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I Only Came For The Music: 15 - Saturday Evening Visitors

...It was at this time that I discovered a set of books belonging to Eve. She was the only one in our house who didn't rely totally on libraries. She actually bought books, which at that time was unusual for working class people. These particular books were well-stacked bumper volumes, containing enormous collections of varied categories of literature. The Great Books of Humour, Romance, Ghost Stories, Thrillers and Horror. I devoured their contents like a locust feeding on corn.

It was when I tackled the Great Book of True Murder Mysteries that nemesis set in for me...

Betty McKay tells of Saturday night frights.

To read earlier chapters of Betty's engaging life story please click on I Only Came For The Music in the menu on this page.

Eve, my sister, loved reading. She belonged to the Public Library and regularly borrowed books. When I was five years old, she took me with her and enrolled me in the children’s section. I will always remember what she said as we were walking back home, "If you enjoy reading, you'll never be lonely."

I became a voracious reader; I was eleven before I was allowed to join the adult library. Then reading suddenly became no holds barred. It was at this time that I discovered a set of books belonging to Eve. She was the only one in our house who didn't rely totally on libraries. She actually bought books, which at that time was unusual for working class people. These particular books were well-stacked bumper volumes, containing enormous collections of varied categories of literature. The Great Books of Humour, Romance, Ghost Stories, Thrillers and Horror. I devoured their contents like a locust feeding on corn.

It was when I tackled the Great Book of True Murder Mysteries that nemesis set in for me.

My parents had no idea I was reading them. Illicit pillaging of Eve's books took place every Saturday evening after they had departed for their favourite pub. This was The Dog and Partridge at Woolston a couple of miles away. Mum and Dad would leave at seven and return home about eleven, having walked all the way back home.

Before Eve joined the WAAF and left home she had warned my parents, “Don't let her read the ones with the black covers; they aren't suitable for children.” The warning lost its strength, because it was made in my hearing. Of course those books became the most desirable, and I had read them all. It wasn't that my parents trusted me implicitly. If I had my nose stuck in a book then I wasn't giving them any trouble.

Why on earth they hadn't locked those creatures away in some secret place I will never understand. Jack the Ripper, Joseph Smith of the brides in the bath fame, Landru, Spring-Heeled Jack, Charlie Peace, Doctor Crippen, Seddon and the Spinster's Sovereigns.


The list is endless of the terrifying fiends who then entered my life. That book spared none of the grisly details. Ghouls and ghosts held no fear for me, for I knew they didn't exist. It was the people who had been real-life villains that filled my mind with terror. I could not cope with these monsters. I might have managed Constance Kent, the young girl who murdered Saville, her poor little step-brother. Although somehow I doubt it!

Oddly enough, my life apart from Saturday evenings had no room for these characters. My days were full; I was a keen student at school, top of the class, apart from arithmetic. I attended Sunday school and left these monstrous characters behind me on the bookshelf.

The only time these terror-raisers descended upon me was when I was left alone at home on a Saturday evening. Then I would be filled with such fear that I would sit quivering in terror until I heard the key turning in the front door and knew salvation had arrived. I have never experienced anything as frightening in my life as I did in those four hours, week after week.

This happened in the winter time. It was dark long before the front door closed. I knew that these murderous men were waiting for me on the other side of the closed curtains of our living room. Hovering beside the windowsill probably. Perhaps peering at me through a chink in the black-out curtains.

In order to save my sanity I invented a series of characters. They all had distinct and different voices and I peopled our living room with them. They would have long and ardent conversations. Quarrels would ensue, great and wondrous secrets would be revealed. Anything, as long as I dispersed the silence. Then I knew those voices would convince whoever was lingering around with evil intent beyond our window, waiting to do me some terrible mischief, that I was not alone. Nutty it may have been but it worked.

It wouldn't have been wise to use women’s voices, because all these murderers were men. They wouldn't have been scared by women. Michael, David, John and Martin were the names I chose, and they were all brave men.

They would discuss the progress of the war; that subject would be raised more than anything else. Michael was a famous explorer. He had been to Africa, China and America and climbed the Himalayas. I tried to make him sound like an American; not very successfully I'm afraid. David and Martin were cousins. They were both in the RAF and flew Whitley bombers. I knew all about Whitleys, because the Canadian Airmen on Eve's station flew them. Eve said they were known as 'flying coffins', because they were such an easy target.

John was a sailor but he wasn't in the war. He worked on the Liverpool ferry. Those were the only sailors I'd ever seen actually working. That was when Mum and Dad took me for trips to New Brighton. I gave him a Liverpool accent, which I was better at delivering than American.

Every Saturday the conversations flowed. Sometimes they sang songs. At that time I was a great admirer of an American singer called Frank Crumit. He sang songs in a charming, lilting voice. I thought they were hilariously funny songs. One of them was called 'Who's that knocking at my door?' It involved two characters. The 'fair young maiden' he sang in a sweet, high, twittery falsetto voice and 'Barnacle Bill the Sailor' was growled out in a deep gruff, aggressive basso profundo. Every Saturday I made Michael sing that song, sounding as much like Frank Crumit as he could.

I can just hear you saying, “Why on earth didn't she merely put the wireless on, instead of inventing all this nonsense?” Because if I put the wireless on, you dummies, I wouldn't hear the wicked men outside if they tried to get in at me, would I?

David and Martin told great tales of derring-do, about bombing raids over Germany. They were both heroes and had each been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. They had met the King and Queen and the two Princesses.

John at one time talked of discovering a mine floating alongside the ferry and he had to keep pushing it away with an oar, so that it wouldn't explode and kill or maim all the passengers aboard the ferry.

I kept this play-acting up for about six weeks, right up until Christmas. Joan and Eve couldn't manage to get home on leave. I think they probably enjoyed a much more exciting time back in camp than they would have done at home.

Over the Christmas period Mum and Dad didn't go to the pub and my fears disappeared into a time of no recall. I think it was because I was given three books as Christmas presents. They were 'Anne of Green Gables', 'Little Women and Good Wives' and 'What Katy Did'. Mum had asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said, "More than anything I would like books that were really mine and not ones that were borrowed."

From that time on my life was blissful! My bogey-men didn't disappear gradually. They were there one Saturday night and the following Saturday they were no more!

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