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.


8 Responses

  1. While I don’t have a ghost story I do have a bit of my nans psychicness. Both she and have dreams that tend to come true (both good and bad). One night I went to bed with a pounding chest only to find out the next morning Nan had had a heart attack. 10 days later went to bed with the same ache/pounding in my chest but it stopped at 11:30pm. I remember looking at the clock in the dark and when I closed my eyes I could smell Nans perfume. The next morning we got the call and I said to my mum “Nan is gone.” She gave me a funny look and answered the call. It was my dads brother… Nan had passed in the night, at 4:30am. There is a 5 hour time difference between me and my UK family. This was 20 years ago and I still get goosebumps when I think of that night.

    Your long list of to-dos looks like mine. I’m living with a ripped apart kitchen at the moment, can’t blog about it because Sgt has no idea. He’s be home from the ‘ghan on a few weeks and I need to get on it. Here’s the deal … I’ll pop over and help you sort out your home and then you fly back and help me sort mine. What do you think?

  2. I have to clean up a month’s worth of accumulated crap this weekend, put away all the laundry, mow the lawn, and entertain the two year old. Otherwise, my husband may die of apoplexy when he comes home. On the other hand, if I get all this done, he may die of shock. Hmmm…guess I’ll have to think about that for a little while.

    Everyone says we have ghosts in our building at work (it used to be a TB sanitorium, but is now city hall and the forensic laboratory). There are always weird noises going on when you’re there alone…

  3. Can I borrow any staff you get when you are done?

    Ghost shmost in my view – deep sceptic here. No doubt down to my totally like f psychic ability.

  4. I don’t believe in ghosts but they still scare the shit out of me. I’ve got goose bumps now. Thanks HHF, if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll know who to blame.

  5. I was intending to comment on the post below, but my geriatric computer froze and I had to leave it overnight.

    SO the link I impatiently bashed is now THIS one.

    I hope you get some answers with regards to Harry, the not knowing is the worst. I’m not sure about syndrome as much as perhaps it is all explainable by ante/postnatal events since your young man had a bit of a bumpy start in life…

    much love,


  6. Oh I’m in on this one.

    I lived in a loft in Dallas, a swinging single girl and her dog. Every. Single. Night. my dog and I would wake up at 2am to small blue lights hovering near the ceiling of the bathroom, just over the sink and counter, which was visible from the end of the bed. Dog would whimper. Shannon would whimper too. Boyfriend who occasionally slept over thought this was cool, and so designed a trick – he put every single item of the bathroom accoutrements on the edge of the counter one night before we went to bed. At 2 am, we all woke up and saw the little blue lights. And every single item on the bathroom counter had been pushed back, off the edge of the counter, to the wall.

    Yeah, I moved out shortly thereafter. Ironically, it wasn’t the wee ghostie that moved me out. It was me coming home with groceries one night to hear “Get down! GET DOWN!” as armed police chased a suspect through the neighborhood, who was also armed. I can do ghosts. Can’t do guns.

  7. We had tons and TONS of ghosts at school – I went to an all-girls boarding school, and seriously, we could have kept the Poltergeist franchise going all the way up to 97, there was so much hormonal hysteria in that building. We had a poltergeist who used to gently open the sliding door to our dorm, and then gently shut it again if (and only if) someone shouted ‘Close the door!’. We had a weird whispering in the bathrooms. We had The Knicker Stealer (though that may have been mere teenage untidiness multiplied by the 50 girls in one house thing). We had the sound of someone sobbing in the attics, usually on weekends when most of the girls had gone home and there’d be just two of you, freaking the heck out in the pitch-dark attic dorm, blundering about like moths in a bottle looking for light-switches, and probably scaring the bejayzuz out of the girls in the dorm below who could DEFINITELY hear thumps and muffled shrieking.

    One year, ten of us were in a dorm that had once been the loft of the barn, back when that part of the school had been a farm. We were right under the roof, and there were great big beams and everything (all boxed in with MDF, ummm, classy). In the middle of one rather stormy night (natch), just after Halloween (natch), we were all woken by a yelp from A.

    ‘What is it, A?’ we asked, in varying tones of compassion and irritation.

    ‘Look!’ she hissed, and pointed at the central beam. We looked.

    A faint white shape, a long oval, seemed to be, to be SWINGING from the beam.

    We collectively peed ourselves, and we each sat huddled in our beds, too terrified to move, certainly too terrified to get up and walk under that… shape… to reach the light-switch.

    And then, thank God, it all got too much for B and she broke into wailing sobs, which luckily attracted the attention of a prefect, who rushed in and switched the light on, and of course nothing was hanging from the beam, and we all had to be taken down to the kitchen and given hot milk and a calm, serious, reassuring chat by the House Mistress.

    Within 24 hours, rumours were circulating about a farm hand who had hung himself rather than be sent to the First World War, or possibly for love, or possibly because he had been FOUND OUT (found out at what? no one knew).

    I’m not even sure I did see a shape, really. I was probably well away on the heady vapours of mass hysteria and would have sworn blind I’d seen a dancing hippopotamus on stilts if that’s what the others were saying. But I still have a memory of it.

  8. I will play- I like ghost stories.

    I used to occasionally visit a friend who stayed just outside NYC in a big townhouse that he shared with a couple of other people. There was talk the house might be haunted, since a few of them had experienced strange stuff. One guy, a stockbroker with absolutely no sense of humour, swore that one night as he was lying in bed, he felt something actually move through the middle of his body and up to the ceiling.

    Anyway, so I stayed there one night. I was reading a new book and put it by the bedside table before I went to sleep. That night, I had an incredibly vivid dream about having plastic surgery on my nose, including having it broken with a hammr beforehand. Then, in the dream, I panicked because I had no way to pay for the treatment, having run out of money.

    I woke up and over breakfast told my friend about the dream. That afternoon, I resumed reading my new book- (which I had never read before or even looked ahead in.)

    The next chapter was all about a girl who has plastic surgery on her nose and then can’t afford to pay for it.

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