A personal spooky moment

All Saints (The Old Church) ChingfordI can only recall two events in my life where I have experienced what can be described as spooky moments. One was on the day of the 9/11 terrorist acts in New York and which I have already written an article about. The second event occurred while I was watching television one Saturday evening.

In the 1980’s  a television drama series was produced called “London’s Burning”. The series was about the lives of one watch, (crew), on a London fire station. All the cast were actors and the station was given a fictitious name although I recognised the film location as Dockhead Fire Station.

Being a London firefighter myself I watched the first two episodes but unfortunately quickly became bored with the series. I suppose to myself the fire station life portrayed was nothing like I recognised from my own experiences. Having said that, I do recognise the television producers need to make a program to entertain a much wider audience than real firefighters. From the critics and public reviews, the producers would certainly appear to have done that. There was also one beneficial spin-off from the series in terms of recruitment into the fire service. Prior to the series, there was always a steady but small trickle of new applicants which became a flood by the time the series had come to an end. The program proved so popular, at least one additional series was made before the program reached the end of its natural shelf life. Apart from the original two episodes, I saw none of these either.

Probably something like eight to ten years later, one of the series was re-screened. During the intervening time my father had also passed on.

I never was the greatest of television fans outside a good documentary as I pursued other interests, genealogy being amongst them. I did however find myself one Saturday night at a loose end. Frequently we either entertain friends or are in turn equally entertained by them. This particular Saturday night though was one of the few when not much else was going on.

I thought I would settle down in the armchair and watch television for once. Unfortunately I could not find any programs to keep my attention and ended up feeling a little bored. I suppose we all have done a little channel hopping from time to time, using the television remote control to flick from channel to channel but not really finding anything to our particular interest. This is how I was this Saturday evening.

Eventually I came across a repeat episode of London’s Burning and watched it. Had there been any other program of greater interest on at the time I would have watched that instead. I cannot remember the full story line of this particular episode but I do recall towards the end of a make-believe rescue where a person had jumped from the window of a building, burning I think, only to become impaled on spiked railings in front of the house. In the script, this individual subsequently died of injuries and the final scene was at the end of this individuals funeral which had just taken place. The scene was of the watch members standing around the earth mound of a freshly made grave making their various remarks about the individual. As the crew members walked away, the camera panned slowly upwards away from the grave to a distance shot across the cemetery. It was at this point that I froze in total disbelief.

The same spot the make-believe grave was located on was also the exact location of my own fathers grave. Because this particular view across the cemetery is deeply etched into my mind, I could pin-point the location with great accuracy. I do appreciate that at the time the series was made my father was still alive and as I did not watch the series, I was also unaware of this location at the time. It seems to me the television producers had probably piled earth on the grass of  as yet unused ground of the cemetery to make the spot look like a newly filled grave.

I am not a superstitious person or one that believes in ghoulies, ghosties, or things that go bump in the night. What I saw that evening did however send a shiver down my spine. Any time I recall what I saw including writing this article does the same. I do find the co-incidence factor however quite amazing. For a person who rarely watches television and particularly this series to by chance witness such a personal scene would make phenomenal bookmakers odds. Never-the-less, it happened. One thing I do know, I have never watched another episode of this series since.

Donkey kept in a bathroom


DonkeyDue to the political composition of the County Borough of West Ham, there was much social housing spread throughout the borough. One particular housing estate was located in a backwater of the borough where the council appeared to house some of it’s more difficult tenants. The entire estate comprised of blocks of tenement style buildings. Each block being four floors high and each floor accessed by a double flight of stairs with a sharp 180° bend midway leading to a small landing on the next floor above.

As a young fireman I was advised by more experienced and wizened  colleagues that if I ever attended an incident at this housing estate, I was never to ask questions no matter what I might find.

I once attended a chimney fire at this estate in the 1960’s. At this time central heating was still something of a rarity. It was always possible to tell one reached the location of a chimney fire as the smell of burnt soot permeated everywhere. Sometimes in the dark, the offending chimney appeared like an erupting volcano with a multitude of sparks gushing from the top. Extinguishing a chimney fire is normally a simple if somewhat messy task, providing one has the correct equipment. The equipment itself is pretty basic but very effective and consists of a series of flexible bamboo canes which can be screwed end on end. A rose nozzle is attached to the top cane which has numerous small holes around it allowing fine jets of water to emerged from all around the globe shaped nozzle. This has the advantage of requiring very little water to extinguish the chimney fire while at the same time minimising water damage. The nozzle is connected to a thin flexible hose which is in turn attached to a stirrup pump that can be stood in a bucket of water.

As one firefighter manipulates the canes up the chimney, his colleague will slowly pump water. Normally it requires less than half a bucket of water to extinguish a chimney fire provided no unforeseen difficulties are encountered.

At this particular incident, the flat, (apartment), was located on the top floor. In a way we were thankful as this meant the chimney flue would be short in height and much easier to deal with. It was my task to go to the bathroom and fill the bucket with water from the bath tap. As I pushed the bathroom door open, the door opened no more than about 6 inches before it suddenly slammed shut in my face. I apologised profusely assuming I had interrupted someone using the bathroom but was greeted only with silence. I knocked on the door asking if I could come in only to be followed by more silence. More cautiously I once again slowly pushed the door open and like before, after a few inches it again suddenly slammed shut.

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