Some of my earliest religious recollections were through the means of a small Primitive Methodist Chapel in Chapel Lane. I was taken along to Sunday School by my father ‘for my own good’, Dad never attended, but insisted that
I did on his behalf.
The village at one time had three Methodist Chapels, two of which were now wood stores. This was a remarkable number for such a small village, and especially in the light of the fact that early records show that Dunston
was once ‘ a haunt for Highwaymen’ - I can only assume that a great Revival had once taken place that caused a wave of religious fervour.
Mr. Wesley was a young man who had been caught up in this fervour and had received a
personal Divine commission to carry on that revival and he carried it on mostly in our Chapel, Sunday School and in particular he was insistent that it should carry on in me - I became his personal mission field.
He was kindly soul and
I really liked him, but he would keep taking me and Rex to endless meetings with the hope that we would give our worldly pursuits and join him in his revival. I never understood why he did this, maybe it was because we were the only boys in a girl dominated
class and he needed someone to take the mantle when he had ascended into his reward.
One such meeting that I remember very well, was held in a nearby village called Billinghay. Mr Wesley was the speaker for the afternoon - Rex and I knew
what that meant - endless pleading with us all to turn from evil and repent and seek forgiveness.
We were to set off in a convoy, Rex and I were to travel with another teacher, a ‘fenlander’, called Pauline, she had just passed
her driving test and owned a dark blue Jowett Javelin, she had also signed up with Mr. Wesley on his crusade after the visit of a mission at the village some years previous.
We all piled in Rex, Jill,Peggy and myself in the Jowett
and the rest of the gang squeezed into Mr Wesley’s Austin 10. Just before we departed for Billinghay, Mr. Wesley came over, squeezed his head through the half opened window and said,‘Now you lot behave! I want plenty of singing on the way,
so that when you arrive you will feel like proper Methodists, not a bunch of heathens! So sing up!’ He extracted his head and made for his Austin.
On the way we sang, we felt we had to, we sang every hymn we could remember,
adding many words that were not in the original, these were interspersed with ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes’ and I think we got down from 10 to 3 green bottles before Pauline put us back onto course again with the old
rugged cross - we arrived in good voice, singing loudly as we came into the car park to impress Mr. Wesley.
The meeting took the usual form. We had various hymns on sinking and drowning and long prayers for our souls, then would come Mr.
Wesley’s speech. Just before the event he sitting in a kind of ‘shampoo crouch’, then he rose up. I could see from his eyes what was coming, I had seen that look before - he was on fire. Sadly for the Billinghay kids they didn’t know
Mr. Wesley and they had all been sat on the front two rows, Rex and I kept to the back. It wasn’t that we were afraid of Mr. Wesley, it was just that we knew when he got excited during his speech, he would spray the front two rows and over a fifteen
minute talk you could get pretty wet.
Well, sure enough, Mr. Wesley didn’t disappoint us. He attacked every sin you could think of, and when you felt secure that you had a couple that he hadn’t mentioned, he attacked those
in the next breath. His face shone, his voice went up and down as he stormed up and down in front of the assembled audience. Mr. Wesley was louder and wetter than ever.
I had heard it all before and began to admire Mr. Wesley for his ability
to hold everyone spellbound. It was during the height of it that he said ‘ I am confident of where I am going - if I am killed in my car whilst driving home tonight, then I go to heaven!!..’ There was no reason why I should remember those words,
in any case I was riding in the Jowett not t Mr. Wesley’s Austin.
After the meeting we all gathered around long wobbly wooden tables at the back of the hall and were served by smiling ladies with endless sandwiches and cakes - this
was always the best bit.
Soon it was time for Mr. Wesley to gather us all together for the eight mile journey back home. We were all assembled, except Sandra Buckingberry, who got stuck in the toilet and had to be set free by some of the
Billinghay women. Eventually the flock was gathered together and marched towards the cars for journey home. The air outside was cold, darkness had fallen and I remember looking up and seeing a clear starry night as we crunched our way towards the two cars.
Rex and I made toward Pauline’s Jowett.
It was then as if the cold hand of fate had touched my naked soul, that I felt Mr. Wesley’s hand on my shoulder, I turned, looked up into his face, silhouetted against the bright
sky and heard words that grabbed me somewhere in the lower bit of my body and caused my legs to feel very odd.
‘Not you, son, your coming with me in the Austin! Sandra gets sick and is riding with Pauline - your taking her place!’
The words! I remembered the words! ‘If I am killed tonight driving home.....’ I was now traveling in the same car as Mr. Wesley. Was this my last night? I suddenly saw my 10th birthday without me being there! I saw
Sandra Buckingberry becoming famous and rich and every year she would go to Dunston cemetery and place a small bunch of flowers on an unmarked grave in gratitude for the night that a small boy of 9 took her place in the doomed Austin 12. I felt sick. I wanted
to live. I wanted to play football, to go to a big school, to go out and play with the lads again. I didn’t want to die, not tonight, not in an Austin 10.
As we pulled away from the lights of Billinghay I felt trapped. I began to
think of my miserable life so far, I thought about putting my fingers down my throat and pretending to be sick, but then that would only delay the inevitable.
Mr. Wesley began to sing ‘I am so glad that Jesus loves me..Jesus loves
me..’ The three girls in the car joined in - they seemed happy - did they know? Why was everyone so happy? didn’t they know that soon we would all be dead? - at least I would be and that worried me.
I had worked it out that
if anything was to happen it would happen at the Meg’ corner, a long dangerous bend that had earned a reputation of respect with motorists and as boys we had often peddled up to it to see the latest upturned car or where so and so’s motorbike when
through the fence down the hill and ploughed into the wood at the bottom. The wood seemed to have been placed there for the sole purpose of collecting those who missed the Meg corner.
We had a way to go yet as we passed the lights of Timberland
and Martin villages..then we headed along the great straight. I felt the Austin shake a bit as it took off towards its destiny. We reached fifty five miles an hour. I had been sixty five in my dad’s Vauxhall 14 and nearly made seventy if the bonnet catch
hadn’t sprung loose and he had to slow down.
Mr. Wesley seemed to be enjoying the speed, his singing continued, this time he was climbing up sunshine mountain, with heavenly breezes blowing.
What was I
to do? It might have some impact if I slipped open the door and pretended that I was falling out, just before the corner so he would slow down and we could get round it safely - I was scared - I just didn’t know what to do.
began to think of my miserable life so far. I was a nine year old reprobate, doomed forever to fall into the hands of Mr. Wesley’s God. Endless sins seemed to stream into my thoughts, I could hear them being read out in a booming voice, whilst I stood
in my short trousers knees knocking together wishing that I was anywhere but in that Austin 10.
Then I had an idea! I knew that I had to face the music, but my logic told me that if I could put everything right in my last moments,
then it just might be alright. I thought that I would die with the most horrible look on my face# and try to hold that look as long as I could to make sure it stayed there. If I did this, then this would serve as a warning to everyone that looked upon
me, of how a wasted life ended up...and perchance someone might amend their ways because of it.
This made me feel a bit better, so in the darkness I practiced various faces, turning from time to time towards the window to try and
catch a reflection and perfect the grimace. I wanted to convey the sheer terror and lack of hope of a wasted life and just about got the look about right.
The time was near.
Mr. Wesley shouted ‘ Come on, lets really sing like
Methodists on the way to glory!.’ (an unfortunate turn of phrase) “I want to hear you singing too my lad!’ The Austin erupted
‘ Oh that will be glory for glory me, glory for me, glory for me..’ we sang.
The Austin whined, its body shaking as we approached the corner. Mr. Wesley crashed down a gear, the car whined some more and the engine bit - the singing got louder, or was the Angels?. I closed my eyes, I was shaking, I wasn’t sure when exactly
to pull the face, I hadn’t counted on the tears as they began to push their way out from beneath my tightly closed lids.’ I hope it doesn’t hurt too much’ I thought.
The corner was here. Dad, Mum, help!
The Austin swung into it, the brakes squealed, the car lurched, my head spun, time stood still. My body was flung over first to the right, then to the left. I got my face ready. Then I felt the car straighten up again and go quiet.
death? that was easy, I slowly opened my eyes and saw lights in the distance. I focused on them. ‘thats not Canaan!’ I remember thinking, ‘that’s Metheringham, I recognised the chip shop lights!’.
dead, I quickly unraveled my face and looked around me..I was alive! I was so grateful, so overwhelmed that I burst out singing .....
‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes..’