By fromewriterscollective, Dec 7 2015 10:13AM
The village stood apart from the main town, but by then houses sprawled from the harbour, upwards along the road to the village. A long street with shops on the right. Tall arrow headed railings on the other side segregated the school playground from the road. Then, a cul-de sac of terraced houses took over.
There were three key shops. Bradshaw’s the grocers, which sold liquorice in string form, tubes, pipes and reels. Four black jack chews for a penny, banana splits, assorted sherbet product, penny animal shaped chocolate bars and powdered drink in a sachet to mix with water. My aunt, in residence, said this would rot my insides and teeth. She was probably right. The second vital shop was Hooper’s the Post Office. I graduated to the Wizard comic, once my reading ability improved. I then could follow stories about alien forces taking over the world and commandos blowing up German warships in the Second World War etc.
I also deposited, weekly, a few pence into my Post Office savings account. The headmaster, complained that my hand writing—“was the worst- ‘ever’- visited upon his school.” This did not stop me hankering after a Parker Duofold Pen in black, which cost twenty three shillings. My savings driven by the desire to save and buy this exquisite pen, then on display at WH Smith’s. The third key premises---the toy shop. This was run by a lady, who I felt, when not running the shop could have been Silvia, from the Faraway Tree, because of her long silvery hair. We bought penny rolls of pistol caps from here. That’s me and my friend, Phil, who lived in the village. It was dubbed the frontier store, because it was the last one in the village before the then meandering road reached for the beach. This descriptive narrative has no bearing on the story. Its purpose is to retrieve the epoch of the happening. A banal normality alongside extraordinary, dimensional and apparitional phenomena, shut out from view. This peaceable scene a year or two forward from the pitch-black, nightmare of the time in question.
This was when I slept alone in an extraordinarily large bedroom, away from my sisters. As a boy strange phenomenon among three sisters and formidable aunts. The aunt, the one mentioned, at times was lodged with the family in a large bedroom. Between either boyfriend or flat. She watched ITV, rented from Rediffusion. I enjoyed the novelty of the adverts and found the programmes aunt viewed more appealing than the BBC news and The Brains Trust, which my parents watched downstairs. She also kept a good supply of Fox’s glacier mints. Not a favourite sweet of mine, but they were more preferable than no sweets at all, after my weekly pocket money ran out.
In other years foreign students occupied aunt’s room. They, on occasion, were exchanged for one or other of my sisters, who went to a complementary family in Sweden, France or Germany. This I thought a good idea, in particular, exchanging my sisters for French and Swedish girls. Invariably I fell in love, because they were pleasant towards me. Not so inclined to boss me about. Olga, who was Swedish used to sit on the settee with her legs curled underneath, and would smile in my direction. A more petite version of the Swedish girls that then threw British men into paroxysms of ecstasy over svelte figures, and naturally blonde Scandinavian hair. When we were outdoors and it rained she would wrap her coat around me, in a protective way. I was, “most” definitely in love with Olga. She was seventeen to my seven years of age.
Francoise, a dark Gallic French girl arrived to stay. I kind of admired her impudence towards adults. After buying a brown paper bag of plums from the village, instead of leaving the stones in the bag after eating them she lined them up around the edge of the bath. She was given a telling off by my mother for this. Francoise would invite me into her room—open the faded blue curtains and grab the window handles to lift up the sashed window, which overlooked the garden. Then produce a blue packet of Gauloises cigarettes, light one of these pungent offerings but offer me those miniature cocktail cigarettes with red, blue and yellow tips. The tobacco being much milder. This, the following summer--- I was again in love. Francoise, with her black curly hair, and olive ski, a contrast to the fair haired Olga. She may have befriended me, after losing popularity with more senior members of the female hierarchy. My mother, and sisters in situ.
French boys, on occasion, stayed for the summer. That their parents paid for food and board, and were older, enhanced I felt their status in the household, above mine. I remember, Pierre. He, was fifteen. A little older than my second eldest sister, who returned from a friend’s party with a box of Black Magic. I was allowed the marzipan, which was the least liked, but Pierre, was left out of even the offer of a chocolate coated marzipan. Later that week, he produced a chocolate box, opened it, and smilingly offered my sister a chocolate. He had moulded chocolates from earth in the garden and cleverly them in the tray of the empty box. I cannot remember whether my sister attempted to eat one, but this action, put paid to any sort of loving friendship between my sister and Pierre.
The story narrative relates to when I was about six. The bed was in the middle of the large bedroom opposite a squat black coke stove with double doors. The ridged metal top useful for softening plasticene in winter. It was possible to toast bread on a long brass fork, provided you sat well back with the doors open. Outside the bedroom door there was-- to the eyes of a child-- a ball room sized landing. The bedroom opposite to mine was my parent’s with an en-suite bathroom and toilet. Another bedroom and then opposite to this, the door led to the aunt/student bedroom, previously mentioned.
Six stairs down there was a small landing, with a bedroom to the left. Opposite a toilet, set back along a very long corridor. An arch in the centre of this small landing displayed a full length mirror. This arched space led to a corridor with lengthy cupboard space. The servants would have been hidden from view while putting away or fetching clothes, sheets, bedding and table linen. Except that there were no servants! My aunts remonstrated with mother, about this-
-- ‘How can you possibly run such a large house Dorothy. Cook for a family of six, and lodge foreign students, without a servant in sight?’ they would say to their sister-in law, my mother. The foreign students when not exchanged, paid to stay, with my two elder sisters assisting with the housework. Mother perhaps preferred not to have servants. Younger sister and myself were like a second family. Born to the end of the Second World War. Maybe, pre-war, father’s family employed servants. The aunts, said emphatically--- they would not have run such a large house without servants!
There, I was alone, in this vast bedroom with two long windows on the outer wall with a large bay window overlooking the garden at the far end. Small children can be scared of the dark. I wasn’t particularly scared to start with. That was until there were recurring dreams about a witch. She entered my awareness while asleep and dreaming about walking through the village when it became dark. I would not have been allowed to be there in the evening, so this was odd. My mother on occasion was apt to leave me in shops, and return home without me. After realizing her absence would manage at four or five to walk back along the road travelled by the double decker bus. Through the winding street, past the shops, and up the hill to home. There was no recognition from my mother, that I was lost or missing. Today this condition would probably be diagnosed as post- natal depression, following on from the birth of my younger sister.
The dream or more explicitly nightmare occurred fairly consistently. Darkness would descend suddenly and coincide with the witch appearing. I knew immediately that I needed to get away from the village and head for home. In this dream situation a strategy was developed on the walk back home to pretend to go up the middle road leading to the front door entrance and then to double back and follow the higher road, which led to the back entrance. The witch, I hoped would continue up the middle road to the front entrance. In the dream re-assurance was felt only when the lights from the back bedrooms of the house could be seen from the road. The back gate led into a kitchen garden. Safety rapidly displaced when my feeling was that the witch was in the garden. The main lawn grew toadstool rings, which would be attractive to the witch. An inherently magical phenomenon. My reasoning was that the witch would be distracted from wanting to capture, enslave or eat me on discovering a ring of toadstools.
In the daytime blankets and sheets used to be spread on tall Rosemary shrubbery, to dry and ingest the scent. This hedged a gravelled path. This allowed me to crawl on hands and knees up the path, hopefully out of sight of the witch, whom I hoped was dancing and singing incantations on the grass below and not searching for me. Once through the back door and on to the concreted floor of the outer pantry, a sense of relief would kick in. With those heavy legs of sleep, I would tiptoe into the relative safety of the kitchen. Next, open the green beize door, which led to a corridor alongside the main stairway. On the wall opposite the stairway a large, wall tapestry of Mary was reassuring. It was dark but I knew she would be gazing adoringly at the haloed baby Jesus. I also knew I should be in bed. The concept of the dream state, not realized while running up the main flight of stairs-- to turn on the small landing and race up the six stairs, which led to the main landing and the hoped for safety of the bedroom.
The reality, was that I was already in bed, asleep. In my mind I would hear the witch on the landing. The door to the bedroom was never fully closed. My mother perhaps, a-tuned to my nocturnal disturbances, would leave it open for when I left the bedroom for the landing.
‘Look, Look, there she is,’ I would cry out, continuing the dream even after having escaped the bedroom. The open door, though gave the witch easier access. It was several witch dreams down the road before I developed the witch dispersal technique. The door handle would appear to turn, signalling the witch’s arrival. It was then that I imagined a troupe of players into existence. Musicians, dancers, jugglers and acrobats, who could attempt to get through the door, before the witch. Eye lids opened and shut. This the action the magic to make them appear, I would stare at the door. A juggler, who moved from side to side, to meet and catch the twirling batons, was usually the first to enter. Then, musicians, who shook ribboned tambourines. Then others with lutes, rather than guitars, I remember. Why should they not arrive in this bedroom it was large enough to accommodate them?
The theory was that the witch would be outnumbered, on their arrival and be forced to return to the village. There were several encounters with the witch in my dreams, before I hit on imagining the arrival of these players. They were invited to enter my dream, when asleep and in a nightmare. The opening and shutting of my eyes made insistence for this time and scene changer. The repeated action brought into focus the players arrival and recede the nightmare. Once they flowed into the room, they allowed me the choice of wakening fully and watching them, no longer petrified by the witch’s presence or alternatively to fall asleep. They only appeared in the bedroom for the time I dreamt, as a child. Adults, perhaps excluded from their assistance.