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The Witch & The Siren

With My Sister Gwen. Circa 1960

Every weekday morning from the age of four years old until I went away to sea at the age of seventeen I was awoken at five past seven in the morning by the air raid siren of a factory located on the other side of the road from where I slept in our tiny terraced house in Altrincham, a small Cheshire town on the edge of the great industrial city of Manchester.

The siren, a remnant from the air raids of World War II, was sounded to alert the Cooks and Co., factories workers, that it was time to get to work. My uncle, who it later turned out was my mum's ex-husband, used to hear that alarm three kilometers away and by the time the second alarm went off at seven twenty-five he was pedaling furiously down our road and about to enter the gates. The factory was a dismal place, a manufacturer of small machinery with walls ten meters high that blocked any potential view located a mere ten meters away from my bedroom window.

I dreaded that siren. It was my alarm clock for school and even though I did my best to stary in bed after it went off I would soon be up afterwards with my mum shouting, 'Paul. Get out of bed. Time for school!'

Year in year out that was the story. First the air raid siren then my mum's siren! Oh: The agony of it all.

Our next-door neighbour Dolly worked for the factory for most of her life. She was a strange one, who lived for decades with her sister, whom I liked but passed away when I was still very young. Dolly was not so likable and spent most of her days in the same dismal and grubby green outfit she wore to work. With her scrawny looks and long, matted black hair she looked to us kids like a wicked witch, especially when she swept the narrow pavement in front of her home with a straw brush while muttering to herself about who knows what. Most times when I saw her she would either be picking up the crate of Guinness delivered to her doorstep or putting out the empties before going to work in the morning. Every day, she drank that crate of bottled Guinness, rarely stopping to eat, a recluse increasingly at odds with the world. Amazingly she still managed to work a long hard day, but by the age of her retirement she'd lost her marbles. The years of nothing more than the nourishment of Guinness had taken it's toll.

One night we were all at home, when suddenly through the walls of our Victorian-era brick terraced house came the sound of Dolly screaming. It was very chilling and to us kids downright scary. No one had seen Dolly for days and certainly, no one had been in her house since her sister died years earlier.

'I'm going to see what's happening' Dad said as he walked out of the house. We were worried for him, imagining that Dolly was going to do a 'Pyscho' on him in her creepy little house. She still used gas lamps and grimy curtains hid whatever was going on inside.

After a couple of worrying hours' dad returned to tell his tale. He had banged on the door for a while, but eventually, she let him in, and dressed in her drab green clothes she led him through the darkened hallway to the kitchen where she largely lived, apparently never venturing to go upstairs since her sister died.

In the dark and gloomy kitchen she said to my father, 'Ken. There's a monkey under the chair. There, can you see it? Can you get it out? It's there every night.'

At first, he was concerned she was going to do something strange, but then his compassion took over, and he comforted and convinced her that the monkey had gone away.

When we heard his story we kids laughed like crazy. It was an incredible story for us kids to hear, but even though we were slightly afraid of Dolly we now saw her in a different light. Sadly, the hallucinations continued, and we were often awakened by her screams and banging in the middle of the night, but through it, all my dad and later my mum would chase Dollies demons away.

Then one day, an ambulance appeared and Dolly was taken away all distraught in a wheelchair. The neighbour on the other side was not so patient as my dad and had called the police and off she went to the asylum. We didn't like this at all, because we were a tight-knit community. We looked after our own, and we felt very sorry for her.

Then a year or two later, Dolly magically reappeared, looking years younger, fresh, recovered and very well which made us all very happy.

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