rose from the sea at dawn as sun
funnelled across Burrigill Bay.
Her long black hair trailed a seine net
slack from her fisherman’s cap.
In the shadows of the stacks
she bore down on the eastern shore
casting off wrack and bilge water.
Her feet, bloodless as starfish, spiked the shingle.
The life of the sea spilled
from her oilskins. She ran dead
ahead up the hill through meadows
glazed with dew and sheep,
passing the busted creel boat
aslant and hulled with bog myrtle.
Clouds frothed on the horizon
in a herringbone breeze as she ran
to the crest
where an old hen waited by the gate
and one wall of a ruined croft pointed
skywards like a prayer.
Last night I climbed into bed relaxed and comfortable with my cat Nadia beside me. I switched off the lamp and moments later I heard the sounds of a cat moving around the house. It’s very quiet where I live, bordered by fields so every sound is amplified. I heard a cat jump down from a height and then the gentle clicking of claws on the wooden floor. I was confused as I could feel Nadia snuggled up against my legs. Convinced a stray cat must have sneaked into the house I quickly switched the light back on. There was no-one there. I switched the light off again and the noises continued. It was pretty spooky.
This was not the first time I’d heard unexplained cat sounds since my loyal ginger cat, Sputnik, died four years ago. I’ve sometimes heard a cat wailing. At first I put it down to missing him but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps he’s still around me. It would be nice to think so.
One of my friends had an uncanny experience after her beloved dog died. A few days after his death she was visiting a relative in hospital. As she walked the length of the ward she was stopped by an old lady, one of the patients. “What a lovely spaniel you’ve got there, dear,” she said to my friend. “Fancy the nurses letting you bring a dog to visit!” My friend’s deceased dog had, in fact, been a spaniel. The old lady could describe the brown and white dog following along behind. It’s hard to find a rational explanation for this. The lady had never spoken to my friend or her sick relative before. How could she know about her dog?
Acccording to a recent poll about fifty percent of people in the U.K. believe in ghosts. In an age where secularism and science are the undisputed new religion it’s surprising that so many believe in the supernatural. Cynics would say, it’s all in the mind, a trick of the light, a hallucination or there must be a rational explanation. But surely everything is in the mind. Our experience of what we name ‘reality’ is entirely subjective. The world is perceived and interpreted by our mind, there is no other way. So if we think it’s ‘real’ then it is ‘real’.
The word “ghost” in English tends to refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear to the living. In A Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke discusses nine varieties of ghosts identified by Peter Underwood, who has studied ghost stories for decades. Underwood’s classification of ghosts includes elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects.
In Asia the belief in ghosts is more widespread than in Europe. Ghosts are seen as benevolent, healing spirits, ancestors watching over us. In the U.K. while some people are frightened of ghosts, many participate in ghost hunting holidays staying in supposedly haunted hotels. The tourist industry cashes in on these spooky thrill seekers. The medieval city of York is famous for hauntings and organised ‘ghost walks’. When I was six years old, too young to know anything of history or the supernatural I must have seen a ghost in Clifford’s Tower.
Clifford’s Tower is a striking landmark in York built on top of a steep mound. It is the largest remaining part of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. The 11th-century timber tower on top of the earth mound was burned down in 1190, after York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged and massacred by an anti-Semitic mob. The tower was rebuilt and the present 13th-century stone building was used as a treasury and later as a prison.
I visited the tower with my father and grandfather, climbing the fifty five steps to the entrance and then up a twisting stone staircase to the roof. We were on the decked walkway at the very top of the tower admiring the panoramic views of York. I wandered off on my own, as children do, and descended a narrow spiral staircase, not the one we’d ascended. Halfway down I discovered a furnished room bathed in a rose light with the door ajar. A man wearing a crimson, velvet cloak trimmed with white fur was seated at a desk, his back turned to the door. He was writing with a quill pen. I was astonished. With great excitement I ran back up to the roof to find my grandfather, dragging him down the stairs to see the strange man with the fancy clothes. But everything had changed. The door was now bolted and disused. There was no-one there. My grandfather dismissed my claims as childish fantasy but it was completely real to me. It was only years later, as an adult that I recalled this incident and realised the mysterious figure must have been an apparition.
I would love to know who or what I saw that day. Was it just a memory imprint in the fabric of time, like a psychic photograph?
When Winston Churchill visited the White House soon after World War 2, he reported a ghostly experience. Naked after a long soak in a hot bath with a cigar and a glass of Scotch, he was walking into the bedroom – only to encounter the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Churchill kept his cool and announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
The writer Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums and Alan Turing who invented the first computer believed in telepathy. These three men were all famous for their intelligence and yet they believed in the supernatural.
So perhaps I’m in prestigious company! It’s good to think that there might be more to life than our humdrum material world, that there’s still a mystery to ponder.
I would love to hear your personal ghost stories. Please leave a comment if you have any. And sleep tight! It’s the living and not the dead we need to worry about!