Last night my window went “tap tap tap.” It was just past two in the morning and I’d been asleep on the chair. Did I dream it? But it was so real. As far as I can remember there have been many incidents of hearing familiar noises after waking up from sleep. Recently the most common has been the snort. It’s always in the same place. Just on the right of the bed, someone snorts loudly. I peer into the darkness to see nothing but the outline of my wheelchair.
Many years ago, my bedroom was above the office of a garage. In that office was a key cutter. This beast of a machine was a truly fascinating thing. In amongst all its precision was a body of cast iron.
A key could be copied by resting the original in a specific slot, allowing the sensors to do the rest. It was heavy. Yet one night I was convinced it has fallen onto the floor. The thump was awesome. I felt everything shake. I even recognised the exact spot where the noise came from. When I checked the next morning it was still sitting very solidly on its usual bench.
When I was a toddler,we lived in a pub. The Sun Inn was on Derby Road in Prescot, just north of Liverpool. My dad has this story of being in the cellar with my older brother: “Who’s that man?” my brother asked. Dad looked behind him.
There was no-one there. When my younger brother visited the pub in the eighties, he proudly announced that he was born in that fine establishment. He asked the land lady if she’d seen the ghost:
“Yes” she replied as though it was as common as seeing the milk man.
After the pub we moved to a council estate in Fazakerley. It was my nan’s rented house on the edge of the city. Down the road the local hospital was set in massive wooded grounds. Of course our parents discouraged us from venturing into the bluebell woods because we were young, it was over a main road and it had a bit of a reputation for dossers and lovers.
I was fascinated. Then my grandfather “Pop” (what a brilliant name for a grandfather) told me about the Indians. Pop liked a joke but he was on my parents side on this one. He spouted forth in great detail about the “Indians” who hunted children and scalped them. Remember the sixties was full of TV westerns where the Native Americans were portrayed as evil savages with bows and arrows. I never went back.
The Victorians were avid raconteurs of all things super natural. My favourite is the story of Spring Heeled Jack. A lot of the first hand accounts are by women who report being inappropriate contact from a character in an unusual outfit; it included a black leather bat wings I believe.
After his lewd deeds he would bounce away so avoiding all capture. Naturally, without any real pictorial evidence each account would become more sensational. There are various accounts available on through the internet so it may be worth a read. Personally, I think far too many Victorian authoritarians were likely to use scare tactics as a way of controlling others. I call it the bogey man principle.
When we moved to Wallasey there were more stories of strange goings-on. The local park and the Quakers’ grave yard were particular hot spots.
There were enough people in white and clanking chains to fuel a Hammer Horror epic.
My mates Andy and Dave told us stories about their own house, a massive flat above a butcher’s shop. Admittedly it was a brilliant curio of a place but I never saw anything. I just remember it as a house of comfort and laughter; plus a mad dog called Rip. He was quite happy to let you in the house but he became a bit agitated when you wanted to leave!
My own father like a bit of a ghost story. He had a few incidents of poltergeist style happenings when he was working nights in Standard Triumph and Gandy Belt. “What did you do Dad?” I’d ask wrapt in his tale of mystery and suspense.
“I told them to bugger off,” he replied. That was his way of dealing with the oddities of the mind.
Personally I can recall two incidents of strange sightings. The first was in the summer of 1985. It was the weekend of my mate’s nephew’s stag party. It was in Aberdeen. The journey up there was a long one. The overnight coach eventually dumped us at Aberdeen railway station. Then it was a local bus to Cruden Bay. I was instantly charmed by the Scottish coastline. The bus skirted the edge of the land.
Long narrow roads twisted and turned through patches of mist and the odd wispy rain shower. Through the mist a faint sun offered a warm glow of welcome. George’s nephew Paul had bought an old fisherman’s cottage. A short distance down the lane was one of those beautiful deserted Scottish beaches. From the front window I could see the constant rolling of the waves washing the pale yellow sand.
We were staying an extra night and returning to Wallasey by car.
It was on that extra night when I had the most bizarre sighting. I was asleep on the downstairs settee when I awoke to see a short stocky man. He was wearing a pale mackintosh over a rather rumpled suit. His tie was a faded red. He had a dark moustache and the ruddy cheeks of a typical whisky drinker. It looked like he had just returned home from work. Without a word he stepped into the kitchen. I followed him but he wasn’t there.
I thought little more of it and returned to my slumber. I never mentioned it to Paul because he had to live there. It was a gorgeous place to live. The following year I spent a week there enjoying the open solitude of the huge sky and the empty beaches. I never saw that man again. I wonder if he used to live there?
The second memorable incident was in 2000. I was living in a flat above a garage. As I opened the front door, I was confronted with a staircase. Back then I could still climb stairs; albeit slowly. The time was around two in the afternoon and I’d been shopping a mile up the road in town. After I’d unlocked the door I saw someone in jeans and trainers walk along the landing. The stairs were quite steep so I only saw the legs. The jeans were faded blue; they were not only faded but dirty, as were the white cracked shoes. I assumed it was one of the people from the garage doing something or other. I kept an open house policy with them in exchange for my peppercorn rent.
I walked up the stairs expecting a familiar face and was met with absence. Who on earth was that figure? It had walked across the top hall with the confidence of familiarity. It was strange. Of course, as Mrs Grose from Henry James’ novel “The Turn of the Screw” said, it was all “stuff and nonsense”.
These were tricks of the mind. But the tricks are so real. That tapping on the window was very real but why would someone do that? If it were some drunken youth the tapping would not have been so polite. If it was a burglar testing to see if I was awake, wouldn’t he have tried the front door first? He should have done because it was unlocked. The next morning there was no sign outside of any snooping.
This brings me to the constant tricks of the mind. These tricks don’t leave any hint of intrigue and curiosity however. They bring a sense of frustration and persistence. Having multiple sclerosis has given my fractured brain licence to play with my nerve endings.
In the evening, when I sit exhausted on my comfortable chair, my senses tell me my legs are freezing. I can be wearing thick joggers and thermals but the little prick still freezes my legs.
What do you do if you’re cold? Move about to keep warm? If I move, the legs do indeed cease to be cold. Instead it feels as though they’re being set on by the flame-throwers of hell.
Who wants polarized legs? And my top half? Wow, that’s tough. I take my trips to the bin and the flower bed in my short sleeved tee shirt.
I go down to the bottom of the car park to get the Tramper and ride it in turbo mode the twenty meters to the front door to feed it a charge. I feel like Jack Nicholson from Easy Rider. For a few brief seconds I feel the vicious winter wind scrape at my bare arms. I laugh in defiance before setting up the charger and retreating to my cosy toasty flat.
What a life this is! I’ll never be lonely or feel isolated; not with my imagination. At the close of the day when the curtains are drawn the coldness becomes a mere tingling. I see it as a reward for surviving another day. I have severe mobility issues but I still think I’m lucky. The current tricks of the mind, brought about by a chronic illness may not be as glamorous as my tales of the unexpected but they seem so real. Logic says my legs are not cold but try telling that to them.
Thank-you for reading.