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A Shout From The Attic: Special Places

...Although I did not understand death, I had some uncertainty about how 'dead' the departed really were. Childhood was full of spirits, most of them malevolent, lingering around their crumbling tombs. Our play space was the narrow strips of grass between graves. We never walked on graves out of respect for the dead, but most of all from dread fear of them...

Ronnie Bray recalls the day he saw a ghost in the churchyard.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

The thrill of discovery was not entirely lacking from my otherwise mundane life. Some scenes when viewed for the first time caused a ripple of excitement to stir my body. Some places were scenes of delight and wonder; others were dark and terrible, full of repulsive terror yet enchanting seduction.

Holy Trinity churchyard was at the terrible end of things. It served as first alternative to Greenhead Park on some special purposes. It was the place of the dead. Although I did not understand death, I had some uncertainty about how 'dead' the departed really were. Childhood was full of spirits, most of them malevolent, lingering around their crumbling tombs. Our play space was the narrow strips of grass between graves. We never walked on graves out of respect for the dead, but most of all from dread fear of them.

My sister René and Peter Coletta, I don’t remember who else, were playing in the churchyard one afternoon. We sat in a little clearing discussing the major topics of childhood such as whether McGowan’s Cream Toffee was better than their Banana and Cream Toffee.

Suddenly our attentions were distracted from our serious deliberations. Was it a sound? Ears can play tricks, especially in graveyards. There it was again! Was it a twig snapping under someone’s feet? We dared not breathe. Looking around we saw a shadowy figure apparently crouched behind a large upright memorial stone. He (was it a he?) moved as if towards us. René and I fled in different directions but generally away from the ‘ghost’. Peter, with great presence of mind, ran in a straight line and leaped over the two feet high wall into Back Wentworth Street.

The drop on the other side was more like six or seven feet (I really must go and look) but he was unhurt. We did not return for some days.

On another occasion, we actually saw a ghost. About five of us were entering the churchyard through the lychgate on Wentworth Street and were just about to mount the wide stone steps when we saw quite clearly at the top of them a figure in a luminescent robe. The figure’s head was orange coloured and its right arm raised as if holding a knife.

A few seconds later, I was almost a mile away at the junction of Fitzwilliam Street and St John’s Road. The rest ended up I know not where, it was every man for himself. No one went back to have another look but we were convinced that we had truly seen the ghost of a dead person and I have never found a better explanation.

Following my heart attack in 1996, Norma and I went for a long walk in Greenhead Park. I wanted to show her a special place just below and to the north of the war memorial. The planners had revised the landscape and it had gone. What used to be there was a special place where massive rocks stood piled one on top of the other to form an almost perfect cylinder except that the east side was open but covered with gigantic rhododendron bushes that hid it from the incogniscenti.

The top was level with the upper ground level of the memorial. The lower level was level with the first walkway below the memorial and the entrance hidden by the bushes that were a major feature of the park. If you didn’t know it was there, you would never guess.

It was dark and cool even in high summer days, a place of mystery and quiet magic - just the place for serious contemplation. We did not use it for contemplation only for escape from the world we knew. It was the nearest thing we had to a desert island.

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