It's a Guy Thing

Ghost Stories

Stumped by things that go bump in the night… 

By Ian Kirke

When something puzzles, surprises, or overwhelms me I tend to be sucked into a vortex of discovery, often buffeted by contradiction and confusion. A sense of clarity normally emerges although the wonderful thing about being human is that our minds are often fluid. When someone suggests that changing my mind is in some way a negative trait I smile. As the English psychologist Edward de Bono observed, “If you never change your mind, why have one?” The subject of ghosts and the supernatural has encouraged me to perform several intellectual somersaults during my lifetime and when I commenced this latest investigation, spurred on by a recent conversation about death, I anticipated a chaotic journey. 

As a kid, I was, unsurprisingly, open to the suggestive concepts that connected with all manner of huge issues. Things as a youngster I just couldn’t grasp – religion, death, creation, and many more. My introduction to the notion of ghosts was, from my fragmented early recollections, drawn from television. I recall having watched a black and white horror film with a scene where a ghostly hand regularly appeared from behind a door. I can’t remember the name of it, although as I watched it with my parents it had to be some ‘B’ movie classic that wasn’t designed to scare me shitless. And indeed, it didn’t until when I was in the bath my dad quietly opened the door, turned off the light, and made some ghostly howls before switching the light back on to expose his hand. That did shit me up! In order to compartmentalize my evolving juvenile fear of things that may go bump in the night, I applied some defensive logic. I convinced myself that if I believed in ghosts they would simply leave me alone. And so they did! 

Later on, my chosen school life subjects were very much biased towards the sciences (physics, chemistry & biology) and mathematics. I loved geography too. This heavily biased logic continued into college where I embarked on the educational equivalent of dominatrix sex: A-Levels in physics, pure and applied mathematics (as separate subjects). I had wanted to study geography since I was obsessed with the formation of oxbow lakes, but my Dad made the persuasive pitch that the country would always need scientists, and so I commenced my route to NASA and future space exploration. Somewhere along the way I discovered women, Polish vodka, and partying and managed to nail an “E” grade in only one subject – A level combined mathematics. I can, however, still confidently explain how a U-shaped lake is formed when a wide river meander is separated from the main flow. 

I had not consciously monitored my cognitive connection with phantoms although my now more analytical predisposition combined with lashings of 

Scooby-Doo turned my mind to the conclusion that any apparitions could always be explained away by common sense. And that was my position for a great chunk of my adult life. Ghosts were no more than a fantasy item and I would never lose any sleep, even if something went bump in the night, as more probably than not it was simply the cat. 

Fast forward to the here and now and I have to confess that as I reflected more upon the deathly discussion, I began to question my comfort zone. I had seen many dead bodies. As a police officer, I vividly recall the first autopsy that I went to. Rather than mimicking the opening title sequence of Quincy, M.E (played so brilliantly by the late Jack Klugman) where the rookie cops pass out one by one I was transfixed at the awe that is the human body. The extraordinary colors and incredible natural engineering. The smell, on the other hand, was not for the fainthearted. Seeing a body that I had no personal connection with was infinitely easier to deal with than viewing someone that did mean something to me. Even so, the greyness of a lifeless body reminded me that they were now departed and all that remained was a vessel. Their essence had gone. I was minded to believe that the soul simply went out like a light at this juncture too. 

In 1907, Doctor Duncan MacDougall from Massachusetts sought to weigh human souls by observation at the time of death of six patients. He concluded that the human spirit weighed 21.3 grams. His findings were condemned by the wider scientific population who cited the experiment as an example of defective selective reporting. Doctor Duncan had failed to impress me too. But I remained suitably curious to understand why some folk still believed in ghosts. 

As I didn’t off the top of my head consider any of my friends to be nut jobs, I decided to conduct a little research of my own, honing down my impressive list of social media contacts (I’m a popular guy!) into a smaller cohort: the ones I had met, had held reasonably deep and meaningful conversations with, didn’t wrap tin foil around their heads (in public anyway) and responded to my invitation to discuss the notion of ghosts. I fully acknowledge that this approach may have whispers of the good Doctor Duncan’s choosy coverage although to be fair that wasn’t exactly the point. I was intrigued to discover how many of my chosen sensible friends were in my corner. The answer was a fat zero. All had a tale to tell and many had never openly shared their stories, which I intend to remedy before disclosing where this inquiry took me. Now please dim the lights, ensure you are alone, leave the window on the latch and figure this lot out for yourself…

Around thirty-five years ago, eighteen months into their new home Ally was in bed with her husband. Both fell asleep whereupon she felt pressure on her chest. She stirred prompting her husband to rouse. He shook her and said there was a small boy with big blue eyes and blonde hair sat on her. He said he was about a year old. It spooked both although they decided that it was some form of joint hallucination and eventually went back to sleep. The next morning their two-year-old son got into bed with Ally and began chatting away whilst looking at the ceiling giggling. When asked who he was talking to he said, “The little boy in the curtains.” Mentioning it to a neighbor Ally was informed that the previous occupants had lost a year-old baby boy to cot death. He was blonde. 

As a police constable, Steve attended a sudden death one sunny Sunday afternoon in Reading. ‘Old Tom’ lived alone. The landlady of the local pub took him a dinner every Sunday and she found him dead in his bed. Nothing was known about him, so Steve began looking in drawers to find some identification. Suddenly and bizarrely, the only picture in the room fell from the wall above the fireplace. It was an incredibly old photograph of a soldier. Steve felt compelled to say aloud, “Don’t worry Tom. I’m not stealing. I need to find out about you so we can take care of you properly.” He then went down to a basement room and in the first drawer he opened, he found an old Army paybook with Tom’s full details and a battered old address book. Steve had no goosebumps nor was the air chilled. 

Geraldine once lived in a cul-de-sac of five properties. It was built upon old, abandoned coal mines. Random tremors that shook the houses were commonplace due to mine movement. She and other householders sometimes heard men whistling. A later family photograph revealed a figure behind her Dad which looked like a man with a Miner’s hat on. She later found out that her house was built on the entrance to the shaft where the miners used to congregate for work. 

Whilst walking from her bedroom to the bathroom, passing the stairwell, Julia saw an old English sheepdog, sat at the bottom of the stairs looking up. Feeling prompted to say, “Oh. Hi” as she passed. A second look revealed nothing. 

Whilst having dinner with a group of fellow delegates at Petwood House, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, not far from RAF Scampton, the home of the World War II Dambuster squadron, Mairéad noticed one lady reacting to something under the table. Moments later another lady looked down too. At the time this didn’t raise any suspicions and the meal continued without further incident. 

Returning to her room in the Tudor-style annex she was conscious that there was a back door that had an internal unsecured porch. Locking the rear entrance and placing a chair against her room door before a late call to her husband she felt a hand on her face, gently stroking two or three times as she rested in bed. Aware of the soft pressure, she froze. Bizarrely Mairéad responded, “Thank you, I’m not frightened, I feel safe with you here”. In the morning, on leaving her room she saw a chambermaid and asked if the place had ghosts. The member of staff went white and said, “Yes, we have, a lady.” 

At breakfast, Mairéad told her class what had happened. The two ladies then disclosed that they had both felt a phantom dog brush past their legs whilst sat at dinner. That day the hotel moved her to an adjacent room, although a chair was still propped up against the door. That night the television inexplicably came on at 2.30am. The back porch that she had locked the night before was found unlocked in the morning and the chair had been moved. 

Sitting downstairs Kathryn could hear the hot water tank draining. On checking the upstairs bathroom, the hot tap was on full blast. This happened a couple of times before stopping. In the same house, her lodger was hit on the head by a photo frame inexplicably propelled from a set of drawers when she walked into her bedroom with her mother. 

Frankie reports several ghostly encounters, one cited within an 18th-century alehouse. My left brain, responsible for rational thought, sounded its claxons at this point since copious amounts of alcohol can often make people extremely suggestive. As a cop, I had lost count of the number of times that a drunk driver had claimed that their ability to drive was actually enhanced as they poured themselves out of the driver’s seat. However, his brother and at least six other locals had a mutual experience when they simultaneously witnessed a crystal decanter filled with undiluted orange squash lift from the mahogany bar and slowly descend onto the floor, landing softly and perfectly upright. The landlord stated that his living room, directly above the bar, was always freezing even with the heating on and the family dog would never enter. 

I sometimes worked with Frankie on the Slough & District Police area and Cliveden House was a favorite night-time tea spot. Dating back to 1666 the beautiful forty-seven-roomed mansion in the rolling Buckinghamshire countryside became the meeting place of royalty, the aristocracy, and parliamentarians. In 1961 it was the place of scandal that rocked the British Government when John Profumo, the then Secretary of State for War, 

embarked on an illicit affair with Christine Keeler, a nineteen-year-old mistress of a suspected Russian spy. Gavin, the always benevolent night-porter, would entertain with tales of the ghosts that frequented the building. 

Calling in advance of a nocturnal visit Frankie was informed by Gavin that he was running a quick errand and would be back shortly to put the kettle on. Approaching via the stunning runway of a gravel driveway Frankie and his crewmate both saw Gavin moving from one ground floor window to another before disappearing. Except it wasn’t Gavin, the only member of staff on duty that night, who had been in another part of the estate. I also recall Gavin regaling me with his ghost stories as I drank tea and admired the elegance of the main hallway. One night at his suggestion I sipped my beverage in a small library and looked at the picture on the wall which Gavin proclaimed contained a hidden child. As I readied to leave, I took one last glimpse and the obvious outline of a child appeared. I never admitted this to Gavin since it was only a trick of the light and my active imagination. Wasn’t it? 

My gang of reluctant ghostbusters felt compelled to reinforce their credentials as persons of reasonable firmness, and some thought it prudent to add that they had not been drinking alcohol or taking any illegal substances. All were genuinely disturbed at what they had experienced and there was collective difficultly in reaching a unanimous explanation. Some attempted to draw upon the emotion or energy contained within the specter whilst others wondered if they had a belief mechanism that could tune into certain vibes. Most felt a degree of embarrassment and had continually posed the question, “Why me?” 

Lynne, a spiritualist, asserted that “Sometimes there is residual energy in properties. People who’ve died are looking to connect with loved ones. If people have clairvoyant gifts, they may see spirits but it’s possible to hear, sense, or even smell the spirit.” 

So where has this journey left me? I must confess that the uninhibited disclosures by my friends, detailed and often with others involved have caused a degree of unease. Whilst I have concluded that I do not possess the psychic ability that may or may not be required to engage with the requisite connections, I find that the answer to the only question left to ask, ‘Do I now believe in Ghosts?’ is simply yes. The supplementary question that I didn’t think I would ask when I started this investigation is still yet to be answered. ‘What the hell are they?’ 

© Ian Kirke 2020