Jul 28 2013

Hoghton Tower and the potentially fake science of ghosts

The concept of somewhere being ‘the third most haunted house,’ in the country interests me greatly. Who and by what means accurately and resolutely measures ghostly phenomenon into some sort of Supernatural Pie chart?


Does one Screaming Lady irregularly seen push a stately home up a chart past some turreted building where phantom monks have mournfully chanted for centuries  but have not been seen since 1956?

Is a faithful phantom dog worth more than the occasional lament heard from a child lost in a well?  I want a Venn Diagram.


The elderly guide speaks in calm convinced  Lancashire tones. ‘We have been measured by The Pschosomething Association (I am not quite sure what he said but it sounded all proper  and Sciency) and we were third.’

I mention Samlesbury Hall as possibly also being in the top three. I am stared at again and my question about Salmesbury Hall, a close neighbour and potential rival to Hoghton Towers is not replied to.


This is intriguing. Like Eastenders played out in places with  turrets  and tea rooms. I have been to Samlesbury Hall and there were no sly digs about Hoghton Tower’s ghosts being a gamekeeper in a white sheet- a reference found on yet another shadowy website. The mire gets thicker ever minute.


But then again, there was a loud vacuum cleaner on at Samlesbury Hall so I did not hear much.


A bit of internet research does not have Hoghton Tower on a top three of the most haunted houses unless the phrase ‘reputed to be’ is used and then normally on a Lancashire based portal of knowledge.

I want Maths dammit!  I want vague use of numbers and  pretend science! This will instil in me a fake sense of trust.


I only found out the two hour guided tour was two hours long and not suitable for children after nearly two hours spent trying to console the toddler with a forbidden  iPhone (‘please remember to turn your mobile phones off’,’  whilst looking at a succession of chairs. I was happy looking at chairs, my partner was mutinous about the chairs and they roles they led in a monarchic privileged society that fed on the blood of the workers and the toddler lay spread eagled on the floor and demanded Percy Pigs with increasing volume and ferocity.


I finally desperately ask the guide to release my family and he seems suspiciously happy to shove them out of an studded oak  door somewhere in the quagmires of a floor somewhere. I wonder if I will ever see them again.  But for eight pound a ticket, it would be churlish to expect more value for money.


It is the price of a ticket to the Odeon to instead  spend a day wandering around such dizzying time-scales of history, legend, royalty, loyalty, death, war and romance  that it feels like something the Americans invented for Disneyland- the Full English. The guide is superb, his dotage such that leads one to believe he might have witnessed the explosion of the Norman Keep during the Civil War from a personal vantage point and might not last the actual tour.


William Shakespeare used to work here, many kings and queens have resided here such as James 1st. It has been stormed and that most romantic of things, a tumble down ruin for a century.  Charles Dickens wrote about in a short story, George Silverman’s Explanation.


There is a cot which apparently still swings in the empty stillness of the ancient interior. It does not swing for me. I would happily have paid an extra £2.50 for that (Samlesbury Hall, take note)


Tables longer than my house and older than countries, the sudden cold chill of the morgue, the claustrophobia induced by the first priest hole, utterly voided by the second one down down down the bohemoth shadow of the giant well, for me the most visually exciting path into history and one that was used by people who never had flattering oil paintings to ease their way into a slight immortality.


A brief view of antique dolls houses and then dungeons and dankness, a tableau ever so slightly supportive of the concept of  the Lancashire Witches being spell chanting instruments of Satan, and  who  were apparently meant to have stayed here on the way to their execution but fear of curses laid upon the Tower meant they stayed in the cellar of the pub down the road. The pub down the road seems to be quite un-cursed sadly with well groomed recession busting  clientele blonde  arriving in sports cars. I wonder the witches cellar was Farrow and Balled.


It’s what they would have wanted.


A hunched over skeleton lurks desparingly in the Wine vaults. I find it quite horrifying to discover it is a real skeleton kindly donated by Lady Philomena (or somesuch name, I refuse to forelock tug by actual research)  when she was done with him/her after her medical training.


I wish to remove myself from The Donar Register if all I get after donating my body to Science is waking up in a fucking dungeon owned by the gentry and  being looked at by bored children who should not actually be on the tour in the first place.


Then if I give a sign of my distress, it brings more of the bastards to come stare at me, the entrance fee rises and I am dead and on The One Show.

Salmsesbury Hall would not be pleased. It might end up in hardcore ghost warfare engaged in headless combat.


I was not allowed to take photos inside and by the end of the tour, I could not be arsed as was starving and had a Doritos Grab Bag in the car.  So have a few crap ones to go with my monologue, go to Hoghton Tower, look for a swinging cot and do not take a child or a partner unless they are better than mine.

And before you donate your body to Science, sign a clause to ensure you will not be enslaved in a dungeon for all eternity.

Jul 24 2013

The 555 bus route is hardcore but my bladder is not

It is a bad sign when I can’t cope with a picturesque ride into the Lake District. It is a worse sign when I am by far the youngest person and can’t quite hack it. To be fair it is a trifle warm.

The 555 is a double decker bus that rocks serenely into Lancaster Bus Station about Every So Often  O Clock and I glimpse it out of the corner of my wild eyes as I shuffle to the Co-op opposite to buy nappies or stale foul donuts to feed my family with.

The 555 bus ride of promise; spritely octogenerians with stout brown footwear and ruddy cheeks and sensible lunches chortle to each other whilst clutching their Daily Mail and heading into a landscape of poetry and beauty.

I have always yearned  to go on it like I yearn to do anything I think I won’t do but today I am at a loose end, the child is at his childminders, I am on holiday, the house needs immediate attention and many boringly important things need to be done.

I get on the 555.

My chest is pounding as I pay for my pleasingly priced £10.30 Day Explorer. I know now why people take such terrible risks and get beheaded in Pakistan. It is the fear and excitement of doing something exciting!

‘ Bit busy today, int it? Going to be at least ten minutes late into Milnthorpe,’ says someone in her at least seventies next to me.

I feel slightly less exotic.

But the Lake District awaits! The pure delight in getting value for money means I will go to Keswick, have a brilliant poetic arty time, maybe be a muse to someone, paint some watercolours, get discovered, sleep with lots of fellow artists whilst being feted and then loathed by the press and on the way back after having a wee, stop off in Ambleside and have as brilliant a time as can be had in a place that just sells unflattering walking boots for an inflated price and then Kendal for artisan bread and a well deserved drink on the way back home. Oh, what a day will be had!


By the time we slowly drove to Carnforth, five miles on, I was hot and bored and slightly sick from attempting to read.


Twenty minutes on and Cumbria is constantly  throwing old carved signs on houses swirlily saying ‘built in 1610’  at the slightly sickly viewer in a 555 as if to say, ‘ you’re not even on a carriage, you fucking lightweight.’


I am yearning for a footpad at this point to be fair to brighten up the stupidly relentlessly bucolic journey and stop me thinking about my bladder.


I try and seek salvation in staring fixatedly at badly tanned men in their mid sixties with their tops off standing in front of their well proportioned and individually named bungalows and pointing to something in a neighbouring garden in an angry way to someone I can’t see from my vantage point.

I want a wee.

I am bored of bunting. I am bored of fields. I am bored of people on the bus pointing at fields.

I get off at Kendal and feel the shame.

It is akin to a member of Guns and Roses being given a pint of Guiness by a fan in Dublin then getting drunk on it and being sick. Not cool.


But I really really need a wee.


My day is however made by a chance eavesdrop in a charity shop.

‘What size is that dress in the window?’


‘It’s a 14 love.’

‘Ooh, I’m a size 14, may I try it on please?’


‘Hmm (looks woman up and down) It’s a small 14, I’m a size 14 but you have far bigger boobs than me. See?’


(The whole charity shop as one turns around to see)

I think the dress might well still be in the window. And rather than get the 555 back, I made a phonecall with the dying embers of my mobile phone and went back in a car like someone from the future.