Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Voices

Atonement

Ever wanted to apologise for something but don’t know where to start? Hannah Dunleavy learned a very valuable life lesson when she first saw Ghostbusters. She’s just sorry she’s about to tell it. Grab a cuppa, and find out why.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of my cousins – of which I’m fortunate enough to have a shitload – and we talked about Ghostbusters. OK, I talked about Ghostbusters and he told me to fuck off. Which was more than fair enough.

He’s actually a nice guy. Funny, smart and successful, with an excellent wife and cute children. You know, the sort of bloke that should be allowed to carry on with his life without people keep bringing up something that happened when we were kids.

I’m sorry mate, I really am.

***

Ghostbusters was released in the UK in December 1984, but I’m fairly sure this story takes place during the Easter holidays the following year. Newport Pagnell’s cinema didn’t exactly get films promptly.

I was 11, is the salient point.

The Electra

Photo courtesy of The Living Archive, Milton Keynes.

The Electra was a one-screen, early 20th century affair, which was – if you’re over 30 – much like the one near you when you were growing up.

With the benefit of hindsight – and a quick Google search – I can see it was a kind of grim-looking affair, with a half-tiled exterior wall and really narrow doors. The carpet crunched underfoot and it stank of smoke. (I think. My Dad was smoking about 40 a day then, so there was always the possibility if something stunk of cigarettes, it was us.)

“For all of my childhood up to that point, I had been scared of ghosts. And witches. And unexplained noises. And the dark. And the music from the Castrol GTX advert.”

But none of that mattered, because The Electra was the most exciting place in Newport Pagnell. Bar none. It was the place my Mum took us to see Star Wars and slept all the way through it. The place my Dad said grown men shouted “get up” when Rocky was hanging on the ropes. The place my cousin and I saw Ghostbusters and a family story was born. Happy days.

Much like the cinema you’re conjuring in your mind, the Electra fell in the late 1980s, when the ungrateful townsfolk had no more use for it. Although I’d imagine the adhesive qualities of that carpet proved invaluable to science. There’s now an arcade of tiny shops where the cinema once stood, which is nice enough but has never prompted the kind of elation that watching a BMX Bandits and Breakdance double bill did.

Yet I digress. Back to being afraid of no ghosts. Which, aged 11, I can categorically say I was trying really hard to be. For all of my childhood up to that point, I had been scared of ghosts. And witches. And unexplained noises. And the dark. And the music from the Castrol GTX advert. In fact, it’s easier to just say I was scared of everything and be done with it.

But two things had happened when I was nine that had forced me to try to pull it together a bit. Well, one thing actually, it just had two side-effects: my brother was born.  

Firstly, this meant I had to move into a bedroom with my sister, which reduced my chances of being the first child killed when whatever was hiding in the wardrobe finally came out of the wardrobe. Something I found strangely comforting.

Secondly, my Mum’s tolerance for 4am shenanigans about how I heard something under my bed fell sharply. I’m pretty sure she didn’t have another baby just to stop me doing something, and if she did it would almost certainly have been to stop me trying to play the violin. But as I say, at that point in my life, I was trying very hard to be afraid of no ghosts.

My cousin, on the other hand? He was back where I was when I was six. Probably because he was six. I remember my mum sitting at the dining room table with his mum, comparing war stories about the battles they’d fought with their kid with an overactive imagination, like the time we were told we’d have to leave a campsite in Cromer unless I stopped screaming blue murder after seeing a made-for-TV film about some deaths at a circus.

I can’t remember if the pair of them ever thought of a solution. What I can say for certain is the solution wasn’t to send him and I to see Ghostbusters together. In fact, it’s hard to imagine who would’ve ever thought that was a good idea.

***

My Nan lived about a mile away from us, in a Victorian terrace she and my granddad moved to when he retired from his job as a bus driver in London.

She had moved from Mullingar to go into service as a young teenager and remained tight-lipped about her past for most of her life, so I didn’t learn the necessary facts to explain her particular quirks of personality until after she died. Which makes me a bit sad. Especially since, when she was alive, our relationship was tricky. Largely because she believed children should behave themselves all the time and I just didn’t have it in me to do so.  If anything, I was a little bit scared of her.

She summoned me to the house that morning by phone. I was to go and collect my cousin, who was staying with her for a few days, and take him to the cinema, which was about a 10-minute walk from her house. She would then be able to get on with some undisclosed Nan stuff. Sleeping, I’m guessing. Or praying. She liked praying.

I’ve no idea if she had any idea what was on at the cinema, or whether she even thought to check, but he and I were dispatched with a can of drink, some money and whatever stuck-together Nan sweets she’d hauled out of the cupboard.

“‘Oh no you’re not,’ my Nan said with the sort of ruthless frankness I now admire her for. ‘I’ve paid for two children to watch that fecking film, one of them is going to watch it.'”

At the cinema we joined the back of the queue and filed along, until we reached the poster; the first time, I believe, we had any idea what we were going to watch. Ghostbusters. Wow.

Were we worried? Of course not, we were going to the cinema. A place of happiness and fun and laughter. This, I thought confidently, could only end well.

Provided we got in, of course. The poster clearly said we needed an adult with us but our Nan had told us to say, “Nanny says it’s fine” and they would just let us in, in the same way people sold you cigarettes in those days if you said they were for a grown-up.

In the end, I don’t even remember being questioned. I know what you’re thinking, that I probably didn’t look 11. And you’d be right; I looked about seven. My Dad, partly because of the young me’s obsession with my height, started marking it off on the door of the kitchen cupboard, enabling my nephew to proudly inform me he’s as tall at 10 as I was at 14. (To be clear, that doesn’t mean, as my sister-in-law informed me with an apologetic shake of the head, that he must be really tall for his age.)

Anyway, we got in. Probably because the people who ran the cinema figured if grown-ups who actually knew and cared about these two small children believed they were of sufficient fortitude to withstand a film about ghosts, who were they to argue?

Hannah's little cousin was absolutely and loudly afraid of this ghost.

Hannah’s little cousin was absolutely and loudly afraid of this ghost.

It went wrong almost immediately. When that ghost turned into an even scarier ghost in New York Public Library, there was a scream. A long, painful and seemingly never-ending scream. The sort of scream that causes people to jump in their seats and nearby children to start screaming in empathy. Or outright panic.

It was coming from my cousin. Eventually he stopped. Before going absolutely batshit.

I don’t know how long it was before the woman came and shone a light in my face and told us we had to leave. It felt like forever, because, although I knew the best possible thing to do was leave, at the same time, it felt like a big deal. And if it was a big deal, I might somehow get in trouble for it. I’m not going to lie, I did consider the possibility of just sitting there, watching the film and seeing if I could ride the whole thing out.

We were taken to the lobby, where there was some debate about the right thing to do. I can remember someone suggesting he might be alright in a few minutes which, bearing in mind he was virtually levitating with anxiety, seemed unlikely. Even to me.

Eventually, a stern woman arrived and told me I had to take him home, or at least take him somewhere that wasn’t there. So we went back to Nan’s, him doing those tiny sobs children do when their eyes have stopped crying and the rest of their body is yet to catch up, me wondering how on earth she was going to react to the downright ingratitude of walking out of a film that had scared the bejesus out of one of us.

She took ages to answer the front door. Ages. And when she did she already bore a face that said “this story better be good.”

“He didn’t like it” I said, as he launched himself in the door and gripped onto her, like a child possessed, all tears, shudders and talk of a ghost that would come to get him.

I waited. And then something amazing happened. She was OK. She hugged him, reassured him and talked of cake and games and TV. A wonderful new afternoon stretched ahead of us. I stepped into the light. “Oh no you’re not,” she said with the sort of ruthless frankness I now admire her for. “I’ve paid for two children to watch that fecking film, one of them is going to watch it.”

And with that, I was dismissed.

***

Maybe I interrupted a hastily adjourned cinema meeting to reassess the policy of letting unattended children into films, maybe they were just basking in the silence now they’d got those bloody kids out of the way. Either way, they were pretty surprised to see me back. And not so keen to let me in.

“I absolutely, positively was more scared of not watching this film than I was of watching it. I would watch it, until the end and there would be nary a peep from me.”

I’m not sure what convinced them in the end. Perhaps it was the news that, strange though this might sound, I was actually going to be in trouble with my Nan, if I did not watch the film that I’d already been removed from once before. That, however much they thought it was within their remit to decide who saw what in their theatre, my Nan was over-riding that. Perhaps they were just concerned I might start crying, and they’d seen the level of commitment my family had to that.

But soon, I found myself back in my seat, surrounded by the scattered Nan sweets, having made a promise to someone who should’ve known better that I absolutely, positively was more scared of not watching this film than I was of watching it. I would watch it, until the end and there would be nary a peep from me.

And there wasn’t.

When I came out, I went straight home, where my Mum had already heard on the Dunleavy grapevine about the afternoon’s events. If I’d thought I’d also be in trouble with her, I was soon proved wrong.

Quite the opposite, she was pleased with me. She told me that lots of adults are too scared to go to the cinema by themselves. She told me that was ridiculous. She told me that now I need never be afraid to walk into a place on my own. (And she was right, I never have.)

And she told me from now on, there was no need to be creating about ghosts any more.

And there wasn’t. Not in our house anyway.

@thatdunleavy

4442 Views
Share:
  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest

Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.