Thursday, 31 October 2019
"I do believe in Spooks"
Well, I don't really. But I've always been interested in the supernatural and things that go bump in the night and, hey, it's Halloween so now must be the time to talk about it, right?
I'm more interested these days in fictional ghoulies and ghosties but when I was younger I was borderline obsessed with the supernatural and was always reading "true life" ghost stories. As a teenager I subscribed to the infamous part-work The Unexplained which contained many a tale of spooky and, yes, unexplained phenomena in its eldritch pages.
Of course I had an active imagination as a kid and the fact that I was brought up in a creaky, draughty 200-year old farmhouse just added to my fascination for the weird and bizarre. I was always imagining footsteps on the attic steps outside my bedroom door or hunting for secret passages in the cellar. My dad, Pete, told me his family had lived in the house since 1930 and nobody had ever seen even the merest wisp of a spectre. By the time I was a teenager I was starting to doubt that...
As an adolescent I started having weird experiences at night ( no, not those! ) which had me thinking there were stranger things in heaven and earth etc. etc. On many, many cold dark nights I would wake up ( always at 01:40 am for some reason ) with a feeling of absolute dread. I found myself unable to move, as if some giant weight were pressing down on my chest, and there was usually the impression of a shadowy figure standing at the foot of my bed, no doubt meaning to do me harm. After much struggling and scrabbling around to find my light switch I would feel the weight suddenly disappear, switch on my light and reveal... nothing. I don't know for sure how long this lasted - probably a couple of years - but I was understandably freaked out by it. I couldn't tell my parents, or anyone else for that matter, because I was sure they'd (a) think I was nuts, (b) laugh at me or (c) both. I began to think that the house was indeed haunted... or I was indeed going nuts.
Many years later as an alleged adult I was watching a TV documentary about sleep and dreams ( this time in our resolutely non-spooky one-bed suburban terraced house ) when the narrator mentioned the subject of sleep paralysis and I nearly fell out of my chair. This was it! This was the cause of those fear-filled nights. There was no nocturnal creature holding me down or lurking at the foot of my bed, merely a quirk of REM sleep which keeps the body immobile and presumably safe whilst dreaming. I wasn't haunted or mad! There was an actual physiological explanation for this private night-time terror which had gripped me for so long but was now an adolescent memory. Boring or what?
As much as I might wish otherwise I've still never had any real kind of supernatural encounter. Even when my mate Paul and I tried to sacrifice my sister to the Devil down in the cellar of the farmhouse there was no puff of sulphur or echoing voice from another world. ( I suspect Lucifer would have rejected her for being just too nasty for the hot place anyway. ) All we got was a telling off from my Nan for "trying to raise evil spirits" - chance would be a fine thing!
Really, the only sniff I've had of the spirit world was sometime in the early 90s when Sarah and I visited Littledean Hall in the Forest Of Dean. This is one of the oldest houses in the country and is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, being home to a colony of Greater Horseshoe Bats. I'd spotted it on my travels ( I was a truck drivin' man in those days ) and thought it would be worth a look. We had a nice couple of hours there, looking around, and although there didn't seem to be anything too notable about the place, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a Summer's morning. There was very little in the way of information on display so we didn't really find out much of the house's history at the time.
One of the last rooms we looked in was a fairly unremarkable, almost bare room containing not much more than a table, a fireplace and some exposed roof beams. For some reason, even though the day was warm and all the other rooms felt light and airy, I suddenly felt an extreme cold creeping into my bones. As the room felt colder and colder I started to feel anxious, claustrophobic, I just felt I shouldn't be there. I didn't say anything to Sarah because, again, I would have felt foolish but I was extremely relieved to get out of that room and breathe some fresh air and feel the sun on my face. From the outside I could see that the room was bathed in sunlight, not obscured by trees or hedges, and there was no real reason why it should have been so marrow-chillingly cold.
In the car on the way home Sarah suddenly confessed to me that something had really upset her in that room and she'd felt oppressed and nervous and couldn't wait to get out. She hadn't told me in case I thought she was just being silly...
Brrr! I'm feeling cold, just typing this. ( Well, it is October. ) We later looked up the history of Littledean Hall and apparently it's been the site of many supposed hauntings over the centuries. We hadn't been aware of that before our visit and had no reason to expect any "cold spots" in the house or anything like that. We both just think of it as a strange anomaly that we can't explain and it certainly didn't turn us into believers in ghosts. But... maybe, just maybe...