The End of the Age of Innocence

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I discovered an old family photograph stuck in a tin box that was in a chest at the back of our garage, things from my long deceased parents, belongings that somehow I couldn’t bring myself to look at.

It is almost thirty five years since they died but somedays it seems like only yesterday. In this faded photograph is me, my Mother holding my younger Brother and my Aunty. It was taken on a holiday in the summer of Nineteen Sixty Four at South Stack Lighthouse near Hollyhead, Angelsey.

I can remember like it was yesterday, not because of the endless sun filled summer’s that seem to propagate my early years but the terrifying journey that I endured getting to the lighthouse. It has been etched in my mind like a vivid nightmare even to this day. So one night as I lay in bed I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the spot and see if it was really as scary as I remembered all those years ago.

Last week we spent on a great time on the island, even the weather was kind and the bays and secluded coves were every bit as beautiful as my memory had painted them. 

We arrived at South Stack twice, the first time on Tuesday only to discover a rather swish looking visitors centre and coaches full of American and Eastern European tourists, something that I couldn’t remember from my previous visit but because of a extended stay on the glorious beach at Trearddur Bay it was too late to go onto the island therefore we made arrangements to try again on Thursday.

The day arrived but the weather was a little less kind but myself and Dave Wickham a friend who is always up for an adventure decided that we firstly needed to find the location were the photograph was taken. That was the easy bit, on the way up to the entrance to the steps down to the lighthouse I spotted a grassy area that when we checked must have been were I was sat some forty odd years ago.

I duly took a photograph and then decided that we would make a start down the 400 plus steps down to the footbridge that connects the island to the mainland. (Our respective partners had far more sense that to follow us, they decided that an afternoon tea would be far more enjoyable and left us to it). 

So off we started down the pathway to the location of my worst nightmares. We started out  down the gentle slope and rounded a bend and then down another gentle slope, reminiscent of the roads you see in the alps when traversing mountain sides. 

This didn’t seem anything like my memories and I thought all these years I had been a wimp. We then rounded the third corner which can only be likened to stepping out onto the ledge of a thirty story office block, even with the reassuring thick stone walls it still induced a feeling of vertigo that made my head spin, just like in my dreams. This time however because I didn’t want to appear a wimp in front of my friend I gritted my teeth  looked at the ever steepening steps and got on with it.

It is a spectacular environment, the roar of the large waves crashing agains the cliffs and the feeling of the wind on your face is fantastic, worth every step. After making it down the traditional stairs you are then met with a ladder some twenty feet almost vertical to get you to the footbridge across to the island. It was at this point we met with a slight problem, the footbridge had a gate on it which was locked and I was unable to finish what I had started. So I was left with the only option left to me, I did what every Japanese tourist would do I took a photograph to prove I had made it.

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We started to make our way back to the top of the cliffs.  All I can say it was a good job that some one of a similar age to myself had planned the pathway because every hundred yards or so was a bench, handy if you are as fit as myself. So I had completed my journey back into my childhood and discovered one instead of fear and dread was now memories full of sunny summer days, holidays on beaches and a feeling of freedom that somehow we seem to have lost.

Today I was again reminded of my childhood with the saddest of news that Winnie Johnson passed away tragically without knowing what happened to her son Keith Bennett at the hands of the Moor’s Murderers Ian Brady and Miora Hindley.

I seems coincidental the same time that my photograph was being taken these two monsters changed everyones childhood forever. The crimes they committed were so unimaginable they led to children everywhere being kept close to home and parents in case it could happen again.

It was drilled into children at school never talk to strangers and if you were approached by a stranger run to any door and knock for help. I personally was never let loose to explore and use my bicycle like before and always had to tell my parents were I was going and who with. Even with my own children I turned into Dads taxi, a service that my own daughter has taken over with her own children.

I am lucky in many respects, I am fairly heathy, I have a close family and I have never known what it is like to lose a child and I even remember long lost hot summers on my bicycle with some sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper so I didn’t need to return home for lunch enabling me and my mates to go to Hollingworth Lake for the day.

I think I am the type of person who tries to forgive and forget but some things I cannot forgive, I cannot forgive Ian Brady for what he did to those poor children and their families and for what he did to the subsequent generations he has robbed of the childhood I had for a short while.

The age of innocence in my eyes ended in nineteen sixty five at the hands of two cowardly murderers who changed everyone’s lives. I pray that Winnie Johnson finds the answers she was looking for and may she rest in peace

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