I'm not actually a person who likes surprises. I like to know what I'm doing, and where and when I'm doing it - facts which I carefully record in an old-school diary, using my very best writing. So on the face of it, Manchester's new Secret Film Society isn't really for me, packed as it is full of the unknown; essentially, you pay for your ticket knowing only that you're going somewhere to watch a film and get fed. My friends are nothing if not persuasive, however, and thus I found myself loitering in central Manchester at 10.30am last Sunday, waiting for a coach to a mystery location and clutching a slip of paper instructing me (under pains of confiscation and - presumably - public shaming) to turn my phone to airplane mode. Scary days indeed.
Actually, it was all pretty exciting. The coach - full of excitable people with the air of a class released from lessons to go on a school trip - travelled north and it soon became clear that we were heading for Pendle Hill, famous in Lancashire and beyond for its witchy associations (and, hopefully, an ability to screen a film and provide a jolly good tea). More specifically, we were heading for the pretty village of Downham and its cute, bunting-clad village hall, where we parked up before being whisked off for a walk by a man wearing a top hat and cravat. This being England in June, it was quite cold and a bit rainy, but if anything this added to the atmosphere as we trailed after our extravagantly attired guide and listened to tales of witchcraft and persecution, all the while secretly wondering what we'd be having for lunch.
Lunch turned out to be splendid, all the more so as we felt we'd earned it after an hour and a half of tramping through long, damp grass. The caterers were your friends and mine, Bangers and Bacon, always ones to be relied on when one is is hungry and thus a very welcome sight indeed. The starter (bacon and chicken liver pate, ham hock terrine and bread) and main (giant Yorkshire pudding filled with Lancashire hotpot) were served before the film, at tables set up in convivial rows in front of the big screen, which meant that the only requirement to leave one's seat for the entire afternoon was to visit the bar where - astonishingly - wine was £2 a glass. The film, if you hadn't guessed by now, was the 60s classic Whistle Down the Wind, filmed in Downham and starring a dodgy-fringed Hayley Mills as a little girl who thinks Jesus is living in the family barn. This was enjoyable fare, with a pause partway through for apple crumble and custard - to be honest, I think most people were so full and tired and content by this point that it hardly mattered what the film was (that's what you get with a £2 bar).
Any downsides? Well, it sounds petty but the coach was quite spectacularly uncomfortable - I understand that it's tricky to fit 50-ish people on one vehicle but the seats were child-sized at best and necessitated some uncomfortable bottom overhanging that was neither dignified nor attractive. This can no doubt be addressed for next time though, and ultimately I don't think you can be too critical of a day that includes a coach trip, a walk in the rain, a film, a high quality three course lunch, a load of wine, and the opportunity for your best friend to repeatedly call you a witch. I'm still not a fan of surprises...but don't be too surprised if you see me again at Secret Film Society.
- Find out more about the Secret Film Society (although they're quite mean, and won't tell you everything, no matter how many times you ask them) via their Facebook page here. I was invited along as a guest but only asked to provide honest feedback.