Opinion

I never used to believe in ghosts. Until I visited a haunted house

Sam Delaney's suspicions of paranormal activity were confirmed by his one-year-old cockapoo

A haunted house in a graveyard with a full moon

It's official. Sam's brother lives in a haunted house – though it may not look exactly like this one. Image: Sandy Flowers from Pixabay

Do you believe in ghosts? No, nor did I until recently. 

I once visited what is alleged to be ‘Britain’s most haunted house’ in Pontefract, Yorkshire. There was even a film made about it in 2012 called When the Lights Went Out. I went to investigate it for a work assignment and, to be honest, found the people on the surrounding estate much more intimidating than any supposed ghouls or spectres. Some of the locals told me the whole town was haunted and that the ghost of a small Victorian girl appeared in the boozer every night at 10ish, throwing glasses around and screaming at people. “We’ve got used to her now,” a regular at the pub told me. “We just ignore her until she gives up. All she wants is attention.”

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My time in Pontefract was fun and interesting but, ultimately, I concluded that all the stuff about ghosts was almost certainly bollocks. And if the most haunted place in Britain wasn’t really haunted then, I supposed, nowhere is really haunted. It’s all a fantasy conjured by bored and frustrated humans to make themselves feel as if there is more meaning and mystery to this dreary existence of ours.

But recently I have had cause to reassess my cynicism. My brother’s house has had a ghost rumour surrounding it for a while now. My younger sister claims that she stayed overnight once and awoke to see a shadowy, transparent figure hovering over her. My sister is easily the most trustworthy person in my bloodline. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t talk non-stop bullshit just to fill time or show off. When she speaks, I listen. So when she says she’s seen a ghost, I have reason to believe she has actually seen a ghost.

But it is a gigantic claim so, being the meticulous journalist that I am, I required a secondary source to verify my sister’s story. This week, I found that source, in the form of my one-year-old cockapoo, Cookie

Cookie is lovely but annoying. She is not conventionally intelligent, but she is quite intuitive. And if horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that dogs have powerful instincts with regards to the supernatural. When we took her round my brother’s house at the weekend, she went seriously wild: scratching at doors, chasing invisible adversaries, howling constantly. And it wasn’t the first time either: every time she has visited this house, she has behaved in this manic way. Even by her own barmy standards, it’s extreme.

My sister happened to be there at the weekend. Observing the dog, she said, in her usual calm and considered way, that she found it a very annoying animal. But, she added: “It’s definitely the ghost she’s responding to. It’s obvious.” She was right. It was obvious. My dog, like all dogs, has strong ghost instincts. And my sister is not easily fooled, taken in or given to flights of fancy. My sources are pretty watertight: my brother’s house is haunted. I felt a chill run through me as all the pieces fell into place. Cookie fell on her side and began to twist her body round and round in circles on the rug, growling. 

I had my two kids with me so didn’t want to cause any big alarm. But I can admit now that I was absolutely shitting myself. Some people aren’t bothered by the existence of ghosts. My niece, who has lived in the house for the past 12 years, said that the ghost has never harmed her in all that time, so why should she care? I, on the other hand, was unable to be so sanguine. I was worried that my gorgeous, gentle, idiotic little crossbreed was about to mutate into a monster. I made a ‘is that the time?’ face and suggested we leave immediately. As soon as I got Cookie out of that house she calmed down. 

The drive home was stilted. My 11-year-old son asked me if I was thinking about ghosts. “No, of course I’m not thinking about ghosts,” I told him. “Ghosts don’t really exist.” But I was lying. Because I was thinking about ghosts. And I’m pretty sure ghosts do exist.

Read more from Sam Delaney here

Sort Your Head Out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99)You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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