When Charlie' lost' his mind - By Don Hale
IT was on the number 6 bus back from Eccles, near Manchester, on a bitterly cold, wet day, one November, that my friend Charlie first mentioned something about his amazing mind-reading claims.
We had been playing football against St Joseph's School at Monton - and won 3-2, - thanks to our centre forward Brian (Sniffer) Harris scoring a last minute penalty. The home side accused their goalkeeper of 'sleeping,' and of being 'nobbled,' as Sniffer struck home the winner. Certainly the lad appeared to freeze, and made little or no effort to save the shot.
Charlie Cressbrook played on the left wing for our school team. On the journey home, as we celebrated a sweet victory with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, some toffee cigarettes and a can of pop, he tried to tell the boys' about a dangerous trick he claimed to have mastered.
Charlie was a bit of a 'swank,' always boasting about something or other. If someone mentioned getting a new bike, a holiday, or buying a new pop record, Charlie had always been there and done it!
The son of a wealthy stockbroker, the 14 year-old had everything. He claimed to be able to read most people's minds and with some, he said he could even get inside them! He said he had developed this trick after meeting a distant Aunt in Romania, where she lived as a gypsy.
On the 30-minute bus ride, the teammates finally challenged him to demonstrate this technique after he claimed the credit for confusing the St Joseph's 'keeper.
"I got into his head alright," explained Charlie. "He was worrying about which way to dive, until I gave him something else to think about. It was just enough to confuse him for a second or two."
There was no arguing with his logic but the lads were not convinced. "Go on, prove it then," said Paul Grogan, pointing towards a rather dour looking man in a fawn raincoat who was sat on the lower deck; on one of those awkward inward-facing seats.
"That man in the raincoat," suggested Charlie.
"Yes, what's on his mind?" asked Paul.
Charlie now had a captive audience. He placed his fingers on his temples and closed his eyes for a moment. In later years, he told me this was not completely necessary but said it looked more dramatic, and now regularly formed part of his performance. "He's thinking about what to say to his wife. He's been unfaithful. He's imagining kissing Julie, his girlfriend."
Paul was open mouthed, and then added: "Oh yes, sure," he said. "What's his wife called then? he demanded.
"Yes if you're so clever give us HER name," added Stephen Dixon, a small and always infuriating child.
"Mavis," said Charlie in a quite matter of fact manner.
Our stop was close and we were all pushing and shoving in readiness to disembark. The man was still seated in the same position staring into space. "Ask him then," said a voice.
"It's all rubbish," said another.
Eventually Paul Grogan stood directly in front of the man and asked him: "Is your wife called Mavis?"
He looked surprised and glared at this boy and the rest of us gathered around carrying our football boots and covered in mud. "Well, yes she is but. ... ?"
"And your girlfriend. What's she called?" continued Paul. The man now looked totally confused.
"What the heck is going on?" he demanded to know.
"Just answer the question," insisted Paul, trying to put on a fake German accent from an old war movie we had all watched the night before. "We know all about you. Or, at least my friend does," he said, nodding towards Charlie. "It’s Julie isn't it?" added Paul.
"That's none of your business either, and I'll thank you to keep out of mine!" he roared, folding his arms in defiance.
"Hey are you lot getting off today, or what?" inquired the impatient conductor, who had tried to clip the ear of young Dixon for annoyingly pressing the bell three times in quick succession.
"Come on then," shouted Paul and we all followed him like sheep. As we jumped off and onto the pavement we all shouted and jeered at the raincoat man, some even banged their hands on the side of the bus as it gathered speed. We could see the puzzled man still waving his fist at us in anger - and wondering how we knew about his secret romance.
It was many years later before I met up with Charlie again to talk about old times. It was a long time after we left University. Quite by chance, I had had a couple of hours to kill waiting for my train back to London, when I came across Charlie sat on a bar stool in lounge of the Midland Hotel in Manchester. He was on his own and looked very tired and despondent.
"Charlie, how are you?" I asked. He turned and glanced at me. He looked completely vacant and didn't seem to recognise me at first. His eyes were red and blood-shot. "It's Tommy, Tommy Davies," I explained. "You remember me don’t you from grammar school?"
"Tommy, yes of course. I'm sorry I was on a bender last night. Not come round yet," he explained. "How are you then Tommy?" he asked.
"Fine, oh yes, I've not seen you for what, about 6-7 years?" I exclaimed.
We caught up on the gossip. He finally told me that he'd spent time in a sanatorium. His drinking had got worse and after leaving Manchester University with a 2: 1 in Physics and Science, he had suffered a complete mental breakdown.
He said his mind-swapping party trick was becoming an obsession. It was taking over his life. I reminded him of the football match at Eccles some years before and he grinned. He waved me away and dismissed that trivial incident. "That was nothing," he said. "I've near perfected it now - when I'm sober! Not only can I read a mind, but I can also get inside them too. Not everyone - but there's plenty of people that I can," he added boastfully.
He continued to explain that he'd swapped minds and notes with lecturers at University during his final year. He claimed to have utterly confused them when speaking. He made one master - that he agreed he had disliked intensely - kept repeating the word 'bananas,' and then made him bark like a dog, much to the amusement of everybody.
Worryingly, Charlie also said he could actually see the audience through HIS eyes. He explained that he could only hold this extraordinary mind-switch for about 15 seconds - but that it had been enough to totally confuse the man.
The only problem he had was apparently with foreigners. Charlie had a hatred of languages and always said they made him feel confused. He said he now doing some other experimental work .
Charlie admitted that he had also tried the trick with cats and dogs and even a parrot! This became quite frightening! He looked concerned when he told me about one incident with a cat. He suddenly appeared most unwell and began to shake violently.
"I tried to make the cat speak," he said tearfully. "It was difficult, the cat was violently resisting. I began to choke and eventually the cat died. I was lucky to get back."
Charlie said the concentration needed for a transfer like that was tremendous and had left him feeling drained. He claimed to have done the same with several older women but thought children more susceptible.
I left him after an hour or so and never saw him alive again. The next time I heard his name mentioned was at a school reunion in Lancashire with about eight of our former classmates. I think it was Bryan Dean who suggested 'poor Charlie,' and then a few others nodded in acceptance. I lived in north London by then and his comments had little or no meaning for me.
"Charlie, what's this about Charlie? Our mind reading friend," I asked innocently.
"You've not heard then?" interrupted Jack McCardle. "Charlie's dead! About six weeks ago."
I sat down with a bump. "I met him in Manchester a few months back," I explained. "He told me about some health problems and concerns over his incredible mind transference act."
"The poor chap was going barmy," said Paul Grogan, our former soccer captain. "Kept going on about this switch technique he had mastered. I believe he was involved in some bizarre government project or something," he added.
As another young man added his own comments, I struggled to recall his name. "He said he was able to take-over most minds. Knew what they were thinking and could even change their minds. He said he was getting more and more agitated by all these experiments though, and was drinking again!"
Thompson, Harry Thompson, I remembered as he concluded. Bryan pulled out a newspaper cutting and placed it on the table. It was dated March 4th, 1963. 'Diplomat falls under train,' it was headed.
The report mentioned a Russian diplomat, who had apparently fainted and fallen under the wheels of a London Underground train. No reason was given for this unfortunate accident. As I read through the story, towards the last paragraphs, which were underlined, it added curiously: 'Another man, later identified as Mr Charles Cressbrook, a University researcher, was also found unconscious within about 20-yards of the incident on the same platform. Police however, are not treating the incident as suspicious, or believe the two are in any way related. '
Bryan pulled out a second cutting. This was dated about two weeks later. 'Mystery rail man dies in clinic.' It said: 'Mr Charles Cressbrook, formerly of Manchester, never fully regained consciousness after being found on a London underground station, close to where a top diplomat had fallen to his death. The Foreign Office too had denied any connection and said it was a pure coincidence.'
There was however, a quote from one of the doctors involved: 'Tests indicated his brain pattern on arrival at hospital was minimal. It was almost as if he had lost his mind! And eventually, it just ceased to function altogether. '
I held my head in my hands. This unexpected news put a damper on the evening. We tried to put on a brave face and drank a toast to Charlie. As the others chatted on, I couldn't help recall some of the earlier comments about a government project, a Soviet expert, and his sudden demise. We were then in the very midst of the Cold War.
Could it have been some bizarre espionage plot that had gone horribly wrong? Surely not! For several days afterwards I kept turning the conversations over in my head. I wondered if he had mind-swapped with the diplomat and had confused this man into fainting and then been unable to transfer back.
Bryan had given me the cuttings. As I studied them again, I noticed a small paragraph in the first story claiming the Russian too had an interest in mind reading. I remembered also about Charlie's hatred of languages and telling me that he became confused with them.
Although intelligent, Charlie had always claimed languages gave him a mental block. I thought that perhaps this time, he had finally met his match; and despite the orders from his government masters, Charlie had at first, probably not realised the challenging nationality, or similar knowledge of his target!