A few years ago, we moved into a 200-year-old cottage in the heart of the Somerset Levels. The previous owners had left us an envelope which contained all sorts of deeds and details of the history of the house. One of these documents from the 1850’s named the owner as one Cinderella Bawden. For a while, the sound of unexplained night-time bumps and household creaks led us to joke that Cinderella was upset about something.
Shortly afterwards, I woke one night at about 3 a.m. Wide awake, not dreaming, and not (as some have suggested, quite unbelievably) under the influence of the booze. I should point out here that I speak as a natural sceptic about the whole ghostly business – just tune into Living TV for verification of the word business in this context. But this is what I saw that night. Sitting at the side of the bed, a grey-haired lady, her hair – with a centre parting – tied back in a bun. She was dressed in a simple smock-like dress, and her head was bowed as she concentrated on what looked like some sort of needlework, but I couldn’t quite see. I watched her for a while, but she didn’t look up at me, and I felt no sense of threat or fear, I simply went back to sleep.
A few weeks later, Mrs B was away and I was reading in bed late on a Sunday night when a storm hit the place and knocked out the power. We had a notoriously touchy trip-switch which was liable to cut us off on a whim, so I had to go downstairs to investigate and reset it. As I searched in the inky blackness of the study for a lighter and then the bathroom for a candle - stubbing all ten toes in the process - I could hear the rain belting onto the roof and the rumbling of thunder growing ever louder, while the flashes of lightning became brighter and more frequent. I was halfway down the stairs, when a crack of thunder, as if from a cannon, and a blinding bolt of light combined to almost knock me off my feet. I froze. Illuminated by the forked lightning, the wavering shadows cast by the candle I held in my trembling hand danced across the landing, and another bang and a flash came so soon, and oh, man, now I was scared. Scared of the grey lady and the storm and my own petrified shadow. There were no jokes about Cinderella that night.
A few years later, I spent two weeks in hospital and #2 son, Rob, came down to lend support to his mother. Tucked up in his billet in the spare room, he heard urgent voices coming from our room, akin to loud whispers, and, thinking Sandra had gone to sleep with the TV on, he went to investigate – but found only darkness and silence. Similarly, in the small hours during the same fortnight, Sandra heard someone noisily going through the bathroom cabinet. Thinking Rob had indigestion or a headache, she went to help. But there was nobody to be seen, and Rob had not stirred. It was if my absence and the sudden presence of another had triggered interest and activity.
More recently, in the middle of the night I waited on the landing for Sandra to emerge from the bathroom, gazing out of the window for an age until at last she flitted past me and it was my turn for a midnight pee.
“I thought you were in the bathroom for good last night,” I remarked, the following morning.
“Bathroom?” she replied, “I wasn’t in the bathroom.”
I never actually saw her, you see. I saw a shape, a human shape perhaps, in my peripheral vision, but whatever it was, it wasn’t my wife.
A villager told me that many years ago, as a teenager, he had a babysitting gig at another old house not far from us. Good money, TV, video, and a quiet night apparently guaranteed. The parents, who were new to the village, were due back at 1 a.m. or so, the children were sound asleep upstairs, and he hadn’t heard a peep from them all night. In fact, he’d checked on them only moments before. Two dogs were stretched out and dozing in front of the open fire and the family cat snoozed on his lap as he watched the Midnight Movie.
Suddenly, the sound of heavy footsteps came from upstairs. His first thought was of the children, but this noise had come quickly and from nowhere. It hadn’t been preceded – as you might expect – by the sound of someone waking up and making tentative movements. No, this was heavy and urgent tread, and not made by the feet of children. Too sudden, too loud, too random, and there were too many of them. The noise grew louder, and if further proof were needed that something rum was taking place, the dogs leaped from their recumbent positions and charged about the room, describing tight circles and howling in terror. Meanwhile, the cat sprang to its feet, digging its claws into the petrified lad, who told me that he saw the cat’s fur stand erect as curled its spine into an impossible arch, stared at him, and hissed venomously.
Tossing off the cat (stop it), he dashed upstairs and found the children were sleeping and quite undisturbed. Slowly, things calmed down, but when the parents returned, he declined the offer of a drink and ran all the way home, never to return.
The house? It was put up for sale within 12 months. It seems that nobody can stand living there for long.
If you enjoyed that, you'll find 49 similarly humorous pieces in the popular 'Why the Long Face' book. Buy it here, if you like: