The first place we lived in after I was born was an ancient stone cottage, with walls four feet thick, property of the printing and dyeing factory in Bradshaw, where my dad worked at the time.
I was not quite three-years-old when the factory closed, and we moved to Halliwell, close to the centre of Bolton. The ruins of the ancient cottage now lie at the bottom of the Jumbles reservoir.
Our new home, in a cobbled street among many other cobbled streets, was quite literally a two-up, two-down. At the top of stairs so steep no building regs would permit them these days, there were two bedrooms – my parents’ to the left, mine to the right.
One night, in the early hours, there was a terrifying crash and I woke with a sense that the whole floor had been shaken. I leapt from bed to rush to my mum and dad for comfort. To my horror, I wasn’t able to force my way into their bedroom. It was as if some malicious power were leaning against the door from their side, keeping me out. This was a waking nightmare: jolted from a deep sleep by an unearthly noise, stepping into the cold, pitch black and now blocked from safety and reassurance by some powerful demon (what might it have done with my parents?) I started to cry.
My dad’s voice, calming and, to my ears, at ease (though he surely can’t have been), told me to wait and not to fret. With some effort, accompanied by a peculiar scraping noise, he pulled their bedroom door open just enough for me to squeeze in, telling me to be careful where I put my bare feet. As I entered, for some reason (perhaps some sound, perhaps the cold air) I looked up. I could see stars.
A hefty part of the chimney had collapsed, falling through the roof, the Victorian brickwork taking a few roof tiles along for the journey, and the combination had then crashed straight through the ceiling of my parents’ bedroom.
Hence, the stars.