Ginger Nuts of Horror
As a simple country lad I have two fears from my childhood. Trees and faces. And sometimes both combined.
I grew up in the wilds of the Sussex countryside on a farm where our nearest neighbours were a mile away in either direction and the only way to get to our house was along a winding country road enclosed on either side by woodland. Beautiful and picturesque as you can imagine. And there’s the problem right there. Imagination.
For those of us who were born in the late 70s there is a wide catalogue of children’s television which was designed to scar our impressionable young minds. Not least of these was Children of the Green Knowe based on the books by Lucy M. Boston. Green Knowe itself is an old estate replete with woodland, country house, river and gardens looked after by Mrs Oldknow and the groundskeeper Boggis. Throw in some ghostly children, a big old statue of St Christopher (which moves) and a big old baddie and you’ve a spooky tale right there. Now someone in their wisdom at the BBC decided to make a four part dramatisation of this for the run up to Christmas back in 1986. The adaptation focuses on young posh lad Tolly who is sent there to live with his great-grandmother the aforementioned Mrs Oldknow. He goes wandering round the estate encountering the ghostly children and other characters along the way. Nice and spooky but gentle enough. And then some bastard introduces Green Noah – a menacing nightmare inducing tree and our big old baddie noted earlier. A tree which is able to uproot itself and walk across the lawn, a tree able to stalk a young child. The sort of tree which could live along a gentle country lane in the middle of sleepy Sussex where a similar young child may walk home from a day at school down said dark country lane with the creaks and groans of wind tugged branches filling his ears. Of all the bloody things to get a fear of when you are surrounded by woodland!
So what does this have to do with faces other than the leering features carved into Green Noah’s bark? Well let’s blame the BBC yet again. The BBC created some wonderful adaptations of ghost stories for Christmas (mainly M.R. James) and I am a proud owner of the superb box set which you can buy nowadays. However, my first encounter with these stories was some thirty years previously on re-runs back in the 80s. I loved these shows. I would sit with my Dad and watch them on Christmas Eve instead of going down the local church for midnight mass. One of my favourite stories is based on Charles Dickens’ marvellous short story The Signalman. It tells of a railway signalman on a single track line who is plagued by a spectral visitor who warns him of impending doom. Denholm Elliott (as the Signalman) and Bernard Lloyd (as the Traveller who Elliott tells his fears to) play of each other superbly and director Lawrence Gordon Clark builds a palpable sense of unease and tension. There is not a wasted second across the 39 minutes of the piece and yet the moment to haunt me comes as we come close to the end and the spectre is revealed in his full glory. The face of that spectre haunted me for years!
So this is where my tale ends. Or does it? So it wasn’t just the face in The Signalman which haunted me. No, that delicious imagination of mine decided it want to delve deep into some weird part of my psyche and have a little bit of fun. Not content with spectral visages, I decided I needed a new nightmare. I would dream of strangers coming up to me, leering creepy individuals, people who would lean in to me. And I would grab their faces and pull. And the face would come away and underneath it would be a different face. And that face would be pulled away to reveal another face. Men becoming women. The elderly becoming young and the young becoming old. Face after face after face after face until I would wake up in the darkness with my bedclothes slick with sweat. And I have no idea why though I am sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with this one! For those who have read my books, I suspect you might see elements of this broadly scattered throughout my writing. Or perhaps I’ve hidden it deep enough. Why not peel back the visage and see what lies beneath?