Part 1 – 01-09-14
Do you believe in ghosts?
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
If I’ve just watched something spooky and I have to get up and go for a wee on my own, I completely believe in ghosts & I will cling to the walls and imagine that the spectre of a child murderer named Charles Larimer is definitely walking behind me with a clawed hand and a vintage rake.
If I’m having a terribly logical discussion with friends about the scientific likelihood of paranormality, then I don’t believe in ghosts and I think people who do are dickbombs. When sat at a medium’s table, as I was a few years ago, being told things about certain dead people, I will half scoff yet half crane forward desperate for more spurious twaddle that I can mould to the whims of my own desires. I remain annoyingly 50/50. Or 60/40. Or 24/79. Or whatever; I’m very indecisive, spiritually fickle, and dreadful at maths.
But right now, writing this as I am as nighttime falls, I do. I do believe in ghosts. For I am alone in an 18th century hall in the middle of a park, and my imagination dictates that for one night only I must believe the living bejesus out of ghosts. I must. It would be a waste not to. It would be an affront to my imagination, and I quite like that silly old thing.
I am rather aided in my twitchiness by the fact I came to this place to finish a book about a dead man. I’m sort of asking for spectral winds to kick up around me. I deserve whatever I get.
Not content with coming home from a month at the Edinburgh festival and putting my feet up for a few days, I decided that what might make me unwind was a nice self-imposed exile in a purportedly haunted house to finish a book about a decade-dead dad. Some people would go for a spa day, or take their mum out for lunch. Buy a new winter cardigan. Maybe get a fringe, watch a rom-com. I decided to stage my own version of Woman In Black, in pyjamas. What can I say, I’m a martyr for the dramatic arts.
And now I’m ruddy here for the night and I’m not going to lie, my brain is boggling over-time.
So, here’s a quick round-up of PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES NOTED SO FAR:
1) A cupboard that was definitely shut when I arrived was wide open when I went back in the room. It is a bit of a baggy cupboard with no distinguishable catch and evidence of blu-tack in use, but still – PRETTY GHOSTY.
2) I heard the distant jangling of a bell. It could have been the echo of a servant’s bell from 1793, chiming to warn of an impending livestock emergency in which a little boy named Sebastian Crank gets trampled into a puddle, destined to roam the rose gardens for all eternity with sheep poo on his face.
Or it could have been someone going by on a bike.
3) I definitely don’t remember eating all those cashews.
CONCLUSION: Semi Intriguing Stuff If You Want To Pep It Up A Bit.
Despite my low level paranoia, here in an empty old house, I suppose I am somewhat comforted by the fact that if there was an apparition floating anywhere near me I probably wouldn’t see it. Because I’m not wearing my glasses. I could have Gladys Cornworthy, hypochondriac widow and passive-aggressive cross-stitcher who died in 1832 of a clogged colon, wailing and wringing her hands at me right now and I’d just think there was a bit of a draft.
I’m not a great noticer of things in general, really. I have walked past people I know in the street and they have had to shout at me repeatedly until I realise they are there. I have slept through a hurricane. I carried on eating in Hong Kong, oblivious to low scale earth tremors, to be met with incredulous “how did you not notice that?”
I just thought it was the dim sum trolley going by.
Basically, bring it on, spirit world. I sort of hope you’re there, but you’re going to have to do something really impressive to get past my imagination and get me to notice the real you.
Part 2 – 08-09-14
For those of you who read my column last week, I have some more things to say about ghosts. For those of you who did not, I have some things to say about ghosts and if any of it doesn’t make sense then it serves you right for not being there for me when I needed you.
Just after writing it, after I ejaculated the sentiment “bring it on, spirit world – you’ll have to do something really super mega for me to notice you” (when I was staying overnight, finishing my book, alone in a big empty house), I was aurally assaulted by a malevolent spirit.
How did it manifest itself?
By switching on a stereo two floors beneath me really loudly just past midnight after I climbed into bed.
How do I know it was malevolent?
Because it picked Radio 1.
Once I had stood at the window for an uncomfortable amount of time (have you tried not blinking for five minutes? It gets very dry.) and ascertained it wasn’t youths in the park enjoying the dying embers of a cider summer, I thought “Right. Come on, Hasler. You can do this.” and crept through the house like an erect-nippled detective, whacking on light switches and whimpering to myself, until I sourced the root of the evil. A stereo covered over by a black sheet. A SODDING BLACK SHEET? THAT’S PRETTY MUCH THE UNIVERSAL SYMBOL OF DARK FANTASTICAL MYSTERY. I half-expected ectoplasm to splurge forth and encrust my face, but I got worse. I got Robin Thicke. Resisting the urge to scream, I ripped out the plug and legged it back upstairs. Locked my bedroom door.
Somehow I slept. I put it down to an errant alarm set to go off at Heart Attack O’ Clock for the alone girl in her pants, and slept. (I’m that hard.)
The next morning, when I reread my column before sending it to my editor and saw my final comment claiming that the spirit world needed to up its game, I knew I had invoked everything I deserved with my cockiness. After a good stiff cup of tea, I laughed at myself. Silly girl.
I settled at my desk and began my day’s writing. I was so close to finishing my book, and for the first time since beginning it three years ago, I had the time and space to spread out my fathers’ letters and documents, to get a proper grasp on the scope and chronology of everything he left behind. I wanted to make sense of it all, once and for all. Write it in my book, and put it down.
Delving into Dad’s diaries from the 1960s – when he was at Naval college sailing around the seas of the world playing scrabble and sharing fags and having scraps and bugling with boys named Pancho and Yorkie – I read through to the end of the last diary he ever wrote, searching for little signs and significances. Early signs of his bi-polar, indicators of mood, flashes of heart. Searching for a bit more sense.
December 1964. He had returned from a massive tour – out over the Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay, round to the Mediterranean, on to Port Said, Suez Canal, Red Sea, Aden, Arabian Sea, Muscat, Persian Gulf, Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Umm Said, Chalna, Calcutta, Trincomalee, Colombo, back to Aden, back to the Red Sea, Suez, the Mediterranean again, Biscay and round, and found himself dropping anchor in…Southend. The very town in which I was now sat, in that quiet house. He and the boys had hung around on deck for five days and got bored, sailed further up, docked in Tilbury, and went to a dance in Gravesend. A dance in Gravesend. The metaphor would be laboured if it had been written. Then the diary stops. I never knew he’d been here. He was here.
I looked out of the window, and down to the sea. There. He’d been just out there as a young man, before his life had really started, forty years before he used his rope skills one last time. There’s no way he could have known he would die here, and that years later still his daughter would be writing a book for him in the same town, staring down at the same sea.
It felt like too much stuff to feel all at once in the same instant. I shivered. My skin felt far colder then than when I stood in a dark room alone with the stereo blaring at me from under a black sheet.
I didn’t really believe in the spooks that are conjured in havoc by your imagination in an old empty house. Not really.
But I did believe in seas and Dads and diaries and those strange prickles up the neck born of uncanny coincidence. Ghosts are the wisps of things we allow to live in the mind.
I finished my book in the house. Worked my socks off to finish. I felt I had to finish it there.
And I left some of my ghosts behind to play with the others.