things that go ‘whatever’ in the night

P1180449‘Anytime anything goes missing I know it’s mum. It’s like the other day. I couldn’t find my purse anywhere, even though I’d only just put it down. So I went to the bottom of the stairs and I shouted Mum! Give it a rest! And when I turned round, there it was, in the middle of the table. I mean – it drives me nuts! But on the other hand, it’s nice to know she’s still around, d’you know what I mean?’

‘Absolutely! It’s like my Uncle Dave. Dead Uncle Dave. He was always such a laugh when he was alive, a real practical joker. And since he’s gone it’s only got worse. You can tell when he’s in one of his moods, because nothing’s where you left it, things in odd places. So I’ll save Dave! Will you stop that now! And he does. Mostly.’

‘Well – I was driving home one night. And I usually take this bend pretty fast. But this one time I heard this voice in my head saying: Slow down Karen. So I did – and there was a cow standing right in the middle of the road. And if I’d carried on like I was, I would’ve been killed.’

I want to add a ghost story of my own but really I don’t have one.

My Dad was convinced he saw a ghost when he lived in an old tenement block in London. He passed an old woman on the stairs, said hello, she ignored him, he carried on, and when he turned round again she’d gone. She didn’t vanish or anything. Just wasn’t there. (So – maybe she was just visiting someone in the block, Dad? No – she was definitely a ghost. And later on – I’m not kidding – turns out, an old woman had died in the block, some years before.)

Hardly M R James. More like Sid James.

Mum had one. She said she woke up one night and saw her friend Fred standing at the end of the bed looking sad, and she knew immediately he’d died and come to say goodbye. Which was verified later by the fact he’d appeared at exactly the hour he died. Presumably when the paramedics were tidying up.

I like ghost stories, and I’m as easily spooked as the next person. But there are a few things that have always bothered me about ghosts. So at the risk of sounding pedantic & a right ol’ seance-pooper, here there are (in no particular spectral order):

  1. When do you actually acquire a spirit? Is it at the point of fertilisation? In which case, do the egg and the sperm carry a little bit each?
  2. Why aren’t ghosts naked? If a ghost is some kind of projection, the living essence of someone, why does that include jeans and trainers?
  3. You have to think that coming back as a ghost is difficult, otherwise we’d be absolutely rammed. So given that it IS such hard work, why do ghosts waste so much time doing obscure stuff, like hiding someone’s purse then putting it back, or being clippy on a stairwell? Why, if they’ve managed to fight their way back to the world of the living, don’t they just go on TV and talk about their experience? I’d certainly watch.
  4. A lot of ghostly phenomena just seems profoundly unfair. I mean, a person gets murdered, which is bad enough. But then they’re doomed to hang around some gloomy spot, replaying the circumstance for tens if not hundreds of years. Ah, you say. That’s where the priest comes in, running down the cellar steps with his / her bottle of holy water, snap-together crucifix and EVP recorder. But if a priest can do this kinda thing because they’re a representative of God – where’s God? Why do they need a middle man / woman? If God’s all about love & justice &c, why don’t they intervene and do what’s palpably right – and liberate the tormented spirit? Ah – but now we’re in the domain of free will. Really? It doesn’t sound as if the poor ghost had much say in the matter. Something bad happened to them and boom – sorry mate – I don’t make the rules.
  5. Since 1964, The James Randi Educational Foundation has been offering money to anyone who can demonstrate psychic or ghostly phenomena under laboratory conditions. Lots of psychics and mediums have come forward, no-one has managed it, and the pot stands unclaimed at one million dollars.
  6. Most people die in hospitals, so they must be the most crowded places on earth. Which they are, of course, but let’s not get political.

Of course, all these objections get brushed aside with a Shakespearean ‘there are more things in heaven & earth, Horatio…’ Which is true. There’s Dark Matter, Quark strings, Quorn – you name it, I’ve no idea. And anyway, ‘an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. Also true, but I think after all this time the burden of proof must have shifted the other way. Not that anyone cares. We’re too invested. As people we orientate ourselves in the world by telling stories. It’s a fundamental trait, like smiling, or sneezing. Confirmation Bias is a tart way of saying we like to tie things up in a way that makes sense to us, and gives us comfort – even if that comfort feels more like a delicious thrill. Because you have to think the subtext to many of these stories is the belief that the soul or spirit is something that exists independently of the body, and carries on in some form or other when we die – even if it’s only to hide your purse.

We’re family, after all.

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