A Very Personal Ghost Story

I posted this in 2014, and reblog it most years around the time of Halloween. I don’t celebrate the festival myself, but I know almost everyone else does. This is a true story, and I have reposted it again for the benefit of the new followers who will not have seen it previously.

I have never really believed in the supernatural. Ghosts, apparitions, reincarnation, life after death, and all things associated with these. Not that I wouldn’t have liked to, it just didn’t seem plausible. Psychics can often appear to be very accurate. They claim to know things about you, even to be communicating with a family member, long since dead. Unfortunately, their ‘gifts’ are very easily debunked, and like most of these things, it has to come down to simple belief. And I don’t believe it.

My paternal grandmother was a great character. She had a very dark complexion, black hair, and a gravelly voice. Mother to three sons and two daughters, she had to fend for herself for much of her adult life, as my grandfather deserted the family home when I was a small child. When she was still a young mother, before the second world war, she was run over and seriously injured. Trapped under the vehicle, her leg had to be amputated at the scene. I remember being somewhat fascinated by her false leg when I was a child. It often stood in a corner of a room, as she was able to get around surprisingly well without it. Once she was going out, she would always wear this prosthesis, and other than a stiffness to her gait, you would be unaware that she had only one leg. She was a houseproud lady, and her home was usually neat and tidy. The step outside her front door was dark red, and she would clean this with a red polish, called ‘Cardinal’. This had a very distinctive smell, and on occasion, it would stain her fingers red, as she did not wear rubber gloves. We would often visit her on a Sunday, and she would accompany us on family holidays to the seaside, where we would go in a large group. On one of these holidays, she once showed me the stump of her thigh, and I remember feeling most uncomfortable having to look at it.

Much later on, after my Mum and Dad split up in the 1970s, I lost touch with my grandmother. Family differences made it very hard to keep in contact, and visiting her had to be arranged in advance, so as not to bump into my Dad, with his new ‘lady friend’. We made the trip a couple of times, and I was pleased to see that she hadn’t changed a bit, though she was no longer in good health. She was always happy to see us, and we tried as much as possible not to waste time discussing the problems we faced, as a result of the unexpected separation. By the late 1980s, other than exchanging Christmas and birthday cards, I hadn’t seen her for a long time. I was living in a small house in Surrey Docks, with my then girlfriend. I got a telephone call from my uncle, my Dad’s youngest brother. He informed me that my grandmother was in hospital. She had serious liver problems, and was not expected to live. I told my Mum, and we arranged to make the trip almost into Kent to see her. We checked that it would not clash with a visit from my Dad, to avoid any nastiness. On the agreed date, we struggled through the rush-hour traffic to the suburbs on the border with Kent. Caught up in delays, we arrived after the official end of visiting time. When we explained the situation to the nurse in charge, she was more than happy to allow us to spend some time.

It was a sad visit. We tried to look upbeat and casual, as we gazed down on this frail lady, yellow with jaundice, trying for her part to be cheerful, and obviously delighted to see us. We talked over old times, and about other members of our extended family, never once mentioning the advanced state of her illness, or her gloomy prognosis. After a while, she finally raised the subject of my Dad leaving us, and told my Mum how much she had missed seeing us both. She asked after my wife too, and I decided not to mention that we had split up, and that I had since met someone else. I wanted her to die thinking that all was well in my world. We said our final farewells, avoiding comments such as ‘see you again soon.’ We all knew that this was the last time we would see her.

I dropped my Mum off on the way home, and went back to tell my girlfriend, who had never met her, about the last visit to my beloved Nan. There were no tears, just fond memories; and frustration about the years lost, due to petty squabbles. We went to bed quite late, and I went straight off to sleep. In the early hours before dawn, I was awakened by an unusual noise. It seemed to be coming up the staircase from the room downstairs, as if someone was dragging something up, one step at a time. As my eyes opened, I was overwhelmed by an all-pervading smell. I recognised it immediately, it was Cardinal polish. Still sitting up in bed, I watched as my Nan’s head appeared at the top of the stairs, level with the bedroom door. She looked at me and smiled, continuing the difficult process of walking upstairs with a heavy false leg. She was dressed as I remembered her, and wearing an apron over her clothes. She walked into the bedroom, and sat down heavily on the bed, right next to me. Street lighting outside was enough to provide sufficient illumination, so I could see her clearly. She reached for my hand, and held it in both of hers, high up, near her shoulder. I could feel the roughness of her palms. She said one thing, ‘It will be alright’, and she was gone.

The next thing I was aware of was my girlfriend talking to me. She seemed confused. ‘Who were you talking to?’ She asked me. ‘Why are you holding your arm up, does it hurt?’ She continued. Then finally, ‘And what is that smell?’ The following day, my uncle rang me, to tell me that my grandmother had died during the night. ‘I know’, I replied.

I still don’t believe in ghosts. I suspect that it was a vivid dream, having just had the emotional experience of going to see my Nan, and knowing that she was dying. I can rationalise most of it to my satisfaction, but one thing has always been a mystery, and remains unexplained to this day. Why did my girlfriend smell the polish?

Brian Cushion: RIP

I wrote this post on Saturday. Most of you will remember it.

I received many kind comments, and my blogging friends and followers were, as always, very sympathetic.

Later that day, I got the news that my dear friend had died late that afternoon. So I thought it appropriate to update everyone with that.

I refuse to let Brian be a statistic, so here is something about his life, and the kind of man he was.

Troubled in his teens by the bone-wasting disease, Osteomyelitis, he was determined not to let the constant medical treatment get him down. He turned to music instead, with a voice to rival the Blues singers of the past, and even equal to the great Howlin’ Wolf. I was 17 years old when I met him, and he was singing at the front of a band, performing in a school hall in the London suburbs.

We were soon firm friends, and that friendship lasted for 51 years. Even though he has died, we are still friends, and always will be.

He later married, and I was the best man at the wedding. He and his wife had a daughter who he loved so dearly, becoming more than a father to her, a friend as well.

Over the decades, we lived together in a shared house, and spent a huge amount of time in each other’s company. We played Monopoly with an intensity usually reserved for Chess masters, and constantly disagreed on many things, especially politics. We shared holidays together, and saw each other through relationship and marriage break-ups, bad times and good times.

Many years later, decades of pain klling drugs caused his kidneys to fail. Brian had to go onto a dialysis regime until a transplant became available and he underwent the operation. Following that, he spent the rest of his days taking a daily cocktail of tablets, and having to attend hospital constantly. He still managed to play golf whenever he could, and once he retired, he rented a flat next to the golf club car park. He also continued to sing and perform with Blues bands around London and Kent.

Here he is five years ago, at his last ever gig. He is the man in the hat, singing and playing a harmonica. The pretty fair-haired girl at the front of the audience is his daughter.

He worked as a copy editor and proof reader, where his obsession with correct grammar and punctuation served him well. When I started this blog, he was one of my earliest and most loyal supporters, though he never failed to correct errors I made.

Brian was a good man, a loving father, and a true friend.

He will never be just a number.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

What if I die?

I had a disturbed sleep last night. No doubt the coronavirus was on my mind, as I was still thinking about it when I woke up this morning. And about one aspect in particular, what would happen if I was to contract the virus, and die.

Recovery rates in my age group are still low, and if I get the symptoms, there is the possibility that I could be dead within less than a week, perhaps even in just three days. Don’t get me wrong. I am not panicking about it, and not even greatly concerned. If it happens, there’s little I can do to change that.

So should I be planning for that possibility? Making some sort of arrangements, compiling lists, and contacting people I might never see or talk to again? It’s a ‘just in case’ situation, I know, but if I am suddenly struck down, it will be too late then.

One of my friends has my password for WordPress, so should be able to let all my fellow bloggers know I have gone. But what of everything else? All those small ‘administration’ details that never really enter most of our heads.

I don’t have a lot of savings, and the only life insurance I have will pay for my funeral, and leave some change. Julie would have to apply to receive half of my work pensions, and a State widow’s pension. With her part-time job, she might be able to afford to stay on in the house, as it is already paid for. But the regular bills never go down, so there are Council Tax, Water Rates, Electricity, Heating Oil, and regular maintenance to consider. She might well do better to sell up, downsize, and stash a good lump of equity to help in the future.

Then what would she do with my car? It is 13 years old, and expensive to run. She might be able to give it away to one of her family, or sell it for a small amount. Her car is much newer, but has a lot less room for Ollie.

Yes, Ollie is a huge consideration. She will have to change her routine to take him for walks, and cope with him expecting me to come home at any moment.

She doesn’t know the access code for my new PC. Not that she is interested in using it, but even if she gave it away, she would need the code. Perhaps I should write it down for her? And she is never sure what day the bins go out, as I always do that. Should I start a notebook, with all this stuff jotted down? Leave her the contact numbers for the plumber, electrician, and anyone else I usually contact? It seems to me that I should create a ‘Just in case’ notebook, with all sorts of things written down.

Then there is the funeral situation. She already knows that I want a basic funeral, with no religious element. She might even remember the two songs I wanted to be played. But given current conditions, the funeral would be quick, and almost nobody allowed to attend. So maybe that doesn’t need to go in the notebook at all.

The more I think about it, the more small details need to be recorded. Where I keep the key for the electric meter cupboard, how to check the amount of heating oil in the tank, and who to email to order more. When the boiler has to be serviced, where I keep the tiny spare lightbulbs for the bedroom lamps, and so many other silly small things that we take for granted.

Seems to me that dying takes a lot of preparation.

Euthanasia does exist

Thinking about my Mum this morning, and her distressingly hard departure from this life. The Liverpool Care Pathway mentioned in this post has since been discredited.

Too late for her, unfortunately.


During the last quarter of her life, my Mum was often ill. Her breathing problems became so bad, there would be crisis after crisis, occasions where she was not expected to survive. After recovering from these, she would usually say the same things, and have an identical conversation with me. She lamented the fact that voluntary euthanasia was illegal in the UK. She could see a future where she would not want to go on, but be unable to end her life with dignity, at a time of her own choosing. A vocal supporter of the ‘right to die’ campaign, she would always tell me that she did not want to, in her words, ‘end up as a cabbage’.  There were numerous times, when she would ask me to reassure her that I would advise any medical authorities that she was not to be resuscitated, and that her life was…

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Rutger Hauer

I have only just heard that Rutger Hauer has died, aged 75. That is a tragic loss to acting, and cinema.

I could write about all the film roles I have enjoyed seeing him in, but I have to pick my favourite, from my current top ten film of all time.

He embodied the essence of ‘Blade Runner’ (1987), as the replicant, Roy Batty. And he gave us one of the most iconic death scenes in the history of acting.

Rest in peace, Mr Hauer. You will be missed.

Ambulance stories (18)

A rather sombre post from 2012, about my time as an EMT in London, with particular emphasis on dealing with death. Only one of you has left a comment in the past, and it has hardly ever been read. Given the content, I suppose that is understandable.


Living with the dead

This is not an anecdote about a specific job, like the other posts in this series. It is rather a reflection on death, and on dealing with it in the role of an ambulanceman. It is not meant to be depressing, though it may read that way. It is part of my reflection on those years, as I get older.

Before I joined the London Ambulance Service, I had seen one dead body. When I was young, my maternal grandfather died. He was only 65, and died suddenly. I was taken to see him in his coffin, which was in my grandparents’ front room, for a vigil before the funeral. My enduring memory of that night, was not of my first dead body, but of my uncle crying. My grand-dad just looked as if he was asleep, and I did not find it distressing.

Decades years…

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Ambulance stories (19)

Another post from 2012, reflecting on my time as an EMT in London. I don’t think any of you have ever seen this one.


Phone calls in the night

Some jobs in the Ambulance Service do not involve rushing off on blue lights, heading for the local Casualty department, trying hard to save the life of the patient on board. They do not involve any contact with the patient at all, save for a brief confirmation that nothing can be done.

Most people who die from natural causes, do so in the early hours of the morning. They are sometimes discovered later, often much later, but the chances are, that they actually passed away after midnight, and before 6am. Of course, the Ambulance Service is a 24 hours a day operation, so if the unfortunate person is found, an ambulance will usually be summoned to the scene. The deceased person may have been found by a carer, if in an old people’s home, or possibly by a neighbour, who might have a key, and…

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Losing friends

One of the most depressing aspects of getting older is the loss of family members to illness or old age. I was quite young when my maternal grandfather died, but remember it well. It was an introduction to the loss of older relatives that prepared me for many more that came later.

However, I don’t think I was ever prepared for the loss of so many friends. For some reason, I grew up thinking that my close friends would be around for as long as I was, and their unexpected loss came as a harder blow than that of very elderly relatives who had lived long lives.

But you forget you are getting to an age where friends begin to pass away too. It just creeps up on you, but never gets any easier to deal with.

Last week, I was informed of the death of another close friend. Someone I had known since I was 28 years old, so almost forty years of friendship. As I received the text message from his wife, I was struck by the fact that I was holding the last letter he had sent me, preparing to reply to it that morning.

I met James Cassidy on my first day at the London Ambulance Training School. He was an experienced Paramedic who had chosen to become a training officer. As our large group of new entrants sat nervously eyeing each other in a big classroom, he walked in to introduce himself as our class instructor. Within minutes, his easy manner had relaxed everyone. He joked and laughed with us as if he had always known us, and when we went for a tea break, we all agreed that we were lucky to have got such a character to guide us through the long weeks of training to come. We also concluded that any job that could produce such a man must indeed be a good choice of career.

The next weeks of training showed his caring and commonsense nature to the full. He helped those who found it hard going, and continued to encourage us, as well as never sugar-coating the harsh realities of the job we would soon be doing. On completion of the classroom training, he became my personal instructor for the on-road, real life training. Six weeks of 999 calls, in one of the busiest ambulance stations in central London. Non-stop emergencies of all kinds, with very few days off.

During that time, Jim and I became firm friends. In between jobs, we would have long debates about politics, life experience, travel, literature, and the pros and cons of life in the emergency services. But once my training was over, I moved on to my permanent posting, and Jim went back to take on his next class of new entrants. But we didn’t let that distance stop us keeping in touch, and began many years of correspondence by letter, something that endured even after emails had become the norm. I only bumped into him occasionally over the years, sometimes at headquarters, or at retirement celebrations. But we kept in touch as frequently as our busy lives allowed.

Many years later, Jim left his training role, for promotion to Divisional Officer, in east London. Despite his elevation in rank, we stayed in contact just the same, right up until the time I was due to leave London for good, and retire to Norfolk. Jim and his wife came to my leaving party in 2012, and he promised to visit me in East Anglia. And he kept that promise. When he retired and bought a motor caravan, he arranged to bring it to a site close to Beetley, and we spent two marvellous days catching up. In his last letter to me, he mentioned that he would be coming to visit again, this time with his wife, and hopefully in the summer of 2019.

But that was sadly never to be, and his unexpected death last week came as a great shock indeed.

So rest in peace, my friend Jim. A great bloke, a true and loyal companion through most of my life, and never forgotten.

Not Waving but Drowning

An old post from 2014, something very personal. Other than Jude, I don’t think most of you have ever seen it. (I just remembered that it was reblogged on Sally’s site, in 2017. Apologies for the repetition!)

When you see someone splashing in the water, they may not be waving, but drowning.


I would like to thank Jaypot, for suggesting that I explore my childhood for inspiration. Here is the first result of that exploration.

Stevie Smith wrote this famous poem, in 1957. If you have never heard of it, here is a link; http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/not-waving-but-drowning/
I did not become aware of this poem until the 1970’s, and considered it to be a fine piece of work. More than that, it had a connection for me, that even now, is painful to recall. I must start by saying, by way of a disclaimer, that many of the events recounted in this post were told to me later, by my parents. (Though despite my youth at the time, I do actually remember the main occurrence, as if it happened yesterday). This also applies to the exact geography of the location, a place I have never visited since, and which may well have changed, over…

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Joy, and Sadness

Violet Rose. 6lbs 1oz.

It has been a good few years since we had a new baby in my maternal family. I was delighted to go and visit the latest arrival, Violet, last weekend. She was delivered by C-section, and I am pleased to report that Mum and baby are both doing really well.

The added joy of seeing the new baby was that she is named after my mother, Violet, and also my grandmother, Rose. As I have never had children, it made me feel very happy to know that my own mother’s name will live on in this new addition to our family, and I know that my Mum would have been touched beyond belief.

Then this morning, along came the sadness. Violet’s great-grandfather, and my last surviving uncle, passed away after a long illness, at the age of 87. He never got a chance to see Violet before he died, but at least he heard about her being born, and had seen a photo.

R.I.P. Ivan Cowburn.

The circle of life continues.