A crooked piece of land beside a river

April 5, 2011

This is what Crumpsall means. So Wikipedia says. Wikipedia also informs me that Don Estelle, Jason Orange, and Myra Hindley were all born in Crumpsall. I lived in Crumpsall as a boy, moving there when I was 11 and staying until I left home to go to university. In Manchester. I moved from Manchester to Manchester.

I never missed Crumpsall.

I don’t really know where Crumpsall is. If you were to say to someone, “I’ll meet you in Crumpsall” you’d be hard pressed to pick a landmark. There’s no centre. It’s just streets and emptiness, bordered by the more lively Cheetham Hill and the comparatively swanky Prestwich.

My defining Crumpsall moment came when I was 15 years old. I was off to the shops at Cheetham Hill for my mum. I was walking along, possibly skipping (it was the kind of thing I did, still do). I was certainly whistling. Whistling the latest big hit, I Will Survive. Three lads surrounded me. One of them asked me the time. I told him. He said “let me see”. I held up my wrist and he said “that’s not the time”. Then he hit me. Hard. Hard enough to knock me out.

I spent four days in hospital. I effectively had plastic surgery. A nose job. I went around for the next few weeks with a plaster cast on my nose held in place with a big ‘X’ of sticking plaster.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was the police. They asked if they could have a word with me, alone, away from my parents. When my mum and dad had left the living room they asked me: “We know what you’ve told your mum and dad, but what did you do to provoke them?”

I was a very young 15 year old. An innocent in the world. Could whistling “I Will Survive” be seen as provocative?


I’m back in Manchester now. Prestwich. Birthplace of 10cc, Victoria Wood, and home of local hero Mark E. Smith. Just for a short while. Looking after my mum as she gets better from an operation. She’s out of hospital now and doing well but she spent just under two weeks in North Manchester General Hospital.

It used to be called Crumpsall Hospital. It’s in Crumpsall.

I’d been visiting twice a day but last Tuesday Janice and Kath went to see my mum in the afternoon, giving me a little break. So I went into town, saw The Adjustment Bureau, and then got the Metro to Crumpsall for the evening visiting session. Leaving the hospital at 8.20pm I headed back to the station. The first and only time I didn’t drive.

It’s a lonely old place, between the hospital and the Metro station. Where is Crumpsall? Even when you’re in it you are nowhere and there’s no one around.

Walking along Crumpsall Lane (where we lived over 30 years ago), past Hermitage Road (where I used to go for piano lessons from Miss Musgrave until I became old enough to tell my mum and dad I didn’t like playing the piano, I didn’t want piano lessons)… thinking these things… possibly inwardly whistling I Will Survive… not considering a skip this time.

Then something –  that sense –  moments before it happens. Maybe it makes you tense up in preparation… what is it? An instinct?

The lads must have crept along. In the shadows. Following and biding their time. And then an explosion behind me. A whack on the head. A rush and a push.

I go flying to the ground and my bag races ahead of me as they try to run away with it. But no, this cannot stand. I manage to keep hold and after a silly little struggle they run off. It could have been worse I suppose. They could have got my bag if they’d really wanted.

The two lads run, turn left down Station Road. Alone again. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know where to go. There is no one around. What if they come back? There is a shop just past Station Road. The Canny Scot, an off licence. I could head there, phone a taxi…

But I’m not going to let this get to me. I’m going home. on the Metro.

I turn down Station Road. Quiet. Empty. But well lit. And there are two lads. But these two are with a girl, coming from the Metro.

I stop and wait a moment, unsure what to do. One of the lads calls to me: “You alright?” I hesitate. “Something happened?”

I keep my distance but call to them: “Two lads just attacked me.”

One of the lads says he saw them run off up Station Road. He leaves a beat before adding: “Why not go after them, fight them?”

The other lad chips in; perfect Mancy sarcasm: “aww, got mugged did ya?”

I step further away, back towards the (maybe) safety of The Canny Scot. They head off back down Crumpsall Lane, away from me.

I go to the Metro. It’s empty apart from one lad sitting there, smoking, hood up. (When something happens; for a while, until normality returns; everyone is a threat).

I stand in the middle of a brightly lit platform, alone, waiting, imagining them coming back. Imagining myself dying on CCTV.

After 8 minutes that could have been 80, the Metro arrives. It’s packed and I get on, shaking.

Two stops later I get off at Heaton Park, head into The Ostrich, and get drunk.


The next day, a little more collected, I realise I should tell the police. Nothing can be done for me, and I’m fine, but the police should know to keep an eye out. Many people may visit the hospital, many older than me. And many may have to rely on public transport.

I call in at the police station on Cheetham Hill. I tell the… I don’t know what? Was it an officer? Or just someone employed to speak to the public? They didn’t seem very, well, policey. The first thing she says is: “Why didn’t you call 999?” It’s a good question and I don’t have a good answer. I mutter something about having been ok, and having come from seeing my mum in hospital, maybe my head not being in the right place, maybe other things mattering more.

I give her some details which she jots down on a piece of blank paper. She says she will pass it on to an officer. She tells me again, in quite some kind of a tone, that I should have called 999. I guess so. I leave, heading straight on to the hospital. Visiting time again.


And later I’m thinking; Shouldn’t some kind of statement have been taken? Shouldn’t she have asked my name? or noted my phone number? was I not reporting a crime? Should I not at least be a statistic?


A crooked piece of land beside a river… sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

11 Responses to “A crooked piece of land beside a river”

  1. God!! Awful! Not quite so bad as the gun in San Francisco, but still!

    Hope your Mum is recovering well, and hope you are ok x

  2. Trevor Neal said

    The response from the woman in the police station is shocking! She should have at least said “Aren’t you Swing Your Pants?”. Reminds me of the time I got attacked for no reason in Rusholme as a student – Oh just realised – I was a student – there you go then – and remember the time that bloke pulled a gun on us near The Ducie? Or was it just an umbrella? We didn’t stay to find out – but it wasn’t raining. Anyway on the upside, thanks for introducing me to Cake’s excellent version of I Will Survive. Pop pop!

  3. Paul Bailey said

    Very sad blog entry, and worrying in the lack of interest shown by police staff. Not surprising though.

    Several years ago I was the victim of a serious assault. The laissez-faire attitude of the police, and the disinterest they had in speaking to any witnesses was very upsetting. Bearing in mind I had surgery to relocate my cheekbone, I had foolishly assumed that they would take it seriously. I was wrong.

  4. Stuart said

    “When something happens; for a while, until normality returns; everyone is a threat” is a great observation.

    What a dreadful state of affairs though. It’s hard to think of a situation where one might feel more lonely. I’m not much of a hugger, so I’ll fist-bump you, like the rappers do. I hope the sight of my fist does not provoke horrible flashbacks though.

    (Also, an X of sticking plaster? Did you grow up in The Beano?!)

  5. Mamatiara1 said

    The kids get a buzz out of this. They’ve probably forgotten all about it – unlike the person on the receiving end. The attitudes of everyone involved is very telling (from the other kids to the police). Very sad – and very brave of you to write about it so honestly. Take care.

  6. Poor naive Simon. How will the Police ever keep the Home Office happy with nice tidy statistics when daft beggars like you are reporting crimes? Hmmmmm…?

    Seriously, their lackadaisical attitude is truly shocking. Next time they could be armed or picking on someone more vulnerable…it doesn’t bare thinking about.

    I’m wondering what was in your satchel that you wanted to hang on to. The Holy Grail? A limited edition Pot Noodle? A signed photo of Pete Beale?

  7. Andy said

    Random violence is truly shocking. When I was living in Coventry I was walking back home around 11:30pm when someone asked me for the time. When I replied, he shouted “cockney bastard” and hit me in the temple and nose. I was totally unprepared and didn’t have a chance to defend myself. I guess I was lucky as he just ran off. I stopped a passing taxi to get home and never walked that way alone again. Glad that you’re OK and that they didn’t get your stuff.

  8. Simon Hickson said

    Thank you all for your kind, and thoughtful, and humourous, comments. And I’m sorry to hear some of you too have been on the receiving end of violent acts.

    Maybe we can get together and become the rubbishiest bunch of superhero crime fighters ever. The Y-Men (and women), stopping thugs in their tracks, wrapping them in an invisible forcefield and spending half an hour going “Why? Why? Why?”, until they weep and repent.

    And yes, the X of sticking plaster made me look ridiculous. I tried to find a photo at my mum’s, but no luck (yet).

    And as to holding on to the bag. Well, I had to. Here’s why; over a year ago I had my bag stolen (my fault, I left it unguarded when I went to a public toilet in a hotel.)My camera was in it. This bag was bought for me by my fiancee, Zoe. No one’s getting it. And in the bag was my new camera, bought for me by a stranger- thank you Samantha- simply as one of the kindest gestures ever. They weren’t getting my a camera either.

    Thank you all again. x

  9. […] The reasons for me spotting him on Twitter aren’t funny at all. He was mugged on the way back from North Manchester General Hospital in Crumpsall. I can’t hope to re-tell the story in any better way than he did, and you can read it here. […]

  10. mazza78 said

    i live in crumpsall and have done for thirteen years either you were just unlucky or they decided you were an easy target i have had no trouble and i walk home from work at the hospital all times of the day and night and i am 64 i am so sorry that your stay in crumpsall was so awful and the canny scot would have helped and called the police

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