Memories of “The Dark Room”

Sent in from Arlene Green in her own words:

“Here’s a short story I wrote a couple of years ago about my memories of a day at David Livingstone’s Memorial when I was young.

The Dark Room

It was the usual summer day. The type you got back in the 70s. Hot with the tarmac melting on the pavement and you could dig it up with a discarded ice lolly stick. That’s just what four of us were doing while our mum’s chatted about the price of bread while hanging out the washing. We had already played “Wimbledon” with one tennis racquet and badminton one which couldn’t stand the stress of the tennis ball and snapped. So we were wondering what to be up to. The top suggestion was to go to David Livingstone Centre and play on the Frying Pan and Helter Skelter. The only problem was the admission fee. It was 10p each to get in. I had 20p in the ashtray under the telly – that’s where I kept my pocket money. So I ran to fetch it and the others cobbled another 20p together so we were sorted.

A nearly finished bottle of Kia Ora got filled with water so we had our juice then my mum quickly assembled some tomato sandwiches with a plain loaf, and somebody else’s mum gave us a packet of rich tea biscuits so picnic complete off we went down the brae towards the village and the Clyde where the centre sat. Now although the helter skelter and the frying pan were on the agenda our other cunning plan was to play chases through the big white house. This was the house, which David Livingstone was born in and housed the families that worked in the mill in the 1800s. When you paid in at the gate there was a turn style that issued a ticket that you used to gain entry to the house, which had been turned into a museum about Livingstone’s life.

Now we were quite well behaved in that respect as there were other kids that would have jumped the fence and sneaked in the house but at least we paid! There were always loads of Sunday school trips coming from all over to the centre so we felt it belonged to us because we were from Blantyre and we weren’t long at putting any incoming visitor in their place while queuing at the Helter Skelter. So after eating up our picnic and stating our territorial rights to a few kids from Strathaven it was time for the big house. It was all painted white on the outside and had two turrets. You entered by one turret and went up the winding staircase and progressed though the rooms each with various information and artefacts.

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Dark Room Revealed

Now I was terrified as there was a room called the “Dark Room” where you pressed buttons and a picture would light up depicting a part of Livingstone’s journey through the African Jungle. It was pure Disneyland in Blantyre – this button-pushing extravaganza always amazed everyone. But in between each picture lighting up there was a dark spell and that was when I got scared. The reason I was afraid was on two counts. First of all to reach the dark room you had to go though the museum section and this smelled of death! There were objects contained therein such as: Livingstone’s tooth – extracted from his mouth while in the jungle – I always viewed this as gross and totally unnecessary – it had a big root and was obviously extracted without a jag!, A lock of Livingstone’s hair – a wispy bit of hair – obviously taken from a dead man! The military style coat he wore and his boots in a glass frame looked like a headless horseman ready to gab you. The hardest bed in the world where he was born then scary masks of witch doctors and tales of lions mauling him and suffering from malaria. It was all old and spooky and as I said smelled of death – it made me feel diseased. By the time you reached the dark room you were in the frightened zone and were sweating thinking you had caught malaria from looking at the old stuff. The second reason was I didn’t like the dark! So this day I was as usual pretending to be not bothered while my palms were starting to sweat, with the Malaria obviously, and I could feel that old, creepy smell engulfing me.

We decided that we would have a dare to run through the dark room pressing all the buttons and then run back through it the wrong way. What a good idea! I was going to die of Malaria in the dark room after being captured by Livingstone’s ghost. So in we ran pressing all the buttons not waiting till the light showed up then back through we ran pressing more buttons. I was screaming as I was doing it so they all started screaming as well saying that David’s ghost was coming to get us. We were all hysterically scared having palpitations and creating a scenario out of nothing. We all looked at each other pupils dilated with trying to see in the dark and ran back in again. It was a good job our youthful hearts could sustain this ability of being able to instil a state of fear in ourselves in the name of entertainment! Then half way though the dark room – on my final journey out of the hell and into the daylight I was gabbed by the shoulders!! Suddenly I was captured, would never see the sun again! In that moment I truly believed either a witch doctor or Dr Livingstone had come to get me. The grip was strong but my need for survival and not to be eaten by cannibals stronger. They say with fear can come an unknown strength, the adrenalin kicks in after the moment of being frozen by the fear. My rush came. I screamed the place down and struggled kicking and pulling punches to get away. I heard a yelp and the grip released. I ran like an Olympic 100 metres gold medallist, my finest speed achieved. Escaping the dark, the grip, the ghosts, the witch doctor, the malaria, the extracted tooth. No one could catch me now.

I passed the make up church; part of Westminster Abbey, where it tells you Livingstone’s heart is in Africa and his body at the Abbey. Perhaps I gave it a quick respectful nod then again perhaps not! The ray of light was in font of me pulling me towards it, tumbling out. All of a sudden it was light. I was outside. Immediately it didn’t feel nearly so bad. Deep breathes, my friends around me, the warm sun on my face. I was safe. Heart beat slowly returning to normal. My friends were tying to get sense from me when some older boys we knew came rolling out laughing their heads off. They had sneaked in the dark room and waited to scare us. Anger or relief – it was hard to say at that moment. They bought me a cone because I think they felt bad at how scared I was! After they gave us some fast pushes on the roundabout and a backie up the hill on their choppers I forgave them. I swore I would never go in the dark room again – well until the next time……. Arlene McWilliam Green, March 2012

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