I have a nagging feeling that time alters space. Sometimes, if I think about it long enough, I wonder if somewhere down that line of enquiry lies the secret of time travel.
Standing at the Hogarth Roundabout in Chiswick, I glanced at my watch, If I hurried, I could hare across to Hampton Court for a quick tour before I had to head home to pick up the kids.
Half an hour later on this overcast Autumnal day I stood at the palace’s triumphal entrance. I had 45 minutes. I felt like I was about to embark on one of those supermarket trolley dashes: first prize: all you can stuff unceremoniously into your consciousness in three quarters of an hour.
I usually arrive at peak tourist time, trailing children agitating to visit the maze and the haunted gallery. There are usually queues and people milling about speaking all the languages of Babel. The place crackles with wonder and awe. Here, proclaim the walls, Henry VIII romanced the Boleyn girl.
But today, I was alone, and the school parties were the only ones there: a few sparse trails of children, obediently traipsing after teachers, every child dressed the same.
And when they were not around, there was almost not another soul.
It was virtually deserted.
Hampton Court? All to myself? I wanted to push the trolley in six different directions. But it is as well to note that when the public recede, the whispers from the past advance, like the shallows of an ocean fringed with inquisitive briny fingers.
I had already done my research on the Youtube ghost, witnessed at a little known pair of fire doors on three consecutive days in 2002. Whoever she was, she shot to global stardom. For a little while, the world was talking about the one who flung the doors open and then appeared to shut them once again, though no human was seen approaching or leaving the corridor.
To find the doors, you must walk past a large and impressive exhibition, to the very back where there is a small auditorium and a bar. And as soon as I saw the doors beyond, I had an immediate urge to take a picture and leave very quickly indeed, and backing out I returned to the clock tower square.
The light was dim, as I headed to the haunted gallery. It is always packed with crowds, with people three-deep looking at the opulent portraits painted for Henry VIII, and with people standing trying to sense something. They might as well look for a needle in a haystack: no self respecting spirit is going near that rabble.
But when I got to the gallery, time had altered this place. It was virtually deserted.
I was like a small child in a sweetie shop. And as I took pictures from every conceivable angle the red-coated attendant seemed genuinely happy for me. He grinned. I grinned back.
“I’m not used to having this place all to myself!” I proclaimed delightedly, and he agreed joyously.It must be strange guarding a gallery from no-one at all.
I was famished. I repaired to the Privy Kitchen for an excellent beef pasty and a mug of tea. And then, I wound back through the dark covered ways which skirt the palace, and would once have kept the nobles’ finery dry.
And there she was. Catherine of Aragon, carrying her lunch in a plastic bag.
She advanced like a wraith out of the light at the end of the passage into the gloom. It is to her credit that the plastic bag did not rustle, and that when I began to take photographs she concealed her lunch behind her gorgeous Tudor finery.
It’s not every day Catherine of Aragon hides her sandwiches for you.
I hope she had a nice lunch.