Sunday, 25 April 2010

The hag of Hagg Hill (by Andrew Wooding)

Our latest excursion started with a tip-off from a text: ‘Strange sightings at Hagg Hill in Sheffield. People seen hanging from trees.’ I normally only get texts from Orange asking if I want to top-up my account, so naturally I was interested.

Mike was interested as well when I told him. I suspect he was just as surprised as me that I’d actually got a real text at last. So, being Two Men (but still no Ghost), we decided to investigate further.

Synchronising our watches and stocking up with supplies of Vimto and Haribo Mix, we set off separately, agreeing to meet at the top of Hagg Hill at 8pm on a Friday.

But as they say, they best laid plans of Mike and men gang aft agley (whatever that means).

I looked up Hagg Hill in my Sheffield A-Z and worked out a foolproof route to get there. This ‘foolproof’ route eventually took me to Hillsborough, Crookes, Broomhill and beyond. Everywhere, in fact, except for Hagg Hill itself. Where exactly was it, and why was it so hard to get to?

One thing I did discover on my Friday-night travels was that strange, exotic creatures roam the streets in the evening, making up for what they lack in the skirt department with body mass and volume of make-up. Whatever we might encounter at Hagg Hill couldn’t possibly measure up to the gruesomeness of these swaggering lifeforms, tripping off trams and buses and swinging sparkly handbags at each other.

Turning down a side street, relieved to put some distance between myself and these heffers who travelled in herds, I texted Mike to inform him that I had a map, I could point to Hagg Hill on it, but getting there was sadly eluding me.

No sooner had I pressed ‘Send’ than I got a text back from Mike relaying a similar tale of woe. His sat-nav was apparently up the spout. He would type in the precise postcode for the top of Hagg Hill, but would always somehow end up at one end of Crookes.

A change of plan was needed. It was time to join forces. I knew where Crookes was, even if I couldn’t find Hagg Hill, so within minutes I was pulling up by Mike’s car, then knocking on his window.

‘Yikes!’ went Mike. I could see through his window that he looked a little jumpy. When he realised it was me, he seemed relieved and motioned me to join him inside.

‘Why so tense?’ I asked him as I slammed the passenger door behind me.

‘Sorry, old chum. I was getting a little paranoid,’ he admitted. ‘I’ve been parked here a while and I keep getting odd looks from people walking past. I thought you were one of them.’

‘Odd looks?’ I said. ‘Why?’

‘No idea,’ admitted Mike, and he immediately plunged both hands towards his groin area and started shaking and vibrating. The car was shaking along with him. More strange looks from passers-by.

‘Er … what’re you doing, Mike?’ I admit I was worried.

‘The wind-up torches,’ he explained. ‘I’m charging them up for our investigation.’ And he thrust a hot and sweaty one towards my face.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Er … great.’

Mike sensed it was time to make tracks. So make them we did. Through Crookes. Through Hillsborough. Through narrow country lanes. Through Crookes. Through Hillsborough. Through more narrow country lanes. Do you ever get déjà vu? How many times have you seen Groundhog Day?

Finally, more by fluke than navigational skill, we found ourselves approaching a street sign that looked promising.

I’m short-sighted, so I squinted as we approached and the letters became sharper and clearer until finally and unmistakably they spelt out the name of our elusive haunted side street … HAGG HILL!

Raucous cheering. The sound of the Hallelujah Chorus. Bells chiming. Horns hooting. A crowd applauding. Triumphant cannons firing. Yes, rejoice with us – we’d finally reached the bloody place!

Except we couldn’t turn into it because a ginormous lorry was in the way, selfishly parked on the corner. It didn’t seem to be in a rush to move – the driver was picking his nose with one hand, opening a thermos flask with the other, and consulting a fold-up map sprawled out in front of him.

Mike revved his engine and the driver took the hint. Folding away his map and disposing of the thermos, he quickly turned out of Hagg Hill and we quickly turned in. Happy to be there, we drove up and down it a number of times.

Yes, there were trees aplenty on either side of the road, stark and leafless, forming eerie silhouettes. Their presence was unsettling, and if you were scared down here, your frenzied imagination could quite easily make out any number of menacing shapes in the gnarled and random branches.

But people hanging from them, there were none.

Disappointed, we parked by the side of the road and had a natter for a while, mainly about our puzzlement over Mike’s sat-nav and my map reading skills failing us so badly. We rounded it off with a robust and in-depth discussion on the sexual undercurrents to be found between the various colourful characters in children’s TV classic, Balamory. We eventually came to a number of firm conclusions.

Feeling that our evening wasn’t entirely wasted, we turned to leave Hagg Hill just as the slowest gritter in the world trundled past, trapping us there for a while. Why? It wasn’t as if we were in the middle of winter or anything. Just our luck.

To add to our woes, Mike lost control of his car just as we tried to turn right out of the road. He kept stalling and rolling backwards. It was almost as if someone – or something – didn’t want us to leave.

Mike and I have a theory. We don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Hagg Hill is so named. Rivalling the so-called mad monk of Stocksbridge bypass, we reckon there’s a spectral hag causing chaos amongst motorists and pedestrians alike. She momentarily muddled my brain as I consulted the Sheffield A-Z. She reached into Mike’s sat-nav and sabotaged the directions it gave. She arranged a lorry and a gritter to block our way in and out of the road that’s her domain. And she caused Mike’s car to sputter and fail as we attempted to make an exit.

Who knows what this hag looks like? Maybe she has one tooth, warts all over the place, and smells of fags and cheap cider.

What do you think of our theory? Are we bonkers?

Don’t answer that.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The fifth 'Real or surreal?' by Mike Kazybrid

Most of us have a story that we simply can't explain. Perhaps it was that strange noise in the dead of night, or the sudden movement at the foot of the stairs that appeared to be a person rushing by. No matter how hard we try to seek an answer, we can never completely find one.

Here’s another one of my stories. It's the summer of '76. I'm a student living in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and I, along with three other mature students, have been asked by the college if we will clean out a number of large houses that they’d recently purchased. Once cleaned and re-decorated, they were to become homes for the new students.

So there we were: three Yorkshiremen and a Scotsman. No, I'm not about to embark on a series of jokes! I can honestly say that they were three of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet.

The spooky bit begins when Tom, the guy I was working with, had to go and obtain certain materials for the house (Mac and Alan were working on another property). So there I was in this beautiful three-storey Victorian house, feeling somewhat useful with every bit of dirt and plaster I was able to clean up.

I was content with the world, until I happened to hear the faint cry of a woman. As it continued, I remained both still and silent, unsure as to its origin. All I was sure of was that the cry came not from the neighbouring houses, but from the attic itself. I was frozen to the spot, unable to ignore the clear human cry that carried down the stairs and filled the hall where I stood.

Now, I'm uncertain if my actions came from a sense of deep-rooted bravery or perhaps, looking back, plain stupidity, but I decided to slowly walk up the old staircase towards the beckoning cry.

I tried to avoid each and every creak that the old wooden stairs offered but was totally unsuccessful. By now, standing before the attic door, I was mindful that the person on the other side would be aware of my presence, perhaps in the same way I was now aware of hers!

The cry, or sobbing, was clearly coming from a woman. One didn't have to be intelligent to realise that she was in a state of deep emotional pain. Something really bad had clearly happened to her to move her to this point. But what I couldn't understand was: if I was on one side of the door and she was on the other side, why was I informed that the house was empty?

But the house was empty. ‘It is empty,’ I kept on telling myself. Yet here we were, the frightened young man on the one side, and the sobbing woman on the other, only a large piece of Victorian wood standing between us.

I decided to announce myself to her. I told her not to be afraid, that I was only there to clean up the place (thought not in a Charles Bronson or Dirty Harry manner, of course). Still, the sobbing continued. I moved slowly towards the old door, ever mindful that by now there was no mistake that this was very real. Believe me, it was real enough for me not to want to open the door.

Finding myself rushing down the stairs faster than I'd climbed them, I contacted the local chaplain who was linked to the college. Explaining the situation, the chaplain, a serious but good-hearted man, shared with me a possible reason for what had taken place. As we walked back to the house, he shared a little of its recent history.

The property was last owned by an elderly lady who, in her latter days, had lived with a number of cats. These were her only real source of company. For reasons unknown, she lost her feline companions and turned to her belief in spiritualism as a means of comfort. Perhaps the realisation that she was finally to say farewell to her home was the factor that created the end. The old lady died of a broken heart ... in the attic!

Having now returned to the stairs leading up to the attic, we stopped for a moment. And another moment.

Okay, five minutes later, I finally asked the question: ‘Aren't we going to go inside the attic?’

Following a short period of silence between us, the chaplain advised me not to worry. If he stayed where he was, on this side of the door, she would be able to hear him pray.

I questioned that comment. I'd seen all the Hammer Horror movies, and according to them we were now meant to rush into the room, him holding a large cross and shouting something loud in Latin, whilst I splashed ten gallons of holy water everywhere! (Okay, I admit, it was a bad movie.)

Nope, he was sticking to his guns. He was going to yell out a prayer and that would do the trick!

Truth be told, I didn't hear the sobbing any more after the chaplain had gone. Perhaps the power of faith had sorted out the issue. Or maybe the old lady had been somewhat peed off, thinking that some idiots were about to rush into her little attic bedroom, carrying a large cross and yelling something loudly in Latin, whilst the other fool wanted to pour ten gallons of holy water on her head! (Yep, she'd seen that movie too!)

On a serious note, the sound of the crying woman seemed real enough and could be pinpointed to that very room. Could it have been the total sense of grief that had allowed the poor lady, beyond her death, to remain in the house?

I'd like to think that in some way she had moved on to a place of peace. I'll never know. However, I can truthfully confirm that there was one outcome from this experience: I never did finish doing the dusting!

In the true spirit of that which is real or surreal, this has been another tale from those you've come to know as Two Men and a Ghost.

Sleep well.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The year so far... (by Andrew Wooding)

Being April Fools’ Day, it’s probably appropriate to take a quick look back at the year so far for two fools in Sheffield (three if you count the ghost).

2010 started out rather encouragingly, with what you might call a media frenzy. Our friend Martin Dawes of The Star gave us another nice write-up, which you can see here. He says: ‘So far, despite their best efforts, the duo have been spook-free. But that doesn't stop them trying.’

We also did an extensive interview on The Paul and Spike Show, but unfortunately a gremlin (or was it a ghost?) crept into the Skype line, rendering the entire interview unusable. The proof of the pudding can be found in the short extract 24½ minutes into the finished podcast (which can be found here), in which Mike and I sound like we’re gabbling in tongues or channelling the spirit of the late lamented Pingu.

As for the rest of the media frenzy, well … er … that’s it.

But to compensate, we’ve started bunging stuff up on YouTube. (Check us out on The 2MG's Channel.) There’s our two-part visit to Sheffield General Cemetery, including reader feedback and an exploration of Egyptian mythology. The visit seemed like a good idea at the time, except Sheffield General Cemetery turned out to be the muddiest place in Sheffield that evening, and it was so dark that you couldn’t see any of the background in the finished videos, just our noses as we shone torches at each other. Actually, big secret now: we shot the whole thing in the broom cupboard at 2MG Mansions. (And if you believe that...)

There’s also our three-part video set in the basement (or ‘the stacks’) of Sheffield Central Library. Watch Mike explain the music hall background of the library’s location on Surrey Street; see us get distracted by various titles on the shelves, including an exhaustive book on tripe; and look out for various ghosts hovering in the background of the video (or are they just random librarians trundling along with trolleys of books?).

That’s it so far. So what about the remaining three-quarters of the year? Rest assured, there’s lots of good stuff to look forward to, and we might even finally spot a ghost.

In the immediate future, there’s more YouTube videos in the pipeline, the start of a regular lively podcast with a brilliant spooky theme tune, more ‘Real or Surreal?’ features from Mike, and my spine-tingling account of our recent nocturnal excursion to Hagg Hill in Sheffield. There we found our new nemesis. Move aside, Mad Monk of Stockbridge. Our latest foe is…

Ah, but that would be telling.