At seven years old I had finally reached year three of school. And this is when I met Jimmy. There he stood in the cloak-room as I hung up my bag and coat, not quite sure what the day would bring and he smiled at me reassuringly. He helped considerably in making me feel more secure starting my new year and I knew there I had found a new friend…I wanted to invite him back to my house to play…yet when I talked to other children about Jimmy none of them knew him or even seemed to be able to see him…
We lived in South Manchester in the North of England. In common with most cities, the zones and suburbs were identified more in terms of villages coming together to make up the whole of the city, our village was Northenden. We lived there for a few years, long before the anti-social issues that would later plague areas such as this, and all things considered I enjoyed my life there. Close enough to Manchester Centre, yet largely self-contained, also with a great park close by and a wonderful little library, looking back I can see why my parents had chosen to live there.
Fortunately back then the local infant school, although in a highly built-up urban area, did probably have more in common with the atmosphere of a village school rather than your typically rough tough city school. Housed in a fine Victorian building, complete with an expansive playing field and indoor sport/assembly hall.
We lived on the edge of Northenden in Bartlett Road, a quiet cul-de-sac overlooking the golf course. The houses in this road have an interestingly compelling story to tell all of their own, for now though I will add that one house here would become particularly relevant to this story.
Getting ready for my first day of year three, to once again become a participator in the English education system, I felt that same mixture of excitement and trepidation most of us must have to go through when a new school year starts. That sense of entering into the unknown.
Setting off for school, my mother walked me the less than ten minutes to the gate and after a kiss goodbye I was on my own. We weren’t allowed to cycle to school, I virtually lived on my bike so for sure would have done if permitted, school rules firmly prohibited it. Some first-timers were also being left to their fate on the same day, many with reluctant tears, old–hands such as me knew at least roughly what to expect.
The school bell consisted of the designated playground duty teacher of the day literally physically ringing a large hand-bell. At seven I couldn’t really understand how quaint this was, looking back from the benefit of adult eyes, what a wonderful throw-back to a bygone age. At 9am the bell rang and all of us were shepherded into the mail sports and assembly hall. For the benefit of the year ones, the head-teacher told us a little of the rules of the school and what might happen if we transgressed.
All in all though this first assembly of the school year seemed to pass on by fairly painlessly and in due course, in regimented single file, we followed our year three teacher into a different annex of the building than we had ever previously been allowed into. We had progressed into the more grown-up area of school reserved exclusively for year’s three through to five! She showed us the classroom, next usefully where the toilets were, finally telling us to go and hang up our coats in the cloakroom, located just to the left along the corridor.
There was the usual impatient rush of children all wanting to get there first, to be quickly back to class and choose where to sit for the duration of that year in school. Next to friends or perhaps even more crucially near the radiator, as this was an old Victorian building with big high ceilings it wasn’t always exactly scorching hot throughout the chillier months or more accurately absolutely freezing cold adequately describes the average winter classroom temperature.
At my experienced-in-matters-of-school-etiquette seven years old, I found all that dashing about and tripping over one another in their haste not really my scene. As I knew my friend Susan would save me a good seat next to her I could afford to be altogether more dignified in my approach.
I waited patiently until most the rabble had departed the cramped space of the cloakroom and entered to hang my coat on the peg I knew would be waiting there with my name on it. And then I encountered Jimmy for the first time. Stood to the rear of the cloakroom, he looked me in the eyes and smiled. He had one of those rare types of smile which make you naturally smile back. He seemed pleased to see me smiling in return. I needed to get to my class, I said I would see him later and off I toddled to see exactly where Susan and I had found ourselves sitting in the end.
When the morning break arrived, I encountered Jimmy for the second time, as we all passed the cloakroom on our way to the exit door he seemed to be waiting in the corridor for me to come out of class. Out in the full light of day I was able to see him altogether better; again we smiled at one another, as I took in the appearance of my new friend.
Although I was slightly taller than average, he was bigger than me. I estimated he might already be eight years old, definitely kudos to have an older friend in school. He had light brown collar length hair, obviously he wore the same school uniform as everyone else, but he also had a distinctive mid-blue coat. It was almost knee length and looked more like a smock. No hood, pockets on either side of the coat and mittens hung down via a piece of cord threaded up through the sleeves and presumably across the back. I had certainly never seen a coat quite like it. Jimmy was extremely pale and didn’t look terribly healthy at all.
Walking along the short length of corridor to the welcoming freedom of the playground we talked or it least it felt like we communicated, although in hindsight I am not entirely sure we spoke any physical words out loud. I didn’t give much thought to the matter at that age, simply accepted Jimmy as a friend and we talked to one another in a slightly different way than Susan and I did. He told me he felt a bit lonely and he was pleased I talked with him as most often children just ignored him. In return I said if he wanted he could make friends with Susan as well and we could play together at break-times. As I passed through the door out into the school yard Jimmy didn’t follow me, in fact I had no idea where he had gone, he just wasn’t there, thinking nothing more of it off I went on my way.
Over the next few weeks I would see Jimmy a few times a week, he would just sort of appear and we would have a chat, then he would go. Talking to Susan and some other friends revealed they didn’t know who I was referring to when I mentioned Jimmy, and more tellingly they never saw us together. The exact nature of Jimmy was a bit of a mystery to me, when I mentioned him I am sure some of my friends and family thought I had invented an imaginary friend. The truth would turn out to be altogether more profound and sad.
As children usually do I told my parents what I had been doing at school, which lessons I enjoyed and what my friends talked about. They already knew well of Susan and one or two other closer friends, Jimmy was a new one to them though. They wanted to know what year he was in and, I suppose with due parental care, if he might be the kind of boy I ought to be friends with. My mother asked me to ask him about his parents, where they lived and what things Jimmy liked to do away from school.
I didn’t see him for a few days, when I did I asked my questions and duly reported back his answers. He came from the same road as we did, he gave me the number and he liked to ride his bike. I remember thinking at the time how weird, as I always played out in our small cul-de-sac on my bike with all the children from the neighbourhood and with absolute certainty I had never seen Jimmy there. The other thing that was odd, the number he gave me in our road belonged to an older couple and I knew for sure they had no eight year old boy!
I wanted to invite Jimmy around to our house to come and play. My parents said it wasn’t really a good idea just at the moment, they would think about it later.
Our close neighbours living two doors to the left were an interesting couple. They had a small daughter of about four years old, she was great fun and I used to play with her sometimes because her crazy antics always made me laugh. The McEwans were considered a bit eccentric by most of their fellow neighbours. Elva, a psychiatric nurse also practised witchcraft and Frazier, although he rarely publically talked of it, was deeply involved in psychic research.
My mother casually invited them for coffee and asked me to repeat all that I knew about Jimmy, she being open minded enough to think I might have rather more than an imaginary friend there. Consulting the two most qualified unbiased second opinions to see what they made of everything I had to say. Always one to enjoy a willing and listening audience even back then, off I went into telling my entire tale right from the beginning. Fact for fact I went through the weeks of knowing Jimmy and, as nobody else seemed to be able to see him, how lonely he felt most of the time.
A few years later my mother shared with me the entire conversation which took place after I had left the room and the later validation of my story (more of which later).
At the time Frazier told me that Jimmy sounded like he might well be a ghost and that I must be very special to be able to talk with him and make friends. He explained some ghosts like to stay around in those places which meant something to them and in rare cases a ghost doesn’t even know it is dead. This didn’t spook me in the slightest, living where I did at that time I was all too well aware of spirits. It hadn’t occurred to me that Jimmy might actually be a ghost; I thought he must be in a different class than mine and because he didn’t really mix with the other children, this is why they didn’t know him. What this revelation did was make me feel sorry for Jimmy and I couldn’t wait to see him again, as always this would be when he wanted to be seen.
I didn’t have to wait too long. The sports hall at school was in that great tradition of English junior schools. With climbing ropes, an apparatus for vaulting over, exercise benches and mats, plus a climbing frame anchored against one wall. At the top of this frame about three metres up sat huge window ledges, with panoramic windows looking out onto the playground. As we all half reluctantly entered the hall ready for our PE lesson, Jimmy sat on one of these window ledges on high, ready to watch our teacher put us through our paces. He waved at me and I winked back; he stayed there for the entire thirty minute lesson, laughing sometimes at our failed attempts to carry out the simple instructions of the teacher.
I would often see Jimmy around school over the next few months, but by then I knew that shortly my whole family would be moving away from the area and I would be leaving the school. Sadly, I never really had the opportunity to talk properly with him again…
Frazier used his contacts in psychic research circles to look into the story behind Jimmy based on the details I had been able to furnish him with. This is in the days before the internet; back then research meant trawling through the physical archives and old newspapers, using hunches and intuition as a guide. Piece by piece over time the tragic story began to come together.
There had indeed been a boy called James (or Jimmy) and as related to me when I was old enough to fully comprehend, this is the true story of James…
James had lived in Bartlett Road in the early part of the 1960’s with his parents. An only child, like me years later, he had attended the “village” school. James loved to play out on his bike and he often rode the short trip to school. Part of the route to school took his mum and him alongside the busy main road into the Centre of Manchester (and it really was for only 25 metres, I know as I did it myself on foot every day). Horrifically he had pedalled a bit too fast, wobbled and unable to brake in time left the pavement to be hit by a car and killed instantly.
2014 saw me giving a talk back in my old area of South Manchester. After the show I took myself off to have a look at the school, my first visit since leaving there all those years before. I knew I simply had to park in Bartlett Rd, retracing the route my earlier self used to tread twice every week day for three years. I needed to feel, reach out and feel. And I knew I would be able to help Jimmy now. Finally, stood on the road outside my former school, looking across I reached out into the ethers of the building. Was he still there?
Not a single trace of Jimmy. I sensed, in fact the more I meditated the more I knew for sure, some kind soul from the psychic research organisation had been there many years before me (perhaps even Frazier himself) …and finally helped Jimmy to find the light and peace.
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