Fright Night

Well, I dunno about you, but even I’m depressed by this blog at the minute. Shall we change the record?

The sun is out, and this always cheers me up no end. We all went into Stratford shopping this morning (Stifle your gasps. I was taking John whiskey-tasting in order to buy his belated birthday bottle. The man had incentive.) and we had an ice-cream each; Harry managed to consume the lion’s share of both of them. Not bad for a child who didn’t much like the stuff last week – today, it was like feeding a large and highly opinionated baby bird.

There are a number of things I should really do instead of being sat here. Top of the list is clean the blasted tortoise hutch out – the computer is right next to the frowsty thing, and the fumes are choking me. I imagine Marina isn’t too chuffed, either. The chicks need a bigger enclosure making. I am supposed to be painting an old table with roads and associated gubbins for Harry to drive his cars on. The ‘lawn’ needs the gaps seeding. The steps need digging. The dishwasher needs emptying. The office needs tidying setting fire to. Every room in the house has a bargain assortment of detritus thickly strewn across the floor. I have an engagement to party to attend (Alone! Knowing only one-half of the couple in question! Social nerves!) this afternoon, for which I have forgotten to buy a gift, and friends coming for dinner this evening, for which I only have half my ingredients. I think they are coming to stay, so the spare room will need the bed excavating from mounds of outgrown baby clothes and toys. The lawn needs mowing.

I think I need staff.

Or a cattle-prod up the arse. Either would work.

Antonia has been posting about ghost stories this morning. I love ghost stories. I have the psychic ability of a sack of spuds – which is to say, not much – and yet I think I still managed to see one once. I’m not sure. It was a while ago, and I’ve told the story so often I can’t remember which parts I’ve actually embellished.

I used to be the administrator of a small, 22 bed geriatric hospital in a local market town. The building was a 1899/1900 workhouse infirmary, a long, narrow, two-storey building with old-fashioned nightingale wards at either end.

workhouse infirmary

You could stand with your back to one end wall, and look through numerous double glass doors all the way along a hundred feet or more of corridor to the other end of the building, providing the patients didn’t amble into your sightline. The wards were downstairs, the physio department and my office were thinly populating the enormous second floor.

One winter evening, about 5.30pm I left my office (the furthest sticky-out piece of building in the photo) and crossed the corrider to the staircase, noticing that the physio department (at the other end of the corridor, out of photo-shot to the left) was shut-up and the corridor was dark. (At 5.3opm in England, in winter, it is black as arseholes.) I was downstairs for a minute or two before leaving the light and bustle of the wards, returning up the dimly-lit staircase, crossing the corridor, and stepping back into my neon-strip-lights-galore office. As I walked away from the stairs, something caught my eye and I glanced down the dark corridor towards the physio department. I didn’t actually break stride until I was two steps into my office.

I stopped. I backed up and leaned my head out into the corridor. Blinked. And began to walk down the corridor in search of the – I assumed – wandering patient I had briefly glimpsed at the far end of the – dark and deserted – corridor. I got half-way down the corridor – I’ve told you how dark and deserted it was, yes? – and it suddenly dawned on me that A) this was weird, B) I was walking down a veerrrrry long dark and deserted corridor from the comparatively light into the bloody dark, C) lots of people die in workhouse infirmaries and geriatric hospitals, and D) I was a big, fat, hastily-retreating wuss.

I scarpered back downstairs into the light and noise and went in search of the Alzheimer’s Wanderer patient who had a habit of breaking bounds and having a mooch about. She was placidly eating her tea. Everyone, in fact, was present and correct. All the patients. All the staff. There was no-one upstairs except me and my… thing that I saw. A dim, human-shaped figure glimpsed briefly from… 80 ft away? Barely counts, really, does it?

My Dad did rather better when he was a young man. He used to work in a building in Birmingham that had been bombed at one end during the war, killing the night watchman who was on patrol on the top floor, watching for incendiaries. The building had had its end wall re-built afterwards, reducing the original building footprint size significantly. All the draughtsmen used to regularly hear the sound of footsteps crossing the now-abandoned top floor. The footsteps could be clearly heard walking directly over their heads – before continuing straight off the modern end of building, onto the non-existent part of the ceiling that had been demolished 20 years before.

 It’s not the bump in the night that gives you the fright,

It’s two holes in the head and the absence of light.

Or something.


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