POLTERGEISTS AND PARTY DRESSES
I don’t know what the odds are of the following coincidence, but they must be absolutely colossal. The Greek language has an enormous number of words, as visible in any decent dictionary, so how come immediately and brazenly next to each other, as shall we say natural and most intimate bedfellows, are the following pair:
popos = child’s word for ‘bottom’ or ‘backside’
pordhos = ‘fart’
Does that make you shiver and your flesh crawl as it does mine? It’s a bit like the Greek words for ‘brain’ and ‘thought’ being right next to each other in the dictionary, which of course they are not. It is also a precisely exact analogy, because just as a brain produces a thought, so a backside produces in certain controlled and occasionally and sometimes gleefully uncontrolled circumstances, a fart.
Most people who meet me for the first time, and even those who know me well, assume without asking that I will not be someone who believes in ghosts. To be sure I have never seen a ghost, unless I count how I look in the mirror after a night on the Greek tiles, where ouzo, Captain Morgan black rum, cachaca sugar cane rum, rough white wine, rough red wine, dear old lemonade, 6 salted crisp sandwiches, and a very large bar of Greek milk chocolate, are part of the how shall I call it, fearless mix. I do though, know two or three people who have seen or experienced ghosts, and I don’t for even a minute doubt that those reports are true.
The reason is that all those individuals are simply the last people in the world to believe in ghosts, and certainly before they had their supernatural experiences, they would have laughed the idea to scorn. One was a Northumbrian farm-worker in his early twenties who I talked to in a Hexham pub one night. He was a freelance herdsman and his job entailed working on farms all over the north east, and accepting whatever temporary accommodation was offered him. He told me this story in 1979 and the incident he described had occurred in 1976, when he was 25. He was working in the back end of buggery (geddit ) at the arse end (geddit again) of Northumbrian Coquetdale, its best known township being pretty little Rothbury, whose sole but considerable deficiency as far as I and my late wife Annie were concerned, was that it did not possess an Indian restaurant.
The herdsman, let’s call him Doug, was billeted in a very old farm cottage in a remote hamlet along a D road, 20 miles out of Rothbury. That first night after a slog of a day, Doug tumbled into bed, switched off the bedside light, and after no less than ten seconds could both hear and sense sundry objects whizzing around the room. Doug hadn’t been drinking, and he certainly at first did not believe he was experiencing anything of the ludicrously occult. Considerably pissed off by the disturbance, as any knackered herdsman would be, he switched the light on, and observed his wallet was at the opposite side of the room to where he’d put it. An illustrated book on WW2 which he’d been reading in his previous lodgings, was also a mile away from where he’d left it, and furthermore the very heavy book was lying wide open, which it hadn’t been when he unpacked it. Doug’s nerves were very strong, and at first he thought maybe the old farmer’s grandkids had crept in and been fucking about here for a joke. He then reflected that the widowed farmer had neither kids nor grandkids, and had been lamenting the sad deficiency with obvious tears in his eyes only a couple of hours ago.
Not to worry. Maybe he’d got it wrong about where his wallet had been, and whether or not the big WW2 picture book had fallen half open when he took it out of his sports-bag. He switched the light off and trusted that would be the end of it. Far from it. For about another half a dozen increasingly fevered on/off light switches, he was subject to cascading and whizzing objects tearing round his bedroom, which of course are evidence of poltergeists. After about the sixth such upheaval, far from being frightened, he was simply monumentally enraged. He had to be up at 5am, and it was 2am now. Fuck this for a game of cards! is what he bawled to the heedless ceiling in the frenetic pitch dark.
He switched on the light, for no good reason other than to address the poltergeist with full and appropriate venom.
“I don’t know WHO you are. Or WHAT you are. Or WHY you are. What’s more I couldn’t give a fuck! I JUST WANT YOU TO FUCK OFF BACK TO WHEREVER YOU CAME FROM, YOU FUCKING HELLISH TWAT!”
Sadly, as a DIY exorcism it was not up to scratch, the poltergeist took no heed, and Doug went and slept on a couch in the sitting room. The next day he lied to the old farmer, and said his parents were both on the brink of death, and he must depart forthwith. What’s more, it was a very similar imprecation hurled at an abhorrent but non-poltergeist presence, by a former Creative Writing student of mine, who I worked with about a quarter of a century ago. I was teaching in Cambridge, and this sturdy, doughty and no-nonsense Tyne and Wear woman in her late 60s, was attending one of my summer fiction courses. In the bar one night she described an old house she lived in near Newcastle, where one day when she was hoovering the stairs, she felt the vile but invisible proximity of someone or something who was poisonously angry, wickedly and possibly homicidally brooding, in a manner which she could only describe as Pure Evil. Before that day she thought ghosts and all allied subjects were risible drivel, dreamt up by the cracked and the crankish, and the intellectually deficient. She happened to be a red blooded socialist and a resolutely pugnacious atheist, and the idea of Good and Evil as spiritual forces, had simply never occurred to her, and probably never would.
After enduring this static and immovable and indescribably repugnant presence, for a full ten minutes, this woman who was called Madge, turned to where she imagined the malefactor without a name and a number and a body, and indeed without a soul, unless it be one that was wicked through and through, fearless old Madge turned herself angrily through 180 degrees, and shrieked:
“YOU CAN BLOODY WELL TAKE YOURSELF OFF! YOU CAN FUCK OFF JUST AS FAST AS YOU LIKE!”
In her case the malevolent spirit did depart, but there is no convincing explanation of why this should have been so. Madge said that after successfully exorcising it, she scrubbed the whole of the staircase with a very astringent carpet shampoo, and maybe something as solid and pragmatic as that did the trick. The third paranormal sighting (and bear in mind that I am all of 64, and have only ever talked to three unwilling and sceptical ghost witnesses, which gives a certain statistical credence to my evidence) was related to me by a pleasant, but very dull and garrulous old man called Dick. Dick was another writing student, gloriously nay miraculously talent-free, but not a whit abashed on that score. He lived in North Yorkshire near Scarborough, and had bought on retirement in remote countryside for a virtual song, a veritable mansion of crumbling 17th C vintage, that no one else wanted. Dick lived there with his wife and two dogs, and that was it. He was about 75, and though very dull, was not naively credulous about things unseen, and certainly not a fan of the other world, not for that matter was his still good-looking but matter of fact wife Julia. At any rate both Dick and Julia separately, but never together, had seen the same extraordinary sight, viz. a veritable pageant of gaily partying young folk, all in their twenties and thirties, dressed in 1920s fashionable upper crust clothes, parading around the mansion that was called The Steadings. They seemed to be engaged in a permanent whoopee knees-up, and seemingly quaffing and gormandizing from an invisible table. They were after the first sighting, not at all frightening, and indeed the first time Dick saw them, he and Julia had come back from a fortnight’s holiday, and he whimsically thought they were the previous tenants having a fancy dress party in a too ideal location, without seeking the new owner’s permission. He was about to walk over, and not exactly chide them, but look a little reproving, and as he made the first admonitory step, they vanished into thin air. Variations on the same rather sedate and harmless pageant, happened umpteen times over, both for Dick and Julia, till in the end they stopped worrying and just accepted the house had its family ghosts.
So how to explain this other worldly stuff with any degree of satisfying objective rigour? Alas there is no conceivable way of doing this, and seemingly all that leaves you with is the cheery pseudo-science of beaming charlatans and unreformed eejits. Unless perhaps, you listen to the more quietly spoken ones, who try to be stringently honest, but are inevitably more anecdotal than empirical. If you believe as I do in the Afterlife, there is no problem. Those at peace, meaning blessed and supremely trusting souls, vanish into the encompassing Love of the Divine, and are too far from the enmeshments of the crass phenomenal world, to leave any physical manifestations. Troubled, grief-stricken, love-torn, disturbed, and above all tormented and very wicked souls, possibly fugitive murderers or fugitive rapists or fugitive sadistic paedophiles, they cannot hide their physical traces, and on occasion, and as indicated by place, location, specificity, meaning the precise place on earth where the grief or rape or murder happened, their visible nature is revealed, if only transiently and as a one-way model that does not permit of dialogue between the ghost and its observer.
No doubt the bulk of you think this is dyed in the wool and uncompromising bollicks. But there is one way to prove it either way, and once you die and go to the beyond, you will then see, or in your book you will die and you will see nothing at all.
We shall see, shall we not?