This is a true story, verified by Lizzie’s sisters –
Ellen Humber and Phyllis Fell.
KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO’S THERE?
– Leicester circa 1964
In 1962, my family –including Granny and the dog all moved from Scotland to live in Leicester in a rambling palisaded villa. Apart from my Granny, all the adults went out to work – Mother in one of the many shoe factories dotted around Leicester and Dad on a building site as a scaffolder. I was thirteen years old and my siblings ranged below me at eight, six and four years of age respectively. We were rarely alone in the house as Granny was there to welcome us home from school and to give us our evening meal before the adults arrived in from work.
There was something spooky about that house in College Avenue, it had a long dark corridor which led from the front door to the breakfast room, scullery and kitchen at the rear. Other doors opened off the corridor giving onto a sitting room and a gloomy dining room in turn. Once, the house must have been splendid, in a Gothic sort of way; high ceilings, marble fireplaces, deep cornices and even bells to ring for the servants in each room. But to us kids it was a scary place and we didn’t like to be left on our own. In fact, there were certain rooms which the dog wouldn’t enter – without its hackles rising.
One day Granny decided to visit her brother in London which meant leaving us alone for several hours until Mother returned from the factory. Granny was very unhappy with this arrangement, but eventually agreed to visit her brother – albeit with the proviso that all four children, plus dog locked ourselves in our parents’ bedroom and stayed there until Mother came home.
Granny left, and I locked us in our temporary prison with food, drink, comics, toys, radio, the dog and a chamber pot in case of emergencies! We watched Granny walk to the end of the street and then settled down for a boring couple of hours until Mother arrived home. Time passed slowly and we tried to guess where Granny was on her journey – Luton, Bedford, St Pancras, the underground . . .
Then, the strangest thing happened.
We heard Granny’s footsteps climbing the stairs and coming along the landing towards the bedroom. The door knob turned once and then sprang back to its original position. Being kids we thought nothing of it. Ours was an old house and things were always sticking and jamming. Then, stranger still, we heard Granny calling out my name: ‘Betty. Betty,’ in her unmistakable Scottish accent. I looked at my sister Ellen for confirmation of what I’d heard and then walked over to the bedroom door and tried the handle. The door was still locked and the key was on our side, just as I’d left it. I went to unlock the door, but remembering the promise I’d made to Granny to stay put until Mother came home, I changed my mind.
My sister and I sat down on the bed and looked at each other, more puzzled than frightened. When Mother came home, we were simply glad to be allowed to run outside and play and didn’t tell her about Granny’s voice, the footsteps or the door knob turning.
Years later I brought up the subject with my sister.
‘We did hear Granny’s footsteps and her voice, didn’t we?’ I asked.
‘We did,’ my sister Ellen replied, emphatically. ‘She called out your name, twice and the door handle turned.’
We exchanged a look and shuddered, knowing that, as adults, we were only just beginning to comprehend we’d seen and heard that day. Had Granny been so worried about us being in the house alone, that she’d projecting her anxiety across the miles from London to Leicester? Or was it something ‘else’; something which wanted us to leave the safety of the bedroom and venture out on to the landing where it was waiting?
The same nameless terror which made us run down the long dark corridor to the safety of the kitchen every time – and the dog refuse to enter the large cupboard under the stairs where we played? Or, was it the old lady my father (the least fanciful of men) purported to have seen on several occasions standing at the foot of his bed looking distracted and mournful?
My sister considers herself a ‘wee bit psychic’, while I consider myself a complete pragmatist. My other sister, Phyllis, told me recently that she’d seen the door handle turn on a couple of other occasions and had been too scared to leave her bedroom. I know there must be a logical explanation for what happened and I’d feel a whole lot better if someone experienced in this field could explain it to me.
Then I could finally lay this story to rest – where it belongs.
Just for fun – work out what your witch name would be.
I’ve always loved romantic heroes, be they highwaymen, pirates, Regency bucks or men in kilts.
I think the element of ‘costume’ removes the hero from the real world and transports both him and the reader into the realm of fantasy. The costumed hero is, generally, aristocratic – and while he does not have to work to earn his daily crust, he often has emotional scars which only the heroine can heal. And, in the case of men in kilts, there is the additional tease of whether or not they’ve gone ‘commando’ , in true Scottish fashion. So, while I loved the Wicked Lady, Frenchman’s Creek and the Scarlet Pimpernel, my favourite books and movies are Scottish-themed.
My interest began as a child in Scotland, reared (courtesy of Saturday morning cinema) on the exploits of highlanders featured in such movies as Rob Roy, Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Ghost Goes West (one of my favourites) and -sob- Grey Friar’s Bobby. After the movie (or fil-um, as we pronounced it) the children in my street would re-enact Rob Roy’s leap and subsequent escape through the waterfall, and the scene from Kidnapped, where Davie Balfour is almost murdered by his evil uncle. Our dogs were dragooned into being “Bobby”, loyally guarding his master’s grave on Grey Friar’s kirk. But they never quite ‘got’ what was required of them and were always wandering off, much to our annoyance.
The girls, of course, loved to act out Flora Macdonald helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape over the sea to Skye.
In June we visited Scotland, travelling as far as Skye to see the Fairy Pools and Flora MacDonald’s grave, amongst other things I wanted to research/double check before publishing for my forthcoming novel SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS.
The written word had its place, too; we knew Young Lochinvar off by heart and would declaim:
“He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone . . .
He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
The bride had consented, the gallant came late.”
I frequently found myself in trouble because I wanted to be Lochinvar, and wouldn’t take my turn as ‘the Fair Ellen.’ Nothing much changed there, then.
Those images and the tales of brave Covenanters and Jacobites stayed with me as I grew up and read more Scottish themed novels . . . The Jacobite Trilogy by D.K. Broster (falling in love with Ewen Cameron), The Lymond Chronicles (who could resist Francis Crawford?) and, more recently, the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon featuring uber-hero Jamie Fraser. For me, he is the ultimate kilted hero and has it in spades – looks, sense of honour, loyalty, is sex-on-legs and can speak Gaelic. If you’d like to see images of Jamie Fraser, check out my Pinterest board and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll even admit to subscribing to Amazon Prime so I could watch the TV Series: OUTLANDER. For me, a hero wearing a suit, carrying duct tape, rope and plastic ties just doesn’t cut it. Give me an exiled, Jacobite laird every time.
Which brings me full circle to my novels. In Tall, Dark and Kilted my hero is sexy laird Ruairi (Roo-ary) Urquhart who has to fight to safeguard his land and inheritance.
In Scotch on the Rocks I give you kilt-wearing, gorgeous Brodie – an American with auburn hair, who arrives on Eilean na Sgairbh on the back of a storm wind and turns my heroine’s life upside down.
Share with us your favourite ‘hero’, whether in book or film.
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