Strange Tales – 5

At Hamptonne Country Life Museum recently a member of staff was walking down the passageway alongside the 15th Century Hamptonne House. A heavy book fell from above, landing at her feet. Looking up, it appeared to have come from a first-floor window so she ran into the house and shot up the stairs. No-one was there. Here is the window in question – how could a book have been dropped or thrown from there?

Thus endeth this mini-series, for now. Jersey actually isn’t too active when it comes to modern day sightings of what might be termed ‘high strangeness.’ Either that or people are keeping quiet about it. However, one Jersey woman now living in England, has a popular podcast devoted to modern-day fairy sightings. Jo Hickey-Hall interviews people who relate their personal experiences of encountering strange beings. It’s becoming the case, I think, that people are becoming less afraid to share their experiences. Jo’s website and podcast can be found here https://www.scarlettofthefae.com/

The hotspot of high strangeness in Britain is North and East Yorkshire. Over the years, and to the present day, there have been countless sightings of lightforms and strange airborne craft along the cliffs north of Flamborough Head and out over the North Sea. Many aircraft, mainly military, have unaccountably crashed into the sea around there. Sightings abound of unearthly humanoids and animals, cryptids etc. There have been many disturbing animal mutilations down the years. The researcher Paul Sinclair has documented many of these – you can find Paul’s website at http://www.truthproof.uk and he has a YouTube channel. Paul argues that it is impossible to explain many of these encounters within the boundaries of our present scientific knowledge, and just because they can’t be explained doesn’t mean that they aren’t real.

Keep checking under your beds before falling asleep.

Strange Tales – 4

Mont Orgueil is an 800-year-old castle facing France on Jersey’s east coast. It has a host of legends and ghostly encounters attached to it – this is common with many such ancient buildings. However, the origins of these stories have been lost with time and have often been embellished over the years. Mont Orgueil has had its share of ghost hunters down the years and they have pinpointed hot spots in the castle which us guides can point out to our visitors.

But there are modern day, first-hand accounts too including several from the summer season just finished. Just a couple for your delectation:

  • The castle Gardien, locking up the rooms in the Keep at the end of the day, clearly heard several footsteps on the nearby staircase. He called out that the castle was closing. The footsteps stopped and no one was in sight when he checked. On closing the outer door the remaining member of staff confirmed that no one had left recently.

  • There lives in the castle a soldier called Sid, young though 400 years old, who is unhappy with his lot and who doesn’t want to be a soldier anymore. This related by a lady who chats to him, having a gift for this sort of thing.

There are others. But if you want ghosts, head to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland. Kilmainham is now a visitor attraction but it has a sorrowful history. Prisoners were routinely hanged in public view above the gaol entrance – there were about 180 in all. Fourteen of the ringleaders of the 1914 Easter Rising were shot there. No wonder the building is riddled with ghosts. The caretaker keeps in their good books by announcing, ‘Good morning lads’ on opening up and wishing them goodnight at the day’s end.

Strange Tales – 3

This is a very sad tale, but one which was freely given to me. The narrator is a friend of mine, an Irish woman who has lived in Jersey for many years now. At the time she was a 14-year-old growing up in the family home in a small town in Ireland. Her father, to whom she was devoted, suddenly passed away right in front of her. You can imagine how distraught she was at the time and for many months thereafter.

It is a few weeks after her father’s passing as she takes up the story in her own eloquent style.

“One day I was lying on my bed/mattress on maybe my 100th reading of one of my great artist magazines. The lightbulb in the room had already ‘gone’ and the only light into the room came from the landing. As I lay on the dangerous, spring-popping mattress I turned to my right, just randomly, and a long shadow lifted from the bed next to the mattress. I watched it gently move high above. I only realise now that the shadow was the greatest, for my whole world changed. As soon as the shadow had risen, in my mind it was about to turn and look at me. I shot out of that room like a bat out of hell.

“I sometimes think that this shadow followed me my entire life. At first I thought it was my mind playing tricks, but the clear outline of the shadow figure has now left no doubt in my mind. In those precious moments, and despite my fear, I know that all the beauty and meaning of my short 14 years of life was made up of a shadow in Mammy and Daddy’s bedroom at no.56 and whenever there is a shadow there is always light and my light came slowly that summer. I moved from a 14-year-old to a 24-year-old. My little 14-year-old died a little inside only to be reborn and to rise again in a stronger and wiser version.”

Strange Tales – 2

This next is from an old Jerseyman, an ex-military, no nonsense chap who I worked with recently. It refers to a time just after the war, maybe 1947, and he was perhaps nine or ten years old. He lived with his parents in a large house in the parish of St Saviour, close by the Neolithic tomb known as La Hougue Bie. He takes up the story:

“One afternoon I was cycling home from school. There was a big white gate at the entrance to [the house] and there was a monk standing there. He opened the gate for me to go in and I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ I went into the kitchen and said, ‘Mum, who’s that? Who’s that monk at the gate?’
She said, ‘What do you mean?’
‘A monk just opened the gate for me to come in.’
She dropped the glass which she was drying. It wasn’t long after that that we moved. The house was definitely haunted. We moved to a small cottage but I do have many memories of really terrifying feelings at [that house]”

Strange Tales – 1

‘Tis said that this is the time of year that the veil between our human world and the spirit dimension is at its thinnest. I’ll therefore share a tale or two which might entertain. These are not the old (and somewhat hackneyed) Jersey legends. They are either first-hand, or from reliable sources.

My first is from Jersey in 1942. It is a written account by the grandmother of a woman I know and run with. It is September and the island of Jersey is occupied by Nazi forces. A decree has been made that all non-Jersey born people will be deported to Germany. This decree includes the narrator and her husband, together with their five children. They have 24 hours to prepare for the journey into the unknown.

It is the night before they are due to depart, at the family home just around the corner from where I live now. Here is her story.

“By 3am I had succeeded in gathering together what I considered to be the most useful articles of clothing for each of us for a stay of perhaps several years in all weather conditions. The children would all be growing during that time so that had to be taken into account – and each person was only allowed up to 28lbs of luggage. Parcels of larger size, new suits and woollies and new pairs of shoes were untied. String and newspapers were strewn about the floor. By the window stood seven piles of clothing but, so far, no suitcases. Exhausted, worried and full of foreboding I knelt down and flung my arms above my head onto the bed and cried, ‘Oh God!’

“At that very moment, I saw behind my right shoulder, and very near me, the tall figure of my maternal grandmother. She was calm. She said, ‘It will be alright.’ This she repeated. My grandmother had died in 1939. Somehow, I flung my body, fully dressed, upon the bed. I became unconscious.”

Endnote: The family remarkably avoided deportation at the last minute.

The Postcard – Part 2 of 2

Back On The Rock

All the afternoon she walked until her feet were sore. She found the South Bay and walked along the sand, even venturing to take off her shoes and refresh her aching feet at the water’s edge. She bought herself tea and a cake at one of the many cafes along the beach. She window-shopped but didn’t buy. As evening approached Rose, thoroughly lost but not caring a jot, got directions back to her guest house. She snoozed in the lounge for a while, then read a few pages of her book. Feeling peckish she slipped out for fish and chips from the establishment on the corner then, worn out, she slept like a queen without a care in the world.

In the morning she paid the lady £30 to stay another night.

The Birmingham police scratched their heads. No one had seen Rose Hanley in three weeks. They had forced…

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The Postcard – Part 1 of 2

A re-post of a short story from eight years ago – Part 2 tomorrow.

Back On The Rock

She was pleased, proud, excited all at once. She stood on tiptoe, reached up and popped the postcard in the red letter box. Her mother and gran smiled and applauded.

‘But Mummy, how will the man reach the card inside there?’
‘He has a special key to open the box darling.’
‘And then he’ll take it to Debbie’s house?’
‘Yes he will.’
‘Can I be a postman when I grow up?’ 

—- 

The postcard sat on the mantelpiece, the colourful image of bay and castle transforming that side of the room. Rose glanced at it with a curious mixture of longing and pleasure every time she walked by. At least twice a day she would pause, take the card and read the childish writing on the back. 

Hi Debbie I am here on holiday in Scarborough why don’t you come too? Xxx Susie. 

Rose would have delivered the card…

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After the Thrill is Gone

Time passes and you must move on
Half the distance takes you twice as long
So you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone
– Henley/Frey

A certain air of melancholy descends once the last person has left an event and the gate has closed. Different in the case, say, of a football stadium with the knowledge that the next game will soon be coming along in the next few days or weeks.

The recent Jersey Festival of Words took place here recently in a huge marquee in Howard Davis Park for the first time. Putting it up was one thing, setting up the audio and video, laying the flooring, setting out the seating was quite another. Then the panic of the day before with the setting up of the various desks and stalls in the separate foyer marquee and the arrival of the food and other stalls. Then the few days of appearances by authors famous and not so much, playing to the public. Then at 10pm on the Saturday night as Lionel Shriver stepped out into the foyer for her book signing session, the take-down in the main marquee had already begun.

On Saturday and Sunday last we had our annual Faîs’sie d’Cidre (Cider Festival). It is one of the remaining old Jersey country fairs and we have unaccustomed crowds visiting Hamptonne to see the big horse helping crush the apples as part of the cider-making process. There is music, food, and lots of other stalls and entertainment. But everyone is gone by 5pm to the relief of our local residents.

Going back in for my Monday shift was a little sad. The remnants of the previous day were being cleared away, the last pressing of the apples was dripping into barrels, very much interesting the wasps. We awaited collection of the last mobile vans by the various vendors. A couple of the staff were recreating their cricket glory days, bowling apples at a bench. I even had a go, reminding myself why I haven’t played for 20 years or more.

And what about the folk who lived here for centuries up to fairly recent times – the young Charles II in waiting was thought to have been a visitor here in late 1649 during his exile. There are fewer places more likely to harbour the ghosts and spirits of those who have passed this way, and the merriment of the weekend must have roused them. But as things returned slowly to normal and the first day visitors arrived, I was not privileged to meet them.

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A little trot through St Martin

Our Friday morning Slackers & Skivers run group – an offshoot of the amazing Jersey Girls Run – had its heyday during Covid lockdown. Since then, most of the group have found themselves returning to work, resulting in regular turnouts of three or fewer. So it was this morning I kept the flag flying by running solo in the lanes of St Martin, the parish which best retains the character of old rural Jersey.

Starting point on a damp morning, the Millennium Cross at Archirondel.

To head inland from this coastal road one has no option but to head uphill. The long Mont des Landes provides an early opportunity to get the heart going and the calves stretched.

Ignoring the little track to the right which is even steeper.

Each of Jersey’s 12 parishes has its own character. St Martin always seems dark and quiet, no one ever seems to be out and about. Today the heavy drizzle is welcome after a dry summer and early autumn. Nature reigns, happy in its solitude and gets on with gently adapting to the season’s turn. Acorns and chestnuts lie in profusions along the lanes.

If there are fairy sightings in Jersey, St Martin would be the most likely spot.

Then over to the Farmers’ Cricket Field. The season having just finished, Jim Perchard has scarified the outfield in preparation for re-seeding. The ground was formerly agricultural land but opened for cricket in 2005 thanks to Jim the landowner and his passion for the game. It quickly replaced Grainville as the premier cricket ground in the Island, just as Grainville supplanted the FB Fields in the late 1970s.

Turning back towards my starting point and a little diversion down another quiet lane which runs, little used, back to the coast road.

La Solitude cottages
And the strange datestone at L’Oasis

Back to civilisation after just 9k. A welcome coffee at the Driftwood Cafe and entertainment from a woman complaining bitterly over the freshness or otherwise of the croissants.

Simpler Times

Out on a little run this morning I was pondering on how simple life can be. Yes, of course all of us have worries, issues, problems to a greater or lesser degree. But as with the practice of mindfulness, running a few miles along quiet lanes on a fine morning can reduce the world momentarily to the one you are living in – the buildings, the fields, sky, sun, clouds. Nothing else matters. The past is gone and can’t be changed. The future is uncertain and can be dealt with as and when it comes. You are experiencing and enjoying the now, which is usually, at least, OK.

But the meditative effect of putting one foot in front of the other can also have other, surprising effects. In the past I have suddenly had worrying problems unknot themselves, unbidden, on a long run. I have, now and again, ‘lost’ a mile or so of a run – no recollection of having run the roads which have got me to my present position.

And this morning I thought of a little thing that happened over 50 years ago. It was of no consequence, one of the millions of memories which are generally stored in the dark recesses of one’s brain to stay there, but occasionally to pop to the forefront for no reason. I was still at school and it was the early 1970s. I was in west Cork with a school friend of mine, looking up relatives who were plentiful at that time – aunts, uncles, cousins. We visited a woman whose identity escapes me, but we were aware her daughter (or granddaughter) was celebrating her birthday – maybe her third or fourth. Accordingly we bought a cheap doll, duly arrived at the house, and presented the parcel to the little girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen wonder on anyone’s face such as that of the little girl as she unwrapped the present and saw the doll. Enraptured, she removed it from the box and clutched it to her chest.

(Not the actual doll)

Then she carefully put the doll back into its box and wrapped it up before walking away, returning to it and reliving the joy of opening the present once more.

That little girl will be in her 50s now. If she has children and maybe grandchildren I don’t think they’d be so easily pleased.