Archive | October, 2012

HALLOWEEN – MY TRUE GHOSTLY ENCOUNTER IN FLEET HAMPSHIRE

24 Oct

Sharing an unexplained or for want of a better  word, ‘spooky’ experience is for many people far more difficult and embarrassing than sharing tales of an intimate sexual encounter.

The fear of course is that people will think you are; mentally unstable, a fantasist, attention seeker and possibly about to embark on some sort of religious or spiritual crusade.

I have always liked to think of myself as a rational, but open minded person, and I am about to confess to you that I have had many ‘spooky’ experiences and I don’t mean of the sexual kind, I actually mean paranormal encounters that I cannot explain.

So for Halloween, I am going to share with you one of my creepy and unexplained encounters, please don’t judge me, I will recount  exactly  what happened and I promise you I am not ready to crumble into insanity, just yet.

I was in my last year at sixth form, I had stayed on at my school in Farnham Surrey and as I lived in Fleet in Hampshire, I had to take a bus into college, usually two buses.  It was a routine I had become very accustomed to, there was a hierarchy on the school bus and I had now arrived at the top of that heap, and I got to choose where I sat on the bus which was usually at the back, where I could hopefully get a little bit of peace and quiet on the journey.

I always think the most chilling paranormal encounters occur in the bright sunshine of a busy street, rather than the archetypal bat strewn, graveyard at midnight.  That is far too Wilkie Collins, if ghosts, spirits wandering abroad really did exist, why would they just stick to the Hollywood script locations.

It was a balmy late summer’s afternoon when the bus pulled into my stop on the main road into Fleet, it was a busy road, the bus stop was opposite a petrol station and the road was constantly buzzing  with traffic as it was one of the main thoroughfares into Fleet town centre from Aldershot, Farnborough and other surrounding towns.

My stop was still a good walk into Fleet High Street, just short of two miles until you arrived at the shops.

As I stepped off the bus to walk home I was immediately faced with an extremely elderly gentleman directly in front of me.  If I had to guess his age, I would say he was in his late eighties and possibly his nineties.  He was immaculately dressed in a dark suit and homburg hat, but stooped over his walking stick and looked as if he could barely walk more than a few yards.

He was right in front of me and extremely close, there was no way I could easily walk around him, he raised his face to look into my eyes.  This is where I know many of you will think of me as a fantasist, but he looked into my eyes and I can only say that I felt he was looking into my soul, the only way I can describe it is I felt this aged man knew everything about me.  The look wasn’t just intense it absolutely shook me to my core.

“Can you tell me the way to Fleet High Street please”?  He asked me in a clear and strong voice that belied his age.  I was still disturbed by what had transpired between us, I wasn’t sure what it was but one thing I knew for certain is it wasn’t anything I had experienced before and it wasn’t ordinary or normal.

“Yes you just keep walking along this road, don’t turn and eventually you will come to the High Street, but it is a really long walk”

I managed to reply and looked at his physical state and his bent frame held up just by the stick of wood with rubber at the end.

“It is a really long walk, you would be better to get the bus”  I said with concern, still perturbed by the look that had passed between us, and becoming a little puzzled as to why a man in his condition would be shuffling along this road.  Where had he come from?  There were no old people’s homes nearby, why would he think he could walk that distance?   How would he not know where Fleet was it was clearly sign posted just by the bus stop.  One thing was for sure I knew he wasn’t going to make it more than a few hundred yards in his present aged and decrepit stooped state.

“Thank-you” he said looking again into my eyes, still intently but not with the power of his previous stare.

He looked down and slowly shuffled past me.  I was deeply as the younger generation would now say ‘weirded out’ by this encounter!  I knew this bizarre meeting was something out of the ordinary, there was no way on this earth he was going to make it to Fleet.  Five seconds must have passed, and you know my heart was racing and my mind was telling me don’t look back, no just don’t look back.  But that racing heart of mine won, you have to look back he could have collapsed, you can’t let that old man walk all that way.

Five seconds on a bright sunny day on a bustling urban road that is all the time that had elapsed!

I turned around and looked up that sunny main road, with no hedgerows, no fences, nowhere to hide even if this gentleman had been in the peak of condition he could not have escaped or hidden so quickly.

There was nobody behind me!  The bent double ancient and hypnotic dapper gentlemen had simply vanished into that sunny Hampshire air.

I scanned the horizon, I looked both sides of the road, I span round in scared disbelief, but my mind had always known, if you turn back around he would be gone.

It’s funny, you really do stand frozen to the spot, then suddenly your limbs spring into action, I turned back around and ran, ran as fast as my legs would take me I ran all the way home, never stopping once.

It is a encounter I have shared with a few people over the years, and it is one that is hard to actually convey, how can you really accurately describe what you felt when that man looked into your eyes and the fact that yes he did actually just vanish.

When I got home, I never told my mother, she had been ill and something just prevented me from ever telling her.

So this is my Halloween confession, I hope you enjoyed it.  Putting hand to keyboard and actually recounting this tale, it still gives me chills and I can be instantly transported back to those moments.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”!Image

Happy 50th Birthday Whatever Happened To Baby Jane

17 Oct

I must have been aged around four years old when I won the bright red plastic lips in a Christmas Cracker, then synchronicity played it’s part!

As I was parading around the dining room section of our living room, modelling the lips, an old movie was playing on the chunky television.  I suddenly realised all the eyes in the room were staring at the flickering screen and not my hilarious antics.

On the dusty monitor a woman with startling eyes, razor sharp cheek bones and lips so red I could see them radiating in black and white, was holding court, she was magnificent, with one swift swipe she hit the insignificant male around the face.  That was it, I fell in adoration, I had found my icon.

Bette Davis became my movie idol, as I got older I found every book I could that had been written about her or by her and devoured it, I savoured every fact and recollection and it all served to increase my ardour.

I adored all her films, but there was one movie that to me stood head and shoulders above the rest, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  This movie was unlike any other film I had ever seen.  It was hilarious, scary, camp, outrageous, majestically acted and perfectly overacted with a script packed with pathos, acerbic put-downs and shock moments.  Life imitated art, two of Hollywood’s greatest icons who had spent a lifetime admiring, envying and trying to outdo and out act each other now brought all that legendary enmity to the silver screen and it was a shootout between these two titans and the winner was the audience.

I must have watched this movie about thirty times and every time, I notice something new.  It is a film that doesn’t seem to age.  It has gained the appeal of vintage Hollywood, some of the outside location shots of Sixties Hollywood set the heart beating with delight at the pure nostalgia, but it doesn’t in any way make the movie seem dated.  So many of the old ‘film noir’ movies are almost unwatchable they have aged so badly.  But not Baby Jane, it is as fresh and contemporary as the day it first hit the screens.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is fifty years young on 26th October 2012.  It premiered in New York to almost universal acclaim.

Over the passing years the mystique surrounding the film has continued to grow.  There have been books written about the making of the film, plays written about the two great stars filming this masterpiece.  There has been a musical, only this year it has been rumoured Walter Hill is planning a movie remake, there was already an ill-advised version filmed in the Seventies with the Redgrave sisters.  The only thing so far not considered is a pantomime and it would be perfect for a gothic ‘panto’.

Fans of the movie can still see the Baby Jane House, and many of the locations.  I took a drive one autumnal morning in Hollywood to that legendary house, just like the movie it has been untouched by time.  I just kept staring in awe, I expected Bette to come out of the side door any minute, caked in make-up, watching for Mrs Bates the nosy neighbour, jump into her car and down to the bank to cash the cheque.

This is a great web page showing many of the locations from the film that you can visit http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/w/whatever.html.  One location not mentioned is the cinema shown at the beginning of the movie, that can be found at the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank.  If you book one of their intimate tours you can still see the cinema lot in all its glory and you will get plenty of time to take as many photographs as you like.

I was lucky enough to meet Bette Davis on her last ever trip to the UK, but enough of that, that is for another blog!

This is all about my favourite movie of all time.  You may notice so far I have not mentioned Joan Crawford (oops).  That is of course a quite deliberate omission, because although she was and always will be an icon of the golden age of Hollywood and a Oscar winning diva, for fans of the film, you are either Davis or Crawford, you have to pick a team and stay on it.  Once you have your team you will argue, debate, remonstrate with anybody who disagrees with you about who was the greater, actress, star, and played the better role in the movie.

Bette was nominated for the Oscar for Baby Jane, but when Anne Bancroft eventually won for The Miracle Worker, Crawford made sure she was there to accept the award on her behalf and gloat at Davis.

I thoroughly recommend the Shaun Considine book The Divine Feud for those who want to read more about these wonderful ladies lifelong camp battle with each other.

Having retailed movies for nearly twenty years, I know that Halloween is a big day in the DVD/Blu-ray sell through market.  Everybody loves a scare, so this Halloween, go on pick up the two disc special edition of this schlock horror classic, mouth along to each scene and raise a silver platter with a dead rat in salute to this gem of a film!

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Robert Burns, Flared Trousers and My Bare Bum!

7 Oct

There has long been a legend passed down in my family that we are distantly related to that great Scottish poet Robert Burns, my great grandmother was even called Annie Burns Mclean. My maternal family actually do hail from the same area as the great man.  But of course, we all know that everybody and their dog in the vicinity of the great Burns was named after him.

There is one thing for I know for sure, one of his poems has been gifted to me as legacy and the words have haunted me throughout the passing decades:

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion:

What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,

An’ ev’n devotion!”

Oh from many a foolish notion it would indeed free us, to see ourselves as others see us!  My grandmother quoted this on an almost daily basis, maybe she sensed the lack of clarity I possessed when it came to my own self-image.

As has already been established, in previous blogs, I have a lurid imagination and my powers of self-perception tended to be coloured by my fantasies.  Unfortunately life has always brought me back down to earth with a horrendously embarrassing jolt.

Just at the moment when I thought I was the absolute ‘dogs bollocks’  life conspired to teach me with the deafening sound of other people’s laughter, that I was actually a fool!

Church was a big part of my growing-up.   Attending mass on Sunday was strictly adhered to.  Looking back at it now I can see it was all theatre.  The Catholic service of course is immensely melodramatic and histrionic, but the congregation was just as theatrical.

Putting on your Sunday finest, down on your knees peeping to see who was admiring your devotion, feeling pangs of envy that the Sheehans were chosen to carry the collection plate and not you.

Unfortunately for me, it was at mass, praying amongst my compatriots where some of the most embarrassing moments of my early life would play out.

I had been asked to take up the eucharist, I was nervous, but also proud too.  Everybody would be looking and they would all be admiring my new blue shiny leather boots, this was the first time I had worn them and they would make a great cool clopping sound as I walked up the shiny wooden centre aisle to present the sacred silverware to the Priest.

‘Clip, clop, clip, clop, THUD’, Father Leahy seemed shocked and rather annoyed as I skidded in my shiny new leather boots and landed straight into his arms knocking everything flying in the process.  All I could hear was the sound of muffled laughter, being smothered by the odd cough.  When I turned around the faces of the congregation were a mixture of pity and mirth.  The curse of Robert Burns had struck for the first time.

As I mentioned, mass attendance proved to be a constant source of humiliation.  My father fancied himself as quite the opera singer and did indeed have a booming voice in the manner of a Lancastrian Pavarotti.  He would sing every hymn as if he was on the stage at La Scala in Milan.  I could not appreciate his vocal talent, all I could see were the faces of all my peers in the church laughing and sniggering.  Each hymn seemed to last a decade.  I pleaded with him in the car every week, ‘please don’t sing too loudly this week’! Each time he promised, and each Sunday he broke that promise, mum even begged him not to ‘upset your daughter’.  But no, mass was his stage and “FAITH OF OUR FATHERS HOLY FAITH, WE WILL BE TRUE TO THE TILL DEATH” was his Nussun Dorma.

As I got older, I managed to avoid having to go to mass too often with my parents by staying away at friend’s houses.  Surely now the curse of Burns would be gone?

Farnham, Surrey is the epitome of middle England, well heeled, genteel and affluent.  Unfortunately in the 1980’s, I would not exactly have described it as trend setting.  Most of the clothes shops catered for the matronly ladies who ‘did lunch’ and the Penelope Keithesque set.  It was 1982, Drainpipe jeans were in fashion, preferably with a stripe down the side, the straighter the better. Nobody wore flared trousers anymore.  The only flares I ever saw were in the episodes of the American television shows constantly shown on repeat on the BBC, that were already years old, oh and I also saw them in the mullioned windows of the upscale middle-aged ladies boutiques in Farnham.

One day I was in Castle Street, waiting for a bus.  I looked great, I knew I looked great, my crimped black hair was looking fabulous and the cheap hair gel I had found with just a touch of glitter in really highlighted how gorgeous I looked.  The bus was running late, and I was getting bored so I leaned on the shop window next to the bus stop, to just to take the weight off.

There was a creaking noise, then a smashing sound, the next thing I knew I was lying in the window display spread-eagled across the most expensive pair of flared slacks I have ever seen, I was also nestling next to a beige crimplene blouse replete with bust darts and detachable neck bow tie.

I was mortified, it was bad enough to fall through a shop window in full view of passers-by but to end up on recumbent on a pair of strides that would only be seen adorning the pins of an ancient old toff or Jamie Sommers  (The Bionic Woman)  was horrific !!!

The shop owner was fuming, “how could I possibly be so stupid as to lean against a glass window” “what was she supposed to do now?  It would cost an absolute fortune to get it fixed”.  I just wanted to leave as quickly as I could, I thought about telling her, that her clothes were crap and that nobody wore flared trousers nowadays but I thought better of it, after ten apologies I managed to flee the shop and just pray nobody had seen me lying on the hideous garments.  “Would from many a foolish notion free us to see ourselves as others see us”

Perhaps the curse would be confined to this country, surely if I traveled abroad it couldn’t find me there, could it?

Winter 1996, It has been a wonderful night in Los Angeles, a fantastic concert had led to me drinking nearly a bottle of Southern Comfort.  The hotel walls were lined with pictures of Janis Joplin doing the same.  God I was incredibly cool, this English chick could drink any of these Yankee women under the table, even the great Joplin herself!

Finally my partner and I made our way to bed, both of us absolutely blocked, bladdered, totalled, wankered, drunk, call it what you will.

The problem with drinking too much is it has to at some point find the exit.  A couple of hours after finding my way to bed in a in alcohol induced haze, the urge hit.

So with just a skimpy t-shirt covering nothing, I found the door and opened it, to the toilet, unfortunately it wasn’t the toilet, or the closet, it was the door to the hallway.  Before I had realised where I was the hotel room door slammed shut behind me.

Our room was opposite the elevators, the CCTV cameras and there I was showing those Americans just how lily white an English girl’s ass could be!

I started to panic, I banged on the door, “let me in”.  No reply from my comatose other half, BANG, BANG, BANG “WHAT ARE YOU DOING LET ME IN”.  I was getting more and more desperate as every second went by, what if the elevator doors opened, or somebody came out from another room.  As my pleas got more manic I could hear my partner answering me, then snoring.  She was so inebriated she was replying in her sleep.  Eventually after what must have been ten minutes she opened the door.  My face was white with rage, as white as my bare arsed bum!

There is a hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard who most probably plays the video every Independence Day “look at these idiots we escaped from” they manage to gasp between gales of laughter “cheers”!

I couldn’t even be cool half way across the world, Burns, that long lamented, most probably never distant ancestor had found me and shown me once again “how others see us”.

I used to wonder, what would my signature tune be, I wonder no more Embarassment by Madness has the perfect ring.

So next Burns night, please do me a favour, raise a glass of the hard stuff to that great man, and raise another to my bare arse!

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