I decided to spend the night in a haunted hotel. Toward the end of August, the weather was fitting; out of nowhere, the wind was suddenly cold. I chose Whitby. My room overlooked the north sea, both the abbey and the cove through which Dracula sailed into England in my line of sight. I couldn't have found a more gothic setting in my predilection for existential fright if I'd sodded off to Transylvania itself.
I wanted to feel my heartbeat in my ears. I wanted a shrill and inexplicable howl to rouse me to the point of fleeing, forcing the blood that pooled in my limbs to surge, and things more macabre besides: icy hands round my throat; grey faces in windows; a glimpse of a winceyette nightdress as sleep paralysis cruelly puts paid to screaming.
The street - a narrow cut of ginnels and trinket shops, and other outlets that did little to portend imminent spooks - led down to the seafront. The hanging sign with a gaping-mouthed ghoul gave my hotel away; it was a narrow brick and flint building with a small sailing boat and a dead seagull moored just beyond. One was called Mavis, the other in rigor mortis. My first thought was that a cormorant or vulture would have been more fitting; my second was that I badly needed a wee and what on earth would become of me if my haunting occurred at a similar moment during the night?
Mavis, it turned out, was also the name of the owner, though she looked more like a Bev. She told me in earnest that the hotel housed no fewer than 17 ghosts and two poltergeists, and proceeded to list them by name and social standing (I did ask), before handing over the keys to my room, and reminding me that breakfast was from seven to eight thirty.
Seven to eight thirty? That struck me as more anti-social that the ghost of Percy Bickerdyke who, like me, was spending his ghoulhood in some sort of mysterious torpor, languishing beneath the stairs on account of some unspecified trauma circa 1806. If I saw him, I thought to myself, I would tell him to get his thyroid checked before jumping to conclusions on the trauma front.
But honestly, once night fell, and in August, it fell faster than expected, my desire to see anything in the way of ghosties was most definitely in abeyance. I was alert and relatively energised, which was refreshing, but the result of fear-induced rapid blood flow was akin to the version of pain I experience after odder things, like staying out in the cold too long, or yoga. I felt at once daft, terrified, itchy, on fire, fat, a waste of space, and sort of lonely.
My friends were working as politicians' aids, procreating, buying houses, sending fraudsters to jail. I was in a haunted hotel bedroom, twee but hyper-local and micro-managed down to the lucky-duck emblazoned bog roll, at the back end of British Summer Time, hoping an encounter with a stair-dwelling ghost called Percy, and his contemporaries, might cure me of chronic fatigue. You could have written it, so I did write it, and it's still bloody stupid. My room was apparently home to the spirit of a Catherine McGrath, of Irish stock, who visited the hotel in 1955 and - legend has it - keeled over and died when she saw the reflection of another ghost in the mirror, likely before someone spotted a marketing opportunity and had the guesthouse dine out on its spooky goings on. After I'd weed as much as I could before having to turn the big light off and try and sleep, I hoped that if Catherine did make an appearance, she would be jolly and Irish and talk the arse off me rather than do a proper haunting.
Sleep I did; haunted I wasn't. Gentle reader, I apologise. I wish I had something more exciting to report. Though I did have a truly disturbing dream, which you could argue happened at the limen between sleep and wakefulness and therefore counts as a sort of haunting. I was dreaming of Julia Bradbury doing her walks, you know, for the BBC, and she stopped by a barn with a randy bullock (?) locked inside. As I came face to face with this bullock, it attempted to sexually assault me, and as this happened, I literally felt a tugging at the waistband of my pyjama bottoms. I remember half waking up and feeling utterly petrified- I was afraid I'd die like Catherine McGrath and add myself to Mavis' inventory of incorporeals. I woke early, about five thirty, to a blueish light and the sound of rain. I could feel the heavy sense of fatigue creep back in, like a sea fret settling into my very bones, and ended up sleeping through breakfast and check-out time. I dragged my body and ridiculous brain and its ideas back to the train station and fell into a window seat. I thought back to how it had been to almost get jumped by a neutered beast in a bid to stop being tired in a hotel not far from where Bram Stoker came up with a Penguin classic, and I promised myself that if I made it to the age when people have mid-life crises I was just going to do what everyone else does and have an affair with a twenty year-old and go to Crete to find myself and not mess about.
These are the random paths that chronic illness have led me down; expect silliness and deep reflection in equal measure. Impaired health can bring pain, despair, uncertainty and a bit of unexpected joy; seek solace here if you crave some light relief from campaigning/suffering.