My first apparition!

Many years ago, I lived just outside London: my best friend at the time was the son of the fire-chief of a suburb called Horn****ch

Ian, for that was his name, lived in the large somewhat dilapidated house that went with his father's position. It was my habit to go  home with him after school and play football in his large garden.
One day I took with me a new ball of which I was inordinately proud: it was the first leather ball I had ever owned.

After a few minute's play, my young companion kicked awkwardly and the ball flew over the metre-high fence that separated his garden from that of the neighbours. I admonished him, and told him he must retrieve my new ball. He refused obdurately! Nothing I could try would persuade him otherwise: despite being unusually tall and robust for his eleven years, he steadfastly refused to climb over the fence into the next-door garden. With an uncharacteristic show of bravado,  I vaulted  the fence to find myself knee-deep in damp grass. A somewhat flattened area in the centre betrayed the location of my ball, toward which I began to 'wade'.

Something made me look up and towards the house, some twenty metres away. Along the front of the grand, villa-style residence ran a low, sheltered terrace. In the centre of this sat an elderly woman, knitting and rocking gently in a cane chair…..'ve guessed the end of this tale, I'm sure! I called out to the old woman for permission to retrieve my ball: she nodded her smiling assent. On returning to my playmate, I found him skulking by the back door of his house.
"You had no need to worry!" I told him, and recounted what had transpired!
He burst into sudden unexpected tears, and ran inside. Only later did his mother take me aside and explain that the old woman who I had described in such detail had passed away the  previous week!

An unwelcome visitor!

I remember when I was younger than I am now, I had to stay at the home of my sister-in-law, Vivienne in Brentwood in Essex (very near Shenfield!).  I  went there because the snow was very deep, and the trains were not running into London (where I worked) from my home town of Wickford.  There was no problem with trains from Brentwood.
The house was Victorian, with 2 staircases - one at each end of the house.  The building was the epitome of the Victorian Gothic architecture, and inside, the décor was a woodworm's dream!  Dark, mahogany wood panelling covered the walls, and the gloomy atmosphere was not helped by the apparent absence of anything resembling a heating system!

My Sister-in-Law led me up the winding back staircase to my room under the eaves.  The ceiling sloped in 3 directions so that the walls at each side of the room were a mere metre high.  The fourth wall was filled by a large window, which looked out over the white-blanketed garden below.
In the corner of the room was a small door.
"What is the door for?" I enquired.
"It leads to our secret room" Viv explained.
Since I am of an inquisitive nature, I opened the door and peered through.  I beheld a narrow passageway, about ˝ metre wide.  Curious as a cat, I squeezed through the door and into the passage.  It ran straight for about 3 metres and ended at an archway.  Through this arch was a large, cobweb-filled room, about 2˝ metres square.
"The house used to be a convent" explained  Viv, " and we think that they used it as a cold store-room".
We retraced our steps back down the passageway, and returned to the chilly bedroom.
"Well, I'll leave you to it" she said, and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Soon, I was tucked up under the large, puffy duvet.  There were no curtains at the window.   The wind was whistling around outside, and the garden looked like a large snow-globe, filled with swirling snow-flakes.  Under the covers, I curled into a tight ball, and drifted off to sleep.

It must have been some hours later when I woke up.  It was no longer snowing outside, but the pale light of dawn 'ad begun to stain the darkness of the sky.  Suddenly, I noticed that the door to the secret passageway was half open!  I was sure that I had checked it was shut before I got into bed, but perhaps it had swung open by itself?

I was about to get out of the bed to close the door, when a gnarled hand appeared to touch it from inside the passage!  This was a most unexpected shock, and I sat on the edge of the bed frozen in disbelief … imagine the mounting feeling of dread I felt, as from the shadows of the passageway a human figure appeared.  An old, wizened man with thin white hair entered the bedroom.  He seemed completely unaware of me, perched on the edge of the mattress, with the covers held up to my chin!  The bent figure shuffled towards the bed, and then - oh horror! - he got onto it!  I let out a huge scream and hurtled from the room in terror.
My Sister-in-Law assured me that no-one could have got into the house, and when she led me back to investigate, there was no sign of my elderly visitor.  As you can imagine, I was not anxious to finish the night there, and instead, curled up on the couch downstairs!
Unfortunately, every time she has asked me to go and stay with her since then, I have been otherwise engaged!!

Some Civil War spooks!

It is, perhaps, not surprising that the shades of Royalists and Parliamentarians ('Roundheads' and 'Cavaliers' if you prefer ) figure quite frequently in these memoires. Assuming that ghosts may perhaps be 'recruited' to their hauntings from among those who have been rudely wrenched from their mortal existence by acts of violence, there is hardly a square metre of these islands where some ill-fated soul was not sent to his maker during the Greate Rebellion of the mid-17 th century.

Some years ago, as you may have read elsewhere, I occasionally took part with hundreds of other enthusiasts in re-enactments of battles fought during those turbulent times.

On the occasion I am thinking of now, we were due to hold a 'muster' at Cheriton, a commuter town in the South of England.
Back in 1970, Cheriton was a sleepy town in Hampshire, famous only for being the site of a particularly bloody little skirmish that took place in ( I
think! ) 1643.

We were to re-enact the events that took place in what is known now ( as then! ) as 'The Lane of Disaster'. This sunken green-way passes between high hedgerows: back in 1643, unbeknown to a party of Parliamentarians that were marching along the lane, these hedges concealed a contingent of Royalist Dragoons. At the appropriate moment, they opened fire, wreaking havoc among the tightly-bunched foot-soldiers: hundreds were slaughtered in just a few minutes.

In 1970, things were a lot more peaceful! All of us (whatever the colour of our sash! ) were camped together at one end of the lane: the village ( and Inn! ) were at the other! Accordingly, after our evening meal,  we formed up into a column and, colours flying and matches glowing, we marched through the dusk, down the lane to sample the local ale!

When we emerged from the gloomy tunnel of the hedgerow, we found a group of two or three dozen of the villagers waiting for us: they spontaneously cheered and waved! Then, having been dismissed, we moved in groups towards the bright lights of the inn.

One of the locals walked over to us; after an exchange of pleasanteries, he asked "So where is the other army going to be drinking?"
We naturally asked to which army he was referring. His reply stunned all within earshot:

"The one that marched out silently just ahead of you!"