Friday, 23 April 2010

Staying longer than to breakfast (4)


When we heard that Mary McDiarmid had died we were all very sorry, my (then) wife B. and our two children, for whom she had sometimes babysat when they were little. When we left No. 3, which I had called Cruachan, Mary was still in No. ½, frail but active and still as kindly as ever. I hope she never realised how dependent she had become on us. She took to coming to see us more and more often, without it ever becoming a nuisance, for a chat and a warm, a cup of tea and maybe some hot water to take home in a bucket, together with maybe a ham sandwich or a slice of sponge for later. Our relocation to a place about 20 miles away called Kinloss (which many will have heard of because of the large RAF station there) was tinged with regret, even guilt, at leaving Mary behind. Who was she going to turn to?

Then we heard that the Laird had re-housed her further down the village, at No.5, where there was water and electricity and where it was claimed she would be much more comfortable. I'm afraid she wasn't. We went to see her a few months after she'd been moved. She looked grey and shrunken, withdrawn and unwell. She died not long after, I believe in the Town and County Hospital in Nairn.

What had impressed us most about Mary was her essential goodness. Without being in any way remarkable, without having achieved anything that the world would consider an achievement, without having had children, without having been further south than Aberdeen, without having done anything except spend a working lifetime of domestic service, without being anything but what the local people call a 'wee wifie', nevertheless she was a quiet, simple, uncomplicated person blessed with a natural goodness.

* * *

Two or three years after Mary's death I had to go back to Geddes Village for a business appointment with someone who, I was surprised to discover, now lived in what had been Mary's house. It was my first return since her death, and I wasn't in the least prepared for what I found. Firstly, on approaching Mary's old front door I became aware of a curious scent, fleeting and not particularly strong, a slightly oily, ointmenty smell reminiscent of camphor and wintergreen. It was unmistakeable: it was Mary's chilblain ointment, the udder-salve her father had used for his cattle. How could it possibly still linger?

My host, an executive with local radio, welcomed me in. I mentioned the smell to him. Yes, he said, it came from the box hedge in front of his house. I didn't know what to think about this, but felt very diffident about charging it to Mary's account; it was unthinkable that the scent could have lasted so long after her death.

Or was it so unthinkable? When I told him that I'd lived in Geddes Village for years, he brought me up to date. After we'd gone, the Laird had sold both Mary's (to him) and Cruachan next door. The people who had bought our old house hadn't stayed very long, he said. They'd been most uncomfortable. Oh, the house was comfortable enough: it was the noises that eventually drove them out.

What noises? I asked.

Ghoulies and ghaisties and things that go bump in the night, he said. No, joking apart, there wasn't anything visible, but there were all these thumps and bumps and scrapings, like someone heaving furniture about. I heard them too, sometimes, but I never found them disturbing. They seemed to come from a downstairs room that's now our kitchen. Maybe that explains the running water, too.

Water? I asked, as distant memories of Mary's bedtime routine surfaced.

Yes, he said, they often heard running water at night, even at times when I was away. It sounded like someone peeing into a pail, they told me. Anyway, it all upset them so much that they had the place exorcised. But it didn't do any good. Eventually they couldn't put up with it any longer and they decided to sell.

It occurred to me then that I (and B.) were the only people in the entire world who could offer any explanation, however improbable, of this. Should I share Mary's secrets? I think I was so horrified by the idea of exorcism associated with the gentle soul that had been Mary that I preferred - then - to keep it to myself.

I asked if the new people next door had had similar experiences. They certainly have, he said, but you'd better ask them yourself...

31 comments:

ziGGi said...

I'm on the edge of my seat . . . mind you, maybe the noises you heard and just attributed to Mary might not have been and might have just as spooky . . .

ziGGi said...

missed out a few words there I feel, but you get the gist? or is jist?

ziGGi said...

And yes there does seem to be a growing affection for Mr Clegg - best of a bad lot? Quite dishy though.

Christopher said...

Hi Zigs: Just been over to your place a) wishing I could read what it says across the tree-line header and b) humming an old tune without much conviction now, and goodness! I never imagined that the noises off might have pre-dated Mary! Now there's a thought! But there's a bit of a clincher to follow...

Spadoman said...

Fascinating tale. Mary's ghost. How cool is that?
I felt the word that I thought of from your description is "Humble". Live simply, not trodding hard on the Earthen Mother. Using what she needs, but nothing more. We can all learn from that.
I believe the sounds and smells can live on without things seeming supernatural. After all, they are senses, and senses have momnory. But for the later inhabitants to smell them and hear them, how interesting.

Peace.

Christopher said...

'...without much conviction now...'

- but oh! The nostalgia!

Christopher said...

Spadoman: Sympathetically and honestly observed. There's a line from the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral: 'The humble with the humble is prouder than the proud' which I like for its true understanding of humility.

ziGGi said...

"If I had words to make a day for you, I'd sing you a morning golden and new. I would make this day last for all time. Give you a night deep in moon shine"


It's all your fault anyway Christof - your revisiting sent me revisiting and . . .

Christopher said...

Fault? Fault? Just because you wear odd socks and can put three dots in a row without getting them in the wrong order...

Dave said...

Sung by David Essex?

Christopher said...

Are you asking or telling, Dave?

Dave said...

I was asking Ziggi. And demonstrating my knowledge of Popular Culture.

Christopher said...

Oh, sorry. I did wonder a) why you appeared to be asking me and b) if D. Essex had recorded a song called 'Join the Dots', or something similar. Did you know Patroclus has an MA in Popular Culture?

Dave said...

I did. I failed my o-level in Popular Culture.

Christopher said...

I could award you a personalised diploma if you wanted:

D. East BA (Pop. Cult.) (Univ. of LA)

Price on application.

amshuman.r said...

I happened on your blog, but it seems like it was fated as I enjoyed your post very much..

Christopher said...

Hi, amshuman.r. Thanks for dropping in. No one more than welcome than a cricketing person. Glad you enjoyed it. And you're just in time for the last episode...

(...© Zigs)

amshuman.r said...

Cricketing person?? I think you have confused me with Anshuman Gaekwad.. I am a grad student :)

Christopher said...

Hi, amshuman.r, again. Well I have to say that late last night, having been very pleased indeed to see your comment, as one usually is when a new commenter arrives, I looked you up and found two very eloquent 'Inswinging Yorker' posts on the theme of cricket which I read with much pleasure and wished there were more. I thus assumed you were a cricketing person, and I don't see that being a grad student excludes the possibility of your playing cricket to the standard at which you write about it. I'm sorry to have put 2 and 2 together and to have made 5. And as for the great Gaekwad, yes, I remember him.

amshuman.r said...

Dear Christoph,

You have indeed assumed right that I am a cricketing person (cricket crazy would be more like it). It was I who assumed wrongly that you had mistaken me for a cricketer (which has happened before..) And thank you for the appreciation on Inswinging Yorker. I also write at Cogito Ergo Sum. Looking forward to the completion of "staying longer...."

Yours,
Amshuman.

I, Like The View said...

this is very strange Christopher. . . very very strange. . . I too have had experience of sounds and hedges

I'll await the rest of your tale

then perhaps we can compare notes

Christopher said...

Jax: Perhaps the sound/hedge combination is a recognised paraphenomenon*?


(*Just made this word up. In case you were wondering and to save fruitless dictionary search. It isn't a w v, at least not so far.)

moreidlethoughts said...

I came to say I'm enjoying the tale...then I got a bit muddled , eliptically speaking...cos I thought Dave was/is an East, not an Essex, which he could be, since it's all East of Greenwich...
Should have dictated this to Ziggi, who knows how to write dots.
Anyway, looking forward to the twist in your tale...

ziGGi said...

...

just passing

...

Christopher said...

MIT, it's great to see you. Thanks for dropping in and for your kind remarks. (Mind you, at first I thought I was getting my wrist slapped for a disparaging inference I made at Dave's place on Sunday about the Gabba.)

Zigs: Kind of you to look in, when I know you must be very preoccupied with preparing gourmet meals for the man from Shelter.

ziGGi said...

I do cheese snadwiches

ziGGi said...

which are similar to sandwiches but with out the bread

Christopher said...

Mmm, tasty. I had a first cousin Moira (25 years older than me by a generational quirk you sometimes get in families) who, when I was about 13, made up a picnic for me and my twin girl second cousins going on an expedition up Box Hill. The greaseproof paper pack contained bread sauce sandwiches. You're not alone, Zigs.

Happy Tuesday

moreidlethoughts said...

Oh, say whatever you like about the Gabba- everyone else does! (Especially bowlers used to softer turf.)

Christopher said...

MIT, thank you for being so accommodating. I feel much easier about it now and may move on to the Waca.

mili8951 said...
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