Harlington village, 1951 or thereabouts: ‘Audrey, don’t buy that ruddy awful cheese in future. Not only did I have a dyspeptic night, but I do believe that particular cheddar was the cause of hallucinations.’
‘What on earth are you talking about, Donald?’ his wife said, as she passed by on her way to the bathroom.
‘As the church clock chimed midnight, I saw a small boy from our bedroom window. Not once, but twice last night. He ran up the road, not a stitch on. Then minutes later he ran back the other way.’
Audrey shook her head. ‘Really, Donald?’
Indeed, what Donald had seen was true. Although Donald and Audrey are figments of my imagination, the story is not a fictional one. That small boy was my father. He was twelve years old – ‘or thereabouts’, and this revelation came to light on the day of his eightieth birthday as my brother and I sat listening to a story he’d never told before. He has a wealth of longwinded and detailed stories, many stuck on repeat. However, this one was a fresh insight into the mind of a twelve year old boy, born in 1939 at the start of World War Two. An only child, he occupied himself quite merrily and often wandered off into flights of fancy.
At the time in question, he’d become fascinated by a poem read at school which, apparently, recommended stripping off and running through trees and grass – to free the mind and soul. One inspirational night arrived right on cue and, looking out from his bedroom window, twelve year old Malcolm asked himself, ‘could I ?’
Answering his own question, he removed his striped pyjama’s and crept downstairs where he gingerly opened the door to the garden, taking care not to wake his sleeping parents. It was late, very late. The moon was high and the air muggy with the last of the summer heat as Malcolm stepped onto the grass and bounded the length of the garden and back. The sense of liberation was a revelation to him, so, not wishing the magic to end there, he ran onto the lane and towards the T-junction where he turned right.
By the light of a bright moon, he pounded along the empty road in his bare feet towards the small village of Harlington some two and a half miles away. Along the unlit treelined lanes he ran, passing hedges ditches and fields and met not a single soul. When he got to Harlington he realised how far he had travelled and, with a general glance around at the houses, accepting that his mission had been accomplished he began the trek back home.
Recounting this extraordinary tale, my father never once mentioned whether his feet were sore after all that running, just that the whole mad adventure had been exhilarating. A wonderful secret kept for decades. On his naked country lane adventure he was alone with only nature and the moon for company. No cars, no bicycles, nobody. He saw no-one. But of course we will never know if anyone saw him…
The biggest mystery remains: He ran for a total of five miles in the dead of night but he can’t remember which inspirational poem led to this spectacular happening.