Long Live the King

Berkeley castleWhen most people visit a castle, it’s to see the building or to absorb the history. We went to hear a king’s dying screams.

On September 21st in 1327, King Edward II was murdered in Berkeley Castle, and on the anniversary of his death, his screams are said to echo around the room. His murder would not be out of place in Game of Thrones and would probably be the plot had Cersei married Renly instead of Robert. Edward married Isabella in 1308 when he was 24 and she was 13. Edward was known to have male lovers, known as his ‘favourites’. One of these was Piers Gaveston. Edward’s father disliked Gaveston and had him exiled but when Edward II took the throne in 1307, he recalled him to England. Gaveston had too much influence over Edward and was exiled again. He disobeyed the order, believing Edward would help him. In 1312, Edward’s cousin, the Earl of Lancaster kidnapped Gaveston in Scarborough Castle and took him to Warwick Castle. He was marched to Blacklow Hill, run through with a sword then beheaded. His ghost haunts Scarborough Castle and lures people off the battlements.

Edward found a new favourite – Hugh Despenser the younger. There’s no evidence to suggest theirs was a homosexual relationship, but he had as much influence over Edward as Gaveston had. Isabella hated Despenser and it’s rumoured he tried to rape her. In 1321, Lancaster seized Despenser’s lands and forced Edward to exile the Despenser family. In retaliation, Edward led a short military campaign against Lancaster and executed him before calling Despenser back to England.Berkeley castle

In 1325, Isabella went to France on a diplomatic mission and fell in love with Roger Mortimer, an exiled opponent of Edward’s. Mortimer’s grandfather had killed Despenser’s grandfather and Despenser vowed revenge against him. In 1326, Isabella and Mortimer invaded England with an army of 1500 and the English nobility’s support. Edward’s habit of taking people’s lands to give to his favourites made him unpopular. Edward and Despenser were captured in Neath. Despenser was ordered to be hanged as a thief, drawn and quartered as a traitor, disemboweled for procuring discord between the king and queen, and beheaded for returning to England.

Edward was imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle before being moved to Berkeley. Any nobles who were wanted dead but not murdered were kept in a windowless cell next to a 28ft deep dungeon where animal carcasses, excrement and the occasional peasant’s corpse were thrown. It was hoped the smell would kill him. Although Edward fell ill, he recovered. Eventually the order was given to kill Edward but leave no marks. He was taken to a bedroom and pinned face down to the bed. A horn or funnel was inserted into his anus, followed by a red hot poker. It was a common execution for homosexuals.

Calamityville Horror at Berkeley castleNeen is still working on the film set, so we took our mate, Tom. He’s never been ghost hunting. We texted him saying we were running late as we’d been in our grampy’s attic looking for squirrels. He said from anyone else it would sound like a fake excuse. From us, he knows it’s real. The trip started badly when our tablet malfunctioned and our documents disappeared. It took several panicky minutes of checking every folder until we found them. Strangely, we didn’t get lost, even though Tom is worse with directions than we are, despite living in Gloucester for most of his life. This wasn’t looking hopeful, especially as we’d left our directions in the boot. We rocked up to the castle and immediately spotted a dressing up area. We probably should’ve warned him a day out with us is like herding cats. We spot something exciting and go running off, usually in different directions. We rushed over and dressed up – Lynx as a knight with a card crown and Cat donning a fancy gown. We did our filming piece about the ghosts whilst wearing these costumes. You have to look smart when you meet royalty. Then Tom dressed as a knight for our group photo. Coming out with Calamityville means you get sucked into the crazy whether you want to or not.Berkeley castle

We weren’t allowed to wear the dressing up clothes inside the castle. Probably just as well because Cat’s gown was proving very dangerous. We told one of the volunteers we were there because it was Edward’s anniversary and we wanted to hear his dying screams. She revealed that every year on his anniversary, somebody would leave a red rose outside his cell and also at his tomb at Gloucester cathedral. They never knew who did it until one day it stopped. She warned us and a couple that the steps leading up to the castle were deliberately different heights to trip invaders. We made the couple go first and told them we would be watching. Sadly, they didn’t trip. However we did on several occasions.Berkeley castle

We entered the Keep where Edward was held and spent a long time doing an EVP session at the dungeon. Then Tom spotted Edward’s cell. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside it as the room was sealed and we’d forgotten to bring our grappling hooks to enter from the outside. (Note to selves, always pack a grappling hook). We asked Edward to scream for us. He refused. He had the opportunity to star on Calamityville and he turned it down. One tortured scream, that’s all we asked for. Guess our reputations have reached the spirit world.

dungeon at Berkeley castleWe eventually explored the rest of the castle, which is beautiful then we headed into the gardens. Tom found a narrow passageway in the wall so went in – already adopting the Calamityville attitude of exploring away from prying eyes. We followed then there was a right angle turn and the passage narrowed. Cat went on ahead in the dark and said “I can’t see what I’m standing on.” Then she fell down a drain. We all made it to the end to find we were under the castle. Tom picked up his first Calamityville injury by bashing his shoulder on a low piece of wall and Lynx also fell down the drain. In the garden was a small stone building that we intend to use as a writing shed when we conquer the castle. There were also cool trees so we climbed them, even though our long skirts were not practical for tree climbing. There was also what we all dubbed ‘the evil tree’ as it was all twisted and set in a circular ditch, clearly having crawled its way out of hell. Cat swung off it and hurt her wrist, verifying our belief in its evil. Then we remembered we’d forgotten to use our new Ghost Radar Legacy app on our Nexus by Edward’s cell. Cursing, we switched it on and were discussing the tree. The Ghost Radar said “branch.” We returned to the castle and Edward’s cell and Lynx filmed the Nexus. The Ghost Radar said “camera.” Other than that it had nothing to say.Berkeley castle

cell where Edward II died

Edward II’s cell

We hung out near the dungeon while a guide gave a tour. She said there were 3 versions of the story – the poker, he was smothered or he escaped and lived happily ever after. We glowered like Gorgons. No. He got the poker treatment. We refuse to accept any other version. We didn’t come to listen to muffles. The Radar was showing coloured blobs in the dungeon, which apparently means a ghost is near. When we moved back to Edward’s cell, we offered Tom as a gift to Edward. We’d Google imaged Edward’s ‘favourites’ and Tom didn’t look like them (they were unattractive with ridiculous hair) but we thought it was worth a try. A red blob glowed on the radar, which meant a strong presence. Clearly Edward was pleased with our offering. Probably should’ve warned Tom he would be offered as a gift to a murdered ghost. But that’s what happens when you’re a guest on Calamityville: there is a strong possibility you will be sacrificed.

We drove to Gloucester cathedral, again without getting lost or nearly dying. We happened to show up when there was an art exhibition on. This type of thing always happens to us. Though we usually turn up at someone’s wedding.  We bought filming and photography permits then dashed through the cathedral to join the crypt tour. We’d imagined the crypts to be filled with cobwebs, winding passageways and mummified corpses just waiting for us to awaken them and unleash them on the unsuspecting our guests. Like our tomb will be.

Gloucester cathedral

Gloucester cathedral

There were lots of statues from the exhibition. One of them looked like a Targaryen dragon egg. We wanted to sneak it out and hatch it in a fire. We’ve never owned a dragon and setting fire to our enemies would be a great party trick. We tracked down Edward II’s tomb and got out the Ghost Radar. We couldn’t do an EVP session as the organ was deafening, but the Ghost Radar helpfully supplied us with words such as “coal” and “cotton.” We think it was a bit confused. We found amazing skull sculptures and a wheel made of broken metal skeletons that we wanted to buy. However there’s no way we could ever afford to buy something that come from an exhibition and getting it home in the Mini would be tricky.

Gloucester cathedral crypt

the crypts

We walked to Blackfrairs Priory, which is rumoured to be haunted by monks. Monks are very keen on haunting places. Leading deprived, pious lives is clearly a one-way ticket to ghosthood. Unfortunately the priory was closed, despite the website telling us otherwise. So we found some big foam dominoes and spelled out C.A.T.S. to alert people to our visit. Though we couldn’t put the full stops in, so people won’t think ‘ooh C.A.T.S. Calamityville Horror have been here’, they’ll think ‘someone really likes cats’. And thus ended our first ghost hunting adventure since the beginning of August. We brought Tom home with us to meet the animal army though 3 cats were AWOL and the snake went into hiding but the others made an appearance.P1090542

It was so good to get back out there instead of just lurking in our writing shed like we’ve done all summer. It was a fantastic day and even better – Tom wants to come back out on more adventures! So you’ll be seeing a lot more of him on Calamityville. Though we probably won’t sacrifice him every episode.

Edward II tomb at Gloucester cathedral

us at Edward II tomb

The Big Bang

We leave the house for half an hour and return to find the main road outside our street barricaded off because someone put a bomb in the tax offices.

We did not expect that on a cloudy Thursday morning.

Oddly, the police officer let us drive through the barricade to reach our street. Everyone else was turned away. The other drivers must have thought we were superheroes, dashing to the rescue in our hot pink Smartcar, canine sidekick at the ready. Or that we were bomb fodder. While most sensible people would probably be trying to find safety, we were desperate to get home. You see, the tax offices are opposite our street. And our animal army were all at home. Our sister Sarah also happened to be out and about in Llanishen – on the other side of the tax offices to where we were. By now police had evacuated the tax offices and Morrisons supermarket, which is next door to them. But not the residents. Guess we’ll just have to perish then. They hadn’t even told the residents why all of a sudden Llanishen was the place to be. It hasn’t been this popular since…well, never. People were gathered on the Glider field. Which is the worst place to stand as it’s right by the offices and if they exploded, those people would be the first ones wiped out. But the two local pubs were doing well out of this. Ty Glas Road was lined with ambulances, riot vans and the bomb squad. And they’re doing gas works all along Ty Glas Road too. This is the most excitement Llanishen has ever seen. And to think we used to think it was dangerous having the ammunition factory across the road 20 odd years ago. Was it something to do with the anniversary of 9/11? Or was someone really sick of filling out their tax form?

Our sister managed to hoodwink a police officer and he confirmed that there was a suspicious package inside the tax offices and that everyone had been evacuated. We hoped to Red Bull they wouldn’t attempt to evacuate us. For the first time ever, we realised amassing an animal army could result in us being scattered across Cardiff in tiny pieces. Sarah offered to lend assistance should the evacuation order be given. We have enough carriers for the cats and rabbits (well someone would have to share. That won’t end well) and there’s a carry case for the snails. That leaves pup, the iguana, the duck and the snake. We’d have to work out an exit strategy, one that didn’t end in a massive brawl with fur, feathers, scales and slime flying everywhere. Never mind our house, we were more upset that our newly dungeonised writing shed might go up in flames.

We then heard through the grapevine that it was a bomb. Things like this just don’t happen in Llanishen. People don’t even know where Llanishen is! (North Cardiff) You mention it and they stare blankly. Then you say “tax offices” and suddenly everyone knows it. Yep. The goddamn tax offices are our district’s most famous landmark. Quite frankly we’re surprised this has been the first ever attempt to take them down. The first time Llanishen gets put on the map is the day it’s nearly blown off it.

Postie was in our street around half one and we overheard him mentioning an explosion. About ten minutes later, there was a bang! Dogs started barking. About five minutes after that, there was an even louder bang! The dogs ignored that one. The bomb squad had been there for about 4 hours now. They all started leaving after that. The tax offices are still standing. Here’s the news article link and the update. They did do a controlled experiment and said the package turned out to be harmless. Perhaps they bought it from ACME. Really hope they didn’t just spend five hours barricading Llanishen only to detonate somebody’s lunch.

tax offices, Llanishen

the tax offices, as seen from our house

Puppy dog tales

We’ve not been great at blogging lately. Mostly because things on the writing side can be summed up with “nothing happens.” We could post regular updates on the rejections but that would be boring and we’d run out of space. And we haven’t been ghost hunting since early August so there’s nothing happening there either. Mostly we’re waiting for things to happen – for rejections to come in and for ghost hunting to begin again, which will probably be November. But then November has NaNoWriMo, so that will hamper things.

So instead, this post is about a new addition to the animal army. Seven years ago, we lost our 12 year old Staffy cross Lab, Bruce. No, he wasn’t a Staffrador or a Labdfordshire or whatever stupid combination names people give to dogs that are clearly cross breeds, just so they can sell them as a breed and get more money (think Cockerpoo, Labradoodle, Jackerpoo. Those aren’t breeds! They’re cross breeds! Mongrels. It’s not a dirty word.)  We’ve always had mongrels and they don’t need fancy names. Bru’s death was the worst day of our life. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks previously and we were told he had two weeks to live. At the same time, our eldest dog, Jack, a Jack Russell cross with other breeds was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and we were told he had six months. He lived for another 18 months until he was 17 and died 6 years ago. Last year, our sister’s dog, Misty, a Jack Russell cross Spaniel, cross crazy beans, died aged 14. We carry their photos with us in headstone shaped lockets that we wear every day. If the Victorians can have mourning jewellery, so can we. Losing our boys and then Misty (who was a regular visitor) hurt so badly we swore we’d never have another dog.

But things don’t always work out that way.

Our sister, Sarah, wanted another dog and started visiting rescue centres. Our mum decided that as Sarah was getting one, we should get one too, as they’d be spending a lot of time together. We were against the idea. You read that right. For once it was us saying no to a pet. This has never happened. On a weekly basis we’re trying to get around our mum’s pet ban by telling her how cute these baby tortoises were that winked at us, or that an elephant would make a welcome addition to the household and that our house is seriously lacking in the penguin/goat/pig department. But we did not want another dog. We always swore the only way we’d get another dog is if it was from a rescue centre. Breeders see their dogs as nothing more than cash machines to be discarded once they can no longer make them money. The number of ex-breeding dogs in dogs home is disgraceful, most of them less than 6 years old. Eventually, we were persuaded to go to Cardiff Dogs Home to have a look. It was like a prison and upset us for the rest of the day. So much so, we put in a formal complaint to the council, who said they would investigate it. The home wanted us to bring our cats to meet the dogs, in a carrier. Anyone who has ever met a cat, will know how the cat will react to that. The only one of ours that wouldn’t freak out, is Spectre. But she’s 15 and doesn’t deserve that ordeal. It is a stupid idea that will only traumatise the cat. It’s supposed to be so they can see how a dog will react. Dogs react differently to a cat in a carrier to one that is either hissing at them, slapping them or running away. When we mentioned this to other rescue centres, they were horrified.

On Friday we went to the RSPCA in Newport, which Sarah said was a lovely place. It was closed due to NATO. So we went to Crofts Kennel in Bridgend. They brought a 6 month old Lurcher (Greyhound cross with either Collie or Terrier) called Harly to meet us. It was love at first sight. He came straight to us, cwtched up to us and in five minutes, he decided he was coming home with us.

P1090337Who were we to say no?

Then we found out Lurchers aren’t great with small furries, as they’re bred to be hunting dogs. Seeing as we have 4 cats, two rabbits, a duck, iguana, corn snake and 4 African snails, this wasn’t looking good. We’ve been on several Lurcher forums and they’ve all said it is possible to integrate Lurchers with furries. Some even posted photos of their Lurchers lounging with their cats. However we have a rule in Casa Raven: once an animal is here, it will never leave. It doesn’t matter how long it will take to train him not to chase the cats, he is staying.

P1090316As soon as we got him home, we got out the basket of dog toys that we’d kept. He spent ages rifling through it, pulling out different toys. He didn’t know what to play with first. He’s a quick learner and has already been desensitized to the rabbits. He’s not interested in Peking Duck and she’s not bothered by him. Although it’s hard training him not to torment the rabbits when Peking is standing by the pen, trying to peck the rabbits through the chicken wire. He is great with our five year old niece and it already feels like he’s been here forever. Apparently you can be creative with Lurchers’ training, as they’re intelligent and obedient. We’re thinking we could train him to hunt ghosts instead of small furries, so one member of Calamityville will be a professional, because let’s face it, it will never be us. Although we don’t hold out much hope on training him to hunt ghosts when we can’t convince him not to eat his bed.

He just needs a name. A long list was drawn up: Krueger, Jigsaw, Ash, Bram, Frankenstein, Milton, Marlowe, Hamlet, Jensen, Jazz, Cruz, Rogue, Bandit, Zero, Scraps, Bone Jangles, Harker, Messamilano, and our personal favourite, Van Helsing. Our mum has vetoed Van Helsing and won’t negotiate. We then had a shortlist of Jazz, Jensen, Cruz, Bandit and Rogue (and secretly Van Helsing, which we keep calling when we’re alone in the hopes he will answer to it. Mostly he just looks embarrassed). Today we’re down to Bandit or Rogue. We’ve given him the option of choosing his name, but he’s not interested in anything that doesn’t involve eating. He seems to have a fondness for paper, which means our niece will be able to say “the dog ate my homework” and it won’t be a lie 😀 We’d better keep a close eye on our manuscripts.P1090321