TV and Radio

Radio review: More ghostly goings-on in Alanbrooke Hall

Danny Robins returns to hear terrifying new evidence about the haunting of Queen's University's Alanbrooke Hall

Uncanny, Podcast

Beautiful Country, Radio 4

LET us return to Room 611, Alanbrooke Hall, Queen's Elms, Belfast, back in the 1980s.

It's a ghost story about a student room that appeared to be haunted and I've already written about how presenter Danny Robins interviewed one Ken - a respected geneticist - who had the misfortune to spend time in that room.

Cue students sharing the infamous room who had the same nightmare on precisely the same night, cue lifts whizzing up and down and objects flying about.

The original story went viral under the rather fitting hashtag #bloodyhellken, so Danny returned for more.

This time he interviewed Prof Gary Foster who was a student warden and had specific memories of one summer in Alanbrooke Hall when it was just him in the top-floor flat.

He became witness to a series of unfortunate incidents that would have given Lemony Snicket the heebie-jeebies.

Lifts whizzing up and down, lights switching themselves off, light bulbs blowing up and shattering glass, and even an old hi-fi tower unit – remember those big lumpy things, I was the proud owner of one of them - spinning across the floor.

It culminated in Gary tripping in his flat and landing - feet in the air - at that open window 10 storeys up.

Was he pushed?

Alanbrooke Hall was demolished in 2001.

The story, said Robins, stretched back long before student days. One Nancy unearthed the tale that there was a pit in the area and people drowned there.

Convinced, sceptical? I'm just glad room 611 only lives on in other people's nightmares.

Beautiful Country is a memoir by Qian Julie Wang that begins decades before she was born because trauma can be woven into your very fibre.

It goes back to her father who was just four years old in 1966, skipping into a town square in faraway China and coming upon curious swaying shapes… two men dangling from a muscular tree. This was the time of the cultural revolution.

As a child, his brother was arrested and he bore witness to his parents' public beatings, he was berated and humiliated for belonging to a “treasonous family”.

“Threat of trauma was woven into every fibre of my childhood," writes Qian Julie Wang.

It is a story that is cinematic in its telling.

At just seven years old, she travels with her parents to America – the “beautiful country” of the memoir's title, though it turns out to be anything but.

Her parents, both professors in China, are now illegal immigrants hiding in the shadows of New York city with no rights, no access to medical care, no hope of legality.

They take on menial, degrading jobs, and the author takes us to the sweatshops and sushi factories where she and her mother worked long, gruelling hours, for little pay.

The family live with the constant fear of being found out and deported, they suffer poverty and hunger.

But there is hope and with grit and determination she claims a future.

The author still lives in Brooklyn but she is a graduate of Yale and managing director of a law firm advocating for education, disability and civil rights.

It's a story that's beautifully told – leaving you spellbound.

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