Sunday Tittle Tattle: The Woman In The Wall

edition hotel london

Last week I stayed over at the London Edition Hotel on Berners Street. I’ve often had meetings at the Berners Tavern, the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel (an amazingly decadent affair with high ceilings and framed paintings covering every inch of the walls), but I hadn’t ever stayed in one of the rooms.

I had room 521, a double with separate living area, dressing area and large shower room. Wooden walls, wooden floors and white linen on the bed and at the windows – it was like a very posh woodland cabin. A sauna without heat and naked people. Very pleasant, very homely, and all was well until I went to get into bed and saw this directly opposite where my head would be:

edition hotel london

Who in their right mind puts a painting of a creepy woman in a hat above the end of a bed? Are the designers at The Edition completely and utterly mad? What interiors trainee was allowed to run beserk with the artwork, putting it in places that would one hundred percent guarantee a bad night’s sleep? For who can lull themselves into a peaceful slumber when there’s a disembodied head, wearing what looks like a cap made from tin foil, gazing discontentedly down from the wall?

Apologies if this is a reproduction of a famous painting; fine art is not my strong point. All I know is that this woman has the sort of eyes that follow you from one side of the room to the other and the pallid complexion of a person who has been shut up in an attic for a decade against her will, before dying a sad and lonely death amongst the cobwebs and defunct copies of the Yellow Pages. (I took the photos for this post in daylight, she doesn’t actually look scary at all in the daylight – more serene – but let’s ignore that and move on.)

edition hotel london

Oh God, my overactive imagination. You see, a normal person would just look at the painting, think “that’s creepy!”, turn over and go to sleep. Not me. I couldn’t even get into the bed. Because within fifteen seconds of seeing the painting, I had concocted an entire backstory for “Woman with the Tin Foil Cap”. She was in love, you see – in love with the man of the house. But he had a wife, and the wife found out about the love affair and – wait for it – decided to punish the woman in the worst possible way. Fortuitously (not for the tin foil lady, for the wife) there was a wall in the attic that needed renewing. A supporting wall, one of those ones that the chimney runs through. (Guessing, here – walls aren’t my forte.)

Anyhooo, what better way to dispose of a woman (especially one who gads about with tin foil on her head) than BUILD HER INTO THE WALL? So that’s what the wife did! Up there in her crinolines with a plasterers board and – erm – cement mixing thingy. Man of the house wondered where his crinkly-headed lover had disappeared to, but didn’t give it more than a day’s thought because, quite frankly, trying to juggle two women in the same household had become a bit of a faff and even the frequent, tin-foily sex didn’t make up for it.

creepy lady eyes

So Woman with the Tin Foil Cap was trapped in the wall and died there alone. Now and then, for the couple of weeks as she died her slow death, people in the parlour and the upstairs bedrooms could hear a funny sound coming from the fireplace, but they thought that it was just the wind and ignored it. Once, a hanky dropped down into the hearth in the children’s nursery, on it a bloodstain and a sliver of tin foil, but again – it wasn’t of any consequence to the busy people of the household. The disappearance of the nanny was mildly worrying, but nannies were apt to leave in a hurry (that scoundrel man of the house!) and so cook, butler and Nancy the scullery maid thought nothing more of it. Cook, in fact, was rather pleased that – for once – she was maintaining a good supply of tin foil in her pantry drawer.

And where was this house, you may ask? Oh – only on Berners Street. Yes, friends, the woman on the wall is the woman in the wall! Look at her, casting her eye, a hundred (ish) years of pent-up aggression and bitterness spilling out into the room! “Where is that bastard Colin?” she’s asking, silently, without moving her mouth. Or eyes. “I got bricked into a bloody wall for him! I haven’t managed to change my foil cap in ages and it doesn’t half heat up on my head when the sun streams through the window! About four o’ clock in the afternoon, I have to brace myself – it’s like being roasted alive!”

I tried to take the painting off the wall but it was in a frame weighing approximately eight thousand tonnes which appeared to have been superglued in place, with the bond reinforced by nails, large bolts and a magnetic forcefield powered by something the size of a bus. There was no way that picture was coming down. And, to be honest (it was late, it was dark, I’d worked myself up) I dreaded what might be behind the painting if I did manage to get it down. What if it was a hole in the wall? What if there was a CAVITY? What if I peered in and there were bones? Good God, it didn’t even bear thinking about.

edition hotel london

In the end I found a silk shirt in my suitcase and slung it over the top of her head. Which did quite nicely, though you should have seen me trying to drape it on – I’d got it into my head that if my fingers went too close to her mouth she’d suddenly bite me!

How on earth I’ve survived in life without having a colossal, fright-induced heart attack I have no idea. It’s like living inside a horror movie.

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78 Comments

    • July 11, 2016 / 7:30 pm

      I nearly left when the shirt fell down the first time…

      • Phoebe Terry
        July 15, 2016 / 4:24 pm

        Hahahahaha “Fuck this I’m going back to Essex. Taxi!!!”

  1. July 10, 2016 / 8:26 am

    That picture is an M.R. James story waiting to be written.

  2. Nicole Patterson
    July 10, 2016 / 8:31 am

    This is a photograph by Hendrick Kerstens, one in a series parodying the Dutch still life paintings of the 16th and 17th C.

    If you google him you’ll see how funny they are because there are loads. My favourite is the stack of doilies used for a ruff on the collar. The photographs are all of his daughter.

  3. Michele Drake
    July 10, 2016 / 8:34 am

    Oh, I CANNOT wait for your book to come out!

  4. bagmad
    July 10, 2016 / 8:51 am

    I totally feel you Ruth; creepy hotel rooms give me the chills and it doesn’t help to have an overactive imagination. There are lots of hush hush stories of certain rooms in hotels that are supposedly haunted, where guests reportedly died in them or jumped off from the balcony. There is one room in a particular hotel that is so notoriously haunted that the management has sealed it off. In Muslim countries, hotel rooms have arrows on their ceilings to point the direction to Mecca for guests who wish to say prayers, and even those innocuous arrows freak me out when I lie on the bed and look up. It was brave of you to stay in the room; I would have demanded a room change! Glad you’re safely back safe and none the worse for wear. Your stories always crack me up!

  5. Marianne
    July 10, 2016 / 9:06 am

    The truth is much less sinister. It is a photograph by Dutch photographer Hendrik Kerstens of his daughter Paula.
    As Kerstens recalls, “One day Paula came back from horseback riding. She took off her cap and I was struck by the image of her hair held together by a hair-net. It reminded me of the portraits by the Dutch masters and I portrayed her in that fashion. After that I started to do more portraits in which I refer to the paintings of that era.”
    http://www.danzigergallery.com/artists/hendrik-kerstens/15

      • Jean
        July 18, 2016 / 3:53 pm

        Actually this IS tin foil!! All of his paintings are satirical. He has his daughter wear goofy things that from afar appear to classic Dutch portraits, but upon closer inspection are made up of toilet paper, soda cans, bubble wrap etc.
        http://www.danzigergallery.com/exhibition/hendrik-kerstens

  6. Michelle J
    July 10, 2016 / 9:06 am

    Oh my days Ruth!!!! You should write a novel! That was simultaneously one of the most chilling & hilarious passages of writing I’ve read in ages!!! Utterly brilliant! You’ve made my day with that! x

  7. Gillian Wright
    July 10, 2016 / 9:10 am

    That is the funniest thing I’ve read for a very long time! I can’t wait for your book to be published. I really hope you managed to get a good night’s sleep after all. x

  8. Teresa Cox
    July 10, 2016 / 9:31 am

    Love your posts Ruth, even your crazy ones like this. Get that book finished and published, you write so well it is bound to be a best seller. Thanks for making my Sunday start off with laughter. If it’s any consolation I would have tried to take the picture down and would definitely have covered her up too, much too creepy to sleep with her gazing down at you! xx

  9. Laura
    July 10, 2016 / 9:57 am

    Ruth you crack me up! This made me chuckle into my morning coffee.

  10. Meave
    July 10, 2016 / 9:58 am

    I feel like I write this exact comment fairly frequently on your posts, or maybe I’m just thinking it a lot. Anyway, this, THIS, is my favourite post of yours. And nary a mention of beauty products, which is why I’m here in the first place. I would totally read “Woman with the Tin Foil Cap” if you wrote it.

    • July 11, 2016 / 7:31 pm

      Haha, thank you. Much appreciated. x

  11. Katie
    July 10, 2016 / 10:08 am

    This is my favourite blog post ever. I really thought it would be a hotel review
    Excellent use of the photos to help tell the story, I’m now curious what pictures are lurking in all the other rooms. Is the hotel full of trapped souls encased in artwork?

  12. Heather
    July 10, 2016 / 10:23 am

    The pictures alone on this post made me howl with laughter. Poor Ruth!!

  13. Erna
    July 10, 2016 / 10:28 am

    PLEASE write a book!!!! Love from Belgium xxx

    • Claire L
      July 11, 2016 / 5:25 pm

      Ah, so it really WAS a tin foil hat!

  14. Caro
    July 10, 2016 / 11:02 am

    Oh my, Ruth, this is your best post yet! I’m usually too shy about my English to comment, but this cracked me up so hard that I just have to say something. This in particular made me laugh for some twenty hours or so: “Man of the house wondered where his crinkly-headed lover had disappeared to, but didn’t give it more than a day’s thought because, quite frankly, trying to juggle two women in the same household had become a bit of a faff and even the frequent, tin-foily sex didn’t make up for it.”
    And this: “Look at her, casting her eye, a hundred (ish) years of pent-up aggression and bitterness spilling out into the room! “Where is that bastard Colin?” she’s asking, silently, without moving her mouth. Or eyes.”
    I wish you would write a whole gothic romance comedy whodunnit novel thing. I’d snap it up in a heartbeat and read it at night while hiding under the blanket, giggling silently to myself every two minutes.
    Okay, I’m done now, I promise. Thanks again for a lovely weekend read! ^^

  15. Lea
    July 10, 2016 / 11:21 am

    Good god, Ruth! Thanks for this one! I nearly died… Laughing. Love from Berlin xx

  16. Brooncat
    July 10, 2016 / 11:41 am

    This made me laugh a lot and gives me high hopes for your novel!

  17. Sarah
    July 10, 2016 / 11:43 am

    Oh. My. Well. Ruth… I like your silk blouse…..

  18. Celia
    July 10, 2016 / 11:44 am

    These pictures are modern photographs taken by Henrik Kerstens of his daughter with various different things on her head, yes yours is foil, they are made to look like old Dutch masters. So hurray there is no tragic back story. Hope that makes you feel less freaked out.

  19. Cath
    July 10, 2016 / 11:53 am

    Fabulous post, Ruth, just what I needed!

  20. Celia
    July 10, 2016 / 12:36 pm

    Hi there. Sorry that’s Hendrik Kerstens, check out other photographs online I particularly like the toilet paper one!

  21. SuWu
    July 10, 2016 / 1:08 pm

    Ruth! OMG, this is just SO funny! First of all, I am sorry you were frightened. But truly, you have a gift for writing. I learn so much from you on the beauty/life front; today’s Sunday Tittle Tattle is a bonus…genius. It started my day off in a happy mood. Thank you!

  22. Iulia
    July 10, 2016 / 1:15 pm

    Hahaaaa this was hilarious :)))) I can totally relate, my imagination goes wild too! I remember not being able to sleep at a friend’s house once because she had all these african masks and souvenirs hanging on her walls and needless to say they looked uber creepy at night! Fortunately I was able to take them off:)

  23. Stephanie
    July 10, 2016 / 1:35 pm

    I completely understand you! From an atistry point of view, I have to say, it is a beautiful picture! So real, but for a bedroom a little bit too real.

  24. Evelyn
    July 10, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    Brilliant tale of a night at the London Edition Hotel on Berners Street. You have a amazing imagination and a wonderful gift of story telling. Thoroughly enjoyed the tale but sorry you were so creeped out! I often curse my own active imagination and the trouble it causes!! Excellent post.

  25. Rach
    July 10, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    Hahahahaha bless you, Ruth!

  26. Mary
    July 10, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    You should NEVER put a shirt (or anything else you wear actually) on a painting like this. A part of the soul of the woman in the tin foil cap could have escaped into the shirt! Mwahahaha!!!

      • Mary
        July 14, 2016 / 4:06 pm

        Nah too late. Have you worn the shirt after putting it on the painting? If so, the part of the soul of the woman blah blah blah is now in YOU. But not a big problem, you’ll just hear unexplained crinkling tin foil sounds every now and then.
        Hahahaha
        Love you Ruth :)

  27. Sue Fallon
    July 10, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    Strange choice all considered. When you look at the the décor, it really does not fit, I agree. – You have reminded me of a walnut wardrobe with a creepy “face”, and a picture with – I was convinced – monsters hidden in the beautiful crystalline blue pattern surrounding a meditating figure. The fact that the name of the piece was titled “Enlightenment” did not reassure me, but only convinced me the painter was man of ironic humour, who had left these monstrous creatures in there to deliberately freak the viewer out. It had to go eventually. I know it sounds silly, but it REALLY used to freak me out.

  28. Gaya
    July 10, 2016 / 2:21 pm

    Such a brilliant post Ruth! You always surprise me in a good way. I hope we get to read that book of yours that you just finished editing. :D Have a nice day! Xx

  29. Jessica
    July 10, 2016 / 2:42 pm

    I love your imagination. You certainly have a way with words! I laughed the entire way through your story. What a lovely way to start a Sunday

  30. Susie
    July 10, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    Take heart…you are not alone. I am very much relieved that I am not alone with my own often bizarre musings! You were spot on covering little Miss Tin Foil up! I applaud your courage!

  31. Ashley
    July 10, 2016 / 3:31 pm

    Well, that settles it. I am 100% reading your novel when you publish.

  32. Anja
    July 10, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    Oh Ruth you brightened my otherwise dull afternoon and the in-laws considerably! Thanks for making me laugh (although they did look at me as though I was mad!) Your writing and imagination is hilarious as always. But I have to admit that I might have acted differently upon staying at that room, she looks creepy!

    • Anja
      July 10, 2016 / 7:32 pm

      Gee, I shouldn’t type while my baby is in my lap… Afternoon at the in-laws obviously and I wouldn’t have acted differently. I would have hidden that creepy painting too!

  33. JoAnn Moran
    July 10, 2016 / 3:52 pm

    As an English teacher, I would like to say that I love your writing – you have a unique and original voice and you regularly make me laugh. As a fellow human with an overactive imagination, I empathize.

  34. Claire L
    July 10, 2016 / 4:39 pm

    Hilarious, Ruth! It is a hauntingly beautiful painting, but I wouldn’t want it to be opposite my bed where i could see it either!

  35. Lydia
    July 10, 2016 / 5:45 pm

    This is the best thing I’ve ever read. EVER.

  36. Amy B
    July 10, 2016 / 9:04 pm

    Oh my gosh!!! This is the best story I have read in ages!!! Lots of laughs on a Sunday night x

  37. Nathalie
    July 10, 2016 / 9:26 pm
  38. Heidi
    July 10, 2016 / 9:28 pm

    I just love to read the stories you made up. Makes my own thoughts sound less scarier – at least I know, I am not alone. Wonderful post!

  39. Michele Perry
    July 10, 2016 / 10:32 pm

    I once stayed in the Holiday Express in Shoreditch and was terrified by a picture of an upside down really sinister black rabbit. It freaked me out. Why do they do this?? Couldn’t sleep until that evil shit was covered in post-its.

  40. Minty
    July 10, 2016 / 10:40 pm

    Think you need to write a novel… I’d buy it!!! You are such a fun writer x

  41. Emily
    July 10, 2016 / 10:55 pm

    Ruth, you’re a hilarious nut! Too funny, lady. ;)

  42. Xena
    July 10, 2016 / 11:39 pm

    Tin foil Jane Eyre.
    We stayed at a winery that had rooms with actual brass keys, and a giant portrait hanging opposite the bed. Eyes that silently judged you as you moved across the room. Especially after way too many glasses of wine at the winery tasting room.
    Tl;dr you aren’t crazy.

  43. Patricia
    July 11, 2016 / 12:58 am

    Once I realised what you were talking about I skipped over most of the paragraphs – what. were. they. thinking??

    Well done you – I couldn’t have stood it! :0)

  44. Jane
    July 11, 2016 / 2:15 am

    Hilarious!

  45. Lisa P
    July 11, 2016 / 2:58 am

    Omg I’m in tears I laughing so hard. You put into words the stories that go thru my mind. That painting would have had me asking for a room change. I hope you’re writing a book or a collection of short stories. You are, by far, the most entertaining blogger/blogger/writer I follow. I feel like you’re a bestie and I will never meet you.

    Please don’t ever stop!!

  46. July 11, 2016 / 4:06 am

    It’s great to know that I am not alone with my very vivid imagination. I couldn’t help but to LOL at your wit as well!

  47. Lauren
    July 11, 2016 / 5:54 am

    Bahahahahaha.. I tried not to laugh out loud as my baby sleeps while I read this, hilarious! You’re imagination is spot on. That pic is creeeeeeeepy and I!d have done the same thing.

  48. Zoe
    July 11, 2016 / 7:59 am

    Oh Ruth, you are so laugh out loud funny, but I get where you are coming from. I have to stay in a hotel for work on Wednesday and I will imagine they have bugged the room like a cold war spy thriller!

  49. Greta
    July 11, 2016 / 11:14 am

    In addition to “A Model Recommends” and “The Uphill” you should also have a blog for short stories.
    I would subscribe immediately.

  50. Sherry P
    July 11, 2016 / 12:03 pm

    There’s no better reading than Ruth’s imaginary stories, absolutely none. I will read her fiction books anyday! Made my day :)

  51. Ann H
    July 11, 2016 / 12:13 pm

    This has to be one of the best sunday tittle tattles ever and the icing on the cake is the picture of your shirt covering the painting. It reminded me of your analogy about free radicals and anti oxidants to an unruly bar fight. Huge kudos to your overactive imagination and writing skills :)

  52. July 11, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    Hahahahaha! I completely get how you felt! When I was a kid, my mom had a very similar painting of a woman looking intensely (semi aggressively one would say) at you, hanging on the staircase wall !! I looked at her every time I went up or down the stairs! Can you imagine?! I was pretty sure she was, at least, judging me. Worst case scenario she had a horrible plan against us all ! Haha!
    Who me? I’m not paranoid at all… :/

    Alina
    http://www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com

  53. July 11, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    That was pretty funny but also dismaying! I agree someone made a big F up with that painting. It kind of looks a little like Rooney Mara to me.

  54. Juliet
    July 11, 2016 / 8:02 pm

    Oh Ruth!! That it so funny.
    I have read the comments, and I’ve now looked up the photographer. My first thought is how does the model (his daughter) keep a straight face? If my dad had draped a plastic grocery bag on my head to mimic the Masters’ style portrait, I’d have likely choked to death from the non-stop convictions of laughter that it would have induced.

  55. Verity
    July 11, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    I thought I had a over active imagination! Your so descriptive and funny. Definitely would read any novel you wrote! Glad her arms won’t that visible in the painting, she could have pulled you in! :)

  56. Francesca
    July 11, 2016 / 10:17 pm

    Please PLEASE turn this into a novella! One of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time, my colleagues think I’m mad as I’ve been silently shaking with laughter at my desk for the past ten minutes. Completely brilliant writing (and, incidentally, I once had exactly the same problem with a photograph of a creepy deserted lake shrouded in mist, so I totally sympathise!)

  57. dotdot
    July 11, 2016 / 11:16 pm

    Reminds me of Gladys and Glynnis… those 3D paintings/ artworks Phoebie made in Friends!

  58. Hannah Chaney
    July 11, 2016 / 11:46 pm

    Hahahhahahahahahahhahahahahaaha that just made
    my Monday night! Can’t sleep.com

  59. July 12, 2016 / 2:26 pm

    Wow, I would love to spend just one day in your head. Not in a creepy way, of course.

  60. Amanda
    July 15, 2016 / 4:11 am

    Love love love this post!
    Very entertaining, and the placement of your images is perfection!
    x

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