Music to my mind is a most puissant form of magic, and has the power to invoke such strong memories and emotions, that tune that always reminds you of your first love, or the song that could be your own biography, and all those happy reminders of your past.
When Liz first played Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Valse Lente for me, she did so in the hopes that I’d like it enough to start learning it myself. I did, I really loved it, instantly, it spoke sweetly and dearly to me. It spoke to me of childhood memories; merry-go-rounds, music boxes and the Italian commedia dell’arte and its comedic and tragic characters, the Pierrot doll I had as a young girl, and still have to this day. And I played it for my son, and to him it spoke of a fantasy computer game he used to play. Ah, the generations! Music speaks differently to people.
This beautiful piece however soon became a reminder of great loss, the last piece Liz and I worked on together. I stopped playing it and listening to it after her sudden death two years ago. I always knew that when I eventually returned to it, I would have gained at least some acceptance of what is a great loss for me.
I made a promise to you Liz, that I would keep working it, a promise I intended keeping. I’m back working on it now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to talk to you about it. See I still forget at times, that you’ve gone, and I cry when I’m on my own, and oh I still see you walking down the street. However I also think of you often with joy and happy memories and thankfully there’s more of these than tears these days. And I think happy thoughts of a beautiful Valse Lente again.
For you my dear, dear Liz, for all the wonderful memories I have because of you, of music and books, the love of which we shared, lovely evenings with wine and chats, of laughter and silliness and an eternal friendship that will never fade. I love you. I miss you.
Cheers and shine brightly.
So have you ever experienced something you can’t explain. Oh I know, a lot of you will probably be thinking, oh no, she’s finally lost it. Granted I’ve never tried to make sense of my experiences, but they are my experiences and they are very real to me.
So how did I come to think of all this again, well one thing led to another, as it does, and here we are. I’ve been laid up in bed the last three days with the dreaded lurgy, alright probably a virus, but should be right as rain for tomorrow, Monday, typical. I got to watching documentaries on Tudor history and one ‘Tudor from Above’ transported me back to the late 1980’s and the wonderful village of Lavenham in Suffolk England. Lavenham is noted for it’s wonderful 15th century church and medieval and tudor cottages. To stand in the High Street and gaze at the houses snuggled neatly together but tilting in all different directions, backwards, forwards and sideways as they have settled over time, was a wonder to behold. The cars whizzing by, an anachronism to a backdrop of times gone by. I fell in love with that village and it’s history and wonderful character filled buildings.
This of course then led me to recall Elm Hill in Norwich, a cobbled street lined with more medieval and tudor houses, nearby the great Norwich Cathedral. By the way cobbles look wonderful but they’re murder on the feet and in high heels deadly,and after many months of walking on them, they no longer hold any romance for me….
And on to the first house I lived in when I returned to this part of the world.
I shared this house with my aunt, three cousins and my sister. My aunt owned a gift shop which was on the ground floor, and this was my first job on arrival. The house had been a tavern in it’s early days, and was a wonderful house with lots of nooks and crannies, crooked walls, tilted floors and narrow stairways everywhere. Five storeys including the cellar and attic and it was haunted, purportedly like a number of other houses on Elm Hill, but my story doesn’t begin here.
My aunt is unique, it would be safe to say, a witch, dreamy and flighty, and quite frankly a little nuts, but I wouldn’t say that to her face, who knows she might actually be able to turn me into a frog, but she could also be very kind and affectionate. One of the first things she said to me after all the hugs and kisses was, “Do you remember the grey lady”. I didn’t, but I’d grown up hearing the story.
I was born in London and lived there until the age of 5 when I moved to Australia. When I was 2 we moved into police flats in Grove Park, my father having just joined the London Police Force. The flats were relatively modern having been built on the site of an old house that had been torn down. We grew up listening to many of my fathers stories of his time as a London Bobby. His regular and friendly meetings with Harry Secombe of The Goons, who nicknamed him Blue, a name that stayed with him during his time as a policeman, and of whom he was a great fan and the actor John Mills, as well as encounters with the infamous Kray twins and a very young and lets just say, under the weather Mick Jagger. It was at this time that my father received the Queen’s commendation for bravery, he’d attempted to save two men from an overturned burning newspaper van by going in several times to pull them from the vehicle, but was sadly unsuccessful. However it left him with severe burns to his hands and face and damage to the eyes which left him severely shortsighted for the rest of his life. He was rightly proud of his silver laurel leaves, but to my young mind, leaves should not be silver and I attempted to rectify this with the aid of a green felt tip pen. While my parents were able to remove the green from the laurel leaves, there is still evidence of my mischief on the velvet lining of the box they are kept in.
But the story that fired my imagination was of the grey lady. There was a glass wall divide between the hall and the sitting room, of the flat, where I would go and sit, head raised and smiling and babbling away toward the corner of the hall, for long stretches of time. When asked what I was doing, my only reply over and over was “the grey lady is smiling”. My parents were of course unnerved, but it became such a regular occurrence, and they never felt overly frightened by it, that it just became Gill’s friend, her grey lady. While my parents took it in their stride, my uncle was so frightened and upset by experience and witnessing my babbling conversations, that he ended his one and only stay early and abruptly and refused to ever visit the flat again. When I saw him again twenty years later and asked him about it, he refused point blank to discuss it with me. So it went down in infamy as one of my extended families collective stories and events.
I don’t myself remember this episode, but I have experienced similarly unexplainable events since that time. As I go through life, I realize there is so much mystery out there, an infinite expanse of mind, energy and universe and sometimes you don’t need an explanation or a reason why, it just is.
When I was working in the gift shop in Elm Hill, during a quiet afternoon, with my friend and colleague Denise, I experienced something, that although time softens and blurs the memory, still sits strongly with me. I took a step back and bumped into someone, that is all I can describe it as, the clumsy meeting of two bodies, I apologized as I turned around to be met with no one. I have no idea what happened, but I will swear till the day I die that it happened. Of course Denise was overjoyed as was my aunt on hearing the news, but then she always seemed to have an affinity for things spooky. Most of our day trips were to very old and eerie places including Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the reputed birth place of Anne Boleyn and is said to be badly haunted. There is a picture emerging here, I think my aunt looked on me as her own personal ghost hunter. Yes, no, maybe. But more upsetting was a feeling of great unease in the attic bedroom I shared with my sister, which I felt in no other room of that wonderful house.
To my own home, which I would like to state is a very happy and warm house, and yet I’ve experienced many things over the years. Running footsteps in the back garden at night, mirrors that shake on the wall, a kitchen door that frequently opens on its own to a glass on my bedroom dresser that started shaking then fell to the floor and smashed. But there is a place in the house that don’t hang around near and have felt myself being watched more than once. But the closest I came to being frightened was the little blond boy who appeared in the back sitting room as I was bedding down the fire late one night. Although the child was smiling and in many ways reminded me of my youngest, and who out of the corner of my eye, it first appeared to be, it was gone in the blink of an eye, and this experience chilled me to the bone. Of course I checked all the kids rooms and all were sound asleep, fortunately, I’ve only experienced that once. Several members of my family have experienced some of these events, so I’m certain I’m not imagining all of this.
I don’t know what happens after death, but I do believe our energy, spirit or soul, call it what you like, continues long after our corporeal existence ceases, so it is within the bounds of possibility that we can still communicate on some level with those that have passed. I have two very strong reasons for believing this to be that case. Some 25 years ago, shortly after I’d moved into my home, I was alone one night and woke to very powerful and vivid thoughts of my grandmother. I lay awake thinking of her for some time and vowed to write the letter I’d promised her the next day. I woke several times more that night and again those same vivid thoughts. I woke the next morning to the news that she had passed away during the night. I believe with every fibre of my being that she was with me that night. And to my father, shortly after he’d passed away in 2000, I was outside talking to him, when suddenly I heard his laugh. He had a wonderful infectious laugh, and it was like he was sitting next to me. I know some would say it was a memory of his laugh but the timing was perfect, I’d just been telling him a funny story of something that had happened that day, then this wonderful laugh. Call it what you like, but for me it was the first time since he’d died, that I felt he hadn’t gone from me forever.
Perhaps this is all down to a fantastic imagination, and perhaps even believing, allows us to make sense of our loved ones passing, it gives us a sense of acceptance. But I do wonder why some experience these things, while others do not. Like I said, I’ve never really tried to make sense of it, it just is, and that’s good enough for me.