Mile Hill House Michael Fitzalan



Ghost Storey – A Solicitor’s ghost helped me.

Ghost Storey by Michael Fitzalan

Chapter Three – A ghost that helped me.

For those who know England well, this story might seem strange, but I was merely twenty. I was not very used to travelling beyond the reaches of my neighbourhoods of Reading and London.

Of course, I had learnt to drive and knew some of backroads of the Home Counties quite well. I could navigate Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex and parts of Kent, though I had got lost in fields on the way to Nonington, between Canterbury and Dover when I took a wrong turn, once.

Carlisle was much further from London than I imagined. I knew it was a fair way off, but I did not know that it practically marked the start of Hadrian’s Wall.

In my ignorance, because I did not bother to look at a road atlas or the massive Reader’s Digest, hardback atlas at my mother’s house. I assumed that it was somewhere above the Midlands.

In those days, I had a decent car, a piece of superb, sporting machinery that was a pleasure to take on longer journeys. A few days before the birthday party that I had been invited to, I had time from my busy work schedule to look up where it was.

It was, in fact, practically on the borders with another country, Scotland.

I believe it was roughly 70 km to Gretna Green, about 44 miles. London was 421km or 262 miles away.

I had been invited by my girlfriend, to her younger sister’s sixteenth, a large party for a popular girl. Sensibly, I discussed the adventure with my mother.

She had been the life and soul of any party and still was. Her judgment on whether a party would be worth going to, or whether it was a ‘non-starter’, was faultless.

From the age of fifteen she had been proven right about parties, not only about whether the ones I was going to were going to be a success but also the ones my five siblings were going to attend.

Every time she predicted, correctly, whether a party would be a success or not and she always insisted that we leave the party at its height, which was sage advice. Of course, she wanted all the details so that she could give me the correct advice. Her response had always been eagerly anticipated.

We were in the kitchen eating salami, salad, and thick slices of fresh bread, which I had sliced with the breadknife and a glass of vin du pays wine, which was surprisingly smooth, in fact, naive in its presumption. At that stage, my mother would rise at 5 am to go to work, return at three eat lunch and sleep from four until seven.

Being a creature of habit, she followed the regime even at the weekends. I had bought a flat across the common with my best mate from school and joined my mother for lunch when my busy work schedule allowed. I worked weekends in those days, you don’t get a nice shiny, German car for nothing, but occasionally, I would take Saturday afternoon off to visit my mother who I adored.

“I’ve been invited to a party,” I ventured “That’s marvellous, darling, tell me all about it,” she replied as I knew she would.

“You know Bibby, the friend of mine, I mentioned,” I said, casually intonating that it might be a bit of a drag, “her sister is having her sixteenth birthday,”

My mother hummed the tune from ‘She was only sixteen, only sixteen, she was too young to love, and I was too young to know’.

I took this as encouragement.

“Where’s the party?” She asked, deliberately slipping into an American drawl to reinforce one of her catchphrases, “You’re in the grove, Jackson.”

“You’re telling me,” I replied as expected.

“This is murder!”

She was still in love with films like the Marx Brothers and The Road movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. We shared catchphrases from a myriad movie catalogue including The Road to Rio.

“Carlisle, it’s a bit far, I know, and it might be a bridge a bit too far,” I explained

I had suggested that it was a long way in the hope that my mother might consider it too far and persuade me against such a long journey. The distance was beginning to deter me.

“It’s not that far, I think you should go,” she decided. “You’re only young once. But don’t drive, take the train, its much quicker and you won’t be breathalysed the next day. You can’t really go to a party and drive back the next day. You might still be over the limit.”

There was no suggestion that she would miss me, but I knew she would, she missed every single one of us all the time.

“To tell you the truth, I was thinking of driving up there, but it seems an inordinately long way,” I said, which was true; it would be quite fun to drive up but then I would have the return trip after the party.

“Take the train, you’ll be less tired when you get there and you can read,” she insisted, “why make life more complicated than it is?”

So, it was settled, we finished lunch with some cheese and my mother went for a siesta. That afternoon, I went home back to my flat and packed a bag for the next weekend. A whole weekend off, I could not believe it.

As a result, I worked a full day the next day, a Sunday. From nine until ten thirty when the last pub shut. I drove home, ready for my five o’clock alarm on Monday. In those days, I worked for a brewery in the East End of London, Godson’s and they produced a beer called Godson’s Black Horse or GBH.

It was easy to sell but I knew enough about the competitive London drinks market to know that my customers needed visiting on a three weekly basis and my prospective customers needed to be visited fortnightly to demonstrate the service we provided.

On the following Saturday, I drove from Lavender Gardens to King’s Cross and parked outside. It is amazing to think that there were no parking restrictions outside King’s Cross, St Pancras, and Euston in those days so I could park there all weekend.

I took along a copy of ‘Catch 22’, a towel, a change of underwear, a spare shirt, a change of jeans, a t-shirt, three pairs of socks and a feeling of coming closer to reaching my goal, Carlisle.

‘To travel hopefully can be better than arriving’, was my misquote from Twain, or Dickens, so I had been told, I could not at that time reliably attribute it.

I suspected it had to be Twain, but it was in fact Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, ‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’ I was confident in the reliability of the train timetable and in three and a half hours I would be there. Much better than a trip in the car that would take over five.

Clutching a small, navy, nylon overnight bag, and already wearing my party gear, a pair of denim blue, Levi 501 button fly jeans, a white Hilditch and Key shirt and a navy cashmere jumper. My sister had brought me a wonderful fragrance from Crabtree and Evelyn, so I smelt acceptable.

Despite the long journey ahead, I was in good spirits. The train carriage had that comforting diesel and dust smell, which reminded me of journeys from my Prep school, going home from Worcester Station to Paddington.

The cloth seats could have done with a good beating. They were so dusty but provided you sat down carefully the grime was kept trapped in the dark needle cord covers.

I opened my book, looking forward to reading my first cult novel, which would distract me for the four-hour journey. I had eaten a phenomenally large breakfast, which my metabolism burned off in an hour, but I was trained to wait for lunch.

The buffet car was not somewhere you visited even if the train had one in those days., but the offer was not the best. It was safer and cheaper to take your own lunch with you and by a can of warm beer if you were desperate.

Breakfast kept me going until lunch when we changed trains at Crewe, and I ate my ham and mustard sandwich out of its foil wrapper. I had made it myself and it was delicious, just the right amount of butter and mustard and I had ignored the temptation to add lettuce and tomato as I would, now.

There is something carnal about eating bread and meat without vegetables.

It was cold on the platform, but I was resilient; it was warmer than being in a ‘four’ on the Thames, rowing in shorts and t-shirt as I had been all through the last two terms at school, but I could have done with some Grecian heat to warm my bones.

All went well until I arrived at the station at about three o’clock.

I left the train at Carlisle in good spirits with plenty of time to get to the party. If everything had gone to plan, I would have been very happy.

However, I had left the invitation with the contact numbers written on the back in the glovebox of my car back in London. It was only having climbed down the stairs, leaving the station, that I realized.

Standing next to a phone box, I rummaged through all my pockets, through my bag and rechecked everything bar the insoles of my shoes to find the invitation.

I started to panic, but panic turned to despair when I tried to contact the family and learned that their number was ‘ex-directory’. The operator at Directory Enquiries would not be able to give their number to me.

That was it; I had travelled hundreds of miles, across the length of England, from southeast to northwest and all for nothing. I had arrived but I would not be going to the ball.

Disappointed, then I walked back to the station. I could feel the blood flow to my face, my pulse quickened, feeling the contraction of my chest.

Being ashamed by my carelessness, embarrassed by my fatuous inability to check everything before I left. I chided myself for the typical impetuous and disorganised departure.

Resigning myself to the return journey back to London, it had not been a complete waste of time. I had been able to make quite an impression on the spine of Heyer’s book. I could console myself with finishing the first few chapters. The book was enthralling and helped the hours, and the miles, literally whizz by.

Walking up to the ticket office to find out when the next train for London was leaving. I could not hide my disappointment at my stupidity.

“Hi, could you, please, tell me when the next train leaves for London?” I asked, mustering as much charm as I could manage.

“Certainly, the five forty-two, change at Crewe. Tt leaves from platform three.” The man behind the counter replied. He was about my age, in his twenties.

“Thanks, I’ve got to go back to London tonight.” I complained, sighing more heavily than I intended.

“Well, that’s the train you need,” he assured me.

“I was meant to be going to a birthday party, but I left the invitation behind.” I explained, thinking everyone in the world should know about the calamity.

“Have you tried ringing someone?” he asked.

“Yeah, they’re ex-directory, I can’t get the number,” I exclaimed, sounding as if I were resigned to the idea.

“What does the family do, your friend’s family, are they in business, any clues?” he questioned me further.

“The father was a lawyer.” I informed him. Not knowing how many hundreds of law firms there must have been in Carlisle and the surrounding areas.

“Well, if I was you, I’d have a word with the transport police, they might have had dealings with them; they might be able to help.”

“A brilliant idea, thanks”

With mounting hope.

I left my saviour who had directed me to a large office on Platform One. Even if there was no one there at first, a distinguished officer in uniform, in his late forties, sauntered up to the door and unlocked it. A little later, just as I had settled on the comfortable, old-fashioned, wooden bench.

Waiting for him to settle into his seat, I knocked, entered when asked and politely greeted him.

“I was wondering whether you could help me. I’m looking for a friend of mine and her father was a lawyer.”

“Come in and sit down,” he offered.

I sat opposite him and explained the situation fully. I left out my ham sandwich and the gist of the plot from ‘Catch 22’ but I mentioned anything else that might seem relevant.

“What did you say his name was?” he wondered out loud. “Wilson,” I told him.

“I know him,” he exclaimed excitedly, “he used to sort out our fare dodgers, hold on.”

Despite my relatively advanced years, I could hardly keep still on my chair, like a toddler anticipating ice cream. Obviously I could not believe my change in fortunes, as I had been depressed at the thought of going home and suddenly there was a lifeline; I might still make the party.

He phoned a colleague who phoned another, he was rung back with the correct number, which he immediately dialled.

“I see, yes okay. I’ve got that, thank you” he said softly into the phone as he wrote down copious notes. “What is it?”

“They moved last year, after Mr. Wilson passed away, they relocated to a village outside of town.”


“Twenty miles, but don’t worry, I’ve got the number.”

He dialled and explained he had me with him and he told the mother of my plight. The mother readily gave him all the details and he thanked her before putting down the phone.

“There’s a train that leaves from platform five at seven tonight. It’s a branch line, if you want the second stop, out of the station turn left. It’s the fifth house on that side of the road,” he informed me while he handing me a piece of paper with all the information in a clear neat script.

“Is there a bus or a quicker way?” “I’m afraid not.”

“Thank you for all your help. I’d be going back to London, now, if it weren’t for you, but I’m afraid I’ll miss the beginning of the party.”

Smiling, indulgently at me, he took his coat off the back of the chair and put on his policeman’s cap.

“I haven’t inspected that part of the line for some weeks now I suppose. I ought to have a look, I can give you a lift at the same time,” he suggested.

“Thank you so much; I can’t believe it.”

After I had finished gushing with gratitude, we set off, talking about the trains and Mr. Wilson and various things.

We had a lovely conversation about life and the universe and everything.

I was a bit disappointed when he rounded the bend and pulled up in front of a white gate.

The car was a ‘Panda’ car. He negotiated the bends on that country road like a rally car. The engine was small but poky enough if driven hard. The policeman knew how to drive and still enjoyed bombing along the lanes.

We were there with plenty of time to spare. I pressed him to come in for a drink or a coffee to see the family. He said that he needed to get back to the station. It was a Saturday night and, even then, drunks harassed and harangued people.

That has been the kindest deed anyone had done for me.

He drove off quietly, although I’m sure he put the car through its paces on the return journey.

Happily, I went in and helped with the last-minute preparations.

It was a great party.

Ghost Storey by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *