Tales of the Unsuccesful…


Posted by in October's Magazine

When I was 13 I had a dream. Me. A flame-thrower. And the writers of Rentaghost in suits and hats fashioned from straw. You can guess the rest.

I make no apologies for my imaginary bonfire of laboured kiddy gigglers. That show could have had it all. It pre-empted the now legendary Ghostbusters by a good few years (rumour has it Bill Murray did a mean Harold Meeker impression to amuse fans of TV exotica on the set of Saturday Night Live but was attacked by a coked up Robin Williams after being mistaken for the ghost of Richard Nixon).

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But they took the ‘ghoul in the crown’ of spectre-based comedy and turned it into a one-trick pony. Correction. A one-trick pantomime horse. A horse I wanted to hoof into a volcano. In fact I spent three years researching the logistics. Then I discovered the genius sweaty schlock Satanism and fast guitar of Iron Maiden. And Rentaghost? It faded like guilty stains on teenage sheets.

Then after nearly 20 years of relatively spook-free living (aside from being occasionally haunted by Scotland’s continuing failure in football tournaments), there was ex-Blue Peter poppet Yvette Fielding screaming her way round stately homes accompanied by two-bit chisellers masquerading as ghost whisperers.

Such bunkum for the easily confused drives me to despair. But spirit-seeking shysters are not the true villains of the piece. Oh no, that disgrace is reserved for the world’s gashest ghosts. Yes, although more sceptical than a twitching Richard Dawkins on a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle, I succumbed to idle curiosity and dipped a cynical toe into the supposedly chilling waters of Britain’s ghost trail.
But instead of recoiling in horror, I was overcome with a totally tepid and somewhat soggy disappointment. Which very quickly turned to anger. There isn’t a ghost Ombudsman. There should be. Because what I found was a collection of ineffectual lazy ghosts, simply going through the motions – with no desire to improve standards. Enough. Time to expose these spooky charlatans.

The Haunted Hedge of Craven Arms
“Just outside Craven Arms in Shropshire is a long stretch of terrifying topiary pregnant with the evils of the ages.” At least that’s what the guidebook says. I got there at midnight, swigging holy water – with a dash of Old Pulteney to steel myself. But instead of Lovecraftian horrors, I found a hedge that moaned a bit in the wind. At one point there was a kerfuffle involving a Lidl bag ensnared by the Hedge of Evil’s ‘claws’. But it quickly moved on. Unmolested.

Old Billy of the Battersea Bus Stop
I associate Battersea with derelict power stations cum art cathedrals and abandoned pets. But according to the ‘Creepy Capital Tours’ leaflet I picked up in the Banker & Bonus alehouse, Battersea is now known for the “UK’s most spine-chilling paranormal phenomena – Old Billy of the Bus Stop”. Apparently, during the Blitz, an ARP warden called Billy was blown to smithereens while waiting for the No.43 to Lambeth Palace (he was on the way to advise the Archbishop of Canterbury on fitting a gas mask over his mitre). Ever since, that spot – still a bus stop to this day – is thick with a restless foreboding. I waited hours for some restless foreboding. But none arrived. Much like the No.43. I gave up and took a terrifying taxi instead (bloody mini-cabs).

The Selective Mute Banshee of St Ives
On my way to St Ives, I met a pipe-sucking widower with a tendency to cackle demonically. I should have known better to put faith in the ravings of this loopy local. But hey, I was on holiday and full of Cornish pasty. So when the old cackler told me there was a local banshee whose ungodly Celtic caterwauling could wake the dead of Kernow, I was intrigued. Later, fortified by a plateful of whitebait flambéed in Vermouth, I stood for an hour with the extremely merry widower, in a nearby cemetery awaiting the banshee’s arrival from the bowels of Hell. Only when we ran out of Cornish Blue did he reveal that the banshee was a selective mute.

Rattling Plates of Plockton
The locals in this idyllic Highland hideaway claimed it was a case worthy of the attention of their famous fictional son, PC Hamish MacBeth. For years, in a local tearoom, staff had reported the incessant rattling of side plates on a work surface fashioned from the wood of a ghostly gallows. Surely the reverberations of restless hanged souls condemned to dance the ‘hempen jig’ forever. Or a poorly built work surface and some uneven flooring? With the help of a local joiner, I soon rectified the obscene rattling and sat down to a flat white coffee. Which, ironically, turned out to be the most hellish thing in the place actually.

Ghost Pedalo
Think ghost ship. Now think the ghost pedalo of Isle of Man. Apparently it listed a bit, which dragged you off to the left. Some believed it was the work of a Kelpie determined to drag unsuspecting pleasure goers to the deep. I suspected it was poor quality pedalos. “Come in shit ghost stories your time is up!”

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