Ghosts tried to spoil my weekend, though I don't even believe in them - Gaby Soutar
My nieces, sister and the husband were in tow.
What a serene place it was. I felt so lucky. It was all jollity when the sun was up. We danced, ate cake, played games and explored.
Then, as dusk fell, the mood switched. The kids wouldn’t leave the television room, or go to the toilet, without an escort. They had to dispatch adult envoys to get anything they needed from upstairs.
An owl hooted outside. “What’s THAT?”
As I watched their pale faces and nervously darting eyes, it felt like a scene from The Blair Witch Project, rather than a lovely holiday.
If I’d draped a sheet over myself, they probably would’ve imploded.
“I saw a shadow, and had to run for my life,” reported the eldest, after briefly leaving the room on a chocolate reconnaissance mission. She ended up sleeping in the same room as her mother.
My sister also looked creeped out. “It’s very dark upstairs,” she reported. So. What. Put the lights on. As usual, I had to assume the boring and rational Richard Dawkins role. It’s just the primitive part of your brain, I said to the group, telling you that it’s dangerous, but it’s 2023 and there’s nothing to be scared of, apart from environmental collapse, war and Andrew Tate.
They were unconvinced. Bloody ghosts ruin everything.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve stayed in self-catering accommodation and our respective families, all of whom seem to have superstition written into their genes, have been plagued by the thought of potential apparitions.
My patience wears thin. It’s especially annoying when you’ve lost relatives, who you would very much like to see again, but can’t, for obvious reasons.
The grown-ups have no excuse, though I understand the kids’ fears. I was a bit scared of ghosts when I was small too. An upstairs neighbour – otherwise lovely – told me there was one in my bedroom. She said that he was the last resident and had died there.
So, that was a hoot – to share my childhood boudoir with the late Mr Campbell, deceased. I’m not sure if he was also into Madonna, but my quiet roommate didn’t have much input on cassette playing choices.
Apart from my husband, I’m probably the only total sceptic in my family.
I say this, but they do manage to infect me with their nerves. When I woke up at 4am, needing the loo at our holiday house, and it was pitch dark, it took me a while to brazen it out. I turned my phone torch on and tried to not pay much attention to what was happening in my peripheral vision.
That's where things do lurk, though I suspect they may be retinal floaters. Also, dressing gowns hanging on the back of doors have an awful lot to answer for.
After the trip, my sister sent me a link to a story about an alleged presence in the house, as if it was evidence that their spidey senses had picked up on the resident. It was a testimony from someone, posted on a random website, who reported having seen a woman in a white dress wandering the corridors.
Oh, her. Of course. The archetypal spectre, and they’re always Victorian. The Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens generations who were obsessed with mediums, making jewellery from locks of their dead relatives’ hair, and the supernatural, are always the ones doing the haunting.
After a century or two, they just won’t quit and it’s not a coincidence. Those classic stories still sink into our subconscious.
In order to retain the status quo, perhaps there’s a wardrobe department in limbo, which fits out modern ghosts in period style?
You certainly don’t hear about them wearing shell suits or working on their laptops, which is definitely what I’ll be doing, when I appear on Most Haunted’s newspaper office edition. At least in the recent BBC One sitcom Ghosts, along with the traditional array of apparitions, one is a Tory politician and another is a scoutmaster. That seems more representative of the general populace.
However, it doesn’t buck the stereotype that they always float around big country houses, never council properties or tenements.
There is a Twitter account holder, Diarmid Mogg (@diarmidmogg), who specialises in fascinating posts about previous residents of Edinburgh’s ordinary addresses.
His last covered a Morningside block, built in 1884. In the thread, as with all the others, a proportion of past occupiers have come to a sticky end. They’ve fallen from windows, been murdered, died in freak accidents or contracted rare diseases, yet nobody seems bothered about potential hauntings when you’re in a 2F1 apartment.
They’d rather fork out for more interesting chain-clanking ghouls along Mary King’s Close or in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Anyway, if spirits were real, the Capital would be utterly hoaching with them. There would be a trail of ectoplasm oozing down the Royal Mile and pooling outside Holyrood Palace. Their presence would make for a constant and very annoying haar.
If we could distract them from the pointless task of haunting, they could potentially be useful.
They wouldn’t require the Living Wage, because there’s an obvious loophole.
Rather than spending their days passing through walls and saying “boo”, they could fill gaps left by Brexit, and take up jobs in hospitality. The tourists would adore them.
I’d like to pitch a bar. Let’s call it Spirits. They could serve shots and I'd employ that Victorian lady in a long white dress. That would give her something practical to do, rather than just trying to spoil all my holidays.
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