Thursday, 16 February 2012


Early childhood memories, apart from the loving but lunatic time I spent with ‘Maman’, my sex-crazed grandmother in Nice, are of spending endless days in bed coughing my lungs out, having unpleasant medication poured down my throat and different doctors tapping my chest with cold fingers wrongly diagnosing me with tuberculosis.
 Shortly after returning to London from the warm Côte d’Azur, I again fell ill and was sent to  Switzerland to recover. 
 All I remember of this three month episode among similarly sick children housed in a foreboding, clinically clean sanatorium on a cold snow covered mountainside, 
was being terrified on seeing a ghost at sunset.
 Wrapped in red blankets, woolly hat and scarf, lying on a pallet on a balcony and ordered to remain still and breathe in the fresh air, I saw, emerging from the chimney of a neighbouring chalet, a spectre exactly as illustrated in one of my horror books, an armless, legless form under a white sheet, clearly staring at me though it had no eyes. 
 Petrified, I ran indoors and flung myself at a kindly nurse who managed to calm me down explaining that it was not a ghost I had seen but a chimney sweep. It was the tradition that, after cleaning a chimney, the sweep should thrust a piece of white linen up the flue pipe to show that he had done his job properly.
 I did not believe her, suffered countless nightmares, was fearful when put out to rest again on the balcony and only felt safe from haunting ghouls when I was declared healthy and sent back to England.
  Many years later, when I purchased an old rectory in Somerset, I suffered petrification again on seeing a similiarly shrouded wraith in the corner of an empty reception room. My wife, not understanding why I remained rooted in the doorway shaking like a leaf, gallantly strode up to the offending spirit, pulled at the white sheet  to reveal a rather nice mahogany longcase clock,  part of the agreed furniture and fittings. 
 I have since favoured sleeping in multi-coloured Paisley bed linen from John Lewis. 

Me in front of the doctor learning how to breathe deeply

Moi and the ghost?                                                          Moi with my mother

The haunted chimney

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