Sometimes I get a little lonely working at the Priory. If I happen to spot someone walking along the public footpath, I’ll sprint after them, yelling and waving my arms, grab them by the wrist and make them do the chatting. And they almost always say one of two things to me. One is: “Please go away and leave us alone. You’re scaring my children / my dog / my husband.”
The other thing they say is: “Don’t you get a little scared working all alone here at this big, old house?”
“Um no, not really,” I reply, looking over my shoulder at the Priory. In the past, several villagers have taken me aside to warn me that the house is haunted. “Wouldn’t catch me working there,” they say, looking me up and down and deciding that I must be a needle short of a haystack to take on the job. Certainly, my brother-in-law, while conceding that the gardens were lovely, took one look at the house and shivered. “Wouldn’t get me inside there,” he said giving me a pitying look and shivering again.
But I’ve never seen anything to scare me at the Priory. Though I have felt that I am being watched on occasion. My first day, for instance, dawned a blisteringly hot, archly still, July day. I spent much of it weeding the beds that run about the eastern walls of the house. These beds, after the-years-of-neglect, were full of brambles, bindweed and ash saplings. And so with my head buried in the undergrowth, and my back to the gardens, I was totally unaware of any drooling, yellow-fanged miscreant shuffling up behind me; licking his pointy knife. Just as well there wasn’t one then, or at least if there was, I didn’t see him. But, on that first day, I did get a little nervy – conscious that someone might be watching me work; though the house was empty.
During periods of bad winter weather, I scurry into the house and carry out work inside. Last winter, for example, I painted the kitchen ceiling. And yes, OK – a couple of times I did get a little spooked. A little squeaky, shall we say. Imagined I heard someone tramping about upstairs, closing doors, murmuring – that sort of thing. But I just gulped, turned up the radio a notch and concentrated on kittens-in-mittens and pretty puppies wrapped up in ribbons. Usually does the trick.
And then about a year ago, I was introduced to Alfred (not his real name). Tall and handsome and in his seventies, Alfred has known the Priory all his life. Indeed, as a younger man he used to do much of the regular painting and decorating that is ongoing with a house of its size. Shaking hands, his first words to me were, “You do know that the house is haunted, don’t you?” I laughed and shook my head resignedly, “Er, yes. I have been told that a few times.”
Alfred didn’t laugh back at me.
|Sometimes I look up at an upstairs window and imagine what I would do if I saw my own dispassionate, pale face staring back down at me. Scream, I imagine.
Instead, he looked up at the blank first floor windows and started talking; more to the house, it seemed, than to me. “I worked here one Spring with two other chaps. Back in the ’60′s it was. We were alone in the house and were up there painting the bedrooms. We propped open one of the doors onto the landing with a big, old bucket of whitewash. Door kept on swinging shut, you see. Half hour later, I went to fill up my empty paint-pot from that there bucket. But it had been moved. Moved right out onto the landing and the door was shut fast. I didn’t shut it and my two mates couldn’t have got to that door without getting past me. And do you know? That landing was freezing cold. Truly freezing. Could see my breath. It hadn’t been earlier but now it was. Far, far colder than it ought to have been on that sunny May morning.
“Later, when I went to get paid, I told the owner what had happened. He smiled faintly and said, “Oh, that’ll just be the Priory ghost. Can’t leave a door open in this place but the ghost won’t shut it. Story goes that many, many years ago a young man was attacked and, on fleeing his enemies, sought sanctuary in the Priory. He ran into the main building but left the front door wide open. His pursuers ran in after him, drew their swords and cut him down. The poor unfortunate now haunts the Priory and won’t stand for any of the doors being left ajar.”
“Blimey, Alfred,” I laughed, “that’s quite a story.”
“Isn’t it just,” he replied. “Quite a story.” But he still didn’t laugh.
Like I say, I’ve never seen
a ghost, or indeed anything scary, at the Priory. And I don’t find it an inherently frightening place. So I thought it might be fun to create the image of a ghost from an ivy growing up an outbuilding wall (see “The Shape”
). As a nod, if you like, to Alfred’s story.
|The Shape – December 2011. The left ‘arm’ needs to grow more.
Unfortunately, rather than a ghost, the ivy is looking increasingly like a tall-spouted tea-pot. Or, as several readers have commented, a chicken. Sigh. It does have a hint of ghost about it though, doesn’t it? Reader? Don’t you think? Just a hint? A whiff? A suggestion? Either way, I don’t suppose Alfred will find it amusing.
I wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2012.
*I don’t believe in ghosts, but Alfred does exist and he really did tell me this tale of the Priory ghost.