Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

From ghoulies and beasties may the Lord deliver us!

Author John Steinbeck.
Author John Steinbeck.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

We have all heard of places that have an evil aura and a sense of doom about them.

Maybe we don't fully believe this but don't disbelieve it either and there are definitely houses that over the years have acquired the name of being in some way, "unlucky".

Most people, especially those who have travelled widely, will know what I am referring to. I can even recall walking farms where I felt a definite sense of foreboding. One particular place in the midlands had an atmosphere all of its own where the very air seemed charged with menace.

My father often referred to properties that were believed to be in some way, unlucky and sometimes this would be backed up by tales of misfortune befalling successive generations of one family.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote dark novels about such places and while they were fiction, they reminded us of houses we ourselves had visited at some point in our lives.

In the 1930s, the author John Steinbeck went on a four month scientific voyage around the Gulf of California. He was accompanied by five others including his great friend, the marine biologist, Ed Ricketts.

They were a no nonsense group who spent their time studying the creatures along the shore and collecting saltwater specimens to preserve and bring home.

They would row ashore in a skiff during low tides and move along the coast to different locations. Towards the end of their voyage they put down anchor in a bay in an area known as Estero De Luno.

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Steinbeck wrote as follows "It was a strange and frightening night but we could not find what frightened us. The water was glassy and the deck was soaked with humidity.

"We had a curious feeling that a stranger was aboard, some presence not seen but felt, a dark cloaked person who was with us. In the night, one of us shouted for help and the rest of us were sleepless. In the gloom of the early morning when climbing down to the skiff, one of us fell and wrenched his leg".

He continues with a description of how a dense fog descended when they were half way to the shore in the skiff. Eventually the fog lifted and they found their way back to the main craft. They were so spooked they couldn't wait to raise anchor and leave.

Steinbeck pondered on what had occurred and concluded that "It had been a bad place - bad feelings, bad dreams and little accidents. The look and feel of it was bad".

The vast majority of homes and farms that we know are happy places and of course much of this is down to the people who live and work there.

Our intuitive feelings are perhaps strongly influenced by tales we were told in childhood though I still cannot figure out why anyone would want to scare the daylights out of any child and give them the material for future nightmares. I suppose it was meant to make us behave properly.

Little Orphan Annie, first published in 1885, illustrates this custom well with the following lines

'Little Orphan Annie's come to our house to stay,

And wash the cups an' saucers up, and brush the crumbs away,

And shoo the chickens off the porch, and dust the hearth, and sweep,

And make the fire, and bake the bread, and earn her board-and-keep;

And all us other children, when the supper-things are done,

We sat around the kitchen fire and had the mostest fun

A-listening to the witch-tales that Annie tells about,

And the Goblins will get you. If You Don't Watch Out!'

In a similar vein is the old Scottish prayer

'From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!'

Enough said! I will let Annie have the final say

'Once there was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,

And when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,

His Mammy heard him holler, an' his Daddy heard him bawl,

And when they turned the covers down, he wasn't there at all!

And they seeked him in the rafter-room, and cubby-hole, and press,

And' seeked him up the chimney-flue, and everywhere, I guess;

But all they ever found was his pants and roundabout,

And the Goblins will get you. If You Don't Watch Out!'

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