Copyright 2016 Bruce Macfarlane
Published by Bruce Macfarlane
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To my wife Julia Macfarlane who reminded me of what I had forgotten and also what I should have remembered!
Art work by author using PicsArt Photo Studio for Android.
Star fields in image: Star-Forming Region LH 95 in the Large Magellanic Cloud: Credit: NASA/ESA.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tissot#/media/File:James Tissot A Passing Storm.jpg
The persons represented in these true stories are not responsible for any of the events in which they participated. Any answers to questions regarding what actually happened or what should have happened are lost in the mists of time.
And finally apologies to Guy de Maupassant, P. G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome who may have influenced the style of these stories.
Forward by Elizabeth Bicester Daughter of the Squire of Hamgreen and her time travelling companion from the future, James Urquhart.
On a number of occasions when we found ourselves at home from our time travels James’ sister and her boyfriend Sean took us on holiday in his carriage. One would think that such pleasures would be a welcome distraction but you will see that things do not always turn out as expected.
I have gathered three of these adventures from our diaries which Mr Rolleston was kind enough to put into a narration. As usual my description is denoted by the letter E., and James’ by the letter J.
Comment by James Urquhart
Having looked at the stories selected by Elizabeth I noticed that when you’re with Jill’s boyfriend Sean things happen in ways that were not quite expected. I put this down to his origins. His parents were from Kerry and as everyone knows that’s where the fairies live. If you go to Kerry you know what I mean because when you leave a fairy comes with you. You won’t notice the difference at first because it will be invisible but as life goes on you will hear on the odd occasion from a friend “Oh he’s off with the fairies again.” This seems to happen more regularly as time passes.
Suffice to say that Sean has been to Kerry many times and in the process gathered up quite a few fairies.
In certain seasons northern France is enchanting. The roads, empty of traffic, meander through meadows and fields of maize and sunflowers which seem untouched by hand since the time of Henri the “Bon Roi.” Beside the roads, lines of tall poplars shelter you from the burning sun which legend records were thoughtfully planted by the inhabitants to allow “les Allemandes” to march in the shade.
We had been travelling on such a road for most of the day and by late afternoon the blue sky had begun to fill with billowing white cotton clouds so familiar to those who live in a maritime country and often herald the arrival of rain and storms. For our voyage we had taken Sean’s carriage and within this the four of us idly talked about times past and new adventures. The carriage had suffered many dents and bumps from the excesses of traffic and bollards but did not seem to mind, though even by the standards of modern driving, the poor car seemed to have had more than its fair share of these knocks and scrapes. However, any who have witnessed Sean in Chichester shunting his car back and forth between two vehicles to make space for parking would not have been surprised.
We had just emerged from a small wood and arrived at a crossroads when the car suddenly coughed, spluttered and came to a halt.
I was just nodding off in the warm afternoon sunshine when Sean’s car decided to interrupt my solitude. The engine had come to the conclusion that it was unfair that it should be doing all the work and had decided to take a break as well for first one cylinder then another gave up the ghost. The other two quickly seeing an opportunity for a rest came out in sympathy. Sean and I looked at each other and then at the car. This had no effect. He tried the engine again but it would not go. After about the fifth attempt we turned to Elizabeth and Jill for encouragement but quickly noticed they were looking at us in that askance way which ladies do when they wish their men folk should just not sit there but DO something.
Seeing this had little effect on us Elizabeth thought instruction was needed and said, “Do you not think James you should look under the bonnet and try and ascertain what has happened?”
Finding no argument against this suggestion we reluctantly got out and lifted the car bonnet. Why? I do not know but it is customary for a man whose car has broken down to lift the bonnet and to twiddle and prod various components of the engine using “expletives” and engineering words unknown to anyone but himself. After a few minutes we gave up and Sean took the only course of action available and lit up a fag. (By that I mean a cigarette and not a habit possibly well-known these days to the English prime minster, his chancellor and the Mayor of London). This was unobserved by the ladies as the bonnet lid hid us from their gaze save for the tell-tale blue smoke that rose into the air which we hoped they would imagine came from the engine.
Finishing his fag and wiping our hands on the greasy engine in a pathetic attempt to convince our companions we had carried out a comprehensive examination of the engine we returned with glum faces.
Unfortunately by their close questioning they quickly realised that we had come to the end of our mechanical expertise and Jill said, “Well before you cover yourselves further in grease to no avail I think phoning a garage for help might be in order.”
Now a telephone: it’s such a simple thing. I have one in my pocket now. However when you are in one of those many places where mobiles do not work one must use a real one connected to a land line. You remember those don’t you?
However in certain parts of France this is a difficult quest. First, you must find one. From the comfort of the car, try as we might we couldn’t see any. Then Jill thought perhaps we should get out of the car and walk down the road as this might improve our chances of finding such a device.
By ‘we’ I should add she meant Sean and I.
Ensuring that the ladies were reasonably comfortable and had sufficient provisions for their needs we set off to find a telephone. After walking for about a mile I became convinced that we were in a department where laws had been passed to ban the use of telephone boxes. Another half mile and Sean had decided that the law had also been extended to people for there was none to be found. Eventually after another half mile which included crossing a small ford we arrived at a typical French village. If you remember, Napoleon had accused the English of being a nation of shop keepers and to ensure French villages kept their unique identity, with the exception of cafes and Tabacs, shops were ‘interdict’. Sean agreed but added that he believed an exception was made for boulangeries providing they closed before the normal hour of rising in the morning.
We entered such a village and crossed the square to the cafe. Sean opened the conversation as he told me he had done a course once on the French language. After a number of efforts we were provided with two shots of coffee accompanied by two shots of some liquor which on swallowing took the back of our throats off. When the red mist and tears from my eyes had receded I noticed we hadn’t progress very far so I had a go.
“Do you have a telephone? You know a telephone?”
To emphasise my requirement I then put one hand to my ear and the other performed small circular motions in the hope that it gave the impression of dialling. This charade seemed to work for the patron pointed to a black apparatus covered in fag ash and wine stains in a dark corner connected by two wires to the kind of electrical circuit breaker you would normally only find on a nuclear power station. However for a few francs and some more Franglais, by pulling down the lever on the circuit breaker it was possible through the miracles of French telephonic engineering to be connected to the outside world. Unfortunately everyone on the receiving end seemed to have taken up the French language. No doubt another edict from Mr Bonaparte. But just when I had given up the Patron came over and said.
“Can I help you?”
I had not realised until then that I could understand French! I replied as only a person who has visited a number of countries and acquired a little of their languages can do.
“Excuse em moi but donde esta is une garage? Nos car is not marching.”
The patron looked at me. I could see by his expression he was thinking very deeply and that it was a habit not too familiar to him. To reinforce my opinion he looked up at the ceiling where I presume in the room above he was hoping God was there to help. Then on receiving what I thought was an appropriate sign turned to Sean and said.
“Would you both mind speaking English so I can understand you?”
There was then a little confusion on our part as we tried to continue in our best Franglais until it became apparent that the use of the language of communication he suggested could help immensely in our quest. For we found once we reverted to our native tongue he ascertained our plight very quickly and then demonstrated the advantage of being bilingual by phoning his brother who knew a bit about voitures.
It took us some time to get back to the car mainly because Sean was convinced that when we departed from the cafe we should have turned left rather than right.
After about an hour we began to wonder where James and Sean had got to and I speculated they had found a Routier where they had been enticed into a five course meal with copious quantities of local vin and completely forgotten about us. Jill thought that it was more likely that they had found and fallen in love with a couple of French hussies and abandoned us. However, just when we had given up hope and were considering throwing ourselves at the first rich Gallic homme who would take us away to his French Chateau, an old truck arrived and a man in a thick woollen vest alighted and asked if we were friends with the strange foreigners who had told his brother that their car had broken down. When we said yes for some reason he offered his sympathies and suggested that if we wished to move to France he would introduce us to some bon amiees who had a modicum of sanity and would look after us properly.
Before we could answer in the affirmative he went to the front of the car and performed some operations which indicated that opening a car bonnet and examining the contents was his life and joy for he quickly told us that a machine called an ‘alternateur’ was broken. I was just going to ask what this was when we espied our nearest and dearest walking or should I say sauntering along the road towards us with an air as if they did not have a care in the world.
While we were walking back the effects of the shots of alcohol began to take effect. This gave Sean the opportunity to quiz me about Elizabeth. Not knowing about our time travel adventures I had to be careful.
“So Jimbo I hear you found Elizabeth at a cricket match. Is she not a bit posh for you? A bit different from your usual slappers I hear.”
“Careful Sean you’re talking about Jill’s friends.”
“Good point, we’ll let that pass. So what’s the attraction? She’s a bit stuck up at times.
“Just the way she was brought up. But underneath she’s just like the rest of us and she certainly keeps me on my toes”
“Oh. So she really goes does she?”
I find answering this question about a girl you’re in love with quite difficult to answer. First you want to demonstrate to your mates that you’re an alpha male and there is no harem big enough to satisfy your desires but at the same time you want to demonstrate that this is the best girl you’ve ever had (Sorry I meant ‘met’.. Oh dear I meant ‘had’ and ‘met’…I’m in trouble if she reads this aren’t I?). There is also the problem of ensuring that she is viewed as a girl of moral upstanding and is not the local motor bike just in case any comments you make get back to her.
Luckily Sean saw my hesitation and was good enough to help me not dig a hole further. So he said.
“Well Jill likes her. She says she’s good for you though I don’t normally take that as a compliment from a girl. What I don’t understand is where do you disappear off to for days at a time?”
“She hasn’t travelled much so I’ve been taking around the country.”
Just then luckily I noticed a truck by our car and what looked like a mechanic talking to the girls.
When we got back to the car the mechanic was conversing fluently in French with Elizabeth. I realised in hindsight that I should have taken her instead of Sean to the village and save some embarrassment. When she saw us she said.
“Where have you been James? The garagiste could not find you on the road and was worried you were lost.”
Sean who was not going to admit to taking the wrong turn said we had gone into the bushes for a pee and must have missed the mechanic.
“Well James I hope you are feeling better. Anyway I understand the alternateur is broken and it will not be until tomorrow that a replacement can arrive and the car should be taken to his garage for safe keeping.”
How she translated or even knew the word ‘alternator’ I have no idea. However this news resulted in a little quiet mumbling between Sean and me on the competency of French engineering. Maybe the word “Agincourt” came up. But just when we were discussing the advantages of arrow over armour, Elizabeth, who like all girls can multitask and therefore apparently can listen to two conversations at once said “James before you start a new Anglo French war I should tell you that this “bon homme” has offered to take us to his house for some supper where his wife will give us a delicious homemade broth and a welcoming glass of Calvados.”
All discussion of Agincourt and Crecy were quickly forgotten. And so having hitched Sean’s car to the truck we jammed ourselves into the front seat and were whisked off to the village we had just left to the Mechanics house.
After excellent hospitality where Elizabeth translated and thankfully filtered all the conversations I asked her to see if they knew where we could stay and to our amazement she said the mechanic told her we could rest overnight at an old mill nearby owned for many years by their family and that his wife and daughter had already left to prepare for our reception! We graciously accepted his offer and I asked Elizabeth to tell them that we thought the French were the best people in the world and would tell everyone when we got home.
We transferred all our luggage to our mechanics carriage and in no time at all we were off into the countryside in his carriage complete with our luggage, to the old mill. However this contraption was nothing like Sean’s and I promise not to complain about Sean’s carriage ever again. To begin with a door was missing which allowed us to enjoy the fragrance of the recently chicken manured fields and the roof seemed to be made of a roll of corrugated iron. The suspension was so over sprung that each corner rose and fell independently of each other and in the process transferred our luggage from one lap to another. It was only by shear willpower and the fact the carriage was designed only for four that we remained wedged in our seats. I asked James what this devilish machine was and he replied that it was a Two Cee Vee so named because it had the power of two horses. I suggested that if I had horses that gave such a ride they would be in danger of being turned to glue at the earliest opportunity. He agreed with me but also said it was such a difficult car to maintain that in the past, before we had met I should add, his second question to any prospective girlfriend was did she have one. Apparently he was quite convinced that a woman who had brought such a carriage was only looking for a man who could service it for them. He then unnecessarily reminded me that in forming a relationship with a lady, servicing her undercarriage rather than her carriage was normally his preferred objective. Well Really! I reminded him that although most women suspected the thoughts of men ploughed a deep and rather narrow furrow I did not need further confirmation. For some reason he found my reply quite humorous!
However, by now it was getting very dark. There were no lights save the weak beams of the bone shaker illuminating the narrow road. After about half an hour we turned on to a narrow gravel track. Dense hedgerows pressed against us casting strange shadows in the dark. There had not been any signs of habitation for the past few miles. How long we travelled I do not know but just as I began to think that perhaps Sean’s comments on French engineering and Agincourt had been overheard, the “chemin” cleared and a silhouette of what we took to be the mill surrounded by decrepit old ruined barns and outhouses appeared momentarily illuminated by a gibbous moon scurrying through a gap in the clouds.
We stopped at some distance from the Mill and the mechanic got out. He beckoned us to follow him and also thankfully pointed to a large dark pond on our left which we hadn’t noticed. After an exchange of glances we retrieved our baggage and followed him carefully as he guided us with a torch towards the mill. The night was silent, not even an owl, save for the sound of our feet crunching on the gravel. We followed him up some rather rickety steps and arrived at a porch. He then pushed open the unlocked door and striking a match lit an oil lamp which revealed an old oak beamed room which looked as if it hadn’t changed since the parting of heads of the French nobility from their bodies had become fashionable. He quickly went round the chamber lighting candles and oil lamps then beckoned us in. I didn’t even think it was worth asking whether there was any electricity.
He then showed us around the chambers and a small kitchen and then leaving some matches on the table with a parting adieu he left us and drove off into the darkness. The old mill was now very quiet and ours.
There was no sound save for the gentle rustling of invisible trees tops swaying in a light wind. James thought it was very romantic. I reminded James that in my time when one lives on the edge of comfort one does not seek a dilapidated old barn for a holiday.
Then Sean thought we should light a fire for no other reason I believe than fire lighting had come into his mind. James also thought it was a good idea as well even though Jill reminded them it was the middle of August and I suggested that one had to be careful in lighting fires in old wooden buildings in high summer.
There is something about boys and matches. It is a habit which stays with them all their lives and I can only presume it comes from a past when a man who could light a fire had some advantage over his fellows in attracting a mate. I could see the advantage of this but it has been some time since my criteria for a male companion was his pyrotechnic abilities. Never-the-less Sean and James obviously still thought this was the way to girl’s heart and insisted on treating Jill and I to a demonstration on fire lighting. With much excitement and tales of previous pyrotechnic adventures our menfolk piled anything that was combustible into the grate. Then gathering an old newspaper Sean crumpled it and pushed it under the wood and taking a match lit it. The paper burnt wondrously but inexplicable the wood was not interested in joining in. James then said he remembered his dad holding a newspaper over the fireplace to get a good draft going. I have seen this done many times at home with usually some success. More paper was gathered, crumpled and lit. However, I presume James did not have an adequate grip because first the centre of his newspaper turned black followed by a circular orange hole. Before I could say anything the paper set alight and flew up the chimney!
But they were not to be defeated. Sean found some liquor and proceeded to pour it on the wood and tossed a lighted match on it. Jill tried to stop him but too late for with a rather disconcerting wooosh the wood ignited at such a rate that burning embers flew out on to the hearth and up the chimney.
A mad panic ensued accompanied by much admonishment of a certain two idiots accompanied by a discussion between Jill and I on why we let them into our beds as we stamped on the embers and smouldering rug to put it out.
Eventually we put out the fire and decided that no further experiments in this area should be carried out if we wished to avoid burning down the mill.
Then for some reason, still inexplicable to this day Sean decided that we should pass the time recounting our favourite ghost stories.
“I’ll go first,” said Sean before we could interrupt. He looked around the room as though he was looking for some unwelcome phantom to materialise then moving closer to us he said in almost a whisper.
“You know what worries me about this place is it reminds me of an old haunted house my grandfather had when I was young boy just outside Killarney.
I said. “And why do you think it was haunted?”
“The Pope would visit us at night.”
“Yes. Just as I be getting off to fairy land I would see glowing by the door a figure. It’d get brighter and brighter until I could see it was a luminous head.”
“What did you do?”
“I went screaming off to me grandpa who said don’t worry it’s only the Pope.”
“The next night there he was again! His eyes would follow me. It was horrible. I only stayed there three nights and refused to go back again.”
“Gosh Sean that must have been scary. Did you find out what it was?”
“Yes. Apparently the Pope and his entourage had turned up in Killarney for Mass which was well received. Except they’d turned up at the local Protestant church by mistake. There was hell to pay and it said he cursed the whole county. And from then on figures of the Pope started turning up everywhere.”
“What a terrible curse Sean. I’m not convinced James I would want to experience such an apparition.”
To which James replied.
“Elizabeth! Don’t believe a word of it. Its typical Sean blarney. It was just a luminous picture of the Pope on the wall. His grandad used to rent the place out to tourists. There was one in each room powered by a small battery. It was hidden just by the door. When the occupant closed the door there it was.”
“Is that right Sean?” Said Jill. “You had me believing you!”
“They’re everywhere in Kerry.” Continued James, “You can buy them from the Nun’s shop on top of St Peter’s in Rome.”
“The Nun’s shop?” Said Jill and I in unison.
“Yea.” Said James as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “The Nun’s Shop. Go up on to the roof of St Peter’s and there you’ll find a shop selling God’s bric-a-brac. It’s run by Nuns. Honest!”
“I don’t believe you. Your both as bad as each other”, said Jill.
“Suite yourselves. Anyway whose turn to tell a ghost story. Elizabeth tell us that one about Cowdray house you told me when we were up in Midhurst. That’s a good one.”
“I will James and you can tell the story of the ghost in the White Room at the Coaching Inn at Midhurst where we first stayed together.”
“Ah!” Said Jill giving me a gentle and friendly nudge “So that’s where you first got shacked up.”
Oh dear. I was caught out again. If I ever return to my time I will gather up what little reputation I have and seal it in a box in the hope there will be a little left for my old age.
And so we recounted our tales. How we laughed. But as we conversed the room seem to grow darker and each drew closer to the other. Though obviously not in a way so that anyone would notice.
I like ghost stories but there is a time and place for them and this old place with its flickering shadows from the oil lamps was not one of them. I was very conscious that not only were we a long way from anywhere but I didn’t even know where we were. After a while Elizabeth decided that the effects of the Calvados and the mirth and merriment required a visit to the loo. This was met by some laughter and to encourage her we reminded her to look out for ghosts and any bogey men who might be lurking in the shadows. Before she went I also thought it best to give advice on what to expect of French bogs by recounting one of my experiences.
I don’t know whether any of you have ever visited one of those French loos on a campsite. I can tell you they require nerves of steel and extremely strong muscles in the thighs accompanied by an excellent sense of balance and should not be attempted if one has drunk more than normally required to be mildly happy. They consist of a wooden cubicle from which you can watch the stars if it is not cloudy or raining. This box has a small hole in the floor, either side of which are two raised plinths for your feet. The meaning of these becomes apparent later. A large cistern hangs above and if you are lucky a chain is attached to the ball cock lever, for without it one must jump in the air to reach it. After one has completed one’s ablutions and if, required, finished using the month old copy of Le Figaro thoughtfully provided by the campsite patron, a difficult operation is then required. Firstly, ON NO ACCOUNT must the ball cock lever be pulled until you have positively established that the door is unlocked and can be opened easily. It is also important to ascertain whether the door opens inwards or outwards otherwise severe bruising can occur. Then holding your breath you must simultaneously pull the lever, leap from the plinth, push open the door and run as fast as you can. For up from the floor like a bubbling cauldron the cistern will discharge a huge deluge of water which firstly submerges the plinths and then follows you for some distance across the field!”
With James’ instructions in mind and fearing no training in such matters, I proceeded to the loo which thankfully I found was not only inside and had a roof but also blessed with a more modern arrangement. It had a large plate glass window which while it allowed one to view the countryside it conversely and rather disconcertingly also allowed any person outside to view the interior and the activity within. Unfortunately my relief was only temporary as just as I had settled myself I heard what I thought were footsteps on the gravel outside.
The first we knew of Elizabeth’s plight was when the living room door burst open and my Elizabeth cried “There is something or someone outside!” At first we thought this was another ghost story but when we regarded the distress on her face our laughter stopped in an instance. The silence was deafening save for the footsteps on the gravel. I could sense from the ladies that they expected some manly act to be performed such as to go and investigate the cause of the noise. Immediately in response Sean reached for his cigarettes for courage. “Damn. I’ve run out of fags again but luckily by good fortune I have a backup supply.”
Then as if by magic Sean produced a little pouch tied by a string and a packet of Rizzlas. He undid the pouch and poured what looked like a very, very dry tobacco into an open paper. I remember buying a bag of this awful stuff in my smoking days at college. As a student I found one could save money for beer by buying rollups. I was told that rolling a fag was a simple operation for any man who wished to impress a lady with his “fingerative” abilities, but this particular dry tobacco had to be treated with care. For those of you considering taking up this occupation I will give some advice if not warning.
First the tobacco must be gently poured on to the paper then carefully rolled and sealed using the tongue to wet the gum. At all costs the “cigarette” must be kept horizontal at all times. Any slight incline and the dry tobacco will fall out of the tube. This presents a number of difficulties when smoking said cigarette. Talking and gesticulating while smoking is out of the question. Also it must be rolled to the exact tightness. If too lose you take a drag and the whole tube of tobacco is sucked into your mouth causing more exclamations than a lady would normally expect to hear from a man in her presence. Too little tobacco and when you “light up” the whole damn thing bursts into flames singeing severely one’s moustache which, fashion dictated, I was growing with some success at the time to impress the fairer sex. If this was not enough one found that sometimes the paper would stick to one’s lips. On trying to remove the abominable thing from one’s mouth for the simple purpose of imparting wisdom or philosophical gems to impress a lady friend the result was the fingers would slide down to the end of the tube pinching off the hot ember, burning your hand and then falling into your beer!
I remember such an occurrence once while driving after an exceedingly late evening. The ember fell between my legs. Where it disappeared to I know not but it caused me intense panic and a considerable amount of erratic driving before I screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car and spent some considerable time examining the clothing of my nether regions very closely.
But I digress again. Where was I, Oh yes I remember. Elizabeth had heard what she thought were footsteps outside and action was required. Of course all we had to do was wait until the morning but after hearing such a noise this waiting for the morrow before investigation began seemed an extraordinarily long time for the ladies. Action was required now, they said. Unfortunately Sean whose last rollup had ignited in his face understood from this that the best course of action was to search the whole mill for anything that might contain nicotine. And by the light of candles and oil lamps he opened up any cupboards and boxes he could find until he found two old cigars in a box. They looked like they may have been there since the time of Mr Raleigh, but they were cigars! He was so pleased with this that when he offered me one I accepted. Aah, the pleasure of lighting up! Actually this pleasure lasted about two seconds before I felt my burning lungs collapsing under the foul smoke resulting in a coughing fit in which I thought I was going to breathe my last.
I do feel that James is heavily influenced at times by Sean and I hoped his rather prolonged coughing fit on inhaling the smoke from what I can only describe as piece of old hemp would help him to be more reticent in joining in Sean’s capers in future.
After he had recovered I reminded them once again of the footsteps. So staying very close together all four of us carefully explored the mill until it became apparent during our wanderings that the footsteps came not from outside but from behind the two large wooden doors which partitioned our living room from the barn! The Something or Someone was in the house!
With a quick drag on our cigars which distinctly began to smell of an old dung heap accompanied by another round of coughing Sean and I decided we must go and look behind the doors. Why? Well, because in all the horror movies that’s what the hero had to do. The ladies immediately grabbed us in a fashion that would have met with the approval of Jane Austen and Jill pleaded, “Please, please don’t go! You don’t know who might be there. We will be all alone and we may be ravished by someone not to our liking!” But we gentlemen knew our duty.
Sean slowly withdrew the rusty bolt on the barn door and armed only with an oil lamp and two evil smelling cigars I followed him into the unknown. For it is only polite that the eldest should go first. The sound grew closer and then suddenly by the dying light of the lamp we saw what it was. Two great rats were eating the grain. Our courage returned (NOT that it had gone very far away despite what might have been said later by our slanderous companions) and having “slayed the dragon” we retraced our steps slowly back to the mysteriously re-bolted barn door, forgetting that the ladies did not know we were returning. All they heard was the sound of footsteps getting closer and CLOSER!
After we had apologised for the tenth time and promised to buy them new under garments at the earliest opportunity, they forgave us for scaring the proverbial out of them.
So having nearly burnt the place down, frightened ourselves with ghost stories, chased away the rats and opened a window to let out the foul smelling cigar smoke we decided it was time for bed. There was much discussion about which room we should sleep in and who should go first and who should stay in the cosy, warm and well-lit living room. Sean said we should toss a coin for it which unfortunately resulted in James and I being given the “choice” of the bed chamber. I am still convinced Sean had secreted a double headed coin in his trousers.
The bedroom contained one of those wooden box beds. You know the ones, they are designed to stop rats climbing into bed with you and gorging on your eyeballs while you sleep. As we got in I chanced to look up and saw a picture on the wall. It was Grandma! It was one of those pictures where the eyes follow you around the room. For some reason I felt she was giving us a disapproving look. How she knew we were not yet married I do not know. Worse, I espied a small door in the corner of the room which I could have easily believed in the darkness was a gateway to hell and prayed that it was locked and the key was lost. However, James said he did not trust in prayers and decided to test it himself to allay my fears only to find that on close inspection there was no key, no lock and it opened to the outside of the house! As you can imagine it was a restless night. Every time we awoke, there was Grandma staring at us. If this was not bad enough at one moment James’ wits left him completely and suggested that although the bed was very cosy there was still plenty of room for Grandma to climb in!
Ah, morning. What a wonderful time it is. Though on this particular morning I felt the large bruise on my arm in response to my little ghostly joke was a little uncalled for.
The sunlight shining through the morning mist over the mill pond quickly dispersed the ghouls and ghosts of the night. After breakfast the mechanic arrived with the good news that our car was ready. And so with not too much regret we left Grandma’s Mill.
Until this day I don’t know the location of the place.
We eventually arrived back in Paris a little later than expected after Sean ‘accidently’ took a detour through the Bois de Boulogne to view les femmes de la nuit. As we settled down on in our apartment enjoying the comfort of electricity and running hot water Sean said.
“You know that was a strange old place Jimbo. I kept on drifting in out of sleep all night”
“Us too. Got woke up by weird noises like rats in the rafters scurrying about”
“Yea. Mind you one time when I woke up I nearly had the fright of my life when I saw Elizabeth wrapped in an old shawl and funny laced night cap quietly sneaking back into your room from the loo.”
“I can assure you Sean wild horses would not have enticed me out of that bed in the middle of the night… Oh my God! What did you say?”
“What’s the matter?” Said Jill, “You both look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Hartlepool is a bleak and windswept place lying on a promontory on the north east coast of England. It is battered by freezing winds from the German Sea which come down from the Arctic to chill the bones of anyone who wasn’t born and raised there. When the sun does come out it is immediately followed by sea fog or frets which percolate far in land and can last for weeks while the rest of the country is on the beach soaking up the sun. Its inhabitants are divided by the “Slake”- a natural harbour. Those on the headland are called “Cods Heads” renowned for their fishing abilities and those in the town are known as the “Monkey Hangers.” When they meet the conversation usually begins with a preamble concerning the whereabouts of the other’s father at the time they were born and the number of men of the town their mother or wife are “known” to.
The “Monkey Hanger” appellate seems to have originated from the Napoleonic wars when a French ship was wrecked off the coast and all were drowned save a monkey. Apparently the good and patriotic people of Hartlepool had never seen a Frenchman before and mistaking the monkey for one, hanged it. Most people would have kept this deed quiet for fear of embarrassment. But not the people of Hartlepool. Even today a picture of the hanged monkey is proudly displayed on the ties of the local rugby club and the local football club’s monkey mascot has recently been elected as mayor of the Town!
We were travelling up to Hartlepool with Jill to meet her boyfriend Sean for the weekend who had been attending an exposition there. For our stay he had managed to acquire temporary accommodation for all of us at favourable rates in the small fishing village of Season Carew not three miles from the town where we could enjoy the seaside air and regard the clouds of black fumes rising from the steel works and blast furnaces of Redcar.
I had not seen the great industries of our country before and when I saw the gigantic factories and tall chimneys stretching to the horizon as we passed over the River Tees I realised that much of what I depended on for comfort and enjoyment did not come from the surrounds of my home in Sussex. When we arrived James and Sean after much discussion decided that as it was my first visit to Hartlepool they should show me “a good time” in the town and proposed for the evening’s entertainment one of its exclusive clubs that apparently one reads about in celebrity magazines. As my experience of a ‘good time’ had recently been limited to the fashionable set in Chichester who normally retired by the hour of ten I thanked him and said I looked forward to broadening my horizons. It was agreed that Twins, better known amongst the posh as “The Gemini Club”, should be the place of choice. I had not come across any reviews of this fashionable place even though I had been trying to keep up with ‘modern’ society by reading Jill’s magazines and listening to “Woman’s Hour’ on the radio which for some reason lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to four in the afternoon and informed me about a lot of things I didn’t know I should be worried about.
So with no more ado and a quick change of dress we were off.
Well actually we did not dress quickly as I am afraid to say there was much discussion between Jill and I on what to wear or to put it more succinctly, what not to wear. It seems to gain a passport to Hartlepool for an evening just wearing one’s undergarments was regarded as overdressed. I was not to be persuaded though and insisted on wearing enough that would leave sufficient for the imagination.
The streets were quite empty as the usual gaggle of young ladies who had passed out earlier on the pavements due to misjudgement of the quantity of alcohol in a bottle of gin had been carefully removed by the local constabulary.
We arrived eventually at Club Gemini and after receiving a cursory inspection at the door by the concierge, who looked surprisingly like the French monkey and distinctly gave me the impression that I had personally hanged his great great grandfather, we were allowed in.
What a sight greeted us. If there is a God and I’m allowed a glimpse of heaven I think his work would be cut out to improve on the view before us.
I have never been in bordello but if you asked me to describe one I think the sight before me would have provided an adequate impression. I can only say that as we passed through a heavy curtain I was greeted by a sea of semi-naked gyrating ladies of various sizes wearing clothing that would have brought a blush to a dollymop. They seemed to be dancing to a fast, loud and rather repetitive form of African music emanating from the ceiling. I say seemed to be dancing for I saw no one who understood the correlation between the musical tempo and the movement of their bodies. In my time in order to be able to dance at a ball or soiree it was customary to wait until asked by a gentleman. Here no such requirement was needed. In fact I saw groups of men, shirtless I should add, gavotting by themselves with no regard to the half-naked doxies around them! I could not begin to imagine how much consternation not to mention disappointment amongst the mothers of debutantes who having prepared their daughters for a ball for over a year in the hope of attracting or palming them off to the men of their choice found themselves confronted by these dancing monkeys. James has told me that it is a well-known fact that there is a high correlation between how much clothing with which a woman will cover herself and the availability of men in her town. When I tell you that apparently most of the men in the town either worked at sea or spent their evenings in their clubs you may get an indication of the vision that met our eyes.
I noticed James was quite enjoying the scenery though when questioned he insisted that he much preferred me to be dressed the way I was. Sean, however, who had lived in the country for some time where in general women wore more sober attire, looked distinctly unsteady on his feet.
At some point there was a general announcement by what looked like the door monkey’s cousin that there would now be a “Sussies” Competition. This was met by screams of delight and a general rush to the stage by dozens of ladies.
A group of the more attractive and less inebriated ones managed to clamber on to the stage and to the whistles and roars of the mainly female audience proceeded to lift up their skirts and dresses to reveal a surprising variety of stocking tops and suspenders.
Well I realised now what is meant by the seven steps to heaven. Up to now I had obviously only been on the first rung!
Well words fail me! Not least because James and Sean suggested that we should join in this competition. When I questioned them about being asked to join a line of drunken strumpets showing my ALL as though I was on display in a brothel for the whim of its customers James said it would have no effect on my reputation as we would not be coming back the next evening. Realising by my look that he had now overstepped the mark by some distance he then tried to mollify me by saying that if I had worn my red embroidered stockings, which I have come to suspect a vision of me wearing such items and nothing else occupies a significant part of his brain, I would have won the competition hands down. I thanked him for thinking I would do well in this line of work but said I regarded a bottle of cheap champagne as not sufficient incentive to join those trollops on the stage. I was also pleased that Jill declined their suggestion to join me in a rendering of that infamous interlude from Offenbach’s operetta. Though, when I questioned them on why they thought I should do this to my horror James said he had ‘heard’ from my cousin Henry that I had performed quite a remarkable rendition of it while at Girton. How that story got out beyond the walls I have no idea but I will interrogate my sister Flory very closely next time I have the opportunity to meet her.
By now Sean needed to be propped up by Elizabeth and me. She told me later that he didn’t blink his eyes for almost 20 minutes and was unable to answer even the simplest questions such as “would you like a drink?” or “Can I take that dead cigarette hanging out of your open mouth?”
Eventually when the display of fine legs and lingerie had finished our girls suggested we leave before our eye lids became permanently attached to our foreheads. They guided us reluctantly back to the exit and out in to the fresh air. When we arrived back home and recounted the evening in detail less we forgot anything Jill sent Sean upstairs and told him not to come back down until he had thoroughly washed himself in bleach and carbolic soap, for it seems that the reputation and habits of the ladies of Hartlepool had travelled far.
The following morning after this exceedingly late evening Sean decided we should all go off to Whitby, the well-known fishing village on the Yorkshire coast to taste what he called the heart stopping cuisine of a famous Fish and Chips Emporium and look for vampires. I thought he was still a little light headed from the previous evening’s excesses for my only knowledge of such creatures were in the laudanum filled minds of Byron and his friends but never the less he seemed to be quite in earnest so we agreed. James also thought Sean looked a little peaky and eventually persuaded him that he should take control of the car. Though I must admit he did not look much better.
We were driving along towards Middlesbrough, a town whose only claim to fame was that it had been voted second worst place to live in England, and were admiring the view of the billowing clouds emanating from the cooling towers of Europe’s largest chemical works and enjoying the fragrance from the local incinerator and river Tees at low tide, when Sean suddenly announced he was feeling a bit queasy. With quick dexterity he managed to wind down the window in time to give one of the best projectile vomits I have ever seen. Unfortunately the back windows were already open. Personally I was never very good at fluid dynamics at college but I expected better of Sean who had trained to be a meteorologist and should have understood the subtle nature of wind, vortices and laminar flow. Instead of spraying and improving the surrounding countryside of Teesside, the substance travelled in a backward direction. To be fair some did go out of the window but inexplicably returned through the back window.
I was conscious of a deafening silence from the rear compartment where Jill and Elizabeth were sitting. I pulled over and slowly turned round to see if they were alright. I don’t know whether you have seen one those machines which spray pebble dash on to houses in England but the apparition before me reminded me of the effect that one of these machines could have on human beings. Though where the diced carrots came from I don’t know as I did not remember our eating them at dinner the previous evening.
For some reason the girls just stared at us without a word which continued for quite some time while we endeavoured to clean their clothes and the car.
After we had returned to Sean’s apartment in silence, washed ourselves and changed our clothes we were persuaded to return to Whitby for this Jill and I agreed was by far preferable to experiencing another ‘good time’ in Hartlepool. As it was getting late James said we should book overnight accommodation there and reserved a place by phone. I am pleased to say that the second journey to Whitby that day was uneventful and the fish and chip supper supplemented by endless quantities of buttered bread and tea went some way to remove the odour of that mornings exploits which for some reason followed us across the moors.
Once refreshed Sean said we should go and look for vampires. Apparently a certain Count Dracula who was of this ilk had landed here by sea in a coffin accompanied by what he called his female assistants. Legend had it that he was buried in the grounds of Whitby Abbey and as it was nearly dusk and vampires only come out at night an ideal opportunity to meet him had arrived. I had read a little of these creatures and although I had come to the conclusion they were figments of the deranged minds of Byron and Polydori the abbey silhouette by the evening sky on the cliff above cast a little doubt in mine.
Legend also told there were hundred steps up to the abbey from the quay on which it was said no one had counted more than ninety-nine. For if you found the last one a local superstition recounted the devil would appear and snatch you away. Sean said he had found there was a hundred steps every time he had climbed up to the abbey but so as not to invoke ‘Old Nick’ he had always stopped counting at ninety-nine. How Jill coped with his blarney I do not know.
When we got to the top we wandered around the graveyard looking for signs of Dracula. We eventually found one that had a large skull and crossbones on it and all agreed that was where he was buried and we could desist from looking around furtively in the shadows for him. We were about to return when I noticed the Methodist chapel behind the wall and suggested before we depart we have a quick look inside.
Inside the chapel it was now quite dark but we entered none the less; our footsteps echoing on the wood and tiled floor. At the end of the hall we noticed what looked like coffins on trestle tables. As we approached I counted four and that they were open for the lids were carefully stacked against the wall. At this point normal people stop, make excuses about remembering a previous engagement and leave immediately. Not Sean. He continued.
“I must have a look.” And he walked across the floor and looked in the first box. He then turned with an expression I imagine he had when he first saw the apparition of the Pope on the bedroom wall of his grandfather’s house in Kerry and then to reinforce what we already feared shouted at the top of his voice, “They’re empty!”
Nothing would change our opinion that the Count and his female servants had risen from those coffins and we’re now lose amongst us. We left and walked very fast, no we ran back to the steps. I am sure there were more than a hundred steps back down but I did not count nor look back.
I arose early in the morning for some solitude to write up my diary primarily to ensure that at a later date they would confirm that the memories of the last two days were not the result of a short and pestilent fever. It was still quite dark. As I entered the kitchen I espied what I thought was a small figure on the stove. I instantly froze for the previous evenings escapades were still fresh in my mind. I turned slowly and saw not the Pope as Sean had recounted he had seen at his grandfather’s house as a child but the Virgin herself! I am not of the catholic persuasion and do not normally suffer the guilt which that particular religion encourages in its flock but at that moment every misnomer I had done against the teaching of God flashed into my mind. I was surprised how many came flooding back before I remembered I was also living in sin!
The scream from the kitchen and the absence of Elizabeth next to me had me out of the bed in an instant.
“What’s the matter?” I said as I reached the hallway and saw her outline in the kitchen.
She was staring and pointing at something behind the kitchen door. Telling myself to keep as calm as possible and trying not to imagine that Dracula or one of his maid servants had found our apartment, I entered.
My exclamation wasn’t quite as loud as hers but gave the same impression. There was the Virgin Mary standing on the cooker!
This is not good news for an Atheist for I believe the punishments for breaking god’s commandments is nothing compared with denying his existence. And for a moment there in front of me was proof that he did exist or at least his mum.
But as I contemplated this, and more importantly how I was going to form an apology for doubting himself, sanity eventually returned thank God. I moved closer. I was reprieved! It was just a painted alabaster figure of the Virgin.
“Sean!” I shouted.
“What’s the matter?” He said when he eventually staggered in dressed in what I can only describe as Wee Willy Winkie’s nightgown.
“What? Oh that. I’d brought it in a shop for me mother and left it in the car. I thought I’d bring it in for safe keeping.”
It is not often one hears in the presence of an image of the mother of God such a stream of profanities which James released in the direction of Sean. I must confess I agreed with many of his sentiments even though I didn’t understand all their meanings or exactly the direction of their biological application. Suffice to say I could only hope that the Virgin whom I noticed on the stove was looking quite shocked, would forgive us when she realised this little episode had prepared her in good stead for her arrival at Sean’s family in Kerry.
Daymer Bay lies on the estuary of the River Camel and according to a brochure we had found it is famed for its miles of beautiful sandy beaches and warm waters. It is also said to be a tranquil place where one can enjoy a pleasant vacation and lead a quiet existence.
We had rented rooms in a Manner House located in what James described as a perfect village. By which he means one consisting of nothing but an old church and an Inn whose sole purpose is to supply James and Sean with copious quantities of cask conditioned ale preferably cooked by a master brewer on his own premises not twenty yards away and using water transported magically from a highland spring.
The house nestling in a steep valley with its own secluded gardens was over two hundred years old and had rooms converted into an apartment which the owner rented out to guests. Just as the brochure said it combined an idyllic setting with all the comforts that modern amenities could offer. Having duly unpacked we drove into Wadebridge for provisions and as it was quite late in the day decided to eat at an Italian restaurant by the river. It was quite dark by the time we finished and had some difficulty finding the house again as the satnav without any prompting from us had decided to take an economical route which avoided anything that normally classified as a road. We quickly discovered it is a requirement in North Cornwall that all roads must be no more than twelve foot wide, bend in a different direction every fifty yards with no apparent reason and must be sunk so far below the surrounding fields that no view of any landscape is possible to aid direction. In case the occupants of a vehicle can read a map the tracks are also occasionally punctuated at junctions, which appear out of nowhere, by white finger posts pointing in any direction than the ones printed on the ‘fingers’. Sean believes that this was done during the last war to confuse any invasion force and had not been fixed since. I was of the opinion, having done it myself, that it was a prank by young boys to confuse tourists. This provoked much discussion if not argument on our map reading abilities not helped by the fact that on one occasion we found ourselves back in Wadebridge. We eventually returned to the house quite late after inexplicably passing it’s entrance twice and on entering it was unanimously agreed that it was thought best to forget about the evening and retired straight to bed where I fell straight to sleep. The absence of traffic and street lighting had a most soporific effect on me because I slept like a log until nine in the morning when the smell of frying bacon rose me from my slumbers.
I awoke after a delicious sleep to sunbeams falling and dancing on the floor from a small gap in the curtain. James I noticed had already risen and by the aroma coming from the kitchen I presumed a full breakfast had beckoned him in preference to me. After breakfast and our menfolk had ‘volunteered’ to wash up we promenaded around the gardens and relaxed on some old seats in the apple orchard to enjoy the sunshine. My mind filled with a day of gentle strolls with James beside me by the sea. However, Sean and James had other plans. We discovered they had planned a surprise camping trip and had purchased what they described as a large two roomed tent for this purpose. Apparently they had decided that we should completely renounce the world for a couple of days and commune with nature. Jill said she could easily commune with nature by looking out of the window of the living room and I supported her by reminding them that having taken almost fifteen hundred years to re-establish a modicum of civilisation after the Romans left and learnt to build, thanks to the re-discovery of Vitruvius, reasonable warm and dry abodes I had no idea why anyone wanted to return to the experiences of primitive man and live in the middle of field with only a bed sheet for protection from the elements. Never-the-less the idea of such a life style had great appeal to our menfolk and so having bought adequate provisions from the local town we drove down to a field by the sea and joined a throng of other ‘happy campers’.
Why Jill and I agreed so quickly to this mad idea I am at a loss but if any ladies reading this can explain how our sex acquiesces so quickly to the suggestions of men and have a solution I would be grateful if they could send a letter to me post haste.
We managed to find a nice quiet corner of the field to pitch our tent away from yapping dogs and screaming children and also upwind from the toilet lock though we continued to have some difficulty persuading the girls this was better than the manor house we had left.
By reference to a small booklet Sean and James attempted to construct the tent while we ladies assumed our natural role of preparing diner. I must admit I was not well versed in the art of cookery but Jill was very helpful in showing me how to open a tin of beans and to prick and cook eight sausages on two little gas stoves. I began to have a much greater respect for the skills of my cook at Hamgreen and also the merits of cooking in a sheltered place such as indoors where a breeze does not direct the flame to anywhere but the item needing heating. After about half an hour when we noticed that the tents construction was progressing nearly as fast as our cooking our menfolk suggested it might be helpful to drink some bottled beer. I had noticed while buying provisions that James and Sean had procured a large white box in the grocery shop which they took it on themselves to manhandle to the car while we carried the other foods. This large box now appeared from which Sean retrieved four bottles. James handed me one. I now found myself, Elizabeth Bicester, daughter to the squire of Hamgreen sitting in a field with an orange sheet for shelter, holding a frying pan in one hand spitting fat in all directions and drinking beer directly out of a bottle with the other. However, just as I began to wonder how I got here and whether that manor house we had left was all a dream from another world I felt a drop of water splash on my face, then another.
The sausages were well cooked and not too blackened on one side. Elizabeth apologised for her performance and hoped it would not affect any wedding prospects I had in mind though it seemed to be said in such a way that if I ever asked her to prepare such a culinary delight again the realisation of that prospect would become vanishingly small.
We managed to scrape most of the beans out of the pot. I was a little envious of the people in the bigger tent next to us who had brought what I can only describe as a full range cooker from which drifting towards us the aroma of a full curry which became more delicious or enticing as dusk approached. This was not helped by the rain which the morning’s weather forecaster helped by his super computer had failed to predict.
After we had eat, drank some more beer and our two torches were failing we decided to retire early. We decided unanimously not to change into pyjamas, mainly because we had forgot them, and go directly to bed where we were able to enjoy the sound of the various radios, and televisions emanating from the surrounding tents.
Despite being assured that the quilted bag I had squeezed into was the bedding of choice of adventurers ascending the Matterhorn, I felt its makers had not taken into account the inclement weather of an English summer’s evening for the cold damp air outside aided by the rain was slowly percolating through the material into my body. I mentioned this to James who demonstrated his consideration for me by suggesting we join our bags and climb in together to share our warmth not to mention my body. The torch had now failed and it took some contortions and fine work to climb onto one divan and join the bags. Eventually after many manoeuvres which seemed to require more intimate entwinings than I thought necessary we were eventually ‘zipped up’ inside save for our two heads which competed for a coat and my jacket for a pillow. This improved the situation sufficiently for me to be able to decline his invitation to remove all our clothing for extra warmth.
About midnight James decided to pay a visit to the toilets no doubt due to the number of bottles of beer he had drunk. Unfortunately we found the fastening of the bag had become caught in the cloth and the key to the fastener on the outside possibly because as I found out later in the dark we had managed to join the sacks inside out. To open the fastenings seemed a simple task except now we discovered our arms were trapped inside the bag. Try as we might we could not escape. After not a little struggling James, and not me I wish to add for the record, managed to upturn the fragile divan and deposited us still inside the sack on to the ground. I thus found myself in the pitch black laying on top of James in a position I would not normally expect to find myself in the middle of field or anywhere else come to think of it and accompanied by the sound from another tent of what seemed to be a radio playing a rendering of ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ but was actually a recording of a combo I believe called ‘Lead Metal Zeppelin’.
For some reason I felt a cold shiver as though someone had poured water on my back and my head felt distinctly wet. With Elizabeth on top of me I couldn’t move so I turned my head slowly fearing I had badly cut myself only to push my face into ice cold water. I realised that Sean’s choice of the nice sheltered hollow where we had pitched the tent was also the water shed for the surrounding hills and our sleeping bag was lying in a small channel of running water. I decided to call for help. There was no answer. I whispered as loud as a I could. Somewhere a Jack Russell decided to join in.
Eventually Jill appeared. It was still pitch black.
“What’s the matter Jim. Good God why am I standing in water. Where are you?”
“Here.” I whispered helpfully in the darkness.
“Where? Oh! What are you doing down there? Oh sorry Elizabeth I didn’t recognise your bum. Where’s Jim?”
“Underneath me. We can’t move!”
“Please don’t tell me you’re stuck in that position. There’s no way I’m going to be the one who’s going to call the ambulance and explain what’s happened.”
“We can’t get out of the sack” I said, “Our arms are stuck inside”
“And you got poor Elizabeth to fall for the oldest campsite trick in the world. Did Jim tell you that you’d be much warmer if you climbed into his sleeping?”
“And how many times have you fallen for that Jill”, I said.
“Every time I ask”, said Sean from the other side of the partition who obviously had been listening.
“Elizabeth a word of advice. Never get inside a sleeping bag with a man. Now let’s get you out. There, got it! Well at least you had the sense to keep your clothes on.”
Having extracted ourselves from the bags we decided to abandoned this place and gathering up our wet clothes returned to the manor house where we could commune with a nature with which we were more familiar.
The following day we thought Elizabeth’s suggestion of a quiet gentle stroll along the cliffs admiring the views followed by a nice long lunch at our expense in Polzeath seemed an excellent idea. In fact Sean and I thought that any other idea the girls came up with would be brilliant as well and agreed we would follow their instructions to the letter without complaint.
After a pleasant day in which normality was restored and the recurring vision of my father discovering me in that ‘position’ of the previous night abated, Sean and James decided to make amends and treat us to dinner at the local Inn which was only about four hundred yards from our house though I suspected their real intention was to make sure the local beer had been kept well and in cask condition. However, we did not complain as cooked food and washing up by some else by now seemed quite attractive.
I had succumbed to a pair of jeans which I had to admit had great practicability at times. I had bought them at a sale at an emporium in Chichester. James who thought he would come along to ‘help’ admitted later that until we entered the premises he had presumed he could not get enough of scantily dressed ladies. However the madness that confronted us on entering the hall changed his opinion. Apparently although such places are adequately provided with private changing rooms the lure of a bargain and the fear of it being snatched away seemed to have turned the fairer sex into vicious vixens who in order to try on their items of choice were prepared to strip rather than risk another taking it from them. A pair of suitable jeans were eventually found at the expense of much bruising and I am rather afraid to say cross words on my part directed at a pair of ladies of a certain age with their skirts half tucked in the back of their underwear who thought said jeans would fit them.
But I digress again. Although the Inn was said to be not far it did involve a walk down a dark lane with the noise of a stream close by and hidden in the trees. As we approached Sean and I espied what we thought was a young girl in a grey-white hooded coat walking towards. As we got nearer she turned and literally disappeared into the wall of the vicarage.
“Did you see that?” Said Sean.
“What?” Said James who had busy making sword play with the beam of his torch with Sean.
“The girl! She was just there then she turned and vanished.”
“OK Sean. Save it for the walk back after a few beers”
“No, I saw her too.” I said, “She just disappeared into the wall.”
We quickly walked over to the wall and shone our torches along it until we found an old boarded up door. James tried it but it looked like by the amount of ivy it hasn’t been opened for years.
We carried on to the Inn.
We entered the main bar where I was confronted with about a dozen firkins of Cornwall’s finest beer which by their beckoning appearance had been prepared especially for Sean and I. We decided we would start at opposite ends and meet in the middle. After sampling the first pint of the delicious brews Elizabeth reminded me of the other purpose of coming here, that is the promise of a slap up meal at our expense and that Jill and her would be extremely grateful if we would order a table.
While still at the bar Sean asked about the girl we seen. The bar tender who was clean shaven save for two great side whiskers no doubt styled to aid drinking the local elixir said he wasn’t aware of anybody then pointed to an old chap by the fireplace who looked like his dad.
We walked over to him and asked if he knew about the girl. He didn’t seem to forthcoming then noticing his pint was nearly empty I offered to buy him another one. For some not surprising reason he perked up a bit.
“Thanks.” Taking a good quantity of the glass in one gulp “All I know is it could have been a ghost of the girl found here.”
We all crowded round to listen. For there is nothing like being told a good ghost story in small hamlet miles from nowhere and before a long walk home in the dark.
“Why do you think that?” Said Sean encourage him for he thought the English always needed help in embellishing to make a good story.
“Eh. Oh. It was in the 70’s and workmen were digging up the floor just where you’re standing darlin’ to fit a new drain.”
He pointed to where Elizabeth was who immediately let out a gasp and jumped about two foot back. Seeing his performance was going better than expected he continued.
“When they got down about three feet they found a skeleton of girl. Cor! There was ructions, police an’ all. But they got the county alchohologist to ‘ave a look at ‘er and found she was about hundred years old.”
“What happened to her?”
“They buried her in the church next door. Gave her a good funeral.”
“No I mean what happened to her to be where she was?”
“Dunno. Expect it was one of them squire’s at the Manner knocked up a maid and got rid of her before the missus found out”
“Have you seen her?” Sean asked mischievously. The old man looked up.
“She’s about sometimes” he said slowly looking at the fire. “Everyone calls her Adelle. Bye the bye youse the ones staying up the Manner?”
His eyes lit up. I could see his evening was going well.
“I’ve heard people staying there hear strange noises at night.”
Oh dear it was time to feed the grockles some good scary stories.
“What sort of noises” I said.
“Nothing much. Last people said it’s like scratching or knocking coming from behind the walls.”
“Well we were there last night and heard nothing.”
“Expect they like to let you settle in first.”
He was certainly playing it well. He looked at his now empty glass and then at me.
“I could tell you more if you like?”
I was half a mind to buy him another pint when the waiter interrupted us and said our table was ready.
It was a most enjoyable evening and after wine and beer Jill and I began to regard the previous night’s escapade as an almost an enjoyable caper.
The only disappointment for Sean and James was they were unable to reach the middle of the line of barrels before the bar closed for the night but they promised the publican faithfully they would return the following evening and complete their mission. Normally on a dark evening one expects to be escorted home safely by a gentleman but on this evening we decided that if we ever going to reach the house and also not fall in the stream it was thought best if Jill and I firmly held and escorted the gentlemen. To thank us on this promenade our menfolk decided to provided us with entertainment in the form of two or three ribald songs which the contents I will not record here. Suffice to say they mainly involved the exploits of an Eskimo called Nell and her prodigious bedroom antics.
We eventually got them into to bed and despite the ghost stories we heard nothing that night.
After another excellent day in which we found doing what we were told worked to great advantage Sean and I thought that we would give the girls a treat by cooking for them. We got the biggest pot we could find and made stew and dumpling accompanied by some reasonably expensive wine.
This went down well and I think we were sufficiently forgiven for the camping incident.
As we sat back complimenting each other on what perfect couples we were and how unlucky everyone else was not knowing us a strange scratching sound came from the wall behind Elizabeth.
As I sat back at the dining table rather full from taking to many dumplings and enjoying what I regarded was quite a good wine by James standards I heard behind me above the fire place a strange rustling sound. It was like someone or something scratching or scraping behind the wall. I noticed the others had sat up and we’re looking behind me. I turned round slowly. The wine and food had dulled my senses a little but not sufficiently to stop the fear bubbling up inside me for the noise was getting louder and nearer. Then suddenly there was a great commotion coming from the chimney. Dust, soot and blackened rubbish fell into the grate. Then a pigeon.
“My God it’s a pigeon! Oh god a bird in the house. Help me!” Shouted James and curled up in a ball in the floor.
“What’s the matter James?” I cried.
“He has a pathological fear of flying birds in a house.” Said Jill.
Sean walked over to it and gave it a kick.
“Sean don’t! It must have got stuck in the chimney poor thing.”
“Well it’s dead now.”
After a few moments we calmed down and James uncurled himself. But just as we thought we could relax the scrapping started again. An uncontrollable shiver ran up my spine and I flung myself at James wrapping my arms tightly around him. Then more soot fell into the grate followed by the BIGGEST rat I ever seen!
Pandemonium! All four of us were up on the table in an instant. Both Jill and I holding our skirts tightly about our knees and our menfolk I was disappointed to find were holding us in a way which suggested they were using us for protection. What a tableau this would have presented to any one passing the window. Round the room it scurried. Then it jumped on a chair stood on its hind legs and looked straight at us before leaping between Sean’s legs creating screams which must have been heard in the Inn.
“What are we going to do James?”
A bird in the house and I will die on the spot but a rat is just a large mouse. Letting go of Elizabeth I jumped down and opened the kitchen door and then the back door. It shot out the house like hell was following it. When I returned I was the hero of the moment.
“Oh James what bravery” was the unanimous response from the girls. But just as I was contemplating what just rewards I deserved for this Sean ruined my moment. “Where’s the pigeon?”
The brief sense of bravery dissipated instantly to be replaced by panic. The grate was empty! I looked around the room and to my horror found it staring at me from the curtain rail very much alive and giving me the distinct impression I had put it in the chimney.
Before I could shout it flew straight over me causing me to duck and bang my head on the table before flying off round the room while I flew out the door.
I found James under the bed clothes. I pulled back the covers to find him curled with his eyes shut tight.
“Has it gone Elizabeth?”
I noticed a nice bruise was forming on his forehead but felt it best not to draw attention to it. He took a little convincing but eventually he believe that the bird was out the house thanks to Jill who had grabbed it and carried it out to the back door.
I undressed and climbed into bed with him.
“You know James I think I have had enough holiday. Can we go home tomorrow?”
The next morning when we eventually gathered our wits we decided that the pleasant and tranquil coast of Cornwall was not for us and left as quickly as we could. If you ever come across the person who wrote the nice promotional holiday brochure for the River Camel and its surround please let me know his name and address.
Out of Time.
My first ebook on the Urquhart Bicester Time Travel Diaries.
It’s 2015 and the Martians are about to invade Earth. They have hacked into the Earth’s social media companies and absorbed them into the media site ComsMesh to manipulate the human race and weaken its defences. Up to now no one on Earth suspects a thing.
Then, one of ComsMesh staff finds the 2015 diary of a James Urquhart, and the 1873 diary of Elizabeth Bicester bound together in a copper chest and concludes they are actually time travellers. He flags this up to his director as he believes such technology in the wrong hands could reveal his Company’s plans to socially engineer the world.
So here are the diaries of the adventures of James Urquhart, minor science lecturer and sometime rambler, living in 2015 and Elizabeth Bicester, lady of leisure, of Hamgreen Lodge whom he stumbles upon at a cricket match in 1873. Despite much banter regarding each other’s etiquette and manners it seems they manage (through incredible feats of illogical deduction, with not a little help from James Maxwell, H. G. Wells and some strange time devices) to save the world!
A Drift Out of Time.
My second ebook on the Urquhart Bicester Time Travel Diaries.
The diaries of James Urquhart, living in 2015 and Elizabeth Bicester from 1873 continue. After stopping a Martian invasion of Earth and ruining the Weber Institute plan to take over the world, James and Elizabeth have returned home for a bit of peace and quiet to find they are not only in a different future but a different aspect of themselves. Moreover the Martians are still trying to colonise Earth after their failed invasion and Marco is loose in time trying to reconnect the interplanetary dark net to help them.
In their quest to get back to their own world James and Elizabeth travel back and forth between Mars and Earth and find themselves drifting across time and space through different pasts and futures until eventually they find a home and in the process discover who the Martians really are.
A Companion to Out of Time.
I’ve produced this booklet to provide some background information on how I wrote my science fiction time travel novel ‘Out of Time’. Its primary purpose is to try and give an insight into how I developed the plot in the form the novel was written and also the origin of the material I used to support it. Writing a story involving traveling in time without ending up in paradoxical corners is quite difficult and because of this I’ve devoted a fair amount of this booklet and quite a few passages in my novel on the subject in the hope of explaining to myself what I think is meant by Time.
Notes on Arthurian Literature.
This ebook contains my notes on Arthurian literature examine the origins of Arthur and the historical events associated with him.
It also reviews the Celtic origins of the Grail stories and the significance of their appearance at the time of the crusades after the fall of Jerusalem in 1009 and recapture by Godfrei de Boullion in 1099 and their re-emergence in Mallory’s Mort D’Arthur after the fall of Constantinople in 1454.
Subjects covered in the book are;
The Origins of Arthur.
Possible Links to Historical Events.
Problems with Dating Events in the 5th and 6th Centuries.
Climatic and Astronomical Phenomenon in 5th and 6th Century Britain.
The Appearance of the Grail Stories.
Historical Characters and Events in the Grail Stories.
Celtic and Other Origins of the Grail and the Grail Characters.
Malory and the Tales of King Arthur.
Thanks for reading my book!
You can get more information on this and my other books and hobbies at: my blog at:
Or you can visit my website at: http:// http://www.arthurianliterature.co.uk/
On occasion when James Urquhart and his Victorian companion Elizabeth Bicester were not travelling back and forth in time and to other planets his sister and her boyfriend Sean took them on holiday. One would think that such vacations would be a welcome distraction but you will see in the three adventures they have selected from their diaries they do not always turn out as expected for when your with Sean, strange things happen. They put this down to Seanâ€™s origins in Kerry which as everyone knows is where the fairies live. If you go to Kerry you know what I mean because when you leave a fairy comes with you. You won't notice the difference at first because it will be invisible but as life goes on you will hear on the odd occasion from a friend "Oh he's off with the fairies again". This seems to happen more regularly as time passes. Suffice to say that Sean has been to Kerry many times and in the process gathered up many fairies.