I am haunted by the dead, by the living. I am haunted by those that have never been. I see glimpses in the shadows, hear voices in running water. I prepare for sleep with the past pricking at my senses. I am haunted by myself. And in the darkness, during the long nights I think on things gone…
Pete and I were locking up the office after a spot of overtime. We worked as accounts clerks for the South London Church Fund, the administration behind the Church of England in South London. If asked what I did for a living I’d say that I paid the wages of the exorcists. And I did. The building, a splendid Georgian town house situated across the road from the Imperial War Museum, was on four levels, five if you included the basement. Every night we always made sure that it was empty. This night we knew it was, that we had been the only souls within for the last hour or so. As we were about to close the heavy front door, we heard footsteps. The sounds were coming from one of the upper floors, were regular, were human. Pete’s call drifted through the hallway and up the stairs. No answer. Neither Pete nor I were prepared to re-enter and investigate. The place had a certain atmosphere. Co-workers had described catching sight of a shadow, a glimpse of those that should not have been there. Joyce, an elderly woman who had been working in the building for many years, told us that she had seen a clergyman pass her on the stairs and head for the basement, ‘but that’s the staff canteen,’ she’d said, and she’d called after him to find out if he needed assistance. She’d followed him but there’d been nobody there. I closed the door, turned the key and Pete and I walked away, through the drizzle, towards the mainline station at Elephant and Castle.
Whilst surfing through the music video sections on ebay I came across a Kate Bush collection. I love Kate Bush. I clicked ‘Buy Now’ and three days later a thin envelope with a home-copied, two-DVD set arrived through the letterbox. Excellent. I pushed disc one into my PC’s drive and selected play. The first chapters were old interviews, given at the start of Kate’s career. I had quite a lot to get through so I thought, save the interviews for later. I could have the music on in the background as I worked. I moved on to disc two which contained all of Kate Bush’s videos from ‘Wuthering Heights’ to ‘This Womans Work.’ I pressed play. Kate’s melancholic tunes instantly swept me back to a time when most of my life was ahead of me, to that fourteen-year-old cooking eggs on a camping stove in Wales, when everything was new. I was entranced by the screen. No work for me that day. I reminisced and slowly felt a sorrow building in me. Then ‘Breathing.’ It was too much. I started to cry. Not a single tear that I could wipe away on my sleeve, but a constant heaving of sadness that must have been a long time shut tight. I had difficulty viewing the video’s story unfolding as my tears came in torrents. Then ‘Army Dreamers.’ I managed to get halfway through and had to press eject. From where the sadness came I can only speculate. Perhaps I want to be that boy again, perhaps I miss those friends or maybe it is just the music, constructed to wreak havoc with my emotions. I still have the DVDs but I never play them.
‘Oh, the humanity’ – one short, emotionally charged statement, that has remained with me from childhood. I don’t know when I first saw the Hindenberg burst into flames and heard Herbert Morrison’s dramatic commentary. But I would have been young. The sight of the beautiful airship morphing into crumpled wreckage, in a matter of seconds, is dramatic enough. But somehow the distorted, fast, high-pitched speech leaves a greater impression. I can feel Morrison’s anguish, his horror at what he is seeing. This short clip is for me the greatest live news piece I have ever seen. Or, rather, I have heard, for it is Morrison’s voice that paints, all these years later, the true nature of the day.
Karen had haunted me when living. Images of her surged inside me, lay with me as I slept, distracted me, disengaged me from teachers monologues.
I was a teenage boy who traveled to school by train. Gary got on a few stops along the line and we usually made our way to school together, joined by a few others; Veg, Colin, Mark. Gary had a friend. Karen. She was a year older and had started work in the city. She was gorgeous, shared her fags and her maturity and she liked me. There was a good reason to look forward to the commute now. She took to standing in the guard’s compartment, no seats but a bit more space, and so I joined her and we travelled to Blackfriars together.
I left school at fifteen and almost immediately started work at BT. I took the same train and so maintained my contact with Karen. Then she asked me if I wanted to come over after work, and one thing led to another and she was my girlfriend. But not for long. She went to a party and was followed as she walked home. She was raped and battered to death. I wanted to kill him then and probably still do now, if I really think about it, which I don’t. I took a few days off but with my father vocalising his work ethic, pressuring me to get on with life, I was back on the train that I had shared with her. At night I wandered the streets, dog by my side, thinking, smoking, drinking. I was devastated but I think I was too young to be able to communicate this to anyone. Nobody seemed to be able to speak the right words to me. I stopped talking about her. It was ten years before I could tell anyone that I once knew a girl called Karen.
For a long time I kept hold of the newspaper clippings, any fragments that tied me to Karen. Today I periodically search the internet to see if there is anything that I can find linked to her. There isn’t. It all happened so long ago, well before workplace or personal computers existed. It’s as if Karen never existed. All that remains are my memories and the grave.
I was Peter Cushing’s Hammer Horror scientist battling with strange ciphers or hieroglyphs, fighting off the dead come alive. I researched the early Phaoronic dynasties, wrote to the British Library for information on certain Transylvanian families and received photocopied pages from a book, in French. At home I wore a cravat and gown, a smoking jacket on special occasions. My parents never mentioned that this might not be normal behaviour and in fact encouraged it by having the French translated. These interests were an excellent substitute for the poor education I was getting at school. My imagination drove reading that was so much more interesting and informative than working towards the ‘O’ levels that were looming.
I went to Peter Cushing’s house once. I caught a glimpse of the hallway and drawing room. I was pleased to note that his taste was Hammer, high Victorian, gothic.
Claire was a first love. I was a sponge, soaking up all that she was. Her impression remains; kisses painted her inside me. We were young punks when punk still had its energy, before the early eighties and that awful self obsessed dirge offered up by the ‘New Romantics.’ We had both just turned sixteen. My parents didn’t like her, she was ‘too thin,’ so, we spent most of our time at hers. We enjoyed hours lying on her bed exploring each other. When out, we would go to Charing Cross or Soho, eat chips, and then on the train, on the way back home, kiss. We saw bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Damned and the Buzzcocks and got sweaty together being bashed around at the front of the crowd.
I remember being at hers during the daytime, when her mother was out. This was it. We were going to do it. No thought of contraception. We spent a long time naked, just feeling each other’s skin, turning each other on. Then we heard the door open. Up and dressed. Quickly we made our way downstairs with the offer of making a cup of tea for her mother and gran. I am sure that her mother knew what we had been up to, that she must have noticed the bulge in my drainpipes that refused to subside. You can’t hide much in jeans that tight. I think of Claire every now and then and wonder what she might be doing, where she might be. I would like to get in touch but I don’t know how.
I used to walk home from hers late at night, down a dark alley which wound its way through some parkland. There was a bend in this alley, perhaps one hundred metres from the main road and the street lamps. It was at this point that every night the hair would rise at the back of my neck and a shudder would course through my body. I would shout into the dark “What do you want?” or “Stop following me.” One evening the ghost in the park joined me for my walk home. We talked, well, I did the talking. I remember that the ghost became scared in the glare of the high street and that she retreated back to the safety of the park. Or perhaps I’d gained confidence in the busy, brightly lit street and no longer needed to pacify the imaginary. The real ghost though is Claire and what might have been.
The last time I saw Claire was at her brother’s funeral. David had been sniffing aerosols and had died in his bedroom. She was distraught and we didn’t talk much. I had ended our short relationship a month past. She was wearing the ring that I had bought her. I wish I had been mature. I wish I could have offered more, done more.
I was a youth leader responsible for a group of young women, on a road trip, in Scotland. The idea was to build upon adventurous days out and the odd weekend away to Snowdonia. The bunch that signed up were a good mix of characters which, although containing a couple that wanted to get out into the hills, mostly comprised of your average teen who thought they were ravers. One of the nights spent with this group resonates with me still.
We parked up near the picturesque memorial at Glenfinnan, a mini Nelsons Column type structure set at the head of a loch, which celebrates the uprising of 1745. We gathered our camp gear and walked off into the hills for a night in a bothy. Despite the complaints of non-existent blisters and the constant re-working of “are we there yet,” we finally arrived at the almost ruined cottage, a speck against it’s mountain backdrop. It was a longhouse, on one floor, with no internal partitions and wooden platforms for beds. This was roughing it, and an ideal safe shelter for the group to contemplate the beauty of the surroundings and perhaps their place in them.
We snacked, brewed up a few cuppas and talked with to the only other resident, a lone male walker from New Zealand. As darkness fell, thoughts turned to the spirit world and despite the fears and warnings, Emma and Charlie made a set of cards by writing out the alphabet on the reverse of a breakfast cereal box. Emma arranged these in a circle on the table and placed a plastic mug upside down in the middle. I observed the proceedings with my tongue firmly in my cheek as twelve index fingers found the mug. Emma asked ‘Is there anybody there?’ The mug began to move slowly across the table, towards the ‘Y’ card. Emma remained calm and speaking to the ether asked ‘What is your name?’ The mug started to track back to the middle of the table. At this index fingers were removed and the circle broke down. There was a fine display of hysterics. I was assured by all that none had been cup pushing, guiding it across the table. And then soon it was time for bed.
We were laid out on the wooden slabs, tightly enclosed in our sleeping bags. Slowly the voices died away until there was silence. Then it began. The noise of metal being shifted, beaten, moving around the building. I was thinking that the wind had picked up when I, and a couple of the group, lying near to the door, heard a voice calling in from the outside. The voice was lifted from a b-rated horror movie, replete with the clichés that it conjured. Drawn out and frail it wailed “Let me in.”
Banny screamed; Charlie had heard it too. Then all screamed, without knowing why. I sat up and tried to calm the raised voices. With the New Zealander in tow and torch in hand I stepped out into the night and made a short tour of the walls of the bothy. We stumbled over some corrugated iron and some old fence wire but we didn’t find a troubled ghoul. We both agreed that there was not enough wind to have created the metallic rattling heard just a short time earlier. A ouija board session, a wailing voice and the rattling of chains, c’mon. But we couldn’t work it out. Both remaining a little shaken we reported our findings to the girls and as we were doing this Sarah let out a piercing scream and leapt into the arms of her best friend, Emma. I was back into group leader and calming down mode.
It was some time before we managed to get an explanation from Sarah. I knew her for many years following our Scottish adventure and she never changed her story, always affirmed that she was telling the truth. She had been sat on her bed and listening to me whilst gazing at the old stone fireplace. Sarah said that a girl had appeared wearing old- fashioned clothes, a long drab dress with a cardigan or shawl. She had long hair and the face of Amy, another member of our group. Amy was the most able, not part of the raver crowd, more intense, more intelligent. Sarah saw ‘the ghost’ move away from the fire and towards us and it was only with this movement that she screamed.
A ghost with the face of the living? Was this teenage fancy, a vision with a deeper meaning? I had had enough and encouraged everyone to go to sleep. There was the usual chatter but sleep did come to all and there was no further disturbance that night.
And so, I was at a private party in a back room in a pub. A school friend, Mark, had invited us to a family do, a wedding reception or birthday or some such celebration. I was with Veg and Colin. I drank sherry and lager and Advocat and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was sick. This was the first time that I had been drunk, properly drunk. I said that I would never drink again. I was carried back to Mark’s and after a nights sleep on a sofa I felt a little better. And of course I did drink again. It’s always been about drinking.
When I was fifteen I was being served at the Greater London Council bar, during my school lunch-break. We would sneak alcohol away from our parent’s stashes and go camping somewhere, to listen to music and get a buzz off some Pernod or a few cans of whatever. When I was sixteen we became regulars at the pub on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge, The Dogget’s Coat and Badge. To this day I don’t know what or who a dogget is. And off-licenses never asked for ID. I had a well-paid job and initially alcohol was drunk in relative moderation, a few pints at the pub or in-between going mental at a Damned or Buzzcocks gig. By the time I was eighteen there were more of us. Veg, Mick, Cal, Ruth, Ali, Bob, Steve and Vanessa. We ended up in a nightly cycle of consumption. We would choose the strongest cider, or start off with a few cans of Tennents Extra. I then started to make my own. Homebrew bitter or vodka and orange. I remember drunkenly sharing a bottle of that stuff with the Dolly Mixtures and Captain Sensible at a college gig in Croydon. It seemed to go down well enough. It was better than sniffing glue.
There was nothing else to do, for us at least. We saw proper adults, you know, mums and dads, as boring. We saw society as failing, all others as corrupt. And there was nothing we could do about it. So, although we went on marches and developed personal political activism, our main aim in life was to get wasted.
When I met Liz I was in a bad way. Sure, I could hold down a job. But increasingly this became harder. Day by day it became harder. I walked out of a job at BT. I became a traveler of sorts, moving from farm to farm during the fruit picking season. That long, hot, bright summer. Then, back to the rut. And it ate away at my soul. And at lunchtime I would slope off to the pub. These dinner dates with the bar grew longer as I encouraged co-workers to have just one more. But Liz didn’t save me. How could she? Instead she introduced me to parties populated by aspirationals. I had nothing in common with those folk and so drank stronger and faster. I would usually be out for the count before the party had really begun. I had nothing to say to them. I was also finding it difficult to relate to my mates.
I remember being at a party at Bob’s, at a flat at the top of a tower block in Deptford, South East London. Bob’s girlfriend, Sarah, was trying to get off with me. I got drunk, my way of dealing with the situation I guess. I drank kaolin and morphine and tequila slammers. I always have to go just that bit further than most. I collapsed and was carried into a bedroom. I woke up next to a naked Sarah. Bob was sleeping beside her. I have no idea what was going on that night.
I missed out on many experiences, being banned from venues for being ‘trouble’. I have received temporary bans for clubs in Mid and West Wales, for falling down the stairs or for wobbling just that bit too much for the bouncers liking. I was banned from the Marquee in Wardour Street, no explanation given. I remember I was having a good time there, just being a happy drunk.
Sometimes it is good to be drunk. It enables you. Following a Hawkwind gig at Hereford I hooked up with some locals and we made our way to a field where there was a fire and a few others. There was a bloke who said ‘so shall I get my dick out’ and he undid his flies and out it came. Wanker, I thought. And again, later, he said and did the same. So, I said, ‘well, lets get naked then’ and stripped of completely. That, I think was a good thing to do. I went swimming in the river nearby and a woman joined me. The aggressive sexualised behaviour had been trumped by an expression of joy to be at dawn, natural in nature, with the summer’s heat generating a fine mist over the surface of the water.
Alcohol has nearly seen me off several times; partying on a roof and balancing on brickwork with a descent of very many floors beneath my feet, waking up in winter in the middle of a field and, still drunk, not being able to find a way out or driving whilst unable to walk.
When I moved to Wales I learned to drink alone, at home. And it has never left me, this reliance on the bottle. Occassionaly I give up for a few weeks but, following a period of stress, I go back. I am not an addict but I would say that I have a problem. The problem is that I learnt to drink to get drunk. And I don’t seem to be able to pick up a glass of wine and simply enjoy it for what it is. I feel the alcohol flow through my veins and I want more, lots more.
Right now, writing this, I am not drinking. No drink in the house. No drinking unless I go out, which is rare, or have company, which is rarer. But I will go out sometime soon and get drunk – in a way, it just has to be done.
The hangovers of my youth are no more. The hangovers now feel like they will be my last. Like I will never recover. But I will. At least I always have. Alcohol has been my crutch, my support in the bad times and the chemical that has made the good times great. I wouldn’t be without it but I do wish it would let go of my hand. But it is too late for that.
I was chatting with my parents and my sister, Ali, about the old place, the house in which we had grown up. I mentioned that I had never liked making my way up or down the stairs, the turn holding the most fear for me. It was like there was always something else there. Ali explained that she had felt the same. We had never discussed this before.
What is it about maps that are attractive, they are just sheets of paper with lines and colour? I have loved maps. The love affair seems to be over now though. I no longer spend evenings studying them, planning. I once had a map of the Forest of Dean and marked at the edge of this, near Monmouth, there was a hill with an Iron Age fort and the evocatively named King Arthur’s Cave. The hill is near a small settlement called Ganarew.
I was holidaying with my parents. I rode out on my motorbike to pay the hill a visit, to see if I could locate the cave. I walked up through the trees, over the fort’s earthworks and quickly, it’s not a big hill, gained the summit. Immediately I felt afraid, and I didn’t know why. This feeling grew to near panic and so, without searching for the cave, I descended and made what I believed to be a fortunate escape.
It was seven years later that I ventured back, this time with my friend Bob and my partner Liz. I mentioned nothing to them of my previous visit and just said that this was a good place for a walk due to the interesting features at the top. We walked through the trees and over the earthworks and again I felt afraid. But this time I had support. We wandered around for a bit and then made our way back to the car. When we were driving away I asked Bob and Liz had they felt anything, felt peculiar. Both Bob and Liz said that they had felt uncomfortable but they couldn’t say why.
It was several years later, when reading a book which was attempting to place King Arthur in Wales, that I came across Ganarew Hill again. It’s suggested that the hill-fort there was the last hiding place of High King Vortigen and it was at this location that he burnt in the flames of the fort’s destruction. I think it’s time to pay the hill another visit and on this occasion to locate the cave and stay overnight there, candles and sleeping bag and my dog for company.
I like old things, old movies, music, style. My parents were enthusiastic about the popular culture that shaped them and this helped me along but can’t completely explain my enthusiasm for the likes of Carey Grant, Jimmy Cagney and George Raft. My favorite film remains the ‘Thirty Nine Steps,’ a Hitchcock masterpiece staring Robert Donut. Today most don’t, or won’t, watch black and white movies and so alone, I shut myself away with the ‘Maltese Falcon,’ ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ or ‘White Heat’ and am removed to a seemingly simpler time. But of course life has never been simple and those screwball comedies or gangster films survive by dint of their convoluted plot or basic ethics.
Veg and I were on a train heading home from school. An elderly man stepped onto the train at Denmark Hill and sat opposite us. We knew who he was. He was quite possibly the funniest man I had ever seen. He would dress in thick black tights and strut across the stage, his ‘Professor Wallofski’ character creating a multitude of silly walks. He reached into his pocket and removed a pack of St. Morritz menthol cigarettes and offered us one each. We accepted and smoked away with Max, in silence.
Max Wall was old, kind of black and white. As a child I had imitated him. We were fans. There was no need to talk. Max knew that we knew who he was, knew that we had affection for him. The train approached Catford and we stood up, gave Max a nod and as the train slowed we opened the door and jumped, running with the train and slamming the door shut.
It was Christmas 1986. My lifestyle was one of a man of leisure. I had made sure of this through my attachment to Liz. I had met her at a punk club in New Cross, South London, and, after a few weeks, I had moved in. She shared a flat at Tower Bridge with her sister, a student doctor. The rent was ten pounds each per week. I had given up my job at Westminster Abbey and was a mini-cab driver, starting work at 6pm and finishing by 2am. Usually I would work just a couple of evenings a week, the money was that good. Whether working or in town drinking I would always end up at Ronnie Scot’s Jazz Club. Liz was a waitress there. I would get free entry, relax with the jazz and help myself to free drinks.
Life was a seemingly endless round of parties – waitress parties, nurse parties, doctor parties, punk mates parties. Liz and I were at a Ronnie Scotts waitress party being held at that slack time between Christmas and New Year. Most annoyingly she felt ill, then collapsed. I called the cab company that I worked for, grabbed a bottle of tequila, and we were whisked off to Guys Hospital.
I was left in the waiting room whilst Liz was inspected and prodded. I only had the bottle for company and so I drank. I was waiting for an age. After a good deal of the bottle was inside me I decided that I ought to go to the loo. Taking the bottle with me I made my way, zig zag fashion, along the empty corridors and found a door with a little man on it. I entered, and placing the bottle on the floor, I undid my flies. As I was relieving myself I heard a groan coming from one of the cubicles. And then a loud noise as the wall was kicked. I thought I ought to investigate.
The door to the cubicle was not locked and so I shouted ‘are you OK’ and I pushed it open. Instantly I was hit by a surge of adrenalin. I was wide-awake, sober. I sprang into action. I grabbed at the body and lifted it, tried to hold it up. Somehow I managed to shake it enough for the head to come free from the noose. And then it fell to the ground, onto me, and we lay sprawled across the floor. I got up and ran to the main reception and somehow managed to say that I had found a man hanging and that nurses were needed. Quickly the quiet hallways sprang to life and I guided a team of medical staff to the door of the gents. I wasn’t needed anymore.
Liz left with a kidney stone and I had lost my bottle.
I was walking in Scotland, an easy day over rounded lumps that would see me take in four Munros, four mountains with summits that stand over three thousand feet above sea level. As I was ascending from the road I noticed a figure in the distance, unusual in that it was black and wrapped in something like a cloak. It wasn’t in my sight for long, a look at the path and then back again to that part of the hill where it had been, and it was gone. My route took me close to where the figure had stood and despite being on a horseshoe route and in good visibility and despite looking out for it for the rest of the day, it had vanished.
I can be cycling along the Taff Trail or walking into Cardiff or sitting in the bath having a long soak and the words will come to me. Usually when I am feel energized. The words can be from any of the songs. I know them all. Well, most of them. And they mean as much to me today as they did then. In fact, they mean even more. I understand them better. I am not a follower. I was born in the lyrics. My politics, my take on life is flavoured by them. For Crass was not a band but a movement, drawing together the young and disaffected in the last clear scream at the establishment, at the height of Thatcher’s dismantling of the soul of Britain.
I want to be back at that gig at Reading, or at the 100 Club, or traveling to a village hall in Kent. Crass were a band like no other. Composed, aware, keen to share and develop ideas. Their actions echo down the years. I believe their work remains influential. It still influences me.
At Reading Veg, Gareth and I, were chased by skinheads. I remember this as fun. I think we were laughing as we ran into the night. But this was not fun. Skinheads didn’t do fun. I got a good kicking from Millwall skinheads a few years later, at a pub in New Cross. Mick and I were spotted and were chased. We ran in different directions. I made it to the pub and grabbed myself a pint, calmed down. Then I thought about Mick and decided to go outside to see if I could find him. I didn’t know that, as I was thinking about this, perched on my barstool, the skinheads had poked their heads into the pub and had gone. I got up and made my way outside. I don’t remember what happened except that I fell to the ground. I didn’t feel anything. I went back into the pub after the blows had stopped and the skinheads had run off. My face was bloody, a large wound to the left side, a black eye. This incident made me famous, at least amongst a small group of South London punks. Those sitting in the pub, waiting for the gig to start, had seen me go after a group of skinheads and come back into the pub a few minutes later looking like I had just been through several rounds in the ring. Apparently, I just went back to my seat and carried on drinking, blood dripping onto the bar. My reputation was now one of hard man.
Amy and I moved into a rented house in Cardiff. It was perfect – well maintained, fully furnished, walking distance to town, ideal for a couple’s first home together. It was in a pretty rough area, Splott, and after just a week we were burgled. A five-foot metal bar smashed through the front window, followed by hands that grabbed the TV and then, the roar of a quad as it sped off through the streets. We were in the kitchen. We never caught sight of them.
After settling in, perhaps after two months, it began to dawn upon us that overnight, the dining table chairs were moving about. It was as if we had guests that were helping themselves to a late night snack, or that we were having nightly dinner parties and, slightly drunk, had left the tidying of the furniture until the following morning. On occasion, when snugly wrapped up in each other’s arms and cocooned within the duvet, we heard a scrape. Neither of us wanted to go take a look.
One sunny day we were preparing to go out. We had just shared a bath. I was drying off and watching Amy as she shook her bum at me whilst brushing her teeth. We both stopped moving at the same time; footsteps on the stairs. Instantly we thought we were being burgled again, that there was an intruder in the house. Amy grabbed the towels and we both wrapped ourselves and listened. The movement up the stairs had stopped. Then came the scratching. This is the only way that I can describe the noise, like a large animal pawing at the floor on the other side of the bathroom door. In whispers we discussed what was going on. It didn’t sound human now, but perhaps it was an intruder that was trying to scare us, had heard our voices. Any pedestrian explanation no matter how unlikely was preferable to what was at the back of our minds. But there was really no sense in a burglar behaving so. The scraping stopped. Nothing. We both picked up what we could most usefully deploy as weapons, Amy the shower-head and me a large bottle of shampoo, and we approached the door. And then it started again, but faster and louder. We remained stuck to our respective spots for some time, waiting for the door to creak open and reveal whatever horror lay beyond. It stopped. We couldn’t remain trapped in our own home and so together, although with Amy taking the lead, we threw open the door. With arms raised and at the ready we had sight of the landing. Nothing. We never heard that noise again despite remaining at the property for another ten months. The chairs continued with their midnight dance though.
When I was a young child I was ill with your average cold and so soup, bed rest and that gorgeous medicine that tasted strong, like cherries. I remember being propped up in bed and looking towards my open doorway, perhaps thinking of what I could be getting up to if only I had been allowed downstairs. I saw ‘Star Trek’ style, a Dalek materialize and turn towards me. I screamed “Mum,” and with this magic word the danger retreated and vanished. I am glad Dr. Who has returned to fuel the imaginations of the young. It certainly fed mine. Just hearing the title music takes me back to a time when I would hide behind the sofa or clutch at my mother.
Adam was a sad case. Bullied throughout secondary school. But in some way he seemed to ask for it. Seemed to want the attention. To be honest I was simply glad it was him and not me. We were halfway through the first year and sitting in our rows of desks supposedly for a lesson in R.E. None of us were paying much attention and the teacher had little about him to control a group of thirty-odd boys. Adam was sat behind me, kicking the back of my chair. He was winding me up. I asked him to stop; he didn’t. I asked again. No response. I asked again and this time I told him that if he didn’t stop I would hit him. I am not sure where this came from as I was not used to hitting people and in fact my only previous memory of a fight was from the first year of junior school. As I have said, Adam seemed to ask for it and so, true to form, he continued with the kicking. So I swung round and punched him in the side of the head, sending him falling to the floor. I wish I hadn’t. But I did.
I have only hit one other person since then, and that was on a roof in Paris. Gareth, a friend from school, was saying to me that I had had enough to drink and that he was not letting me leave to go to a bar. I shouted “Anarchy’s down there,“ and I hit him in the side of the head, sending him falling to the floor. I stumbled over his shock and ran off into the night. I am glad I did it. Gareth was a twat.
Alison and I had just had an argument; one of the crashing, plate- throwing tantrums that dogged our lives. Alison was unstable. Not surprising really; it is only subsequently that I have discovered the side effects of Seroxat and Amitriptyline. Things had calmed down a little. She was sat on the sofa and I was being comforted by a soft armchair. We were still bumping our gums when I noticed a glowing ball of light appear in the mirror, situated just above and to the right of her head. It moved sideways and disappeared from view. I looked at her and noticed that she had been watching it too. Alison had seen it above my head and viewed its flight, out through the door towards the kitchen where lay the destruction of our storm. This was real, whatever it was, witnessed by two people through two different mediums.
Mick and I had been out drinking in Soho with Bug. Bug was Martin, called Bug because of his Marty Feldman eyes. I met him on a CND march in Scotland. He was front man for the once infamous punk band “God Told Me To Do It’ and he was my oh so paranoid dealer. He sold the most amazing Nepalese Black that all agreed must surely contain opiates of some kind. But this night the small brick was in my pocket and neither Mick nor I had been smoking.
I can’t recall where we had been or what tube line we were on but we did have to leave one train and make our way through the maze of tunnels to another side of a station to change lines. As we stood on an escalator, ascending, we saw a man wearing a cape ‘float’ up the down escalator and as he passed he looked directly at us and laughed. He was quick, at the top ahead of us and off along a tunnel. We followed the man who was heading in the same direction as us. We were sure that no train had come in, you can feel the rush of air and hear the noise of the things in those tunnels, but, when we reached the platform, he was nowhere to be seen.
We decided not to tell anyone, but I couldn’t hold my tongue. No one believed us, but, to be fair, it was laughable. A disappearing vampire type, on the London Underground? But today I am not sure that it was all just a drunken illusion, just a man going about his business.
My final job in London, before moving to Wales, was in the accounts department at Westminster Abbey. I had a good wage, a private Westminster parking bay, a minimal workload and free access to the Abbey and its cloisters. There is something about Medieval architecture that is innately atmospheric, not simply due to it’s age but because the great buildings of that period were encoded with mysticism by the architect. The vaulted ceilings mix and confuse sound. The long corridors with recessed doorways, with archways leading out to gardens or courtyards, are perfect places for the sinister to be imagined, hiding. I was delighted to be working at Westminster Abbey, despite having to pretend to believe in God, to attend functions where we would sip wine and chat, having to wear a suit and maintain a smart appearance. I was delighted because I could escape from the office on errands and become lost in the maze of the place. To visit quiet corners and imagine myself transported back in time. And no great effort was required. The place hummed with the past.
I attended the state memorial service for Harold Macmillan, an occasion that saw senior politicians and royalty, both domestic and from across the globe, attend in large numbers. I had to hold back my distaste for such a display, my distaste for the massed congregation. Thatcher was there.
I regret not having made use of a perk of the job. I was entitled, through membership of the ‘Abbey Family’, employees of Westminster Abbey, to get married in the great lump of soaring gothic arches and pillars. I should have. Should have married anyone. My partner at the time was Liz, my son’s mother. We had been living together for about a year. But my principles held me back. I couldn’t see that marriage was a reasonable thing to do. I thought the concept antiquated and demeaning. But I wish I had. Just so I could say, all these years down the line, that one day, a long time ago, I had been married in the halls of kings.
Events can affect us, shape us. Some events we bear witness to, by chance occurrence, others we may view second-hand, through news reportage or by a tale told. There is one event that shapes me more than any other and the strange thing is that I was yet to be born when it occurred. It was in 1963 and everyone knows of it. For me, now, it is simple. Everything can be traced back to it.
Amy wouldn’t have TV, for her the box demeaned women, and I agreed. Mind control for the masses. But I liked to watch something every now and again and so we would buy DVDs and watch the occasional film. But after a while the films lost their appeal and desire for something educational grew within us. And so I started scouring ebay for suitable offerings. And did I find them. I first bought a nine-part History Channel documentary on the Kennedy assassination. The last three episodes were banned in America following their initial screening. I knew little about the events in Dealey Plaza apart from a vague knowledge of a conspiracy and that the second shooter may have been situated on the grassy knoll. But this changed.
The series was excellent, using witnesses and recently reviewed, well documented and attested forensics, to attempt to get at the truth. Well, the truth is out there, but it seems the US Congress is unable to uncover it. It is no small thing to say, but this series changed my life. I experienced a pardigm shift. My trust of authority, always shaky and questioning, collapsed. I saw society as being controlled by the elites, by the military industrial complex.
The worrying thing for me was that the people who had conspired in the coup d’tate had never been prosecuted, had covered up their deeds, had benefited from the murder and that their descendents, who adopted their agendas, were those with power and control today. I delved further, buying DVDs and books by the shed-load. I bought a DVD burner and started to sell the most difficult to obtain films in the hope that the information remained public. I started a blog commenting on current news and conspiracies. I became a truth activist.
And today I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why others don’t understand. I don’t understand why people won’t talk about 9/11 or vaccines or the CIA or MI5. I am not as active as I was. I have not lost the passion. It’s just that I seemed to hit a brick wall, a wall of ignorance. And I know so much and it is difficult to live with, difficult to carry when there are so few to share it with.
For me Kennedy remains the key. If we can get to the truth of his assassination the past forty-five years will unravel, people will be outraged, the elites will fall. In many respects it would have been better had I not bought the documentary. I would have remained ignorant of not only the reality of global politics but of human nature too. But it is too late to turn back the clock. I am now the person that I spent so much time creating.
I was in Paris, just about out of cash, surviving on cheap wine and dry baguettes. This summer I was with Gareth, Veg and Colin and we were hiding out on the roof of the hostel as to sleep on the roof was not only to be located in party central but was also a great way to avoid the room fees.
We had been on a mission. First to Amsterdam for a week of hash cake, spliffs and acid then to Paris to meet up with our Swedish friends and to join in with the Bastille Day celebrations. It’s an amazing thing when a city stops and gets drunk. At least, that’s how we saw it. But we had all spent too much and funds were low so I called my father hoping that he would wire me some money, so that I could finish the trip on a high and be able to purchase a coach ticket back to London. My father accepted the reverse charge call and said “Thank god that you’ve called, we’ve been trying to get in touch with you, there’s been some bad news… Christine is dead.” I didn’t know what to say. My initial feeling was, that can’t be, I would have known. Then shock.
My father agreed to wire me some money that I could collect the next day, Bastille Day, and I was to make my way directly home. I bought a ticket to London on the next available coach, the day after Bastille Day. I watched as my friends left to party on the steps of Sacre-Coeur. I had only told Veg, my closest friend, and had asked him to tell Gareth and Colin but not to tell anyone else. I didn’t want to talk about it.
So, I was sat on the roof of the hostel with a party raging around me in the knowledge that in two days time I would be attending the funeral of my elder sister. A girl from Holland wouldn’t leave me alone, kept on at me to go for a walk with her, kept edging closer. I must have appeared very rude as I didn’t engage with her at all. I just wanted to be left alone but there was nowhere to go.
I got back in time for the funeral. I didn’t cry. I felt odd. I felt as though I ought to be upset, that I ought to break down, as my mother did. But I didn’t. There was something about Christine. I guess we all knew that she wouldn’t make it to old age. She was a party animal, always had been. She was involved with drugs and overdoses and had survived several terrible car crashes. My parents didn’t approve of her lifestyle; they didn’t understand it. They were more often than not out of contact, not talking. She died in her sleep, choking on vomit.
I think on why I am affected by some events more than others. Christine’s death doesn’t seem to have had a great impact and for this I feel guilty. I think that there is something wrong with me. But I did love her. I do remember the times we spent together.
In the mid eighties and after moving to Wales I grew my hair long, a gesture to the now lost hippy culture that had its last flowering crushed at the ‘Battle of the Beanfield.’ I wore jeans with a slight flare, stripy toweling tops or long sleeved sloganed t’s. I partied hard. Then, in the early nineties Nirvana released ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and grunge ruled. People said that I looked like Kurt Cobain. I said that I had been there first. Kurt was copying my style. I preferred Nirvana’s earlier output and when ‘Heart Shaped Box’ was released I heaved a sigh of relief that the pressure following ‘Nevermind’ had not led to further mainstreaming of their sound. ‘Heart Shaped Box’ remains one of my favorite albums.
Despite being thirty and having seen many icons from the music industry disappear from view in various spectacular ways – Marc Bolan, Ian Curtis, Malcolm Owen – Cobain’s death affected me, not least because I wanted more from Nirvana. The fourth album was set to be great, building upon the sweeping cello of the MTV Unplugged session. I argued with my partner, Liz, who liked messing with my mind. She said that she was glad Cobain was dead. She didn’t care. I did though. I wondered why he blew his brains out and stuck close to the conspiracy theory that Courtney had a hand in the deed.
Sometime in 1995 I became self employed, and whilst I was building my business I had a fair bit of free time, waiting for the advertising to kick in and the clients to start booking. I decided to get a part time job a few afternoons a week to help tide me over. So, I arrived at a house, in a small village just outside Brecon, for an interview. I was to be an after school child minder three evenings per week. The girl was about ten and the boy about eight years old. As the parents were showing me around and the children were intently observing me, the girl started singing. This was just a bit distracting and I don’t think that my mind was adequately focused on the task of explaining my motivations or of listening to the parents. I thought at the time “Is this some kind of test, why don’t the parents get her to stop.” The girl was imitating Cobain and singing “Rape me… Rape me my friend… Rape me… Rape me again…”
A group of us, Gary, Veg, Stu, Jon and I, decided to make use of our newly learnt camp-craft skills in the summer holidays. We were all keen participants in our schools outdoor education programme. And I was excited, I was to celebrate my fourteenth birthday away from home.
Jon was a year older than the rest of us and was kind of in charge. We struggled by coach and train and bus from South East London to the shores of Loch Lomond carrying ruc sac’s and rubber dinghys, some dried food and a few small tins of beer. The soundtrack to the journey was Jilted John’s comedy single ‘Jilted John.’ We planned to visit all of the islands on the loch, wild camping, paddling from one island to another aboard our flimsy boats.
After just a few days Gary was homesick and Veg rather kindly accompanied him to the shore. I was outside my tent, cleaning pots and Stu and Jon were still not up. I heard a noise. I could not see anything but I knew, out there, in the ferns that surrounded the camp, something large was moving. I called to Jon and as I did I saw crashing into our clearing and heading directly towards me a kangaroo. My first thought, I must ashamedly admit, was ‘boxing kangaroos’. I shouted “JON!” At this the beast took note of my presence and changed it’s course, bouncing through and out of the camp, avoiding me, into the undergrowth and to be lost to the secret places of the island.
I told Jon and Stu, showed them the scrapes on the ground, the claw and pad marks a leap away from each other. Despite having heard the commotion, they didn’t believe me. Despite not believing me, on Veg’s return, we all agreed to a kangaroo hunt. Despite the hunt, no trace was found. For many years this bothered me. I began to question myself. Perhaps this was another Dalek type apparition. And then, by chance, I saw a comic item at the end of the news, a piece about a colony of wallabies living on an island in Loch Lomond.
But I no longer know the boys involved and it is them that I want to tell, to say “You see, I did see the Kangaroo.”
My parents were among the first to take package holidays. I was the envy of my friends, returning from the summer break and so back to school with tales of mainland Spain and Majorca. I have many memories from those trips, my sister copying my actions as I snorkeled and my dad jumping clothed into the pool. You see she was only three and didn’t have a snorkel. I have the vague recollection of a radio controlled cow, the dog that terrified me, the sunstroke.
We were staying in a family room in a large tower block close to a Majorcan beach. The days were hot and filled with sand, sea and occasional play with other children. But this night was not as much fun. I remember being woken from my sleep. My mother was upset, distraught. I was told that she had had a bad dream. I don’t know when the detail of this dream was told to me, perhaps not that evening but I do remember knowing that mum was very shaken, very scared. I can remember now the feeling I had then, disorientation, not happy with my parent’s distress. She had dreamt that she was back at the house in London, that she was in bed and that a strange man was leaning over her, looking at her.
The holiday continued and for me at least the dream had been forgotten. Upon our return home we discovered that we had been burgled, burgled by friends of my elder sister, Christine, who had held a party, a party on the night of the dream.
This dream of my mother’s has had a huge impact upon my life. It confirms to me that there is more to our existence than science is able to explain, that perhaps the shadow people, or the knowing of things yet to be, could be real. It is because of this dream that I have time for things para or supranormal.
In 2007 I booked myself onto a rather expensive course being held in Ireland. The tutor was Lyn Buchanan, the last full time trainer for ‘Project Stargate’. Lyn is a Controlled Remote Viewer, trained by the US military to view over the hill or across continents, to view enemy installations and accurately describe them. Lyn’s demonstrations of this ability, which we all have within us, was to say the very least, impressive and enlightening.
I first discovered CRV through being an avid Coast to Coast AM listener, a popular late night radio talk show in the US. I bought books by the ex Project Stargate personnel and looked into the Jungian philosophy which goes some way to explaining the mechanism through which we can travel through space and time without leaving the comfort of our armchair. It seemed to me that this is what was at work in my mothers dream, she was sub-consciously tapping into the matrix, accessing live, in real time, the memory of the universe.
The course was basic, starting at the beginning, and this was a good thing as there was much to learn. CRV is a structured way to access the sub-conscious and therefore the collective consciousness and to record the observations of a target. A target is a point in space and time that the viewer psychically visits. Training targets are known to others and the observations can be checked and scored. CRV seems to be the only scientific approach to the use of psychic abilities.
My second target on the course was a picture in an envelope. The test was double-blind; neither I nor my controller had had sight of the envelopes contents. I was given a randomly generated coordinate which was specific to me and to the target and using this as my starting point I made my way through the protocols, the squiggly line, the feel of this on the paper, the descriptions of the differences contained in the line, such as slow, solid, life, water etc. Finally I was at the ‘describe the scene’ bit and I pictured an old fashioned kite with a trailing tail which had small pieces of cloth attached, set in a cloudless blue sky. I was done.
My controller opened the envelope and I was shocked. The photograph on the table was an overhead shot, taken from a plane. It depicted a diamond shaped tropical island, set in a clear blue sea and from its lower corner there was a long pier or walkway and moored alongside this and dotted along it’s length were boats.
Despite describing the target incorrectly my descriptive words were spot on and the imagery coincided perfectly. I scored 80% accuracy. I now knew that I was onto something, that this ‘stuff’ was real. I am not good at keeping up a regular private practice of Remote Viewing but I occasionally dip into my targets file and have a go at a blind session. But that is not the point. I didn’t want to become a great Remote Viewer. I needed to confirm to myself that we are greater than modern society allows us to be, that we are in touch with the universe through our subconscious mind and that just like Dr Who, we can all travel through space and time.
Prior to moving to Wales I needed to earn some money to help pay for the house I was going to buy. I left my job with Westminster Abbey and became a minicab driver – Galaxy – Cars for the Stars… This night though there was no Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi or even a John Sessions, just locals on short runs who didn’t tip. One fare was two lads, a bit wobbly, on their way to a club in Holborn. I got the impression that they had just dropped some acid, from the guarded language and their interest in the lights streaming past the car as we sped along the Embankment. This was the days before traffic cameras.
As we neared Lambeth Palace one of the lads let out a kind of whimper. They both looked and pointed at a figure looming towards us. There was a woman in a billowing white dress standing on the central reservation. We were all transfixed as we quickly approached her. She looked Victorian, Edwardian. Her long hair was dark. The heavy rain had made snakes of it which fell about her neck, writhing in the wind onto what now was clearly a nightdress.
And we were past, speeding on to the club. I looked in the rear view mirror but could not spot her. I asked the lads if they could still see her but could get no sense from them. They moved from peering out of the back window and sat like statues, facing front. They did not talk until we arrived at Holborn where, upon exiting the car one said, “Man, that was freaky.” His voice was unsure. He looked at me as if for an answer, but I had none.
I used to own a bunkhouse, Joe’s Lodge. The building was an old drill hall that had been simply converted. A wide corridor divided the building along its entire length with two large bunkrooms and a lounge on one side and showers, loos, the kitchen and my office on the other. It was from here that I managed my adventure activity business.
One Monday morning I made my way to the rear of the building, intending to clean up after the weekend’s guests. I opened the back door and entered to see both sets of fire doors, which divided up the corridor and thus the building, flapping wildly. I didn’t clean that day.
A few months later a youth group from Cwmbran were staying for a team-building residential. The youth leader, Beth, a striking early thirties female with a mass of neat hair braids and thickly applied make-up, was standing at the kitchen doorway monitoring three of the group who had pulled the short straw and were washing up. I was in my office, a room at the front of the building. The rest of the group were relaxing either in the lounge or in their bunkrooms. I heard a scream. I dashed out into the corridor and saw Beth looking pale, stunned. Further down the hallway people emerged from the various rooms, rushing to be involved with the commotion. At first Beth found it difficult to talk but once she had gathered herself she told me what she had seen. With a sense of urgency Beth explained that she had seen a small ‘black thing’ shoot past the kitchen, burst through the first set of fire doors, and disappear mid-way along the corridor. I asked her to describe the ‘animal’ but she couldn’t, other than that it was like a ball of black. She said ‘that it felt evil’ that she was afraid of it. Both the front and rear doors to the building were firmly closed.
I somehow heard about ‘Electronic Voice Phenomenon.’ I can’t remember now where from. I waited for the house to be empty and set the portable tape recorder to play and left it alone in the dining room. After an hour or so I returned, rewound the tape and pressed play. There was nothing, but I kept on listening. Perhaps after about twenty minutes I heard a voice. I rewound a little and pressed play again. Yes, a voice, but I couldn’t make out what it was saying. I had that feeling, of being watched, watched by something that meant me harm. I shivered. I couldn’t wait for my parents to return home. I have not tried to record ghosts again.
Alison had a brother. Andy. I employed him to work for me. He nearly killed a client by ignoring the risk assessments and the training and doing his own thing on the day. The Landrover rolled seven times and the client was caught in its fall. I sacked Andy. This didn’t help my relationship with Alison but her infidelity and wild temper had probably sealed the end of that love affair a few months past. I moved out and lived above my office in a barn of a place I was renting to store kit, vehicles, and to run indoor archery and air pistol sessions. One night I awoke from a fitful sleep to feel a presence at the foot of my bed. I felt a tickling sensation in my toes and truly believe that something was there, was waking me, was trying to scare me. I reached for my guns. I was sleeping with two loaded automatic gas powered air guns under my pillow as I had been threatened, had been attacked by Andy, Alison and her son. Andy was the one to fear though as he had contacts, was ex Para regiment. I knew the guns wouldn’t take someone out, but I also knew that they could buy me some time. The tickling stopped.
It was a week or so later that I discovered that Andy had complained of me waking him from his sleep and glaring at him, standing above him where he lay. He believes that we had been psychically attacking each other while we slept.
I was driving back to my house in South Wales after visiting my son in Brecon. I was close to the Nant Ddu Hotel. It was night and dark but there was something darker than the night above me. I slowed my car and came to a halt at a small lay-by. Moving slowly, moving without sound, was something. It was ‘flying’ quite low, was very large and I followed it’s course as it tracked across the sky. It’s difficult to say how I knew it was there. I couldn’t see it. It was more like I couldn’t see anything else, no clouds, no stars.
I didn’t know about the ‘street light interference effect’ when I was nineteen. I knew that I wanted to get wasted though and I worked hard at this.
I was out with Bob, Mick and Pauline and we were leaving a small pub in Stockwell where we had just seen a reasonable line up of comedians. I had drunk a fair few miniature bottles of Mescal, mainly for the worms, with the obviously mistaken perception that I would be tripping on the stuff. All I got was a warm fuzzy feeling which would have been cheaper found in a bottle of Merrydown or Night Train Express. So, sober for the time of night, we walked up Brixton Road towards the Oval tube station. There was a long straight section ahead of us and in the distance we could see the junction with Camberwell New Road.
The first lamp to go out as we walked beneath it seemed a little odd. It was odder still when, as we walked on and passed, it came back on. But street lamps can go on and off; poor maintenance or a dodgy bulb. We marched on, keen to get onto the train and out of the cold. At the next lamp, just as we passed under, the light went out. This lamp did not come back on. We were now intrigued, were chatting excitedly about powers, either ours or of some bored ‘Big Brother’ type watching and fooling with us. There were another ten or so lamps to go. Every lamp, except one, extinguished as we approached and came back on when we had passed. This was enough to keep us talking all the way home and for a good few days to follow.
I thought back to the worms and wondered, could the Mescal really have had something to do with that, somehow altering my brain patterns so that they might interfere with street lamp technology? But there was no Mescalin in the worms. Britain’s drugs laws would have made sure of that.
Many years later I bought my first PC and linked it up to the phone line. I had access to the Internet. It wasn’t long before I became bored of randomly searching and I made a mental list of unanswered questions – after all, I had been led to believe that the Internet could answer anything, was the total sum of human knowledge. I typed in ‘street lamp strange’ and somewhere on the page was a link to a forum that had been set up for people like me, people who had experienced strange street lamp behaviour. I never joined the forum but it was good to know that this was happening all over the world, was something unexplained.
I was on my way to an early morning, one to one Yoga session, a small period of calm prior to work. Driving through the village of Penderyn I noticed a car coming towards me and, at the side of the road, a cat. The cat ran out into the road and disappeared under the vehicle. The car continued with its journey and the cat ran to the verge and stopped. I stopped. I raged at the driver and made my way to the animal. It was twisted, bloody, breathing hard. It looked at me, a red foam oozing from between its exposed teeth, and it died. I had not seen anything die before. There was a death rattle, a shaking that, snake like, started at the tail and shivered its way up to the head, and back again. For some reason this cat, this animal that I had no attachment to, remains with me as a vivid memory. Yoga was difficult. I found it hard to talk and when recounting the story my voice cracked and my eyes filled.
I think that in a past life I must have been Russian. I feel that vast country calling for me. Romantically I imagine myself as a peasant, a revolutionary, a clerk caught up in a nightmarish bureaucracy.
I first started reading Russian literature when about thirteen years old. My sister, Christine, gave me an old copy of the poet Yevteshenko’s autobiography. My English teacher spotted this and referred me on to Yevteshenko’s poems and a Bulgakov novel that I borrowed from the school library. I was hooked. I regarded myself as a revolutionary socialist and later in life flirted with this through membership of the SWP. I wanted to live in the cold, suffer like Dr Zhivago, and I wrote to the Soviet Embassy asking for residence. I was too young, so I frequented the Russian shop in London and bought black and green tea and the odd guidebook full of photos of the exotic. I read Rebecca West’s ‘A Bird Falls Down,’ short stories by Gogol, Turgenev, Pushkin, Lermontov and Odoyevsky. The names I wanted for my own.
In 1984 I travelled to Moscow on a two-week trip that would see me travel across the country, visiting places such as Tashkent, Bukhara, Alma-Ata and finally Leningrad prior to the flight back to London. There were two men on the tour who were, ostensibly, sight seeing. In fact they were working for a Christian organization that was in contact with religious dissidents living in the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union. They befriended me and by the time we reached Leningrad they had invited me to accompany them to the apartment of a contact of theirs. Of course I agreed, wanting to bathe in the culture of the society. We had a meal, some wine and they exchanged dollars for rubles. When we left the flat we were arrested and held by the police for six hours, in separate cells. I didn’t know what was going on and I couldn’t speak Russian so had no ability to ask questions. We were released after our details had been taken and recorded on a mass of paper forms, beautifully printed with the gorgeous Cyrillic script. There was no charge against us. The arrest was to intimidate, to collect information. What a perfect end to a trip to the USSR, in 1984.
I remember the drunken Latvian drinking perfume and raging at the Soviets, the tired old hotel caretaker that I shared my vodka with late one night and Yelena, the generals daughter in Alam-Ata that approached me in the bar of the hotel there. I remember the Central Asian cityscapes reminiscent of scenes from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and skipping the guided tours and wandering off, imagining that I was being followed by a KGB agent. I remember the man we visited in Leningrad. He was severely beaten, hospitalized, a few days after our return to the UK.
Perhaps one day I will move to Russia. Perhaps move to a remote part of the country where property is cheap and I could survive on a minimal income. There to live out my days reading. Reading Russian.
I was up early, no idea why now, but there must have been a reason. I was walking the dog, the usual route, along the back-road that ran parallel to Bromley Hill. This was a quiet, reasonably well off part of suburbia, large houses, well maintained, with well stocked front gardens. As I was walking I noticed a man coming towards me. And I recognized him. Should I say something? Ask for an autograph? I smiled. He smiled back and we had passed each other.
I rushed home and told my mum that I had seen Peter Sellers. Two days later Peter Sellers was dead.
This confuses me. Peter Sellers did die in London, but at his room in the Dorchester Hotel. Had I seen him, or simply a man that looked like him? I wonder if perhaps I had seen, not him, but a part of him. Wandering the streets as his body neared death.
When Amy left me she didn’t haunt me, although haunt me she does today. For a haunting is part time, an occasional scare or glimpse. She was with me. And when someone is with you when they are not, that is madness. And I was mad. I was mad at her, mad inside. I couldn’t function, couldn’t cook, work or plan anything. Everything I did I designed to damage me, to further punish me for whatever I had done. Whatever I had done. And I didn’t know what I had done as Amy wouldn’t tell me. She just left. I would like to know why. But maybe I wouldn’t.
I left for the three-month sponsored walk across Scotland’s highest mountains in late January and was at Ben Alder by Mid March. Ben Alder is a magnificent mountain, a large lump with a vast summit plateau, remote from road and rail. The day was white – snow covering the ground and snow in the air. Visibility was reasonable, on and off. I could see the storm’s approaching waves. There was a period of relative calm then it would crash into me, a vicious wind carrying with it hail and snow and cold, hitting me and stopping me in my tracks until it had passed. Then I had a few minutes of walking before the next wave, and head down again to shelter my face, and to wait. Finally I gained the top and it was time to think of an exit, a way down to safety. I could head for Culra Bothy or to Ben Alder Cottage, both bothies maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. A quick look at the map and I decided on Ben Alder Cottage as this would place me well for the morning and the next day’s hill walking.
I descended south and made my way out of the storm. Now there was deep snow, a joy to slide through on the way down a hill. Eventually the shoreline of Loch Ericht came into view along with the pine trees growing along its banks. It wasn’t difficult to locate the cottage and I was just in time – darkness had fallen. Once inside I lit a small fire, not for heat, but for the comforting glow. I placed candles on any available flat surfaces; window-sills, the floor, the mantle above the paltry flames of the hearth. And I explored, two rooms joined by a door and out back another room, only accessible from the outside of the building, perhaps a store of some kind. And I cooked and made tea.
With the fire dying and the candles needing to be preserved, I opted for the usual, an early night. I laid out my sleeping bag on the floor near to the fire, near to the door of the building, and lay there, listening to the wind, happy to be away from the elements and wrapped in the warm down of many ducks. I heard footsteps outside. Good. People to talk to tonight, I thought. I heard the feet wander up to the front door, but the door didn’t open. I heard the feet crunch over the frozen snow to the rear of the building. I felt sure I heard the door to the store room open. I was alone in a remote area of the highlands but was, by now, used to this, used to long dark nights and early starts, used to sounds carried by the wind, used to hearing rock-falls and animals of various sizes moving about at night in their search for food.
But this time, these footsteps, I was afraid. I became very afraid. There was nothing I could do. In the Highlands, in the winter, there is no-one to hear you scream. I buried my head in my sleeping bag and hid from the danger. I must have spent a good half an hour warm but shivering before slowly inching my face out of the bag and taking a look around me. All was as it had been. No more footsteps, no doors opening or closing. A couple of candles provided a warm glow. But the fear was still with me. I wrote in my diary, to take my mind away from the bothy and back to the brightness of the day on Ben Alder. An hour or so later another party of walkers joined me, tired from a difficult walk in, from being lost in the storm. They said “Hi,” and made camp in the other room. At least I was now safe.
A couple of years later I was chatting to some mountaineers and we got to discussing Scotland and bothies. I mentioned that Ben Alder was one of my favorite spots and that the bothy at its foot was charming although I had spent a rather worrying night there. One of the men said that he would not stay at Ben Alder Cottage alone and knew none that would. It had a fearsome reputation, being haunted by the ghost of a ghillie, a deer stalker, who had been found hanging, hanging in the store-room at the back of the building from a rope tied about the rafters.
When I moved to Wales, in 1988, I quickly landed a job with Welsh Water. I worked in a lively and friendly office with great tea-making facilities and very little else to occupy ourselves with, and so we chatted and took long lunches. Unusually there was a brother and sister working together, Rob and Claire. I became good friends with Rob. We played squash and he covered for me when I started a secret relationship with Mel. We would go out, drinking, as a group, with others from the office.
It was just before Christmas, 1993. Rob and Claire didn’t come into work. And they never would again. Rob was caught in the backdraft and Claire, despite being seen at the window, wouldn’t jump. Their mother had died in the flames, the flames caused by one of her cigarettes. Rob could only be identified by the powdery remains of the copper bracelet that he wore. The radiators had buckled, bent, melted.
That Christmas was not good. The office was in shock. The funeral was traumatic. I met Rob’s surviving sister who managed to hold it together. She did better than most. I had to take Nadine, a co-worker and member of our drinking clique, outside, and we held each other and cried.
Celebrations of birthdays, New Years, Christmas, anything, they’re not what they were. I’m reminded of those who ought to be with me, ought to be sharing the good times. Nowadays I would rather be alone over the festive season. To become maudlin. For me it is a time to re-evaluate, to ponder the spiritual. My parents are the same. For them New Years is a time to remember Christine.
This Christmas I shall once again read ‘Wuthering Heights.’ It reminds me of Amy. She read it to me when we first got together. I do want to love again, love with a fierce passion. I do want a Cathy. I become depressed. Make myself be alone. Then January comes and after a couple of weeks I recover, I feel refreshed, renewed. There is a new year ahead and this time it will be different. But it never is. More die or are lost along the way. And I am one year older. I can feel the aches beginning; that twinge in the hip. And the cycle of remembering begins once more.
The house that I currently live in is a Victorian semi that Amy and I had bought as a renovation project. Original fireplaces, doors, door handles, glass. We moved in and set up camp in two of the bedrooms, converting one into a temporary kitchen and the other we used as a bedroom come living space. On the floor of the bedroom, once the old moldy carpet had been removed, was a large dark red stain.
We learnt that an elderly woman had lived out her days on the ground floor, not having used the upper floors for ten years and then, after she went to live in a care home, the house had been empty for a further ten years. Both Amy and I were happy. Hearing the occasional creak on the stairs or feeling a shiver as we crossed the landing we could cope with. After all Amy had seen her dead grandfather and I had seen an orb. And mostly the house was quiet.
After Amy left I lived alone for some time and then started to take in lodgers, for short periods of time. Not for the money although that is always helpful, but because I am often away. Others began to notice loud bangs, the familiar creak on the stairs, or cold spots, and would tell tales of the dog staring at the wall a bit too intently.
Over time I recognised that most of the feelings of a presence were taking place in the autumn. For much of the rest of the year the house was benign.
This October past a lodger, a trainee teacher, was in her room with her boyfriend, the front room, the room with the stain. Her radio switched itself on. This, she said, made them both jump but she thought nothing of it. Then, there was a loud bang from within the wardrobe, an original feature of the room that had belonged to the previous owner. Then the door creaked open. She assures me that her clothes were where they should have been; nothing had fallen or moved.
I am now alone in the house again and have no plans to take in any more lodgers. I am not afraid. In fact I welcome a resident from the spirit world. It’s time now that I had face-to-face contact with the dead. For the dead are honest, they are what they are. It is the living that scare me.
And morning comes with rain and the sounds of people and cars. I awake from my dreams, aware that they contained those that I have known, and I claw at the fragments, gripping tightly at all that remains. And I get up and go about my daily tasks with the lost ones about me.