A photo of Cliff Richard and a severed hand. It’s amazing what you can find when you really start looking.
This is the part where I should be telling you about the prophetic experiences in life that define us and help to clarify who the inner being is, enabling us to individually move forward with a deftness of purpose and in the sure knowledge of mind body and soul. Unfortunately, I lack any of that profundity and this is the anecdotal tale of two physical finds that made me laugh, shocked me and made me smile.
I was nicknamed years ago by a friend as Tom-The Turtleneck! Nothing to do with a long foreskin, more a proclivity for looking to the floor, in case I found something. Though I never did, but I was a trendsetter as long before mobile phones I was already bumping into other pedestrians and lamp posts, because of not looking where I was going.
A long time ago, well relatively for me, more than half my life since; I lived with the son of a scrap metal millionaire. It was before I was out and our friendship was nonsexual though, it had its physical aspects as I was discovering my sexuality and he was curious about his. I was 20 and he was 24. His dad’s company had as part of its business, a contract for collecting vehicles for whatever reason, seized by the local authority and also the Police contract for collecting cars involved in road traffic accidents. The latter was a 24/7 365 day per year service. For the pedantic among you once every 4 years it was 366 days.
The phone alongside my bed had the number the Police control centre would call after hours. It was a small double room with a wardrobe two side cabinets and a window onto an inner courtyard. The room was decorated in a muted autumnal colour. The phone was a slimline trim phone.
On a wet and windy winters night, it rang out and having taken the details I knew it was a full lift of one vehicle involved in a fatal accident with multiple deaths on the entrance to one of the inner city drive-thru underpasses which travelled below an island on the main ring road.
It was an inconvenient but common occurrence. These events often happened in adverse weather conditions and in the small hours when either speed or alcohol or both were influencing factors.
Arriving on the scene alone blue Renault 5 was on its roof around 20 yards after the junction to either go left to the island or straight on under to the city. It appeared the driver had been indecisive and at the last minute changed his mind and hit the inner kerb tipping his vehicle over. He had likely been travelling in excess of the speed limit. Driver and passenger were each killed and their bodies had been removed. The attending officers had completed the required measuring up and were now eager to have the obstacle of the upturned car removed in order they could sweep up and re-open the road.
Using the crane on the back of the lorry we lifted and secured the car, signed for it and returned to drop it off in the scrap yard. At the yard, there was a specific compound (roped off area) where insurance claims were kept. These cars were retained intact until such a time as any investigator or loss adjuster had made their visits.
Among the debris of broken glass in any such accident, there was often part of the contents of the vehicle which were not at the time of impact secured. So we always had a rummage through the cars and took things such as cassettes. This was the 1980s and a lot of people made really good mixtapes, especially for cars driven such as ours by a boy racer.
“My housemate had the torch and he shone it in my direction as I lifted my find from the floor. It was a severed hand, more precisely a partially dismembered left hand”
I was digging around in the front passenger footwell when I found something heavy. My housemate had the torch and he shone it in my direction as I lifted my find from the floor. It was a severed hand, more precisely a partially dismembered left hand. We screamed, really loud girly screams, I dropped the hand and we each ran back a few steps, before recovering our composure. Thank God for a strong sphincter muscle as I very nearly defecated in my tighty whities.
Daring each other on as only two blokes can who did not want to appear chicken, we went back to the car, shone a torch on the hand, and then ran to the office in the yard and called Police control to inform them of our find. I am not sure they believed our story of doing an inventory of contents at 3.00 AM, outside in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, but they sent a unit to collect the hand.
My second find is less gruesome. At the turn of the century, I took over a restaurant. The previous incumbent had amongst his businesses had been involved in house clearances. He had left an eclectic mix of furniture boxes and bags.
In one of the bedrooms, there were black bags filled with photographic slides. I can imagine these were once boxed and catalogued but now they were the disrespected memories of a business and a life that had ceased. They were broken and in disarray. They had been left as they were rubbish and he had been too lazy to clear them away because they had no value.
In one of the bags, there was the sound of glass clanging on metal. Inside the box I found a biscuit tin. The lid had not been removed for years and it was firmly shut. When I finally managed to lift it, inside were more photographic slides, all broken into many pieces.
On the base of the tin was something turned face down? I delved in and lifted 10 7×5 black and white photographs. They were each stamped proof and were images taken at a wedding. It was a top hat and tails affair. The style of the time suggested it was in the early 1960s.
The recurring theme in each of the images was one individual. It was not the bride or groom. When I got to a photograph of this person alone, holding aloft a drink, I recognised him. It was Cliff Richard.
This was a pleasant discovery. I am not a fan, but on a scale from severed hand to photographs; I rate it highly.
You may be wondering what happened to them. Nothing I still have them. On the back is the address of the studio, but it has gone and so has the street, so I could not return them to the owner. It is probable that the wedding party got their copies and possibly so did Cliff. I think these were just keepsakes from a day when a photographer met a celebrity.
In 2000 on the street where the restaurant was located a film crew with a boy band were making a music video. It created much interest on the day. The producer had lunch in the restaurant. He offered me £250 for the one with Cliff on his own holding a glass. He said it might have been taken before he met Billy Graham and became a born-again Christian and as such might be one of the last images of him with an alcoholic beverage. This felt invasive and disrespectful, I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone and I did not feel selling them would be in the best interest of Cliff Richard or in keeping with the wishes of the photographer, who must have known they had a value but kept them for approaching 40 years.
This has been written because someone prompted me about finds recently and I had not taken them out of the drawer where they are kept for years. In the past when people had come to dinner they had been a talking point until I moved and they became forgotten. I suppose one day after I am gone someone will be going through my belongings and wondering, ”Who are the people in these photographs, they are not his friends or family”, and they will be thrown away as just the memories of another old man.
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