Soooo, ’t’was a cold and drizzle-hit day. The light didn’t brighten from dawn until dusk, but remained in a petulant sulk of ashen grey.
Any Old Lights’ shop itself is built into the rock of the town and our little storeroom at the back is sand-floored and dimly lit. Out front, a huge lintel, like some lazy tipped standing stone is wedged into the bowed wall over a former fireplace.
This building was erected in the 14th century and was a stopping-off shelter for pilgrims travelling the Pilgrim’s Way. There are casual tales of ghosts.
The ceiling is low – people were considerably shorter back then (really) – and yellow-and-black tape along the seriously old beams warns our taller customers to duck when passing through.
Personally I love the soul of the shop, with its enchanted dust that returns every morning as if by magic, and its crowd of leggy lights with their own histories and tales. The vast majority are vintage and their unblinking electric eyes have shone on many scenes in so many places. It’s fitting that they find their way to us, to a room with still more history.
We were checking a beautiful, fresnel-lensed lamp, a customer and I. Wintery shards of light were pooling in its bulbous belly and refracting through its angles.
‘Can I see light fitting inside?’ asked the customer.
‘Of course,’ I said.
So I began to take it apart. This involved unscrewing two brass wing nuts from its top, then three further steel nuts inside, and lifting the glass from its setting.
‘I’ll take it, it’s perfect,’ said the customer, as I began to piece the light back together.
He decided kindly to help me and so took one of the brass wing nuts and began to twist it back into place. However it shifted in his fingers and in horror we watched it bounce to the floor. I stepped out of the way, but could not see it at all.
‘That’s odd,’ said the customer. ’It just vanished!’
It was indeed odd because these aren’t tiny, weedy wing nuts. These are big, bow like forms, satisfyingly weighty in your palms and made out of shiny, cast brass. Easy to see, not easy to miss.
We hunted all over the shop.
Eventually, when the hunting had taken too long to be comfortable between a shop assistant and a customer, we admitted defeat and I took another wing nut from a different light so we could replace the missing one.
He purchased the fresnel lamp and departed, leaving me still baffled. I was sure I’d find the brass wing nut when he had gone. But I didn’t.
I don’t believe in ghosts – though theft by a ghost was clearly the only logical explanation – and so thought myself perfectly justified in cracking a few jokes about us having one. The shop, after all, is next door but one to the graveyard.
For the rest of my working day the multiplied minutes of various vintage clocks tocked away the time and I remained puzzled and slightly unnerved as I extinguished the gaze of every light in the shop and locked up for the night.
For a week the staff at Any Old Lights hunted for something too shiny and large to simply disappear. Nobody found it.
Night after night I walked home past the graveyard and its silent, bloodless occupants. Until it was time for me to step into the domain of lights once again. (I work Saturdays.)
Today was that fateful day.
I was sluggish this morning, slower and more reluctant to pull on my jeans than I had been for the rest of this week.
I bent to adjust my uneven denim turn-ups… Something was strange, one turn-up felt heavy, lumpy even…
I had a large, shiny brass wing nut in m’turn-ups. It had been there for a full week.
Stand down, Ghostbusters.
Another guest post by TJ Tucker