ghost sheet

  1. Ghosts are lost in a persistent, inter-dimensional, crystalline time-lattice, so please be patient.
  2. Ghosts are not in themselves a cause of creaky doors, but they cannot resist taking advantage. Treat accordingly.
  3. Ghost to Living ratio = 10:1. Libraries have the highest concentrations; abandoned hospitals the lowest.
  4. Fairground Ghost Trains are ghost-free; actual trains suffer from over-ghosting, especially at peak times.
  5. Ghosts are tormented by the idea of hats.
  6. Ghosts have no sense of irony, cliché, personal boundaries, social etiquette. Ghost clowns are even worse.
  7. Ghosts are confused by whisks, pastry cutters & pizza wheels, and have a morbid fear of sandwich tins, so tend to avoid the kitchen.
  8. Ghosts are fascinated by cats, interested in dogs, amused by spiders, patronising about birds, withering about fish.
  9. Ghosts can be frozen indefinitely, but need careful handling when thawing.
  10. Ghosts are, for the most part, high maintenance / low carbon
  11. Crucifixes are unsightly, candles a fire hazard, Holy Water makes the place damp and chalk pentagrams spoil an otherwise charmingly rustic floor. To keep your place ghost free, simply air thoroughly, cook pizza and wear a hat.

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ghosts : a walk-through

ghosts spook easy
so wear socks
& cough before you enter

ghosts feel the cold
heavy curtains are good
they help maintain an even temperature

ghosts thrive on repetition
spend time planning your routine
then stick to it

ghosts mean static
especially in older houses
review all wiring annually

ghosts die in carved mirrors
be responsible
cover up before you turn in

ghosts do not haunt, they
inhabit crystalline lattices of fractured time
(stairs, mostly; corridors)

ghosts are preternaturally attracted to marzipan
enraged by liquorice
(scientists divided on this one)

my spiritual vaccum

Well – it’s almost Halloween, I’m hoovering, and I’m thinking about ghosts. (Hoovering’s a good time to think about most things).

I wonder if there’s ever been a ghostly survey? A spreadsheet somewhere, in Exorcel, with columns for the age of ghost at death, indoor or outdoor, private property or public space, self harm, illness, murder, natural causes. And then probably a whole subset of columns under the murder heading: thrown down well, bricked up in wall, shot, stabbed, hanged, clubbed, poisoned (God knows how many subsections that would need), set upon by dogs and so on. You could be scrolling right for eternity. But if they’d set up a handy function on another sheet, you could skip all the detail and go straight for the totals, particularly: Unjustly taken before time, or maybe Unfinished business.

Because they’re the ones I worry about the most.

It’s always struck me as doubly unfair. Not only did they have to suffer an untimely death, but they’ve also been condemned to hang around for all eternity – often in unwholesome environments – scaring the living bejesus out of innocent folk who’ve really got nothing at all to do with it, and who’d be pretty sympathetic, no doubt, once they’d had a cup of tea and a hug and five minutes to think about it.

I suppose you could argue that it’s not about judgement or vengeance at all. That’s a religious spin on the situation. Perhaps it’s much more prosaic than that. Perhaps the spirit is just confused, having died in such a traumatic way that the normal processes of transition have been corrupted, and left the poor soul in a state of blurry limbo, forever skipping back to that time, without understanding why, or that everyone else has moved on, even if they haven’t.

If that is the case, we shouldn’t have anything to fear from these spirits. They can’t do us harm because they’re too confused to do much about it other than weep and wail and wander up and down, blowing whatever shreds of evanescent sense they have blundering through doors that were long-ago bricked up, or rattling a few pots. I suppose you could argue that in their confusion they might think you actually did have something to do with that whole tossing down the well incident, even though the Count had never been known to hoover the stairs in his onesie. So all you’d need to do if it appeared and threatened you would be to stand your ground and say: Spirit – Depart! I am not the Count you think I am, or something, maybe in Latin, and have your Driving Licence ready to prove it. (It’s easy to be brave about these things in the abstract, when you’re hoovering).

The trouble is, of course, ghosts aren’t known for their reasoning skills. They’re primal essences, energy fields in human form, dragging their pain through the deep hollows of the night (I’m imagining Bela Lugosi saying this shit), lost amongst the shimmering lattices of this world and the next, searching, searching, for something lost, so cruelly, so very long ago…spooky oak

I’m so spooked I’m holding the nozzle of the hoover straight out in front of me. (But hey! It’s a good hoover. It’s got so many settings, one of them’s bound to work.)

Happy Halloween!

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maud’s mother

It’s been three weeks since I last saw Maud. She’s the one hundred year old woman who spooked me a little by saying she was worried she couldn’t look after her parents who were asleep upstairs. I’m here this time with Stacy, a physiotherapist, to conduct a mobility assessment. The carers have reported a sudden and significant drop in Maud’s ability to stand. We need to figure out if this is a confidence issue or something more permanent.

Stacy is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have with you in a haunted house. She may be small, but she has big feet, a disproportionately loud voice, and a vigorous, open-faced, square-shouldered approach to things. I can imagine her standing in the middle of a dark room, the hectic shreds of wailing ghosts swirling round her, planting her bag on the floor and saying: Right! Firstly, no-one’s impressed. Secondly, what do you hope to achieve by this? Thirdly – just because you’ve been dead two hundred years, doesn’t mean you can fly around with the posture of a cashew nut. So straighten yourselves out, settle down, stop messing about and we’ll see what we can do to help. The ghosts would immediately clam up and hover in line. And Stacy would sort them out.

She could be a whole new kind of health visitor. A physioexortherapist.

Who ya gonna call?

Stacy listens carefully when I tell her about what happened last time, the whole ‘ghostly parents asleep upstairs waiting for their daughter’ deal, and also about what her next of kin, Alan, said about it, which was that in many religions it’d would be seen as quite normal to be ‘met’ as you neared the end of life.
‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Fine. But you do know that Maud spent many years looking after her parents? So I don’t think it’s all that surprising she’s a bit muddled with the timings. I hardly know what day of the week it is myself, and I’m supposed to be young and fit.’
‘No. I suppose when you put it like that.’
She re-shoulders her rucksack, reaches up, and knocks so firmly with the rapper on the door it makes me think of Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, knocking on the door of the giant’s castle. But instead of a giant housekeeper coming to the door, it’s Alan, still wearing the same Nordic sweater,shirt and tie, his goatee beard as perfectly groomed as a chin dipped in silver paint.

‘Good to see you!’ he whispers, shaking our hands. ‘Thanks so much for coming.’ And he shows us in.

Maud is in the hospital bed in the living room, as before. If anything she seems in better form, alert and smiling, with that copy of Anna Karenina on her lap.
‘Ah!’ she says. ‘Here comes the cavalry!’ putting the book aside.

The last week or so, Maud has stopped being able to stand with assistance and transfer to the commode. There doesn’t seem to be any infection or other organic reasons why she shouldn’t be able to do this. And she certainly has the strength. When we’ve lowered the bed and raised the backrest, she swings her legs over the edge ready for the off. It’s just – that’s as far as she gets. Stacy is great at clearly and firmly describing what Maud needs to do to stand up, even sitting next to her at one point and demonstrating – but Maud just can’t translate it into action. She keeps putting her feet too far out in front, and then waggling them up and down on the carpet, like a child splashing her feet in a puddle.
‘It’s no good!’ she says. ‘I’m falling!’

We persevere for as long as we can, but it’s a game of diminishing returns. The more we try, the more anxious Maud becomes, until her efforts to stand are such an approximate and off-kilter thing, leaning back against our hands, the zimmer frame lifting off the carpet, that we have to accept defeat, and help her back to bed. It’s strange to see how well she lifts her legs back onto the mattress and snuggle down again. Strength is certainly not the issue.
‘It’s definitely a confidence thing,’ says Stacy, snapping off her gloves. ‘Which isn’t any less incapacitating, of course.’
‘No, of course,’ says Alan. ‘So what’s to be done?’
Stacy shrugs.
‘Seems a shame to be thinking about hoisting. But other than that I suppose it’s bed care and some gentle encouragement to overcome the block.’

‘You see that woman over there,’ says Maud, pulling the bedclothes up to her neck, and then pointing straight in front of her. For a second I wonder if it’s another ghost – until I realise she means the sideboard facing her, and an ornate, silver frame in the centre of it. ‘This one?’ I say, going over to take a closer look. It’s a sepia photograph of a young girl standing on a dark, southern English beach. She’s dressed in a billowing white dress and enormous circular brimmed hat, which she holds on her head with one hand as she squints off into the distance. ‘That’s my mother,’ says Maud. ‘Now she’d have known what to do.’