Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Old Harry” by Ken Dunn

You have to be careful about buying very old property as you never know what you’re going to find. Here’s a tale told to me by a couple of good friends about their experience of doing just that. I leave it up to you what you make of it.

This is how the tale began.

We have a ghost. Yes, a real ghost, although ‘real’ is hardly the word. We didn’t know it was there when we bought the house but we soon found out. Now, you may well be thinking, ‘Oh, how awful!’ or ‘That’s terrible!’ or ‘How scary!’ or even ‘Pull the other one!’ but none of those reactions apply. No. We do, in fact, have a ghost.

The house had been on the market for quite a while, the better part of two years, before we put in our offer. The agent was obviously relieved to have the potential sale but we couldn’t figure out why. We were, naturally, suspicious as the place didn’t seem to have any of the standard evils like dry or wet rot and the structural engineers report was very good. So there wasn’t anything wrong with it, was there? So why had the agent been so happy to have our offer?

I can remember seeing the place for the first time. It had a Georgian style façade, possibly an addition to a previously older structure, and with three floors it was just what we’d been looking for. The price was a little high, but show me one that isn’t. We arranged an appointment and duly arrived to view the place.

We rang the bell and a few seconds later the door was opened by a tall, ‘substantial’, dark haired woman in her late fifties dressed in a wide necked, dark blue taffeta dress set off with a string of pearls. As we introduced ourselves her face lit up. She ushered us in, sat us down and brought over a silver tray with three sherry glasses and a full cut glass decanter. This was not exactly the reception we had expected.

After pouring a generous glass for all of us she gave us a fairly detailed, and we thought an honest, description of the house. It was primarily a mediaeval building but had been given a new façade in 1765 and, until twenty years previously, had been a pub. Originally called ‘The Stallion’ it had been one of the old coach houses which stood on the edge of town. The introduction of the railways altered all that. A small railway station had been built at the end of the street in the mid 19th century and the enterprising landlord of the time changed the name of the place to ‘The Station Tavern’. It went on from strength to strength.

Then in the early sixties the station and the line which served it was closed. Good old Dr Beeching, brought in by the Conservative Government of the time, swung his axe far and wide and the station along from the pub was one of many in the country which disappeared. The closure of the station was really the beginning of the end for the pub. It slowly declined, becoming more of a ‘doss-house’ over the following decade. Finally the shutters went up and it was sold.

Our host, and hopeful vendor, told us all of this as we were shown around. The place was full of very impressive antique furniture. We followed her, with sherry glasses in hand, straight up to the top and then took our time coming down. It had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, a large living and dining room, a sensible sized kitchen with a pantry as well as a storeroom or workroom and plenty of storage space throughout. We were impressed but there was more to come. Outside, at the back of the house, was a delight.

Here was a completely enclosed, paved area with wooden seats, a low table and a sprinkling of large, ceramic pots brimming with a rich variation of multi-coloured plants. Beyond a low stone wall lay another large plant bed and then below this ran a wonderful, gurgling, sparkling stream about twelve feet wide. It was altogether quite idyllic.

Half the contents of the decanter had been consumed by now but not by us. We were careful not to indulge too freely. Houses are important purchases. The owner, on the other hand, was looking distinctly flushed. She offered us more sherry but we politely declined. Gathering up the tray she took it, slightly unsteadily, into the kitchen. We heard her place the tray on one of the surfaces and then began a rather testy conversation with someone.

‘Stop doing that at once, Harry!’

We wondered what ‘Harry’ was doing and for that matter who ‘Harry’ was.

‘That’s enough!’ she said a little more strongly. ‘You really must control yourself!’

It seemed a rather strange thing to be saying to a cat or a dog so we simply assumed that it must be the husband. A sudden tinkling of glass indicated that one of the glasses had come to grief. This was confirmed by the shriek of anger which accompanied it. We scooted over to the kitchen to see if we could help. There was no one else there but her. So who had she been talking to?

‘Sorry about that,’ she said. ‘Harry’s being a bit playful today.’

‘Harry?’ asked my wife, looking around.

‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘He’s gone now. I don’t think he’ll be back for a while.’

We didn’t push the point any further. Thanking her we left, promising to be in touch with the agent the following day. That’s when we made the offer.

Seven weeks later, with all the conveyancing completed, we moved in. That was the first surprise. Every large piece of furniture, including the pictures on the walls, had, literally, left their mark. The owner had obviously decorated just before we arrived to see the house. She had painted round everything leaving a number of rather dirty silhouettes behind! The second surprise we found at the back of the house. All the pots, furniture and every single plant we’d seen had gone. The place looked naked. We shrugged it off but were determined to replace the whole lot as soon as we could. The third, and most important surprise of all didn’t show itself for another few days.

We busied ourselves getting the place straight. Furniture, crockery, books and all the thousand and one bits and pieces which every move entails were eventual organised, well, let’s say we found places for them. On one particular afternoon my wife was sorting out curtains for the living room and as she was busy hanging them she discovered the something on one of the window panes.

‘Look at this!’ she called to me.

I was on my back, staring up the chimney at the time, trying to see whether we needed the sweep or not, and I thought she had seen something going on in the street outside. I came over and looked out.

‘No,’ she said, ‘not there, there!’ and pointed at the glass pane.

Inscribed on the glass were a few lines of text. I peered at it and read out the words which had been etched there.

‘Harold Griffin’, it read. ‘China de fake, Scissors de grind, Sheffield 14 days.’ All in a fine copperplate hand. Next to this was a tiny drawing of a little man, grinning. We found another inscription on the next window.

‘H.Griffin, Pratical cutler.’ No, not ‘practical’ but pratical’.

Fascinating, but there was no way of knowing how old these engravings were. The only indication of time was the thickness of the glass at the bottom of each pane. I’ve done some research on this and I’m given to understand that glass is, in fact, a liquid. It flows, ever so slowly down, over the years. So, if you have an old property I’d like to bet that the glass in the windows, if they’re the originals, are thicker at the bottom than at the top. Anyway, our windows were certainly like this but we didn’t have a clue who Harold Griffin might have been or how long ago he’d engraved his name there.

Back to the practicalities of the house and a couple of days later we had the place ‘sussed’. We were going to need a plumber, an electrician and a builder. Some of the hot and cold water pipework needed straightening out. There were areas where it resembled badly arranged spaghetti. A few of the electric fittings needed replacing and some of the stonework at the back of the house required repair. There was nothing substantial to be done but we decided to go ahead and get them ‘sorted’. The workmen arrived and began to tackle the work and that’s when odd things began to happen.

At one point we had two jobs going on at once in the bathroom. Jock, a dour old plumber, had half the floor up refitting some old cold water pipes while Rick, a younger chap and an electrician, was replacing a pull cord light switch. I walked passed on some minor chore and saw Jock, on his hands and knees, head right down, peering into the dark space of the hole in the floor and mumbling to himself. I walked on to wherever I was going but then heard a scream from the bathroom. I ran back to find Jock holding his behind and swearing venomously at Rick.

‘You dirty little sod!’ he was yelling. ‘Keep your friggin’ hands to yourself!’

Rick was standing, immobile, switch in one hand, screwdriver in the other, staring at Jock with his mouth open.

‘Everything all right?’ I asked quietly.

Jock pointed at Rick and growled, ‘You can tell this stinkin’ little pervert to leave other people’s person’s alone!’

Jock had been ‘goosed’ rather heavily while he had his bum in the air and his head down the hole. But it hadn’t been Rick who’d done it.

A few other peculiar things happened and always to Jock. In the middle of fixing up the washing machine in the kitchen the water came on fully from both taps. Jock was drenched but none of us had touched the water supply. Then he kept losing his tools. One moment they were there and the next they’d disappeared. He blamed Rick for that.

Jock wasn’t the most jolly of characters which made things worse. In fact he was a miserable old sod. After a few more incidents he walked off the job cursing and swearing at all of us. It was the large lump of his own putty he found in all of his sandwiches that caused that.

Jock was not a happy man and that seemed to be the key to several other things which happened later. Whoever or whatever was pulling these stunts became a minor mystery but they were always at the expense of basically miserable people.

By sheer chance I came across a partial answer to all of this a few days later. I was in the local library and just browsing, as you do, when I found a small section on the history of the town. In a faded blue and rather dog-eared book on the local pubs I found our place, the Station Tavern, which provided a very interesting little story. Back home I waited while my wife read the whole thing through.

‘That’s incredible!’ she said, still holding the book open. ‘Could that be the same chap who engraved our windows?’

Apparently, in 1833 a tinker, one Harold Griffin, an itinerant traveller, who used to stay at the Tavern, was found, spark out, in the corner of the bar late one might. The landlord thought he was asleep but in fact he was dead. The doctor who was then called put it down to a heart attack. After all, the old chap must have been in his eighties. The odd thing was that Griffin was just sitting there, his eyes closed but with a huge grin on his face.

Other references in the book had referred to old Harry Griffin who had loved coming to the pub and would turn up as regularly as clockwork every two weeks, always on foot and carrying all manner of tools and knife grinding equipment. He travelled all over the place like this and in all weathers, sharpening anything and doing all kinds of odd jobs. He was well known as someone with an enormous sense of humour and had a wicked tendency for practical jokes. The landlord found that out once. In those days every bedroom had a ‘receptacle’ under the bed for ‘emergencies’. Old Harry had balanced his unsavoury container, quite full, above the door to his room. As the landlord opened the door to check on the room, a humourless and bad tempered character at the best of times, he was duly covered in the worst kind of liquid imaginable. It was Harry’s last practical joke or ‘pratical’ as would snigger sometimes.

He had to be the same Harold Griffin who’d engraved our windows and it seemed obvious that he was still around, albeit in a rather occasional if not ‘spooky’ condition. The idea of bringing in a priest to exorcise the place seemed a bit daft. Old Harry hadn’t done anything to us at all and out of sheer curiosity we waited for the next ‘happening’. We didn’t have to wait that long.

Only a few days later there was a knock on the door. It was one of those infuriating double glazing salesmen who don’t take ‘NO!’ for an answer. Old Harry sorted him out. His briefcase flew into the air, belching the contents across the streets. Then it began to rain, but just on the salesman, nowhere else! I closed the door leaving him to scrape up his paperwork and drip off up the street. The second incident, later that week, concerned a threesome of Jehovah’s witnesses. They began spouting and quoting from one of their special versions of the Bible, a large black volume, which one of them had close to his face, reading some obscure reference. The book suddenly snapped shut almost slicing his nose off. How he yelled and backed off dramatically.

Since then old Harry has always gone for anyone he doesn’t like. The old witch of a neighbour, three doors down, has stopped coming to our door to complain about the cat shredding her washing line. We don’t have a cat. That’s probably been Harry at work. Every time she tried knocking on our door her knickers would fall down around her ankles, large knickers! After three embarrassing attempts she gave up.

We had an attempted burglary once but old Harry spiked that. The villain was found in the morning tied up with the cable from the TV aerial and hanging by his ankles from the chimneystack. He was glad to be arrested!

So you see we don’t have any real problems in our house. Old Harry gets a bit frisky now and then but it’s playful stuff. The odd tickle, an occasional flick of the newspaper when we’re reading it. Sometimes the teapot or the scotch decanter get up and like to go for a walk by themselves just when we want a drink. For all that he’s the best watch dog anyone could ever have and it’s a bit like having a inbuilt, ethereal quality control system at work whenever anyone comes in. We’ve been here for quite some time now and there’s one other advantage having him around which we haven’t stated. He loves small D.I.Y. jobs and the knives in the kitchen are always, always sharp.

Well, that’s the story given to me and I have a feeling that it might… it might just be true?

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