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U3A Writing: It's The Thought That Counts

Gerald Newman became an astonishingly different person after being struck by a Sheffield tram. But was it a change for the better?

Derek McQueen tells a tale about a man who knew too much.

Gerald Newman was struck by a tram, crossing Waingate in Sheffield, on the first Saturday in August 1999. He had just left Woolworth’s and seemed to be making his way to the C & A clothing store, directly across the road from ‘Woolies’. Since his interest in clothes was minimal, to put it at its most generous, Gerald’s family were baffled that C & A seemed to be his destination on that fateful morning. Clearly, his concentration on the traffic was lacking and the shocked Super-tram driver had no chance. He, and the quickly gathered crowd of onlookers were certain that the man, who appeared to be in his early fifties, was dead.

Incredibly, Gerald survived. After six weeks, the first two on life support, in intensive care, Mr Graham Dixon-Burnham, Neurological Consultant at Sheffield Hallamshire Hospital, said he could go home. All agreed he was lucky to be alive and seemingly there were no long-term consequences from the serious injuries to his brain.

However, far from being debilitated by the horrific accident, Gerald Newman found that he had somehow acquired an amazing new mental ability, which was to change his life.

When Gerald was allowed visitors, I was the first none family to see him. We had been friends from art school days and were both in our late thirties. I was not surprised they thought he was much older, he still looked shocking a month after the accident.

He said a strange thing to me. “I know what you’re thinking Alan.

His stare was so intense it made me shiver. At the time I put that down to the brain injury. ‘ But would he ever be the same old Gerald,’ I thought.

“When you’re out, I’ll take you to a nice pub,” I said.

“That would be just great Alan,” Gerald said. “I love The White Lion. The jazz is really good there.”

‘Funny I thought. How does he know I’m thinking of The White Lion and the jazz? That’s remarkable.’

In the pub a few weeks later, Gerald poured his heart out.

“If I look at someone – it can be anyone - and really concentrate Alan, I can tell what they’re thinking about. It’s scary and exciting both at the same time. It’s as if the person has a bubble above their head, telling me what they’re thinking about – like in a cartoon.”

“That’s unbelievable Gerald,” I said. ‘Are you sure it’s not just down to the euphoria of being well again?”

“Listen to this Alan,” he gabbled on. “I went back to the Hallamshire last week for a check up and there was a nurse there I really liked. Stunning she was, honestly Alan. She looked across at me and I saw what she was thinking. She was fancying me Alan. I couldn’t believe it. Her bubble said, ‘If you were better dressed I could marry you lad.’

“Good God Gerald,” I said. “What have you done about it?”

“ I spent £350 at Top Shop for a start, Alan,” he said.

It was true. I’d never seen him looking so smart. The blue cashmere sweater and navy cord jacket were really the business. I didn’t realise it was Gerald when he first came in the pub.

“We’re going up to the Lake District next weekend for a couple of nights. Separate rooms though, Alan. She’s a very nice girl – Vicki her name – don’t want to rush things eh?”

‘You jammy sod,’ I thought. I’ve been looking for a girl friend myself for years.

“Don’t be jealous Alan. I saw that you know.” Gerald waved an admonishing finger at me.

‘Cripes,’ I thought. I’m going to have to watch this. I turned away from Gerald’s penetrating gaze to look at the jazz.

I saw very little of Gerald after that. Our relationship was never the same somehow. He married Vicki, the nurse and went to live in Derbyshire somewhere, presumably to live happily ever after.

And then one day I was staggered to see a photograph of him, immaculately dressed of course, splashed across the front page of the Daily Mail.

‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire contestant sentenced to five years for fraud’, the headline yelled. ‘Gerald Newman somehow planted eight experts in the studio audience and won the top prize of one million pounds by answering every question correctly,’ the banner line went on. ‘Excessive cheering from eight people in the audience, as Gerald reeled off the correct answers made Chris Tarrant and the programme producers suspicious.’

The piece went on to say that no one, connected with the case, had any idea how Newman had almost pulled it off.

“You know what thought did?” Gerald was heard muttering, as he was lead away to the cells.


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