Saturday, 30 November 2013

Notes On Ghosts

001 I don’t generally like anything that starts with a dictionary definition, but I was curious to see how ‘ghost’ was described. The OED answer is –

1. An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous being – OR –

2. A slight trace or vestige of something – OR –

3. A faint secondary image produced by a fault in an optical system.

At least one of those answers also speaks volumes when questioning what a ghost is, not just what we mean by the word. I don’t know which one is right, but I’d probably say two with a touch of three, but I’m not sure how, in this context, you could have two without one.

002 I’ve never properly seen a ghost, but then I’ve never looked very hard. I once went to the site of Borley Rectory with some friends and we all got stupidly scared at standing on a patch of grass that once apparently had a haunted house on it but it was very dark, we were quite drunk and we were expecting to be frightened, so frightened we were. I have subsequently heard the tale re-told to include a mysterious floating light which could have been a ghost, but I have no recollection of that whatsoever. I was probably peeing up a tree at that point, although you think someone would have said ‘oh, by the way, while you were urinating we saw a ghost’. On a tangential note, why do men insist on pissing up against things? If there is a single tree in an acre of bushes, you can bet that it will be singled out for a visit. Is it shame, safety or the primeval urge to mark your territory? Our animal instincts always assert themselves in intensely personal situations. I need the toilet now.

003 When I was 10, my Nan died. It was terrible, and I took it badly. My Dad tried to make sense of it for me (and perhaps for himself, she was his Mum) by saying that ‘death is just a part of life, and no-one really knows what happens next. Maybe she is in another place, and can see us now – maybe she’s here, sat over in the corner – but we just can’t see her’. It was the single most terrifying thing I had ever heard. It still is, I think. I have to say that I do sometimes believe that my house is haunted, but I think it’s more likely in need of better draught excluders. In any respect, I’m okay with the ‘ghost’ – I’ve lived there for ten years and whatever the intermittent late night presence is, it hasn’t yet tried to touch me up or take me over, so I’m not bothered. Perhaps I’m not its type.

004 Ghosts always seem to me to be figures not of fear, but intense sadness. I mean, what sort of life is that for a dead person? Tied eternally to a single spot, compulsively re-enacting the same rituals, walking the same battlements, rattling the same chains? It’s horrible. And everyone you encounter is scared of you. Perhaps ghosts are like a bad scratch on a record or a locked groove, doomed to repeat the same few seconds over and over again - or like a goldfish, by the time they realise what they are doing they forget what they are doing. I hope ghosts lack consciousness, or at least sentience: the idea that they know that they are ghosts is too awful to contemplate.

005 You may have noticed that I write about ghosts as if they are real. I think they are real. I don’t necessarily think that they are ‘an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous being’ but they are something, perhaps psychological, perhaps psychogeographical, perhaps a natural phenomenon that we haven’t discovered yet. But then I watch a lot of horror films and TV, I read a lot of horror books, so a ghost to me is like true love for a romantic novel reader, magic for a Harry Potter fan. That said, I don’t believe that vampires or werewolves exist. Mummies, yes.

006 There’s a great deal to say about ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’, but I’ve run out of steam a bit so I’ll just say that it is one of the greatest things the BBC ever did. These Ghost Stories are not just for Christmas, they’re for life.

007 ‘Ghost Stories for Christmas’ debut at the Showroom Cinema on Tuesday 3rd December with ‘Whistle & I’ll Come To You’, ‘Lost Hearts’ and ‘Stigma’. If that doesn’t excite you, check your pulse, you may be a ghost yourself. On Tuesday 17th December it’s ‘A Warning To The Curious’ and ‘The Ash Tree’. White sheets are optional. More HERE and HERE.


  1. Both nights are gonna be fantastic. With a line up like that you just can not go wrong. Being as I can't get there, on the 17th I will sit down with a big old mug of steaming mulled wine and put on A Warning to the Curious.

  2. Thanks, Keith. First one last night, and it went well. Had the unusual and fascinating experience of having a signer onstage with me. They did great actions for 'flared trousers' and 'hurdy gurdy'.