Today on the blog, writer Martyn Taylor is on the blog to talk about ghosts. Martyn read at the inaugural North East Noir at the Bar in Newcastle in June and since then has been a regular at Elementary Writers workshops.
You can join Martyn and other members of Elementary Writers for original ghost stories and poetry on Saturday, 5th November at Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade’s Watch House for ‘After Dark’. Email Sam.Levy@tvlb.org to book your seats.
Thanks to Martyn for this very interesting post.
Martyn Taylor on Ghosts.
I make no bones about it. I am a Shakespeare fan. As far as I am concerned, anything that needs to be said about the human condition has already been said, by him, and better than we can ever hope to do (not that it will ever stop us trying). The English language is packed with aphorisms taken from his writing. The one that concerns me here is ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy’ (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5). Hamlet is, of course, talking about the ghost of his father, but to me this simple statement applies to everything, our lives, our society, our planet, our universe. The more we discover, the more we realise there is yet to discover. In an effectively infinite universe, as we understand it today, we humans have hardly scratched the surface much less dug down to deep and meaningful levels.
Hamlet spoke of a ghost. Ghosts, so far as I can tell, are universal in human societies, at least until recently. Let me say that I do not believe in ghosts. In scientific terms they are like a faster than light drive, something devoutly to be wished but beyond our comprehension now. That statement may not apply next week. But I do not believe in ghosts, which is not to say there may not be echoes of individual human spirits that persist after physical death, possibly even the spirits of societies. I have not been presented with any evidence that convinces me about this the way evidence about gravity and quarks does.
Yet I have ‘met’ two ‘ghosts’.
One was at our local church on Easter Sunday several years ago. When the time came to offer a sign of peace, a young girl in the pew in front turned around and smiled at me. I knew instantly she was our daughter, Lucy, who was stillborn. I heard her say ‘Be at peace, I am’. My heart hasn’t broken over her death since then. Now I know there are all sorts of psychological explanations. I may well have imagined her just to fulfil the wish that had tormented me for fourteen years and more. Nobody else in our party saw her. I suspect most ghostly encounters have their genesis in such need, and I have not sought any further contact – I talk to myself more than enough anyway – unlike my mother and her sister, both of whom frequented spiritualist churches, somewhere you will need wild horses to get me.
The other encounter was completely different. It was the day of my elder brother’s wedding, which was being held from our house rather than Amanda’s parents’ (I had no idea of the reasons then and am not going to rehearse them here). It was just before tea time and while the grown-ups were doing whatever it was grown-ups did, I was kicking a ball against the garage door. A middle-aged man came in through the front gate. Even I could tell that the suit he wore under the tightly belted gabardine raincoat was old-fashioned (what I later came to know was a Demob Suit). This was late summer, and nobody needed to wear a raincoat. He was tallish with thinning fair hair and an almost invisible Clark Gable moustache. I had no idea who he was and had never seen him before.
‘Do the Taylors live here?’ he asked. I nodded. Just then the ball rolled off the garage roof and began to bounce towards some flowers. I turned to catch it, not wanting to risk Mam’s displeasure. When I turned back, he was gone. The only sign he had ever been there was that the front gate was open. Mam was most particular about the front gate being kept closed at all times. Eventually I got bored and hungry, and went inside. After a while, I had to tell my story. As I described the man all the colour left Auntie Lilian’s face. When I was finished she produced a cracked and crazed black and white photo from her handbag. Was that the man? Yes, it was. The man was her husband, Bert, who had been dead a good decade and whom I had never met, or if I had met him I had no memory of it because I would have been about three at the time of his death. Tea was rapidly served after that and nobody made any mention of the encounter to me ever again.
As I say, I have a ready explanation for my encounter with Lucy. I’m too imaginative for my own good. As for my encounter with Uncle Bert… well, there may have been subconscious triggers but I have not found them yet. I cannot explain it. The rationalist in me would like a rational explanation for it while the writer in me wants it to be what it seemed to be.
Which brings me back to Shakespeare, and there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in any of our philosophies never mind a courtier called Horatio in Denmark’s medieval royal palace. And we do so like our ghost stories, don’t we?