My Great Auntie Joyce was a medium. I don’t mean she took a size twelve in jumpers, rather that she was a fortune teller, a scryer, a clairvoyant. She told strangers what they wanted to hear and also sometimes what they didn’t. She told them about their families, their love lives, their hopes and dreams. She warned them of impending danger, or congratulated them on a future success.
She lived at the bottom of an ancient Welsh mountain in a tiny cottage with a real fire and a little vegetable patch in the garden. Her clients were drawn from the local villages and from the larger towns and cities that lay further afield. Housewives, plumbers, doctors, binmen, businessmen, pilots, nurses, the bereaved, the lonely, the desperate, the hopeful, the credulous and the gullible – all came to see Joyce.
They sought reassurance, or guidance, or comfort, or sometimes all three. They sat patiently, waiting to hear from from long-lost mothers, fathers, grand mothers, aunties, brothers, sons and daughters. Joyce passed on messages from the other side -just like a “lady on a switchboard”. And through her ‘switchboard’ the spirit world heard stories from the land of the living. They heard about affairs, bankruptcies, births, deaths, betrayals, coincidences; in fact every possible combination of the weird, the dramatic and the absurd. What those who have passed thought of the behaviour of their living relatives, I couldn’t begin to think.
Her clients came to value her opinion, her judgement, her wise counsel. They trusted whatever her ouija board, tarot cards, or palm readings revealed. One very powerful, successful businessman would not make an important decision without consulting Joyce. He drove from Liverpool to sit by her fire, drink her tea and talk through the intricate details of each potential deal.
Auntie Joyce didn’t pretend to understand commerce, but she did understand people. She understood the cards and she understood the future and what it would bring. And, more often than not, she was proved correct.
In the long summer holidays I would take the train down from Liverpool to Colwyn Bay, then an old green bus up into the mountains to the little white cottage by the foot of the old hill.
Auntie Joyce, a small rotund lady with grey hair and tiny thick glasses perched on the tip of her nose, was always at her gate post, ready to greet me. How she knew the exact time I was due up her path I never managed to work out.
She allowed me to sit behind a curtain in the kitchen, just out of view of the front parlour. I listened to the tears, the rapt silences, the laughter, the hushed chatter between old friends. I heard the farewells, the promises to return and the vows to take heed of what was being said.
Eventually, I grew to love my Auntie Joyce even though she wasn’t really my Auntie. She was just my Nan’s best friend. Practically sisters, they grew up together between the wars. When Joyce’s children were evacuated to Wales during the blitz, after the capitulation of Nazis Joyce decided to stay in Wales and start a new life. Her own Mum gave readings and Joyce learned the skills from her, who in turn had learned them from Joyce’s Grand Mother.
Whenever I was being bullied at school, or if I was lonely or scared or sad, I would take myself off to Auntie Joyce’s for some of her home made pies and some crumble made from the rhubarb she let me pick from her vegetable patch in the garden.
She became more than a surrogate Auntie, she became someone with whom I could share my secrets with. For a young teenage boy being bullied almost daily, with no real friends to call his own, Joyce became exactly that, a friend.
But she never once read me, she never once predicted what would become of my life or those around me. Whenever I asked her to, she would just smile, put a warm hand on my arm and say, “Not now my dear, later.”
Later, always later.
But how did she do it? What was her secret? Everyone swore by her powers, and not just the batty old dears from the spiritual church in the next village – professional, intelligent people sort her counsel.
When, in the final months of her life, she finally revealed to me the knowledge behind her craft, it changed how I viewed people, reality and the world around me.
To be continued…