Fear Factor 4: ‘Bloody hell, Del!’ Uncanny adventures of Del Hughes
Okay, so to say I’m operating well outside my comfort zone is severely understating the gravity of my situation. In fact, to say I’m ‘operating’ at all, is a stretch. I’m wedged into a velour bucket chair (shudder! Not velvet, but close enough), my face is sporting a rictus grin, and I’ve just realised that arse cheeks, genuinely, have the ability to sweat.
In fact, my whole body is awash with a clammy panic that, for once, is nothing to do with the menopause, and everything to do with a 100,000-lumen beast of a lamp, which isn’t only pushing temperatures up to Saharan levels, but is also accentuating my every facial blemish – whilst ensuring that each bead of perspiration on my upper lip is captured, on camera, and in ultra HD.
As I wait for the interviewer’s next question, all I’m thinking is, ‘Stupid bloody London, and stupid bloody me!’
So, if you’ve happened upon any of my earlier articles, you’ll know that I’m on a dangerous living program (where ‘dangerous’ = mildly dicey, occasionally), the aim being to embrace opportunities and start living, rather than resting in my riser-recliner as life passes me by.
I’ve dabbled with pottery and painting, explored the arcane and the odd, and met amazing characters along the way.
But, if I was to maximise the positive impact of my regime, it meant facing up to some lifelong fears and phobias. Hands down, the worst thus far was getting up close and personal with Dylan, a curly-haired tarantula, which makes him sound way cuter than his squat and menacing reality.
But today outstrips even Dylan, because this is truly terror-inducing, and I’m utterly regretting allowing an eleven-year-old to convince me that this would be, in any way, shape or form, a good idea.
See, back when the weather was great, and my mood was too, I was enjoying a languid afternoon in my pal Freya’s lush and leafy garden, getting quietly hammered on G&Ts, whilst eating my bodyweight in her homegrown, homemade fare. (Freya’s a mix of Domestic Goddess – though nowhere near as bombastic as Nigella – and Mother Earth, with a dirty laugh and a penchant for Pinot, and planting.)
Anyway, talk somehow turned to spooks, and I was relaxed enough – my Mum’s euphemism for pissed – to share my, one and only, ‘ghost’ story.
It took around an hour to spill my supernatural skeletons into Freya’s sceptical ears, but when I’d finished, she nodded sagely and pronounced it one of the ‘more compelling ghost stories’ she’d ever heard.
And that was that. We forgot about spirits (well, apart from the gin, obvs), and got roundly bladdered, while indulging in a cathartic moaning sesh about our other halves.
The following day, as I lay prostrate on the sofa, nursing a well-deserved hangover, I was tentatively scrolling through Twitter, when I noticed a shoutout for ghostly experiences for Series 3 of Uncanny. Hmm?
I’d actually written about this seriously scary podcast, created by award-winning writer, Danny Robins, in last Christmas’s Nation Cymru Cultural Roundup, and had recommended giving it a whirl, if you like spine-chilling stories, ‘or want to find out why the phrase ‘Bloody hell, Ken!’ keeps trending on Twitter.’
I admit, I was tempted. They probably wouldn’t be interested but … several hours, several edits, and several paracetamol later, I’d finished.
I dithered, but after such a herculean effort – I’d written a behemoth of an email whilst totally hanging – I had to, and with a gentle whoosh, it was done.
And wouldn’t you know it, apart from a standard, don’t call us email, I heard nothing, and being entirely honest, I was massively relieved. Because I really hate putting myself out there, being more of a lurk-in-the-shadows kinda gal.
Imagine if they had wanted to use it for the podcast?
With mortifying memories of that poetry slam – where I discovered, in the most public and humiliating way possible, that my voice is not my own when I get nervous, and in fact, belongs to a pubescent boy whose larynx is evolving – I realised that being interviewed would have triggered that same irrepressible response.
So, I cheerfully forgot all about it.
Until last week, when an email arrived, asking if I could Zoom with Simon (Uncanny co-producer), to discuss using my story for their podcast. Eek! Bad enough you might think, but oh no.
This was rapidly followed by another email, asking if I’d mind being interviewed – ON CAMERA – to be used for the Uncanny: I Know What I Saw, live tour. EEK!
Epic timing! Eye roll. Why now, when four weeks prior, a Joe’s Hazelnut Fudge Sundae (large), had knocked me off my low-carb bandwagon, leading to my current, more-chunky-than-curvy corpulency? (And isn’t the camera meant to add ten pounds? Wail!).
Why now, when my fifty-three-year-old, poker-straight hair had suddenly, and dramatically, morphed into a frizzy, wiry mop? (Envisage an elderly Little Orphan Annie and you won’t be far off.)
And why now, when it’s obviously too late to learn the mysterious complexities of ‘contouring,’ and I knew that my usual, low-key, mascara and lippy look wouldn’t cut it on screen.
I imagined a packed theatre, my massive messy head, projected on the back wall, and then the swell of laughter as the audience clocked my triple chins, my unhinged hair, and my worn, au naturel, visage.
Nope. I couldn’t do it.
I typed a brief thanks but no thanks email and was about to hit send, when Thomas (Grandson #2) stepped in, gave me a pep talk to rival Michael Sheen’s ‘Welsh sugar’ call to arms, and argued me to a standstill.
No, apparently I’m not fat, ‘only a bit, sort of, soft.’ Lol!
No, my hair isn’t a disaster because, ‘frizzy hair is dope.’ LOL!
And no, I don’t need extra make-up, because, ‘you look like you.’ (Sigh. That’s what I was afraid of.)
Honestly, I wasn’t 100% swayed at this juncture, but I was vacillating, and Thomas, sensing this, pushed home his advantage.
‘What’s the worst that can happen? Nowt! And who cares what other people think? It’s not like you’ll ever know, is it? So do it!’
I zoomed with Simon. He batted away my self-conscious concerns with the consummate ease of a pro – he’d clearly convinced many a camera-shy person to face their fears and appear on film.
And, of course, the minute THAT thought entered my head, I knew I’d have to say yes, because this was probably the biggest fear I’d ever have to face.
Shit! I was doing this.
Then, things moved fast. Wednesday saw us on a train to London, me wondering if a G&T at 8am is acceptable, or whether I should drop a Diazepam, to take the edge off my growing anxiety.
Freya was with me, acting as my dame de compagnie, because I need a bit of help when I travel.
And she was as excited as I would have been, if I could simply meet Danny Robins, maybe snagging a signed book and a few free tour tickets, all whilst staying safely behind the bright lights of camera land. (Sigh. Diazepam it is.)
Our train got into Paddington fifteen minutes late, and we hustled to the taxi rank to meet our Uber. Then we had a sixty-minute ride in a stuffy Kia E-Nero, with the taciturn Rashid, who gloomily navigated the 4.3 miles across a muggy, manic London, destination, Shoreditch.
According to TripSavvy, Shoreditch is a ‘progressive’s paradise,’ renowned for street art and trendy bars. But we were heading to an old tea factory – recently repurposed into a collaborative, work-spacey nightmare, with industrial lifts, and biscuit-themed lounges, where ‘businesses and creative thinkers can come together and share ideas’. Hard eye roll!
We were met at reception by Sam, the theatre producer, who steered us through labyrinthine corridors and open-plan offices, crammed with hot-desking hipsters, before finally arriving at the studio.
Inside, you could barely move for the black backdrop screens, and colossal light, so I was delighted to discover aircon humming happily away in the background.
And then Danny appeared, and the moment I heard his distinctive soft northern tones, I felt my agitation, and vocal quavering, subside, and I was ready to rock’n’roll, Uncanny-style.
Okay, so that upsurge of confidence didn’t last long. Telling my story, interspersed with forensic questioning from Danny, was unexpectedly knackering.
My nerves kicked back in, I sporadically forgot how to speak – grappling unsuccessfully with the pronunciation of ‘auntie’ (WTH?) – and no matter how much water I drank, my lips kept sticking to my teeth with annoying regularity.
Plus, the aircon had been knocked off because it was ‘interfering with the sound,’ so my hair was wilting, my under-boobs were broiling, and whenever I tried shifting in my seat, I got rather intimate electrostatic shocks from the flocked fabric.
Freya, noting my obvious discomfort, and in her official, ‘Keep Del Calm, Cool, and Make Her Carry On’, capacity, hastily unwrapped several elements of the cold collation she’d prepared for the train ride home, and stuffed the melting ice packs down my back. Ahhh… bliss.
Three hours later, we were done. Following a flurry of farewells, we finally managed to exit the ‘creative space’, after a wrong turn through ‘Bourbon’, and then ‘Garibaldi’, had us traversing ‘Custard Cream’ enough times to raise some perfectly-plucked eyebrows.
Outside, we waited for the Uber Sam had ordered. We waited, and waited … and waited some more. Alexander (BMW 5-series) never turned up, and Steffan (Honda Accord), did arrive, but he had a chap in the back who, despite marginally heated remonstrations, refused to just bugger off.
But our luck changed with the traffic lights.
A black cab rumbled round the corner, I waved my stick wildly, and we enjoyed an extremely comfortable, air-conditioned drive back to the station, in the company of Nick, a cockney charmer, who had a lot to say about Ubers, and even more about the new ULEZ regulations.
We missed our train, and the next, so while I cooled my heels, Freya undertook a cider-quest, and I kept a close eye on departures.
Train #3 was so overcrowded, the Tannoy lady had to threaten travellers with the transport police, if they wouldn’t voluntarily get off, and it seemed to me that, if you’re not capable of qualifying for an Olympic 100m final, catching a train in London during rush hour(s) is a complete no go. Even Usain would struggle.
Eventually, train #4 arrived, we scrambled into the nearest carriage, and that it was first class didn’t deter us. When the ticket guy came a-calling, we willingly paid the extra because there was no way I could stand all the way to Cardiff.
And we got a table too … which was fortuitous, because Freya’s ‘picnic’ certainly required one. You know the scene where Mary Poppins unpacks her carpet bag? Well, Freya might not have had a hatstand in there, but everything else you’d need for a substantial feast, magically appeared.
Plates, cutlery, condiments, plus potato salad, stuffed vine leaves, honey-roasted root veg, coleslaw, cheese, ham, quiche, chutney, and salsa.
And napkins. It was a feast fit for first class, and as we toasted the day with Kopparberg, it was no wonder that the rest of our carriage were casting covetous glances, and muttering darkly, as they nibbled their M&S sarnies.
Back in Swansea, Tim was idling impatiently in the taxi rank, and on the drive home, I babbled away, in the manner of someone who’s experienced, and survived, a traumatic event.
Though, he wouldn’t believe I’d hated being filmed, ‘because in that menopause article, you said you didn’t give a stuff what people thought of you.’ And he was right, because I had written those very words.
But, when it comes to taking centre stage, I realised that I had a whole host of hidden neuroses and insecurities, waiting to creep out and erode what little confidence I have.
And they tried, damn hard, to sabotage any enjoyment I might have derived from my day out in the Big Smoke – but ultimately failed, because I’d had fun, in part.
I’d met some smashing people, had a two-hour taxi tour of the East End, and, for better or worse, had become an integral part of a show which plumbs paranormal waters, explores the eerie, and which I absolutely love.
But, without question, the pinnacle of the whole experience occurred towards the end of my interview, when I’d covered the part of my narrative which, even now, brings me out in goose bumps.
As I took a welcome glug of water, Danny leaned back in his chair, slowly shook his head, then uttered the three-word, esoteric equivalent of a Hollywood handshake … ‘Bloody hell, Del!’ BOOM!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghosts and Poltergeists: your first sneak peak of UNCANNY: I KNOW WHAT I SAW
Featuring exclusive clips, never seen before, from our two brand new witnesses, DEL and MATTHEW.
Tickets are selling – and selling out -⚠️ VERY FAST ⚠️ See you soon.. 👀 pic.twitter.com/LRPJUEIvqa
— Uncanny: I Know What I Saw (@uncannypodlive) October 5, 2023
N.B. So I realise that some of you might feel short-changed by this article, in that I haven’t shared the ghost story that lies at the heart of it. But, fear not. If you’re going along to Uncanny Live, then Danny (and I), will fill you in. But, if not, I’ll be sharing it with you in a couple of months … because who doesn’t love a good ghost story at Christmas?
As well as the Uncanny podcast, Danny Robins is the author of ‘Into the Uncanny’, and the West End hit play, ‘2:22 – A Ghost Story’. And, fittingly, on Friday 13th October, the first Uncanny TV series will air on BBC2. The Uncanny: I Know What I Saw live tour, runs from 10th October to 1st December, and you can find venue and ticket information here. Maybe I’ll see you there?
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