By Leigh G Banks (2010)
Welcome to Electric Lady land. What a curious place this is.
And sitting there, over by the roaring log fire, is Mavis Price, the Electric Lady herself. She prides herself on being able to cause electrical goods to explode simply by touching them; kettles, irons, toasters all have fallen victim to her kinetic powers.
Once she had to abandon a computer training course after blowing up an Apple Mac.
With her is Terry, a tortured little slip of a man who is staking his future on a liver transplant. He’s an ebullient character though and says he shares his rented flat with a man who died from liver failure decades ago. They communicate through a second-hand television set.
Mavis is middle-aged and full of raucous laughter. Periodically she wafts her walking cane at a ghost cat muling around her ankles. Terry might look ill but he is regaling Mavis with his camp and witty tales. His hands tremble as he warms them against the flames of the fire.
I wonder if he knows that those flames may be roaring up from the conflagration in Satan’s hearth? Mythology in this small rugged enclave of rural Shropshire has it that the fireplace Mavis and Terry are sharing is one of the county’s Gateway to Hell.
Nothing is what it seems here at the Alerston Inn, on the outskirts of Telford. Even the Gateway to Hell is, in reality, an ancient well capped after the tragic death of a young girl one hundred and fifty years ago.
And the inn? Well, that isn’t what it purports to be either. It looks like a bucolic 19th century coaching house, and boasts an ingle nook, crannies and corridors, a wealth of oak beams, uneven walls and a steep and narrow stairwell. The central heating rattles incessantly but makes the building hum with an almost oppressive heat. The floorboards creak and doors groan.
But the Alerston Inn is a modern folly, a house-that-John-built in 1985 on the site of an ancient piggery.
Local builder John Clarke wanted to construct a property that looked as if it had been there for centuries. And he succeeded. It’s an eccentric, charming and incomprehensible pile.
The motley crew of paranormal investigators, have taken up their posts around the pub and guest rooms, and they are quiet with anticipation. This could be a good investigation, some very strange things happened two weeks ago when the team did their baseline tests.
Two happened to me. I really do not have a desire to be numbered amongst the haunted, but like Mavis has an effect on electrical goods, I seem to have an effect on things beyond the grave. That’s why I’m here with the team, for a greater understanding of the fundaments of life after death.
The first incident happened at about 4pm as I photographed the outside of the £60-a-night inn. The shutter captured two curious balls of light flitting across the roof. They are particularly curious because they have tails like comets, short and stubby, but tails all the same. And they are moving in different directions. Initial tests on the photograph show that these ’comets’ do not seem to be made up of the natural constituents of light, the red and blue of the rainbow appear to be missing.
Later that evening I was talking outside Room 7, the room landlady Merle Cotterill says is her most haunted. Suddenly the ceiling light above my head began to spin impossibly. Then it stopped dead. Not even a sway. There were no draughts along the corridor, no open windows and the lamp was too high for me to have knocked.
And the movement it made could only be recreated by holding the flex and spinning the lamp vigorously.
Merle had already told us of a chanting she heard on this same corridor:
It was almost like a red Indian chant, very disturbing. It just went on and on. I get very nervous up here and don’t like being by myself. And it’s not just me … the girl who cleans the rooms for us has told about things being moved from room to room. She describes it as a playful poltergeist.
Then a guest in Room 7 became very uncomfortable after he saw a shadow walking around the bed.
Mavis too has seen things:
I was sitting in the bar when a cat started brushing up against my leg, I kept shoo-ing it with my cane – but there was nothing there. Nothing, yet I could feel it brushing up against me. Another time, I had my credit card in my hand when something snatched it off me and flung it across the room.
Terry claims to have seen two old men sitting in the bar area. The pub was closed. He described them as Victorian workmen, coats pulled tight against the cold, thick cavalry twirl pants, boots worn, soles still thick. Their hands were cracked and dry and looked like clay in the moonlight. Fingers tapped on the arms of the chair.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully amidst the creaking of the inn.
So, there we have it, one fascinating night in the land of the Electric Lady. Of course there is nothing conclusive, at best it’s a hotchpotch of unusual tales and mythologies, unexplained happenings and an indistinct voice on a bad recording.
None of it adds up and for a very good reason. Whereas the equation of life is calculable, written as it is across the face of the world, the equation of death is written in the recesses of the mind. Parts are hidden in dark places of fear, prejudice and ridicule and parts of it are undoubtedly written in places we have not yet discovered.
But the equation of death is the sum total of life itself, so we must keep on looking.