A Christmas Ghost Story

Except it didn’t happen at Christmas. More people than I used to think don’t say ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts,’ grammatically or otherwise. One Catholic, one Lutheran, several nothing really, as if any of that makes any difference. I had it in my head that Catholics aren’t supposed to believe in ghosts apart from the Holy Ghost, but the name is a bit of a give-away in itself.

‘There’s this er, well, there’s this um, not sure how to say this. Ghost then. Ok, ghost. But there’s no such thing as a……”

It must be tricky being a vicar, sometimes. A little like the best religious joke I ever heard, about the little chapel in Ireland where the trainee priest looks up one day and see a man who he thinks is Jesus, glowing, in what was until then an empty pew. The trainee goes to the vestry and finds the priest, asks him what they should do if it is, to be told: “Look busy.”

                                Aye, it was on a night like this, but I’ve said too much a’ready…

But dear reader, to my story. I was in Scotland a couple of months ago, on the shores of a mist-bound loch. I was leading a tour of 50 people from the US, the Philipines, Canada and Australia. All strangers to each other. Some with no intention of making that otherwise. I Googled the old hotel we were to stay at, to find some local colour I could tell the group about, but all I could find was a tale about a Green Lady someone – and very much only one – had claimed to have seen there once, forty years ago.

I asked the manager there about her, but he didn’t know anything. He asked me not to talk about it, not because it was so dreadful, he said, but because talking about it scared him. So that was all I could tell the group. “Is it like …hanted?” could only be answered with “Maybe. One person a long time ago on a night like this – but I’ve said too much already.”

I didn’t notice some of the group crossing themselves, but there was no more I had to say. I wasn’t going to make things up. I wasn’t that kind of tour guide. Or no more than I had to be, anyway.

I woke up at five. I’d had a strange dream that someone was screaming, close to me. I was on my own and it wasn’t me. It’s when you go to sleep screaming that you need to worry. Just a dream. I went back to sleep for an hour.

It was only when I tried to talk to some of the more talkative holidaymakers that I thought something was a bit wrong. They hadn’t slept, they said. Because of the ghost. And what sleep they had ended at five, when they heard someone screaming in the corridors of the hotel.





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Delicious spicy buns

Matron! Well if that doesn’t improve the SEO ratings I don’t know what will.

I haven’t eaten manufactured foods for a long time. I don’t buy ready-made pizza, pies, humous or pretty much anything already made. As a friend’s father used to say about shop-bought cake, it’s second-hand.

When you make things yourself you know what’s in it. You know what short-cuts you took, the flour you ran out of half-way through, the water you put in instead of milk, all those kind of everyday things that aren’t exactly cheating but mostly aren’t because you know about it. And I don’t want someone else’s compromises.

A lot of people are going to read this and say ‘that’s alright for you, but I haven’t got time.’ They were a bit short of time a hundred years ago too, with a child every other year and no electricity most places. I don’t have a television. That saves me a huge amount of time. I get my once a week fix of The Sweeney on my laptop.

No More Vodafone Day

But yesterday I had something to celebrate, getting out of a mobile phone  contract with Vodafone, who decided that although they’re investing £2.5 million per day in a 4G network that will stream even more useless X-Factor celebrity-based crap directly into people’s heads they can’t find the pennies to give me a phone that works if I don’t hold it out of my bedroom window, which is picturesque but arguably inconvenient. Stupidly, I celebrated by buying some Jamaican spicy buns. It made me realise why I don’t buy this stuff. It’s never what it says.

When I think of ‘spicy’ I think of cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, musk, a very non-Ipswich world of exotic tastes and mystery. I did warn you it wasn’t a very Ipswich imagining. And oddly, these spicy buns, with their statutory four bits of ‘mixed fruit’ per bun just weren’t like that at all. The herring in mustard sauce wasn’t much better either. It wasn’t the worst breakfast I ever had. That was hotly contested between a $4.95 All-You-Can-Eat somewhere in Illinois and  the La Plaza hotel in Brussels, which probably just sneaked the coveted award for feels-like-hangover-stomach-although-you-weren’t-drinking-last-night. I think it was the boiled mini-sausages that did it, back when I still ate stuff like that.

I looked-up the La Plaza on Trip Advisor to see what it’s like now. It was nearly ten years ago I was there, in a huge, wood-panelled room that seemed like a set from a 1940s noir movie. I wrote about a fictional house that might have been haunted in Not Your Heart Away, where Claire was convinced that she was being watched long after Tex Beneke sang:  “I know there’s something following me that I can’t see” in  A Little Man Who Wasn’t There.  That hotel was the only place I’ve chosen as an adult to sleep with the light on, in case the jackboots and the grey uniforms walked again.


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