“Good night and good luck!” said the Curator Derek Dunny as he locked the huge wooden front door of the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum.
The only Grade 1 Listed Structure in the whole of the Merthyr Tydfil Borough was imposing looking at the best of times, but on a dark wet Winter’s evening it was downright scary. Safer Merthyr employee Dicky Knight looked around nervously. It was his first night as a security guard and he didn’t feel very safe.
“Everything looks so much more scary in the dark!” he said to his shadow, who was his only companion for the night. Merthyr Council too had to comply with Central Government Budget cuts and were warned that they had to make savings, which is why they employed a youngster on the National Minimum wage to guard their museum, lit at night by solar powered lights.
This wouldn’t have been a problem anywhere else, but as most Merthyr people will confirm, we don’t get sunlight for six months of the year. Knight looked around him dimly, the old stuffed animal heads on the walls seemed to glower at him menacingly and the suits of armour looked ready to follow him as soon as he turned his back. His first ever night shift was going to be a long one. He sat down at the counter on a chair, with just a Pound shop flash light with a Polish battery in it for comfort. His senses were on high alert for every sound or movement as his imagination ran riot. The swirling high wind and driving rain outside didn’t help matters either .He had a mobile phone but he only had 20p of credit left on it – just enough to text HELP to his girlfriend – if he needed to.
In the half-light he carefully unwrapped his silver foil package peering in to see what sandwiches his mother had packed for him -hoping in anticipation for salmon. All he had was cheese- with bread so hard it could have been from Swansea Road. Bored silly after just ten minutes, he began to throw peanuts into the air and catch them in his mouth. He began to throw them higher and higher until one lodged in his left nasal chamber and he nearly choked to death. He sighed to himself as he checked his watch with the flash light 6.40pm....ten minutes gone only another 11 hours and 20 minutes to go. He knew he had to do something so he decided to pluck up enough courage to patrol the place.
After checking the entrance door was locked firmly, he made his way into the art gallery section filled with furniture not good enough for St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life. As he walked in, all the portraits on the walls seemed to looking at him. In his mind’s eye, Dicky could see the eyes moving behind the oak panel wall partitions and Frans Hals ‘Cavalier’ seemed to be laughing at him.
“I don’t know what you are laughing about....because the Roundheads kicked your arse pal!” he said aloud to the oil painting.
Dicky almost expected him to answer but no reply came. Dicky had heard wives’ tales for years of the Castle being haunted ...but apart from his teachers at the school, he never saw any monsters. Passing along the Crawshay dynasty, he refrained from spitting in the face of the Ironmasters who had abused the Town and its poor people. He looked around him at Lady Charlotte Guest, translating the Mabinogion into English and realised he was in a place of priceless historical importance to the people of Merthyr. Even so, he didn’t care...he just lit up his little roll-up fag and blew out a smoke ring onto the face of Richard Trevithick.
“Narrow Gauge ...he puffed closing his mouth... Broad Gauge!” he said opening the aperture.
As he grew more confident in his explorations, his stomach started to roll so he decided he would have a sniff around the cafeteria area known as ‘Crawshay’s Truck Shop’ and see if there were any freebies on offer. As he entered the dark underground area , he was disappointed to see that everything was shuttered down and locked up for the night. There was however, a single vending unit sponsored by Diet Coke, containing various chocolate bars , crisps and full sugar cans of coke to encourage healthy eating in the Borough. Dicky didn’t have any coins anyway , but he certainly wasn’t prepared to spend £1.00 for a Mars Bar in any event. He bent down, opened the metal flap and tried lifting his remaining hand up to flick the goods off their metal shelves. The machine was designed to stop this sort of petty pilfering. Bored further he decided to use the toilet. Sitting in peace he relaxed as he sent two beautiful ‘corn dogs’ down the River Taff. Dicky’s peace was shattered, when he looked across and realised that the Council cutbacks included toilet paper too. No velvet...like the brand his Mam and Dad had ‘pampered’ him with at home.
“Shit!” he cursed aloud . He suddenly had a thought. “What about those velvet drapes in the portrait room?” Walking with his trousers around his ankles, he shuffled along like a penguin until he reached the room with the soft curtains. careful to use the inside of the green and brown velvet, he noticed that they were beginning to stick to the wall near the window reveal.
“Shit happens!” he said as he raised his trousers and adjusted his clothing.
And then it hit him. Looking through the doorway, directly at him was a small Egyptian Death Mask of King Tutankhamen, in a small glass display case. It wasn’t the pharaoh that caught his eye but the rod of Osiris next to him. It was perfect to knock off a mars bar from the machine. He made his way to the cabinet and was dejected initially to find it locked.
“Now where would a Merthyr curator hide the key?” he said aloud.
Spying a plant pot, alongside the entrance door he went and checked and bingo there it was.
“Safer Merthyr....that’s training for you!” he said as he flicked the key high in the air, being careful not to throw it high enough to lodge in his nose. As he opened the cabinet, he grabbed the rod of Osiris and made his way back to the cafeteria. He returned minutes later with armfuls of chocolate, three bags of crisps and a can of coke, smiling inanely as he carried the magic rod in his teeth. Putting down his ill-gotten gains, he returned the rod to its place in the cabinet. As he did so, he noticed a cutting about the curse of King Tut and the mysterious death of museum benefactor Lord Caernarvon.
“I‘m not Brendan Fraser ...he said “ the only mummy I’m afraid of is my own!”
He placed the death mask on his face for a second and a few bits of wrist jewellery as a costume and ‘Walked like an Egyptian’ with the ‘bangles’ on. He then foolishly picked up the book entitled ‘Necropolis’ and began to decipher the hierographics. As his dad was a former postman , he had no difficulty in reading the writing out loud. As he finished the last sentence, he heard a dog howl in the distance. Like his father, he too had an innate fear of dogs and that sound was not unlike the sound Lord Caernarvon had heard seconds before his dog dropped dead at the exact time, when Howard Carter opened that tomb, in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
“Anubis...the Jackal Headed God!” said Dicky....”Guardian of the underworld!” he said reading the papyrus parchment scroll aloud, which crumbled to dust as he spoke.
“Where are those drapes again?”
As he made his way to the window overlooking the rear of the castle, two likely lads were digging in the woods behind the castle, looking for the money that a local drug dealer had allegedly buried there.The Gurnos pair of Mac Head and his brother ‘H’ were digging away, trying to find the buried loot. Sudden movement in the window above was noticed by the pair. The movement was the bare arse of Dicky , reflecting the moonlight , as he used the velvet curtains for a purpose not originally intended. Mac picked up a stone and launched it expertly at the aperture. It sailed through the gap in the sash window and landed on the table containing a priceless vase from the Ming Dynasty. It teetered on the table edge tantalisingly for a second, as Dicky lunged like Edwin Van Der Saar full stretch to catch it, in doing so knocking over a Bronze age cup –the only one left in existence- found by Tony Robinson and the Time Team in Swansea Road- as proof that civilised man HAD once lived in Gellideg.
The vase fell all the same and shattered into a thousand pieces.“ I want my mummy!” said Dicky sucking his thumb for a split second , until he realised it wasn’t just the drapes that were humming. When Dicky opened his eyes he was hoping it was all just a ‘nightmare’. But he could see the two teenage drug dealers making their way home with their ill gotten gains on the back of a black horse. More disconcerting to Dicky was that he could see a small bulldog looking at him slobbering away, with ectoplasm dripping from his mouth.
“What the Hell are you....Anubis?” stuttered Dicky.
Beyond the dog in the entrance hall Dicky could hear strange guttural noises – oh...um...chukka...oh um chukka....
Dicky backed away from the dog eventually circling the wall and running towards the strange sound. Dicky stopped ‘dead’ in his tracks, as he witnessed a strange bearded man step down off the canvas of Rolf Harris. He was all in white, like an outline of a person and was almost transparent.
“What are you...?” stuttered Dicky... as the trickle down the back of his leg began to fill his white socks too.
“Can’t you tell what it is yet?” asked the spectre .
Dicky stood white as a sheet (bar for his socks) shaking his head in terror.“ Are you a Rolftergeist?” he eventually stammered.
“I won’t harm you....different to him...he said nodding at the dog....he could put you in ‘Animal Hospital’ if I was to say the word!”
“What word?” asked Dicky.“
Churchill.....he’s my spirit guide...helping the recently bereaved to find their way in the afterlife....a ‘loss adjuster’ if you like ....oh and by the way .... that vase ....it wasn’t me....for insurance purposes....he nodded at the dog....I don’t want to lose my no claims bone-us....it was them out there....those ‘Two little boys’ on their ‘wooded horses’. said the ghost.
“Do you think I should go after them?” asked Dicky pretending he was brave.
“So let me AsBO’s go...son.....!” sung Rolf...singing to the tune of Tie me Kangaroo down sport .
“That’s the trouble in Merthyr ...said Dicky....I haven’t made the place any safer...I had my car wheel trims pinched from this very castle forecourt...and the GTI sport ones cost a fortune....thank God my father gets money in the mail regularly...!” said Dicky growing more confident.
“I know what you mean cobber....lot of ‘poor little blighters’ in the town...they’ll steal anything in Merthyr from scrap metal signs to shitty drapes ( Dicky blushed red at this point)...I even had to tie my kangaroo down sport to stop it being taken from the Park!!! So what are you doing here so late at night Sport?” asked the phantom.
“Having a little ‘Walkabout’ like you really!” said Dicky. “How come you live in that painting?” he asked not so scared now- safe in the knowledge that the dead wouldn’t hurt him.
“Every artist leaves a little bit of their soul behind in their work...you as a fellow arsetist chose to leave your impression on a different material- the drapes...for example!” said Rolf.
“But one thing I don’t understand....I know your career is dead...but I didn’t know you had gone to ‘Dreamstate’!” said Dicky.
“Neither did I until about ten minutes ago!”.......I was stood before the Queen ...she had previously given me the CBE & MBE honours....before she saw my 80th birthday painting of her....she said I was to be made Sir Rolf....for my services to animals and art and anoraks sales ...but then the flunky, told her that David Cameron had rung first, then Nick Clegg second and they had told her that the Royal Family were not immune to the public sector cuts.....then she went all ‘Helen Mirren’ on me.... and the next minute I’m ‘condem’ned to talking like Anne Boleyn.... !” said Rolf putting his head underneath his arm.“ Now I’m looking for a Stairway to Heaven!”
“Stairway to Cefn...I can help you with ...but not that one...you best follow Churchill.....!” said Dicky.
No sooner had Rolf uttered the ‘immortal’ line then the sun came up behind the shitty drapes. “Sun Arise!” wailed Rolf as he headed for the light. As he did so, the front door was opened by the returning curator.
“Enjoy your work experience?” he asked hopefully.
“I quit mate....once a Queen always a Queen...but once a Knight’s enough ....like Rolf Harris head....I’m off!” said Dicky tucking in his chocolate bars.
The curator looked at him somewhat bemused and shut the door behind him.