We huddled together shivering and terrified in the bushes after being attacked by the great, white beast. We could still hear its screams and knew it was moving away. As the screeching racket became more distant our thumping hearts started to slow.
‘We’ve found Narnia!” I whispered to my cousin Bill.
Unlike me, Bill was not a reader and he did not understand. He thought I had said banana.
Bill was my closest friend, and we had spent every day together since he was born, five days after me, eight years before. Like most working class kids in the 60’s, we did not have umbrella parents, supervising our every move or entertaining us. We played outside and rarely went home so long as there was daylight, and we weren’t hungry. I am not sure which of us was the leader but we made each other feel safe, and this explained many of the adventures we had. Unfortunately, the grown-ups sometimes got to know about our adventures and we were keen to avoid the kind of trouble we had occasionally experienced – such as the time we got a bus to a distant park and a search party came out to find us, or the time we climbed on glass roof of the kitchen lean-to and it cracked, or the time we ate a lot of dog biscuits to see what would happen. We both knew that we were not allowed on the railway tracks. That was a smacking offence, for sure.
We had followed the track for miles, or so it felt, leaping onto another track when a train passed by. We were thrilled by the noise, the smoke and whoosh of air and especially loved it when one of the drivers sounded their horn. I never felt in any danger. Just before we turned around to go home for tea we crossed the tracks to explore an iron fenced, wooded area. We slipped our skinny, soot smeared bodies through the rungs and crawled into the bushes. Through the lush green, waxy leaves we could see a magnificent gothic castle, topped by a pointed princess tower, tall chimneys and turrets. It was ivy-clad over yellow stone and red brick. The castle was surrounded by the lushest, greenest grass I had ever seen with exotic gardens dotted around – and a lake! It was completely breath-taking. We were both open mouthed in shock. That is when the great white beast attacked. Screaming into our faces with its red eyes locked onto us.
“I don’t care if you found banana you can’t tell your Mam – she will kill us”. I knew Bill was right when he took charge and said I could not go back for another look. It was too dangerous with the beast hanging around and so, reluctantly I followed him through the iron fence, back across the tracks and home. I felt disappointed. I had expected Narnia to be somewhere more magical than on the tracks leading to Hull railway station.
Our friends didn’t believe us of course but I knew what I had seen. I did once go back, alone and try to find it again, but the iron fence was no-where to be seen…….
Thirty years later, driving along a winding country lane in South Yorkshire I came face to face with the great white beast. I slammed on the brakes. It stood, in the middle of the road, shuddering and preening. A great arc of dazzling, shimmering quills. It stared at me with its angry red eyes and pointy beak before it slowly dropped its feathers and languidly walked through a hole in a roadside hedge. It was the most incredibly beautiful sight and I ached for it to come back. I heard the screaming ‘aaagh, aaagh, aaagh’ call – a sound which had never left my memory. A white peacock. A stunning, majestic, white feathered peacock.
I would like to say that I had a flash of understanding but that would be far from the truth. In the moment of seeing the peacock on that road, I had worked out that ‘the beast’ seen all those years before had been, in fact, a startled, rare albino bird, but what the hell was it doing next to a busy rail line in Hull? I felt a desperate urge to get back home to try to work it out.
Heart pounding, I pulled out the map and ran my fingers along the rail track from where it abutted our street. About a mile along, a large patch of green, with lake, was there, closeted by Victorian slums, railway track and industry. After almost forty years I had found my Narnia.
The building we had stumbled upon was Hymers College. A prestigious private school, established in 1893.
I am not sure that some mysteries are better solved.