It was November, dark since 4pm and the roads were quiet. The supermarket was far behind us now and we were turning the corner into our street. The night was cold and clear, the moon full, and the radio played. From the back seat, Lucy explained her conceptions of goblins (who do not have to be scary, apparently) in a dialogue of thoughts which had come to fruition over her three and a half years of life experience. And yet, amidst this family normalcy, a seed of doubt was sown.
Rather than something missing or out of place, it was the sight of something that shouldn't be. Out of the darkness, an eerie light burned in the front bedroom window, casting diagonal rays upwards across the white, horizontal blinds. It could have been a reflection, a trick of the light, but none of us aired our doubts as we pulled into the driveway.
Investigations would have been superfluous. We knew immediately. A metal bedside lamp, turned off when we left the house that morning, was now lighting the window, and not for the first time.
Sceptical on the first few occasions, I was happy to dismiss it. If a light was off, and then found to be on, there could be no great mystery. It had obviously been turned on by someone. If that seemed impossible, it was our memory that was at fault; not the lamp. After a couple more occurrences, this scepticism became increasingly hard to sustain. A proper investigation was clearly needed.
We were dealing with king-size bed, matching bedside cabinets, and lamps on either side. We swapped the lamps and waited. It was pretty clear that the problem would also switch sides of the bed. But it didn't. And, we were now coming home to that reality, after a routine wander around Morrisons.
In some strange way, now that we had eliminated all natural explanations, it was a relief to acknowledge that what we were dealing with here must be some sort of benign poltergeist activity. Friendly spirits letting us know that, from somewhere, they are with us. It's actually quite reassuring to acknowledge this simple truth - and so let's just leave it at that. Case closed.
I find it fascinating that ghosts should still be something a national pastime in the 21st century. Personally, I've never seen one, and nor would I expect to. For the same reasons, I also do not expect to encounter a yeti, the Loch Ness monster, an honest politician, a copper bracelet that can cure rheumatism, or a crystal from Atlantis.
But why does any of this matter?
I recall a conversation with a work colleague, relating to a friend of a friend who was seeing a mysterious ghostly figure in their home. This happened repeatedly and over an extended period. All of her friends and neighbours were naturally supportive, fascinated by the story. Local history was investigated and a suitably ancient tragedy unearthed. A priest was called and the house blessed. This is not the only such story I've heard. Lots of people seem to have a similar tale within their circle of acquaintances.
What strikes me as notable by it's absence from all these stories however, is the appearance of a less romantically inclined friend, imploring the protagonist to get an urgent GP referral and a CAT scan. If I ever tell you that I am experiencing vivid hallucinations, please feel free to drag me down to our local GP surgery; I can assure you that I will not be offended by your concern. I'm obviously not a brain surgeon, and perhaps daylight hallucinations might have some benign causes, but it hardly seems like a symptom you should ignore. It can't escape notice that some potential causes may be rather more sinister, such as pressure on your brain from a lesion, blood clot, or tumour.
So despite anything I might have said up to this point, feel rest assured that the saga of our mysterious lamps is not over.
I'll be trying different electrical outlets and plugging the lamp in around the other side of the room. I'll try a surge protector. If that still fails to provide a solution, I'd suspect some other environmental factor. Is there a transformer in the wall? What do our neighbours have in the adjacent room? Are metal coated touch-lamps affected by moisture, humidity, draughts from the window directly above, or residues of Dermalogica intensive night-time moisturiser? How hard can it be to find a qualified electrician with a Fluke tester. Better to pay a professional than to put our earth leakage circuit breakers to the test with bare hands and some dodgy circuitry.
I dislike the term "sceptic" as it seems to imply the existence of an opposing viewpoint that might have some credibility, but for the purpose of this story, I am a sceptic - and proud to be so! Whatever our lighting problem turns out to be, ghosts will not be at the top of my prime suspects list...