Sunday, 6 July 2014

South Wales and Taking a Break From Writing - Part 2 (gypsies, spiders and hungry man-eating pianos)

An isolated cottage in the middle of nowhere is ideal for a writer. Not just for providing a calm and secluded hideaway to put down words on paper, but also as a source of creativity in itself. After spending a week in such a place, I can see why writers such as Stephen King are partial to the 'cabin in the woods' style of narrative. Isolation can be truly terrifying.

The cottage was attractive and benign looking from the outside. The garden was well maintained and two old fashioned gypsy caravans book-ended either side, adding to the buildings rustic charm. Inside was no different. All on one floor, the very long interior was aesthetic as well as functional. There was even a piano in the lounge (although not much use as neither my wife, Katie, nor I, can play). The only downside was the narrow, overgrown lanes with infrequent passing places that we had to drive down to reach it.

All was well until dusk on the first night when we discovered that we did not have the cottage to ourselves after all. It was home to some VERY big spiders. Normally, it is frowned upon for writers to use the "V" word, but in this case it is apt. No adjective can do these little monsters justice. Nor do they deserve any kind of literary dressing up. They were simply VERY big spiders.


Our unwanted housemates seemed to be strategically positioned throughout the cottage in order to induce maximum fear. There was one patrolling the patio, another guarding the bedroom (thankfully, from the outside) and worst of all, the largest of them all had set up shop right next to the toilet. If it had been just the one arachnid, I may have considered trapping it and moving it as far away from the cottage as possible, but with so many, I thought it best not to provoke any kind of territory dispute. The best for all concerned was to simply give them as wide a berth as possible and pray they would extend the same courtesy to us.

Suffice to say, both Katie and I were always a little on edge when in the cottage after dark. So much so that neither of us could resist playing the old game of pretending to spot something truly horrifying behind the other person and making them have to constantly check over their shoulder. I actually had to move seat several times in one night due to Katie's refusal to give up on this game. At one point she even went all surreal and claimed that "the piano was going to eat [me]". Absurd as this sounds, her words did resonate and during my following night in bed, my thoughts returned to the ravenous piano often.

Obviously, a piano is not going to eat me. What if, however, it simply started playing in the night? Creaks and bangs can be written off easily. Such noises are commonplace and to be expected. Pipes creak, the wind blows, all can be explained without reverting to the supernatural...or worse (we arrived at the cottage to find it unlocked with the keys inside. An intruder could easily have been lying in wait.) But a piano playing? Suddenly the quaint gypsy caravans did not seem quite so quaint after all. Gypsies curse people don't they?

At regular intervals throughout the night, I found myself awake and searching the darkness for any unnatural or unwanted sounds. In the back of my mind I could always hear the plink plonk of piano keys just waiting to be made real.

When dawn's light shone through the curtain, I soon realised that I had let my imagination get the better of me. Nobody attacked in the night, the spiders kept to their own territory (they had little choice - I blocked the gap under the bedroom door with a towel) and the piano remained unplayed. And then the peaceful serenity of the morning was interrupted by the sound of music. Katie and I turned to one another in absolute dread as we tried to figure out the source of the melody.

"Perhaps it is the neighbours," she suggested.

"We don't have any neighbours,' I replied.

Besides, the music was clearly coming from within the cottage. I got out of bed and gingerly followed it down the hallway (careful not to tread on the spiders) and into the lounge. Once inside, I was immediately drawn to the corner of the room where the sound had originated. Directly in front of me was the piano. And resting on top of it was Katie's phone, playing the alarm she had accidently set the night before.

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