Midnight Loiterer

It’s a dark and rainy night, only ten minutes short of midnight. You are alone in the house with two cats. You decide to check your email, and find one from your mother with the intriguing subject heading of Loiterer.

What could that be about? She’s not a nervous sort, doesn’t send a lot of emails, and lives in a pleasant neighbourhood. It must be a funny snippet about a cat.

Consumed with curiosity and concern, you open up the email and it says: “a friend who lives in the next street from you said they were warned to keep doors locked as a strange loiterer has been reported around.”

What? Who? Why? In THIS weather? Who wants to loiter around when it’s bucketing down? What do they mean by ‘reported’ – did someone call out the police? What have they seen? What happened? Did they get him?

You rush off to check your doors are locked, and have a good peer out of your porch. You can’t see anything because it’s so dark, but you suspect you glow in your porch like a guppy in an aquarium. You wonder if there’s something lurking out there under a rock, fixing you with small angry eyes. Everything’s locked, and has been locked all day. Windows are shut and curtains drawn but you feel the need to make your safe house even safer, and close the inner porch door with a determined clunk.

You have always known there are strange people lurking around out there almost any night in the week, but things seem more sinister when you are told “there’s somebody hanging around your neighbourhood and he’s probably not looking after your best interests.”

Talking of spooky things, I was watching a TV programme about a five-year-old boy who believed he was the reincarnation of a child who lived on the island of Barra. Some of what he said checked out, whereas some of it didn’t. It’s hard to know what all that was about. I think older people are more likely to say “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” than younger people – and that’s because older people have been around longer and have seen or experienced things that aren’t so easily explained. It doesn’t mean there aren’t rational explanations – it’s simply possible that the right rational explanations aren’t yet in our philosophy!

There was something I was thinking about the other night but when it came down to it I didn’t want to blog about it. I couldn’t understand my reluctance, as it seemed innocent and amusing, but now I realize it sounds rather like saying “I have imaginary friends.” Sometimes when you can’t get to sleep or are feeling particularly stressed or unhappy, you can imagine yourself hidden away somewhere safe where no one will ever find you. You’ve got all your food, books, cats and communication devices (even hidden people need to talk and blog!) – but if you don’t want anyone to find you there they won’t be able to. It’s a completely imaginary place. Then one day, when you’re feeling particularly stressed out about some work you’re doing, you notice a nagging feeling in your stomach that says “let’s go to the hidden place.”

Uh oh! It’s just become real. You know it’s not real, but your brain has mapped out a little set of paths with signposts saying “this way to our hidden place. Grab the hamper and let’s go.” When your stomach starts to believe your brain, you know you’re in trouble.

Well they do say that we make our own realities – that what seems real to us is real, even if it’s not real to someone else. A recovering agoraphobic should know that. Does know that, in fact. She also knows it’s possible to change that reality, or at least partially change it. That might explain a little of what the boy was going through – that somehow he really believed he had another family, another home and came from a different generation. He’s told himself the stories so often he believes them to the pit of his stomach. It’s a possibility.

Now, I don’t think I can draw this blog post out any longer. I am left to myself, the cats… and the neighbourhood loiterer.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments for this entry when it was on Blogigo:

1. kateblogs wrote at Sep 21, 2006 at 19:39:
That loiterer sounds rather scary. I do wonder about people like that, I mean what makes someone become a loiterer?

I don’t think your hidden places is strange. When I am nodding off to sleep I like to imagine I am floating in a boat in the middle of a huge but calm lake. It’s very peaceful.

Your interpretation of why that boy believes he has had that past life is very interesting, I think you are right. We can convince ourselves that an idea is true, and strongly believe it to be. This is why lie detectors aren’t used over here, because they can only pick up deliberate lies, but if the person believes that what they are saying is true, it will appear to be so.

2. Diddums wrote at Sep 21, 2006 at 21:51:
Interesting point about the lie detectors – they would be wrong in various different scenarios. As for reincarnation, it’s interesting to think over all the possibilities, like “maybe I was Cleopatra” (or Mark Antony) or “we live this life again and again till we get it right” (maybe even the lives of several people in the whole history of the planet, why not?) or come back as beetles… but when it comes down to it, there are probably complex but boring reasons for the way we think. Maybe some of these children have dreams that they confuse with real life. Now and then I can’t work out if something I ‘remember’ was real, or a vivid dream.

3. Pacian wrote at Sep 24, 2006 at 11:46:

kateblogs: “This is why lie detectors aren’t used over here, because they can only pick up deliberate lies, but if the person believes that what they are saying is true, it will appear to be so.”

We’re now moving onto a new generation of “lie detectors” which are more high tech (eg. relying on thermal imaging or brain scans) but no less founded on good science.

4. Diddums wrote at Sep 24, 2006 at 16:04:
Scary thought that all they have to do is watch your brain to see if you’re lying… stuff of nightmares!

5. Iain wrote at Sep 26, 2006 at 02:28:
A Hebridean curmudgeon writes: they stopped mentioning that he said you could see the plane landing on the beach from his house as soon as it transpired that none of the plane-beach-view houses were it. When he said what his dad’s name had been I allowed myself a little smile – Shane Robertson, bless his wee Glasgow heart. As they drove towards the house they’d found in which a Robertson family had holidayed, they said they weren’t telling him the significance of the house they were going to: there were no signs of recognition broadcast as they approached, and even when they stopped and walked with great significance towards the house and began prompting him, still nothing.

Barra, a white house, a dog, a beach, a plane that lands on a beach – a scene which could have been picked up from a two-minute TV clip, of the kind it’s not unheard of to find in the middle of pre-school programmes like Tellytubbies but which could have been seen anywhere or when. And one thing I’m learning as my wee girl approaches three is the extent to which young children are sponges who soak up, retain and reproduce the most extraordinary and unlikely information, including stuff you’ve no idea how it got in there.

Still, nice scenery.

6. Diddums wrote at Sep 27, 2006 at 01:30:
Ah! I saw you had a piece on the Barra child too. I didn’t cotton onto the thing about the planes on the beach – did he say he saw them land from the house? The thing with mixed-up memories is that you might see a plane land and then think it was your own beach it landed on. There were other children featured who had similar ideas – one of them apparently said to his dad “I used to change YOUR nappies.” My reaction was that it wasn’t an unusual thought for a child to have. I used to imagine that people grew old and then they grew young again, passing each other on the way. I clearly remember when I was 4, lying in bed thinking about how I would one day be older than my parents, looking after them the way they had looked after me. ‘Death’ wasn’t in my vocabulary.

7. Iain wrote at Sep 28, 2006 at 00:01:
Yes, that’s ‘why’ they didn’t find the Robertson house on the first sweep, because they were just looking on the air-beach side. The mixed-up memories of course could also come from any number of things wee boy has seen/heard/made up.

I have an interesting clipping from years ago from a Guardian Notes & Queries about how far back you can remember, and there was a letter from someone whose child described a memory which sounded like birth. My mother can remember lying in her cot.

8. Diddums wrote at Sep 28, 2006 at 01:39:
Some of the children mentioned in the programme were describing something that sounded a little like birth – including the Barra boy. He said he just fell through and there he was. I guess children will absorb a lot, like the sponges you mention, but at first they might not know what to do with all the information, and it’s just there in a jumbled mess along with their dreams and memories. Much like any of us, really…

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