Wednesday, August 25, 2010

English ghosts

When you grow up in England, particularly in old houses in the country, your world tends to include more of a range of things.  More things co-exist. Layers of things. You know, paraphernalia.  With emphasis on the para.  My father would talk about ghosts quite matter of factly and although I don't think our house was haunted, we knew that there were ghosts in the older part of the farm.  Friends had ghosts in their houses and I can remember with absolute clarity every single haunted room I stayed in -- from the friars in the old chapel in Hinton Waldrist, to the eery chill I felt in one of the bedrooms in my sister's house near Buntingford (although I was 15 at the time and quite impressionable) to the clinking armor witnessed in a Very Grand house party in Yorkshire while we were at Oxford. There was a Grey Lady in the Golden Valley near Ashridge and a dashing 1930s motorist who lingered around midnight by the lodge to Ashridge House (witnessed by my parents' best friends on numerous occasions, even when they weren't pleasantly squiffy, although the ghost did appear on the same road my father drove off of, in the middle of the night, after a good dinner with his friend Muddy in Little Gaddesden.)

Of course my husband, who grew up in new-ish apartments in Beverly Hills, thinks this is all a load of hooey and won't hear a word about it.

While staying with a very old and dear school friend in Dorset this summer, in an elegant late 18th century country house, I slept very poorly.  Minky and I shared an awfully pretty room with waxy chintz curtains, a view of the stables, a bathroom full of delicious Floris soap, starched white sheets that were cool to the touch and lots of fat, new glossy magazines piled on the round table by the bed.

Minky in our pretty, blue room

At breakfast the following morning, with the sun streaming in, and delicious bowls of grapefruit and cups of tea, my friend asked me how I slept.  I told her that it was a bit of an odd night, and felt a little foolish saying that I felt something in the room. It wasn't malevolent, I said, just unsettling.  (Minky told me later that I grabbed her hand and wouldn't let go all night long.)

At one point in the night it struck me that no-one would believe me, and that I needed evidence. So, with a shaking fingers, I took this intrepid picture with my phone:

Regardez le menacing gape of the fireplace!

Come on, even the Ghostbusters would be impressed.

When dawn came up (and what a cheery relief is the first light of dawn after a disturbed night) I took this picture of the sun coming through the curtains:

Colefax and Fowler, naturally

And a picture of the view from my window:

What could be more normal than a willow tree and a stable clock?
I told my story as amusingly as possible but like a scene from a scary movie, my friend grabbed both my hands, looked into my eyes, and said "I should tell you that other people have felt that room is haunted. I didn't really want to say anything yesterday in case it freaked you out. But I can tell you now."  I giggled nervously.  "In fact" she went on "when G stayed in the room above yours he felt as if someone's hands were on his neck, trying to strangle him."


Back in Los Angeles, no-one would listen to my ghost story.  My son told me with a smirk that he didn't believe in fairies or dragons either. My husband rolled his eyes at me.

But today, I feel vindicated.  In my in-box is a letter from my friend in Dorset, which includes this paragraph:

"Oh yes....I checked out the bedroom you stayed in....and you were right, there was something there! It has moved on now and feels so much better.  Poor you. I am sorry you had such a disturbed night; at least next time you come all will be peaceful ."


the happy honeybee said...

Miss B, I love stories about old haunted English manors. Have you read Sarah Waters' latest? It's called The Little Stranger, and though it gets a little crazy at the end, I couldn't put it down until I finished the very last delicious word.

Beautiful, beautiful place, btw!

Miss Whistle said...

Dear HH,
I haven't read The Little Stranger but you're not the first to recommend it. I will seek it out.
And yes, isn't the house divine?
A wee bit jaloux... :-)

Miss W

AQ: said...

LOOOOOOOOOVE this post... and love the new layout. Pure bliss, Miss-Whiss x

Whittle said...

It has been many moons...but from my apartment in a franetic Hong Kong there is an ironic calm in reading your familar tales of the haunted old English houses we grew up in!