As you’ve probably read, it was my birthday on Friday – another year older but still no wiser. I had a lovely day, with friends and family dropping in with presents and cards and wine and champagne. Charlie’s Rich New Boyfriend Jonathan arrived with an elaborately wrapped box of chocolates and kisses for Charlie that turned our stomachs. Mac made “vomit” noises throughout. After just ten minutes in his company I found out that Jonathan is a vain, arrogant, rude man but as he happens to be the vain, arrogant, rude man that’s lending us a million pound villa for The Hen Weekend, I had to bite my tongue. Lydia, who had dropped in “can’t stop, on my way to Matthew’s” with a card and a photo album expressed some disbelief (bless her, I love her) that I was celebrating my 35th birthday. Jonathan ran an impossibly tanned hand through his obviously highlighted hair and said “Wow, really? 35? I’d have said you were early forties at least.”
I was so pleased when a blushing Charlie said they had to leave or they’d miss their dinner reservations.
Jack Next Door arrived with a batch of tomato plants and, before he sat down for a drink, had a wander outside in the garden with David to talk "gardens". We’ve got a plot of earth about six foot wide and about 12 foot long across the garden between the decking and the lawn that nothing grows in. Plants that start out looking very well, die almost immediately and David had this brilliant idea of building a rockery on this spot and Jack was on hand to advise what sort of plants would thrive in a rocky area. I’m telling you this merely because of what’s to follow.
My Token Gay Friend Andy dropped in with his friend Alex about half an hour later. By then, the party was beginning to dwindle, Mac was in bed, David and Jack were looking longingly at the TV (England were playing Brazil) and Saskia was showing no signs of leaving until she’d finished the bottle of red she was holding. “We won’t stop long” Andy said as he helped himself to a bottle of lager from the fridge (Andy is instantly at home wherever he is) and poured Alex a Perrier. Alex was looking around him with interest but didn’t say a word for the whole of the first half. And then what he said during half time had us all stunned.
“Don’t build the rockery” he said, looking directly at David.
To say we were gobsmacked is putting it mildly. Alex wasn’t here when we were discussing our rockery plans and no-one had mentioned it since they’d arrived. And, let's face it, what's it got to do with him anyway! “What?” David said, a look of confusion on his face.
“Gladys said it won’t bear the weight of all those rocks”. “What won’t?” I said at the same time as Saskia said “Who’s Gladys?”.
“The air raid shelter and Gladys used to live here” Alex replied, taking a sip of his Perrier and shifting his attention to the screen where the studio presenters were talking about what should have happened during the first half of the game. Alex, said Andy reverentially, is a medium. I shot a look at Saskia to stop her making the obvious joke (Alex is a rather rotund chap).
It turns out that the reason Alex was so quiet was because he was chatting with Gladys. Gladys, apparently, was so pleased to find someone who could understand her, that she hadn’t stopped talking. David openly guffawed at these revelations and rolled his eyes at me “I think we’d know if we had an air raid shelter in our garden” but Jack argued that this “would certainly explain it, the soil wouldn’t be deep enough to nurture plants”. Saskia started making “whooooo!” noises. I just stayed quiet.
I’m not saying I’m the next Derek Acorah (or whoever the female equivalent is) but I have been told that I’m quite receptive to the world of spirit. Last September, I went with a friend to a medium. I sat outside while my friend had her consultation and, when she came out, grumpily told me that I owed her the cost of the session. When I asked her why, she said that none of her family who had passed visited but nearly all of mine did! That spurred me on to go and see the medium (who rather cheesily said “I knew you’d be in to see me!”). During that half an hour session, lots of things were said to me – some that I knew about, others that I had to get verified by parents. It was very emotional but with a fair bit of humour. One thing that sticks in my mind was the fact that she told me I was surrounded by animals who had passed to spirit “including a golden retriever that’s sitting on your foot”. Dad had a golden retriever when he was a boy who used to sit on your feet to prevent you going anywhere without him. Funnily enough, Junior Dog does this too.
The medium told me that I had The Gift and was quite open to receive messages – I just had to develop my spiritual side. Me being me, apart from the initial week long interest and the odd email to a spiritual church or two, I promptly did nothing.
But I’d never really forgot it. Both my grandfathers (who both died before I was five) visit me – and I can tell which one it is by the smell of the cigarette smoke they bring with them. If it’s a woodbine its Grandad Albert, a roll up would be Grandad Harry. Whenever I’m upset or stressed about something, I feel a light stroking sensation on the top of my head and I’m immediately relaxed. Sometimes I see things out of the corner of my eye (I put it down to floaters) or a mooching dog. I lose things that turn up a few hours or days later and always in the utility room – David jokes that it’s our lost property office. I put this down to me having a brain like a sieve. All three dogs, but mainly Junior, have moments where they sit there and “watch” something – or someone – walk through the room. David treats this whole thing as one of my “cute little things” that he loves about me but never really gives it any credence.
To say we were all agog was putting it mildly – we even missed England score. Gladys (she wasn’t giving him her surname, wise woman) lived in this house during the Second World War with her three children and her mother-in-law. There’s an air raid shelter, that was used by the family in our garden and Gladys says that’s why that area is useless for planting. Alex said that she was so pleased that someone was finally taking notice of her (I now feel guilty for ignoring a spirit - how is this possible?) and that she had a lot to say. She’s been trying, Alex says, to make me listen to her but has failed miserably. I sent up a silent apology.
By now, the TV was off and we were all sitting around Alex and gazing at him adoringly. Apart from Saskia “Ask her to do something now to prove she’s here.” she demanded (the only spirits she believe in is vodka and gin). Alex withered her with a look and laughed at something that obviously Gladys said. “Fruitcake” she muttered. Saskia, not Gladys.
A lot of what he said made no sense and, to be honest, he could have been saying it just for effect – who knows? He told us that the family moved in the year before war broke out and that Gladys’ husband spent the entire war away. Alex came out with things like the names of her children which could have been plucked from the air but he named the primary school they all attended before they were evacuated to Kent. The primary school is still there, modernised, but still there and it’s the one I went to. Shivers were skittering up and down my spine by now, and even David was interested enough to stop sniggering. Amongst the random things Alex said, there were a few jewels. “She doesn’t like it when you get upset” he said, looking at me and smiling. “She strokes my head” I said. Quite emotional. Gladys likes what we’ve done with the house, “particularly the scullery, that’s where she spent most of her time.” Alex said. The utility room – as it is now, unchanged in location but decorated – is the place where all the things that I “lose” end up. A missing CD? In the utility room. Can’t find my bubble bath – it’s in the utility room. Just the other day I knew I’d put my keys in my bag but, there they were, in the utility room. “She’s been trying hard to let you know she’s here” Alex said softly. I can't begin describe how I was feeling at that point.
David and Jack were still debating the possibilities of having an Andersen shelter in our garden and were surfing the net. “Is she here, with us now?” I asked, warming to Gladys. Junior Dog was gazing at the living room door, tail wagging slightly. “Yes” said Alex simply. Apparently, she’s not here all the time, she visits and has been doing so since she died in 1974 because this was a house she was truly happy in. “She didn’t die here did she?” Saskia squawked. I must admit that I was keen to know the answer to that myself. We had to wait for Gladys to respond to that question (honestly, writing this down now makes it seem very surreal) and I worried that we’d upset her. I’ve now got anxiety as well as guilt. Alex laughed softly and said that she died in hospital “after a long old fight”. It was very strange watching him "talk" to her, very eerie if I’m honest.
I wanted to know more and asked a few fairly impudent questions. Alex didn’t do so well with these which again added weight to Saskia’s protestations that he’s “a complete fruit loop”. I wanted to know if her husband was okay, whether her children were still alive, what she died of and if we had any other spiritual visitors. Alex laughed again “She’ll tell you herself if you promise to do what you said you’d do last September”. That did it for me.
Gladys was bribing me into developing my spiritual side, just like that medium suggested. Alex then took me out into the kitchen and told me a few things I could try: visualisation, meditation and gave me a handy little few tips: he said “Just talk to her as if she were in front of you, ask her questions and she’ll answer you but you must learn to look for these answers as they most definitely will not be verbal - she can’t yet converse with you like she can me. You’ll ask her a question and she’ll answer you in some way. It might not be a way in which you automatically understand. Keep it simple to start off with and thank her for her answers, she really wants to talk to you. She’s here because she wants to be, she means you no harm and she loves you all.” Alex has very kindly promised to come back to talk to me some more.
“There’s only one thing for it” said David as we came back into the living room (me a sodden wreck) “we’ve got to dig for that Andersen shelter”.
And in my next post I’ll tell you what happened!