DENISE FORBES tells us about a couple of Cheltenham ghosts, one dating from some years ago, the other something like a crisis apparition but much more uplifting.
In 1990-1992 I lived in one of the Regency houses in Cheltenham, just off Lansdown Crescent [this famous crescent, not the house in question, is pictured]. My flat took up the whole of the top floor and I knew there was someone else there from the minute that I walked into it. During my seven years there, several things happened to confirm that the presence I had sensed was a young boy of about 8/9 years of age, who was friendly and a bit mischievous. For the first four years my sister lived with me, but the remaining three years I lived in the flat alone.
My Burmese cat would often wake from a doze with a greeting chirrup while looking at someone/thing above and beside his chair. My reasoning was that if the cat wasn’t scared why should I be? The presence was friendly and never frightening, although his mischief sometimes made me jump when he played a trick once or twice.
One bright, sunny Sunday morning in the middle of August I woke, briefly, from a deep sleep, looked towards the bottom of my bed, saw a boy standing there staring at me, mumbled “Oh, hello,” put my head back on my pillow and promptly fell fast asleep again. The room was full of light because it faced east and, being at the top of one of the tallest buildings around, I hadn’t felt any need to draw the curtains the night before. I wasn’t dreaming because I had to raise my head and twist my neck round to see him as I was sleeping on my side and as I had a bad neck at the time this was difficult and painful to do.
When I woke up properly a couple of hours later I was very pleased to have “met” my little ghost properly. He was in a school uniform of maroon blazer and short grey trousers and wearing a pair of the old, round-framed NHS spectacles that were so common during the 1940s to 1960s. I noticed a few weeks later that a local prep school has the same uniform and that the boys still wear short trousers.
The second incident was totally different. At the time I worked part-time in a GP’s surgery on the other side of Cheltenham. My hours were 2.00 to 6.30 except on Mondays, when I started at 7.30 and finished at 6.30. My landlord Peter had, the year before, lent his flat on the first floor to a friend of his who had cancer as he thought it better for him to live in Cheltenham as we have a major Oncology Centre here that serves Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and parts of North Wales. Being from Wiltshire “John” (as I shall call him), didn’t come into the catchment area. Over the next few months we watched John gradually get thinner and balder as he underwent an aggressive chemotherapy regime backed up with some radiotherapy. He was a shadow of the tubby, rosy-cheeked bloke who used to help Peter out with odd jobs around the house.
One summer afternoon I was walking down the stairs, with glorious sunshine pouring through the tall window behind me in the turn of the stair. (The staircase was typical of a Regency townhouse, being wide with fairly shallow steps, lots of turns and very tall, wide windows above each landing. Very well lit even at night). As I came down the stairs towards my landlord’s flat, I saw John letting himself in with the two keys that Peter had given him. I was struck by how well he looked and delightedly exclaimed: “John! You look fantastic! How are you?”
He turned right round to face me and, grinning, said: “Never better love! Never better!” then opened the door and smiling again said, “Seeya!” and went into his flat. I carried on down the stairs and off to work feeling really pleased that John was looking so well. He was one of those people whom everyone loves.
A couple of evenings later, my friend in the flat below me invited me down for a coffee with herself and her sister. While we were chatting, I told them that I had seen John and was delighted to see how well he was looking. I was puzzled when they both turned to look at each other, but then my friend turned back to me and said, “Denise. John died three weeks ago. Didn’t you hear?”