SAFE AND UNSAFE PLACES

I mentioned in my last post that I’d been reading Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost  – do try and read it if you can.

When Hilary is six, the family moves into a haunted house.  “Our daily life,” she says, “is hushed, driven into corners. We move in a rush between the house’s safe areas, and the ones less safe, where, as you enter a room, you get the impression that someone is waiting for you.”

When I read this, I was taken straight back to my own childhood and visits to my grandmother’s house.  On the ground floor, a stained-glass paneled front door led into a dark passage, from which the front room, the stairs, the kitchen and the living room at the back of the house were accessed.  There were also two doors which opened onto steps down into larder cupboards, one on either side of the kitchen door and at right angles to it, and you had to pass between these to get to the kitchen.  I remember family Sunday lunches at grandma’s; afterwards, in winter, we would all gather in the living room in front of the fire to watch tv.  But when you wanted to go to the loo, you had to leave this place of safety and run down the hallway and up the stairs and back again, as quickly as you could, because there was something behind those larder doors that was intent on catching you, and you could always feel it watching as you ran by.

As quickly as you can!

I’ve heard several accounts of uncomfortable houses.  One story concerns a beautiful, traditionally-built and decorated home in a Majorcan village, rented by four friends for a week’s summer holiday.  The staircase, light and airy, led up from the entrance hall, and a small bedroom was accessed from a half-landing. The other bedrooms and bathroom were on the next level.  As the week progressed, the friends all found they were making small adjustments in their daily routines to avoid having to go upstairs and pass the doorway to this small bedroom.  Eventually, someone mentioned this, and they all agreed that the room make them feel very uneasy, and thought it “creepy” and “scary”.

And then there was the semi-restored country retreat in Brittany.  The house was just about habitable – the kitchen, bathroom, living area and two bedrooms had been renovated, although the rest of the property was still derelict.  The large paved terrace was ideal for lazy afternoons enjoying the beautiful rolling landscape.  But the family staying there dreaded being inside.  “We didn’t want to be alone in the house,” they said.  They felt that “someone was watching us all the time”.

For another scary account of a childhood spent in a haunted house, have a look here.

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