In a class of my own: Ghost Busters
I suppose it was my own fault. When some members of my tutor group got involved in a conversation about ghosts, I should have quashed it at the time. Kids are living proof that most people enjoy being scared.
Tutor groups at the comp were made up of mixed ability boys and girls. Gareth was a bright boy who was more interested in a good time out of school than success within it. Normally Gareth sat with his own cohort at the back of the tutor group, signalling that I may have been chosen as his tutor but not by him. However, I noticed how he was listening in when a small group had gathered round my desk to talk about ‘scary things’ seen in the local churchyard. A tutor group is not governed by any subject boundaries so the talk was a potpourri of topics. That day it was the supernatural.
On Friday morning, Gareth ushered in three of his mates from other tutor groups.
“You can’t bring them in here, Gareth, it’s not their tutor group”
“Sir, we have something to show you.” It was the politest he had ever been.
Chris, Gareth’s best mate, produced a crumpled up newspaper report from his pocket and thrust into my hand. It was an article about a local terraced house near the now-redundant pit. The ex-miner who lived in it claimed that one of the bedrooms was haunted. He and his wife had a baby that was waking on a nightly basis, screaming at the top of its lungs.
The report explained how he had rushed into the crying baby’s bedroom on several nights to see the faint outline of a blue figure which vanished into the wall.
“Very interesting that, Chris. Now the rest of your mates need to be getting back to their tutor.”
Gareth butted in. “We’ve been to see the bloke to ask him if we could spend a night in the haunted bedroom.”
“He says we can – if we have an adult with us.”
“I hope it stays fine for you.”
Now I could see where all this might be leading so I tried to head it off at the pass.
“And what did your parents say?”
“Oh none of them are up for it” Gareth said “but we thought you might come with us, sir.”
“Not a chance” I said “and there goes the bell for lessons. Time to go.”
The following Friday night found me picking up four ghost-hunters from Gareth’s house in Mexborough. I had insisted that all four of them bring sandwiches, a drink and a letter of acceptance from home. I may have been mad but I wasn’t stupid.
“You can call me Joe” the unprepossessing bloke said, wearing a cheese cutter hat down over his eyes. There is something worrying about people who wear hats indoors.
“The wife and bairn have gone to her mother’s for the night” Joe said “So the haunted bedroom is all ours.”
I had never known Gareth and his mates be so restrained. It wouldn’t take a lot to make them see a ghost.
Steve was first to speak. “Can you feel how cold it is in here?” he said once we were ensconced in said bedroom.
“You can feel that, can you?” Joe asked encouragingly.
“When did it all start?” I asked Joe once everyone was sitting down and quiet.
“The haunting, you mean? Oh just after Christmas.” We were into March.
Gareth, who clearly fancied himself as a young sleuth, was equipped with a pad and pencil. “Does this house have any history that you know of?” Which I thought was quite a good question. I always stressed the importance of asking good questions in my teaching.
“An old miner and his wife lived here before” he said. “He died of pneumoconiosis. Coughed his lungs up basically.”
They all went quiet. Chris coughed to clear his throat. Woody hadn’t spoken yet, but he looked odds-on for an early exit.
The night wore on.
“Can you feel a getting colder?” Joe said with a catch in his voice.
“Yeah” said Gareth and scribbled ‘Got colder’ on his pad.
“Well, it’s one’o’clock” I said “So it’s bound to get colder,” trying to breed healthy scepticism rather than credulity.
“Can you see that?” Joe whispered hoarsely, pointing in the direction of the baby’s cot.
“What?” three of them chorused.
“There’s a shape in the darkness near the window”
“Yeah, I think I see it” but I’m not sure which of them said it.
I stared with all my might but there was nothing you could call a shape.
The auto-suggestions went on like this until three in the morning.
“I’m really cold” Woody said, speaking at last.
“I ache all over” Steve admitted.
We thanked Joe for his hospitality and pretended, yes, we probably did see some weird shapes and I drove them all home.
A few weeks later Gareth came into the tutor group with another newspaper cutting.
“Look at this, sir.”
‘Miner to be re-housed after baby’s bedroom fears’ ran the headline and it went on to explain how Joe, his young wife and their baby were to be re-housed in Wath-on-Dearne after the house was found to have damp rot.
“He were having us on, weren’t he, sir?” Gareth said.
“He were just using us as part of his case to get re-housed. There was no ghost at all.”
“Maybe not” I said.