Wednesday 11 June 2014

The hedge with the haunted urn

If you want a truly memorable 60th birthday, be sure to follow my example and ask two young children how they think you might like to celebrate.

That way you’ll find yourself spending the day at a zoo containing rather less wildlife than your back garden, allied with the worst catering on the planet.

The only edible item we managed to procure for lunch was a portion of chips, demanded and then fiercely defended by my younger son. When my wife suggested that it would be a kind gesture to share some with me, given what a special day it was, two-year-old Jamie said “Happy birthday, Daddy” and held out a chip to me, then whisked it away and crammed it into his own mouth. Repeated several times, until I grew bored with the whole concept.

Zoo catering: a connoisseur's assessment
Moral: you can get away with a lot if you are lucky enough to look cute

Things scarcely improved the next day, which I spent at the house we have just bought so that a series of tradesmen could come round, suck through their teeth, shake their heads and generally ask what cowboy done that and did I have any idea how much it was going to cost to put it right?

Well, I certainly do now.

The top prize for causing gloom and despondency went to the joiner who idly said, “Of course you know about the ghost?”

“What ghost?”

This was the cue for a hair-raising tale of how the first occupants of the house, after its conversion from a chapel 25 years ago, were driven all but mad by banging doors and articles flying around the premises.

Until the joiner and his chums took up the kitchen floor and located an urn, which they removed. Since then, he understood, peace and harmony had prevailed.

“What did you do with the urn?” I asked, expecting to hear that it had been given a reverent burial accompanied by a few comforting words.

“I can’t remember. I think we just chucked it in the hedge,” he replied.

Which was not massively comforting as my next task was cutting back the hedge that has been growing madly out of control around the property for the last couple of decades. Someone planted a Russian vine amongst it, and the thing has predictably grown into an intertwined monster that has strangled the life out of just about everything else.

All I need now is for my pruning saw to make contact with a mysterious urn and unleash a discontented spirit determined on revenge.

Naturally I do not believe in ghosts, though I did have an unnerving experience in an Oxford college many years ago, when I was woken in my guest room by having the bedside lamp rather forcefully hurled at me. It had been a very hot summer’s night when I retired, yet the room was now as cold as a walk-in freezer.

Luckily I had enjoyed dinner enough to enable me to return swiftly to a drink-fuelled coma, but mention of my experience the next day established that I had got off relatively lightly. Other guests had reported disembodied hands appearing around mysteriously opening doors, among other spine-chilling treats, nearly all recorded at exactly the same time in the early morning.

I shared my latest ghost story with my solicitor and he advised that the vendor would have been very remiss not to declare any poltergeists or other manifestations in response to the usual pre-purchase enquiries.

We may be in some sort of hotspot because I have since been advised that the Big House nearby is renowned as the most haunted in the county. Apparently it changes hands with remarkable frequency as rational types with an eye for a bargain scoff at the ridiculous legends - then decide that they don’t want to live there after all.

I shared the story of the urn with Mrs Hann, against my better judgement, and she looked somewhat downcast.

At least, I pointed out, I am fortunate enough to know several priests who should be able to come round and exorcise it if the worst comes to the worst.

“You’ve bought me a house with a ghost in it,” she said. “And now you’re going to ask someone to take it for a walk?”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: