We bought our house from ghosts. People who did not exist in human form. It’s the only explanation I can come to why whenever we tell villagers the name of the house we’ve moved into, the response is invariably, ‘Ah, next to Muriel’s.’ But who the hell is Muriel?
She is a mysterious character in the village’s colourful cast. Because there is no Muriel next door. Muriel is an enigma.
Recently, the village potter held an open day at her workshop. After a morning which involved the driver’s door handle of our car coming off in my hand, and a smoke alarm, whose location we struggled to track down, piercing our brains with its high-pitched BEEP every few minutes, we pottered along to the pottery, located, picture postcard style, beside the church.
Ducking under a weeping wisteria, we entered a workshop which looked exactly how you might expect a rural village’s pottery to look like. Inside, chatting with the potter, was a neighbour who lives directly opposite us; a neighbour we hadn’t yet introduced ourselves to. It was one of those situations where the opportunity didn’t present itself in the first few weeks we lived in the village. After a couple of months passed, it felt daft saying, ‘Hi, we’re the new neighbours.’ So, we just smiled and waved whenever we happened to be on the street at the same time.
After six months of this we finally had the chance to say hello properly when the potter asked if we’d come far and we replied, ‘About two hundred yards.’ That’s when the neighbour we hadn’t introduced ourselves to yet explained we lived in the house next to Muriel’s, no mention of our house’s previous occupants.
This happens every single time one villager explains to another where we live. It’s happened at two village lunches, a pop-up pub night in the medieval barn, and at the Coronation street party. Next week is the summer fete and I’m willing to lay bets it’ll happen again.
It is strange that not once in numerous occasions has anyone mentioned the names of the people who lived in our house prior to us moving in. It is as though they never existed. At the potter’s, they were absent from explanations of where we lived twice, the second time to a couple who live in a grand house on the village’s western border. Muriel, on the other hand, sounds a larger-than-life character; one whose imposing presence clearly left an enduring mark.
Whenever her named is used to geographically place us, the response is invariably, ‘Ah, now I know where you are,’ followed by a knowing chuckle and occasionally a shake of the head at the mention of the mysterious Muriel.
Mostly Muriel is spoken of in affectionate tones, clearly a beloved local personality, but occasionally there are hints there may have been a pricklier side to her. What happened to Muriel is hazy. ‘She was here forever, and then she was gone,’ was a comment from yesterday, stated in a voice tinged with sadness. Not gone as in having shuffled off this mortal coil. Just gone.
So, for the time people we are ‘the neighbours who live next door to Muriel’s,’ as I’m sure were the anonymous people who owned the house before us. We do have some knowledge of the people before that; more than being Muriel’s neighbours, they were also Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Our mission is to try to ensure we don’t exist like some fleeting Will-o’-the-wisp, vague presences in a village consisting of just 250 people. We shall endeavour to graduate from being the people who live next to Muriel’s to being known as Andy and Jack.