Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My first ghosts

We had family friends, Jack and Kay, who owned a holiday house in Suffolk, just near Sudbury close to a village called Foxearth. It was an enormous Tudor-style building (I don't know the dates), but it was big, rambling and very primitive. This was back in the late 60's. We used to go and stay with them, and the house had gaslights downstairs, no electricity, and no heating, just open fires. We would take candles up to bed. The house was enormous, with a big farmhouse kitchen, three stories and a whole half of the house that we didn't go in because it wasn't used. At the top of the stairs was a big line of coat hooks, on which hung two black face masks - like two dark sentinels warning us wee children not to go into that side of the house. My brother and I, and Jack and Kay's son Malcolm, tended not to go in there.

The house was a farm lodge and the main farm about a mile across the fields. The farm had a dog - a big black Labrador called Shadow. One day, at three years old, I followed Shadow - and was lost.

The family went frantic searching for me, police were called in, the farm hands all scoured the fields and ditches, and they were just about to dredge the pond when I was found. In a bean field. The beans were taller than I was. I vaguely remember sitting in a dusty dry field with tall black broad bean plants around me, but I don't remember the fuss or the police or anything. Once again I can see myself as a small child sitting in the field, as if I'm looking on. I'd just been following Shadow. I'm still following shadows.

The farmer used to have straw bales in the fields and we would build castles out of them. He used to get a bit cross about this. In the main stack, we just built tunnels and I would burrow through them with the others, but inevitably end up with such a bad asthma attack that I could hardly breathe.

One evening, at about the age of three, I lay in the big brass double bed in my room - the candle next to me. On top of me was probably 'Pinky' - my candlewick bedspread with a duck on it. This was my comforter. I used to suck my thumb too, and I still bite my nails. The story goes that when my parents came upstairs to see how I was doing (it was a very serious asthma attack, probably one of my first), I told them that the two old ladies who used to live here had been looking after me. "What old ladies?" they said. The ones in the long brown dresses I said. I have a vague memory of standing in the hall talking to someone, but no personal memories about this bedtime encounter.

My curious parents talked to the farmer who said that his father's aunts had lived in the house - two elderly spinsters together. They were obviously concerned over the wheezy little sprite in their house! I know I have an active imagination, but even at three I could not have imagined these old ladies or known about the previous residents of the lodge.

One day some years later, in the same lodge kitchen, we sat round the original farm table, and Kay was labelling some jars. The radio was on, and the song playing was "Jaguar, Jaguar ..." (don't remember more). I do remember that Kay laughed and said, "Oh dear, I've just written Suguar on this jar!"

There was a big chair by the open fire in the front room - this used to be owned by Peter Cushing (one of my childhood film star heroes), and opposite the fire a big leather settee, then behind it a piano. I remember playing the piano (playing on it, rather than playing it), and Jack saying 'she's musical, but not a pianist'. Oh how right he was.

Jack was a modern composer - wrote the sort of stuff that is nowadays used as sound effects in avant guarde plays .. in other words I used to listen out for the music in between the noises. He was well respected in his genre, and I was sad when he died. They were a very wealthy family, paid for my brother's education at a special school that Malcolm also attended. I remember admiring the original Canaletto on the wall of their house in Hampstead. Last I heard Malcolm had been sectioned, and is only allowed out accompanied to visit his wife (an Irish lady called Atracta - we used to refer to her as Massie Fergusson), and child. I don't know what has happened to them now.

I used to have a tape of my mother, Kay and my aunt screeching - they were dressed as witches for a party. My aunt is the one who introduced my mother to my father - at his divorce party.

There we go, I've shared my earliest memories, and there's nothing outstanding there (unless you count the meeting of two ghosts). However, to progress in a purely chronological manner would be very boring, so in the best traditions, I shall leap about my life and skitter as madly with my facts as my memory recalls them. Now that I've started, my memory is not exactly improving, but more of the things I do remember are surfacing.

My brother is four years older than me (and always has been). When I was due, my parents prepared him for the addition to the family with 'it will be your baby too, Philip'. But they became upset one day when the baby went missing! Poor Philip, they had said it was his baby too, so he had taken it to his room play with. No harm done, but a fright for my parents. Probably a surprise for my brother too, that he wasn't allowed to play with the family's new acquisition. My mother was also shocked one day when my young brother ate a cigarette. Checking her Dr. Spock's - it said "nearly always fatal"! It wasn't. His first word was 'bang' - and whilst sitting in his pram he 'shot' some passing nuns with a crust of bread.
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