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13th September 1998

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Check in for a ghostly night

Room 16 in a famous old English hotel is usually booked over a year ahead by guests wanting to stay in it on the night of October 29. They are keen to witness a ghostly swordfight reputed to take place there then between two phantom duellists dressed in old-fashioned doublet and hose.

A previous owner of the Mermaid Inn in the picturesque little town of Rye in East Sussex, a Mrs May Aldington, claimed to have been awakened in its Room 16 on that night some years ago to find the duel between the two ghostly young men going on around her.

She maintained that the victor disposed of his opponent's body by throwing it down a secret shaft in the corner of the room before suddenly disappearing himself into thin air. When she checked next morning, sure enough, she did indeed find a secret shaft there behind a wooden panel.

"It's still there to this day," says Judith Blincow, joint owner of the Mermaid. "I've experienced nothing myself, but guests love the room's strange atmosphere and October 29 is the most popular date for staying in it.

"Various other rooms among the 30 in the hotel are particularly popular" too though. Like Dr Syn's Room which has a secret passage leading from it to a room downstairs. It may be that such passages were a quick exit for smugglers years ago when Customs Officers raided the Mermaid.

"Our rooms furnished with four-poster beds are much in demand too, especially with honeymooners. In fact, before I became joint-owner here I spent my own honeymoon in one of the Mermaid's four-poster bedrooms.

"It was very romantic." There's no doubt that it is the inn's authentic Olde Worlde atmosphere which makes it so attractive to the thousands of tourists who visit it every year.

After all, it can claim to have been re-built as long ago as 1420.

It has cellars dating back 900 years to Norman times and the original building was probably burned down by French invaders in 1377 when most of Rye suffered a similar fate.

Its connections with old-time Romney Marsh smugglers abound. The infamous Hawkhurst Gang used it as their headquarters between 1650 and 1750. They were so much in control of the area and arrogant that a contemporary writer recorded them "sitting at the windows of the inn carousing and smoking their pipes, with their pistols lying on the table before them. No magistrate daring to interfere with them." It's reckoned they could summon 600 men within the hour to assist them in a fight. At the time the Militia and Customs Officers for the whole of Sussex totalled only 100.

Eventually though, local people who were normally sympathetic towards the smugglers turned against them. They had become unscrupulous and cruel.

Without public support, their days were numbered and many were executed in the middle 1700s. Three of their leaders Kingsmill, Fairall and Perrin were hanged in 1749. There is a macabre story told of the event. Apparently, the night before the executions, the three men were informed that Perrin was considered a lesser offender and would be buried in the normal way.

The bodies of the other two would be left for days hanging in chains on public display.

Kingsmill and Fairall, hardened criminals to the last, were not perturbed by this. They told their companion: "Why should we worry? When you are rotting in the ground, we shall be hanging in the sweet air."

"Some interesting relics have been found here," says Judith Blincow. "For instance, it seems a previous owner used to mint his own money! A few coin-like tokens bearing the outline of a mermaid have been found under the floorboards that were issued by Michael Cadman when he was landlord here in 1688.

"He paid them to people in return for goods and work and they used them in turn to buy food and refreshments off him."

The huge 16-feet-long inglenook fireplace in the inn is the second largest in Britain and the place is full of intriguing antiques.

"Many guests ask if they can buy some of the antiques, but of course none is for sale," says Judith. "In particular, they often ask about a strange ball hanging in the lounge. It's a very old so-called 'witch's ball' reputed to be able to reflect back to a witch any evil spell she casts through the window. "We'll certainly never get rid of that!"

Dear DaughterProper role models are essential

My Darling Daughter,

Yesterday I read an article referring to teenagers as a troubled generation. The article listed out many of the problems teenagers cause, their lack of responsibility, their loud behaviour, permissiveness etc.

I was surprised because I do not think it is right to class the teens as an age of rebellious behaviour. The teens are a time of joyous adventure and great idealism. On the threshold of moving into an adult world, the teenager savours the freedom of his age. No longer is he bound by the protective mesh of parental fears for now he is not a child any longer, but a youngster who can travel alone to school or tuition class, stay after school for practice or join in other school or community activities. But yet in a sense he is a child yet, in that he is unaware, innocent of the many temptations that the world, in the guise of friendly adults can offers him!

An irresponsible careless teenager is a reflection on the values and upbringing his parents have given him. The teens are a testing time for us adults, for with the idealism of youth they look to us for a system of values. The teens see more clearly the weakness in us adults, our double standards. I can remember Ajith telling me "How can Thatha tell me that it is not good to smoke when he smokes like a chimney," and Ranee complaining that her mother never keeps to the promises she makes. "She told me she will take me for that concert, and then at the last minute said that she was too busy to take me."

The teens see us and our authority as a mockery if we are not able to live up to their expectations. In a sense, daughter, I think parents should be careful that their own behaviour does not give the wrong signals to their young teenager. Often adult behaviour confuses the young, for we tell them one thing but act in a completely contrary fashion. It is time that we adults reflected on our own lives and asked ourselves what are the ideals we are placing before our teenagers, for after all the tomorrow belongs to them. I wish we provided role models instead of complaining and criticizing.We use a lot of jargon like peer pressure to explain when a teenager goes on the wrong path, but don't you think what the teenager needs is parents whom he or she can look up to whose lives reflect the idealism which teenage enthusiasm seeks to fulfil. Would you, who not so long ago were a teenager, agree with me?


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