Thursday, 7 March 2019



In Budapest, Hungary, Matuschek and Company’s store is owned by Mr. Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) and the bachelor Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is his best and most experienced salesman.
But everything seems to go awry when Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) is hired by Mr Matuschek, but from the first moment Kralik and she do not get along.
Over the weeks that follows the lonely and dedicated Kralik has an unknown pen pal and through their correspondence he falls in love with her and intends to propose to her.
However simultaneously his relationship with his employer deteriorates and he is fired without explanation by Mr Matuschek on the night that he is going to meet his secret love and propose.
He goes to the bar that night regardless where they have scheduled their meeting with his colleague Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) and he surprisingly finds that Klara is his correspondent, he chooses not disclose his identity to her because he feels ashamed after being sacked.
But following a shocking incident, Matuschek has a change of heart and hires him back again but this time to manage the shop.
However as Klara is still fascinated with her correspondent she pays little or no attention to Alfred so it would take all his guile and cunning to work out a plan to reveal himself to Klara's who his is.
But anything is possible, it is Christmas after all and everyone loves a happy ending.


Family friends Sam Reed (Dustin Milligan) and Kat Patton (Danica McKellar) spend every Christmas Eve at the Children's Table from the age of three.
Over the years they grew up together, sharing the highs and lows of young adulthood.
But at the age of thirty, Sam realizes that Kat is the one...but he's afraid that the past will get in the way.
A real gem of a Christmas movie and Danica McKellar is an absolute delight.


NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) goes on a Christmas vacation to visit his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) in Los Angeles where she works for the Nakatomi Corporation.
He is picked up from the airport by limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White) who drops him at the Nakatomi Tower where the office Christmas party was taking place.
While they are there amidst a tense reunion, a group of bank robbers, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) takes control of the building and holds everyone hostage, with the exception of John, who escapes up the fire escape while the bad guys plan to perform a lucrative heist.
Unable to escape and with no immediate police response, John is forced to take matters into his own hands.


Gretchen Daniels (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) moves back to her hometown with her son Ethan (Dylan Kingwell) but without her serviceman husband and finds her life in disarray as Christmas approaches.
But she discovers new purpose when she helps to deliver a message to her neighbour, Melissa McCreary (Leah Gibson).
Thanks to her son, a friendship begins which ends with her being an ally in the quest to find the neighbour’s sibling she never knew she had.
The women become bonded not only by the search, but by the understanding that being there for each other means they're no longer alone and this friendship becomes the greatest Christmas gift of their lives.


Albert Finney stars as miser Ebenezer Scrooge in this musical retelling of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol”.
The classic tale in which he is taught the true meaning of Christmas by three Spirits who visit him, revealing to him the truth about his own miserable existence, what opportunities he wasted in his youth, his current catalogue of cruelties, and the dire fate that awaits him if he does not change his ways.
Scrooge is faced with his own story of growing bitterness and meanness, and must decide what his own future will hold, death or redemption.
The Spirits are played by Edith Evans (Past), Kenneth More (Present) and Paddy Stone (Future)
The other key characters and portrayed by Alec Guinness (Marley), Suzanne Neve (Belle), David Collings and Frances Cuka (The Cratchit’s), Richard Beaumont (Tiny Tim), Laurence Naismith and Kay Walsh (The Fezziwig’s), Michael Medwin (Fred) and Anton Rodgers (Tom Jenkins).


Aunt Sally's Christmas Cookie Company is sold to a large conglomerate and executive Hannah Harper (Jill Wagner) must seal the deal and shut down the factory in the small town of Cookie Jar, which is the lifeblood of the town.
What was supposed to be a simple assignment for Hannah becomes complicated when she meets Jake Carter (Wes Brown), the factory owner, who is determined to keep the factory in the town.
Despite Jill not being a fan of the holiday, the Christmas spirit in this small town is infectious and she gets swept up in the joy of the season while also falling in love.


As World War 2 rages on in Europe the Bundy family are making plans for a Christmas reunion in the small town of Rockport.
The matriarch Martha (Eva Marie Saint) cashes in all of her ration-stamps to purchase the best Christmas dinner she can with everyone expected round the table.
Rockport is a small town where everyone knows everyone else and the tough times bring them even closer.
But the one person no one wants to see at their door is the Western Union man, because most of the news he delivers are telegrams from the War Department, reporting the death of a loved one and sadly he makes his rounds far too often.
This is a wonderful Christmas movies with happiness and sadness in equal measure and some strong performances, Hal Holbrook as head of the family, Joseph, Courteney Cox as expectant daughter in law Nora, and the strongest of all Nancy Travis as young widow Leah.


Molly Logan (Lacey Chabert) and Lucas Bishop (Corey Sevier) were childhood friends and high school sweethearts in Danbury Falls, Vermont, where Molly's family founded the town two hundred years earlier, and with her immediately family still living on the same property, where her parents, Gordon and Betty Logan (Eric Keenleyside and Lini Evans), have continued the family business of operating a Christmas tree farm.
Since they were children, Molly knew she wanted to become a writer, a dream which her parents supported while Lucas knew he wanted to become a photographer, something his banker father, Elliot Bishop (James Kidnie) vehemently opposed him pursuing as a career, he believed only in careers like his own, and making money by any and all means.
When he would not follow her to New York, where they would have pursued their professional dreams together, Molly and Lucas broke up and had not seen each other since.
After getting an MBA, Lucas returned to Danbury Falls to work at the bank for his father.
Molly works at a publishing house, where she is treated more as a 24/7 PA by her recently widowed boss, Walter Dunlap (Jim Thorburn) at the expense of her writing career.
When Molly hears from her brother Ryan (Matthew Kevin Anderson) that the bank is foreclosing on a mortgage for the tree farm property they both head back to Danbury Falls to help their parents save the farm from being turned into a golf resort.
On her return, Molly runs into Lucas, who is heading the search for investors for the development proposal and then Christmas begins to work its magic.


This is the beautiful tale of love and generosity of spirit where neighbours go above and beyond with their wonderful surprises to make a little girl happy.
At the heart of the story is Vanessa Marks (Emily Alyn Lind) a brave young girl who is battling cancer, which has an effect on the people around her.
In particular her parents Tom and Beth (John Corbett and Sarah Paulson) and her brother Gordon (Max Charles).
But when it looks like she may not see Christmas her parents decide to bring Christmas forward so that she will see another Christmas if the worst came to the worst.
Which is how they came to meet Jess and Claire Sanford (Sam Elliott and Karen Allen) who had themselves lost a child, and high school student Tammy (Elizabeth McLaughlin) who between them made sure Vanessa had Christmas in November.
The look on young Vanessa’s face when she sees the result is an absolute joy, Emily Alyn Lind’s performance in the film steals the show, and I say that despite the fact she is in very esteemed company.
November Christmas is a lovely family movie, a real, hot chocolate, warm fuzzy blanket kind of film, oh and a box of tissues for all those tender moments, of which there are many.
If you only ever watch one Christmas movie in your life, make sure it’s this one.


Holly Nolan (Alicia Witt) lives in a world where lying has become second nature for her. However, she finds after telling a few too many lies and disappointing those around her once too often that her life's about to change, because Holly's niece, Anna, (Mia Bagley), asks Santa Claus (Dan Lauria) to make Holly incapable of telling a lie as her Christmas wish.
The engaging story that follows is a tale of how telling the truth changes Holly's life in ways she could never have anticipated before.
It’s an enjoyable Christmas movie especially with Alicia Witt’s performance who never disappoints.


Two co-workers, American Brooke Harris (Vivica A. Fox) and Brit Roger Burkett (Ricco Ross) agree to a loveless marriage of convenience, but as they become acquainted, an unrealized chemistry grows between them.
But when a work colleague informs on them to immigration it looks like their world was falling apart, but Christmas and love have a way of redressing the balance.


Sean Tucker (Mark Lutz), who runs an advertising agency in New York City, and Owen Harrison (J.T. Hodges), a small-town handyman and musician, swap homes for the holidays. Mia (Cristina Rosato) works for Sean and is asked to help Owen get settled into his new apartment while Ryan Harrison (Tricia Helfer) meets Sean after Owen asks her to fix a broken heater, and then finds herself helping Sean find the charm of living in a small town.
Holiday romance ensues in the charming Christmas tale with misunderstandings soul-searching and secrets along the way.


Madison Avenue executive, Amy Stone (Denise Richards), discovers a rather unusual Christmas surprise when she inherits her Aunt's hometown bakery.
But that’s only half of it as the real surprise comes when she learns that the other half of the bakery was left to her long-ago boyfriend, Jack Evans (Patrick Muldoon).
Inevitably the unresolved personal issues of their past together resurface, as the exes return home to co-manage the store as well as its traditional holiday cookie bake-off.
It’s a nice holiday romantic comedy but the wonderful Catherine Hicks is the star as cunning Aunt Linda.


Newly widowed Kathy Howard (Kellie Martin) has no plans to “deck the halls” or “trim the tree” on her first Christmas without him, so she tries to avoid anything that will bring back memories of her late husband.
The only Christmas tradition that she will allow is baking cookies for her friends, a passion of hers since she was a child.
When Kathy meets handsome Christmas tree shop owner Tim Pierce (Cameron Mathison), there is an instant spark and an undeniable chemistry, and that along with an ornament Tim gives her that symbolizes hope, actually helps Kathy open up again to the joys of the season.
Aided by the support of her best friend Jenna Lowe (Jewel Staite), and the budding relationship with Tim, Kathy begins to embrace the hopeful message of the ornament but there is still a rough road ahead because although she wants to take a chance on Tim, she struggles to find the balance between preserving the memory of her late husband and moving on with her own future, so is the Christmas ornament a sign that she can have a hopeful future? Watch and enjoy as you find out.


Sarah (Tracey Needham) and her estranged sister Beth (Natasha Gregson Wagner) are reunited after their father Buddy (Ronny Cox) suffers a mild stroke.
Buddy, who's never accepted the loss of his wife Lorraine (Meredith Baxter), wants only one thing and that is to return home for Christmas.
With sweet memories of a life gone by, Sarah makes an impossible wish that her mother could be there too and by morning it is as if a winter prayer had been answered and bearing a message of hope, healing, and everlasting love, a miracle has arrived in the form of their mother Lorraine.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest with the Spirit of Christmas

Two days later the last of the timber was removed revealing the full extent of the damage to the boundary fence, the garden shed and what used to be the lawn, miraculously the wishing well sustained only minor damage.
Paul was on site and talking on his mobile organising the next phase which would be to remove all the debris and replace the fencing, erecting a new shed and generally tidying up.
The new lawn would have to wait until spring and the replacement shrubs and plants would be replaced at the same time.
Julie went out into the garden just as he was finishing his phone call and I was standing by the remains of what used to be the shed, the shed erected by my own two hands, I was amazed it had lasted twenty years, I never did master DIY.
I was too far away to hear what Paul and Julie were saying but they were headed back inside the house, I was already in the kitchen when they arrived.
“We’re cutting Christmas trees on the estate at the moment I will have them cut you one by way of an apology, what size would you like?”
“I don’t really do Christmas” She said “It’s just an empty commercial festival”
“But thanks anyway” She added.
“Oh, and when did you become so cynical?”
“From the moment I discovered Father Christmas doesn’t exist”
“Who says he doesn’t?” he asked
“Ho, ho, ho” she said sarcastically
“I think everybody has a little bit of Christmas in their heart” Said Paul
“That would be tiny in my case” she said, and Paul looked a bit deflated after she said that but perked up when she added.
“A meal would be a perfectly acceptable apology though”

It was a week later when Paul picked Julie up and drove her over to Abbotsford for their meal, I would say their date, but Julie kept insisting it was not a date.
It was quite late when he brought her home and I was a little disappointed when the evening ended on the doorstep with a peck on the cheek, I had high hopes, but Julie was holding back for some reason.
“Good night” Julie said and came in and closed the door.
“Nice evening?” I asked
“Yes, very nice”
“Good meal? Good company?”
“Yes, to both questions”
“I really like him, but I don’t know if I want to go through it all again”
“Nothing ventured nothing gained” I said
“I’ve done my share of venturing in the past and I haven’t yet gained” Julie said
“I’ll probably just screw it up again Harry so it’s probably best if I stop it before it starts”
She waved away any protest from me and went up to bed.
“Night Harry”
“Night Julie” I replied and to myself I added
“That won’t do at all”

The next day before Julie was up and about I sent a text to Paul from Julie’s mobile.
It was quite exciting as I’d never done one before, even while I was alive.
I was quite surprised that it was more difficult than it looked and really rather complicated to get the letter you wanted and then it kept changing the word.
I came very close a number of times to throwing the damn thing across the room, but eventually I managed to write:
“Thank you, Paul, I had a wonderful time last night I really would love to do it again. Julie x
PS, just ignore me if I play hard to get, Lol”
Within a couple of minutes, I got a reply.
“I had a wonderful time too I will call you soon. Paul”
Then I quickly deleted my text to him and his reply and then put the phone back in Julie’s handbag with only minutes to spare before I heard Julie coming down the stairs.

I felt very pleased with myself and my subterfuge and I thought it was just a matter of time before the two of them got together again, however when a week had passed, and nothing had happened I was not so confident.
There had been a couple of texts which I didn’t get to see before she deleted them and there had been a phone call, but it didn’t last long, so it was to be another evening of chess and conversation.
I set up the board as Julie entered the room from the kitchen carrying a glass and bottle she opened a bottle of wine the first she’d had for several weeks.
I frowned at her and nodded in the direction of the wine.
“It’s ok I haven’t taken any pain killers for three days, so this is by way of celebration”
“Excellent” I said “I wish I could join you”
“Bad luck” she said taking a long sip
“But I would prefer Christmas Ale” I added
“Oh, don’t start on Christmas again”
“Why do you hate Christmas so much?” I asked
“How long do you have?” She replied without humour.
“I have as long as it takes, I’m dead remember” I said trying to inject a little humour as I sat down opposite her.
“Where should I start” she looked around the room as if seeking inspiration.
“Christmas has been a disappointment all my life, I grew up with the constant disappointment of not getting the presents that I asked for” she said with a wry smile “Which I blamed Santa for”
I started to speak but Julie interrupted me.
“I know that’s very childish and pathetic” she said and even laughed a little.
“When did you stop believing?”
“I believed right up until I was seven, that was the year I discovered Santa Claus was actually my drunken father” She said flatly and took a long drink
“So, with a drunk for a father and a violent bully for a mother my childhood was just full of Christmas joy”
“Not brilliant then” I added
“Then three Christmas’s ago at one of our merry Christmas family gatherings my own sister stole my husband and my mother took my sisters side” she paused thin lipped remembering the pain of it, feeling it fresh as if for the first time, she gathered herself then continued.
“My dear mother said if I’d kept him satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn’t have strayed, not that he had to stray too far with my slutty sister sniffing round him like a bitch on heat”
“What did you say to your mother?” I asked
“I said that if she’d kept my father satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn’t have turned to drink”
“I haven’t spoken to her or my sister since” she confessed and took another drink.
“Then last year two weeks before Christmas a drunk driver ran a red light and broadsided me shattering my hip and putting me in hospital for months”
She reached out and grabbed her cane.
“And now I still have my trusty stick as a constant reminder of what Christmas means to me”
I wished I could have given her a fatherly hug, but I couldn’t, so we fell silent after that and concentrated on the chess for a while.

I was out and about in the garden early next morning it was less than a week before Christmas and I was beginning to despair that as far as we had come together it was not going to be far enough to save us both.
But it was more than that, when I started it was about helping Julie in order to cross over and be reunited with Rose.
But I had come to care about Julie more than I thought possible and furthermore I had come to realise just how much I had wasted the final months of my own life.
I had brought her back from the brink and I resolved that I would succeed in opening her heart, not for my own sake but for hers.
I transported myself to the sitting room only to find it empty but there was the sound of cooking coming from the kitchen and perhaps more alarming the sound of singing.
When I appeared in the kitchen I found Julie frying bacon and singing along to an Eva Cassidy song playing on the radio.
“Are you ok?” I asked with false concern.
“Yes why?”
“I thought you must have had a relapse and your hip was hurting”
“Very funny Harry” she said with a smile.
“Would you like some bacon? Oh, I forgot you can’t eat can you I’ll have to eat it all myself then”
“You can be a very cruel young woman” I said indignantly and tucked the newspaper under my arm and withdrew to the sitting room.
After she had devoured her bacon, which I was denied the pleasure of eating, but perhaps worse even than that
I was also denied its smell, she came into the sitting room and sat opposite me and we started a tug of war over the newspaper.
“You’re in a very playful mood today” I suggested after I had lost custody of the paper.
“I feel happy today, I don’t know why, I just do”
As she was in a good mood I decided to chance my arm and enquire as to the state of play between her and Paul.
“Have you heard from Paul?” I said directly.
“Don’t start”
“What? It was an innocent enough question”
“Hmm, well as it happens he did phone me”
“Really?” I said keenly
“He invited me out for dinner on Christmas Eve”
“That’s great”
“I declined his invitation” she said
“Look Harry I’m sure he really is a nice guy and I do like him” Julie said
“But, I am finally getting my life back on course, and that’s due in no small part to you, and I don’t need any complications”
“That really is a shame” I said sincerely.
“I just don’t think I’m ready” She added
With that she handed me the paper and returned to the kitchen I left it ten minutes or so and then joined her just as Bruce Springfield’s gravelled tones emanated from the radio and I dueted with him in a fine rendition of “Santa Claus is coming to town”.
When we had finished more or less together I took a bow or two.
“Ha-ha I do love a good Christmas song”
“Oh God protect me from the happy Christmas ghost” Julie was laughing.
“What is it with you and Christmas anyway?” she asked rhetorically, then she stood and looked at me, my portly build, white beard and the hateful red sweater, shaking her head despairingly.
“In fact, come to think of it you even look like Santa, in a rather jaded retired to the old folk’s home kind of way” she said and then chuckled her rich velvet chortle.
“Oh, and why is that, just because I’m a jolly fat man with a white beard?” I said striking an indignant pose.
“No, you have a fair point you would only qualify on two out of three” then her chuckle morphed into a full belly laugh and then I was laughing with her.
Our merriment was interrupted by a knock at the door and Julie was still wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes as she opened the door.
It was a smiling Paul Warwick who had knocked, and his expression instantly changed to one of concern when he saw Julie’s tears.
“Is everything alright?” he asked with genuine concern.
Realizing what she was doing Julie quickly dispelled his concern with a tale about something hilarious on the radio.
Suitably reassured Paul’s smile returned to his face and he briefly gathered himself before revealing the meaning for his visit.
“I know you said you didn’t do Christmas” He began.
“But as I said everyone has a little Christmas in their heart”
Julie was about to cut him off in full flow, but he put his hand up to stop her before she could start.
“So, with that in mind” he said ducking down to retrieve something from the floor.
“I thought of this”
He was holding in his hand a small live Christmas tree in a pot, complete with tinsel and baubles, standing about two feet tall and it was even topped by a fairy.
“A tiny Christmas tree for someone with only a tiny bit of Christmas in her heart” He said as he presented the tree to Julie.
“That’s so sweet” She said “Thank you”
“You can plant it in the garden after Christmas, so it will keep growing and hopefully your love of Christmas will grow with it” he said and there were tears in her eyes again, as she looked at the tiny tree and then Paul excused himself as he had some estate business that he needed to attend to, which I later found out was delivering hampers to the homes of his workers.
Julie stood looking at the little tree with a silly grin on her face as Paul said goodbye and was heading up the path.
“I told you he was a nice man” I said.
“Yes” she said looking at me with tears welling up in her eyes.
“Oh God I can’t let him go I have to talk to him”
“Well run after him then” I suggested
“I can’t run” She said.
“Go and slow him down somehow”
Julie set off walking and I transported myself to the gate just as Paul’s hand reached for the latch.
As he tried to open the gate I held it shut and no matter how much he shook it, the gate wouldn’t move.
Julie was only a few yards away now.
“Paul!” She called, and he turned around to see where Julie was calling from.
“Hi, you appear to have a problem with your gate” He said just as I let go of it and the gate swung open.
“That’s odd” he said.
“I’m glad I caught you” She said wincing a little at the effort of pursuing him.
“About dinner on Christmas Eve, is it too late to change my mind?”

On Christmas Eve I sat in the solitude of the cottage for what I hoped would be the last time, hoping that the person I had come to care so much for, would not need me anymore, while at the same time regretting that I would no longer be required to spend the long pleasant evenings in her company.
In the beginning I thought that I was left stranded on earth solely because of the way I withdrew from life, and that my having to help someone escape my fate was my penance, but in fact I came to understand that my predicament was less about a punishment for me but rather more about salvation for Julie and a last chance for her to find happiness.
In truth no matter how, fond I was of her I did not belong there, and though tinged with regret I hoped soon to be moving on.
I became aware of voices outside and thought, was this the moment of a tender kiss goodnight on the door step, but instead the door opened, and Julie stepped into the darkness and my heart dropped and I thought we were back, perhaps not to square one, but we had definitely gone into reverse.
But then the light went on and following Julie was the tall figure of Paul who closed the door behind him.
“Make yourself comfortable while I get us a drink” Julie said before disappearing into the kitchen.
Paul headed in my direction and I had to move quickly before he sat on my lap.
I stood invisible in the corner by the stairs and observed as Julie came out of the kitchen with a bottle of wine and a glass, then she stopped in her tracks and turned on her heels and briefly returned to the kitchen before reappearing with a second glass. She smiled to herself at the force of habit and glanced around the room to see where I was.
Julie set the bottle and glasses on the table then before she could sit Paul stood up and took her hand and pulled her gently towards him and beside the tiny two-foot Christmas Tree he kissed her tenderly and she kissed him back.
At the precise moment she returned his kiss on that Christmas Eve a bright light emanated down the stairs and I knew my moment had come.
I looked up the illuminated staircase and standing at the top was my dear Rose with her hand outstretched towards me.
I turned again to look at the embracing couple, Paul had his back to me and as their lips parted I allowed Julie to see me one last time.
“Good bye Julie it’s time for me to go now, have a happy life” I said and waved.
Then as she stood holding onto Paul her head resting on his shoulder she mouthed the words “Merry Christmas Harry”
I left the young couple and walked up the stairs and took Rose’s hand and we were instantly in another place.
Now I spend most of my time with Rose and all those who went before me, but I still look in on Paul and Julie from time to time, I can do that now I’m a proper spirit, but that is a tale for another time.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest and the Divine Wind

Despite my losing the “battle of the bonfire night party” I knew that the war was far from lost and that I had made great progress and what was now more important than anything else was to pick very carefully the battles I chose to fight.
A victory however small was still a victory and therefore was invaluable.
So, during the month I chipped away at the immovable object that was Julie, in small subtle ways and I felt I was making some progress, but as well as I felt I was doing I couldn’t quantify it.
I couldn’t measure my success unless I could get Julie and Paul in the same place at the same time.
I had absolutely no idea how I could manufacture a circumstance that would bring the two of them together and I was left with the feeling that it would take divine intervention to get them together and as it turned out I was right.

We were almost at the end of November and Julie had made so much progress she was hardly using the stick in the house even to get upstairs although she still took it with her whenever she went out, but it was extremely unlikely that she would ever be free of it entirely.
She had made progress in other ways as well, she seemed less frightened of the outside world and had started to take a daily newspaper again and one morning a radio appeared in the kitchen.
We had taken to spending every evening together where we spent the time playing chess or cards and we would chat casually on a variety of subjects though I would often try and steer the conversation into areas I wanted to explore as part of my long-term strategy but quite often we would just listen to the radio.
It was during one of these very pleasant evenings, that I came to enjoy greatly, that events took a change of direction.
There had been a ferocious autumn storm battering the cottage all day, the storm was so bad we had to switch the radio off because the reception was so poor, and it was as we were sitting playing chess when there was an almighty rumble and crash outside.
“What the hell was that?” Julie said gripping the arm of the chair until her knuckles went white.
“I’m not sure” I said standing up. “I’ll go and investigate”
“Well, be careful Harry”
“Unless it’s the Ghostbusters I think I’m probably safe” I said giving her a bemused look.
I transported myself outside and for the first time since my death I was not sorry to be dead the weather was just awful with a fearsome storm was blowing the rain horizontally and I was grateful not to have to feel it
It didn’t take long to find the source of the almighty crash, the gale had uprooted an old horse chestnut tree and dumped it into Julie’s garden missing the cottage by a few feet.
I walked the full length of the tree to find the root end and which sprang up out of the darkness about ten feet the other side of the crushed wooden fence that marked the boundary between Julies garden and the land owner responsible for the removal of the fallen tree, Paul Warwick.
I smiled to myself and then looked up to the heavens and nodded in admiration.
When I reappeared in the cottage the room seemed to be empty.
“Is it safe?” Julie asked.
I couldn’t see where the voice was coming from at first then I found Julie hiding behind her armchair wielding her cane like a weapon.
“What are you doing behind there?” I asked incredulously “Of course it’s safe”
Then she came out from her hiding place suddenly feeling rather foolish.
“I was scared” she added meekly.
“Well there’s no need to be” I reassured her
“What was that noise then?” She asked urgently
“The storm has brought a tree down and the good news is, it missed the cottage, but your shed is only good for firewood”
“Is that all? I knew it would be something simple like that” she said, suddenly confident again.
“What should I do now?”
“Well, have a mug of cocoa and go to bed” I said
“No about the tree, I mean”
“There’s nothing much you can do about it tonight, just have a good night’s sleep and phone Paul in the morning”
“Paul?” She asked coyly.
“Yes Paul Warwick, it’s his tree, he’ll arrange everything”
“Oh” she said disinterestedly
“But don’t worry you won’t have to see him he’ll do everything by phone”
“Oh” She said trying to hide her disappointment but failing.

The next morning Julie and I went outside to inspect the damage in the daylight, Julie in her dressing gown and wellies and me in my revolting red jumper, though Julie couldn’t get very far due to the tangle of branches, so she went back inside.
When I had finished my inspection, I went back inside myself and found Julie standing in the kitchen, her mobile phone in front of her, tapping the counter with the edge of a business card.
“He won’t bite you know” I offered “Unless you want him to”
I laughed to myself, but she apparently didn’t hear my little joke.
“I said he won’t bite you know”
“What? I’m not worried about talking to him that’s a preposterous suggestion”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“There isn’t a problem, I was just thinking that’s all” she said then she picked up her mobile and keyed in the number.
“Hello, its Julie Molesworth here, is that Mr Warwick?”
“Ok Paul”
All the time she was talking she was fiddling with her hair with her spare hand which amused me greatly.
“I’m fine but I have a bit of a problem I have a rather large tree laying in my garden”
She noticed me watching her, scowled and turned her back to me.
“No, the house is fine”
“Oh yes that would be fine”
“Ok thank you, bye”
She switched off the phone and put it down.
“Well that sounded quite amicable, not scary at all” I said.
“I wasn’t scared to talk to him” she retorted.
“So, what was the outcome?”
“He’s coming around this morning” She said matter of factly “in about an hour”
“Excellent” I said, “That is good news”
Julie nodded her agreement.
“And I think he’s just going to love your outfit” I said, and she gave me a puzzled look, then glanced at her dressing gown and muddy wellies, and looked back at me again though the puzzled expression had been replaced by panic.
“Oh God” She exclaimed then kicked off left boot, so it flew across the kitchen, a technique she was unable to employ with the other boot due to the bad leg.
So, she sat down and lifted her foot off the floor and shouted.
“Alright calm down” I said as I removed her boot.
“Yes calm” she took a deep breath “Calm is good”
Then she jumped up and rushed out of the kitchen, she was still unable to run despite the progress she had made but she covered the ground quite swiftly anyway.

She reappeared forty-five minutes later looking much more presentable in a smart skirt and blouse and I noticed she was wearing makeup.
“Is that better?” she asked.
“Very smart but you really didn’t need to go to all that trouble for me”
“I didn’t” she replied shortly.
“I did it for….” She tailed off
“For Paul Warwick? Is that what you were going to say? Why on earth would you care what he thinks?”
“Shut up” she said and tried to punch my arm playfully but not for the first time her hand went right through me and she nearly fell over.
“That’s really annoying Harry” She said when she had straightened herself up “I hate it when that happens”

A little over ten minutes later Paul Warwick’s Landrover pulled up in the lane outside the cottage.
Julie was looking out the window as he got out of the vehicle and opened the gate but instead of coming to the front door he went straight to the site of the damage and out of her line of sight, so she went into the other room which afforded her a better look and she watched on as he clambered up onto the fallen tree and then he disappeared down the other side.
“I don’t think he’s going to come in” she said still trying to catch sight of him amongst the branches.
“Oh, he’ll be in when he’s done” I said
It was obvious, if only to me, that he hadn’t rushed round to the cottage on a job he could quite easily have delegated only to go off again without fulfilling the real purpose for his visit which was clearly to see Julie.
Julie spent the next five minutes craning her next to get a better view then she moved away from the window and headed back to the kitchen just in time to see him heading back up the path to the gate.
“He’s off now” She said unable to hide her disappointment.
She went back into the sitting room and sat down in her chair and I just didn’t know what to say I couldn’t believe I’d got it so wrong I would have put money on it.
I sat down in the chair opposite her and tried to think of something clever to say.
“Well it’s probably for the best, it was bound to end in tears”
“That’s not helping” she said flatly, and I was just about to say something full of wisdom in response when there was a knock at the door.
Julie opened the door to find a rather dishevelled Paul Warwick the other side of it.
After a brief exchange of polite greetings Julie invited Paul into the kitchen with the promise of coffee and then she turned to look in my direction and mouthed “Not you”
So, I sat alone in the sitting room for the next twenty minutes trying to decipher words from the low rumble of conversation interspersed with small bursts of girlish laughter.
I had just come to the conclusion, that as I was a ghost I could have been in the room with them all along and she would never have known, when the kitchen door opened, and Paul walked through.
“So, the guys will be here first thing tomorrow” He said as he opened the front door.
“And I will see you later in the week”
“Ok thanks Paul, bye” Julie said then closed the door.
“Well?” I said
“Like you weren’t in the room eavesdropping all the time” She implied
“No, I was not” I said suitably indignant even though I would have been if I’d thought about it sooner.
“Oh, sorry Harry” she said and went on to fill me in on the bones of the conversation doubtless leaving out any of the flirtyness.
Paul was sending a crew round to cut and clear the timber which due to the size of the tree would take two or three days.
Then he would return and assess the rest of the damage to the garden, something else that could easily be delegated I thought.

The next day was the 1st of December and the men were hard at work cutting up the fallen tree and I thought to myself as Julie came down the stairs that she looked like a different person, her body had been getting stronger day by day for weeks but now there appeared to be a new spark within her, a new hope.
I just hoped I was right about her and Paul, because I feared if that spark were to be extinguished again it would never relight.
I had just returned to my reading when she said, “Hi Harry they’re a bit noisy aren’t they?”
“Harry!” she repeated then she shouted
When I didn’t answer she picked up her cane and poked the book I was reading.
“Oh hello” I said.
“I’ve been talking to you, are you deaf?”
“Not exactly I turned the sound off, so I didn’t have to listen to the racket outside”
“You can do that?” she asked, and I nodded.
“Cool” She said “Unfortunately I can’t do that so I’m going shopping for the day”
“Great don’t forget the decorations”
“Decorations for what?”
“Christmas” I said “It’s the 1st of December the advent calendars go up today”
“No, no, no” She said firmly “I don’t do Christmas”
“Why not?” I said shocked
“I don’t like Christmas” she replied
“Why don’t you like Christmas?”
“Well let me see, it’s a waste of money for one thing”
“The whole thing is just a sham, people don’t even believe in what they’re celebrating and if you believe what the papers say half the country don’t even believe Christ existed” She stated angrily though at the time I was unsure quite what she was angry about, whether it was the season itself or peoples’ ignorance.
“Well that’s just nonsense we know from the Romans that Christ existed, they were great record keepers the Romans, people might argue that he isn’t the son of God or that God himself doesn’t exist but they can’t deny Christ’s existence” I said but I don’t think she was really listening, it would not be the first time I’d lost the attention of the person I was conversing with, boring conversation was a bad habit of mine throughout my life and apparently after my death as well.
“And what do you believe?” She asked more calmly.
“I believe in the whole nine yards, Father, Son and Holy Ghost” I said trying to lighten the mood without success.
“What about you?”
“I must believe in him because I hate him so much” she retorted and with that she slipped on her coat and picked up her bag.
“I’ll see you later” she said and left.
I knew from the start of this exercise that she had some serious issues in her life but what I didn’t know was that Christmas was one of them, if in fact it was.
Perhaps her dislike of Christmas was actually masking something deeper, only time would tell unless I were to push the right buttons.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest and the Wise Counsel

I was trapped in the cottage and its environs, I was earth bound because I shut myself away to wallow in self-pity after the death of my wife Rose.
So, I had come to the conclusion that I must help another person in order to “move on” and re-join my Rose.
It would have been easier if I had done it while I was still alive I could have gone off and sought out someone to help, but as I was dead I had to wait for someone to come to me.
But then if I had lived out my last months in the world in the same way as I lived the rest of my life I wouldn’t have been in the mess I was in.
Or maybe this was how it was meant to be, it was my destiny to help someone, which is where Julie came in, she had come to the cottage to escape the world.
At that moment I didn’t know why, and I would need to know that before I could help her, and I was determined to help her whether she liked it or not.
But to find out what I needed to know I needed to be on good terms with her, which was not helped by my clumsy handling of the situation.
So, it was with some trepidation, after our angry exchange, that I went into the sitting room later in the day.
I feared she might take out the anger she felt towards me and channel it at the innocent revellers.
To be on the safe side I remained invisible until I had assessed the lay of the land, I half expect to see Julie sitting in a rocking chair swigging from a whisky bottle and catapulting sweets at the trick or treaters heads, but she was humming, I hadn’t witnessed her humming before, she did impatient tapping of her fingers, she did grinding her teeth, but I had never witnessed humming.
Despite the fact that the humming was a little unnerving, I took a gamble that it was safe, so I materialized.
“You’re humming” I said, and she jumped, I had startled her, and she was clearly flustered, then her face went scarlet.
“No, I’m not” she said indignantly.
“You were humming, I heard you”
“What you heard was me clearing my throat” Julie said without conviction, so she changed the subject.
“Anyway, where have you been, have you been keeping out of my way?”
“I thought it advisable” I said.
Before she had chance to comment she was alerted to approach of trick or treaters coming down the long winding path.
At this time of the day Julie would normally have to employ her stick to move with any kind of speed around the house but I noticed it was leant discretely against the wall behind the door out of sight of anyone who might be standing on the step if the door was open.
She pulled the curtain back a couple of inches and peered out.
“They’re coming, what do I do?” she asked urgently
“Well” I began.
“Oh, come on, you got me into this mess”
“Calm down you’ll have a stroke” I said
Julie took a deep breath and waited for me to speak.
“All the children will have a bag for their sweets” I told her.
“Yes, yes” she said impatiently.
“Well you put a small handful of sweets into each bag but don’t be too generous to early or you won’t have enough to go around everyone”
“Ok” she said and nodded.
“But first you have to open the door” I said inclining my head towards the closed door.
“Oh God yes” she said and laughed nervously “that would help”
Julie opened the door and was met with a chorus of “TRICK OR TREAT” from a small group of excited witches, warlocks, ghosts and ghouls.
“Wow look at you all” she said “What brilliant costumes”
“Ok who’s first?” she asked as she picked up one of the sweet tubs and scooped up a handful.
At the back of the group keeping order was a tall dark-haired man, wearing a flat cap and leather jacket, Julie caught his eye briefly and smiled and he smiled back, then carried on with the sweets, but she kept glancing in his direction, and she estimated he was in his thirties.
Soon she had deposited a handful of sweets into every bag and the group moved back up the path.
“Goodbye Miss Molesworth” the tall man said and smiled, and she smiled back and then looked self-consciously in my direction.
Despite herself she was still smiling as she shut the door.
“You didn’t smile at the children did you” I asked
“You’ll scar them for life”
“Oh! and which poor child was it that you made cry” she retorted
“Or was it someone else you were smiling at?” I said, and Julie blushed deeply just as the doorbell rang.
“Saved by the bell” I said
Julie opened the door and repeated the exercise, and then another three times until the sweet tubs were empty and all the village children had had their share, then she closed the door and reached for her cane.
“I’m exhausted”
“You enjoyed it though?”
She gave me a stern sideways glance and I could see pain in her features.
“Ask me later after I’ve had a drink” she said and then with a bottle of wine and a glass she hobbled towards her armchair.
“Will you join me?” She asked smiling “Oh I forgot you can’t”
“Oh, that’s cruel”
After her first glass of wine she began to relax and after the second she had lowered her guard.
“You had a good time, didn’t you?” I ventured.
“Ok yes I enjoyed, it though I’ll deny it tomorrow”
“And the smile?”
“I admit he was very handsome, for a yokel”
“His name is Paul Warwick and he’s not so much a yokel more a country squire”
“Really” She said with disinterest
“So, which of the little darlings were his children?”
“None of them” I answered “He’s not married”
“Oh!” she exclaimed then replaced it with a rather muted “oh”
After another glass I thought it was safe to raise the subject of this afternoon’s exchange of views.
“Am I forgiven?” I asked.
“What for?” She slurred
It became apparent I had left it one glass too late for a sensible conversation, I had forgotten to take into account that she hadn’t eaten since lunch.
“This afternoon”
“Of course, you spoke very wisdomous words”
“Yes, you are very wisdomly” she said as she leant forward to raise her glass to me and slopped half of it on the table
“I think you mean wise”
“Well I was close” she almost said slopping more wine this time down her blouse.
“Time to get you to bed I think”
“You cheeky old ghost you” She said trying to get out of the chair.
Once she managed to get vertical her bad leg gave way and I had to catch her before she hit the floor.
It was a good job I had been practising otherwise I would never have been able to help her, it would have appeared as a very comical scene as I had a firm hold on Julie yet when she tried to hold onto me her hands kept going through me.
“You’re a difficult man to get to grips with Harry” she remarked with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well you concentrate on staying upright and I will propel you upstairs to bed”
So, with her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth and one eye closed tight shut she managed to adopt a stance which kept her more or less upright.
I then gave her instructions “Left, Right, Left, Right” until we had made the journey up to her room then I guided her onto her bed.
“I hope you’re going to behave like a gentleman” she said and smiled, still with one eye shut tight.
“You’re quite safe, I’m dead remember” I replied as I covered her.
“That’s the story of my life” She said
“What is?”
“Trying to raise the dead in the bedroom” this caused her to explode with a laugh so dirty it wouldn’t have been out of place in a Carry On film, she was still chuckling when I turned out the light.
“Good night Julie”
“Night Harry”

The next morning, I was sat in the kitchen reading the local newspaper, when she walked in, surprisingly bright though she was walking quite stiffly, and she was a little shamefaced.
“Good morning Julie and how are we this morning?”
“I’m fine” she said shortly then she added.
“Was I very embarrassing last night?”
“Not very” I replied.
“Oh God, I was embarrassing though?”
“You were very funny it was nice to see you happy”
“Thanks to you” She said quietly.
“I beg your pardon?” I said and looked up from the paper quite shocked, but she was already on her way out the door for her physio appointment.

It was late afternoon when she returned, and she was moving only a little more stiffly than she had been when she left that morning.
“Didn’t you go to physio?” I asked
“Yes, I did, and it was the best session I’ve had” She replied “I think I’m turning the corner at last”
“Good news and bad news from the doctor though”
“The good news is he’s changed my medication which is stronger, but I only need to take them as and when needed”
“And the bad news?”
“Strictly no alcohol with these ones” She said holding up an innocuous looking brown bottle.
“A small price to pay though” I said encouragingly
“That’s easily said by someone who can’t hold their drink” she said then laughed like a drain, but her mirth was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Quick hide” She said
“Ok” I said jumping up.
“Wait a minute I don’t have to hide I’m a ghost, I’m invisible”
Julie looked at me and put one finger up to her lips indicating I should shut up even though she was the only one who could hear me, then she opened the door.
When the door opened it revealed a very wet Paul Warwick.
“Oh, look it’s the yokel” I said
“Hello Miss Molesworth” the yokel said
“Please call me Julie and do come in out of the rain”
“Thank you”
He stepped in and Julie closed the door.
“He’s dripping on your carpet”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you” Paul said.
“No not at all” She replied
“Good, it’s just I thought I could hear voices before”
“That was probably the radio” She lied
“Good” he said unconvinced.
“Quick change the subject” I suggested.
“Can I offer you a hot drink?”
“No thank you I can’t stop I’m afraid, I just called to see if you were aware of the November 5th bonfire party?”
“No, I wasn’t” Julie answered
“Well we run a coach from the church hall over to Little Trotwood every year, they have an organised display, would you be interested?”
“That’s very kind of you but…”
“Go on say yes” I urged
“…my leg isn’t really up to it…”
“…. It’s not good in the damp weather”
“That’s a shame” Paul said sincerely “It’s always a very good display and they have the best hog roast in the county”
“Thank you anyway” Julie added
“If you change your mind just give me a call” He said reaching into his coat and bringing out a card which he handed to her.
“I will”
She opened the door again and Paul stepped out into the rain again.
“No problem, bye”
“Good bye and thanks again” Julie said closing the door.
“Coward” I said after she had shut the door.
“I don’t like fireworks that’s all” she said pulling a face.
“I’m not a coward” She replied indignantly.
“What else do you call it? He’s attracted to you and you to him”
“Nonsense” Julie said clearly flustered
“And even if there were any attraction I don’t need anyone in my life”
“Everyone needs someone” I said
“Rubbish, in the end people always let you down”
“You can’t tar everyone with the same brush” I said
“I don’t need anyone Harry, I’m perfectly happy on my own”
“Paul’s a good man” I pointed out
“It doesn’t matter how they start out in the end they always let you down, trust me”
I started to speak but she interrupted
“Harry let’s just agree to disagree, shall we?”
I knew I was fighting a losing battle so meekly I said “Ok”
“Good now I’m off to have a bath”

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest Exposed

Three days after, for want of a better phrase, I exposed myself to Juliana, was one of those wonderful early autumn days that lifts your spirits but can also take you by surprise when you step out into it as the sun can deceive you into thinking the summer hasn’t quite surrendered and then the bitter October wind stings you.
I couldn’t tell which it might be as it looked like it might be quite warm, but I couldn’t tell, firstly as I was inside looking out and secondly because I was dead and couldn’t feel anything.
Juliana had been upstairs dressing as it was one of her physio days and she was just hobbling her way downstairs and I was beginning to think that she had indeed passed off our encounter as a hallucination but as she picked up her car keys and opened the front door she called back behind her without turning around.
“Bye Harry”
I didn’t reply because it caught me by surprise, but I don’t think she was looking for an answer though it was difficult to tell as there was no feeling behind the words.
Was it a “Bye Harry” see you later or “Bye Harry” I can’t live in a house with a ghost?
Or perhaps “Bye Harry” are you really there?
She was gone all day and I was beginning to think I had scared her away as it was unusual for her to be quite so late and it had been dark for some time when her car pulled up outside the cottage.
It was a little after seven when she came in through the door her face was tired and strained and she moved uncomfortably.
I had seen that pained look before in the weeks I had been observing her.
It was as a result of her physiotherapy sessions where they worked her hard and she suffered for it, but it was working, and she was getting better.
I had seen the change in her over the weeks and she was getting better, becoming stronger and less reliant on her stick, but her sessions left her exhausted and in a lot of pain.
She moved slowly over to the armchair and collapsed into it, after a few moments she rummaged in her bag and brought out a bottle of water then she reached onto the table and picked up her pills, her hand was shaking as she opened the bottle, she put one in her mouth and took a long drink of water then she leaned back and sighed.
She closed her eyes and was drifting off to sleep, so I sat in the chair opposite her and spoke to her.
She didn’t respond.
“What do you want?” she said without opening her eyes. “And don’t call me Juliana, only my Mother calls me Juliana”
“What should I call you then?”
She opened her eyes and looked straight at me.
“Julie is fine, but never Jules, I hate that”
“Ok” I said
She closed her eyes again.
“What?” She responded impatiently.
“You need to go to bed”
“I can sleep here, its fine now leave me alone”
“Julie, you need to go to bed”
“Leave me alone or I’ll call Ghostbusters and they’ll come and Hoover you up”
“They don’t exist” I said
“Nor do you” she replied
“But I’m here though, and I’m not going to shut up until you go to bed” I stated, and she opened one eye.
“That’s really unkind” she said with surprise.
“It’s for your own good” I said sagely
She looked unconvinced but struggled to her feet muttering under her breath, then she started slowly towards the stairs.
I felt guilty because it was clearly painful for her to walk but I knew it would be so much better for her to get a good rest in bed.
I wished I could help her, but I was unable to, I hadn’t mastered any of the physical stuff when I was in the cottage on my own it didn’t seem worth training myself to open a door when it was easier to walk through it.
Since I had had a house guest, or perhaps landlady would be more precise, as I was actually the house guest, I had been practising with some small success but propelling a person, even a small person, up a flight of stairs was beyond my capabilities.
“I can’t believe that I’m being haunted by Casper’s Granddad and he is making me do this” She said as she struggled up the stairs.
As she reached the top she paused briefly to catch her breath then she headed for her room.
“Tomorrow I’m calling an exorcist” she shouted.
A few minutes later all was silent, and, in an instant, I left the sitting room and transported myself to her bedroom.
It was the first time I’d been upstairs since she moved in and she had made the room very nice.
She was lying on her back fully clothed and sleeping peacefully on her bed.
On the trunk at the foot of her bed was a throw, which with a great deal of effort I managed to cover the lower half of her with it, and I was just about to continue when her hand reached down and pulled it the rest of the way up and she turned onto her side with the throw wrapped round her shoulders.
That left me with the simple task of flicking the light switch something that I had mastered.

The next day was a dull and dreary early October day and it was raining hard, the rain beating against the window glass like someone was throwing handfuls of gravel.
Julie didn’t come downstairs until 11 o’clock, I had heard her moving about upstairs from about ten then I could hear the bath running so after more than twelve hours sleep and a hot bath she made her way down the stairs in a good deal less pain than her ascent the night before.
She was bright and breezy and had real vitality about her such as I had not seen in her before, she was so alive, so vibrant, and she was smiling!
“Harry?” she called as she headed for the kitchen, but I said nothing.
“Harry?” She called again as she entered the kitchen
“Where are you?”
I appeared suddenly in front of her.
“Oh” She exclaimed and jumped, then she laughed.
“I’m here” I said, “What’s all the noise about?”
“It’s enough to wake the dead” I said and smiled.
“Yes, very funny” She said and was smiling too.
I studied her face, it was a very pretty face when you removed the pain that was normally etched into it, what a difference from the night before.
It was nice to see the beauty of the person when the bitterness and pain were removed or at least masked temporarily.
The girl before me today was nothing like the one I had been observing for the past month.
It was clearly only a type of euphoria which would undoubtedly wear off.
“I hated you last night” She said looking straight into my eyes “Making me climb those stairs”
“But today I feel the best I’ve felt since before the accident”
She had not mentioned the accident before.
“I could kiss you” she continued.
“Well that would be lovely but there is nothing to kiss, you’d fall straight through me and head butt the cooker” I pointed out, so she blew me a kiss instead.
“I’m glad you are feeling better”
“I know that it won’t last all day but for now I feel terrific”
“You’ll be dancing by Christmas” I said
“Don’t spoil it by talking about Christmas, I hate Christmas”
“I will tell you another time I don’t want anything to spoil my mood”

The pain did return later that day though not as severe and the next morning the bitterness was back and for the rest of the month she did battle with her demons,
Julie had good days and bad days but overall the demons won.
She still kept herself to herself only leaving the house for physio appointments, which were paying dividends, and her only visitors were delivering one thing or another.
The majority of her time was spent on the computer which she used for her work, something involving pages and pages of gobbledygook, and as her window on the world, a world in which she did not have to participate but could merely be a spectator.
Unless she called on me I chose my moments to appear trying to gauge the right time in between her black moods.
It was while Julie was on the computer, on one of her good days that I chose to show myself.
She was ordering her groceries online when I dropped in.
“Don’t forget the sweets for Halloween” I said
“Oh God not Halloween” She replied.
“Don’t tell me you hate Halloween as well”
“Of course, I hate Halloween, why wouldn’t I, all those ghastly trick or treaters begging door to door”
She was bordering on rant mode and I was beginning to think I had picked the wrong time to call.
“Then there are the implied threats of violence and vandalism”
I looked at her and raised my eyebrows and she stopped and laughed
“You’re such a happy soul” I said
“Well why do you like it then?”
“I don’t really”
“So why do you want me to buy sweets? Did Rose like it? is that why?”
Neither Rose nor I were fans of Halloween before we moved to Appleby, but it was just part of living in the village.
The thing about Rose is that she was a community person and being part of the community was important to her.
We liked the way it was done, it was so different from our past experience, all the children would meet at the church hall and would go around in small groups each group being accompanied by adults, then they would all go back to the village hall and have a party with all the traditional Halloween games and there were prizes for the best costumes.
“No not exactly” I didn’t elaborate.
“You’re so odd” She said and turned back towards her computer.
“I was mean to them last year” I blurted.
“The children, I wasn’t very nice to them” I confessed and looked down at the floor
“I think I made one little girl cry”
“I feel ashamed of my behaviour, Rose would have been so mad”
“Well there’s nothing you can do about it now” She said.
“Hopefully the kids will remember their bad experience and not come knocking this year, so no sweets required”
She punctuated the end of the sentence with an Oliver Hardy style nod, then she smiled and got up and headed towards the bathroom.
I moved over to the computer I looked at the screen and observed that she was at the checkout.
Due to much practise, after all, it’s not as if I have anything else to do, I had mastered moving and manipulating things over the preceding weeks.
So, I sat down and took hold of the mouse, I quickly returned to where Julie had been shopping and found a large tub of Halloween sweets and clicked quantity required 2 and then “add to basket”, then returned her to the check out just as I heard the toilet flush.
I went and sat down again feeling rather pleased with myself, I was not totally unfamiliar with computers, but I had never shopped on line, but I had watched Julie enough times to pick up what to do.
When she returned she completed her shopping transaction and was none the wiser.

The next day when the shopping arrived, the driver unloaded the bags onto the step and Julie signed for the delivery and the driver left.
It was only after she had carried the bags into the kitchen and began to unpack them that she noticed the 2 large tubs of Halloween candy.
“HARRY!” she shouted and thumped one of the tubs onto the counter.
“You bellowed milady”
“Was this you?” she said pointing at the sweets.
“You ordered them after all” I said acting surprised “That’s really sweet”
“No, I did NOT” She corrected me.
“Well it wasn’t me” I said “I wouldn’t know how, you must have done it subconsciously”
“I am not the sort of person who would buy sweets for the little….”
I interrupted her
“Well obviously subconsciously you’re a very nice person” I said and disappeared.

I stayed out of her way for the next couple of days and I spent my time practising, I had mastered the fine manipulations such as flicking switches, unfolding a handkerchief and picking up a pen, I could even write, though my handwriting was still a bit shaky.
What I wasn’t very good at was moving large or heavy objects, so I was in the back garden trying to move the wheelbarrow, unfortunately when I eventually succeeded in moving it I managed to frighten a passing dog walker who was startled by the sight of a wheelbarrow moving along the path under its own power.
So, I went indoors, where I found Julie was sat in her chair reading some documents, I was considering whether it was safe to appear when I noticed the tubs of sweets were stood on a chair next to the door in readiness for the evenings visitors.
I knew that beneath that thick veneer of bitterness and cynicism there resided a good human being.
I deduced that the fact that the sweets were now sitting on a chair and not in the dustbin meant that she was in one of her brighter moods.
I decided I would appear but that I wouldn’t mention the sweets just to be on the safe side.
She looks up from her papers then set them on the table in front of her.
“So, you’ve decided to show yourself”
“What do you mean? I’ve been busy” I said feigning an indignant attitude.
“Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I don’t have demands on my time”
“Yes, I saw you playing with the wheelbarrow”
“So, did Mary Rudd” I said sheepishly
“Who’s Mary Rudd?”
“Retired postmistress”
“And she saw you?” She asked smiling.
“No, she saw a self-propelled wheelbarrow, she’s probably having a large gin to recover as we speak” he said, and she was laughing now.
“Has anyone else seen you?” Julie asked.
“No and I only revealed myself to you because….”
“You thought I was going to top myself”
“I hope you think better of me now?” she asked, and I nodded.
“I do have low moments, and the world is a shitty place, but on the whole, I prefer life”
“I wish you’d start living it then” I said
“What do you mean?”
“If you prefer life why don’t you go out into the world and live it” I suggested
“You’re just jealous that I’m still alive and not dead like you” She said viciously
“No, you’re not dead you’re alive but you’re not living”
“You live your life though a computer screen” I continued
“You never meet people, you never interact with other human beings, you have everything delivered to your door”
She was about to interrupt but I pressed on before she had the chance.
“And if you could cut your own hair you would never see anyone at all”
“I have physio” she corrected me
“And what happens when you don’t need that anymore?” I said, and she snatched up her papers and scowled.
“I don’t need life tips from a ghost” she snapped, spitting out the words like venom, then she turned her back on me.
“Please don’t do what I did, don’t imprison yourself in this cottage” I pleaded but she ignored me, she was angry with me but not as angry as I was at myself.
I blew it, I pushed too hard and she pushed back, I could have got my point across with more subtlety, I was making progress but now I’d gone backwards.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest at Chestnut Cottage

Chestnut Cottage is a rather quaint Tudor thatched dwelling with its white walls and black oak timbers, its rose covered lych-gate and a wishing well in the garden.
It is very much the stereo typical “chocolate box” image of an English country cottage.
It’s a fairly remote cottage situated at the end of Vicarage Lane some half a mile from the Church and about a mile from Appleby village itself.
My name is Harry Tyler and I lived in the cottage for more than twenty years and by the time summer came to an end I had been in residence another eight months after I died.
Not in a physical sense, my body did not lie undiscovered, decomposing in my armchair, I was found and dealt with in the proper manner.
At the time I was happy enough to die, though I took no hand in it I hasten to add, I died of natural causes.
The last year of my life was a mere existence after the death of my dear wife Rose.
We had no children of our own and what other family that were left we were not close to.
Rose and I had been happily married for 47 years and we retired to Appleby village and we had such a nice life together.
She was my conduit to the world, she was the interface that connected me to people, so after she was gone it was like being stranded in a foreign land without a translator.
To find myself alone in the world at the age of seventy-four filled me with dread so I withdrew into the safety of the cottage and became very reclusive and only ventured out when I had to.
So, when I died I naturally thought I would be reunited with my Rose again, but I remained in the cottage and she was nowhere to be found.
I spent every day confined to the cottage and garden the same prison I confined myself to before I died.
In many ways it was no difference to when I was alive except I didn’t have to eat or drink.
Nor did I have to wash or comb my hair or trim my beard and of course I didn’t feel anything.
I was exactly as I was when I died, a fat, old man with white hair and a beard, wearing the same clothes I had on when I breathed my last.
I hoped to God I didn’t have to spend eternity wearing that awful red jumper, I hated that jumper and the only reason I was wearing it at all was that my favourite one was still damp, and I didn’t want to catch a chill.
If I had realised I was going to pop my clogs anyway I would have worn the other one.
So, there I stood a fat white bearded old man wearing a red sweater that made me look like an off-duty Santa Claus.
I didn’t understand why I was still there, I didn’t want to be there I wanted to be with Rose.
I thought there must be something I had to do in order that I could move on, but at that time I had no idea what that something might have been.

On the first of September I thought to myself, today is not like any other day, today things are going to change.
I was standing in what used to be the bedroom Rose and I shared, and I was looking out through the window at the unfolding scene below.
A removal truck had just come to a stop in the lane and a small blue car parked a suitable distance behind it.
The driver of the of the car slowly got out and walked towards the gate, pausing briefly to speak to the removal men who were lowering the tail board, then she walked through the gate and down the long winding path.
She was an attractive young woman, late twenties or probably early thirties, petite with shoulder length black hair that shimmered with a hint of blue like a raven’s wing and she walked awkwardly with a stick in her right hand.
I recognised her at once, as one of fifteen or so prospective buyers who viewed the cottage during the summer.
I thought to myself that it would be nice to have company, even if there would be no conversation, it would be a bit like watching a soap opera on TV.
I would have preferred it to be a man; after all spying on a young woman would make me feel a bit like a peeping Tom, but I figured that beggars can’t be choosers.
Then as I watched her slow progress down the path something terrible occurred to me what if she was one of those awful naturist types who go about the house naked, where would I look?
Then I laughed at the stupid question I had asked myself, it was obvious where I would look, I might be dead, but I was still a man.

So, I watched her discreetly over the next week or so as she went about her unpacking and arranging her furniture, but due to my gentlemanly disposition I declared her bedroom and the bathroom as off limits.
As I was in my ninth month of limbo I was desperate for knowledge of the wider world and I was bitterly disappointed that she didn’t have a television, I really missed the TV and she didn’t listen to the radio either.
I had hoped she might at least take a daily paper but no, the only paper to come through the door was the local freebie.
She did have a computer and I did look-over her shoulder while she was using it, very rude I know and under normal circumstance I would never have done such a thing, but I thought to myself, needs must.
By the end of September, the computer had taught me a lot, I had established that her name was Juliana Molesworth and she was a workaholic who lived on the computer, in fact the computer was her life, it was her work, she shopped on it, she banked on it, it was her library, it was her music collection and it was her only friend.
Apart from her visits for physiotherapy she never went out and her only visitors were delivery people, oh and a hairdresser.
This young woman was making the same mistake that I had, she was cutting herself off from the world and making the cottage her prison.
Though I didn’t know why she was withdrawing from the world I now knew what I had to do to move on, I had to save Juliana from my own fate.

I know that strictly speaking as I was dead I couldn’t actually live with her, but after living with Juliana for five weeks it had become clear that she had gone to Chestnut Cottage to cut herself off from the world and I knew from bitter experience that that course of action was pure folly.
So, it became clear to me that my job was to show her the error of her ways, but I had absolutely no idea how I would achieve that.
For a start I was dead and invisible, although I could make myself visible without any difficulty, the problem was not if I could make her see me, but when and how, and would it make her freak out.
If she didn’t freak out at having a resident ghost, then she almost certainly would when she discovered she had been sharing the cottage with an old man who could make himself invisible.
I decided for the mean time to just maintain a watching brief just to keep an eye on her until I could figure out the best course of action.
I did allow her the odd glimpse, a reflection in a mirror, a shape in the corner of her eye just to test her nerve, but she seemed un-phased by it or would dismiss it with a shrug.
She seemed at least on the surface anyway, to be quite a strong character she was clearly in a lot of pain from her hip, for which she took strong pain killers.
Juliana got around some of the day without her stick but towards the end of the day she couldn’t walk without it and she would rub her hip and you could see the pain etched into her face, and it was a pretty face when it wasn’t screwed up in pain, and she had hypnotic green eyes and a sensual mouth.

It was getting towards the end of the month and I was out in the garden, it had been a glorious late summer / early autumn day, the sun would have felt quite warm had I been able to feel it, and I was watching the sun set as I had so many times with Rose.
I missed her so much and I was feeling sorry for myself, so I stayed until the sun disappeared behind the trees then I went back inside.
Juliana was sat perched on the edge of an armchair and in front of her on the coffee table was a large glass of wine and a pile of pain killers, and I feared the worse as I sat in the empty armchair opposite her, to my mind booze and pills meant only one thing.
Her hand was shaking as it moved towards the tablets.
“Don’t do it” I said
She looked around the room.
“Who said that?”
“I did” I said as I appeared, and she went stiff and white in response and said in alarm
“Where did you come from? How did you get in here? get out before I call the police”
Then she grabbed the empty pill bottle and threw it at me, but it went straight through my chest and hit the back of the chair before bouncing back on to the floor and came to a halt by her feet, by which time she had managed to pull herself to her feet and was wielding her cane, but when she saw the pill bottle come to a stop by her feet she flopped down into the chair and said.
“Damn I’ve taken too many and now I’m hallucinating”
“You’re not hallucinating” I said quietly “I’m really here”
“No, No, that’s not possible” She said and drained the wine glass then instantly refilled it.
“I’ve over dosed” She was trembling, and she held out a hand in front of her and watched it shake.
“Oh God now I’ve got the tremors” She closed her eyes tight for half a minute then opened them and stared at me.
“And you’re still here”
“You’re really not hallucinating” I said quietly “I’m really here, please don’t take your own life”
She took a double take and was suddenly calmer as she considered what I had said.
“Take my own life?” she said quizzically, then she glanced down at the pile of pills and the glass of wine.
“I’m not going to kill myself” she said, and I looked at her and nodded and said “good” but I didn’t believe her, and she could tell.
“I tipped them out to count them because my leg is hurting so bad I thought I must have missed taking one, but I haven’t damn it, and I can’t have another one for two hours” She said impatiently.
That made sense to me, and then I felt foolish and I had exposed myself for nothing.
“I can see you believe me now” She said, “So now tell me who you are or what you are?”
“My name is Harry Tyler”
“I know that name this was your house wasn’t it?”
“But you’re dead, you died here” She said and took a large gulp of wine “Are you a ghost or an angel?”
“I think I’m just a ghost, I haven’t been anywhere to become an angel”
“So why are you here? Why haven’t you gone to where dead people go?” she said before she drained her glass and filled it again quickly.
“I not really sure” I lied
There was silence for a few moments before she asked
“Is there a heaven?”
“I don’t know if there is a heaven or not, I’ve always believed that there was” I replied and paused for a moment
“My wife Rose died in this cottage and she has obviously gone somewhere”
“God how many people have died here? Is it cursed or something?” She asked and had another glug of wine, then a look of panic came over her face.
“Have you been here all the time, ever since I moved in I mean?” Then she flushed deep red.
“You haven’t been letching at me in the bath?”
I laughed and said.
“No, it’s alright don’t worry, I haven’t been letching at you even though you are a very attractive young woman”
She looked doubtful, so I continued.
“I am painfully aware that this is not my home anymore and as such there are areas that I have made off limits, I am a very discreet ghost”
She sighed and looked reassured and then we sat in silence for a while, then she fell asleep in the armchair.

For the next two days I didn’t show myself to her, partly because I thought it might be better for her to digest the knowledge of my existence for a while before I spoke to her again and partly because I was angry at myself for misreading the situation the previous evening and alerting her to my presence unnecessarily.
I had acted on the spur of the moment, but in truth it hadn’t upset my plans in anyway, chiefly because I didn’t have a plan to upset.
Of course, there was always the possibility she might think she had imagined the whole thing as a result of the wine and painkillers.
I looked in on her from time to time and apart from the obvious signs of a hangover and her limp she seemed ok.
Although she did tend to suddenly look over her shoulder for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (04) The Snow Angels – The Angels of Angels Farm

On Christmas Eve morning we woke up late, well late for us anyway, it was 9.30am when we stirred, and it was so quiet.
Angela snuggled up to me and I held her close.
“What time is it?” She asked sleepily
“Half past nine”
“Wow that’s late we’d better get on”
“It’s not that late” I said nuzzling her neck
“It’s too late for that” she said pushing me away.
“Go and put the kettle on”
“Ok” I said and got out of bed.
Angela got out the other side pulled on a T-shirt and went to the window.
I looked at her and wished we had stayed in bed, then she drew back the curtain.
“Snow!” she exclaimed and then Tigger was back bouncing all over the room squealing “Snow “ every time she left the floor.
I walked to the window and looked out on the scene, it had snowed heavily in the night and snow was still falling though more softly and everything was coated in five or six inches of snow.
“It just gets better and better” I mused
“Ok” I said as I turned from the window “What’s it to be, coffee in bed or play in the snow?”
“Play in the snow” Angel shouted and bounded across the room and launched herself at me wrapping her arms round my neck and knocking me backwards onto the bed.
She kissed me passionately on the mouth and asked
“Is there a third choice?”
So after we made love we got dressed in our play clothes and wrapped up against the cold and went out to play in the freshly fallen snow.

It was like being children again as we rushed around throwing snowballs and wrestling in the snow.
Where our newly turfed lawn used to be was a vast area of virgin white and we took turns making snow angels and then we built a snowman in the yard until we started to feel cold and wet and our bodies told us to act our age.
So we went inside and had hot showers and for lunch we had piping hot soup in front of a roaring fire.
After lunch Angela was pottering about in the kitchen washing up and such like and I dozed off in front of the fire.
I started to dream and in the dream I was woken by an icy blast of air from the patio door as it slid open and then a figure stepped through the door it was white and translucent and its outline was made of snow, it was one of the snow angels we had made on the lawn.
It walked towards me then stopped as it became aware of the heat from the fire, then it looked directly at me and spoke.
“You must help them, they need you”
“Who? Who must I help?”
“You must help your friends” then the snow angel turned and left the way it came.
Which was when I woke up.
“Well that wasn’t weird at all” I said out loud and gave a nervous laugh.
I stood up and walked towards the kitchen so I could tell Angela and then I felt something beneath my feet, I looked down and there was a patch of melted snow on the carpet.
“That’s odd” I said to myself.
It was odd as we hadn’t come into that room with our snowy shoes and it was the exact spot were the snow angel had been standing in my dream.
I moved again and as I reached the kitchen door I could see Angela standing motionless staring out of the window open mouthed.
I entered the room and walked up behind her and followed her gaze and on our snow covered lawn were a dozen snow angels all pointing in the same direction.
Then in an instant they were gone and Angela turned around and buried her face in my chest.
“Tell me you saw them as well, tell me I’m not going mad”
“I saw them too” I said reassuringly, then I proceeded to tell her about my dream.
But we didn’t really understand what they were trying to tell us. Who were we supposed to help? And what were the angels pointing at?
They seemed to be pointing at what used to be the old out buildings which were now a house, but why, we couldn’t fathom.
The only friends we had in common were Dave and Emma so it had to be them.
I phoned the landline and got the “out of service” tone.
Angela phoned Emma’s mobile - no answer so I phoned Dave’s and I got no answer as well.
“Well that settles it” I said
Angela agreed and if it wasn’t them who needed our help it would be great to see them anyway.
But just in case we were both completely barking mad we loaded their presents in the car.
As we drove past the snowman in the yard I was sure it had moved, it was now facing the opposite way and its stick arm was pointing at the empty house.
I turned to look at Emma she was looking at the snowman as well
“It’s moved hasn’t it? And look where it’s pointing” she said.

As we drove up the road to their house it was obvious something wasn’t quite right.
To begin with there were no Christmas lights, and then there was virtually no light in the house just a dull kind of flickering glow.

We parked the car quickly and hurried up the path and knocked on the door.
It took a while but then the door opened a few inches and a gaunt pale face peered through the crack with frightened tired eyes.
“Emma?” we both said at once, then the door swung open and Emma broke down and fell against me.
I scooped her up and carried her through to the lounge Angela followed me in and quickly shut the door to keep out the cold.
Once in the lounge we realized it was little warmer than the street.
There was a paraffin heater in the middle of the room and the only light came from candles.
I set Emma down on the sofa and she wrapped herself in the duvet that was laying there, two of the children were sitting on another sofa beneath another duvet reading books the youngest was asleep next to Emma..
Emma was a mere shadow of the confident self-assured woman I had last seen in August.
“What happened?” I asked and it all poured out of her.
She told us that Dave lost his job in September when they started a phased closure of the hospital and try as he might he couldn’t find anything else.
“At first I got a part time job, cash in hand you know, which helped a bit but then I fell off my bike and broke my arm and I couldn’t work”
“Why didn’t you call us?” Angela asked
“Dave wouldn’t let me” she sobbed
“What about Karen? Wouldn’t she help” I added,
“We had another falling out, we haven’t spoken since Easter”
Karen was her sister, they had never been close, but Emma had resolved to know her better.
“What about when we phoned you? Why didn’t you tell us then?”
“Dave was so ashamed that he couldn’t look after his family, he didn’t want anyone to know”
Emma went on to say that after that the bills just kept mounting up and then the phone was cut off, then the mobiles had to go and the electric was likely to be next.
“You should have called us then?” I said
“When it got so bad I didn’t know what to say”
I looked at Angela and I could tell we were sharing the same thought.
We had been so wrapped up in the farm we had forgotten our friends.
Emma continued.
“We owe three months’ rent, what will we do when the council evicts us?”
“It won’t come to that” I said and I looked again at Angela and she nodded agreement
In that moment the meaning of the angel’s message had become clear.
“No it won’t” Angela agreed
“Where is Dave now?” I asked
“He’s upstairs in bed” Emma sobbed heavily “he’s very ill but he won’t let me call a doctor, he hasn’t eaten for two days”
“Well he’s not going to get better if he stays here” I said “You can all come to stay with us for Christmas; we’ve got plenty of room”
I suddenly thought I may have overstepped the mark so I looked across at Angela, and she nodded her approval and smiled.
“Then after the holidays when the other house is finished, you can move in there until you’re all well and back on your feet” Angela added and it was my turn to nod approval.
That was what the angels meant I was sure of it.
Emma leapt off the sofa and hugged us both.
“We can sort things out with the council after Christmas so don’t worry” I assured her
“Now you go and pack some clothes and toys for the children” Angela ordered wiping away her own tears.
The logistics took a little thinking about it was obvious we couldn’t all get in our car and I was going to need help with Dave so I phoned Greg, he was coming to us for Christmas anyway, and between the two of us we transported everyone plus baggage and Molly’s cot.

Back at Angels Farm, Angela got everyone settled while Greg and I unloaded the cars.
As we took the last bags out of his boot I said.
“You do realize I’ve given your bed away to someone else?”
“No you’ve given it to someone who needs it more” He replied
“I’ll be all right I’ll sleep in the caravan”
Once we were all inside in the warm, Greg played with the children in front of the fire, Angela prepared some hot food and I called a doctor for Dave.

After everyone was settled in bed Angela and I were clearing up when we looked out the window and noticed it was snowing again, so I opened the kitchen door and stepped down onto the patio Angela stood on the step behind me and wrapped her arms round my neck and kissed my cheek.
“It’s going to be a white Christmas” she whispered in my ear.
Suddenly the floodlight came on and illuminated the whole patio and stood at the edge of the lawn was a Snow Angel with a gentle smile on its face.
“Did we do the right thing?” I asked it
The Angel nodded.
“And the house is for people who need help?”
The Angel nodded again.
“We will use it well” Angela added and with that the angel smiled again and then lay down upon the lawn and then the light flicked off.
The snow was falling fast now.
“All trace of them will be gone by morning” I said
“There will always be angels at the farm” Angela replied and kissed my cheek again, then we went back inside.

So for Angela and me it had been an amazing year, a life changing year, a year never to be forgotten, a year that began with love at first sight and ended with a miracle.
At first we chastened ourselves for being such poor friends, by being so self-absorbed in our own priorities that we forgot what was important.
But when we looked back over that eventful year we realized that we were merely adhering to a greater plan
Throughout the year we were being guided and steered towards our destiny by the angels.
They steered us towards St Lucy’s church in Brookley for our wedding and it was no coincidence that the farm went on the market the very day we began our search for a home.
Nor was it happenstance that a breakdown led me to take a diversion that took me past the farm so I would see the “for sale” sign and all those workmen being available just at the time we needed them.
Then finally in an area of the country that had not seen a significant fall of December snow for more than 50 years produces the snowfall on Christmas Eve in which we made the snow angels.
Though some might say we had been manipulated we chose to think we had been chosen and guided and we were happy to be so.
For the rest of our lifetimes we never saw the snow angels again but for all our days we were the angels of Angel’s Farm.