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Jesse saw my garden ghost too

by | 2 Apr 2019

I spotted her out of the corner of my eye – our garden ghost. No, really. I have seen and sensed her countless times. My husband and I accepted soon after we moved into our Ruddington home in Nottingham, 20 years ago this spring, that we would be sharing our space with a friendly presence whose name wasn’t on the mortgage.

Pottering around my herbaceous border this spring, it was comforting to think she had chosen to see in another year with us. Jesse our cat was aware of her presence while she was around. Speaking to neighbours, we heard she and her hubby had lived in the house from when it was new, back in the 1930s, right up to the 1990s. We got to know her name because she left her gas mask in an old chest, in our loft, with ID from 1940. This was the chest we told the loft insulation gang to leave untouched. “Work round it,” we told them. They did.

Whatever you may think of all this, I love the sense of continuity this brings. She clearly – or rather unclearly; we only see her fleeting shadowy figure – doesn’t want to leave her old home. I totally get it. This spring I found myself really enjoying, for the first time in a life of adventures, the simple comforts of home. It might be the effects of Brexit or Trump or the sheer sense of doom and despair hanging over everything in the world at the moment, but some days I don’t want to stray too far from my kitchen or sofa.

Not that I have or want to shut out the world completely, or even believe it’s possible. All my memories of homes past involve the strange and charming intersections that occurs when households abut with households. I have always lived in a semi, so noise inevitably travels through the walls.

For instance, I grew up listening to steam trains…. played on cassette, by the chap next door. He had worked on the railways in Nottingham and became reclusive after he retired. He was listening to the sounds he loved, and so were we. After he died, my mum helped the family clean up and found the cassettes of carefully notated train journeys like the engine Blackmoor Vale on the Bluebell line on August Bank Holiday Sunday in 1966.

Mum still has her Bakelite phone from the 60s

My parents’ house had a phone installed in the 1960s – but we shared the party line with people we hardly knew across the road. You picked up the Bakelite phone to make a call and sometimes you were suddenly listening to a private conversation. In turn they could have the unusual pleasure of hearing mum make a chiropodist’s appointment to get my verucca seen to.

Tolkien said, of leaving the house: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” I am nowhere near the stage where I can’t face stepping outside. But I am becoming decidedly Hobbity in my home-loving habits.

*First published in the Nottingham Post