Group – a pro-Boycott association that had supported the former captain through years of wrangling with the Yorkshire cricket committee – had become a regular occurrence during a tumultuous career. Boycott wished the meeting had been staged closer to home. It had taken him three and a half hours to drive from Wakefield, and the fog had made the latter part of the journey a perilous endeavour. He’d hit a sheep on a hairpin bend. Not knowing if the beast had been mortally wounded, Boycott merely wound down his window and shouted, “Move out bloody road.”

The Reform Group was attempting to reinstate the 42-year-old Boycott, who’d been axed following Yorkshire’s disastrous 1983 campaign. For the first time in its history, Yorkshire had finished bottom of the championship and Boycott’s assumed “selfish batting” was seen as a contributing factor in the county’s embarrassing decline. Boycott had been reported by the cricket authorities for slow scoring against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in August and had also been accused by Ray Illingworth, the Yorkshire manager, of running out fellow batsman Kevin Sharp on purpose. Like Vesta curries, Boycott was adored and loathed in equal measure.

In the wood-panelled, Artexed faux luxury of the Regency’s bar, Boycott warmed his calloused, muscly hands by a glowing coal fire, the welcoming aroma of the smoke transporting his tense mind to childhood streets in Fitzwilliam, West Riding – the sight of cottages belching yellow clouds from stubby chimneys along Wakefield Road and Railway Terrace, of The Plaza cinema, to see John Wayne, of the screaming express hurtling through the station at 9.30pm in the week, of safety and community. Those glorious, uncomplicated times, when his dear parents were still alive, before his dad’s accident at the pit, the broken back, the smashed pelvis, the damaged legs and the internal injuries, the start of humanity’s decline.

The bar was quiet. Apart from Boycott and three aged members of the Reform Group, there was a French family in the corner comprising two adults and two children, speaking in hushed tones. The De Homem-Christo family was from the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. The parents were in advertising, and had met Geoffrey Thompson, the owner of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, about a possible contract to spread the great name of Blackpool on the continent. Despite the De Homem-Christo’s above-average grasp of spoken English, they could barely understand a word uttered by the agitated Yorkshiremen in their midst.

In a week’s time, the club’s membership would hold a special meeting in Harrogate to vote whether Boycott’s sacking should be overturned and the player awarded a year’s contract.

“It’s usual crap, and I’ve faced these sorts of accusations time and time again from Committee down years,” Boycott ranted. “All of it’s untrue as well! You can’t trust a word Illo says. He parps up with one thing, then does exact opposite – ’e says ’e bears no grudges then goes on rampage, sayin’ stupid damned things like, ‘Boycott always gets applause, while I get attacked.’ He’s captain for pity’s sake! He gets attacked cos we’re doin’ so badly. Illo’s plain jealous of my popularity. It’s like illness wi’ ’im.”

The three Reform Group members, sipping half pints of bitter, listened quietly to Boycott and nodded with wise understanding.

“This is supposed to be my benefit year,” Boycott added. “I just want one more season of first-class crickeet, my testimonial year, then I’ll retire. I don’t ’ave to be captain – I should’ve given that up years back, all the damned trouble it’s caused me. I can play for Bairstow and I can get fully behind ’im.”

“Bairstow reckons players’ll want to leave if you’re given a new contract,” replied one of the members. “Bill Athey’s moving to Gloucestershire and it’s understood it’s because of your…”

“It’s not cos of me!” Boycott interrupted. “He’s told me that ’imself! Go and ask ’im! It’s cos side’s rubbish – there are too many medium players bein’ taken on and not enough genuine talent comin’ through. That has to be a systemic problem! All I ’ear about is my slow scorin’ but to make runs you can’t be bangin’ balls on every delivery. If it’s a choice between undrid at Lords and Raquel Welch, I’ll take undrid every time!”

“Fred Trueman’s stickin’ his oar in, and people listen to Fred when he’s talking,” said the second member.

“If you’re reinstated,” said the third member, tucking into a bag of newly available dry roasted nuts, “I’ve ’eard that Fred’s planning on ’osting a meetin’ in Scarborough so he can discredit you.”

“Fred’s waged war on me for a long while now,” Boycott stormed. “He’s convinced ’imself that I’m personally responsible for all that’s wrong with Yorkshire crickeeet. He can’t stand fact that adulation he once ’ad, I now ’ave. It’s simple as that. His newspaper articles are engineered anti-Boycott ramblings, but ’is after-dinner speeches take things to legal limit.”

“Fred’ll be muzzled soon enough,” said the first member. “The Craven lot have had enough of him. I wouldn’t be surprised if they vote him out.”

“I’d paint my bottom blue if I ’ad Fred off my back,” Boycott voiced. “I’m not as young as I used to be, but I’ve experience to play on poor pitches that others at club just don’t have. Who’d replace Fred, anyhow?”


“As I say, I just want my testimonial year and we’ll go from there,” said Boycott. “There just needs to be a bit of solidarity and that’ll bring an end to dark days of crickeeet in Yorkshire. Reputation of Yorkshire ’as almost been destroyed. It’s time to start rebuildin’.”

“You’re right there, Geoff,” said the first member. “Another thing… Haggas has been saying, quietly mind, that younger players have no respect for you, and that you’re regarded as a bit of a joke figure.”

“Haggas?” shouted Boycott, jumping to his feet. “Haggas? Haggas is just plain daft. An idiot. He’s stupid – a punk. Haggas is a daft punk. A daft punk, I’m tellin’ you. Daft punk!”

In the corner, the eight-year-old Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo listened to Boycott with growing delight and repeated the phrase quietly to himself in a cod-Yorkshire accent: “Dafft poonk, dafft poonk.” Upon his return to Paris, he would refer to his friends as ‘daft punks’ amid much sniggering while they listened to middle-of-the-road, American-pap driving music on the radio.

Boycott ambled to the window and realised that the fog had become so thick that he’d have trouble locating his Ford Granada in the hotel car park, never mind find his way back to West Yorkshire. “Let’s get on wi’ this quickly and sort out a loose plan of what we want to achieve, cos I can’t be up ’ere all night,” he ordered. “I’ve got to be in Leeds at nine sharp tomorrow for a dental check-up.” To further enhance his point, Boycott showed his teeth, but all this seemed to do was accentuate his lower-case-“b” at 90 degrees smile.


  1. Guten tag, pet

Let’s float along this world-famous cobbled street with its bay-windowed terrace houses, arching marmalade cats and concerned, creased faces. Now take a sharp 90-degree turn across swept flagstones that have bore witness to out-of-control HGVs, cardiac arrests and broken bones. Push through forest-green double doors and enter an arena of brown, brown, brown. Brown wooden seats, brown wooden tables, brown bar, brown floorboards and brown-pattern wallpaper featuring various pale and dark brown blocky shapes and hoops. Colours of Lancashire hotpot. This is the interior of Coronation Street’s Rovers Return, adjacent to the main studio building in the backlot of Manchester’s Granada compound.

The Rovers wasn’t in use on this particular Friday afternoon, momentarily spared the sideways glances of Barlow, Baldwin and Ogden, while quiet-working electricians tampered with wires and connections. Along the horseshoe-shaped bar that served (left to right) lager, mild, Guinness and bitter, huddled an array of highly familiar, non-Corry faces, making use of the Rovers’ set as a quirky meeting point.

The gathered performers were a rogue’s gallery of light entertainment, faces animated by jocularity, reminiscing of wild, backstage intrigue, some of it of a homosexual nature, from the wartime up to the 1984 present. Grinning and cracking one-liners in a mechanised manner was Kenny Lynch, a black comedian/singer who was solidly subservient to the Seventies format of gag and giggle. Leading the banter, he was bright-eyed, lively and whip-crack sharp. Well-honed jokes, some of a blue nature, spewed like hot geysers from his comedy core. To his side was Burt Kwouk, known to millions as Cato Fong from Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films. Kwouk was smiling and occasionally flicking back his black fringe, in familiar territory here, having been born not in the Orient but Granadaland’s Warrington. He growled replies, like his throat was coated with coarse gravel. Across from Kwouk perched mauve-haired Mollie Sugden, grandma to a nation, a polished, ruby-encrusted female Clive Dunn, whooping with disbelief and scoffing at Lynch’s tall tales of hanging out with The Beatles. In Sugden’s shadow, typecast nervous ninny Nerys Hughes of Liver Birds fame nodded absently while rummaging through her handbag, looking for tissues, mirror and sweets, her high-pitched proto-WAG accent transmitting on a higher frequency than her acting colleagues.

Resting quietly at the head of the table, thoroughly enjoying the raillery provided by this staggeringly disparate mob, presided the unlikely ringleader Ralph McTell, a folk singer who had found major success in 1974 with his tramp’s canticle “Streets Of London”. His downbeat composition, a favourite among schoolteachers with hippie tendencies, had reached No.2, making McTell a household name. McTell had hand-chosen this rabble for his children’s TV programme Tickle On The Tum, which had been filmed in the Granada studios throughout the week. McTell had the body of the Incredible Hulk, with arms as forceful as a JCB digger and a powerful-set jaw attached to a head of pure, prime beef. If he were painted silver, he’d make an effectively frightening sci-fi robot with crunching iron mandibles.

Directly opposite McTell sat 31-year-old Newcastle upon Tyne actor Tim Healy, dressed in a navy V-neck jumper, checked shirt, well-worn jeans and seen-better-days biker boots. He was listening intently to these seasoned professionals with a controlled half-smile. Healy was already a recognisable figure on Britain’s streets, a rising star due to his appearances as Dennis Patterson on the hugely popular Central production Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Episode four of the first series was airing that night on ITV at 9pm, following the pedestrian comedy A Fine Romance. To children across Britain, Healy would shortly introduce himself as Barney Bodger, an odd-job man on Tickle On The Tum who, though amiable enough, was a home-improvement disaster zone. In Bodger character, Healy, a former stand-up comedian, made McTell cry with laughter. That morning in filming, scenes involving Healy and McTell had taken up to ten takes; even Granada’s camera operators had trouble remaining focused.

Beneath the Rovers Returns’ wall-mounted decorative brass plates that spoke of agriculture and Victorian manual labour, Healy’s mind rested on more pressing matters – snooker. He wanted to be by the hearth in Newcastle for 10.30pm so he could tune in to see Kirk Stevens and Tony Meo in the Quarter-Final of the Lada Classic, right after the News At Ten. With his white suits and shirts, Stevens’ disco styling was alarmingly similar to John Travolta’s Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, but Stevens was a charlatan in the company of snooker’s true pros – the likes of Ray Reardon, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths and the game’s new Pele, Steve Davis. Healy adored snooker and played the game at every possible opportunity. His biggest break was 27. Two years previously in the Lada Classic, Davis had given the world its first televised maximum break in a Quarter-Final in Oldham against John Spencer. Healy had watched, transfixed. He occasionally daydreamed of calmly potting ball after ball and claiming his own 147, but then again, he would also play out Newcastle United games in his head. Keegan!

“Hey, mate, I saw you in that football film last week,” Lynch shouted across to Healy. “That World Cup one. I always thought it was countries in the World Cup, but this was normal football clubs, ain’t that right?”

“It wasn’t the World Cup like y’knaa today,” Healy corrected. “It was before the FIFA World Cup – it was the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, held in Italy for two years, before the First World War. So you liked the film then?”

“Sports films don’t usually interest me,” Lynch admitted, “cos they’re crap, but there was a good story to that and a good cast.”

“What was that, then?” McTell cut in. “Tim, I didn’t know you’d done films.”

“Oh aye,” Healy nodded. “Canny line-up we had an’ all. It wasn’t a Hollywood production. Nothing like that. It was a TV film, for Tyne Tees.” The table hushed and Healy found himself with a captive audience. Raising an eyebrow in mock exasperation, he began his monologue. “Y’knaa the story, do you – aboot West Auckland Town Football Club?”

Lynch, McTell, Hughes, Sugden and Kwouk all shook their head.

“In 1909, Sir Thomas Lipton – the tea fella – had the idea of a football world cup. This was years before the actual, real thing that started in 1930 in Uruguay. The Lipton’s Trophy was staged in Turin. Everyone took it seriously in Europe, except, of course, the English FA. So you had Juventus and Torino from Italy, Zurich from Switzerland, but the English sent an amateur side, West Auckland Town, from Durham way. They were basically a team of coalminers, but somehow they managed to win the World Cup not once, but twice, in 1909 and 1911. The last game, in the 1911 Final, they trounced Juventus 6-1.”

“I can’t understand a word he says,” Sugden muttered to her former Liver Birds co-star Hughes.

“He sounds Indian to me,” Hughes quietly responded.

“All this is incredible stuff,” McTell spoke, “an English amateur team winning the World Cup twice before the First World War. Why had I never heard about this?”

“It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” Healy accepted. “A lost piece of our sporting heritage.  So I was asked if I wanted to be in a film aboot it, A Captain’s Tale, and I could barely believe my luck. It was just a matter of the accent fitting in, I think.”

“The funny thing is,” Lynch remarked, “is that it’s got Dennis Waterman in it, a cockney geezer playing a Geordie, ain’t that right, Tim?”

“Aye, that’s right,” Healy replied, squinting, like he does on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. “Dennis Waterman, he financed it – it cost around £1.5m. Then you had Richie Griffiths, Rod Culbertson, Phil Croskin, Jeremy Bulloch. I’ll do the whole team for you in a minute. So this was my first big part. I’d been working for ten years, doing little bits, Coronation Street, Emmerdale Farm, all them, Crown Court, Play For Today, all the things that actors do.”

“So you’ve been here before?” Hughes asked, eyes wide with childlike interest. “On the Street?”

“I ’ave, pet, aye,” Healy responded. “I was a bingo caller, well, a checker, a bingo checker. In Emmerdale Farm, I was a village idiot. In Crown Court, I was a mate on a fishing ship and I was a fish filleter on Play For Today, written by Tom Hadaway, a Geordie writer – one of my favourite writers, actually. He wrote a few episodes of When The Boat Comes In.”

“But the thing is,” Lynch told the table, “is that this team, Auckland…”

“West Auckland,” Healy corrected.

“West Auckland,” Lynch continued, “is that they win the cup outright, cos they win it twice, and take it back up north, and then it gets nicked!”

“Which is tragic,” Healy said. “They never found it. I think it was swiped in the Sixties and they would have melted it doon. For a little town like that, it was tragic. Their whole claim to fame was to win this cup. And it was worth much, much more than money, y’knaa. They were heartbroken. But now they’ve put a replica in there. Dennis Waterman presented them with the replica and they put it in this casket, after the film. I couldn’t get there because I was abroad. But they’ve got a replica in there now, but it’s not quite the same. True that, yeah.”

“Fantastic story,” McTell grinned with pride, then, having taken a sip of tea, glanced down at his notes on the table. “Now, Tim and Nerys, you’re both done – there’s just a few scenes left to shoot with me, Kenny, Burt and Mollie, so maybe you should get on your way before this fog closes in.”

“Right you are,” Healy said. “I’ll make the snooker easily, then.”

“Are you heading back to Newcastle?” Hughes enquired. “Cos I want to try and see The Smiths tonight.”

“The who?” replied Healy.

“No, The Smiths,” Hughes said. “With Morrissey. I like their sound.”

“Is that the miserable lot?” enquired Lynch. “With the quiffs?”

“Well, I don’t find them miserable,” Hughes defended. “I think they’re quite sensitive and tuneful.”

“Are they playing tonight?” McTell asked.

“Well, the thing is, I don’t know,” Hughes admitted, “but this is Manchester and it’s Friday night… I just expected they’d be playing somewhere, on the underground scene, in a small bar somewhere.”

“You’re a bit old for all that, aren’t you?” Mollie Sugden questioned. “Underground scenes and gallivanting around.”

“Too old?” Hughes gasped. “You might have been my mother in The Liver Birds, but you’re not in real life!”

For a few moments, Sugden’s face looked like it was being pulled in three directions, then her mouth gaped open with outrage and she looked away.

At precisely that moment, young Coronation Street actors Nigel Pivaro and Kevin Kennedy – Terry Duckworth and Curly Watts respectively – slammed through the Rovers’ doors, closely followed by the smouldering Pat Phoenix, AKA Elsie Tanner, who had a crooked reefer hanging out of her stiffened mouth. “What are you fucking looking at?” Phoenix threw at the seated ensemble. “You nosey sods.”

Sugden tutted loudly and tightened her lips further in Mrs Slocombe-like disgust.

Ignoring Elsie Tanner’s demented cawing, Nerys Hughes called across to Pivaro and Kennedy to test their intimate knowledge of Manchester nightlife. “Excuse me, Curly, Terry, could you tell me if The Smiths are playing locally tonight?”

Nigel Pivaro winked like a mischievous window cleaner at Kevin Kennedy and the pair, with humorous eyes, approached the table. In the background, at the bar, Pat Phoenix asked for a glass of champagne. An electrician removed a screwdriver from his mouth and reminded Phoenix that she wasn’t in a real pub. Phoenix shrugged and turned away from the electrician in dramatic fashion: “So I’m not.”

“Eh,” Pivaro said to Kennedy with a treacly Manc twang, “eh, eh, eh, Kev mate, aren’t you in The Smiths, eh? Aren’t you… in… The Smiths?”

Kennedy glared back through circular spectacles: “Funny.”

“He’s not in The Smiths,” Hughes coquettishly smiled. “You don’t get in bands looking like Curly.”

Kennedy froze.

The truth was, Kennedy had practically been in The Smiths, having lined up in a group called The Paris Valentinos alongside Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke in the late Seventies. Kennedy had been the front man, the focal point – the singer.

“You’re right,” said Kennedy with a neutral visage. “Somebody like me would never be in a band.”

Pivaro, recognising Healy, tapped him on the back. “Eh, mate, I like Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. It’s keeping me in on Friday nights, so it’s got something going for it. Saving me a fortune.”

“Thanks for that,” Healy smiled. “That sounds like a compliment.”

“So are they playing, The Smiths?” Hughes pressed.

“Erm, no,” Kennedy said with finality. “There aren’t any Smiths gigs till the end of the month. But if you like music, and you’re partial to a bit of New Order or Joy Division, then A Certain Ratio are playing at the Haçienda tonight, and I can possibly, possibly, sort out tickets if that’s what you’re after.”

“What do they look like?” Hughes queried.

“Nazis,” Kennedy responded.

Sugden tutted.

Healy raised his hand to catch the attention of McTell: “I’ll be off, pal” he winked. “Giz a ring if you need me for anything.”

Healy picked up his motorcycle crash helmet and rucksack that were resting by his feet and, by the bar, stepped into his leathers. While retrieving his bike keys from the rucksack’s front pocket, Pivaro stealthily approached and, with a conspiratorial shrug, passed a note into Healy’s hand.

“I’m not planning on supping pints in the Rovers for ever,” Pivaro whispered. I’m available, even for small roles. That German programme’ll do for me.”

“Got you,” Healy winked, and buried the slip of paper into his jeans pocket. “I’ll pass on the message. As far as I’m aware, nothing’s been mentioned of a second series.”

“I don’t just play untrustworthy Mancs,” Pivaro affirmed.

Kennedy, spotting the moment, quickly approached and placed a hand on Pivaro’s shoulder: “You wouldn’t think it, but Piv is RADA trained. He’s great with big words – he can even spell ‘soliloquy’ without checking a dictionary.”

“Thanks, mate,” Pivaro replied with a frozen smile.

As Healy left the chaotic scene, a seated Pat Phoenix at the bar eyed Healy’s movements with deep suspicion. “I’m not on drugs,” she growled loudly in his direction, “if that’s what you’re thinking. Eh, I’m speaking to you! Where you bloody off to? Ringing the police or something? Don’t you walk away from me! Eh! Eh!”

Healy span round with bulging eyes and furious mouth, “I’m off home to Newcastle to watch the snooker, if IT’S ORKEE WITH YOU, PET!”


  1. Lawrence of Cumbria

Peter O’Toole, the redoubtable 51-year-old actor and notable hellraiser, was entering one of the more unsettled periods of his life, an incredible statement given that O’Toole had all but given up drinking. Now restricted to the occasional glass of red wine, half a lager or vodka – the latter the result of a dreary visit to Moscow in 1980, where there was little else to sip – O’Toole remained a largely unreadable document even when sober. For precisely this reason, O’Toole was single again. His glamorous, blonde girlfriend of three years, former model Karen Brown, 15 years his junior, had returned to her native New York with their ten-month-old son Lorcan. Brown could take no more of O’Toole’s random behaviour. O’Toole was a die-hard daredevil. He would think nothing of scaling a wall or shimmying a drainpipe to gain entry to a fourth-storey property. What was once exciting and delirious had become a deep concern. What if he slipped? As the relationship developed, stability was sought, but little was forthcoming. There was no rational conduct. A woman’s devotion bounced off an invisible protective shield. You didn’t even know what you were trying to love. Who was Peter O’Toole? What resided beyond the legend and that staggering acting ability? With O’Toole, you simply had to accept him for what he was – whatever that was. O’Toole wasn’t wired the same way as most people, although after Brown had fled he told a friend that if any woman were to show interest in him, they should be led to safety.

Brown’s departing was difficult to digest, but O’Toole was mortified to have lost Lorcan. For decades, O’Toole had longed for a son and when he’d finally been presented with one, he liked what he saw. Every thought was now taken up with that sweet child so many miles away. The uncertainty of regular interaction was a torture, tearing O’Toole’s soul to shreds like Geoff Capes pulling apart a Yellow Pages. Not a year old, Lorcan would surely forget his father’s Columbia-blue eyes, ashen hue and affectionate glances. He would, perhaps, become the son of another man, a Sylvester Stallone-like meatpacker from the Bronx with a voice reminiscent of a walrus gearing up for battle prior to leathery courtship.

In the past, O’Toole would have strode to the nearest free house and pointed to a refreshingly expensive tincture, but sidestepping life’s harsh realities with Highland-strength waters was no longer an option. In 1975, following a decades-spanning stomach complaint, O’Toole had almost gone for a Burton, only to be saved by an immediate operation where yards of intestines had been removed. Doctors warned that drinking in the future would lead to swift death and for the first time since his teens, O’Toole faced the possibility of life sober. He had loved whisky, adored its warmth and its radiating bonhomie. And he missed the camaraderie of heavy sessions, of crackling conversation with complete strangers, those glorious lost hours. Whisky was the “sovereign remedy”. O’Toole allowed himself a smile as he remembered the night that he drained a full bottle of single-malt Laphroaig in one breathless swig, as his fellow RADA-trained friend Roy Kinnear gasped in disbelief. Oh, those were the days.

O’Toole was behind the wheel of a car, a rare event in the Eighties. The reason for this was simple: O’Toole was as wild a driver as he had been a drinking companion. His early existence could be told through a series of car smashes. Road accidents and booze were often fellow conspirators and it was somewhat disturbing that O’Toole could only recall such life-threatening circumstances when reminded at a later date, to which O’Toole would purr, “Oh yes…”. Even sober, O’Toole was a Buckaroo motorist, tackling bends and inclines like a Spitfire pilot facing a finger-four formation of Luftwaffe fighters over the English Channel.

How O’Toole avoided a custodial sentence for his erratic driving was a mystery. Occasionally, in the Fifties and early Sixties, he’d deliberately shunt police cars, spurred on by some past police wrongdoing he’d witnessed, but would receive little more than a ticking off. They were different times, of course, different people. O’Toole owned an Irish driving licence, but had never actually sat a test. The slip of paper had been bought for 30 shillings from a third party in a pub, but in reality the licence was barely used. O’Toole employed a chauffeur, but today, Friday, 13th January 1984, John Kenny – also O’Toole’s bodyguard and general dogsbody – had taken a two-week break to spend time with an ill relative in Galway.

On a whim, as the moment had taken him, O’Toole had flown to Ireland to discuss with Kenny the possibility of them both kidnapping the actor’s son, Lorcan, from New York. Quite rightly Kenny believed the plot was a cordon-bleu recipe for utter disaster, and gave a stern warning of prison stays, slippery soap in showers and Genial Groutys, yet O’Toole was convinced the idea was sound and began planning a military-like strike involving yachts, Caribbean-island hideaways and secret plane flights back to the Emerald Isle. Timing was of the essence – O’Toole would return to London, promptly, to prepare the heist. O’Toole knew people who knew people – the devil was in the detail, and all this was quite, quite possible. In the chaotic existence of the Lawrence Of Arabia star, drama and comedy were the norm. He gave himself a fortnight to complete the dastardly deed. He’d then go to ground, like the nameless protagonist in Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male – a Hitler-hunting story greatly admired by O’Toole – and remain out of sight of Lily Law, possibly in West Connacht at the furthest reaches of Europe. With a bit of luck, he’d miss the premiere of his latest big-screen debacle, Supergirl.

He was driven to Dublin Airport by Kenny, but all flights were grounded until further notice: fog. The concourse was a confused mass of scowls and bejesuses. O’Toole’s timetable had been bowled a googly, but an information desk offered alternative routes. Ferries from Dublin were fully booked, but if sir would like to hotfoot it to Belfast, there was a swift crossing to Stranraer at midday. With his 30-shilling licence and a great deal of platinum chat, O’Toole was able to hire a burnt-orange, three-litre Ford Capri S, and with much haste, after some unsightly bunny hops out of the rental yard, steered the long bonnet towards the N1 dual carriageway on the northern outskirts of the city. Ulster, here we come.

On board the ferry, O’Toole awkwardly positioned the Capri amid dreary, smeared Transit vans and removals lorries and switched the engine off. Already, there was an ugly gash along the Capri’s door and the “S” decal by the rear wheel arch had been given a scrape – it must have been the traffic barrier he’d clipped. O’Toole allowed himself a grin and a bronchial chuckle. Up on deck, powerful foghorns sounded out their low-frequency belching, while return calls blasted back across the Belfast Lough. The fog! O’Toole marvelled. The thick, thick fog!What an adventure this was becoming! Better still, the chance to kill two birds with one stone had suddenly appeared. Getting behind the wheel for the first time in ten years and riding the Irish Sea’s chop, O’Toole would, by mid-afternoon, find himself in northern parts of the mainland, offering the thesp a tantalising chance to research a location that had been causing him grave concern for some time. An Adolf Hitler obsessive, O’Toole fanatically loathed “that mincing dude from Linz”, a hatred with roots in the cinemas of wartime Leeds, where O’Toole had once lived. The vision of Hitler, that spluttering, exploding, contorted, wide-eyed lunatic had been, for young Peter, the pure vision of evil – for he planned to invade your England of Robin Hood, King Arthur and William Shakespeare and lead your mummy and daddy to slavery, starvation and death by bullet.

O’Toole had discovered that Hitler, the bookie’s favourite to conquer Britain in 1940 with his brazen blitzkriegs, had earmarked potential countryside hideaways for personal use, an eagle’s nest, wolf’s lair – shitehawk’s crag – or some other ferocious-sounding sett that confirmed the exultant one’s standing at the top of the foodchain. Shropshire had been studied through black-and-white photographs, postcards and reconnaissance images and given “potential” status. But the Führer, recalled O’Toole, fancied the crystal sniff of Cumbria. The border setting was well out of the way of the smoky extermination camps that would have sprung up in Lincolnshire and Lancashire. The iron dream, spearheaded by barking-mad Colonel Professor Dr Franz Six,would have seen murderous Einsatzkommandos round up 300,000 British Jews and countless other freemasons, academics and entertainers, and crammed their trembling bodies into the chambers. While all manner of indecency was taking place, Hitler would have walked his German shepherd dogs – what else? – to urinate on the stones of Hadrian’s Wall. But there was something more sinister to this castellated Cumbrian pile that had piqued Alf’s interest. It was noted in secret SS documents that Hangingbrow Hall was haunted, a depot of demented memories with its own doorway to the underworld. Not a safe house like Windsor Castle or Chatsworth to salivate over green views and lawnmowers, no. Hangingbrow was a melting pot of evil and wickedness, a woodland-sheltered hollow of secrets, nightmares and, it was said, raging phantoms. Much must surely have been based on hearsay, the obscure ramblings of a tortured crackpot spy of Reivers stock, but ever the occultist, Hangingbrow Hall sounded right up Hitler’s Straße. O’Toole would make a cold call and see these spooks for himself.

At Stranraer, in thick, swirling mists, O’Toole scraped past a Morris Marina on the quayside and a melee ensued. After paying off an irate Scotsman with five crisp £20 notes, O’Toole picked up the A75 eastwards, within earshot of harbour gulls, and let the V6 Capri off the lead. It was a fine thing to floor a three-litre sports car when the visibility was down to 20 feet.


  1. Factory settings

Tony Wilson, the philosophy-reciting 33-year-old co-founder of Manchester’s Factory Records and, by association, part-owner of the city’s New York-style Haçienda nightclub, was stranded on the B2599 Dalston Road somewhere to the south of Carlisle. The small apron of concrete where the car had ground to a halt appeared to be a turn-in to a muddy field for a farmer’s tractor. Wilson’s hearse-sized Peugeot 505 Estate, bonnet raised, had its hazard warning lights flashing in metronomic fashion, blink, blink, blink, blink, while Wilson, in a black, knee-length raincoat and khaki combat trousers, tightened a wide maroon scarf around his neck.

He began traipsing from the direction he had travelled from, facing the traffic – not that anything was using the road – to locate a telephone box, farmhouse, pub or any other sign of life or communication. Had Wilson noticed a village a few miles back? And had the village been two miles away or 15 miles? He had no exact recollection of a settlement. Wilson’s gamble on bypassing central Carlisle was now backfiring in riotous fashion. In stupendously dense fog, and with no carriageway lighting, the eerie glow of the golden indicators quickly vanished, leaving Wilson walking along an uneven, muddy grass verge in eerie stillness. Only by testing the ground surface using the soles of his white Nike Air Force 1 basketball high-tops was the Granada newsreader, occasional presenter of World In Action and music-industry megamouth able to differentiate between earth and tarmac.

This is what it’s like to be blind, Wilson opined inwardly, although Stevie Wonder never found himself lost in fucking Cumbria. He muttered the opening lyrics to “Superstition” but abruptly stopped. He needed all his concentration to stay upright in the slippery mud. His NYC-purchased “sneakers” were giving precious little grip, but then again, this was a universe away from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Battery Park and Broadway. God, it’s cold, Wilson scowled.

Wilson was unaware that his 505 was suffering from a dead fuel-tank pump. It was a job for a garage mechanic, not a charismatic entrepreneur with a penchant for John Keats and Boethius. As Wilson contemplated his predicament, he recalled that the car’s performance had been deteriorating through the week as he’d rushed across northern counties in preparation for the arrival of Channel 4’s television cameras at the Haç. In just two weeks’ time, the youth-oriented music show The Tube would set up shop in Wilson’s nightclub and his record-label acts would be beamed to every living room in the country, should they happen to be watching Channel 4 on a Friday night.

Earlier in the day, Wilson had met with Tube director Gavin Taylor in the Egypt Cottage pub, adjoining the Tyne Tees studios on Newcastle’s City Road. Wilson had just secured the performance of young New York performer Madonna for the Haçienda show, assisted in the main by Manchester DJ Mike Pickering, by way of New York DJ Mark Kamins, who just happened to be Madonna’s beau. Madonna’s infectious dance number “Holiday” was finding chart success on both sides of the Atlantic, but she remained a minnow compared to gritty, child-voiced performer Cyndi Lauper and the ambitious chip-shop comic-romantic Tracey Ullman. Wilson thought Madonna was a major coup; Taylor wasn’t convinced – British audiences would be lukewarm to a relatively unknown, upbeat, electro-influenced chick with heavy eyebrows, Jim’ll Fix It jewellery and New York attitood.

It wasn’t very Newcastle, wasn’t very Tube, “and ‘Lucky Star’ is as sugary as ‘My Boy Lollipop’,” Taylor insisted.

“Listen, darling” Wilson cajoled, “don’t downplay the importance of Millie Small to a British audience. Without her, we wouldn’t have reggae. Rod Stewart played sax on that track.”

“He didn’t,” Taylor shook his head, smiling. “It’s an urban myth. He told me so himself. Ah, you’re pulling my leg, Tony.”

“Listen, we end nights at the Haçienda with Lulu, and it goes down a fucking storm, so I’m thinking that Madonna could well be the Lulu for the Eighties. You can’t knock Lulu; her northern soul credentials give her immunity from criticism. And there’s synergy Gavin, synergy. Manchester borrows from New York to create the Haçienda, and we borrow something from New York – Madonna – for the Factory edition of The Tube. We pay homage and we give thanks. We’re twinned cities from a cultural perspective. Believe me Gavin, it works, it fucking works.”

“Tony, white boys with guitars is a winning formula, a formula that can’t be beaten in this country. Ever heard of The Smiths? They’re going to be as big as Pink Floyd.”

“They’re not and we’ve moved on, believe me – white people want to dance, they want to take drugs, they want to hang out in clubs with a lot of neon. ‘Blue Monday’ has proved that, and right now, apart from Manchester, New York is the centre of dance music,” Wilson argued.

“Manchester is not the centre of dance music in Britain, Tony!” Taylor scoffed.

“Joy Division/New Order have emerged as the greatest writers of dance music since fucking Chic,” Wilson stated. “Try and keep up.”

“They’ve made one decent dance track, Tony – ‘Blue Monday’,” Taylor pointed out. “A great record, but hardly the stuff of legend. It won’t go down as a classic in the way that ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ has done or ‘She’s Lost Control’.”

“I disagree wholeheartedly,” Wilson said. “Hey, don’t forget ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Temptation’ – Ian Curtis would have been totally proud of these records. ‘Temptation’ is actually superior to ‘Blue Monday’. They’re working on a new track called ‘My Cock’s As Big As The M1’, a working title, which may well prove the next logical step for dance music.”

“Manchester’s some way to go before it can crown itself ‘UK Centre of Dance Music’, though, Tony.”

“I’ll tell you something,” Wilson half-smiled, “it’s not fucking Newcastle. Half the kids in town look like they’re on their way to see the Bay City Rollers.”

Taylor laughed. “OK, let’s showcase New York’s Lulu on The Tube,” he conceded. “It’ll give viewers the chance to put the Horlicks on. All is fine as long as we get New Order, cos that’s who everyone wants to see right now.”

“Barney’s being a prime pain in the ass,” Wilson admitted, “but he’ll do it, eventually. He likes playing mind games – with me, with Hooky, with Gretton, with Manchester, with Salford. His head’s just getting… rather large right now. I’d like the Factory All-Stars to perform.”

“I like the sound of that,” Taylor nodded.

“OK, I’ll see what I can do,” Wilson said. “Gavin, I must dash – I’ve got to pick up some artwork from Saville, who’s holed himself up in a hard-to-get-to coastal village on the other side of fucking Carlisle. He’s redesigning the Factory logo – big stuff for us. Why he can’t do this in an office in Manchester or London is completely beyond me.”

“Whereabouts on the coast?” Taylor asked.

“Silloth. Solway Firth. A port. Used to have a railway, hasn’t now. Look it up on a map.”

Wilson continued his sightless, black-out yomp, eyes squinting, waiting for familiar shapes to reveal themselves from the impenetrable murk, wishing for a pavement, wishing he was in a city, wishing he was anywhere except a B-road in Cumbria. But hang on, what’s that noise? In the gloom, there appeared a dull-yellow ball that rapidly grew until the fog was suddenly illuminated like a will-o’-the-wisp. It was a car, its engine at high revs as corners were tackled in first and second gear. Wilson began flapping his hands, hoping to be spotted. The car whined closer, screeched, lurched to the opposite side of the carriageway, swerved sharply back to its lane, before grinding to a stop, already out of sight. Wilson trotted towards the passenger window and peered through the glass. The window was wound a third of the way.

“I’ve broken down,” Wilson explained through the aperture. “My car’s dead – won’t start, won’t do anything… I’ll just leave it along the road for now, until I can find a phone…”

Inside the car, a man in his late-fifties, with nervous eyes staring from beneath a woollen flat cap, seemed to take so little notice of the conversation that Wilson tailed off… “Are you taking any notice of this?” Wilson enquired.

“You frightened the life out of me,” the man breathlessly responded. “I didn’t see no car.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” Wilson explained. “It’s half a mile further along. In fact it’s a good job I waved you down – you might have hit it.”

“Where do I know you from?” the man panted. “Thursby?”

“If there’s a television in Thursby, then possibly – I can explain on the drive.”

“It’s to be a wild night,” the man replied, nervously glancing forward through his windscreen. “It’s the fog, always when there’s fog.”

“Well, if you could take me to the nearest village,” Wilson grimaced. “There’s surely one round here somewhere. Maybe Thursby, where the television is. Failing that, an A-road would do, somewhere with lamp-posts and pavements. I need to contact Silloth.”

“Astaroth?” the man jumped.

“No, Silloth!” Wilson corrected, patience waning. “I have a friend in Silloth, on the coast. Solway Firth. Why would I want to contact the prince of Hell?”

“There’s a Spar there, you know,” the jittery driver made known.

Wilson hid his smirk as he’d done many times on Granada Reports. “Oh cool – I’ll make a point of visiting.”

The driver leant across the passenger seat and pushed the lock down on the door.

“You’ve just locked the door,” Wilson pointed out, “as opposed to opened it.”

“Do you believe in ghosts?” the man asked, without making eye contact.

“Ghosts?” Wilson said, pulling an irritated expression. “If it has a car, I’ll gladly accept a lift from one tonight.”

“I’ve seen the dead, you know,” the man continued. “Something like that can stay with you.”

After a moment’s disbelief, Wilson replied, “I’ll bet. Still, you have to carry on, don’t you? Are you sure it wasn’t a lucid dream?”

“It was a night just like this,” the driver spoke with increasing alarm, as if he was living the torment again. “The fog, the thick, thick fog – you can’t see shadows on days like this, can’t see into the darkness. That’s where they hide, you know, the shadows; the demons, the spirits. There’s a saying, you know… get a beggar on horseback and he’ll ride to the devil. I was that beggar. I sensed his presence.”

Wilson conjured a quote from his extensive library of a mind: “Every man that hath seen me forgetteth me never, and I appear oftentimes in the coals of the fire, and upon the smooth white skin of woman, and in the constancy of the waterfall, and in the emptiness of deserts and marshes, and upon great cliffs that look seaward, and in many strange places, where men seek me not. And many thousand times he beholdeth me not. And at last I smite myself into him as a vision smiteth into a stone, and whom I call must follow.”

The man looked back and grimly enquired, “What’s that, where’s that from?”

“Crowley,” Wilson revealed. “Aleister Crowley.”

“I’m frightened to my core,” the man whispered. “I have to go. This is not a good place to be, young man. There’s more to this place than you can ever imagine. If I were you I should get on home as quickly as you can. You’ll find no locals about when it’s foggy round here. Now get on with you.”

The man wound up his window and the small, petrol engine of the car reared into reedy life.

“OK, thanks,” said Wilson, raising his arm to wave, admitting defeat. “Thanks a lot.”

The rear lights of the car evaporated into the black surroundings. Wilson, feeling abandoned and wronged, trudged awkwardly along the scrubby grass margin, slipping and sliding. This went on for ten agonising minutes before he grew weary of the mud and precariously crossed the carriageway to explore the conditions of the opposite verge. He managed no more than five paces before promptly headbutting a grey-painted metal signpost. A dull “donnng” rang out. Wilson held his head for a few moments and checked for blood. There was none. Once the throb had settled to an acceptable twinge, Wilson brought a lighter from his pocket and scraped a flame. The sign above read Carlisle 5. It was a public footpath, in the direction of Carlisle. It offered hope and, best of all, the path – more a narrow country lane – had a concrete surface. Five miles? That wasn’t so bad. He’d be in a hotel within two hours.


  1. Sherlock Holmes v Magnum PI

“You know,” said Mark E Smith, “Sherlock Holmes feared nothing except the retribution of Professor Moriarty and the void of the countryside, the countryside that now appears to have consumed us.”

“I can’t see a fuckin’ thing, ’ere,” sweated scaffolder and part-time roadie Rob Carroll, as he leaned towards the windscreen of his Vauxhall VX, without seatbelt secured, in order to navigate the frequent hairpin bends that had been smothered by pale-grey, cotton-wool fog. “Me ’ands are goin’ numb from grippin’ the wheel.”

“When you’ve got fog this thick,” Smith ruminated, “and you’re in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere, you can get away with practically anything – murder, rape, theft. If we don’t find an off-licence soon, I’ll be committing all three to you.”

“Look what happens when I put full beams on,” Carroll spoke, and clicked a stalk on the car’s steering column. “It’s just bright fog, as opposed to dark fog – in fact, it’s more difficult to see with the lights on than with the lights off.”

“Shouldn’t be driving tonight,” Smith stated. “Sherlock Holmes would’ve travelled by rail. Jimmy Savile and his OBE says this is the age of the train, but back in Sherlock’s day, it was the only way to get around, and you ’ave to think that we ’aven’t progressed that much. Sherlock was fuckin’ zipped out his brains most of the time, big into the coke. It would have been proper stuff back then an’ all, pure, industrial-strength. You could buy it in chemists – it was almost seen as genteel.”

“You ever had sniff?” Carroll asked.

“Once,” Smith revealed, “at an aftershow in London. A music-exec guy with bright red braces was rabbiting away, some Saatchi-ite, and just as I was gonna bottle him, he offered me a whopping line from this coalman’s sack of the stuff. I think he’d followed me into the toilets. He was obviously trying to impress me. Thought I’d give it a go, just to be sociable. It makes you yap like a fuckin’ Jack Russell, revealing all your family secrets and you start to make light of… humiliations. I’m not sayin’ I’ll never have it again. You’ve just go to be able to check yourself with shit like that, like Sherlock Holmes was able to do.”

“I was never a big Sherlock Holmes fan,” Carroll admitted. “I don’t like black-and-white films. I prefer Magnum. I wish I had his lifestyle.”

“Huh!” Smith rocked, shaking his head, and shifted around in the passenger seat. “Magnum! How can you compare Magnum to Sherlock Holmes? And I’m talkin’ about the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books here, the written word, not the films! Your brain’ll turn to water watchin’ shit like that. Magnum, with his fuckin’ Hawaii shirts and that daft fuckin’ sports car. You’d have to be seriously minted to have a car like that anyway, so what’s he doing poking his nose into other folks’ affairs, snoopin’ around?”

“Well,” defended Carroll, “it isn’t ’is car, actually, it’s owned by Higgins…”

“He wouldn’t last five minutes in Prestwich with that daft ’tache and ’is daft shirts and ’is daft pals with ’elicopters. He’d fit-in in Alderley Edge, though. They love that stuff round there, where the footballers and TV magicians are. Elaborate wealth. Tastelessness wrapped in a Georgian exterior. At least with Columbo you’re getting a rounded character. You can tell there’s been some thought gone into the writing. You can see there’s something extra going on. They all think he’s a gawp but in fact he’s cleverer than the lot of them put together. I can see a lot of myself in that! Spielberg directed some of those episodes, as did Patrick McGoohan and the chap who plays Coach on that Cheers you’ll no doubt like – that American pap on 4. Actually, I don’t mind that one. But Magnum! Magnum PI. You know what PI stands for? Piss Ideas.”

“The last episode was a good one, though…” Carroll attempted to explain.

“No, it wasn’t!” Smith cut in.

“How do you bloody know?” Carroll retorted, a speed comedown gently rattling his nerves, the heat seeping from his neck and shoulders. “You never bloody saw it!”

“Well, I did!” Smith squawked. “I was forced to! Brix was watching it, probably so she can top up her yank accent, so she can stand out in the Ostrich on Saturday afternoon. Anyway, forget Magnum and Hawaii – where’s this bloody offie?”

“I think I’ll ’ave another dab to keep alert,” Carroll said.

“No, you won’t,” Smith corrected. “You can wait.”

“No, I’m ’aving some…”

Just as a physical set-to looked like it might brew, there was an almighty thud followed by a series of unusual, hard jolts. It wasn’t until branches and twigs presented themselves through the car’s side windows that Smith started to suspect that he might be experiencing a serious road accident in slow motion. The unbuckled Carroll became weightless, like an astronaut, his shoulders repeatedly pushing against the interior mirror and roof, like he was attempting flight but was being thwarted – flight that, Smith now assumed, Carroll had always been capable of.

For a while, there had been little noise, but soon there was the sound of sliding and scraping metal, then the volume enhanced, suddenly becoming louder, like the TARDIS was arriving from an alternative dimension. Among the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, dematerialisation, vworp-vworp din, Smith thought fit to announce, “Now, Dr Who, that’s a decent concept.”

“Whhhat?” Carroll replied with a dull tone, like his batteries were running low.

As Smith attempted to qualify his statement, a thundering coniferous tree erupted through the front windscreen, taking Carroll and most of the driver’s seat through to the rear of the car and beyond. Smith realised that the world was in a very topsy-turvy state, not an unusual sensation for an alternative North-west performer who was constantly on the road. It was perhaps Smith’s past experience with LSD that allowed him to keep a clear and open mind, and at no point did he feel overwrought by this spectacularly surreal experience. The tree trunk widened within the cabin and pine needles started to tickle Smith’s cheeks before the car, finally, came to a grating, jarring halt.

To Smith’s delight, the car door opened of its own free will and fell off. Having managed to unfasten the VX’s seatbelt and grab his leather-sleeved baseball jacket, Smith was able to shimmy along a thick branch and appraise the situation. Above: wreckage and dark-matter fog. Five feet sideways: the impaled, torn-open, ragged shell of a 1970s Vauxhall saloon, its headlights still shining, illuminating shattered wood and evergreen spiky foliage. Below: tree, more fog. Smith descended, using the tight branch structure as an effective ladder. But what had just occurred? It felt like he’d had a fracas with a tyrannosaurus. They must have careered off a ledge and fallen onto a forest! Smith knew that all might not be as it seemed; experience suggested that an element of shock might be curving his perception. It was feasible. For instance, had Smith always known that Carroll could fly?

Smith was almost certain that his erstwhile chauffeur must have spread his wings and flapped, like Icarus, towards the clouds, taking care of No.1.

Down, down, down Smith clambered, like Jack scaling the beanstalk on video rewind. At the lowest branch, Smith peered towards the ground and calculated there was a hefty distance still to drop, a good 25ft or so, but for Smith, the options were limited. He didn’t fancy kipping with the crows, slowly freezing to death, drifting to sleep with frosted eyebrows and white eyelashes, unable to escape ever-softening dreams. Smith leapt like Lee Major’s Colt Seavers – another OK American programme; The Fall/The Fall Guy, stuntman/frontman, there were parallels – and landed on both feet with a crouching stance, before falling back onto soft, sweet earth. The ground was strewn with pine needles, broken branches and motoring arcana. Smith gazed skywards, searching for answers. He found himself in a theatre-stage spotlight provided by the beams of the impaled Vauxhall.

“Rob!” Smith called. “Rob!”

There was no reply.

Carroll’s batteries had indeed run flat. Unbeknownst to Smith, Carroll lay limp, straddled across the branches of the towering pine tree, his bones smashed, his organs battered, his neck instantly broken upon collision with solid timber.


Again, nothing.

“Bugger you, then,” Smith uttered and set off in search of cave rescue or some semblance of civilisation, yet feeling that the discovery of an off-licence was still of critical importance.

Smith glanced incredulously at his turquoise, cable-knit jumper and discovered that a large hole had developed in the material – how, he couldn’t recall. His wife, Brix, would be disappointed but as she lay comatose in a plush Glasgow hotel, hangover headache receding, hair no doubt like Mr Whippy’s, she could hardly comment on Smith’s rundown appearance. To be frank, Smith would rather have been involved in a serious car accident than wasting money in pricey Scottish digs. The band wasn’t forking out for outré luxury in four-star lodgings, just because you couldn’t take your drink. They still had to pay for the van getting fixed! As for how the night was panning out: so far, so The Fall. Driver possibly dead or flown off; wrecked car; dense fog; lost near some mountains; and a hole in a new jumper he’d only owned for three weeks. Smith pushed his arms into his jacket. All he needed now was to run into Tony fucking Wilson.


  1. Everything’s gone black

For the first time in his life, Tony Wilson understood the significance of asphalt concrete – or tarmac as it was better known. To the blind or partially sighted, an assured step on a flat reliable surface was the true achievement of human progress, far outweighing the jet engine, penicillin, printed word, flat-pack furniture and New Order’s convergence, through “Everything’s Gone Green”, of disco and rock music. That’s how it seemed to Wilson as he strode, with breath trailing, into the pitch black of the fog-encumbered Cumbria countryside. To be able to walk unimpeded, even if you can’t see a thing, was freedom, pure freedom, and Wilson was thankful for the inventive minds of road pioneer John Loudon McAdam and Tarmac plc founder Edgar somebody or other.

All Wilson needed was a long branch to use as a makeshift cane and he could live in relative bliss, able to deal with hindrance, obstruction or Ray Harryhausen harpies. Darkness was one thing, but fog presented uncertainty. Wilson knew there was a world of branches out there; the trick was to locate one. It shouldn’t have been a difficult undertaking. He simply needed to discover a plantation or grove with a selection of low-reaching, yielding twigs. So, where are all the fucking trees? In the distance, Wilson could hear leaves rattling like Merseybeat tambourines. Branches were there. Surely he would stumble across a fallen arboreal prong at any second and, with instrument procured, wave it victoriously. Then he could embark with confidence towards the crowded metropolis of Carlisle with its police stations, telephones and warm, inviting beds. Factory’s in-house designer Peter Saville was to blame for this predicament, fucking Peter Saville. Was there no limit to his indirect mischief making?

Wilson walked at restricted pace, the drifting meteorological blanket hiding a highly unusual Kremlin Regiment-inspired marching technique, with outstretched feet acting as swinging “feelers”. Not surprisingly, this feet-first radar system wreaked havoc on Wilson’s thighs, so rather than continue goose-stepping, he resumed a normal stride. Increasing his pace and growing in verve, Wilson’s regular thought processes starter to return, largely concerning – as always – money, lost opportunities and impending bills.

As Wilson strode, he castigated himself for not signing The Smiths to Factory Records. The Tube director Gavin Taylor knew the lie of the land – Morrissey & Marr were going places. The Smith’s second single, “This Charming Man”, had been their breakthrough moment, reaching No.25 two months previously – an incredible result for a band that had only formed a year earlier. Had Wilson gauged the public’s needs so badly? Here he was, attempting to push music towards a metallic future of computers, synthesizers and cold aesthetics, while what the world really wanted was the Sixties’ pop sound repackaged and given a clever-clogs twist. The twist was, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce had managed to disassemble the second-hand sound of their guitar music and transform it into a whole new entity: kitchen-sink cool. It felt new, intensified by Morrissey’s outstanding lyric writing about not having anything to wear and the sun shining out of their behinds. Wilson’s Factory ensemble A Certain Ratio could have fulfilled this role if they weren’t so swayed by calypso rhythms, festival drums and jazz funk. Jazz… ACR were bloody awful; and even worse, they were now managing themselves. They couldn’t even decide who their singer was. Wilson had grown weary of Ratio. Guitarist and trumpeter Martin Moscrop had mentioned to Wilson, “We know we’re shit, but we don’t know why.” It wasn’t a great moment; it didn’t instil much pride.

In November, The Smiths had packed out Wilson’s Haçienda nightclub. There were 2,000 people inside the Whitworth Street venue and 2,000 outside, a mass of everyday Mancunians hoping to catch a glimpse of a group that, it seemed, could inspire levels of adulation not seen since Bowie. From nowhere, The Smiths had become more popular than Joy Division/New Order! The Haçienda, meanwhile, was losing not far shy of £50,000 a year, a financial sinkhole that New Order, who were still living in council houses, would have to plug. It was a team effort, after all. They knew Factory wasn’t a normal label. They’d have to play major gigs at arenas, and anyway, as New Order manager Rob Gretton had insisted, having no money kept New Order’s feet firmly on the ground. Being penniless made them successful and edgy, and more able to identify with their increasing fanbase. And it could have been far worse. They could all be working with Annie Lennox or Paul Young.

Despite the financial migraine, Factory was strengthening as a concept, securing itself in the public’s consciousness. It was a label on the up, and the Haçienda merely added to Factory’s prestige. As Wilson’s mind idly meandered towards his next project – it had to be a Factory office in New York – he came to a clattering halt. His legs and midriff crashed with unexpected force into a plastic, cage-like structure that, on closer inspection, revealed itself as a level-crossing barrier.

Close by, Wilson discovered a sign – a warning. Out came the lighter.


On the decrepit, white-painted wooden board there should have been a glowing red or green bulb but one of the lights had been smashed – lens and bulb in one clean sweep – while the other light was dead. Wilson sidled through a set of narrow wooden gates that stood adjacent to the crossing and, without the safety of visual confirmation, moved forwards, noting, underfoot, that the road surface had raised to accommodate the track. It was a wide crossing, comprising two lines. I’d better not hang about, Wilson conceded, although he fully expected that train services along the West Coast mainline would have been curtailed due to the perilous conditions. But was this the electrified West Coast mainline with its 100mph express trains or merely a minor connection linking Carlisle with nearby coastal towns? Hadn’t Silloth, where Saville would be sipping wine, been hacked from the national network by Beeching’s axe? Wilson smiled without a trace of humour… Oh the irony: he couldn’t locate a branch but may have found a fucking branch line.

Wilson shifted gingerly, only to hear a horrific swooping noise, low-gear engine rattle and metallic clatter, followed by an almighty blast of ear-filling British Rail horn. The fog, a dark muddle seconds earlier, transformed into an inexorable rush of yellow glare. A double-track section of line is a wide space when the distance needs to be covered quickly. Like a startled Superman, Wilson ran then flung himself forward, fist first, and continued at level altitude until his right shoulder felt the jar of a wooden lattice structure – the opposite gate. Amidst the din and flashes of illumination, Wilson managed to scramble over the gate’s summit, whereupon he landed hands first, before crumpling in an inglorious heap. The buffer of the diesel multiple unit had missed Wilson’s backside by inches. He’d actually felt the air being sucked from around his midriff. The two-car service groaned into the distance and Wilson knew that he had survived by an arse hair. He had to be more careful! The Tube was visiting the Haçienda in two weeks’ time! His appearance on the programme was key to Factory’s future success.

Wilson rose to his feet and breathed short fiery breaths, composing himself, compartmentalising the anguish of his brush with the 19.35 Carlisle to Workington service. Make sense of it tomorrow, he ordered himself. Praxis explains all: things happen, but you can explain why later. Apart from a slight throb from his shoulder and a scraped knee, Wilson appeared in decent working order and would live to tell the tale, no doubt to the wet-eyed sniggers and wheezes of Factory partners Rob Gretton and Alan Erasmus. Having narrowly escaped an abhorrent death, it would have been easy to slide into despair, but Wilson patted away the dust and detritus from his clothing and re-engaged with his survival plan.

But there was a problem.

The smooth asphalt, once the cornerstone of his strategy, had given way to a gravelly mix and Wilson soon realised that his journey might become more precarious before it improved.

The path veered left and narrowed until it was no more than a trail, a countryside amble for adventurous dog owners, cross-country runners and wandering farmhands. In the distance a dog howled, undoubtedly a werewolf, but it offered no more physical threat than a night out in Gretton’s gritty Wythenshawe. Of more apparent concern was the increasing loudness of fast-moving water, perhaps a nearby river or, with a bit of luck, a Jacuzzi showroom. A banjaxing by a train was one thing, but a dunking in an icy brook when the air temperature was hovering in lower single figures was quite another. Wilson’s blood ran cold as he assessed the possible outcome of this frightful evening, of bobbing downstream and arriving, days later, with white bloated body, eyes pecked out by carrion crows, rolling with the frothy surf at Silloth. The sound of rushing water grew shrill and it came as little surprise to discover that the river had broken its banks and submerged the path. Wilson’s feet slapped the watery swell and he was forced to arc around the flood’s extent by traipsing on knotted heath scrub.

Underfoot, the clumpy grass was spongy and intertwined, making movement haphazard and clown-like. Wilson’s route then started to rise in altitude and the water’s tinkling slowly ceased, but with no clear landmark to focus on, Wilson felt, for the first time that evening, completely lost. “Boys keep off the moors, stick to the roads,” Wilson recalled from An American Werewolf In London. The incline continued at a jaunty angle and with each step Wilson prayed there would be no cliff to tumble down, no sinking bogs and no poacher’s trap that would nite into his shins. As time drifted, the odds of survival seemed to slip. Wilson’s white Nike high-tops were saturated, yet he remained focused, thoughts governed by the expectation of a warm, dry room once the night had revealed its hand. He wondered if the course of events was a sort of karma atom bomb, delivered for his treatment of former Haçienda manager and licensee Howard Jones. “Ginger”, as he was known, had to be removed; the situation had become unworkable – Ginger had run out of ideas. He was a nice guy but he’d been empowered beyond his talents. It was a common theme in Factory. Even so, Wilson would shout and scream at Jones – it was never pretty, never nice and Wilson was not proud of his actions. Maybe the problem was with Wilson himself? Only he could end up lost on a lonely fell with sopping wet feet, ghost trains and mad motorists banging on about Hades.

Thorns tore at Wilson’s flappy combat trousers and his feet squelched. The evening was lurching from terrible to untenable but then, to Wilson’s amazement, an overwhelming sense of possibility suddenly presented itself. Right in front of Wilson’s nose stood a brick wall, approximately 15 feet in height and perfectly climbable if he could secure a footing. There was much scraping along the ancient, hewn brickwork, but there was enough erosion to present small ledges for Wilson’s US trainers to gain purchase. At the top of the wall, there was a two-foot wide platform on which to perch and what seemed to be rusted barbed wire that had given itself to the elements a long time ago. With nothing to view apart from a black void, there was little point remaining in situ. Before his descent, Wilson took stock: walls were traditionally constructed to ensure the safety of those within. Close by, there would be a dwelling and, inside, warm humans with kind hearts and Breville sandwich toasters. Wilson dangled, then leapt from the wall and waited for the ground to present itself. It duly arrived with a bump, but at least the surface was a ragged grass rather than coarse scrub. Rising to his feet, the fog momentarily evaporated, leaving Wilson with the imposing sight of a large, castle-like building in the distance with ramparts, a single tower and numerous square-shaped windows. Ivy crisscrossed the brickwork, making the structure practically camouflaged, while within the grounds stood skeletal trees in irregular, stretching poses, their jagged branches erect like lightning strikes – in fact one was almost evil in shape. The dwelling appeared to be a hidden squire’s seat, but most bizarrely, there didn’t seem to be a path or road connecting the building to the outside world. As the fog swept in once again, Wilson was disappointed not to have spotted the illumination of a single light bulb or candle. The owners were obviously out or in bed.

Wilson silently rounded the brickwork in search of an entrance, but before finding a door, he noticed, to his utter dread, a silhouetted figure stooping to gaze into a window. Was this a murdering burglar or the locked-out owner? With trepidation, Wilson inched forward with a raised, friendly hand: “Hello there.”

The figure swung round like a cat being struck with a rolled-up copy of the News Of The World and, with fluid Mancunian accent, replied: “Fuckin’ hell – who’s that?”

Wilson frowned; incredibly he recognised the voice. “Is that Mark… Mark E Smith?”

“Incredible, he-he!” Smith returned. “All the vampires are out tonight – Tony fuckin’ Wilson!”

“Mark, I never thought I’d say it, but it’s a genuine pleasure to see you.”

“How’s it going, Tone?” Smith chuckled.

“To be honest, not fantastic,” Wilson admitted.

“Me neither,” Smith said. “Come and look at this.”

Wilson edged towards the panes. Once his eyes had adjusted to the blackness, he could see a room that was approximately 20 feet by 20 feet that housed a collection of old wooden sideboards and various cobweb-strewn wooden boxes. In the centre of the room, a solitary item of furniture was positioned, a rocking chair that was moving of its own volition, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, and its speed seemed to be slowly increasing.

“Good, innit?” Smith mentioned. “Must be a burglar deterrent that works on a fear level.”

“Extraordinary,” Wilson accepted. “It has to be plugged into the wall, which makes me think that the property has an electrical supply and therefore has residents.”

“You should’ve been in the CID,” Smith opined. “Oh look, it’s stopped.”

“Maybe it’s battery operated,” Wilson added, “and the batteries have just packed up. It’s clever though – it’s made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with a sort of primeval fear. If I wasn’t a lapsed Catholic, I’d say the room was haunted.”

“He-he,” Smith laughed. “I’ll bet ’ouse like this has got a decent liquor cabinet, haunted or not. Let’s go and knock on the door and stretch out by a roaring fire with a quadruple dram. I can reveal what a fuckin’ shitflap of a night I’ve had.”

To emphasise the point, Smith pushed his dentures clear of his gums and held the position until Wilson smiled with unease.


  1. Imperial leathering

The weekend commencing Friday, 13 February was a rare occurrence for Brian Clough. No Saturday fixture was scheduled for Nottingham Forest so it was Clough’s intention to clear out the shed, repair the pergola and remove tracts of ivy that had started choking his trees. Usually, Clough would secure the services of Forest’s apprentices for the manual labour in his garden. It was a prime opportunity to get to know the lads and teach them discipline, work rate, the value of nutrition and also to find out what their mams and dads did. You could tell a lot about a player’s inner worth by knowing about their background. But as this was a free Saturday, Clough had roped in a few of the first team for gardening duties, including star forwards Garry Birtles and Peter Davenport. After the day’s graft, Clough would show off his cooking skills, making his players a lavish meal on the kerosene-fuelled Aga, food for footballers, things like local beef from the village butcher and homegrown veg.

Before Christmas, Clough had invited Forest’s spidery right back Viv Anderson – England’s first black international footballer – to his home in Quarndon, to the north of Derby, to help prune roses and rake leaves. It was important to drag first teamers over to the house from time to time. Not to bring them down a peg or two, but to remind them of the pleasure of getting their hands dirty, something many modern footballers were forgetting. To Clough’s mind, far too much footballers’ time was spent at the barber’s or “salons”. It had been a chatty morning, with Clough and Anderson discussing defensive tactics while working the borders. It was basic tactics that the manager and player examined because at its heart, football was not a difficult game.

“A defender should never dive in, Vivian,” Clough lectured, brandishing a hand fork, “because once you’re on the ground, you’re out of the game, you see. It’s far better to jockey sideways and backwards barring the forward’s run. What happens is, the attacker has to put his foot on the ball and look for other options – or the back pass. That’s your job done, young man.”

“You’ve got to harry, too, Boss,” Anderson added, “closing down players as quickly as you can, reducing the time the other player has of starting a run.”

“Why are you not club captain?” Clough asked, squinting into wintry sunlight.

Anderson shrugged: “Because Bowyer is?”

“Good answer – he’s a better player than you,” Clough replied with that unmistakeable North-east lilt. “He’s a good reader of the game. Now, don’t tell him I said that! Reading the game, that’s the real skill Vivian. What I do is, when that ball bobbles about the pitch, I play each pass in my own mind. It keeps my brain sharp and alert. I’ve scored 75 goals this season already.”

“It’s freezin’ today, in’t it, Boss,” Anderson stated.

“It’s because we’re stood about doing bugger all,” Clough cajoled. “Come on, there’s a dead bloody tree to chop down yet.”

Anderson fought to control the rolling of his eyes and forced a smile. Clough strolled with purpose towards the shed, with clouds of steamy breath trailing, to find his two-man saw. “This’ll warm us up!” he shouted across the lawn.

The glorious garden was an important tool in Clough’s player development; it was the personal touch missed by the likes of Don Howe and Ron Atkinson. You couldn’t have a two-way conversation during training. Training was a series of barked instructions. But in Quarndon, with a trowel in your hand, there was time for both manager and players to think and get matters off your chest.


Clough had never seen fog so impenetrable. Instead of crossing the Pennines to pick up the A1 at Scotch Corner, taking his life in his hands, there was no option other than to find a local hotel or B&B. Once safe, he’d have a couple of large whiskies, sleep like a log and make another attempt to drive home the following morning. But how could anyone find a bed when it was impossible to see five yards in front of your own face? Clough had no intention of steering blindly through the Cumbrian interior. These roads were treacherous enough in broad daylight. The danger was that he’d end up on the back seat of the Merc shivering, trying to sleep but counting the seconds till dawn. Clough decided to delegate the role of travel agent to his secretary in Nottingham, Carole Washington. First, he needed to find a phone.

Clough drove at a mind-achingly slow speed, occasionally using kerb and verge as a navigating device to remain on the carriageway. Fog lights were proving useless, simply adding to the confusion by creating a bright, ethereal circle that a sufferer of cataracts might be familiar with. Soon, the dark-grey murk transformed into bright-orange murk and the Nottingham Forest manager realised that he must have reached a bank of streetlights. And where there were streetlights, there would surely be a phone box, civilisation and maybe even a pub with bedrooms. He instantly perked up.

Clough edged the car into a layby and came to a halt. With the engine still running, to keep the heaters on, Clough swished his fingers from side to side in the rectangular tray of the centre console. Among wrappers of long-ago-sucked travel sweets, hardened orange rind and useful 2p’s and 5p’s, Clough was dumbfounded to locate a bar of barely used Cussons Imperial Leather soap, still with its paper sticker intact. He brought the bar of soap closer to his face to inspect the smooth surface.

“Why’s there bloody soap in the car?” Clough mumbled to himself.

Clough switched off the car engine and ran through the possible reasons why soap would have been deposited by the automatic shift of his Mercedes. The only sensible answer was that his daughter, Liz, was the culprit, probably bringing soap as part of a larger array of artefacts for attending to her dolly. Jersey sleuth Jim Bergerac, of course, may have had an alternative answer. Smiling now, Clough flapped his flat cap onto his head and scooped up the change from the tray. He didn’t know where to stow the bar of soap so he simply placed it in the pocket of his red Adidas padded jacket as he climbed out of the car. Still largely flummoxed by the soap mystery and in deep thought, Clough inadvertently left the keys in the ignition.

A knowledge of English street planning was soon proved spot-on as there, directly in front of Clough’s face, stood the familiar shape of a red telephone kiosk, its dull yellow interior light beaming tepidly onto a black phone within.

“Carole… Carole, it’s me, Brian,” Clough spoke calmly and clearly. “Now listen, take this number. Carlisle 35033. Have you got that? Right, I’ve only got 14p, so you’ll need to ring me back. I’m in a village near Carlisle and I need to find a place to stay for the night… No, no, I’m fine… Can you try and find me an address of a B&B or hotel, because the weather here is… [beep-beep] Carole? [Beep-beep] It’s bloody… [Beep-beep-clunk] Carole? Bloody hell.”

Clough replaced the receiver on the cradle. Standing in the cramped confines of the kiosk, Clough thought about the utter silence and bitter cold, breathing from his mouth so he could marvel at the thickness of the condensation. Two long minutes passed, then the phone brilliantly rang into life. Clough picked up.

“Thanks Carole, you are a bloody wonder,” continued Clough. “Now, I can’t drive in these conditions, not for much longer anyway, it’s become that bad. I’ve never seen fog like it – it’s like London at the time of the Ripper. What’s the weather like where you are? Not s’bad? Carole, love, I’m sorry to bother you when you’ve already left work for the day. What’s that? I’m in where? Dur-dur? What, like an ambulance? D-u-r-d-a-r… Durdar… oh, I get you now. How did you find out? Oh that was clever – and the operator was able to tell you that? Well that’s smashing, it really is. What? Vivian? Transfer? Why…? Wants to be playing regularly for England? I see. Yes. Yes. Hmm, I see. Yes. Bloody ridiculous. Two European Cup medals he’s got! Yes. I’ll talk to him when I get back, Carole. He never spoke a word of this in my garden before Christmas when we were collecting the leaves. Yes… yes, I suppose we were busy that day. Well, look, Carole, can you get onto directory enquiries and see what you can come up with? As close to Durdar as you can, preferably in Durdar instead. Basically, I can’t see a bloody thing, and even if I could, they’re not big on street signs round this way and the map in the car bears no bloody relation to reality. Yes, I’ll stay near the phone. I’ll just run back to the car to get a pad and pen. Thanks, Carole.”

Clough walked at pace, his padded jacket swish-swishing as his arms swept back and forth, his expensive leather slip-ons tapping a metronomic rhythm along the paved surface. Clough strolled but his brain began expressing alarm, like he’d made a wrong turn or had somehow failed to accurately retrace his steps. Clough stopped and pursed his lips in thought. Is the fog so thick that I’ve missed the Merc? He slowly turned 90 degrees and stood at the edge of the layby, the layby where, just minutes earlier, he’d parked his car, the car that contained his briefcase, his notepaper, his pens, his calculator, his Nottingham Forest chequebook, £500 in cash and a collection of receipts from his Scotland trip. Clough’s facial expression remained resolute, like the information that his car had disappeared was of no importance. It was the face he displayed in the dugout when a defeat was imminent, for disappointment wasn’t to be broadcast to a wider public. But at least he still had a bar of soap.

Clough walked back towards the telephone box, trying to work out a way forward in his tactician’s brain. An answer would arrive soon, it always did. He lifted the collar on his Adidas jacket and pulled his flat cap a little tighter on his head to prevent the cold further deflating his battered ego. He waited outside the phone box then heard the phone ring. Clough stepped inside the box and answered.

“Alan?” said the voice on the line.

“No,” replied Clough. “Wrong number.”

“Wrong, twat, it’s the right number – are you in a phone box?”

“I am in a phone box, yes, young man,” Clough spoke, agitated. “But I’m expecting a very important call, long distance, so you’ll have to ring off for now. I shouldn’t be long.”

“Is there a fella outside the phone box?” asked the voice on the line. “Have a look.”

Clough peered through the smeared and scratched glass and was startled to see an oversized figure in a pea-green snorkel coat with the hood up.

“Be quick!” the man shouted from outside the kiosk. “Someone’s ringing me.”

Clough opened the door: “Are you Alan?”

“Yup. Is it for me?”

“I suppose it is,’ said Clough, standing aside, “but I’d be appreciative if I could use the phone at some point very soon. I’m expecting a call as well.”

The man offered no thanks, barged past Clough and took control of the receiver: “Mick!”

The kiosk door clunked closed.

Clough stood idly on the pavement, hands buried deep in his pockets, feet tapping the pavement to ward off the incessant ice-chill of the evening. Minutes passed and the conversation from inside the phone box continued at garish volume, largely regarding spare parts for vans, Page 3 girls and the unusual weather.

Clough tapped on the glass: “Will you be long? I have to use the phone. It won’t take all night.”

A gap in the door appeared: “Look, piss off dipstick, I’m busy,” Alan warned, then added: “I’ll be here half an hour yet, maybe more. What you going to do about it?”

The door closed, leaving a whispy cloud of stagnant, steamy Cumbrian breath.

At this, Clough’s expression shifted from its noncommittal match-day defeat to a deceptive conviviality. The Forest manager edged the door open again and said, “Hey, clever bugger, come out ’ere a minute.”

Alan let out a weary groan and announced to his telephone associate, “Hang on, Mick, I’m just gonna deal with this wazzock outside. Call me back in five.” He then cupped the phone and, angling his head towards Clough, said, “You’re askin’ for a good hidin’, you, pal.”

Clough smiled warmly at the escalation of events and voiced through the aperture, “Eh, don’t be long now, cos I could do with some exercise to warm me up.”

Alan, nodding, replaced the handset: “Want warmin’ up, do yer? I’ll soon ’ave you all toasty.”

Alan pushed open the door, emerged from the kiosk but found, to his dismay, an empty pavement, nobody around, not a soul to pummel to a pulp, not a single head to stove in, not a nose to pound into a flattened mess. With breath trailing from his nostrils like a cartoon bull, Alan peered into the orange cloud but could see nothing apart from swirls… swirls of fog, swirls of confusion.

“Buggered off, ’ave yer?” Alan shouted. “Wastin’ my fuckin’ time! Gone all nesh, thought better of it? Shithead! Twat! Prick! If I get my ’ands on you, you’re fuckin’ dead!”

And then events started to quicken up.

First came a whuuump! For Alan, complete loss of breath rapidly arrived, followed by the gradual realisation of a weight spread across his broad back and shoulders. Alan’s arms began rolling and twisting as he attempted to grab at the lithe being that had taken the air out of his lungs. Had Alan’s assailant superhero powers? Unbeknownst to him, Clough had managed total surprise by clambering onto the roof of the phone box before descending like an avenging angel. He was now riding Alan rodeo-style.

“Get off me!” Alan growled.

Clough placed his strong, calloused hands over Alan’s eyes and said, “Ooh, the lights have gone out!”

“You’re dead,” Alan raged, “dead, fuckin’ dead…” but was stopped mid-sweary rant by a fragrant brick that was placed into his mouth with incredible dexterity, which was then rammed deeper into position using the side of a fist.

“Aaaaagghhh,” Alan gasped. “Aaaaaaaaagggghhhh!”

The bar of Cussons Imperial Leather, increasingly damp, moved with ease towards Alan’s back teeth and throat.

“Waheueueugh!” Alan violently choked.

Clough shimmied down the ape-like back and said with finality, “Now let’s get that dirty fucking mouth of yours washed out, shall we?”

Taking inspiration from the 1934 Laurel & Hardy feature The Live Ghost, Clough then thumped Alan’s chin upwards, breaking the mouth-clasped soap into fragments. Some pieces of Imperial Leather tumbled down Alan’s throat and windpipe while other bits became crushed around his molars, all the while the soapy sensation building and becoming increasingly unmanageable to his taste buds.

As Alan fought for breath, he began the tricky task of de-soaping his mouth and oesophagus by spitting and choking, then using his tongue as a bulldozer to clear away the undesirable magnolia-coloured clods.

Clough stepped to one side while his enemy, who’d been gagging for a good 30 seconds, could hold back no longer and threw up onto the pavement, bringing forth a psychedelic beam of orange and yellow cubes, replete with the regulation echoed sprinkle sound. It was while Alan heaved up a second load that Clough noticed the telephone ringing from inside the callbox. With a grin, he darted inside and, having picked up the receiver, heard the sweet tones of Carole Washington in Nottingham.

“Sorry I took a while Brian, but I’ve located a nice, four-star hotel around two miles from where you are,” Clough’s secretary reported. But before Clough could cogitate the information, the handset was forcibly grabbed from his hand. Clough looked with anguish as the pig’s-tail curl of telecommunication cabling became taut and the receiver was torn with physical fury from the telephone set.

“It’s for you-hoo!” Alan laughed, who’d made a remarkable recovery, and began wrapping the telephone cord around Clough’s throat. It was while Alan was throttling Clough that the European Cup-scooping manager of 1979 and ’80 began to think he’d seen his last football match. The scuffle inevitably spilled out onto the pavement, with Clough attempting in vain to loosen the tight cabling from around his neck. The situation then took a turn towards the absurd. Alan felt a resounding thwack on the back of his thick, bovine skull and, having managed to turn around like a biblical character in one of Rembrandt’s religious paintings c.1620, saw the unique lower-case b at 90 degrees scowl of Yorkshire sporting legend Geoff Boycott, who was holding a cricket bat in both hands.

“No, Zod!” Alan mouthed, perhaps influenced by his favourite film Superman, before dropping sidewards to the ground like a sack of his favourite pornographic magazines.

Boycott peered towards Clough and announced, “Sod it, I think I’ve dropped a contact lens.”

Clough called back, “I’ve not seen you strike anything as sweetly as that since Scarborough in 1970. ”

Boycott looked over to Clough using his one functioning eye and remarked, “By jingo, I thought it were you Brian, I just reckoned it a bit unlikely that you’d be bein’ throttled to death with a telephone cord five miles outside Carlisle as I ’appened to be passin’ – and not just passin’, but bloody lost!”

Clough carefully unwrapped the cord from his throat and said, “It’s a funny old night tonight, Geoffrey. And I think some shithouse has gone and nicked my car.”

“Well, mine’s just up road,” Boycott announced. “I suppose you’d better get in car wi’ me and start doin’ some map reading. Luckily, I’ve brought a spare pair of contact lenses with me, as well as my full kit bag with bats, balls, bails, the lot!”

“Do you think this bloody big brute will be alright sprawled across the pavement, unconscious in temperatures nearing freezing?” Clough asked, gesturing towards the prostrate Alan.

“Happen,” Boycott replied. “But I’ll tell you what, ’e ’ad a lovely fragrant breath when I clobbered ’im one wi’ me best bat. It reminded me of our bathroom in Fitzwilliam when I were a young kid.”

“You’re a bloody sentimentalist you,” Clough grinned. “But I’ll tell you something, we’ll not be making Yorkshire or Derbyshire tonight. I know there’s a hotel two miles from here with warm beds and a bar. We just need to know which bloody direction to go in.”

Back at Boycott’s pristine Ford Granada, with the interior light shining, Boycott carefully placed his spare contact lens into his eye. “Well, way I look at it,” Boycott said, “is we either go that way or this way, forwards or backwards. Now, I’ve just come from that way and could see absolutely nothin’ of any use to anyone but then again, I could’ve passed Blackpool bloody Tower and not noticed it. I vote go forward.”

“Sounds good to me, Geoffrey,” Clough nodded. “Let’s bugger off out of here.”


  1. Four men in a Granada

Balding batsman Geoff Boycott nervously dabbed the accelerator, creeping forward into meteorological deep-grey shrouds, the needle on his Ford Granada’s dashboard waving up and down above the “10”. Beads of sweat formed on the controversial cricketer’s forehead. Total concentration was required to navigate Cumbria’s fog-enveloped B-roads: the sort of mind power needed when facing the wrath of the Windies.

Clough switched on the passenger-side interior light to view the Collins road atlas but was quickly chastised by Boycott who was unable to see through the windscreen.

After a while, Boycott asked, “What is fog, Brian?”

“Fog?” Clough echoed, pursing his lips. “Low cloud, I think.”

“But why is it on ground?” Boycott wondered.

“Geoffrey,” Clough chuckled, “even if I had an encyclopaedia on my knee, I couldn’t look it up, could I? I’d have to put the light on. You’d not be able to see through the windscreen and I’d get another ticking off.”

Boycott gave a short, loud laugh and for the next half a mile, his 90-degree-pushed lower-case b smile remained set like concrete. Boycott enjoyed Clough’s company: they were cut from the same cloth.

Clough and Boycott had been allies since 1963. As a Yorkshireman, Clough had a long-standing appreciation of cricket. When he was a free-scoring centre forward for Sunderland in the early Sixties, Clough would travel to see Yorkshire play at Scarborough once training was over, usually catching the last two sessions of the day. Fellow Yorkshire stalwart Brian Close introduced Boycott to Clough in the players’ area at Scarborough’s North Marine Road Ground. It was the beginning of a spirited comradeship.

“It’s funny, Brian,” Boycott said, “but I was only thinkin’ about you this mornin’. Do you remember Chesterfield over ten year back? We were playin’ Derbyshire. I pulled Alan Ward straight to fielder at midwicket – I think it were Brian Bolus. I was out for four. Do you remember that?”

Clough’s face brightened: “I do, Geoffrey. Solid captain was Bolus, too. He was at Notts and Derbyshire, wasn’t he?”

“And a Yorkshireman,” Boycott added. “Born in Leeds. He’d just left Yorkshire as I was startin’. So anyway, backtracking, I was out for four. I was so angry and disappointed wi’ meself that I wanted to climb up crooked spire and jump off damned thing, only I’d probably have messed that up too. You were there that day and you came in to see me. I think you’d just taken over from Don Revie at Leeds.”

“I’d been for a meeting in Leeds,” Clough corrected. “I was still at Brighton. I thought you might have needed a bit of cheering up and when I saw you, you had a face like a furnace. First thing you said to me: ‘I’ve ruined the whole day!’”

“I did, didn’t I?” Boycott smiled. “I’ll always remember what you told me; and this is why you win things, European Cups, and why you get best out of people. You said, ‘You see your colleagues outside. They don’t know if they’ll make 100 now or ever again. You’ll get 100, if not tomorrow, then next week. You’ll get plenty of 100s yet because you’re that good.’ Now, I’d just cocked up but you soon had me feelin’ ten-feet tall. I’ve never forgot that.”

In-car feelings of warmth and bonhomie spread through the Granada’s plush interior but soon evaporated when bright lights illuminated the whole of the back window. The light was so fierce that Boycott was unable to peer through the rear-view mirror. A horn sounded. Boycott scowled at the insolence.

“Bloody idiot,” Boycott raged. “Fancy tryin’ to take over in this bloody weather. He’s got ’is full beams on and ’e’s right up my backside.”

Clough glanced over his shoulder but was momentarily blinded. Boycott continued his composed crawl, maintaining a safe momentum. The roads became twistier and potentially more dangerous but thankfully the fog thinned for a few moments. It was on a bend in a rare fog-free gap that the following car shot past and roared into the distance with a victorious sound of the horn.“What a prat!” Boycott cried out. “What a dunce!”

“That’s Capri drivers for you,” Clough said. “Kevin Keegan used to drive a Capri, you know, and Bill Shankly made him get rid of it. It was the driving angle; it affected Keegan’s ankles. He was injured for weeks and weeks. The car went and he was right as rain in a few days.”

Boycott tutted: “They’re a lothario’s vehicle.”

But no sooner had the celebrated slogger’s distaste for sports cars been revealed than the fog closed in again.

Changing tack, Clough asked: “Are there many poofs in cricket?”

“Poofs?” Boycott queried. “Brown-hatters? No, Brian, I don’t think there’s a single one. It’s a very masculine game is cricket, wi’ a big drinkin’ culture, which you know I’ve no time for. I’ve never been a boozer.”

“I suspect,” Brian said leaning forward, with a finger in the air, “that there are more poofs in football than we think. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, Geoffrey, but I know a lot of the other players wouldn’t want to be around la-di-das, especially in the changing room. We had one a few year back, you know, Justin Fashanu.”

“Used to be a smashin’ player at Norwich,” Boycott noted. “I never knew ’e was a nancy, mind.”

“Fashanu scored three goals in 32 for us,” Clough explained. “Lost his nerve big time. The thing is, Geoffrey, when I go into a butcher’s, I don’t want to buy a loaf of bread. Do you see what I mean?”

Boycott looked puzzled for a moment and then recalled a message he’d recently read scrawled on a toilet wall. “I was in this lavatory in Leeds, caught short,” Boycott explained. “I’d been buyin’ underpants. Some silly swine had written in marker pen on wall, ‘Jimmy will be gay for you’, and there was a number to ring. Now, I know Leeds ’as ’ad it’s problems down the years Brian, but what sort of mentality do you have to have to put your own bloody phone number on the wall of a public toilet offerin’ those sorts of antics. You’re askin’ for trouble!”

“Liberace’s got a lot to answer for,” Clough expounded. “And Danny La Rue.”

“Oh, I like Danny La Rue,” Boycott responded. “So when I’d done, I went up to barman and said, ‘Some idiot’s written “Jimmy will be gay for you” on your lavatory wall. I’d get it cleaned off if I were you. You don’t want to read that sort of smut when you’re spendin’ a penny.” And everyone started sniggerin’, Brian. It was sick-making. That’s the sort of childishness we ’ave to deal with nowadays, and it’s everywhere. Sometimes I think I should just move to South Africa and be done with it.”

“You’ve still a job to do with Yorkshire,” Clough pointed out.

“That’s if we ever get out of Carlisle,” Boycott uttered, peering out of the side window, looking for any landmark of significance.

Soon, the loud clattering of a powerful motorbike became apparent and a single beam of light remained fixed to Boycott’s bumper for some time.

“I think this motorcyclist’s usin’ us as a safety blanket,” Boycott noted, “which, I have to say, is reasonable on a night…”

But before Boycott could complete his sentence, the motorbike edged to the side of the Granada and a gloved hand thudded against the glass.

“I think we’re wanted,” Clough spoke.

“I think you’re right,” Boycott added.

Boycott located a wide grass verge and brought the car to a standstill. The motorcyclist sidled up to the driver’s door and lifted the glass visor on his crash helmet.

“I’m sorry to trouble you,” the rider explained. “You see, I’m lost. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’m heading for the A69. I’ve never seen fog like this before, man.”

“Where you going?” Boycott enquired.

“Newcastle,” the rider replied.

“I thought as much by accent,” Boycott said. “To be perfectly ’onest, we’re lost an’ all. We’re tryin’ to find ’otel that’s nearby but we’ve no chance of findin’ it in this blessed fog.”

“I was hoping to get back for the snooker on the telly, like,” the motorcyclist mentioned, “but I cannae see I’ll even be back for Anne Diamond on TV-am at this rate. I’ll follow you if that’s Orkee and hope to come across an A-road or even a Happy Eater, y’know, to get some scran.”

“I’m not drivin’ quick,” Boycott warned. “I’d rather get through tonight in one piece, if you don’t mind. We’re in a bad seam ’ere. It’s ’orsework just keepin’ car on the road.”

“That’s fine by me,” the Geordie said, somewhat taken aback.

Boycott manoeuvred his car onto the highway and the convoy set off in search of sanctuary. But this irksome evening had many surprises still in store for Messrs Boycott, Clough and Healy yet. Less than two minutes had elapsed before the frantic arm waving of a pedestrian in a beige sports jacket grabbed Boycott’s full attention. With the commotion, Boycott applied the brakes heavily only to hear a dull crump from the back of his car. In a panic, Boycott flung open the door and raced to the car’s rear. There, lying horizontally on the Granada’s table-flat boot was the motorcyclist, while further back along the road lay his bike, light shining at an awkward angle into the drifting murk.

“Are you alright?” Boycott called out in a panic.

“Aye,” the motorcyclist said, lifting his crash-helmeted head. “Just thought I’d have a doze for half an hour.”

Clough jogged to the stricken motorbike and inspected the damage.

“Front wheel’s a mess!” Clough shouted along the lane. “It can’t be rode in this state.”

“Oh dear,” a voice spoke, and Peter O’Toole emerged dramatically out of the dark. “I feel somewhat at fault for this,” he spluttered. “I’ll pay for any damage, of course. Is the motorcyclist still with us or is he pulling a great wheelie outside the Pearly gates?”

The Geordie motorcyclist climbed down from the Granada’s boot and timidly moved his body, one limb at a time, to check for immediate signs of damage to bones and internal organs.

“What was all arm-wavin’ abart?” Boycott protested to O’Toole.

“Ah,” said O’Toole and pointed through a hedge in the direction of a farmer’s field. “I was hurtling down this thoroughfare, when I mistimed the corner, went straight through the brambles and the car’s now resting about half a mile in a turnip field with steam pissing out of the radiator. It was a lovely car, though. A three-litre Capri.”

Boycott leapt forward, grimacing. “You’re bloody crackpot that passed us earlier! You’re lucky you didn’t maim someone way you were drivin’.”

“Ah, a Yorkshireman in Cumberland’s fair pasture!” O’Toole softly remarked with some enthusiasm.

“Eh, hang on,” Boycott frowned. “Aren’t you Lawrence of Arabia?”

“I know what you’re thinking,” O’Toole replied. “He hasn’t aged a day! And you’re the batsman – Geoff Boycott! Is it true that you deliberately cock a deaf ’un to the authorities and slow-score?”

“He doesn’t slow score, he’s just in the crease for ages, cracking 100s week in, week out,” Clough answered. “Centuries don’t arrive in minutes. You work at them.”

“My God, look who it is!” O’Toole whooped. “Brian bloody Clough – the greatest football manager in the world! Well, what a smashing night this is turning out to be. I’m glad I crashed! So who’s the stuntman in the helmet? Let me guess. Daley Thompson? The Six Million Dollar Man? The Aga bloody Khan?”

The motorcyclist removed his helmet: “Just plain Tim Healy from Newcastle, I’m afraid.”

“But you’re an actor, aren’t you, young man?” Clough voiced. “You’re the one from the German programme. You’re the brickie. My wife’s very fond of your show. Don’t you play the gaffer?”

“Well, that’s correct, but you’re the first person that’s ever recognised me so far,” Healy admitted. “I feel a bit chuffed now, like.”

“What a stellar collection we are!” O’Toole chortled.

“I suppose this means we’ve got a few extra passengers, Bri,” Boycott wryly noted.

“I’m still sitting in the front,” Clough affirmed.


Boycott glanced into his mirror to assess the frame of mind of the passengers on the back seat, as a captain might when assessing the fighting spirit of his team before an important match. “So where you headed to, Pete? You were obviously in a rush.”

O’Toole leaned forward: “I’m looking for a demented pile of bricks called Hangingbrow Hall. I know I’m near and I’m determined to find the bloody place before I leave Cumbria.”

“Have you got friends or family there?” enquired Healy, creaking in his motorbike leathers, rucksack on his knee.

“Sadly not,” O’Toole answered. “It’s a place of… historical interest, you might say.”

“It’s not an ideal night to be sightseeing,” Clough spoke from the front passenger seat. “Especially as you can’t see more than two feet in front of you in this weather.”

“As I’ve made a sizeable detour to find Hangingbrow, possibly writing off a brand new Ford Capri in the process, it would seem negligent not to have a nose around while I’m in the vicinity.”

“You say ‘historical interest’,” Healy squinted, looking sideways. “It seems a bit late in the day for guided tours, bonnie lad.”

O’Toole gave the crackled laugh of a heavy smoker. “It’s a place I’ve read about. Haunted to buggery, apparently. Shatterhand Adolf – yes, Hitler himself – had shown some interest in adding the pile to his list of picturesque getaways. If I see a sign for this phantom-filled shed, I’ll jump out of the door, although this place is, I gather, off the beaten track. It doesn’t appear on any maps. However, I have suspicions of where Hangingbrow is located. I made some notes and tucked the sheet of paper into my pocket. Were there’s a will, gentlemen, there’s a way.”

“Expect you’ll be after a pub first, from what I’ve read in papers,” Boycott spoke. “Aren’t you usually proppin’ up a bar at this time of an evenin’?”

“My hellraising days are far behind me, smiler,” O’Toole admitted. “I’m now allergic to the stuff. My piss is pure Perrier water these days. But I miss it terribly. I still go to the pub. As a rule, I don’t like the company of sober people. Et tu, Geoffrey?”

“Boozin’?” Boycott scoffed. “Do you know, I’ve only ever ’ad one ’angover and that’s been enough to put me off for life. It was monumental. It were end-of-season Scarborough Festival in ’68 after we’d won championship. We were sent cases of champagne and Closey – Brian Close – had swiped a whole magnum and put it in ’is bag. Now, I thought that was plain wrong. I took it out and ’e chased me all round changin’ room, trippin’ over bags and all sorts. I managed to get cork out and most of it came it in a wasteful shower. What were left, I gave to wives and girlfriends but I soon found another and by half-seven I’d become Britain’s most evangelical drinker, telling people to get some champagne down ’em. I quickly felt like I’d had ten gallons. I was so drunk that after I’d scoffed down a bag of fish and chips, I ’ad to be put to bed. It were nine o’clock. The rest of night were ’ideous. I felt like I were doin’ cartwheels inside a crashin’ ’elicopter whenever I closed me eyes. I still managed to make 102 following day.”

In the back seat, O’Toole quietly cried with laughter.

“I say Geoff, you’ve got a quiet car,” Healy said. “A milk float’d make more noise.”

Boycott glanced uneasily at his dashboard. “There’s a good reason for that,” he announced. “We’ve just run out of petrol.”


  1. Stroll on

The choice was succinctly bleak. Either walk along a narrow, single-carriageway back lane facing oncoming traffic, trying not to be clipped by a raging, lost, Duel-like petrol tanker, or traipse across ploughed fields, hoping to pick up a well-trodden, signpost-filled trail or a whiff of civilisation. The decision was split: Tim Healy and Brian Clough were in favour of farmers’ furrows; for Geoff Boycott and Peter O’Toole, B-roads were best.

“Well, I think we should toss a coin,” Healy suggested in a positive tone, before placing his tongue in his cheek for effect. “Road or ramble, concrete or cross-country? The truth is, we’re in a pickle, lads.”

O’Toole presented a leathery glower: “An erratic course, surely, would be a ramble over hill and yonder dale. All roads lead to destinations, to villages, to snug pubs and roaring fireplaces. That’s why they laid the damned things in the first place! Roads lead to locations; yomps do not.”

“I’ve a feeling roads lead to an early grave tonight, pet,” Healy explained. “There are few pavements in these parts. But I’m willing to toss a coin to give us an answer either way.”

Clough placed a brotherly, training-ground arm around O’Toole’s bony shoulders. “Now listen, this TV brickie here’s got a point, right. We’ve found nowt tonight apart from hedges and ditches and between us, we’ve managed to write off a Capri and a motorbike, and my Merc’s been nicked. Geoffrey’s Granada’ll not last much longer cos it’s parked on a blind bend in the thickest fog Michael Fish has ever bloody known. In fact, this is more than fog, Mr O’Toole, it’s practically a material. It’s ten miles square of cotton bloody wool! If we take the road, we’ve a good chance of ending up as flat as a Dover plaice and not as much bloody use!”

“We could flag down a car,” O’Toole reasoned. “Not every driver can be lost!”

“Would you stop for four giddy figures trying to catch your attention in the middle of bloody nowhere?” Clough said. “There’ll be few daft enough to be out on the roads tonight. Maybe one or two, but they won’t be stopping!”

“Well, let’s just make a decision and stick by it,” O’Toole stated. “I might be in my fifties but discomfort is no stranger to me, comrades. I’ve had some shockingly cold evenings on the deck of a Royal Navy submarine depot ship, pootling around the Baltic, waving to whales, watching icicles grow from the tip of the first mate’s bugle, and I’d rather not recreate the experience.”

Healy asked for a coin and Clough presented a predecimalisation shilling that, in 1984, was in use as a 5p. “I’ll let it drop to the road, to elongate the excitement, y’knaa,” Healy explained. “It’s a big decision this, like. Our survival could depend on it.”

The shilling spun into the air as if in slow motion and fell to the road surface with a lively ping. But with a will of its own, the coin rolled along the gutter and with a silvery glint, seemed to hop, jump and disappear down a roadside drain.

“Ahhh hell, man!’ Healy howled. “We’ve gan and lost the bob!”

“You should’ve just caught thing!” Boycott jeered, “instead of trying to be showbiz abart it. Here, I’ve a 2p on me. Just be more careful wi’ this. If you lose it, I’ll still want it back.”

“Look, lads, the last of the big spendahs!” Healy glared at Boycott, and grabbed the currency. This time he flicked and caught, then said, “Heads it’s cross-country, tales it’s the roads, Orkee?”

One by one, they nodded, glancing at each other with a growing sense of unease. Healy slowly lifted his hand to reveal fate’s calling. “It’s…”

“Come on, come on,” said O’Toole with exasperation. “This isn’t Jack-a-bloody-nory.”

“I can’t see with all the darkness and fog, like, man – hold on, will you,” Healy replied. “It’s… it’s… I can’t tell what it is…”

Boycott stepped forward and peered at the coin closely: “It’s young Queen, so it’s ’eads.”

O’Toole shivered at the thought. “Well, of course it’s ’eads, because there’s less detail on that side of the coin, so the shiny side will almost always come up top!”

Clough was having none of it: “Eh, the referee’s decision is final,” he stated, “and under no circumstances will you remonstrate or show disrespect to Mr Healy, who is our match official this evening.”

Boycott’s expression stiffened and for a moment it looked like he might recite the full details of his favourite innings. In fact, Boycott was merely morphing into his natural captain’s role, weighing up the pros and cons of the situation, ascertaining the wind direction and condition of the ground. He stood resolute against a burst of oncoming breeze, which only brought with it more wisps of Hammer House fog, before declaring, “We’ll go wi’ wind behind us backs to start wi’, lads. It’ll gi’ us an extra ounce of energy should we tire after five or six hours. We’ll cut through ’edge and walk in a straight line. We’re bound to come across somethin’ sooner or later but I think this 2p of mine has actually done us a favour. Walking in bloody road is playin’ silly beggars and we’ll end up dead as dodos. At least ’iking through fields, only danger’s being poleaxed by a disoriented deer.”

“Although if we cannae find shelter within a couple of hours, we’ll end up like four big ice lollies,” said Healy.

“We’ll just put a stick up our arses,” Clough chortled, “and a Wall’s wrapper over our heads.”

“At least a paper wrapper would provide a modicum of warmth,” O’Toole grimaced. “Imagine the newspaper headlines: ‘DIM STARS WILL SHINE NO MORE’. And I quote! ‘Yesterday, an unlikely collection of actors and sportsmen was found frozen to death in a farmer’s field near Carlisle, just half a mile from a pub. Police are not treating the incident as murder, just downright stupidity. Next of kin have been informed but were hardly surprised.’”

“Way I look at it,” noted Boycott, stamping his feet on the ground to illustrate how cold he was, “is if we stick round ’ere we’ll succumb to ’ypothermia.”

For a moment O’Toole appeared dumbstruck, then a grin rose on his face: “We’ll what to hypothermia?” he delightedly questioned.

“Succumb,” Boycott repeated in his broad Yorkshire accent. ‘I ’ope your ’earings not packin’ up, Pete.’

“Looks like there’s a fair-sized hole in the hedge over there,” Healy pointed out. “It’s where Peter O’Toole skidded off the road, man, Geoffrey.”

“Man Geoffrey, he’s right,” O’Toole smiled widely. ‘It’s the start of our Yellow Brick Road.”

Clough ducked through the hedge and precariously pushed his flat-capped head through the aperture. “Last one to the bar pays for a round.”

A cacophony of chuckles followed as, one after the other, stars of screen and sport directed themselves through a thicket that had been partially destroyed through the reckless driving of the Lawrence of Arabia lead actor.


Moist agricultural clods of fertile loam made rough work for ankles and knees, while the fog and pitch-black nothingness played tricks on the senses.

“Am I asleeeeeep?” O’Toole enquired with a perfect, RADA-trained howl. “Did I die in a car accident but haven’t realised it yet? This sensory denial – I’m seeing purple fireworks in the distance! All I can feel is how damp my socks are. It’s Wipers in the Great War all over again, and we’ve been blinded by Hun chlorine gas.”

“Howay, Pete, with a bit of luck, the temperature will drop close to freezing point, so this soil will turn hard like tarmac,” offered Healy. “It’ll just be like walking down Carlisle high street on a crisp winter’s night.”

This was wishful thinking from TV’s Dennis Patterson. With the temperature doggedly hovering around 3-4°C, soles were not tapping firm, pavement-like frost but were sinking and slopping. Healy, wearing vintage motorbike boots, was fortunate in that he had warm, dry toes. The feet of the rest would remain chilled and wet for some time, while trouser ends were elegantly chocolate-dipped.

O’Toole pondered for a moment and growled, “‘If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride and hug it in mine arms.’ Shakespeare, you know.”

“I’ll knock darkness to silly mid-off,” Boycott responded, playing a cricket stroke that nobody else could witness, “and score a quick run.”

O’Toole cackled: “Now you’re talking, tiger.”

Clough suddenly sprang to life: “Darkness and cold! I’ve faced Liverpool in the European Cup and beat them over two legs when nobody gave us a bloody chance. I’ve made ordinary players into heroes and I can tell the club chairman to piss off whenever I please, which I do often. That’s how much standing I have at the City Ground. I can pick a squad against darkness and grind out a victory. And that’s what we’ll do this evening – be strong at the back and score a winner in a counter attack late on in the second half.”

“Are we in second ’alf yet, Brian?” asked Boycott.

“Sadly not,” Clough replied. “If this was a football match, I’d say we’re about a quarter of the way in so far although with fog like this you’d expect the tie would have been called off and rearranged for next Tuesday. The referee has no doubt been bribed by our European counterparts.”


The four celebrities entered into personal battles with their own spirits, faces set like Easter Island statues as they made their way sullenly across a vast bare field, blind men connected by sound alone, with nothing but inclines, descents and varying sized puddles to allay the tedium. There was nothing to see other than, occasionally, hands in front of their faces to check they were still living beings and not merely a floating dandelion clock or speck of dust drifting into the sky.

Sensing despondency setting in, Boycott attempted to rally the troops. “I ’eard a good joke on telly other week,” he spoke – and his voice woke his comrades like a rugby league klaxon. “It were Bernard Manning! By gum, there’s a good comic, eh. He said, ‘Italian tanks are only ones fitted wi’ reverse lights.’ All deadpan, like. It took me a few seconds to get gist, cos I didn’t know if ’e were makin’ a joke or statin’ a fact. Reverse lights, Brian!”

“Cowards as well as cheats,” Clough called back through the dark. “They bloody well nobbled us at Derby in ’73. European Cup Semi-Final. Imagine what being European champions would have meant for a place like Derby. We had the team to do it as well. Juventus. Veccia Signora. The Old Lady. Ref’s have got a tough job in my book, but that one that night may as well have been wearing a Juventus jersey. Probably got a free Fiat after as well. But to me a Fiat’s a punishment, not a gift.”

“Good grief,” said O’Toole, ‘we’re like an Atlantic sea convoy in 1943. Steaming on, communicating by signal lamp alone, but expecting the whirr and fizz of a torpedo at any moment.”

‘Cos you know Italians were neither use nor ornament in battle,” Boycott continued. “That’s what Bernard Manning were getting’ at. Me mother used to like humour like that. These grannies in audience could ’ardly breathe, they were laughin’ so much. Then ’e turned to one of these old biddies and said, ‘Do you know why seagulls have wings, my love? To beat gyppos to tip!’ Because gypsies ’ang abart at tips, don’t they? That’s two brilliant jokes in ten seconds. No wonder ’e’s got a Cadillac and a chauffeur. He deserves them.”

Clough’s face shone. With excitement, he asked, “Has he really got a Cadillac?”

“He ’as that, Brian,” Boycott enthused, “and it’s a smasher. He must’ve ’ad it imported from America. Only problem is that it’s left-hand drive. You’d ’ave a job on overtakin’ anything on road. He’s got ’is own numberplate. I think it’s COM 1C.”

“Listen, legends, I loathe pedantry in all forms,” added O’Toole, “but I think you’ll find that’s Norman Wisdom’s registration. I can’t quite fathom why I know that. A big star in Albania, by all accounts, although I could never get behind all that Pitkin, Mr Grimsdale nincompoopery.”

“Well, I was in Manchester earlier today at Granada studios,” Healy said as his vintage leather boots squelched onwards, “and funnily enough there was an American motor in the car park with the plate 1 LAF. I reckon that’s the car you’re talking aboot. That’s Bernard Manning’s wheels.”

“I think I’d go for CR33 KET,” remarked Boycott. “You know, crickeet. That’d suit me.”

“You’d never get a registration like that, man,” Healy said, shaking his head. “It’s has to be a numberplate that’s already existed at some time. You can’t just choose numbers and letters in any order you please.”

Boycott was startled: “Well, how do you explain 1 LAF then: ‘I laugh’? That’s never been on a car before! It’s been made special for a very good comedian, that has! You’re payin’ privilege!”

“No, no, no,” Healy said. “Before the use of suffixes on plates – y’knaa cos ‘A’ was used in 1963, ‘B’ in 1964, ‘C’ in ’65 and so on – they used to have a series of letters and numbers, or numbers and letters. 1 LAF was from before 1963. I know all this cos I took an interest in it when I was a bairn, noting down the numbers in a pad, like.”

“Sweet Jesus,” howled O’Toole, “when I arose this morning, I’d never in my wildest dreams believe I’d be walking across waterlogged agricultural fields in Cumbria discussing the history of car registration numbers. I mean, what’s next, typefaces on cans of supermarket soup?”

Clough smiled at the absurdity of the situation. Clough then turned his thoughts to another long, long stroll that was taken the previous summer – a four-day sponsored walk in the Pennines raising money for a disabled girl in Nottingham. That’s the moment when he’d found out his former ally Peter Taylor, by then the manager at Derby County, had signed John Robertson from Forest. Robertson, scruffy as he was, was like a son to Clough. He loathed Taylor for his duplicity, but he also missed his friendship. Taylor was the funniest man he had ever known, the good cop to Clough’s bad. Why didn’t you ring me, Pete? Clough asked in his head. Why didn’t you tell me what you were up to? Why go straight to the Forest board and not to me?


A curious aspect about sustained periods in pitch-black conditions is the sudden realisation that it has become darker all of a sudden, that the contrast has been lowered or you’ve somehow moved further into a tunnel.

“Howay man, did you notice that?” Healy enquired. “It’s gone blacker. It’s so black, we could be in a cave, do you not think?”

“I’m still seeing fireworks,” O’Toole responded. “A cave, though… at least a cave would have a roof and there would be the small chance we could build a fire and bed down for the night.”

Healy rubbed his gloved hands together. “We could get the deckchairs oot, put a couple of spuds in foil in the flames. Get a bevvy from the fridge. ‘Git mortal’, as the kids roond Toon say these days.”

“Would this cave have an aga in the back?” Clough enquired. “I could set a trap and pick us up a lovely bit of venison and get it cooked while you lot dried your feet by the fire. Heeey, I love cooking, I do. Now that you’re asking, I’d have a whisky while preparing your teas. Not a Bell’s, no, because I’ve won so many bottles of that stuff down the years, and although I’ve drunk the lot and enjoyed it, it can be slightly rough on the throat. No, a decent single malt for me and you fine people. We’ll push the boat out tonight.”

“Might I suggest a peaty Islay?” O’Toole ventured, splashing through a puddle. “I was told I’d die if I ever drank whisky again but I’d take the risk tonight.”

“You absolutely may have an Islay dram, Mr O’Toole,” Clough smiled. “And if I knew where your hand was, I’d shake it. But would we have any ice or just take it straight?”

“Course we’d have ice!” Healy whooped. “They’ll have some at the cave’s bar!”

There was low-level laughter as sparkly particles of all-lads-together geniality floated through the cold night.

“I’ll steer clear of booze but I wouldn’t mind you lot lettin’ your hair down given circumstances,” said Boycott. “I’d have an orange juice… no, a lemonade… no… steaming-hot tea in a big mug! One of them big mugs wi’ blue stripes on it. That’d do me smashin’, that would.”

“How’s your legs holding out, Geoff?” Healy enquired.

“Don’t worry about my legs, you rapscallion,” Boycott snapped back. “This is a puddin’ of a pitch, there’s no doubt about that, and I may ’ave a slight muscle spasm, but I’ve played on worse surfaces and scored undrids.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Healy remarked, “I can’t wait to find this cave. If we ever get out of this godforsaken countryside in one piece, I think we should open it as a nightspot. We’d make a killing. I can see it now! The sign above the entrance in neon lights: Gan Undergroond. Y’knaa, like the hit-parade record.”

“It should be a painted sign,” Boycott called out. “If you’ve got bright lights, we’ll attract wrong crowd. Young ’uns, ’oodlums, louts, a rum lot, wi’ people who write indecent filth on lavatory walls. ‘So-and-so will be this-and-that for you’ – and then give a telephone number. You want a painted sign like you’d find on a decent café in the Peak District or ’aberdasher’s. I see it as more a place that also sells ’ot drinks, not a booze parlour.”

The wheezing of O’Toole’s laughter went largely undetected.

Boycott, still smartly dressed for his earlier covert meeting in a hillside hotel, with navy blue rain-shield outerwear and a baker-boy’s hat to keep his balding head warm, cut a bizarre figure strolling across bare fields on a winter’s evening, his large kit bag over a shoulder. His lace-up derbys were slowly turning into mud snowshoes, yet the smooth soles of his Northants-crafted leather footwear offered little traction. It was a wonder that none of the foursome had taken a tumble given the conditions underfoot, yet it was a shock to Healy, Clough and O’Toole that Boycott should be the first to tumble. Swaaaash, “Whuuu!… Ooooph!” It was as if the controversial Yorkshireman had slid on a discarded banana skin. His feet gained altitude and his shoulders dropped in an advanced Fosbury flop.

“What was that??” O’Toole gasped. “Has someone been taken by a winged monkey on our Yellow Brick Road?”

“It’s damn well me,” Boycott grunted, regaining his breath. “I’ve gone ass over tip! Better than fair in Fitzwilliam Park when I were a nipper. But these slacks’ll need two spins in washer.”

O’Toole bent over double and let out a 100 per cent laugh.

Clough managed to discover Boycott’s hand flat in the soil and helped his old friend back to a vertical stance. While Boycott knocked earth from his coat, Clough edged forward and twisted his head to one side as a Labrador might when hearing a whistle. If he wasn’t mistaken, there was a swooooor nearby. Was it the swaying of branches? “This way,” Clough urged, gesturing his compatriots forward. The foursome upped their pace. With every stomp, the fog grew less dense and with eyes fully accustomed to the dark, Clough could make out the shape of trunks. “It’s a forest!” Clough called to Boycott.

“Something you’ve a great deal of experience with,” Boycott called back. “I still say we keep going in a straight line. That was the plan and when you make a plan, it’s best to stick wi’ it and see it through. So we go through these trees and see where it takes us. Might be a woodcutter’s ’ut where we can get some rest and shelter.”

“My word,” O’Toole said with genuine surprise. “It’s an enchanted wood. But listen. I’m 51 and until last Friday, I smoked in the narrow hinterland between heavy and industrial. I have now stopped. Doctor’s orders. My heart might be hewn from Leeds rock but I’ll be honest and tell you that at this point, my legs are like a schoolboy’s dish of strawberry jelly. You men keep going and I’ll catch you up. If we’re walking in a straight line, our fates will remain exactly the same, only I’ll find out about it a little later. Do you get my gist?”

“I hope you’re not suggesting we leave you here, Mr O’Toole,” said Healy.

O’Toole rested a weary arm on Healy’s shoulder.

“Got it in one,” O’Toole replied. “Reach your hostelry with its roaring fire and superb range of beers and spirits, and, once you have imbibed and your poor, poor feet are bare and drying by the hearth, one of you can reach for the telephone on the table by the sofa and explain the cock up to Mr Plod. They’ll send out a sergeant or two with, one would hope, a smashing great St Bernard. Make sure the cask has been filled to-the-maximum.”

“Not a chance, pet,” Healy replied. “Howay, we could be half a mile from a village green somewhere. All we need is a roof over wor heads but we’ll find something soon, I just know it. Right, come on, lads,” he chivvied. “Let’s get through these trees and see what’s on the other side. Like, if we find a train track, it’ll be useful. We’d follow it. Pete – we might still find a place in time for last orders.”

“Good man,” smiled O’Toole and exhaled. “Lead the way.”


  1. A forest away from Nottingham

To Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole and Tim Healy, the idea that woodland acres lacked footpaths worn out by generations of dog walkers or adventurous ramblers seemed implausible. Maybe in the Amazon, yes, but in Cumbria? Knitted between the ghostly trunks of silver birch were winding thorny spider’s-web strands of undergrowth that tugged at trousers and snared sleeves. It was as if the ground had been abandoned for decades, like it was the scene of a massacre that had become overgrown and left to return to nature. Healy, in protective biking gear, took the forward position, blindly clearing a narrow channel through the outstretched barbed-wire brambles for the others to follow. This was the most effective mode of movement available to the troupe, but in his layers, Healy was building up a sweat.

“Hang on lads, it’s hard work this,” Healy panted. “Do you know what I could do with? A Mars or a Marathon. Pork pie, maybe. I’m famished.”

“We must keep moving,” O’Toole said. “It’s too cold for a night on the tiles. The Wooden Hill in Bedfordshire – that’s where we need to be. Not outdoors in bloody Cumbria in January.”

“It’s like being in a Tarzan film this,” remarked Boycott. “Or King Kong, where they’re ’acking through unchartered jungle, not knowin’ if they were going to end up in a tribe’s cookin’ pot.”

King Kong,” O’Toole dolefully recalled and found himself looking out to the wings. “That gorgeous great monkey. The torment he endured! He didn’t mean that lady any harm, he was simply minding her. Any sane person could see that! Why cage such an incredible creature? He was content in his dinosaur kingdom chomping big bunches of bananas, beating his mighty chest, looking for a dust-up with a brontosaurus that threatened to queer his pitch. No, what those captors did was unforgiveable. They chained him up so nosey New Yorkers could stand and ogle. No wonder he shimmied up the Empire State Building. It was the nearest thing he could find to a great bloody tree. Why did they have to terrify him so, blasting their machine-gun bullets from swarming biplanes? He swiped and swiped and swiped at those awful aeroplanes, putting up a terrific fight, but it was all so unfair, so one-sided. I saw the film but vowed… never again.”

“I always found Lassie films a bit much,” Boycott admitted, sloshing through a small brook. ‘For a collie, it saw a lot of cruelty and there were usually way too much bother to deal with – but it tried. It was a dog for pity’s sake, but in a way, almost human. If you were a farmer wi’ a dog like that ’un, you’d be made. It’d be like havin’ a partner rather than a workin’ animal. I turn them films over when they come on. There’s enough misery in world as it is, what with Libyans, Argies and pit closures. It doesn’t do to get overly sentimental about pets. Give me a Carry On any day, or On The Buses.”

“Well, you’re in your own war film tonight, lads,” Clough said, cracking dry twigs and last autumn’s leaves beneath his feet. “Pity we can’t find two more lost souls and we could be the Dirty Dozen.”

“I wonder how the snooker’s ganning?” Healy frowned. “If we get a crack on, we could still catch coverage on the box, I reckon.”


The further the gang edged into the wooded terrain, the less the unkemptness of the landscape made sense. This was a wilderness; unmanaged ground – almost a barrier. Britain wasn’t a vast nation and most of its countryside had to be used for money-making schemes, be it farming, tourism or forestry. So what was this? Clough caught a thorny bramble on the cheek, which he batted away with his hand, but not before it had drawn blood. He called to his companions, “You know, I have my players running through nettles in training by the City Ground cos it toughens them up and strengthens them mentally. And when they come out, I send them in again. But I wouldn’t send them in here! We must have missed a trail somewhere! We need machetes and scythes to make any headway.”

“It’s slowing us up alright.” Healy noted. “We might need to make a den and camp out. See what the morning brings. There aren’t even any animals or birds here, like. No hootun’ owls or anything.”

“We should try a different direction,” Clough suggested. “This isn’t working. We’re going to tire ourselves out just to cover a couple of hundred bloody yards.”

“Straight line, Brian, we agreed,” Boycott reminded.

“I understand the rules, Geoffrey, but even Romans had to deviate from their direct roads when faced with an immovable object, like a big block of granite,” said Clough. “It’s similar to that farm on the M62. Sometimes we can’t have things our own way and what you do is, you curve round it. For all we know, there’s a rambler’s trail running parallel to this straight line, so we should investigate, just for our peace of mind.”

Clough found himself outvoted three to one, which he seemed to take with good grace and an indifferent smile, but inside he was appalled. He wasn’t used to asking people to do things; he told them. Healy pushed onwards, kicking, karate-chopping and forcing a trail through the endless jagged melange he faced. Clough, who by now had had enough, glanced at his watch and using the luminous markers on the dial of his chronometer was able to see that it was getting late. Time to act.

“Ehhhh, bloody hell, look at the time!” Clough boomed. “Quarter to 11 and we’re getting bloody nowhere! Bloody nowhere!” He allowed the words to sink in before continuing. “Just a change in direction is all I’m saying and you never know, we could still make a pub just as the landlady’s ringing her bloody bell. If they’ve bedrooms free, we can have a word with the proprietor and we can come to an arrangement to keep the bar shutters up for a few more hours. They’ll listen to me! So what difference does it make what bloody direction we take as long as it’s not backwards? You know, between me and you lot, I’ve a natural ability to sniff out a drink. It’s uncanny – my old mate Pete Taylor said I was like a shark that could smell a speck of blood in an Olympic-sized pool. It might be something they put in the spirits, but it obviously carries through the air and I react to it. Maybe it’s just bloody instinct! In fact, I’m sure I can smell something coming from over that way,” and he pointed 45 degrees from the line they were travelling.

“You swear more when you get tired, Brian,” Boycott said.

“So bloody what?” Clough laughed. “I’ve hours left in me yet, pal. Most of the players I buy are bought after midnight. That’s when I’m at my best! It’s the witching hour, Geoffrey.”

O’Toole looked as if he’d aged 30 years during the evening. Exhausted, with bulging eyes and open-mouthed like an angler’s catch on a riverbank, he suddenly barked, “I’ve changed my mind! This football manager likes a snifter, of that I have little doubt. I’m coming out of this doctor-imposed refreshment retirement at the earliest opportunity. If that is in the next 15 minutes, my companions, you will find me the most genial company and what’s more, I’ll stick a fair wodge of ackers behind the bar. Geoffrey, as a Yorkshireman you’ll appreciate that gesture. ‘My country! My country for a wee dram please, ma’am… no need for ice.’”

Boycott pondered for a moment and then nodded to himself. “Well, this bag weighs a ton and I could do wi’ getting’ these contact lenses out and into their solutions before too long,” he said. “My optician says I’m supposed to give me eyes a good rest four hours before gettin’ to bed, and that I should stick wi’ spectacles in evenin’, for watchin’ telly and all that. So if our Hollywood friend Peter O’Toole is willin’ to fork out for drinks and maybe a bit of grub thrown in, I’m willin’ to try a different tack. Although I can’t stand curry. It gives me shockin’ ’eartburn.”

“Don’t worry Geoffrey,” said O’Toole. “I’ll get you some cod and chips, with your favourite, red sauce.”

Healy stopped dead in his tracks, wondering how and why he’d decided to tag along with this raggle-taggle bunch of over-the-top showmen. “So what happens when we turn 45 degrees and still find nowhere after five or six hours, lads, eh?” he said. “You tell me that.”

“Put your trust in Clough’s conk,” O’Toole croaked. “We should have followed it in the first place.”

“Yes, I’m detecting something,” Clough added, using his arm as a directional signpost. “We should head that way.”

“Whisky?” O’Toole wondered.

“I’d say so,” Clough answered.

“Any Ty-phoo?” Boycott asked.

“Don’t tell me,” Healy spoke, eyes blazing. “You want me to lead the way.”


On a fresh bearing, the going was little easier but no more than five minutes had elapsed before the foursome abruptly came to a halt. “I-I-I canna believe it, man,” Healy blinked. “I’ll be damned.”

O’Toole stepped forward, wheezing, catching his breath. “Well, what have we here?” Eventually, he gazed upwards at brickwork 15-feet high as if he were admiring a masterpiece in a gallery. “My guess is…” and then he stopped for a moment lost in thought.

“What’s up, O’Toole?” Boycott enquired. “You think we’ve been caught in slips?”

“Caught in slips, perhaps,” O’Toole nodded with a serious demeanour.

“Come on, we can get over this easy,” Clough said. “What we need is a bit of teamwork. I’ll give a leg up, provided you haven’t trod in dog shit, and if you, Peter, are up there first you can pull us all up after you.”

O’Toole flatly refused Clough’s linked hands. He’d need no assistance with a mini-cliff of jagged limestone blocks. O’Toole was a seasoned urban climber, having scaled a multitude of drainpipes and window ledges in his hellraising years. He grabbed firm hold of a sharp projection and heaved himself up, scrabbling with slip-on shoes and nicotine-stained fingertips. With his last ounce of energy, O’Toole was able to place his chin and knee on the flat summit and inch his body up, up, up until he was laid horizontally, breathing deeply, unable to tell Clough, Boycott and Healy that he’d reached the top and was quite happy to remain there for an hour or two. Scanning the immediate vicinity, he noticed strands of barbed wire hanging helplessly all around.

Clough followed, huffing and blowing, but determined to reach the summit of the wall with as little fuss as possible. His smiling face appeared in front of O’Toole’s: “Give us a kiss!”

Boycott, with heavy bag linked over a shoulder, complained with each movement of hands and feet: “Get a shift on, mister,” he ordered himself. “Don’t you show me up, you lethargic bugger!” he continued. A slip almost sent the veteran sportsman hurtling down the wall, but Clough’s hand grabbed Boycott’s wrist. “Good catch, that man!” Boycott said, regaining his footing. “Have you ever thought of a career in crickeet?”

Healy took up the rear, lightweight rucksack neatly across his back, showing a Spider-Man like ability as he scaled the craggy surface, feeling for crevices to gain purchase until at last he saw three faces staring back at him out of the darkness. “Did you miss me, bonny lads?”

“If we’re breaking into Slade Prison,” Clough panted, holding a lifeless string of rusted barbed wire. “I’ll manage the football team.”

“I’ll be your groundsman,” Boycott added peering into the black fog. “But to play a match you need to see the goalposts from the halfway line – so there’ll be no games played tonight, Bri.”

“I wouldn’t mind breaking in to a prison tonight, I can tell ya,” Healy smirked. “I’m sure ‘Genial’ Grouty will be able to procure us a bottle of something strong for a reasonable price.”

“Mr Barrowclough!” Clough called into the darkness. “Get the kettle on! We’re coming in!”


  1. Hangingbrow Hall

Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole and Tim Healy were perched like four naughty schoolboys on a scrumping expedition, legs dangling from their lofty position at the ridge of a 15-foot-high limestone-block wall. It was a solid structure, at least 200 years old, a good two-feet thick. Healy peered forward into the grounds of what, for him, would ideally be a stately home or National Trust property. A dry level surface and some much-needed kip were surely just moments away, even if rest must come in stables or a barn.

O’Toole’s mind was a tightly packed box of significant questions. He felt a puzzling mix of thrill and fear that he hadn’t felt since the infamous production of Macbeth at the Old Vic in 1980, which had the disastrous result of having the audience rolling around in the aisles. Hellraising was one thing, but what if this evening was drawing them to a sinkhole of souls, an exhibition centre of horrors that had been shrouded in rumour and hearsay since the war? If this was, indeed, the perimeter of Hangingbrow Hall, what lay ahead? Could he possibly have found the place? Did he give any weight to the supernatural stories he’d read of about it? Well, it was too late to turn back now, O’Toole reasoned. Fate had decreed that this curious collection of celebrities should face adversity as one.

Rather than leap from altitude and risk a sprained ankle, it was decided that a careful descent of the wall should be implemented. Healy, who by now had become the foursome’s de facto miner’s canary, began his return to earth with hands gripping the top of the brickwork. But unable to find a divot for his biking boots, he suddenly declared, “I’m gonna jump, lads!” He pushed away from the limestone and thudded on the ground. Healy’s training in the Parachute Regiment Territorials in the Seventies remained firm in his mind and he performed a professional Paras roll once he’d hit the grass to cushion the fall.

“It’s a bit farther than you think!” Healy shouted, getting to his feet. “But it’s all soft grass doon here! Just buckle when ya land! Absorb the impact, Orkee?”

A sudden hand on Healy’s shoulder made him leap with shock. He spun round, ready to launch a firm elbow to a stranger’s cheek.

“Eh, it’s me!” stated Clough. “I jumped at the same time as you. No use hanging about, is there?”

“Christ!” said Healy. “You wanna be careful doing stuff like that, man, Brian! We’re all on a heightened state of tension, y’knaa.”

Boycott and O’Toole disregarded Healy’s advice, not trusting their legs to take a rough landing.

“We’re takin’ scenic route!” Boycott called back.

“A pity we can’t see anything,” O’Toole whispered to Boycott.

“Come on, Pete, no time for dilly-dallyin’,” Boycott replied.

Inch by inch, they clambered down until their toes were met by eager-to-assist hands.

Coarse tufts of hardy grass and spindly rushes proved far easier to traverse than thorny strands and wooded saplings. With the tangled forest behind them, fog once again closed in around the hunched figures, giving a now-familiar eeriness to their journey. Healy was apprehensive but was determined to press on. Clough and Boycott, who lived their lives entirely in the present, didn’t give the matter a second thought.

“They could do wi’ getting’ a Qualcast out here,” Boycott noted as they began a stride along a shallow incline. “I reckon we’re in some sort of overgrown garden.”

“If there’s a house nearby and the squire’s in, we’re in luck,” spoke Healy, “but if the squire’s not home, we’ll break in and pay for the damage. Either way, we win.”

O’Toole butted in: “Don’t be so quick to think we’ve found salvation here, gentleman, for I strongly fear this is the dotty lodge I’ve been hunting for.”

“What, ’Itler’s ’ouse?” said Boycott. “That ’aunted one you were rattlin’ on about earlier?”

“’Itler’s ’aunted ’ouse, yes, Mr Boycott,” answered O’Toole.

“Brian, what do you reckon?” Boycott asked.

“Give over,” squawked Clough. “You don’t believe any of that claptrap, do you? There’s no such bloody thing as ghosts! Bloody white sheets with black eyes and a big gob – come off it! You watch too much Scooby bloody Doo. It’s me you want to be frightened of! Now let’s find this rich bugger’s drinks cabinet and get slumped in front of a fire. I told you I had a nose for this sort of thing. And lads, I have a thirst on.”

Just then, a gap in the drifting fog and a brief flash of dazzling moonlight brought the surrounding area into alarming clarity. O’Toole gazed in dread at the nearby awkward shape of a lone twisted tree. “Good God,” he shrieked. “How can something organic have grown so deformed? Was it shattered by lightning strike?”

Whatever species the tree had once been, it now looked to have a sharp, almost crocodile-like head, jaws wide open, screaming upwards into the sky as if it had just crawled out of the earth and taken its first breath. A wide trunk made it appear like a strong, squat creature, while the few stumpy branches that had once grown from the cruelly curving torso resembled arms with long finger-like branches set in a position that seemed to suggest it had been frozen mid-movement.

“It’s Devil’s totem pole,” Boycott coldly announced.

Clough glanced across at Boycott with disbelief. “Looks more like Don Revie to me.”

“It’s grotesque!” O’Toole commented. “You could almost imagine that it could move of its own accord.”

“It must have took some pruning, I’ll give you that,” Healy said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Dracula lives nearby,” Boycott gulped, “or a demented loony. Maybe I will take a drink wi’ you fellas after all. You know, a nightcap. A shandy, perhaps.”

“Listen to yourselves,” Clough berated, “telling each other your fairy stories. It’s an elm tree, a dead elm tree, like half the bloody elm trees in this country. It should have been brought down and burnt years ago. If the owner of this place has got a chainsaw, we’ll have a go at it in the morning and chop it into logs as a mark of our gratitude for their hospitality.”

Beyond the freakish reptilian silhouette, the outline of a large building was spotted by Healy. He pointed towards it: “There we are, home, sweet home. With a bit of luck we’ll catch the end of the snooker on Tyne Tees. That Steve Davis, eh, what a canny lad. The Ginger Magician!”

“I think it’ll more likely to be Granada or Border in this neck of woods,” Boycott corrected. “Did you check local TV listings before you set off?”

“Well, to be honest with you, Geoff, pal, I wasn’t expecting to end up spreadeagle over the boot of your Granada on a Cumbrian back road,” replied Healy. “Otherwise I’d have had a gander at the TV Times before setting off.”

“Look, it has crenellations, like a knight’s castle,” O’Toole commented.

Bright strands of guiding silver moonlight shut off as if a switch had been tapped by a higher being and by the time Clough, Boycott, O’Toole and Healy had reached the exterior brickwork of the mysterious property, total darkness had once again joined forces with 13.5-tog fog.

The grand house, once reached, was seen to be a formidable structure of thick sandstone blocks and castellated edges with defence in mind. Being so close to Scotland, the building would have seen a lively history. In a recess, there could be seen a small three-panelled window, with glass still perfectly intact but no detectable lighting from within. Hung behind the glazing was a once-grand, ragged set of velvet curtains, with the pale lining facing outwards. Up close, the ancient blocks had a mottled effect, with a random pattern of pink and yellow rectangles that merely appeared dark and pale grey in the monochrome gloom.

It became apparent that the hall was made up of a set of different-sized cuboids loosely joined together without much thought for symmetry. A central tower, two floors higher than the rest of the building, was festooned with small, irregularly positioned windows and battlements. It corresponded with a rough line drawing that O’Toole had seen during his years of research about Hitler’s British invasion plans. In his heart, he knew he’d reached the grounds of that macabre box of tricks that was so revered by the Führer and his schweinhund cronies.

Navigating the perimeter of the property, the intrepid troupe found themselves on a small stretch of crunchy gravel that was interwoven with established weeds and overgrown grass. Unusually, there didn’t seem to be a roadway leading away from the house, but with no clear view into the near distance, it was difficult to judge if there was, or had been, any connection with the outside world. They approached an ornate arch-shaped low-slung entrance and noticed that the solid wooden door was flaking its black paint.

“I think we can speculate that our reivers lord, landowner and historical sheep thief is away on business,” O’Toole concluded. “He’s told the milkman he’ll be away until further notice and when he returns, he’d be grateful of a bag or two of new potatoes. So we go down the criminal route and force entry because we’re not getting through that bloody great door in a hurry. A tinkle of glass will suit our needs admirably this evening. Tim Healy, your leather-gloved fingers and a fair-sized pebble should be ample for our task. It’s time we bid auf wiedersehen to a pane or two. Carefully does it now. We need no injuries.”

Healy’s eyes danced sideways in the direction of Clough and Boycott, then he squinted and screwed his mouth. “If this ruins the leather, I want compensation,” he affirmed. “Come on, oot tha way, let me smash this bit of glass – but if there’s a drink’s cabinet, I’m first in line, Orkee?”

Healy located a hand-sized rock and peered through the dirt-encrusted, leaded window.

Tissssh! Scangle-dangle! And the glass disappeared into the darkened room.

Healy found the hand-locking fastener on the frame and quickly had the window hanging wide open. He was turning to update his comrades when his blood turned cold…

“Halt! Who goes there?” a voice called from behind. “Ve haff vays of making you talk, Tommy!”

Near heart attacks were suffered in unison as two tall figures approached from the rear, footsteps slowly crackling the gravel.

“I thought as much,” O’Toole called out, “You Nazi swines! The place is probably riddled with ’em and has been since 1945! We’ve been snared like rabbits!”

“On no, it’s the Erics!” Healy hooted. “Run for it!”

“Stop or ve’ll fire!” the German man called back… but was there a hint of Mancunian in his threat?

Healy stopped dead in his tracks: “Is this the bit where ya ask us to put our hands up or something?”

“You’ll have to forgive my friend,” a northern yet educated voice followed. “He’s from Prestwich, you know. Are you the owner of this place?”

“Us? We reckoned you might be!” replied Boycott. “What’s going off?”

Neither O’Toole, Boycott, Clough or Healy recognised Tony Wilson, the co-founder of Factory Records, co-owner of the recently opened Haçienda nightclub in Manchester and occasional TV host, nor could they have known that Mark E Smith was the frontman and lyrical genius of the highly alternative band The Fall. Angular indie music was not on their radar.

“Tell us, is this Hangingbrow Hall?” O’Toole enquired.

“It most certainly is,” Wilson replied. “It’s written above the door, look.”

“Then we could be in for an interesting night,” O’Toole grimly stated.

“Ahh, Stalag-on-the-Wold,” Healy added.

“There’s one thing that puzzles me,” Wilson queried, approaching the recent arrivals. “Why would a house in the middle of fucking nowhere not have a fucking driveway and not even a path? You wouldn’t want to be a paperboy round here.”

Frowning, with eyes bulging, Healy uttered, “Bit of an oversight, would you not say?”

O’Toole smiled without pleasure. He placed his hand on his chin and wondered. For sure, he was a retired Catholic but if the top-secret Gestapo paperwork concerning this creaking nest of iniquity were true then surely it was better to hotfoot it back the way they’d come than introduce themselves to Satan’s Aunt Sally. Of course, it could all be film-flam of the highest order – and most probably was.

“Well, we’re not gonna stay out here all night are we, lads?” Clough asked. “We’ll have to get in there otherwise we’ll bloody well freeze to death.”

“I hope they’ve hoovered recently,” Boycott said. “I don’t like dusty houses.”

With the darkness and drifting fog, Wilson could barely see the faces of the new arrivals but there was something in the voices that were familiar to him. His Cambridge-educated brain quickly placed voices to faces… but it couldn’t be, could it?

“I thought for a moment that I was standing in the midst of some of the greatest artistes of stage, screen and sport that this country has ever produced,” Wilson ventured, “but it’s a strange night and the light up here, or rather lack of it, has a tendency to play tricks. Because the chances of Lawrence of fucking Arabia, the European Cup-winning Nottingham Forest manager, the cricket captain of that county at the wrong end of the Pennines, and the lead actor from last year’s most piquant TV offering featuring a gang of likeable Geordie labourers in Germany… well, the odds are against it. Would you agree, Mark?”

“But look Tone, it is them,” said Smith. “I knew straight away, of course.”

Wilson began shaking hands: “I’m Tony Wilson. This is Mark E Smith. We’re both from Salford – not Manchester, you understand. There is a difference. We’re what you might call lost.”

“Completely fucked might be a better way of puttin’ it,” Smith said.

“Things could be worse,” Clough noted. “Look there’s a big empty house right in front of us. And by the way, when you said ‘European Cup-winning Nottingham Forest manager’, that’s double European Cup-winning Nottingham Forest manager. Don’t forget. I won it twice – with Peter Taylor by my side.”

“And in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet,” Healy corrected, “there were also workmen from Bristol, London and Wolverhampton. I just thought I’d make the point, like.”

After clearing away the remaining jagged shards of glass using a rock, Healy grabbed hold of the window ledge and eased himself into Hangingbrow Hall, with Clough and O’Toole helping push his legs through the aperture.

“That’s the tickeet,” Boycott enthused.

Healy drew the heavy curtains to one side using his leather gloves and pushed his head back through the broken window. “Has anyone got a lighter? It might help me to find a switch, like.”

“I’ve got some matches,” Smith responded. “England’s Glory.”

“Well come on in, bonny lad – you’re the man of the moment!” Healy said.

“Ahh, a smoker, we’re in luck,” O’Toole smiled. “I’ll be through right behind you.”

It was at this point that Clough, Wilson and Boycott, who were forming an orderly line, noticed an old sign attached by bolts to the wall close to the front door. Using a handkerchief, Wilson was able to remove some of the decades-old grime and read the words aloud: “M.O.D. PROPERTY. KEEP OUT. THIS IS A PROHIBITED PLACE WITHIN THE MEANING OF THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT. UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS ENTERING THE AREA MAY BE… and the bottom bit is broken off.”

“Ohhh Christ, what now?” Boycott wailed. “This is turning into a right shonky do.”


  1. Foreign booze

Mark E Smith struck an England’s Glory match and a globe of dull yellow light emitted from the flame. Common-sense Tim Healy checked the wall by the entrance and instantly located a Bakelite toggle switch. He flicked downwards and there came a dzzzz zzzzzz, as if the electricity wiring was waking from a long slumber, and after a pause the space became illuminated in a soft, understated glow.

“Wor mam and dad had light switches like that in Newcastle when I were a bairn,” Healy smiled. “It’s antique that, man!”

“I’ve put dimmers in at my house but I wish I hadn’t bothered,” Geoff Boycott said with annoyance. “You spend ’alf night fiddlin’ wi’ knob cos it’s either too bright or too dark. And all you want to do is ’ave a proper sit down after takin’ Northants to cleaners. Floor lamp. That’s what me mam and dad ’ad. Real ’omely. Makes you want to read a nice book, which can only be a good thing.”

“Owners of this place must have been keeping up with the leccy bills, eh?” Healy spoke from the corner of his mouth.

“Curious, that,” Peter O’Toole nodded. “Perhaps the owner, having lost his fortune at the gee-gees, found himself on pancrack. With a fund left from favourite aunt Lady Docker, he can afford the utility bills but the cleaner had to go.”

Smith struck another match in order to light a high-tar cigarette. “Before you ask, I’ve only got 14 snouts left,” he angrily explained, “so don’t mither me. Not enough to go around.”

Healy lifted his eyebrows in absolute amazement and found O’Toole and Clough performing similar facial expressions. Surely he could spare one!

In the centre of the grand home’s main hall hung the primary light source, a dangling brass and crystal-drop chandelier that was caked in cobwebs. Only three of the opulent fittings’ seven bulbs were operating but it was enough to give colour to the interior. The ceiling was a Spaghetti Junction of dust-covered strands running from chandelier to first-floor railings and back. Walls were oak-panelled, while a wide staircase led to timber balconies and, one assumed, bedrooms. The upper-level walkway was held in position by solid oak arches and sturdy props that disappeared into the masonry at 45-degree angles, and there were further arches upstairs as part of an overall gothic theme. Expertly carved balustrades stood to attention along the stairs and landing, while underfoot the parquet floor’s herringbone pattern may have once been a showpiece feature but was now covered in layers of dirt and filth. Most unusual though was a collection of oil paintings hanging on the walls positioned between the room’s small windows, which largely depicted people and places from hundreds of years ago.

“These’d have been nabbed by now where I’m from,” Healy voiced. “Am I not the only one thinking how strange it is to have a collection of paintings in a derelict house?”

“You could swipe the lot if you could get a Transit van across miles of inaccessible moorland,” Wilson said.

“Aye, true enough,” Healy added, a little embarrassed. “In all the excitement, I’d almost forgotten that we’d risked life and limb to get to our holiday retreat! How did you get here, like?”

“Have you got a few hours to spare?” Wilson said. “Let’s fill in the details when we get settled in. And I’d suggest we tread carefully if this place has been closed off by the MOD. It might have been used for atomic experiments. Obviously I’m going for shock value here.”

For the first time in this extraordinary day, Healy had a moment to fully comprehend what a bizarre collection of personalities he’d unfathomably stumbled across. Earlier at the Granada studios he’d been in the company of Ralph McTell, Betty Slocombe, the one from The Liver Birds, Cato, Kenny Lynch and a smattering of Coronation Street denizens. Now, it was like he was among Greek gods – a scene from Jason And The Argonauts.

He glanced across at Brian Clough, who was wearing a red padded jacket with an Adidas logo, flat cap and grey suit trousers. He looked like he’d taken part in a rugby union match, with broad brushstrokes of dried mud and grass across the fabric. The hugely successful football manager, forehead jutting, was staring intently at a painting that depicted a battle between various brightly dressed soldiers on horseback trading pistol fire in a life-or-death gallop across heath. But from Clough’s stance, he could easily have been waiting to head home a swinging cross in the Roker Park penalty area.

Within cat-swinging distance stood Geoff Boycott, who was busy kicking clods of soil from his shoes and making himself generally more presentable. He was in a navy blue mac and light grey trousers, although both garments were now more a mix of cocoa, umber and taupe. Among the forestry shades, bright white skin could be seen in a tear in Boycott’s trouser material from knee to thigh. Occasionally, the edge of paisley-patterned boxer shorts appeared in the gap. Remarkably, Boycott still had his baker boy cap placed firmly on his head.

Deep in thought, lips mouthing silent words, Peter O’Toole was attempting to make sense of the location, searching for clues like a plain-clothed detective. His fair hair was short, neatly trimmed and in a side parting. His beige waist-length sports jacket was adorned with slits and on his sleeve white stuffing had been caught, snagged and pulled. The garment would have to be binned if this adventure were ever completed. A flamboyant green and white neckerchief kept out the worst of the evening’s chill. He was also wearing chunky black cords that at least had given his legs some protection against Cumbria’s barbed flora. They were now in an earthy camouflage state that was more pronounced at ankle level. However, for a man who’d stepped from a serious car accident hours previously, he looked in pretty good nick.

As for these new gadgies Tony Wilson and Mark E Smith, Healy knew nothing about them. And what was the “E” all about anyway? Literary pretensions, no doubt. To say they were in the music biz, they didn’t seem particularly Rod Stewart or Barry Manilow. They were like normal fellas, actually. To Healy’s eyes, however, Wilson was dressed like a prat, although his mud-caked USA-bought high-top trainers, khaki combat trousers and trenchcoat strongly suggested he’d traipsed a similar problematic path to reach this peculiar setting. “…almost hit by a fucking train”, Healy overheard Wilson say to Smith.

The Fall frontman wore an unzipped casual grey jacket with black leather sleeves, which Healy thought must have cost a bob or two, over a turquoise cable-knit jumper that was ripped at the chest to reveal a white T-shirt underneath. His jeans were muddied in places and his lace-up shoes needed time to dry out, but his appearance made no allusions to a troubled journey.

“So we devise a plan, darlings,” Wilson said, rubbing his hands together for warmth, steamy breath trailing from his mouth. “You’ll notice a rather massive fireplace at the far end of this disgusting room that’s big enough to roast a hog. Getting a fire going will lift our spirits and we’ll think about a pig should the opportunity arrive. ‘What is genuine is proved in the fire, what is false we shall not miss in our ranks.’ But what did Engels know?”

“Bugger that, news reporter,” Smith responded. “We’re finding spirits first, the drinking variety, strictly for medicinal reasons you understand. Then I’ll give you all the help in the world getting’ a fire going. Lifting spirits comes second. You can’t be cock-a-hoop round the clock. How do you think they want on in the War? We can learn a lot from that generation. Drinks come first. Always has. If we have to, we can burn what little furniture we can lay our hands on and all them paintings.”

“You can’t do that!” Boycott exploded. “That’s what a yobbo would do. These are heirlooms, lad!”

“Obviously not that loved or that valuable, Yorkie!” Smith guffawed. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have been left here in this shithole.”

“Eh, shithouse, this shithole’s a mansion,” Clough cut in. “You don’t fill stately homes with crap. And at the end of the day, this is still someone’s property. We don’t touch a thing! Apart from their booze!”

“We should split up into groups, just like they do in scary films,” Wilson suggested. “We’ll be far more effective mapping this place and we’ll soon find out if it has a) a drinks cabinet, b) fuel and c) a copy of the Carlisle Evening News to get it started.”

“No, no, no, we keep together at all times,” O’Toole quickly responded. “Before we become too cosy and kick up our heels, I’ll need to give you and your fellow Lancastrian a few background details about this calamitous collection of bricks and mortar. All might not be as it seems and you should be aware of a smashing great peril.”


As O’Toole expounded on supernatural small talk, Wilson found himself grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of being trapped in a haunted setting, and turned to Smith: “There you go, Mark – ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’. I’ve told you time and time again that The Fall should cover that wonderful track. R Dean Taylor. Perhaps the most underrated artist to have ever been involved with Motown and its various offshoots.”

“I know, I know, I know – it’s not a bad idea,” Smith nodded. “Holland-Dozier-Holland, yeah? Northern soul belter.”

“Never charted in America,” Wilson added. “They haven’t got a fucking clue over there. Not a fucking clue.”

“You know why northern soul happened?” Smith said. “Ballast.”

“Come again?” Wilson frowned.

“Ballast on ships,” Smith followed. “Yanks hated most pacey soul and America was making a lot of soul music in the Sixties. Boxes of the stuff were worth ten a penny. As you’ll know, Wilson, records weigh a fucking ton when they’re boxed up. The ships used them for ballast so they’d sit better in the water. And here’s the good bit. Ships arrive at Liverpool and Salford docks, and these records get stacked up on the quay as the boat’s being loaded and unloaded. You turn your back for five bloody minutes and the scallies’d swipe ’em all. The 7”s would be in the window of the nearest record shop within the hour. So all the fast soul music that them dumbfucks over there didn’t appreciate – not that I dislike Americans – ended up in the North-west. Nicked as soon as it arrived. No harm done and all for the greater good.”

“That’s enough, you two!” Clough announced, tapping his lips. “Save your history lessons for later. Right, gentlemen, if you’ll follow me.” He lifted his face and soon gave a very believable impression of is-he/isn’t-he leathery showbiz dancer Lionel Blair on mime programme Give Us A Clue, pressing his left index finger against his nose and using his right index finger to point the way.

Through a door and the six found themselves in a pitch-black space.

“I’ll do the honours,” Healy sniffed, and located the light switch. It worked, but the light was almost brown due to the build up of grime on the solitary bulb.

There was a door to the left and Clough turned conspiratorially to his companions: “Let’s try in here, shall we?”

Clough pushed the door and it creaked waaaaaaaaaah.

“Lucan, we know you’re in there!” Smith called out and laughed.

Boycott tutted: “Eh, clever sod, you won’t be makin’ wisecracks if a massive evil glowin’ skull suddenly appears, will you? You need a course of thinkin’-on tablets!”

Manchester City-supporting Smith smiled: he’d just been told off by Geoff Boycott! They’d never believe him at The Ostrich tomorrow night. And Boycott, along with Wilson, was a Red, there was no way of getting away from that. Not great – he was outnumbered.

One by one they stepped inside.

“I’ll do the honours,” Healy smiled and flicked a light switch. “I’m getting good at this now, bonny lad.”

Bzzzz-zzzzzz and another chandelier, this time much smaller than the one in the main hall, fizzed into life. They entered a dusty, but fairly large living area that was sparsely furnished. A settee was covered in a dustsheet, indicating that whoever had left the home did so with an idea of preserving the objects inside. Closer to the window was an occasional table with an old-fashioned telephone on it.

“It’s like one of them that you see on All Creatures Great And Small,” Smith said, and he picked up the receiver. The line seemed dead apart from unrecognisable whispering, which Smith put down to some form of electrical interference. Smith played the part: “What’s that, Tricky Woo’s dropping flappy woof-woofs again? Then stop feedin’ it all them choice cuts from the butcher’s and put some aside for me and Mr Herriot’s next visit, you daft old battleaxe. He-he-heh! And give your gardener a raise…”

Smith’s expression soon changed to very interested toddler when Clough cheerfully announced, “Gentleman, the bar is open!”

Clough had skilfully jemmied open the locked doors of a curved walnut art deco D-shaped cabinet that resembled a small wardrobe. The bottom section held an impressive array of bottles of various shapes and sizes, while the upper tier was home to a collection of tumblers, flutes and wine glasses.

“Got to go!” said Smith and slammed the phone down.

“Look at escutcheon on that!” Boycott called out, tapping the fanciful keyhole.

O’Toole’s legs almost gave way as he fell into a fit of giggles that threatened to cut off his air supply. “Oh, mother!” he cried.

Clough lifted bottles from the cabinet and studied the labels like a librarian might with a new collection of reference books. “Never heard of half of these,” he said with a smile on his face. “Jägermeister – look at the Germanic writing on that, Geoffrey. Fernet-Branca… Prodotto in Italia. That’s a new one on me. Averna… Passione di Sicilia. All of it’s got a percentage on the label and most of it’s brown, which is a good sign, I suppose. Hang on, what’s this? Himbeergeist… That’s clear, look. Probably bloody lethal! Nice square bottle, mind.”

“I’ve had the honour of drinking a gallon or two of Averna,” O’Toole gleefully recalled. “La Gaffe, Hampstead. A novel eatery that in a way became my gaff. I lived a couple of doors away, you see, and it was the nearest place that sold this fantastic concoction they call al-co-hol. Averna is a herby sort of digestif, but as we haven’t got a digestive to nibble on, let’s wet our collective whistles with a nip of the colourless to begin with. By God we’ve earnt it.”

“Funny that it’s all German and Italian beverages,” Wilson noted, accepting a large glass from Clough’s outstretched hand. “It lends credence to the notion that Adolf Hitler intended to use this building for his own purposes once the Nazis had successfully conquered Britain. Plenty of booze, no spooks, so we’re up on the deal. Imagine living in a place like this. Hitler had his faults, but he had good taste in architecture. It seems totally, totally implausible that a mansion in Cumbria could not only be empty, but cut off from civilisation. It’d make a good recording studio.”

“You never knaa what’s ganning on with the upper classes though, eh,” Healy said, then took a sip of his drink. “Oh aye, this is familiar. It’s schnapps! We drank this when w’woz in Germany filming Auf Wiedersehen. Although the Dusseldorf building site was actually at Elstree, would you believe? Back of the studio, like. They had to import German bricks to make it look realistic.”

“Incredible,” said Wilson. “If I’d have known, I’d have got New Order to shoot the Blue Monday video there. We could have had the band working on the site with you, building a wall. Opportunity missed. We’d have figured out the meaning later. That’s called praxis. The video we eventually shot wasn’t half bad, though. Do you know, we sold over half a million records.”

Blue Murder?” asked Healy.

Monday,” Wilson corrected. “It’s a drug reference.”

Boycott shook his head with irritation: Of course it is; then sipped from his glass and found himself pleasantly surprised. “It’s like peach juice and flames mixed into one,” he said, nodding approval.

Smith drained his glass and strode to the cabinet for a refill. “Be careful with this,” he warned. “I got fuckin’ wankered on this stuff in Reykjavik last summer. I thought someone had stolen me legs. It’s funny, in Iceland you can still see swastikas spraypainted on walls and they date from the War. It was kept quiet, but the Icelandics backed Nazi Germany. It’s why the Brits and Yanks invaded the place – to stop the Germans getting an invite. It would have played fuckin’ havoc with the Atlantic shipping.”

O’Toole shifted towards a wall to study a walnut art deco sideboard and moved a finger through the dust on its surface. He savoured a sip of Himbeergeist, allowing small glugs to depart down his throat from the reservoir he’d created in his mouth. He opened a sideboard door and found various items of crockery and boxes of paperwork. He picked up a German, English, Italian and French phrasebook dating from 1932 and read how to order a bespoke suit in each language.

Above the sideboard was a painting of a small island comprised of white rocks with four or five cypress trees enclosed within craggy cliffs. An oarsman was rowing towards the shore. His passenger was a standing figure dressed in a white robe. It was a serene scene, yet it filled O’Toole with dread.

“Ahh,” O’Toole spoke. “This is headline news. It’s one of a number of paintings titled ‘Die Toteninsel’ by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. ‘Isle Of The Dead’.

“‘I Love The Dead’?” remarked Boycott. “A bit grim.”

“‘Isle’, Geoffrey, ‘Isle,’” O’Toole huffily corrected. “It’s turn-of-the-century dreamlike twaddle. A certain A Hitler Esq was something of a fan of Arnie’s peculiar oeuvre, although almost every home in Berlin once had a print of his on their walls, next to a portrait of their beloved Führer. It’s ‘Crying Boy’ territory; ‘Wings Of Love’ – Woolworths exotica.”

“‘Wings Of Love’… what, that big swan?” Boycott roared. “It’s virtually pornographic, that painting. Sid Fielden on Committee’s got one up on his sittin’ room wall in Doncaster. I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t get out quick enough. It’s got this man and woman on it, and they’re not even wearin’ any smalls.”

With the thought of Boycott agog at the site of nudity in a South Yorkshire home, O’Toole needed three attempts to take up his story again. “Now… Now…. Now to my knowledge there are five versions of ‘Isle Of The Dead’ in various museums and galleries around the world,” he continued. “This could be an unknown sixth. The question is: Why is it here? There’s a stack of paperwork in this cupboard and I intend to go through some of it with another of those drinks to keep me company.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’m bloody famished,” Healy said. “We might have to go foraging in the morning, catch us a rabbit or something, before we head off, y’knaa. With a bit of luck, this fog will have shifted.”

“We used to live off rabbits when I were a lad,” Clough beamed, finishing off his double measure. “Free nosh! We’d need to set a trap and find some carrots or apples as bait. I said earlier that I’d make venison for this lot. Well, we might have to make do with Bugs Bunny instead, with a dandelion, lamb’s quarter and dockweed salad. Now, I don’t want you lot getting pissed. We need to get that fire going and dry our socks off. Then we’ll have a nightcap and I’ll tell you all a bedtime story. How does that sound? And do you know what, Geoffrey?”

“What’s that Brian?”

“I told you there was no such thing as ghosts!”


  1. Shredded Wheat bought in Wakefield

“Did you know you can make nettles into beer?” Brian Clough divulged, as a conversation concerning edible wild plants gained traction among the six marooned leviathans of British culture. Fortified with alcoholic curios from Central and Southern Europe, they walked in single file through a low-ceilinged dimly lit passageway like schoolchildren. Clough, unafraid of the dark, led the procession, with Mark E Smith, who kept an open mind about supernatural shenanigans and believed himself psychic, bringing up the rear. “It’s crackers, isn’t it?” Clough continued, lifting a finger to emphasise his point. “With a bit of yeast, lemons, a bag of sugar and some other ingredient that I can’t bloody remember, you can have bottles of beer within a week! And eh, it’s lovely! Bloody lovely! It doesn’t sting your mouth like you’d expect and it’s very refreshing on a hot day after you’ve been gardening. Now! There’s tons of nettles near our ground. Tons! Obviously it’s not free booze in the strict sense because you’ve got to get your wife to buy you your sugar and lemons down at Fine Fair, but half your ingredients are growing by public bridleways!”

“Dandelions are edible,” Tony Wilson added. “Every bit of them – stem, flower, root, the lot. Full of vitamins. Not so cool on a Didsbury driveway. Ian Curtis detested dandelions. He was a fan of a neat lawn. But I would certainly consider eating a fucking dandelion now if I could get my hands on one.”

“Wet-beds?” Geoff Boycott cried. “That’s what they call ’em. White stuff in stem makes you lose control of your bladder in night. That’s a scientific fact datin’ back years. I’ll pass on your salad, thanks.”

“Genesis name-checked Fine Fair in one of their records,” Smith spoke. “‘Aisle Of Plenty’, ages ago, back in the Seventies. It’s probably the nearest that lot’ll ever get to Fall territory, reading out prices of Fairy Liquid and jelly. Good if it’s done properly.”

“Oh, very interestin’!” Boycott bellowed. “You’re not in youthie now, you know, comin’ out wi’ all sorts of nonsense!”

Smith stomped forwards to Boycott with face contorted: “Boycott, you’re a balding bag of contradictions. Mr White Rose all the way, yet you’ve sold out your fellow Yorkshireman by supporting Fat Ron’s Reds. How did that work out, then? It makes no sense. Thoughtless, even. It’s a geographical abomination.”

“Here we ’ave it… I take it you’re a Man City fan!” Boycott sneered. “I support Man United because I appreciate quality and decent application, simple as that. I idolised Denis Law. What a striker ’e was, a master of ’is craft. No sulkin’. A real trier.”

“Law, who sent you down to Second Division when he played for City!” Smith laughed. “Without trying! Little-dink back-heel. Fantastic! What a great day that was! Like winning FA Cup!”

“And look at face on ’im when ’e back-’eeled it into net!” Boycott shrieked. “Devastated! He didn’t run off cheerin’, did he? It were agony for ’im! Anyway, you’d not make much of a pundit, mister. You get relegated over course of a season, not a single game.”

“You ought to be supporting a local set-up like Barnsley or Leeds!” Smith responded. “Proper sides, them. Liverpool, they’re a proper side an’ all.”

“Well, clever dick, I played for Leeds – you didn’t know that, did you?” Boycott rallied. “Only one appearance, for under-18s, I’ll grant you. Belle Vue, Doncaster. Guess who was alongside me in midfield? Bremner! So I weren’t all that bad! But me ’eart weren’t in soccer, it were in crickeet. I mean, you say you’re a pop star, but I’ve never ’eard of you! ’Ave you even been in ’it parade? I shouldn’t think so!”

“We topped the indie chart a while ago.”

“Indian? Well that counts for little!”

Tim Healy, nearing total exhaustion, eyes bulging with wrath, pushed himself between the belligerent batsman and defiant singer to divert a potential altercation: “You two, pack it up, man! We’re looking for something to burn here, right, and the sooner we’re back in that hall getting the fire ganning, getting warmed up, the happier we’ll all be. Quick nip of tha booze and we’ll be in dreamland in no time. So let’s cut all this crap out, eh, and get on with the basic job of surviving the night!”

“You get this invective with City fans,” Wilson said sullenly. “Study their history and you can understand it to a point. Most of them are from Wythenshawe…”

“Shut up you an’ all, right!” Healy scolded and pointed a digit in Wilson’s direction.

“My esteemed acquaintances, we’ll wake up the dead at this rate,” Peter O’Toole chortled. Despite their grave predicament, he was rather enjoying the evening.


Another door and another ghastly creak: waaaaaaaah.

“I’ll do the honours, eh?” Healy sarcastically smiled and tapped a nearby wall to locate a light switch. Bingo! He flicked and, to his consternation, the space remained a black void.

“Looks like the bulb’s done a runner,” O’Toole commented.

“Mark, man, we’re gonna need your matches again,” Healy called out.

“Well, I’ve not got many of these left either,” Smith complained. “We’ve got to be thinkin’ long-term, not waste everything willy-nilly.”

“Here we go, acting the goat again,” Boycott said. “You’re in a team now – start thinking what you can do for it, not what it can do for you!”

Swiiiiiish-shaarrr. The struck match’s yellow glow gave outline shapes to large items of furniture. There was a centrally placed long wooden table with drawers, tall cabinets against the walls and, bizarrely, the ruined remains of a bed’s iron headboard. Beyond were a good-sized cooking range and the silhouette of a large fireplace. Pots and pans were hung from rails, but there were various items of cutlery and smashed cups littered on the worksurfaces and floor. Smith winced, “Oooh yer ffff…” as the flame licked his finger ends and the dead match fell to the ground.

“Looks like the kitchen to me,” Clough stated. “And do you know what kitchens have?”

“Kettles?” wondered Boycott.

“Kettles? Candles!” Clough said. “So let’s get them bloody cupboard doors flung wide open and drawers hanging out, and we might get some light in here.”

“Eh Mark, you come wi’ me,” Healy beckoned. “Bring ya matches cos if this place is dry, and I can smell no damp here, there’ll be more matches somewhere, so you can have your last smokes all to yaself in peace – what do you say to that, eh?”

“If the odds are tasty, I’ll have a Lady Godiva on candles being near the sink, by the Brasso, grate polish and Mr Sheen,” O’Toole ventured.

Smith struck another match but to his dismay the flame extinguished the moment he and Healy moved forwards.

“I’m not doing that again,” Smith said. “Not wasting any more matches. It’s too draughty to bollocks about. So we’ll move together, linking arms like a blind Charles and Lady Di until we reach the sink. Then we’ll slap around to find cupboards and open a few doors. Let the bats fly out – ha-ha! Then I’ll strike a match. Got that, cocker?”

“Right you are, bonny lad,” Healy replied, taking hold of Smith’s elbow.

“And if I’m holding the match, it’ll be you has to go through the cupboards, alright?” Smith affirmed.

Healy pursed his lips then looked sideways at Smith: “Orkee, let’s just get on with it then. I’m gonna put my biker’s gloves on for this job though mind. You never know, under the sink could be rodent shit and all sorts. Don’t want to come down with diphtheria or the black death! Lead the way, your royal highness.”

Rough Riders, 4×4, you can trrrryyyy to stop ’em,” sang Smith. After some extended foot shuffling, they reached a sideboard, found the sink, felt the shape of taps and from there, lowered themselves into a crouching position to investigate nearby storage space.

“You give me light and I’ll see what I can find,” said Healy. “It’s darker here than down a bloody pit!”

Swiiiiiish-shaarrr. Another match was struck. Glorious flickering illumination arrived. Healy slowly opened a cupboard door to prevent a current of air that might kill their precious flame. Smith shielded the matchstick like it was a new-born kitten, and, using a cupped hand, gently moved the light forward.

“Hurry up, I’m getting’ cramp,” Smith warned.

Using an entire arm, Healy dragged a cupboard shelf’s entire contents in one sweep onto the stone floor. The match went dead. Smith lit another, and Healy cleared a lower shelf. The pair rapidly studied their booty with what was left of their light.

“Candles,” Healy laughed. “And look here, two boxes of kitchen matches!”

There came a cheer from the back of the room.

Smith struck another match and grinned while reading the labels. “He’s right enough. Price’s Candles in an old box. Not seen them for years. They’ll probably be made out of whale oil, ha-ha! And a big tin of Diamond Matches. There’ll be a hairy tarantula inside but worth the aggro, I suppose. It’s like being a bloody kid again with these packaging designs. The older generation were so much better at this sort of thing.”

Smith struck the last of his modern dry matches to get a candle started and passed it to Healy. Smith then carefully took a light from Healy’s candle and stood up, surveying the surroundings.

“Aggghhh, fuckin’ pins and needles,” Smith growled. “Urgggghhhh… Wait, wait, wait, wait… I’m OK now.”

Taking hold of more candles, Smith and Healy soon had the kitchen bathed in a flickering Victorian warmth. O’Toole, Clough, Boycott and Wilson gazed in dismay at the wrecked room around them and were startled to discover twisted cutlery lying on the worktops.

“Maybe Uri Geller pops in from time to time to practice,” Wilson frowned and lifted a deformed spoon for the others to see. “Look at that. Bent at 90 degrees. There’s loads of them. ‘Nothing useless is truly beautiful’, as William Morris once said. Maybe I should have got Uri Geller in on the Haçienda opening night instead of Bernard Manning. The London crowd who’d come up on coaches would, I now think, have been more disposed towards a cutlery bending con artist. But Manning was right for the moment. He belongs to Manchester, and we’re here to create life moments, not just put on events to please Southerners.”

“He lasted 15 seconds,” Smith reminded.

“And waived his fee,” Wilson said.

“I was there and that was the best part of the night,” Smith added. “You’re best off not trying to think things out too much. Go for the immediate and the present, and then leave it for other daft bastards to figure out.”

“I were only talkin’ about Bernard Manning earlier,” Boycott proclaimed. “He’s brilliant. Me mother liked ’im.”

“Bloody hell, we might not have such a bad night after all,” Smith tittered.

Clough, having taken a candle for a tour around the wrecked kitchen, opened a cupboard directly above a sideboard and smiled. He began removing tins as if he was filling a shopping basket. “Look at this bloody lot!” he called out. “Libby’s red Alaska sockeye salmon… HP baked beans… St George corned mutton… Taistbest casserole… Anchor dripping… Walls pork sausages. And see this here – tinned cake!”

Healy arrived to view Clough’s historical unopened-can banquet. “You’re not thinking of trying out any of this nosh,” Healy frowned then widened his eyes. “These have not been touched since Vera Lynn was last on Top Of The Pops!”

“I’m sure I read somewhere that tinned food lasts indefinitely,” O’Toole recalled. “I’ve rarely been hungrier and the treacle pud would be a proper treat, but to come down with a dicky tum miles from brandy or a nursecake to wipe my feverish brow would be unthinkable.”

“It would be utter madness,” Wilson said. “Dandelions are one thing… these tins will have spoilt over 40 years. Saying that, I saw a documentary on BBC2 the other night about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and they came across tins of food in one of the shelters they’d used. I was nodding off – I’d had an argumentative day with New Order manager Rob Gretton – but I think they took a tin opener to it and had a few forkfuls of 75-year-old beef. Apparently, low-acidic food can last a long time. Canned meat, soup, peas. Freeze-dried canned food lasts longer. I’m usually up for experimentation but for the want of a square meal, I can hold out till tomorrow.”

“Is there no bleach under the sink?” Boycott asked.

“Why’s that, like?” Healy wondered.

“I’ll need to clean the toilet before I use it,” Boycott stated.


A small pile of chopped logs was located by the kitchen fireplace, along with a scuttle that was full of dusty-topped coal and a bundle of kindling. These, along with the previously discovered bottles of European alcohol and a good selection of glassware were transported back through the dark passageways to the main hall.

“I’d suggest for now we piss in the fireplace,” O’Toole said. “No wandering off. We keep together at all times until we know whether this home is as deranged as Hitler imagined, or is merely derelict and ramshackle.”

Boycott was deeply troubled by this idea. “What if we need one of other?”

“Other of what?” O’Toole questioned, before the penny dropped. “Ah… well,” he smirked, “a bit of self-control might be the best action for now.”

“Self-control?” Boycott continued. “I eat Shredded Wheat every mornin’, like a lot of sportsmen do. I’m regular as clockwork.”

“So you’ll be needing the facilities available at sparrow’s fart,” O’Toole replied. “Do not fear. At first light, we’ll set out to map Hangingbrow Hall and I promise you, Geoffrey Boycott, you fine, fine Yorkshire cricketer, that we’ll find a shitter you can be proud of.”

“Well, I’m so busy in day that I’ve set meself up to go before bed,” Boycott sheepishly said. ‘About naaarr, actually.”

Even Clough, busy getting the fire going with the assistance of Mark E Smith, rolled his eyes at this. “Just hold it in Geoffrey,” Clough called across. “Mind over matter.”

“Well, I’ll try,” Boycott conceded. “I’ll tell you what, there’s a right draught from that window we broke earlier. I think I’ll ’ave a look and try and board it up with somethin’. That’ll keep me mind wanderin’ from matters of unmentionable.”

“Have a shit through the gap in the window while you’re there,” Smith called from the fireplace, as assorted detritus and kindling accepted the flame from one of the ancient kitchen matches. ‘Wipe your arse with the curtain. That’s what I’d do – ha-ha!”

Boycott, who was rummaging through the contents of his kitbag to find his contact lens solution, tutted, then said, “You dirty Arab! There’s too much of this sort of conversation nowadays.”

“You brought it up!” Smith reminded.

Wilson noticed that Boycott was having difficulty removing his contact lenses beneath the poor light of the chandelier and brought forward a candle on a saucer. “Does this help?”

“Much appreciated Tony,” Boycott thanked. “They’re tricky blighters are contact lenses. They’re a real ’andicap. I bloody loathe them, to be honest. But I dislike spectacles even more!”

“So what are you going to board the window up with?” Wilson enquired.

“I’ve got a big box of Shredded Wheat in my ’oldall that I picked up in Wakefield this morning before fog came down,” Boycott stated matter-of-factly. “I bought some carpet tape an’ all. I’ll use card from cereals box to fit gap and tape it in.”

Healy swung round with a furious face. “You’ve got what?”

Wilson appeared confused and almost dropped his candle: “Did you say a box of Shreddies?”

“Shredded Wheat,” Boycott corrected.

“Shredded Wheat, my apology,” Wilson said. “Is the box full, empty…?”

“I said I bought it in Wakefield this mornin’. Has everyone got cloth ears?”

A cacophony of swearwords was hurled at Boycott from many directions.

“Well, I din’t think anyone would want Shredded Wheat wi’out any milk!” Boycott defended. “They’re too dry by ’alf!”

Another barrage of abuse followed, which rapidly turned into disbelief and finally roars of laughter.

Clough walked from the fireplace, which was already beginning to provide some warmth to the hall, and handed out glass tumblers. Filling each receptacle with a good few fingers of peach schnapps, he declared. “Gentleman, I propose a toast: to Shredded What!”



  1. War and not much peace

Mark E Smith placed two more logs on the crackling fire and crunched into his haystack of Shredded Wheat. With hunger, the nuance of flavour packed within the golden strands was startling. Of course, Smith had once bought a box of Shredded Wheat at the start of a fitness phase – he’d cut out whisky for a while, moved onto red wine – but had dismissed the cereal as tasteless knitting wool, even when liberally sprinkled with sugar and using cream from the top of the milk bottle. He took a sip of Averna and pulled up the dusty curtain that he was using as a blanket. Momentarily mesmerised by the flames and face warmth, he thought about his socialite American wife and fellow Fall band member Brix sleeping off her hangover in a warm, clean-ish Glasgow hotel, and of Rob, his roadie pal, who he assumed must be hitching back to Manchester following their unfathomable car incident. It seemed almost a dream.

“How much wood have wa left?” Tim Healy enquired.

“Not much,” Smith answered. “Another hour. Chimney needs sweeping.”

“We should’ve ’ad a gander upstairs,” Geoff Boycott said. “There’d ’ave been beds or mattresses for us to sleep on. Brian’s right, this ghost yarn is plain dotty. I’m not sayin’ we would’ve all been sprawled out in our own rooms ringin’ down for room service, but we could’ve found somethin’ to keep us off this floor. There’s still a right draught from somewhere.”

“The odds of us copping a spook are lengthening by the minute,” Peter O’Toole admitted with a degree of disappointment.

“Well, be my guest if you want to go for a snoop around but I’m done in, lads,” said Healy. “My arse is staying right here in front of this fire, draughty floor or not. I’d suggest getting a bit of kip and taking a sweep of the premises when it’s light.”

“We should bugger off before too long in the morning,” Brian Clough suggested, opening the Jägermeister. “Forget wasting energy on a grand tour. Get back on the trail and find civilisation. This Shredded Wheat won’t last all that long. Pity about that haul of cans in the kitchen, mind. If it was 1964 and not 1984, I’d have been tempted to find a tin opener.”

“What about this rabbit casserole you promised us, Brian?” asked Boycott.

“Aye, but we need bait!” laughed Clough. “Something tastier than grass. Do they eat Shredded Wheat?”

O’Toole drained his Averna. That’s enough for tonight. He studied the dustsheet he’d been handed and flapped it to cover his stockinged feet. The thin material would provide little warmth, but he’d be buggered if he’d complain. There will be times like this in life, he thought. And this was no new territory. He’d slept rough on a number of occasions when he first arrived in London from Leeds with good pal O’Liver, who he’d met while working as a reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post all those years ago. Park benches, deckchairs, and, when nothing else was available, the cold hard ground.

O’Toole produced his reading glasses from an inside pocket and started to rifle through a fistful of paperwork he’d discovered in the nearby living room. For a time, there was little of interest other than grocery bills dating from the War, and, by the look of the lists, much was spent on gardening and maintenance.

Then he came across a scrappy collection of yellowed foolscap titled Westküste: Militäergeographische Angaben über England 1943. Interesting, thought O’Toole. West Coast: Military Geographic Information About England. But 1943? He’d always been under the assumption that the idea of conquering Britain had been scuppered in September 1940 following the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain air supremacy over the RAF. And once North Africa had been lost and the debacle at Stalingrad, the seesaw had swung in favour of the Allies and the Hun was on the back foot.

The gist was a fanciful strike at Cumbria, seizing Carlisle and, what the document called, “die weiche Schultern von Schottland” or “soft shoulders of Scotland”. O’Toole could scarcely believe what he was reading. Scanning rapidly with his semi-understanding of German, O’Toole soon realised that the radical plan involved a secondary invasion at Stranraer, prior to a two-pronged push upwards and east across to Edinburgh, cutting off the Highlands, taking control of ports and runways, and eventually knocking out the Royal Navy’s chief naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. The reason, O’Toole presumed, was to keep Norway firmly in German hands and continue its heavy water production plants and, by extension, its atomic weapons programme.

To O’Toole’s horror, part of the dastardly vision was also to take by force Dublin and a stretch of the Irish east coast, including its ports at Drogheda, Greenore and, to the south, Waterford. Was the idea that Ireland would simply roll over and accept its lot? It was difficult to ascertain.

The Isle of Man would be shown no mercy, hammered by the Kriegsmarine and, in smoking ruins, would become a de facto aircraft carrier, rather like Malta for the British in the Mediterranean. From there, Scotland was to come under the black cloak of German rule. Furthermore, the document stated that a number of Scottish landowners were in favour of breaking from the Union and the Auld Enemy in order to forge closer ties with Europe – in effect, welcoming the Germans with open arms. And wouldn’t those coalfields be a rich prize to the Nazi cause.

The whole show was pure bluster from a drug-addled Adolf; for a start, it would have taken huge amounts of materiel from the Eastern front.

He thumbed through pages until the words “Hangingbrow Hall” hit his eyeballs like arrows from Robin Hood’s bow. Now, what have we here? O’Toole shifted to get better light from the grimly webbed chandelier. The page had an English translation attached to a page with a paperclip.

“Hangingbrow Hall”, Cumberland: to be secured for immediate research purposes. In 1937, the British Government sealed an area 4sq kms due to “unaccountable disturbances”, pending further investigation. Site is of interest to the Führer, Reichsführer-SS and Ahnenerbe to assist with rapid conclusion of the War. Area is lightly defended. A forward party of Brandenburger special forces to secure the building and surrounding area prior to the arrival of invasion force. Hangingbrow Hall is home to a collector of antiquities, Gerhard Twisteaux, born Zurich, 1888. The collection includes a previously unknown version of “The Germania”, possibly an original from 98AD, by Roman historian Tacitus. It is much valued by the Reich. Evidence also suggests “The Receiver”, age unknown, connected to Celtic mythology, said to restore life and/or grant eternal life, is at the location. Twisteaux had much interest in neo-pagan ideas and the occult, and corresponded frequently with Reichsführer-SS 1933-36. Twisteaux family thought to have perished 1938-39 in a house fire; Gerhard Twisteaux survived and invited Germany’s scientific assistance. NOTE: G. Twisteaux possible links to German pre-history.

“Unaccountable disturbances”, wondered O’Toole, removing his glasses. What the devil does that mean?

Tony Wilson approached and crouched by O’Toole’s side, glass in hand, having accepted a Jägermeister from Clough: “Strong stuff this,” he admitted to O’Toole. “Anything of interest?”

“Can you read German?” O’Toole replied.

“Top of the year, De La Salle Grammar,” Wilson proudly proclaimed. “English too, come to think of it. I’m a quarter German, you know. I think that means I’m eligible to play football for West Germany.”

O’Toole passed Wilson the documents, pointing to specific places of interest. Wilson rapidly digested the information but questioned the logic.

“You’re shaking your head,” O’Toole noticed.

“Let’s say Hanginbrow Hall had some interest to Adolf Hitler,” Wilson pointed out. “History tells us that the invasion of Cumbria and Scotland never happened. You seem pretty certain that Hitler himself wanted to check out its supernatural properties – real or not. We’re convinced the place is no more threatening than Play Schoolon BBC2 at half-past three, and as for Humpty, Jemima and Big Ted, they’ve fucked off to God knows where. Things don’t add up. It’s cut off from society, which has to be unique unless it was some sort of a cult heavily influenced by Tom and Barbara Good. Always more of a Margo person myself. As for finding this document here – you’d have thought it would be in the Imperial War Museum archives. That’s if it’s genuine.”

“Could’ve been an oversight,” O’Toole ventured. “It was among the shopping receipts. Looks like the building was abandoned with some speed. Adolf Hitler was a poor military tactician. A blast on the amphetamines and he’d have been strutting in front of his maps concocting all sorts of over-the-top schemes. He was, in all possibility, a raging drug addict even by France 1940. His interest in German mythology was deep. Crackpots by the pound, the Nazi top brass was obsessed with the notion that Germans were either from Atlantis or had a common ancestor called Tuisto – a god or demi-god, and the fourth son of Noah! They had an idea that the planet used to be jam-packed with giants and dwarfs, and that when these creatures were living out their fairy story existences 250,000 years ago, we had three suns.”

“And Noah divided the world between his sons,” Wilson recalled. “But I thought he had three kids.”

“Some believe four, some five,” said O’Toole. “Tuisto was the fourth and given Scythia and Germany to rule from scratch. The Nazis were selective historians.”

“I read somewhere that Hitler had a sense of humour,” Wilson smiled, putting down the papers, “He once told the story that Mrs Göring found her husband waving a baton at his underwear laid out on the bed. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked. ‘I’m promoting my underwear to overwear!’”

O’Toole let out a tired laugh. “Sleep calls, I believe,” he said, and shook hands warmly with Wilson. ‘And I say to you who have seen war like a wasp. Worse things shall be than have been. But they shall yet be better.’”

“Who was that?” Wilson asked.

“Would you believe, I can’t remember.”

“A good one, though,” Wilson nodded. “This is my favourite – and it’s pertinent for our bollocks of a situation. ‘It’s my belief that history is a wheel. “Inconsistency is my very essence,” says the wheel. “Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you are plunged back down into the depths.” The good times pass away but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.’ A starter for ten, who was that?”

O’Toole thought, then said. “Confucius?”

“It’s a good answer, but not the right answer,” Wilson smiled. “You’re only a thousand years out. Consolation of Philosophy; Boethius. Roman guy. He wrote these words while locked up, right at the end of the Empire. Executed for treason a year later.”

O’Toole placed his cadaverous head on the edge of a tattered rug. “Ah, the dogshelf,” he spoke. “It’s been some time.”

Wilson looked across at Clough and Smith by the hearth and caught part of their conversation. “…but we beat you 2 bloody 1 at Maine Road!” Clough voiced.

Boycott was already fast asleep propped up against the wall, head slumped forwards, arms twitching as he faced the Aussies at Headingley.

Wilson lay himself horizontally and placed his head on the back of his hand. He longed to be in Manchester with his new love. “Tomorrow,” he muttered, “tomorrow.”


  1. The trip to the toilet

The crack of a knee and the gentle swish of clothing material brought Tim Healy out of his semi-snooze. Opening an eye, he searched the room as if looking through a periscope and in the stark light of the wood-panelled hall he made out the outline of a hunched figure. Healy raised himself onto his elbows and shout-whispered, “Who’s that?”

The voice spoke back calmly, “Never you mind.”

Healy squinted and screwed up his mouth. “What are you doing, like?”

“Lavatory,” came the reply. “I can’t wait longer.” And Geoff Boycott picked up one of the two flickering candles from the mantelpiece.

“You cannae go on your own, man,” Healy hissed.

“Watch me,” came the gruff West Yorkshire response. “I’ll end up on a kidney dialysis machine at this rate.”

“Do you remember where it is?”

“Other side of kitchen,” said Boycott.

“Awwww, hold ya horses, I’ll come wi’ ya,” Healy uttered, and rose to his feet, bike leathers creaking.

“No, no, no,” Boycott responded, placing his baker boy cap on his head. “I don’t need a partner for a trip to conveniences.”

“Well, I could probably do wi’ a lash meself,” Healy stated matter-of-factly and climbed out of his leathers to reveal a navy V-neck jumper over a checked white shirt and jeans – all spotlessly clean. He jammed his feet back into his muddied biker boots. “What’ll you do for bog roll?”

“I’ve got ’anky,” Boycott replied. “Best I can manage in circumstances.”


If this was a supernatural film at the Odeon or ABC in the mid-Eighties, Boycott and Healy’s candle-lit creep through whining doors and dank passageways would have been accompanied by spooky incidental music courtesy of a bassoon. The yellow glow from the wick danced and swayed, animating the corridors as they advanced. Some electric lighting worked, most didn’t. Healy stopped for a moment to look through a gap in a set of curtains but any view of undulating Cumbrian fields remained obfuscated by dark swirls of brown-grey fog.

“Never known weather like this, have you?” Healy whispered. “I’ve heard of peasoupers but this is like being in the tin.”

“I’ll give an answer once deed’s been done, sonny Jim,” Boycott replied. “I can’t think of owt else.”

“When wa saw the bog earlier… did it have any water in it?” Healy enquired.

“How do arrr know?” Boycott said with exasperation. “And what ’appens in there is between me and Armitage Shanks. There’s no need for Richie Benaud to commentate.”

Through another door and the unlikely pair found themselves close to the kitchen. Healy slapped the corridor’s wall switch and the light bulb made an unnerving bat-like squeak, became very bright and then died. Healy flicked the switch on and off without success.

Eventually, ten feet further on from the kitchen entrance, they came across a door they had opened earlier. On it was a sign, “Toilet”, hanging at an awkward angle from a single screw. It represented the furthest extent of the group’s original investigation. Using candlelight, Boycott and Healy could see that the tunnel-like corridor continued to a T-junction and on into unchartered territory.

Healy turned to Boycott: “Me first.”

“What!?” erupted Boycott.

“The lash, you remember?” Healy replied with raised voice, then quietened to near-silence. “It makes sense for me to go before you.”

“Be damn-well quick then!” Boycott commanded.

“I’ll need the candle, man,” Healy smiled. “I wouldn’t want to piss all over the floor, y’knaa, and the seat. It’ll just be a box of black in there, like being in a cube of outer space.”

Boycott thrust the candle into Healy’s hand.

“Not be long,” Healy spoke, hiding a smile. “I’ll try not to be anyway…”

For Boycott out in the corridor there was complete nothingness. He was a child whose eyes had been covered prior to a pin-the-tail competition, or worse, a caver trapped underground near Ingleborough Hill. Then came a faint sound from the toilet… blololololololopblololopblop.

Moments later Healy re-emerged. “Well, you’ll never guess, there’s water in the bottom of the pan,” he said excitedly. “Black water! And there’s toilet roll on a wall holder. Last person to have wiped their arse in there would have been at war with the Erics!”

“Imagine that,” Boycott grimaced in the dark. “Now, if this is agreeable to you, look after my ’at and give me candle. Wait here. And mind you don’t talk to any strangers.”

Boycott gave the slightest of grins and took hold of the candle. In the corridor, inky totality arrived in sections as the door closed. Healy’s eyes widened, but he didn’t look around, not yet. He simply gazed in the direction of the door, resembling a naughty schoolboy outside the headmaster’s office. It was cold and time stood still.

“Eh, you’re not out there listenin’ are you?” Boycott cried. “Can’t a man ’ave a bit of peace?”

Healy grinned at the absurdity of the situation and took a step back. “I’ll go and get meself a paper!” he said towards the lock.

He looked to his side. As his eyes adjusted properly to the darkness, up at the T-junction, there appeared to be minimal grey light from, possibly, a curtain-less window that was out of sight. He thought: Shall I close my eyes until Geoff Boycott has had a shit? He bit his lower lip, judging the idea. Come on Geoff, man! Healy shook his head.

To his surprise, the toilet door pulled open a fraction and tepid yellow light glowed from behind Boycott’s head.

“Do you think I can trust this toilet roll?” Boycott enquired. “I’m very fond of this ’anky.”

“Fill your boots, I reckon,” Healy replied. “Bit of dust won’t hurt yar arse.”

The door closed.

Healy turned and glanced along towards the corridor intersection once more. He decided for peace of mind to see what was around its corners. He paced forwards and then stopped abruptly. Then he moved forward again. Always better to know, he thought. He continued until he was two steps from the T-junction. The grey light must be from a window, he thought. It was now visible on the wall and floorboards. Closer, closer, closer, Healy’s hands on the peeling paintwork, edging his eyes along the wall inch by inch to take a peek around the corner.

He found himself speaking: “You’d better present yourself, bonny lad.”

Nothing. Silence.

He hesitated. Cold beads of sweat arrived on his forehead. There was the realisation that he was still tightly holding Geoff Boycott’s hat in his hand. He felt a hole in his sock on the left big toe. Why am I not at home in bed after watching the snooker? he thought.

“There’s more of us than there is of you,” Healy followed.

A noise: shhwwwwww

Healy’s hair stood on end. Regardless, and taking control of his fear, he strode out into the next corridor.

And there, 15 to 20 feet along the lengthy passageway, he saw a floating presence. Healy, having committed himself, faced it like a cowboy in a duel.

Paralysed with terror, he tried to take in what he was experiencing. Is this real? It was gently drifting, that much was true, grey-white and in human form. Its gown was swishing around like, like, like… maybe the toilet roll down the hall with Geoff Boycott. The apparition was slowly sailing away from Healy, and then it halted. Gradually, it looked over its shoulder and Healy noticed… the face of an old lady?

The spectre spun at an agonisingly slow rate. And there they stood, the living and the dead.

“Look, pet, we’re just stopping the night, Orkee?” Healy explained. “We’ll be gone first thing, I promise ya that. Six lads who’ve got lost, that’s all.”

Twisting strands emitted moon-like illumination and the wraith appeared to be considering Healy’s comment. It lifted a glowing finger to its lips and said, “Sssshhh, the children…”

Healy blinked, considering his next move.

Then the ghost moved at alarming velocity, like a Honda VF1000R, Healy thought, its face switching from fragrant bingo-going spinster to absolute skeletal fury. It roared at him with arms outstretched!

Healy turned and ran, biker boots the wrong footwear for such an emergency undertaking. Despite this, he reached the toilet door at a speed he didn’t realise he was capable of. He also found the ability to see in the dark and located the toilet doorknob instantly.

He tugged on the handle: “Geoff, man, let me in, let me in!”

There came the sound of an incredible rumble from inside the toilet: rrrrr-rrrrrrr-rrrraaaAAAAAAHHHHHRRRRRR-rrrrrssshhhhh.

The door flung open and Boycott said, “It’s one of them raised cisterns with a proper pull chain. Flush is like a bloody Vulcan bomber!” And he sounded quite pleased with this. “Reminds me of an outdoor toilet I used to frequent in pit village, which frightened bloody life out of me!”

“Get back in, get back in,” Healy urged.

“I’d gi’ it a bit yet, flower,” Boycott proclaimed, barring Healy’s entrance. “I thought you’d just been anyhow!”

“I’ve seen it, man! I’ve seen it!” Healy protested.

“Seen what?”

“Ghost! I’ve just seen it, Geoff, man! Just seen it up there!”

“I thought I told you not to talk to strangers,” Boycott joked, accentuating his 90-degree flipped lower-case-“b” smile. “You’re knackered. You need a bit of kip and you’ll be right as rain in mornin’.”

“Geoff, man, I’m tellin’ yer – get in the bog right now.”

“Well, you might need to switch to mouth-breathin’ for a bit,” Boycott admitted, and the pair closed the door behind them.

“Never seen a ghost before, man, Geoff,” Healy said, clinging hold of the rim of the small side sink. “First time. Never believed it.”

“And you still ’aven’t seen owt, you daft apeth,” Boycott affirmed. “Look, I’m wi’ Brian on this one. There’s no such thing. Show me this ghost you saw. Come on, I want to see it for meself. Cos you’ll find you’re mistaken, chum.”

Healy’s head dropped, then he looked up to see his reflection in a cracked wall mirror. He slapped the sides of his cheeks and turned to Boycott. “Awww man, man, man, that’s the most frightening thing I ever saw. It’s oot there, right now. I’m being totally honest with you on this.”

“Keep calm, for pity’s sake,” said Boycott witheringly. “You’re becoming ’ysterical.”


Boycott allowed the moment to pass.

“Look at us pair, fastened up literally in a shithole!” Boycott whispered. “I thought touring India in ’81-’82 were bad enough!”

Healy smiled at this: “Eh, hope you washed your hands,” he said, calming.

They both laughed due to the extreme tension, and then giggled some more.

“Sound of this bloody lavatory!” Boycott howled. “Scared life out of me! Ha-ha-haaaa!”

“Ha-ha-ha! Oh-ho-hooo!” Healy chortled.

And then…

BUUUMMMP! – right outside the door.

Healy froze in the candlelight. Boycott looked like he’d swallowed a Scotch egg that had gone off.

“D’y ’ear that?” Healy said.

“The bump noise?” Boycott asked.

“Aye, man,” Healy frowned. “What else, a low-flying aircraft?”

The Yorkshire batsman and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star listened like their lives depended on it. There was intense quietness and then came the rapid thudding of their hearts.

“Well we can’t stay here all night in this latrine,” Healy whispered. “It’s like something from Laurel & Hardy.”

Boycott nodded as common sense seeped back into his bones: “Right, you ’ead art first.”

“Me?” said Healy, uncomprehending. “You’ve captained your country – it’s me should follow you.”

“I’m ’olding candle, aren’t I?”

Healy looked sideways at Boycott, then took hold of the door handle. He twisted it and stepped forward. Both slowly and quietly emerged into the corridor, familiarising themselves with their troublesome surroundings.

“So where were it?” Boycott asked. “This thing of your’n.”

“Up there at the end, like,” Healy stated apologetically

“Could be kids buggering abart,” Boycott said in hushed tones.

“Kids?” Healy spat. “You’re jokin’ me, right?”

“What with Amstrad home computers and colour torches from the catalogue, they could get up to all sorts of pranks nowadays,” Boycott added.

“Look, I know wharra saw,” Healy affirmed. “And it might’ve slipped ya mind how long it took us to get here! This place is not on some bairn’s paper roond!”

“We should go and have a look,” Boycott suggested. “Gi’ me back me ’at, there’s a good ’un.”

Placing his baggy cap in position, a haven’t-got-time-for-this expression could be seen emerging on Boycott’s face and he marched towards the T-junction of corridors as if he were heading to the crease at The Oval. Healy, emboldened by Boycott’s pluck, followed a step behind.

Boycott bounded round the corner and glanced forwards while holding the rim of his hat, then span to look the other way. “Not a dicky bird!” he thundered. “There’s a window up there wi’ a hole in it and it’s flappin’ the damned curtain. That’s what you saw… Sorry, I forget your name, lad.”


“Tim, aye.”


The rattle of a door handle made O’Toole awake with a start. He was a poor sleeper at the best of times but the discomfort of the solid wooden floor offered no support for his narrow torso and boney limbs. He lifted himself into a seated position in manageable stages. Like a house pet, O’Toole observed as Boycott and Healy followed the outline of the far wall. The cricketer placed his candle carefully back on the mantelpiece. Lifting a shirt cuff, O’Toole checked the time: 3am. He’d slept for less than an hour.

“Had fun?” O’Toole enquired with a gravel voice.

“Of sorts,” Boycott replied. “Something’s gone off.”

“Gone off?” O’Toole asked with surprise.

“Aye,” and he motioned to Healy. “Go on, spill yer guts.”

Due to the volume and seriousness of the conversation, Clough and Wilson were both roused from their slumber. Clough lay there blinking, while Wilson kept his weary eyes closed, following the proceedings like a radio show.

“Well let’s have it,” O’Toole said, looking from Boycott to Healy and back again.

“Well, I did see summat, yeah,” Healy divulged.

“White sheet, big gob on it, two discs for eyes?” Clough mocked.

“Not exactly, no,” Healy replied, lowering his head to look at the Nottingham Forest manager through sheepish eyes. “I know how it seems. May have been a ghost… It was lit up, black and white and y’knaa, grey in places. It looked a bit like me granny actually.”

Factory Records’ impresario Tony Wilson slowly turned his head: “Not wanting to belittle your experience, but maybe it was your granny, and you are so tired right now, you’re seeing things. Just a thought. Rather than Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) stuff. A great show, by the way. Could happen to any of us.”

“Aye, that would explain it,” Healy said with tightened lips. “That would explain it alright.”

“Let’s, for argument’s sake, say that you did indeed see something that was possibly not of this earth,” O’Toole continued. “I’d like to hear what happened next. Tell us what you saw.”

“Where were you when this was going off?” Clough looked at Boycott.


“Ah,” Clough smiled widely.

“Keep it down, I’m trying to sleep here,” Smith added.

“Gentleman, please,” O’Toole voiced. “Let’s hear this story and then we can rest.”

“Orkee,” Healy said, collecting his thoughts. “It was illuminated, y’knaa. Giving off some light, like. It was floating, like you’d expect a ghost to do. It was… sort of regular height for a granny. It had strands of material flapping aboot, a bit like a shirt on your mam’s washing line… And then it came doon this corridor at me, picking up speed, and it’s face changed, screaming. I didn’t hang aboot. I went like the clappers, I can tell ya!”

“And then we heard this other noise,” Boycott added. “Some bangin’ abart, but that could’ve been owt really.”

“Could be someone else in the house, like a tramp, or some bloody pigeons or something,” Clough offered. “It’s a big place.”

“Or Bela Lugosi,” said Smith.

And then from upstairs came a dreadful running sound: BUMP-BUMP-BUMP-BUMP-B-B-B-B-B-BUMP-BUMP!

All eyes look towards the upstairs landing.

“Not a nice noise,” Boycott noted. “Someone’s chargin’ about!”

“It’s ‘Blue Monday’ on 12”,” Wilson smiled. “Whoever or whatever it is, it’s got decent music taste.”

Even Smith stirred at the racket: “I reckon that were Carl Lewis!” he added. “Did he die recently?”

Clough was dumbfounded and, for once, was lost for words.

O’Toole smiled at his fellow travellers: “Perhaps we should go and introduce ourselves.”