“You will have an interesting night,” laughed Aunt Pam, my husband's uncle's wife. “we are putting you in the haunted room.”
We had gone to visit Uncle Mark and Aunt Pam at their huge ancient house near Taunton, Somerset. When we arrived we were greeted, or more accurately attacked by three Mastiff dogs – two weighing perhaps 500 lbs and the baby, somewhat less but still almost shoulder height on me. And they not only barked, they slobbered. The children were frightened, and so was I. Philip, my husband, wasn't - his relatives had always raised Mastiffs, so he was experienced in dealing with them. He said they were more likely to lick you to death than anything else.
Their farm was enormous, with 100 Jersey cows that they milked each day. Mark was at this time over 70 but was still in charge of the cattle and supervised all the farm routine. Their kitchen was perhaps 25 ft square, with a large square table in the centre – covered with bits and pieces. And hygiene was not high on their list of priorities. Everyone tramped the farmyard wastes into the kitchen which appeared to have never been cleaned. Bugs and wasps and all sorts buzzed around, and although they had put fly paper hanging from the ceiling over the table, it really only meant that you were more likely to have additional protein dropping into your pudding.
The house itself was very old, and was originally the home of the infamous Judge Jeffries – the hanging judge of the 1685 Bloody Assizes when he tried 1381 participants of the Monmouth Rebellion and if finding them guilty of treason, had no choice (government policy) but to have them hanged. He held assizes in his front parlour, which was dark with heavy curtains and huge oil paintings, and a feeling of depression about it. As many as 700 of his charges probably found their ends in his back yard – hanging from a tree.
No one doubted that the house was haunted. But I had a more normal worry. It most certainly had mice and or rats in large quantities, to judge by their leavings on the stairs and hallways. I have a huge phobia of rodents, so I could only hope that they would stay hidden away during our visiting times.
Philip was very blasé about being in the haunted bedroom. The children were both jealous and relieved that they didn't have to cope with whatever was in store for us.
“How does this ghost manifest itself?” I asked Hillary, their grown up daughter who still lived at home and helped on the farm. “If he visits you, you will know it,” she smirked, making me both annoyed with her and curious as to what she meant. She and her best friend were always giving Philip sly glances and then giggling. Philip told me (although I don't think they knew that I knew) that when he was 15 he had been initiated into some of the more bizarre aspects of sex in their barn.
Our bedroom was about 20 feet square, with single beds, heaped high with duvets and feather pillows. There were heavy red velvet curtains on the windows, and a threadbare dark patterned carpet on the floor. Numerous huge tallboys and chests from the 17th century lined the walls. But as it was perishing cold in the room despite it being June, there was a fire on, I was very pleased to see that we had been provided with an electric blanket each.
Due to the fire, the room seemed very stuffy, so Philip insisted that we keep the door open slightly.
We fell asleep quite quickly, not surprisingly considering Mark's generosity from the wine cellar, and with our heavy load of eiderdowns, we were very cosy.
But I was awakened a few hours later by the feeling of somebody climbing into bed with me. It surprised me rather, as Philip wasn't usually so secretive. But I could hear his gentle snoring from across the room.
But there definitely was somebody else with me who was pushing up my nightgown. I was still so sleepy as to be not totally aware of what was happening but then I felt a very pleasant sensation which I had no difficulty identifying. What I didn't know was who or why it was happening. I couldn't decide if I was frightened or interested, but I certainly didn't want to do anything to curtail the experience. I thought ghosts were supposed to bring with them a cold feeling, but there was certainly nothing of that sort here. Why was I so willing to be raped by a ghost? Why didn't I scream and wake Philip up and demand that he protect me? When it was over, I fell deeply asleep again.
Next morning we woke early with the birds singing. Noises confirmed that breakfast was underway in the kitchen. The cows needed early attention and so did the farm workers. I felt very relaxed and as I got up to make a trip to the toilet I noticed. Harry, the youngest Mastiff lying in front of the fireplace soundly asleep. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Was he the ghost?”
I checked for mess on the sheets, and sure enough, there was some sticky stuff as evidence. Does ectoplasm leave a residue? But somehow I couldn't quite believe that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the ghost of a hanged murderer and a slobbery dog.