Haunted by past failings

24th June 2016 at 00:00

The new Ghostbusters movie comes out in a few weeks’ time, and I can’t wait. Not only am I super-excited that the film has an all-female cast and revisits a classic from the 1980s (my era) but I also have a professional interest in the subject matter. Just occasionally, in my day job as a vicar, I’m called out to reports of bumps in the night. It’s a standard part of our vicar training, and the diocese even has a specialist who deals with so-called “mysterious happenings”.

I’ll confess, I’m not completely convinced by the existence of spooks. Most of the time, once the holy water has been splashed and some prayers have been said, the family in question confesses to a passion for late-night horror movies or a failing central heating boiler, which can generally explain the noises, knocks and sudden drops in temperature.

Of course, often it’s not really about the presenting disturbances. Rather, any turbulence is in the person’s life: loneliness or a fear of death, perhaps. Most of these occurrences are easily explained by non-supernatural causes. (Although, I did once experience something strange happening with a kettle and a cupboard door in a terrace in Mansfield that, to this day, I find it difficult to explain.)

I was visited by a ghost of my own the other week. College is undergoing renovations and, as I walked past a group of enthusiastic roofers, a shout came down from on high: “Oi, Miss!” I looked up and, despite the intervening years, recognised Robbie instantly as a former pupil from when I was a school RE teacher.

He shimmied down the ladder to chat. We talked about kids (me two, him one) and marriages (him two, me one). We also talked about GCSEs. Apparently Robbie didn’t do too well in his Year 11 exams. With a bizarre mixture of pride and shame, he said: “I failed every one of them exams but I passed me RE.”

I became flushed with pride. He went on to tell me that he’s since achieved his maths and English qualifications, but added: “It would have been a lot easier if I’d got them at the time.”

This month, college has been full of learners doing GCSE English and maths resits, trying to exorcise their own ghosts; failures of the past can finally be laid to rest with a well-earned C grade or better.

I didn’t do brilliantly in my own maths GCSE, but I scraped a C. As I wandered around corridors and stared through the glass panel into the gym where our learners were attempting to banish their own phantoms, I may have muttered under my breath some of the same benedictions that I used in that terrace in Mansfield. It couldn’t hurt, and it might just help to stop the past coming back to haunt them.

Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley

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