| had some wonderful adventures when I was at Law College, perhaps the most memorable of which took place late in the early hours of Saturday 15 December 1984 when, after drink had been taken, Az, Phil and Sean challenged me to run a circuit of the city walls in under fifteen minutes.
Being a semi-illuminated walkway of nearly two miles enclosing the medieval parts of the city, one would rightly assume that the smooth stone track would not be a problem so far as the running was concerned. ‘Easy enough’ I thought, only it wasn’t because the catch here was I had to do it completely naked without being nabbed by the police! Hmmm. What do you do? I was always one for a bit of tomfoolery even when sober but now that I was pi**ed? Well, it wasn’t even close.
‘Right’ I said ‘You’re on!’
I dashed straight back to my room at the Bishops Palace which in those days was the YMCA, discarded all my clothes and put on a black greatcoat then grabbing a couple of bottles of cider, off we all clanked to the Blossoms in a high state of mirth. Within ten minutes the four of us were sniggering on top of the Eastgate arch, while in the icy mist overhead the hands of that famous clock were silently sweeping towards 2.30am.
I thought about what we were doing and the poem of Jonathan Swift:
The walls of this town
Are full of renown,
And strangers delight to walk round 'em,
But as for the dwellers,
Both buyers and sellers,
For me, you may hang 'em or drown 'em
‘Right’ said Sean setting his watch, ‘When I give the word I want you to set off and run like hell. The rest of us will cut through the city centre and cheer you along the rodee from Paddy’s. Are you ready?’
‘Right then… five… four… three…’
I slipped out of my coat, passed it to Phil and braced myself, stark bollock naked under the lights of the City’s most famous landmark.
‘…. two… one……. GO!’
I tore off anti-clockwise burning up the ancient flagstones like a scalded cat until, before I knew it, I had swept past the King Charles Tower and around the first left corner where the contours of the city wall fuse with the cliff rising up from the canal. I saw nobody at all until I sliced through a clump of young bucks loitering on the crown of the bypass bridge, a cacophony of their jeers and yells well behind me testifying that on them, at least, I had first run.
The next stretch of the walkway saw me wheel in a blur around the corner of the ruined tower before softly padding by the waterfront and onto the long straight section of city wall that stands guard over the last two furlongs of the racecourse.
‘So far so good’ I thought to myself at which point I suddenly became aware of Sean and the others cheering me on as they emerged from the mouth of a side street.
‘Hah! This is this is going to be a piece of cake- I’ll be back at the Clock Tower in a few minutes!’ I yelled over triumphantly.
The first indication that my luck was about to change came with the unnerving sound of a high powered motor vehicle tearing through the gears as it gobbled up the road behind me.
I stole a quick glance over my shoulder and sure enough there she was, the spider in her web tearing down on me with her wild, flashing blue eyes.
I trotted on regardless, chin up and head dead straight as the patrol car drew parallel and its driver’s window slid down.
‘Stop where you are please sir’ snapped this sharp authoritive voice to my left.
‘No’ I replied without looking up and carried on running.
‘Look sir, we don’t want any trouble. Stop right now. I shan’t ask you again.’
I turned and looked into the cab for the first time and clocked the driver, a pleasant looking chap about my own age.
I flicked a grin at him ‘Stop?’ pant pant ‘Who me?’ pant puff pant ‘I don’t think so officer’.
Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The patrol car immediately screeched to a halt at which point its occupant leaped out and began to sprint after me. To make matters worse, at exactly this time I noticed another two police officers striding along the path straight towards me.
‘Shit! Where on earth did they come from?’
I had overlooked that my route was taking me straight passed the main divisional Police headquarters.
I was determined I would not give my wicket away easily, not now having completed more than half of the circuit but the situation was looking acute and whatever I did I knew I would have to do it quickly. The officers ahead drew closer as the light step of patrolman closed in behind me. There was only one thing for it. I must jump down from the city wall and make my escape across the racecourse.
I waited until the last possible moment then just as the pincers were about to close I vaulted off the path and scrambled down the embankment over the rails and onto the racetrack.
It took them completely by surprise.
‘Stop. Stop right there! You are under arrest for a breach of the peace contrary to the Public Order Act 1935’ was all I could hear.
But I had first run on them and was already peeling off into the dark green velvet of the night.
Sean and the others had raced down to the wall and were treated to a grandstand view of what must have been one of the strangest handicaps ever witnessed on the Rodee. For there, streaking clockwise by the furlong pole (and thus in the opposite direction to the usual equine flow) as fast as shanks pony could carry him was yours truly, hotly pursued across the glistening turf by three coppers.
Now I don’t pretend that I was the swiftest of my generation but I wasn’t bad in those days and with no clothes on and bare feet gripping the frozen ground I was a handicap snip against a small field of fully uniformed police officers and try as they might they couldn’t get near. (Sean told me later that one of the officers actually lost his helmet on the course in the pursuit).
It was an excellent contest as well. I ignored all the shouting behind me and just put my head down and ran as fast as I possibly could sticking to the contours of the track.
Eventually when I could go no further I leaned against the rail to catch my breath and was exhilarated to see my pursuers strung out over the penultimate two furlongs like washing.
My plan had been to do a three-quarters sweep around the oval track to the brick railway arch and then hide in the riverbank bushes until the coast was clear and somehow slink back to the YMCA. At the time I genuinely believed that I could get away with it as well but of course it was only the drink and the adrenalin that made the strategy seem feasible. Reality quickly struck home in the form of a siren on the A55 that suggested more officers were joining the fray together with the most unwelcome prospect of police dogs. Hmm.
I reached the river, which looked absolutely freezing, and for the first time I began to feel the cold myself.
My pursuers were closing fast.
I stood on the bank and peered into the water. It was very dark and swift and the prospect of plunging in was not inviting.
I looked back at the police who were nearly upon me.
I had given them a good run but I was crazy enough to plunge in the river?
A last look into the water. Nope. No way.
‘Ok lads, I give up’
I threw my arms in the air and in an instant they fell upon me.
It was a strange feeling being frog marched back across the course with one of my arms wrenched so far up my spine that I felt I could stroke down the straggled hair on the back of my head with the palm of my hand.
‘Arrgghhh, not so hard officer! You’re hurting me!’
‘Don’t struggle then sir and we’ll all get along just fine’ sneered his colleague who had gripped the other arm in a painful half twist.
The third officer walked ahead talking into his radio.
They certainly knew how to restrain a man and no matter how much I pleaded that I would not run away it was clear they would not release me until I was back at the station. I gave up in the end when I realized my whinging was only exciting a few extra twists and I reasoned that they were entitled to a bit of gratuitous roughness after the merry dance I had just led them.
We returned by the same route back to the city wall, puffing and blowing after our exertions as we danced back over the frosted footprints we had only posted few minutes before.
Presently the owner of a meaty paw on my right shoulder caught his breath and said ‘You, sir, are under arrest for breach of the peace, outraging public decency and anything else we can think of on the way back to the station’.
‘Oh come on officer, I was only having a laugh.’
‘You must be stark bloody raving mad out on a night like this with no clothes on!’ said his colleague shaking his head, ‘stark raving mad!’
By now there was a crowd of a couple of dozen or so cheering and booing on from the wall, among them Sean, Assiz and Phil.
My captors swiftly dispersed them: ‘Ok folks, the show’s over, its home time unless any of you want a lift down to the station with Eros here.’
I was unceremoniously hauled into the back of the squad car for the short journey along the crown of the wall to Cheshire Constabulary Divisional HQ, my nakedness covered by a grey rug taken out of the boot.
I had a good laugh when I was checked into the custody area and came face to face with the duty sergeant.
‘Name?’ he snapped like a Dalek.
‘Simon Antony Catterall’
‘Date of birth?’
’20 05 1956’
‘YMCA Chester sergeant’ and then adding in a sing-song ‘Y-M-C-A, Y-M-C-A, you can get a good meal etc’
‘Very funny sir, height?’
‘6 feet 1 inch’
‘Colour of eyes?’
I honestly didn’t know and the sudden stem to my flourish made him look up from the sheet he was completing on top of the desk.
‘I honestly don’t know sergeant, really I don’t but I tell you what, you should see them from this side!’
‘Don’t get clever with me lad or I’ll see to it you’ll not be out this side of Christmas!’
We then came to the part of the arrest form where he had to log all my clothes and the contents of my pockets. Nothing doing there.
‘Right, lock him up lads while I speak with the duty inspector and decide what we are going to do with him.’
I was led down a corridor and shown into a small cell about 12 feet by 8 feet with a solid iron riveted door, dirty peeling walls and tiled floor, all dimly illuminated by a solitary light buried in the ceiling behind a think layer of glass. At the far end of the cell was a dirty cream plastic mattress with a single grey rug, while in the corner my eyes rested on a stainless steel bucket with unspeakable traces below the rim.
I lay down, pulled the rug over me and stared at the ceiling.
I had been in many cells during my articles taking statements from prisoners but never thought I would one day join their ranks.
Down the corridor another prisoner was screaming blue murder.
‘Probably doing turkey’ I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
They released me just before 6.00am. Sean and the others had gingerly approached the front desk and handed over my clothes and said how sorry we all were and how it was the pressure of the course and how I was a good bloke really etc.
Such contrition must have done the trick because if nothing else they confirmed that I was who I claimed to be and not a danger to anyone (except myself) although thinking about it the Police change shifts at 6.00am at which time they tend clear out the previous nights’ drunks. However, whatever the reasoning, the jangle of keys and clank of locks that preceded my release into the inky purple of dawn was very welcome and the extraordinary excursion concluded with me shuffling back to the YMCA cold, alone and very sober, wondering what offence they would summons me for and praying it would not have a bearing on my career- that in the unlikely event that I successfully completed the course.
I did not have to wait for too long. While the examinations remained a nemesis still to be faced, so far as the disciplinary consequences of the race course escapade were concerned I need not have worried. Word of the police chase spread around College like wildfire and when I confirmed the incident to Chris my form tutor, it seemed as if invisible and unknown forces (Masonic?) took over because a few weeks into the new year I was let off with an official written warning (which I still have somewhere actually).
Was it all worth it? Absolutely. I know it was not a circuit of a famous university square and my feat was hardly up there with Chariots of Fire but while I never repeated my attempt, I hope someday someone else will and succeed. So there you are, a challenge!
See if at 0230hrs on 15th December you can scorch off from the Blossoms clock and run around Chester City walls naked without getting arrested!