Early this morning I was walking Phoebe on Lewesdon Hill, and no-one else was there. It was utterly silent – even the birds had decided to keep shtum. The trees were all shrouded in mist, which gave them a ghostly appearance, and I started to think about ghosts generally.
I don’t understand ghosts and what or why they are, but I believe in them because I have seen one. It was years ago in the early 1970s when I was a student. I was lying in my attic room in Newnham College and feeling rather fed up because the people below me were making an awful racket and so I couldn’t get to sleep. The thing is, I know I was awake because I could hear everything they were saying, well, shouting, to each other. Then a pale white face, female I think, clothed in some sort of dark gown, came through my closed door and up to my bed. I was literally petrified. I tried to scream but I couldn’t move a muscle. I watched with horror as the face came up close and looked at me. Then it seemed to float back and it disappeared. When it was gone, I managed a small scream, and then I started shaking and couldn’t stop. All the while, the people below were having a fun time.
I turned the light on and kept it on all night. In the morning, still shaken by what I had seen, I told anyone who would listen that I had been visited by a ghost. It was then I learnt that the attics were meant to be haunted, and it was well known that there was a resident ghost. In a funny way, I felt vindicated when I heard that, and it occurred to me that a ghost could do me no harm, so my fear gradually evaporated – and I continued to live in the attic room throughout my undergraduate years.
Many years later, I lived in an old farmhouse. It had been built – or as my cheery builder used to say, jerry-built – in the 16th century and so many generations had passed through its doors. I never saw a ghost there, but I used to hear one quite regularly. I would be alone in bed and I would hear slow, rather ponderous footsteps coming up the stairs and into my bedroom. They would approach my bed, pause, and then retreat. I never saw anything because whenever it happened I kept my eyes tight shut. I said to myself that a ghost couldn’t harm me, but I still found it rather scary and didn’t want to see who was inspecting me at night. I never mentioned this to the children because I didn’t want to scare them – and I was pretty proud of myself with the way I coped. It’s weird because ghosts are insubstantial, so I don’t know why this particular one had quite loud footsteps – but again, although I don’t begin to understand the how or why, I know that it happened – and on quite a few occasions. (In case you are wondering, it wasn’t a child playing a trick on me, because it usually happened when I was alone in the house.)
There is a lot of literature about ghosts that have been seen. So much, in fact, that I find it hard to understand people who discount the possibility without any hesitation. But it is hard to fit ghosts into the orthodox view of this life on earth. And I had shut my experiences away, and in a textbook example of cognitive dissonance had managed to doubt that there was any life after death – until Patrick died and showed me otherwise.
If you, the reader, have ever seen a ghost, do please tell me about it. I find the subject fascinating although as incomprehensible as so many things connected with the paranormal. But just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that these strange occurrences don’t happen. I know that they do.