Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Footsteps in the night: The Worthing Villa Mystery

So it’s Summer 1972, and my oldest friend has found us a job decorating a decent-sized two-storey Edwardian villa in the sleepy South Coast backwater that is Worthing. A lady in Wimbledon has just inherited it. I’m there for a week – I think I have to leave to go on holiday to Italy – but my pal has to stay to complete the project.

First night, we choose bedrooms at either end of the long upstairs landing, and get settled. After an hour’s reading I switch off the light and close my eyes. After a few minutes I become aware of my friend’s footsteps approaching my bedroom door. He stops right outside. I await his knock, but there's only silence. After a few seconds he retreats back down the corridor. I’m just nodding off when he repeats the exercise. Is he sleepwalking?

I try to go to sleep once more. Despite being a blazing summer, I’m feeling chilly. Sea breezes, I presume.

Clomp! Clomp! Clomp!

Is he wearing boots? Why???

As he retreats for the third time, I give up and switch on the light. I’m too irritated to go to sleep now, so I leave my room, switch on the landing light and make my way to my friend’s room. Knock. 

“Yes?” Sharp. 

I open the door. “Look, give it a rest, will you?”

He’s tucked up in bed. “Give what a rest?”

“Walking up and down the bloody corridor, of course. What are you playing at?”

“I thought that was you.”

“Are you telling me you haven’t left this room.”

“I haven’t.”

Bad moment.

As my friend isn’t given to practical jokes, I know he’s telling the truth. 

One of us drags our mattress along to the other’s room and, comforted by each other’s presence, we eventually get some kip.

I decamp the next night to the large sitting room downstairs, and sleep on the sofa, keeping the light on all night (when it comes to the supernatural, I have no courage whatsoever). I seem to remember that my friend – made of sterner stuff – remained upstairs. (Many of the details are hazy - this was nearly forty years ago - and I'd be happy to stand corrected.) The thing that got me through that and subsequent nights was a hardcover edition of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which, ironically, is packed with supernatural events and beings, but which isn’t in the least scary (I wrote about it here).

I have no idea what was walking up and down that upstairs corridor, or what attracted it to my room – but I can assure you it wasn’t the wind or faulty plumbing or rats in the attic or birds on the roof or our imaginations somehow working in concert. Something went walkies in the wee wee hours – and scared the hell out of two relatively sensible, robust young men into the bargain. I can’t pretend that, before the footsteps started, the atmosphere in the house was anything but benign. As it was summer and light until late, I even spent an evening there on my own, watching TV – but I was damned relieved when my friend got back around midnight.

As I mentioned, my mate had to stay on and complete the job (our client afterwards described us to others as “charming” and our handiwork as “shoddy” – which it certainly was). No amount of money would have convinced me to stay in that place on my own overnight. Afterwards, my co-worker said he’d only survived by painting all night while  listening endlessly to the small supply of rock ‘n’ roll singles he’d brought with him. Brave man!

Kingsley Amis, famously, couldn’t sleep alone in a house, even ending up as the tenant of an ex-wife and her second husband in order to avoid having to do so. I can understand that. I don’t know if it’s because of our Worthing experience, but I’ve never – in my whole life – spent a whole night alone in a detached building (I’ve always lived in flats or terraced houses or roomed in college), and I’m not sure I’d do so willingly now. To be honest, like Amis, just being alone overnight in my own house gives me the creeps.

I don’t consider myself a particularly credulous person, but when it comes to the supernatural, (as I've admitted here) I prefer to maintain an attitude of wary respect. You just never know!


  1. I think your friend may have been a Shaman, or something like that. Did mysteriously formed paintings transmogrify themselves on to the walls, on top of the badly splashed magnolia colourings you were hired to do? Did mysterious sounds of Bo Diddley manifest themselves into the bedside radio during the night? The noises might have been issuing from a host of disappointed women knocking at the door, beseeching "Shaman, Shaman, let me in for Pete's sake"?

    I feel the connection. I am in touch with the spiritual world and I'm available for consultation, at a fee.

  2. I have a feeling, Mystic, that you may not be taking my account of these sinister South Coast events entirely seriously. We might have experienced serious harm and - quite possibly - psychological trauma. (For Pete's sake, look at that last sentence carefully).