Monday, 3 November 2014


Bruce by the barn

I saw a ghost but it didn’t frighten me. However, there’s a car park ticket that’s scaring the hell out of me.

On a late Somerset Summer’s evening in 1977, my friend Bruce Wallace and I were stumbling from the village pub, heading back to the farm where I’d spent blissful holidays ever since I was a toddler.

Towering hedgerows are a feature of England's arcadian south-west, so the narrow lane was shaded dark as dusk. Before the road curved toward the farmyard, there was a gap in the hedge, looking across to the river and the little stone bridge.

Naturally, as the fading sunlight suddenly hit us, we both turned our heads toward it, where we saw a tall uniformed man, standing by the bridge.

As the hedgerows returned, we lost sight of the man, who was gone before we crossed the bridge ourselves.

It was an entirely unremarkable encounter. Doubtless the farmer and his wife had taken in more guests. The farm was listed in several guide books, so later, when the new arrival failed to turn up for dinner, I asked the farmer who he was.

He turned his tanned creased handsome face to me.

“By the bridge was he?”
“Yes, in some kind of army uniform.”
“Ah, that’d be my granddad. He likes to stand by the bridge.”
“No, couldn’t be him. This bloke was youngish, in his 20s I’d say.”

Flicking his pitch black fringe out of his eyes, his deep Somerset accent betrayed nothing but nonchalance.

“Arr, that’d be him. Went off to the Somme. Tends to pop up around this time of year. Always loved standing by that bridge. More spuds?”

Hunching our shoulders, staring wide-eyed across the table, Bruce and I made stupid faces and went “Bleeeeeaaaayyyyaaarrr!”  at each other, allowing comical shivers to run through our bodies.

Over the years I’d seen and heard so many magical things in that farmhouse that I knew better than to question this. My father was no small man, yet I’d seen the farmer levitate him high up from the floor, using just his little fingers.

The house itself was listed as haunted, but while I never saw the official ghost, I became relaxed around the atmosphere that prevailed in their home: all things were possible.

One morning at breakfast the farmer's wife was talking about the dream she’d had the night before, in which she and her family were sitting in the guest dining room, eating their dinner in front of a huge fireplace.

The family kitchen had just such a fireplace, with a massive and ancient oak beam running above the cavernous grate and many little nooks, baker’s ovens, and cubby holes in which to dry herbs.

Without uttering a word, the farmer finished his breakfast, left to return with an axe, which he proceeded to pound into the wall of the guest dining room.

Nobody cared to find out why the house’s previous inhabitants might want to seal up such a magnificent fireplace, yet there it now was, revealed, oak beam intact.

 Blissful childhood memories and spooks galore.

“Always wunnered why it was so cold in here.” said the farmer.

To my teenage eyes his response to her dream represented such an act of faith and love, I barely spent a moment pondering the implications of her vision. So when he told me that this figure we’d seen was simply his grandfather spending a few hours by bridge, before heading off to die in the Somme, it all seemed perfectly reasonable.

In the memorable words of Dr. Who, it was probably nought but a “...timey wimey jumbly wumbly thing.”

A proud atheist-pantheist mutant, I accept wholeheartedly that there is much to the universe we cannot see. We sense so little compared to other animals, it’s clear there’s more to life and death than we can perceive.

None of that scares me at all. The wonders of the Cosmos are truly awesome, as in ‘worthy of awe’, rather than ‘awesome frappaccino.’

Death scares me, because I’m an atheist, and now this little car park ticket has given me a roaring bad dose of the hairy bejeebers.

Just like every other Friday, I drop Lady Dog off to the wonderful Gabriella’s ‘Big and Small Daycare’ and head into town.

Returning to Roches car park, I pay for my ticket and put it onto the flat fascia beside my car Bennett’s clock.

Ten minutes later I’m driving up College Road when I look over to see the ticket still sitting there.

Fear grips me. Am I finally losing my mind?
How is that ticket still there?
How did I get out of the car park?

In an effort to quell the wobbler I’m about to throw, I try applying a little rational thought.
Sadly, despite its fantastic reputation, I often find rational thought something of a letdown.
Maybe the car park barrier had been open and I’d simply driven through.

Hmm, I don’t think so. If the barrier was open, I’d enter into some kind of neurotic quandary about the chances of getting my car chopped in half when the barrier came crashing down on me as I tried to drive through it ...
 ...I’d remember that.

Maybe, instead of swallowing the ticket, the machine had spat it back out and I’d reflexively put the ticket where I always put my tickets.

No. I doubt I’d have seen if come out, as I was just watch the barrier, eager to exit. Anyway, if I’d noticed that it had popped out, I’d have wondered about whether I’d mistakenly been given the Galwegian parking equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

So now I’m scared for several reasons:
I cannot remember how I left the car park, which is unsettling.
I don’t know how this ticket is still in my life.
I fear my noodles might have prematurely stewed into mush and that I am no longer an able sentient human being.

Now that is scary.

Ghosts shmosts, have a Happy Halloween and fear what you must.

©Charlie Adley

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