Updated: Oct 19, 2019
I deposited the last of six heavy bags of coal onto the boiler room floor. The noise disturbed the wren. Minus five outside, the bird had found her way indoors to thaw her feathers. She shot from the boiler room like slingshot and perched on the railing above the cellar, before disappearing with a flick of her tiny body. As I opened the door to the kitchen corridor, the wren zipped through to the dining room at the far end, her wings purring past my ear.
Ten more minutes of searching, and the draughty dining room was now sub-zero. I decided the wren had definitely done the sensible thing and escaped to the frosty outdoors. But as I closed the window, I saw her scurry across the floor like a mouse, nipping under the dust sheet that separates our makeshift living quarters from the large room that will, one day, be our proper living quarters. On the other side of the sheet, the wren had a vast space to play around in. I saw her briefly, perched high up on the brickwork above the main door. I opened another window.
The frosty breath of the outdoors was enough to send the wren flap-hopping up the temporary wooden stairs that lead to the bedrooms. I followed her up, but never saw her again. She must have returned to the adjoining attic space, which is so big that a couple of soft-footed rhinos could spend a winter in there without being spotted. I hope she’s there still, with lots of wren friends.
There are a number of things that might disturb her rest, though. Cats come and go as they please in the attic, taking advantage of the enormous holes in the wooden walls, not to mention the eight missing windows. Beech martens nest here too, leaving their skinny, liquorice-black poos on the flagstones. But the biggest disturbers of the peace are the ghosts.
Spirit of Place
I suppose an old house wouldn’t be complete without a ghost or two. We have two, possibly three. One of them likes to knock on floorboards and beams. It’s woken us a couple of times in the night, and has stopped knocking as soon as we poke our heads into the unlit gloom outside the bedroom. We hope that by acknowledging the poltergeist in this way it will not decide to escalate its activities to the sort of excesses I have seen all too many times in horror movies. Piles of chairs, CGI shroud-swaddled corpses, that kind of thing. So far, its greatest misdemeanour has been to knock five times on the wall outside the bedroom. I didn’t like that at all.
Plenty of places for a ghost to knock and hide
The Knocking Ghost may be the same as the Dripping Ghost, but while the jury’s still out I’m notching it down as ghost number two. This one produces a sound like fat drops of water, quietly splatting from roof to floor. Again, as soon as we nose around to locate the source of the drip, the noise stops.
The third phantom is the one that worries me the most. It paces downstairs, and makes furniture scrape on flagstones below. When brave enough to investigate, we discover nothing.
There. I knew I shouldn’t have committed these things-that-go-bump in the night to paper. It’s made them even more real. Our neighbours reassure us that our house – a 250 year old wooden-boned monster that’s been bashed around, reroofed, soaked and dried out again, and abused with a new central heating system – is bound to make odd sounds as it creaks, cracks and resettles on its wobbly shale foundations. Wind in the eaves, water in the pipes, groans in the woodwork, that kind of thing.
That’s all true, we concur; but what kind of wood-drying process pads downstairs and pulls up a chair?
As for the dogs, they’re just useless. I know my Hollywood horror genre pretty well, and am aware that dogs and cats have a sixth sense that alerts them to the presence of the supernatural like low-key, furry ghostbusters. And yet in the midst of all this knocking, dripping and padding, our mutts sleep blissfully. Give them a post van or dustbin lorry and they go bananas; give them a trio of ghosts, and they can’t even muster a growl.
Possible ghost candidates – old print of the road outside our house.