I have to, at the very beginning, admit that I have a tendency to see ghosts. It's not my fault,and it's always a surprise. I come from a long line of tea leaf readers and people who who have convincingly two -way conversations with relatives who have 'passed over'. My mother, on the advice of her Séance- enthusiast English mother, banned Ouija for two generations after an unfortunate experience in 1927. My "other" grandmother (Russian) did eerily accurate Yiddish fortunes; predicting babies, events and bad weather.
When I say ghosts, I don't mean wispy smoky see- through things, I mean real people who don't apparently exist in the here and now. Sometimes they bump in the night or walk by with a martini in hand, and others they stubbornly insist on getting into what I think is my bed, and they think is theirs. Once I demanded that we leave our week's farm cottage rental on a Blue Flag beach on the Dingle Peninsula after our first 24 hours, because an old man squeakily rocked all night in our bedroom chair, insistently saying, "Geddout geddout." I have probably the world's longest suffering husband.
So--this time it was Devon, in an old coastguard cottage high on a stormy cliff. I hadn't slept
well after an intense weekend of visitors and activity, and woke up in the middle of the night, in that way that says you won't fall back asleep unless you get up. Deep country pitch dark, I opened the curtains for
a bit of moonlight as I had done many times before (sometimes the moon shone straight over the sea, round and full into our bedroom window). I headed downstairs to make a nice cup of tea.
Opening the door to the landing, I sleepily noticed a person tucked into the comfy hall chair, huddled into a wool blanket gripped closely by his or her two hands, distinctive in the shaft of moonlight. I sleepily said,” Oh sorry,” closed the door and went to look for the landing light. All the light switches in the cottage were hard to reach and it was dark. I needed help. “Tom?” We were, I thought, the only ones in the cottage. No answer. Back to the landing. Tiptoeing a bit closer, looking again at the person silently curled into the chair, I stage whispered, “ Tom is that you?" Tom yawned an answer from our bedroom, “What?"”.
Waking up a lot faster than is advisable for anyone at any age, I very nearly fell backwards down
the long, steep stairs, but fortunately my arm shot out a life- saving grab at the railing. The person in the chair thoughtlessly made no move to help me, even though I was fairly voluble in a rather unladylike way about my near -miss dive down the staircase. In fact the figure did not move at all. Asleep...or?
I ran back into our bedroom to check to see if Tom really was still in our bed (yup), and back again to to see who was in the hall, already really annoyed that I'd been startled--and scared, and ready to have a few words with our midnight visitor. Gone. Poof. Tom got up and patiently, helped look for my ghost. The chair was empty--no blanket, no coat, nothing that could have tricked me into thinking it was a someone. Bedrooms-check, landing- check, windows-check. I sat in the chair too--very briefly, just to see if it was still warm and it wasn't--in fact--it was cold. Tom, who has learned over the years not to patronize me about these ghostly sightings, sat briefly in the chair, pronounced it neither warm nor cold, reminded me that the whole house was cold, and went back to our hot water bottle- cozy bed. I stayed awake for hours.... listening. The two dogs snoring in the kitchen, said nothing. I switched the lights on and off for awhile and tiptoed around opening and closing doors, trying to recreate the scene--but my ghost had, apparently, taken his woolen blanket and fled.
We woke to bright sun, and two men putting up painters' scaffolding outside our bedroom window. Tom agreed that we would make breakfast and drive up to the moors. We walked. And walked. The weather was gorgeous and the moors were incredible and the huge circular walk had tors and fields and jumps and medieval villages and bogs and French school children and chocolate bars and a picnic by a bucolic stream. We wandered through little moor villages and had dinner in lovely Harberton, at the nine hundred year old Church House Inn (broccoli bake and Lost in the Woods ale) with its ghosts, then back to dogs and the cottage--and our ghosts.
I have to admit that I made myself stay in bed at night once I was in bed-- all the weeks that followed. Some nights the dogs or the wind or the sea or the creaks of an old house kept me awake and I took to reading with one of those silly book lights which gives just enough illumination to read three lines and to double check the shadows.