THE PERSONAL UNCANNY

It was a sunny summer day in around 1980, and I was sitting upstairs in our small house, a modern “link-detached” (that is, not detached at all), in the spare bedroom, sitting at my sewing table and machining away, running up something to wear that evening, as we often did then.  It was a repetitive task that didn’t require too much concentration, and I was daydreaming the afternoon away.

Then, suddenly, the quality of the air around me seemed to change.  I had a very strong and immediate sensation of being bewatched, as if someone extremely hostile were standing on the landing behind me.  My back was to the open door of the room and I spun round; no-one there, but it was impossible to stay in the room and I felt compelled to run down the stairs to “safety”.  I didn’t dare go back up until someone else was in the house with me.

I thought that this eerie experience was an intensely personal affair, but I recently came across an account by Rosamond Lehmann, in her strange, spiritually charged 1967 memoir The Swan in the Evening. She describes an uncanny moment she experiences while sitting looking out at her garden, watching woodpeckers and hoping to catch sight of red squirrels, like this: “I felt suddenly caught, as if in a magnetic current.  Such a strong sensation of being watched assailed me that my skin crept”.  She jumps us and runs through the French windows on to the lawn to escape the “watcher” – although “whoever it was ” seems to go with her into the garden.

I must admit that my skin also crept when I read this – who, or what, was watching us?

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