I grew up in a council house on a mostly-council-owned street in a Wiltshire village. The plot of land our house sat on had been an orchard before it was developed. Ours was the last house before you reached the bungalows in which elderly people lived and at the end of the bungalows sat our primary school – a minutes walk from home.
My brother is four years younger than me and between us we had a huge group of friends who lived on the same street, or on the streets that connected to ours or were situated nearby.
We all lived in fear of Chicken George.
Chicken George was a man who lived behind the garages at the end of our street. Behind the garages was an expanse of fields called “The Hilperton Gap” which seperated our village from the nearby town of Trowbridge. It has all been developed now and Hilperton and Trowbridge are practically one and the same. The front of these garages were tidy with a concrete floor and a row of uniformly green metal doors. We’d play football there. But behind them grew tall trees, brambles, weeds and goodness knows what else. There also existed in that space between garage and field a man called Chicken George.
If you ventured down the sides of the garages and- god forbid -behind them Chicken George would get you. “Don’t go back there or Chicken George will get you” the older kids would warn, and we would stand in the safe area looking at the brambles and wondering what Chicken George looked like, or how fast he could run (could we outrun him?)
My brother and I- and our group of friends -all lived by the rule that we’d allow Chicken George to live in peace and keep our distance. We’d play our football games in front of the garages and he wouldn’t mind as he munched on rats back there. He would stay there and we would stay out front and it was all good.
Until the day that I decided that I was going to climb on top of the garages.
I’d like to point out now that as a child I had no concept of how dangerous what I was about to do actually was, but there you go. I realised that some rubbish that had been left to the side of the garages meant that I would be able to climb up on the top of the garages.
So I did.
We had never been told that Chicken George went on the roof of the block of garages so in my mind I was relatively safe up there. Obviously being over ten feet in the air on top of a badly maintained garage roof didn’t seem dangerous at all to me, but there you go.
I can remember sauntering up and down the roof as my friends looked on from below, demonstrating how brave and cool I was, until one of our neighbours pulled up in his van and yelled at me to “GET DOWN FROM THERE NOW!”
So I did.
I jumped from the top of the garages into the wilderness behind the garages.
I hadn’t been thinking. I wasn’t a very bright child.
I landed on my back on a fallen tree and somehow didn’t break my spine. It wasn’t something I was worried about though because I was in danger. Chicken George was about to pounce… only, there was nobody there but me. My friends guided me out through the brambles, logs and trees and I went home for sympathy from my mum.
I never did climb on top of those garages again, and neither did I heed warnings of Chicken George. None of us did.
I knew he wasn’t real because I’d observed his absence for myself. My friends saw me survive my fall into his territory and with my survival the myth of Chicken George died.
We did still tell the younger kids he was real though. Just because we could.