NEVER before in history has man given birth to so many ghosts. At this early stage, I must pause for breath because I hear the tremble of fine china teacups on saucers, as the girls and women hasten to their chairs at the table to join in the gab and to dunk a custard cream or two – while savouring each new idea and making their own points, along the way.
And they are right to say that it is both incorrect and impolite to speak of man giving birth, even to ghosts.
But who are the midwives of mystery, how do ghosts come among us? Do they have a bus pass to Birkenhead?
If one was to clang the chains of his bondage on the landing at midnight, when I was in bed, dreaming of egg, chips and brown sauce, or some other sublime pleasure, it would make me very cross – and I would hobble out to give him a piece of my mind which, quite frankly, I can hardly spare, though it would have the advantage, to a spectre, of not needing much storage room.
If another was bolder still and slipped in through the front door, stepping over the mat to leave a muddy footprint on the carpet, he would be greeted by the lovely turquoise of my wife’s eyes, transformed into glowing coals of fury in the shaving of the seconds, before she seized the broom, bristled like Desperate Dan’s chin, to chase him down the road – a sight not seen since my untimely and lustily chorused return home after a reunion with old chums.
So few ghosts would have the temerity to visit our pebble-dashed home.
But in some semi- detached dwellings in suburbia, the newly departed are encouraged to pop in for a chat by gin-breathed spirit mediums, sitting in spectral light, who drool and suck up ectoplasm, like phantasmagorical spaghetti, as they call to the other side. “Come in Cedric, are you there?”
But where is there? “Ghosts are all around us,” said my wife one night, curled on the sofa watching an old film on TV. “Are they?” I queried. “Can’t say I’ve noticed. But, as you know, I am insensitive to such matters.”
“Don’t you see what I mean?” she persisted. “No one in this film, the actors, writers, musicians, directors, is alive now.
Yet they are still with us. Their spirits remain part of our lives. They will always be here – ghosts of the electronic age.”
She is right. Humans, being vain creatures, have always recorded their deeds for posterity – from cave paintings, through the statues and portraits of the great masters, to the instantly archived images of today.
At the press of a button, we can recall people to our presence, whether they are dead or alive, near or far, dear to us or mere strangers.
If we can avoid Armageddon, many of these images will be with our kind forever, phantoms.
And the great religious leaders promise an afterlife to their adherents, thus bestowing authority on the notion of ghosts.
Those us brought up as Christians accept the Holy Ghost as central to our faith. Some actually sense His being.
My own belief is that ghosts are our memories which can be revived in times of intense emotion, joy or sorrow, always the result of deep thought.
I have no interest and less belief in the idea of poltergeists tossing ornaments about, meddling with the electrics and plumbing, or sneakily tugging our hair.
After all, why would they act in such a manner, except to be in stories? If so, wouldn’t they want to appear in a better light?
When I was little, I hoped in vain that toys would spring to life in the dark.
But ghosts, as we present them, are passive, fleeting figures – just shadows to whom we gave birth in our paintings, photos and thoughts.
Now, their ranks are greatly increased by electronic gadgetry. But what are they really like?
“David, is that you in the kitchen, slicing a turnip in the dark? By Jove, I thought it was a ghost,” quips my wife.