Editor's Note: Listen to The Shared Experience from Tuesday 17 December at 3.30pm
No one could ever explain the dog. No matter how cynical you were you just couldn’t explain the dog. He was called Quinque (my Mum was a thwarted Latin scholar) and he was a perfectly normal and loving mongrel we got from a rescue centre. He did all the usual dog things, alot of wet nosed snuggling and tail wagging and he was definitely a happy dog but sometimes - always of an evening, he would sit at the bottom of the stairs and howl - and I mean really howl, like a wolf in pain. And my Mum’s explanation for this random out of character trait was that he too could see the ghost.
There was meant to be a ghost at Holly Cottage - the house we lived in when I was very young. Some parts of it were very old. And in one of those very old parts there was said to be a ‘priest hole’ built into one side of the fireplace, although we never knocked the bricks out to find it. Legend had it that some poor priest of the wrong religion had indeed hidden there to avoid being found during the cruel Reformation, that is what a ‘priest hole’ was built for - and perhaps he had never managed to get out.
Now this is the kind of tale that frightens the be-Jesus out of you when you are a five year old, and ‘do you believe in ghosts?’ isn’t always the best question to bring up in conversation with the neighbours, so we never found out much more about the village legend. But I know that my Mum was intrigued. She used to stay up late hoping to meet the ghost. Sitting on her own in a dark room with a welcoming smile. She never saw it though.
Eventually we moved house and away from Hampshire - and I haven’t thought about the ghostly presence in years. But I thought of it alot when we were recording the first in our new series for Radio 4 called The Shared Experience - a programme that does what it says on the tin. We get a group of people together who all have something in common and we talk about it. It’s not a therapy session, but it is a chance to talk in a non-judgemental way about stuff that flits around the edges of life - and to talk about it without being contradicted or challenged by someone who we might classify as an ‘expert’.
And so our first topic was the majestic ‘I’ve seen a ghost’ - with not a ouija board or an exorciser in sight - just people who are absolutely certain they have seen ghosts. And they aren’t the kind of people you might think - they don’t all believe in the power of mauve crystals or looking for angels or having a third eye - they’re people like you and me who are sure that they have seen something not explained by science.
Angie has seen a few. Gavin just the one - Alan has a theory about walls and their memory and Jack went out early to fish one morning... and I can’t tell you any more than that, otherwise strange forces might come and get me.
I’m joking of course, but if only Quinque was still alive I could’ve used him as a spook sniffer dog to see if anyone else was actually in the room with us. I think that all those years ago he must have been trying to tell us that was his unique talent. That, and barking in Latin.
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