I was 10yrs old. How am I supposed to know I was being groomed? A nice piece of chocolate cake and a glass of Tizer pop waiting for me when I turned up for religious studies !! Choir boys got paid 50p for singing at weddings. I got two 50p’s in my little pay packet. I was beginning to feel special.
I remember feeling a difference from about 10yrs old. Being made to feel special was nice. I was excelling in athletics at school. 1500m and long jump were becoming my specialities. Giving me a sense of invincibility. “But you must not neglect your religious studies” he’d tell me. So I would continue to go to his house only a few streets away.
By now, my brother had joined the church choir. It was inevitable I would follow in his footsteps as I did with schools. My religious studies continued at the Reverends’ house. Looking back, the school teacher side of him was clear to see. He would playfully rap my knuckles with a wooden ruler when I got a question wrong, followed by tickling me under my arms, my weakest point. All part of the grooming process I guess.
He would always try and make religious studies fun. With a treat before and after for doing well, or so I thought. I was but a boy and didn’t know any different. Why would I? The times I now wish I had known different. Today it’s like seeing a young boy in a movie with the adult me screaming at the screen “Don’t do it….Get out of there now”, only for the screams and shouts to be never heard.
I remember going round to his house for a lesson and him asking me to help lift an old table down from the attic. He had a distinct limp (which becomes important later in my accounts) where one leg was longer than the other. I often wondered, was it an old war wound perhaps as he certainly looked old enough to have done so. On finishing the lesson he reached into his wallet and gave me a crisp £5 note. “That’s for helping me lift the table,” he said. I went home via the shop for some sweets, feeling good and rich!!!
The big 6 week school holidays were approaching. 20 boys had been invited to the park where each would have a veteran who would teach how to play bowls. I remember him telling me that he thought it wasn’t a good idea as it would interfere with my religious studies. I went ahead with it and was allocated a lovely unassuming man, Albert Law. Not long into the holidays, 20 dwindled down as boys lost interest until eventually, I was the last remaining boy who had taken to it.
I knocked on his door and he answered in full uniform. You see, he was an officer in the Special Constabulary and was to be on duty for the Leeds United home match that evening. After my lesson, he handed me a clothes brush to get dog hairs off of him. First the top half then the bottom. Only now in adult life do I realise why he insisted I spend more time on his trousers than anywhere else!!!
So just to put it into context, he was a priest, he was a fully qualified teacher and he was an officer in the Special Constabulary. Three positions of trust which would give triple protection in the event that somebody realised what he was up to. But this was the 70’s and looking back now as an adult, he literally had a free rein to do as he pleased. One thing to note is that this was right at the time when Jimmy Saville would have been at large.
My bowling career was still in its very early stages. I continued to go to the park for lessons with Albert my school holiday mentor. I can actually say I was a happy child. I loved my athletics, Leeds United, I sang in the church choir, I was making new friends playing bowls, I got treats and extra spending money from the Reverend. What was not to love?
Another happy childhood memory I have is sitting on the living room floor at my dear old pa’s feet on a Saturday afternoon waiting for the World of Sport wrestling to come on just before the football results. My pa loved the wrestling and would often go to Leeds Town Hall on a Thursday evening to see it live, then we would try and spot him in the crowd when it came on TV. This is where my interest in wrestling came from and plays a very important part in tomorrow’s account.
“He” had learned of my liking for wrestling and the stars of the 70’s. I remember like yesterday him making reference to it. I didn’t know any different being only a boy but he’d playfully put me in a headlock when I went round for my religious study lesson. “One of these days we’ll have to have a wrestling match and see who’s the best, but not on a lesson night,” he said. And there he had laid the foundation. There was the usual slice of cake for me waiting as he stood behind me putting his hands gently on my shoulders. Today I constantly ask myself over and over and over again, why and how could I not know what was gradually beginning to happen? Just why?
I had just been to the park for bowls practice with Albert my mentor. As I was walking home, I could see “him” on the grass verge near the road walking his dog Butch. He stood there with a pipe in mouth and waited for me to cross the road. “Do you want a drink of pop?” he said, so I walked with him the short distance back to his house. “Shall we have this wrestling match” he said. He then got me to push the furniture back with him, leaving a clear space on the living room floor.
With the furniture pushed back, he said: “are you ready then?” And so we started to wrestle. Even at 10 years old I was quite a big boy. However, he seemed to overpower me. I remember vividly trying to replicate the star wrestlers on TV. It seemed to go on for ages although in reality, it was about 10 minutes at the most. As we called it a day, he pulled out yet another crisp £5 note, handed it to me and said “we’ll have another match after your lesson next week…..but don’t be telling anyone because they’ll all want to have a go”
Not to go telling anyone about our wrestling matches sounds plausible as I sit here reflecting. But as an adult looking back, it actually only screams one thing !!!! The next bit may horrify some of you, so my apologies in advance. For our next wrestling match, he suggested we wear the correct equipment. The bottom line is that we were grappling on the floor in nothing but our underpants. Firmly etched in my mind and memory is me being directed where to place my hands to secure the best wrestling moves. I can only leave that to your own imagination.
You will remember in a previous part me mentioning that he walked with a severe limp. Well, should any of the authorities have been in any doubt or in need of validation, then my description of his hip area (without clothing) should suffice enough. He had a massive unsightly indentation with scarring which could only be described without clothing!!!!
I first took the decision to document and share what happened to me many months ago. However, it is something that has been my intention for many years. I would also like for those who are reading to understand that it is one enormous release for me to be able to share. It is not an attention-seeking strategy in which to gain sympathetic comments, likes and shares. To those who are taking the time to read, like and comment, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would certainly like to think that it may raise awareness. It is present today as much if not more than it was then, especially in light of all the different platforms of technology readily available.
I would urge all parents, grandparents etc. to check your children’s devices regularly.
Tomorrow I continue on my childhood journey.
The one thing I have found difficult is putting an accurate time frame around actual events. There is no doubt in my mind now looking back that the Reverend had successfully managed to single me out and make me some kind of pet project.
I continued to sing in the church choir with my big brother. I also kept up my interest in playing bowls. Albert my mentor must have thought I was improving as when I went to pay the £2 membership I was told it had already been paid and next seasons as well!
Religious studies also continued at his house but things were about to get a whole lot worse.
I keep getting told. My therapist, my psychologist, my counsellor, you were only a child Christopher. I still find it hard to accept.
Even if Albert, my bowls mentor couldn’t make it, I would still go to the park and practice the basics of bowls. It’s hard to say if I was improving, but others seemed to think so.
My next religious study lesson at his house is one that I simply can’t forget. I knocked and was told to “come in”. As I went in, he was walking round in his shirt, dog collar and just underpants!!! I distinctly remember him being in a strict mood. I learned that day just how strict as I had my knuckles rapped with a wooden ruler for giving incorrect answers.
I am trying to be careful so as not to paint a picture depicting that abuse took place every two minutes. It didn’t. It was a gradual thing.
With Christmas approaching, the church choir would have a few gigs. We’d sing at Beeston Manor (Old folks home) and then there was the usual Carol concert stuff. The one occasion etched firmly in my memory is when the Revd. had arranged for us to entertain the regulars at a bar on the Headrow, Leeds called The Jubilee (I wonder if any of my Leeds friends reading might remember this bar?) It would more than likely have been one of his stop-off points when on foot patrol with the Special Constabulary. Anyway, irrespective, it was to be a carol concert which would haunt me for the rest of my life.
There must have been at least 20+ choir boys and choir men who had said “yes” to singing carols for the regulars of this popular city-centre bar. Inside it seemed massive. The bar was to the right and on the left was like a grand staircase which was set in a semi-circular style, which is where the choir was placed. I ended up at the bottom of the stairs with him, the Revd. stood immediately, close up behind me. On reflection, he was stood way too close behind me and because we were in full choir uniform any movement would have been disguised. I will leave it for you to decide what happened using his one fee hand, but what I will say is that I never sang one word as I was rooted to the spot with fright!!!!
As time moved on, bowling lessons with Albert began to dwindle but I had now become a member of the Cross Flatts Saturday section where I began to meet new people and I was able to go and watch weekend matches when they were at home. My religious studies continued at his house as normal. Well, I say normal. I don’t think by this time I knew what normal was. What I do know and remember is him repeating to me every time I had a lesson “You must not tell anyone, it’s our secret”
I don’t wish to go into detail as to what I was further subjected to by such a person in positions of trust. In the words of the police, in today’s terms, it is classed as statutory rape. It lasted beyond my 14th birthday and even when it had stopped, I was subject to further torment by having to see him on a daily basis as he called into the newsagent where I worked after school. As an adult, I often wonder why did it stop when it did. I can only draw the conclusion that by then I was not a boy but a young man and that didn’t I meet with his criteria.
Today I’d like to talk about how being sexually abused has impacted my life, and still does. Firstly, It is not something that will ever go away. It isn’t a strain of the common cold, although I believe that in numerical terms, it is on the scale of a pandemic. I think it is important to understand that every person is different in how they attempt to deal with it. For me personally, it is something I have carried with me for well over 40 years. Some will say why didn’t you tell anyone. I just wish it was as easy as that. For me, when I eventually found the strength to speak out, it was in the presence of two plain-clothed officers who treated what I was saying as though it had happened yesterday. However, they still had to go away and investigate it. I was really unsure as to how it would play out and I wasn’t prepared for what they came back with. After investigating I was told that he had passed away in 1996 which meant that any further actions could not be pursued. In addition, I was told that he had been investigated before for the very same or similar. The details of which I was not privy to. My emotions were all over the place by this time and I needed time to take everything in.
Today, a little about the condition bestowed upon me as a direct result of child sex abuse. Just about everyone has heard of PTSD. That in itself is difficult enough but Complex PTSD (c-PTSD) is where there are a number of traumas present. Some of the traumas can make you feel like you are reliving them in the present even though they are historic. It is also very closely linked with BPD.
I was just 16 when I lost parts of my fingers in a rather larger printing press. Incidentally, today I have further corrective surgery, hoping to give me better dexterity in everyday life. Whilst I have played bowls from a very young age, I have always played on a less than level playing field. Some days with success, some less so. But as I have always said, there is someone, somewhere less fortunate than I which has in the past given me the determination to carry on. I suppose with everything taken into consideration I’ve not done too shabby over the years. However, I have found it more difficult to deal with both mentally and physically as I’ve got older.
The nightmares continue, flashbacks and anxiety attacks. And that’s all before daylight arrives. A fear of the dark developed and I never attempt to sleep alone without a light on. It’s just the way it is. However, it’s true when they say you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. More often than not, concentration levels are virtually non-existent. Some may say that he was able to play to a decent standard when he was in his 20’s, 30’s etc. Yes, he was, but he was better at covering it all up then.
Some abused victims turn to drugs, turn to alcohol, turn to gambling, struggle to hold down opposite-sex relationships, have problems with male authority, self-harm, struggle to hold down permanent jobs, disassociate themselves with social activities, amongst many other things. I myself can relate to 6 of those. It doesn’t make me any less of a person than the next. What it does mean though is that I have experiences to share. As my good friend Jim Garbutt has pointed out throughout my accounts, that they may perhaps even help other survivors of abuse to speak out and regain some of that power that was so cruelly taken away at a tender young age. It may perhaps help parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends to better understand what a victim has endured and still goes through.
If any of my Facebook friends have found themselves reading my accounts and are at a loss what to say, then that is alright. Perhaps by just clicking the “like’ button, it may communicate to me in a different way. If you have or know of someone who can relate, then I would say to you that my private message is open to you, day or night. My primary aim is to certainly raise awareness, and also help myself by helping others.
As my ongoing daily battles continue, I have a multitude of people and organisations to thank. Far too many to name individually but my special thanks go out to North Manchester Mental Health Services, We Are Survivors, Farleys Solicitors, Motiv8 and Facebook friends who have taken the time to read, comment & support my cause.
My journey is far from over, and never will be. But I will continue or at least try to retrieve back some of the power taken from me. I no longer wish to feel like I am gagged without a voice.