The Car that Haunted Itself

By Arthur Chappell

Location: The Bradford Arms, Miles Platting

My mum’s dad, Bill Cavanagh, was the best storyteller in our family. He had a reputation for spinning yarns and tall stories. His friends called him Tom Pepper, a common Manchester nickname for someone who spices stories up out of all proportion, or just tells plain outright lies.

Over the years, I realised three things:

1. His friends completely misjudged him.
2. He knew exactly what effect he was having on them.
3. Many of his stories were actually true.

In the 1970s and 1980s, on a typical Sunday afternoon he’d sit in the Bradford Arms pub close to home in Miles Platting, downing pints, while I had to drink Coke, being too young, and he’d start to reminisce about the 1940s when his horse brought down a Spitfire. Of course, everyone would look at him in disbelief and ask him what he was on about, but he’d change the subject or decide it was time to leave. Most folk would then write his anecdotes off as drunken waffle, but for those who kept at him about it over the next few days and coming months more information was forthcoming. It turned out that the Spitfire incident really happened.

No, his horse was not a Nazi sympathiser able to operate anti-aircraft artillery or fly a Messerschmitt, and in fact the War had ended when the incident happened. The Spitfire was being transported to a Manchester Museum display on the back of an open flatbed truck when Bill Cavanagh’s parcel delivery horse, frustrated and impatient with the crowd lining its normally quiet route, bolted and ran right into the side of the truck, jarring the plane right off its wheel blocks. It toppled onto one of its wings, causing some expensive damage. The horse had indeed brought down a Spitfire.

Bill Cavanagh cheerfully told many such stories, equally cryptically, eager to make an enigma of himself for beer and company. That’s why I found him such good fun, and went with him often as a passenger in his later life work as a Freightliner lorry driver, and just for drives out in his car.

Ah yes, the car, a bottle green Morris Minor of the kind he had driven ever since he moved away from working with horses. He’d gone from equine horse to petrol-driven combustion engine horsepower.

If he passed another Morris Minor he would toot his horn and wave frantically in approval. Before I hit my twentieth birthday I noticed we saw fewer such cars all the time. The species was dying out. Even his Morris was getting less reliable for him. The clutch juddered and screamed when he adjusted it. One windscreen wiper was totally ineffective. The passenger door didn’t open – I got in or out via the driver’s side of the vehicle. After months of this, he finally gave in to nagging from my mother, Alwyn, and his wife, Phyllis to get rid of the car and buy a new one.

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One Response to “The Car that Haunted Itself”

  1. September 02, 2010 at 9:37 am, Ian D. Smith said:

    Excellent story, Arthur. Many thanks.


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