Would you ever ask to be deliberately dropped off, at midnight, on a long dark deserted road, where you knew a woman had been murdered along with her lover long ago and reportedly still haunts the place?
Would you call your loved one a “demonic ghost”?
And, if you are a Rationalist and do not believe in any kind of spiritual realm, what do you do when you meet with an ‘undeniable’ experience of something…odd?
This is not the article I had intended to write today; that one will have to wait until another day, I guess. Instead it was inspired by my wifey last night who managed to spook herself out with her own ‘mysterious circumstance’.
This got me thinking about such things and, as it is the Christmas season and we British never get bored of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, I thought I would offer thoughts up using this as the theme.
What the Dickens..?
Charles Dickens is something of an idol for me. He was a brilliant writer, knew how to ‘play’ the sympathies of his readers and keep them hooked week after week as stories such as The Old Curiosity Shop kept the nation enthralled and then they wept over Little Nell. This alone makes me envious of him as a writer.
But his great concern for the poor – especially children – makes me admire him as a human being and whilst he never became a politician, his stories such as Oliver probably did more to help children in poverty in Victorian England than any single politician. He made the public sympathetic to the plight of the poor and did so, not by cajoling and shouting, but by entertaining and eliciting deep sympathy.
A Christmas Carol combines all of this brilliantly. It is a masterpiece and worthy to be respected (though, I confess, my favourite film version is definitely by The Muppets). Whilst I’m not going to offer Ghost stories in quite the same way, I will speak of ‘mysterious things’ – two first-hand accounts plus some anecdotes from Bangladesh inserted in between – and thought I’d present them under the titles of The Ghosts of Christmas: Past, Present and Future. The first-hand accounts are quite true, I assure you, despite my dramatisation. Only the names have been changed, as they say, to protect the innocent. Anyway, here goes with the first one which happened to me in the early 1990s:
The Ghost of Christmas Past
It was a cold Christmas season night and we were all sat in the pub supping our drinks when he stormed in, plonked himself down on the seat next to me, demanded someone get him a drink and said: “There’s some right stupid people around in this world!”
We knew Nathan well. He would eventually train at Cambridge to be a doctor and he was quite a character. Tact was not his middle name. He called a spade a bloody great shovel and didn’t care who knew it. As his friends, we ignored it or laughed at him about it. This time though, we were intrigued. He was really quite angry and flustered. We asked what happened.
“I was just driving down Mad Mile trying to get here before last orders,” Nathan began in between big gulps of his drink which had just been brought, “and this stupid woman just leapt out in front of the car. I nearly hit her!”
Mad Mile was a well-known stretch of road linking our cluster of towns and villages to the outskirts of the nearby university town. It was a long, straight stretch of road in the middle of nowhere that was known for the place where young joy-riders would go to reach incredibly stupid speeds which they couldn’t control if something went wrong but where there was little chance of being caught by the Police.
“I mean, what was she doing there?” our irate friend continued. “She wasn’t even dressed for being out in the cold. She looked like she was in her nightie or something.”
Suddenly one of the girls with us let out a gasp. We all turned to Claris.
“Was she all in white?” she asked excitedly.
“OH, you must have met the Ghost of Grace Dieu Priory – The White Lady.” Claris said.
Our friend sneered contemptuously. Nathan had no time for such nonsense; he was a scientist through and through.
“Don’t talk daft. It was some completely mad woman who’s got out from wherever she’s been locked up in!” he laughed.
I, however, was intrigued. I’d never heard of a ghost haunting Mad Mile and I wanted to know more. Nathan knew nothing of the tale either but, whereas I was wide-eyed with wonder, he was really quite disinterested and continued supping his drink whilst Claris spilled the beans.
Later that week I went and checked the facts Claris presented to us and a morning’s research proved she was quite right. The story was this:
In 1530 Agnes Litherland became the Prioress of Grace Dieu Priory. At that time Henry VIII was trying to close down monasteries and nunneries. At some point a few years later, He heard that one of the nuns had become pregnant and it turned out to be Agnes through a relationship with a landowner.
Armed with the excuse he needed, the King had the pair of them walled up alive with only eye slits left for them to communicate with each other and left them to starve to death. Ever since then Agnes has been seen haunting the area and is known as ‘The White Lady’. From time to time a figure in black is seen near the remains of the Priory and this is thought to be her lover still looking for her.
I was thrilled to hear this! Why? Because, I simply don’t believe a word of it!
More accurately, I don’t believe in ghosts for the simple reason that I have never seen one. I would absolutely love to see one just so I could know for certain! For as long as I don’t, there will always be the possibility that they might exist but I just haven’t seen one yet!
Over the centuries, it turns out, there have been many sightings including (I found out whilst researching the background to this story) the famous ‘Bus incident of 1954’ when a bus pulled over on that stretch of road to pick up a woman dressed in white. When he opened the doors to the bus there was no one there. Both conductor and driver got out to look but she had simply vanished despite there being nowhere to hide out there. In July 1996 a Mrs Mary Bates from my home town confirmed to the press that this story was true as she had been a passenger on the bus on that fateful evening.
So I grabbed Nathan and said: “Get your coat back on. You’re taking me to Mad Mile NOW!”
Nathan gulped his drink down.
“You’re joking! It’s nearly midnight!”
“Yep, and you are going to drop me at one end and leave me there to walk the whole distance. I can find my own way home.” It was miles away in pitch blackness and I had no torch. I barely had a coat, my thin thing being just enough to keep warm in the car we came in. Still, I’d done such foolish things before.
You should understand that this was before I went to university; I was about 20 and frequently did daft things – usually involving walking vast distances with no suitable preparation (like any at all). Actually, thinking about it, I’ve done similar since university too!
So off we went and, sure enough, Nathan dropped me off at one end of Mad Mile and left me there. I wandered / groped my way along the road with only the pale moonlight to guide my way. My heart was pounding as I wondered whether this was such a good idea after all. I wanted to be able to say that I would meet her and be excited to final meet a real…uh…’live’ ghost and ask her some questions.
I suspected that I would actually soil my underwear and run away screaming like a banshee.
Alas, I walked for about half an hour and not so much as a hedgehog disturbed my nocturnal promenade. Eventually, headlights appeared in the distance and a car screamed towards me, slowing down only at the last minute.
“Get in the car, you bloody idiot,” Nathan shouted through the window, “I’m taking you home.”
He looked as stressed and nervous as I have ever seen him – before or since – but I never found out if it was fear of the ‘white lady’ finally getting to him or just worry I would catch my death of cold. Either way, I got in the car and that was the closest I ever got to my own personal proof of the existence of ghosts.
I still don’t believe in them to this day.
Tomorrow: The Ghosts of Christmas Present
- ‘A Christmas Carol’: 31 years, nine Scrooges, still a hit (cantonrep.com)