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