Since it is now Hallowe`en I thought some advanced `spookiness` would be appropriate. I say `advanced` because this gets complicated. You will soon realise when I get out of my depth with the ethereal world.
I was thinking about all of this earlier in the year when I read about the death of Professor Archie Roy. Like myself, Professor Roy was Glaswegian and he died at the age of 88 in the same hospital where I almost died myself four times before I was three years old. That in itself is not very spooky . You might expect three year olds to survive even against the odds and an 88 year old might have less chance.
Professor Roy was a very distinguished physicist. He was a specialist in celestial mechanics and became professor of astronomy at Glasgow. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and was asked by NASA to help them to calculate trajectories since he was an expert in orbital motion (I have it on good authority that that sentence actually means something although I shall not be explaining it). He was evidently a very fine lecturer who inspired many students to take an interest in astrophysics and fun subjects like spherical geometry.
What was a little more surprising was that he was known as “The Glasgow Ghostbuster” because his hobby was psychical research. He founded the Scottish Society for Psychical Research and was never happier than when asked to investigate why people were walking through walls in an old Glasgow house.
Reading this reminded me of a colleague of mine in my first job. I was working for a Scottish publisher and on the bus to work one day I found myself sitting beside the head of the art department. Let us call him Jimmy. I knew that Jimmy had been on holiday so, to make polite conversation, I asked what he had done with his time. He told me he had spent it as he always did. He and his wife were members of a `ghost-hunting` club. He assured me that such clubs exist. They sent out (and perhaps still do for all I know) regular newsletters advising members of the best haunted houses around the country and offering special deals for staying overnight in one. Jimmy told me that he, his wife, and a couple who shared their interest had chosen a house in Yorkshire, near Selby. Apparently it was an important part of the deal that you were not told the nature of the haunting before the visit.
Jimmy and wife met with their friends for dinner at a hostelry near the allegedly haunted house . They had a strict rule not to consume alcohol before the visit. After it, however, there was no restriction. This was a relaxation for which they were, apparently, often very grateful.
After dinner Jimmy and friends went to the house in question, having obtained the key as arranged. They wandered around the fine old manor, noticing and feeling nothing unusual, although Jimmy did say he was aware of an unaccustomed irritability, even anger, arising in him. This feeling increased as the evening wore on and by the time they all went to bed he was feeling as if he might do something really nasty. His wife, however, liked the old house and found it gave her a pleasant sense of comfort and even optimism.
Jimmy lay in bed, getting increasingly agitated but was surprised at how peacefully his wife was sleeping. This enraged him to the extent that he woke her up. She was difficult to wake since she was obviously sleeping soundly. When she did awake, however, she looked at Jimmy and screamed. Jimmy, now almost apopleptic, asked her what the devil was the matter. His wife could not speak. She grabbed a hand mirror and held it up to him. Jimmy looked and saw that his hair was standing on end. He is not sure, but believes that he too screamed. They jumped out of bed (mercifully, he spared me details of their attire) and ran out to the landing. At almost the same time his friends also emerged from their room. Double horror, since the husband of the other couple also had hair standing on end and all apparently screamed. (I would remind you that this was a holiday trip freely chosen by the four of them. They could have opted for a fortnight in Paris).
They all ran downstairs and tore open a bottle of brandy they had brought for just such an occasion. On the following day they went to the local library to seek out the records of the house. Evidently it had been owned by a handsome, charming man who married three times. On each occasion he murdered his wife on their wedding night. Jimmy and friends therefore interpreted it that the two men had tuned into the horrific mentality of the evil husband and the wives had slept peacefully, tuning into the innocence of the victims.
I found the story diverting, but I was not wholly convinced. One reason for my scepticism was that Jimmy was in fact bald with, admittedly, a few surviving hairs. They were normally in such an unruly state that it would have been hard to say whether they were standing up or lying down. My other reason for scepticism was that I could not believe that sane people would actually spend their holidays voluntarily in a state of abject terror.
Professor Archie Roy might have believed Jimmy since he did appear to take the possibility of life after death quite seriously and stated that if, after death, he found he had not survived he would be quite disappointed.
Being such an eminent scientist, Professor Roy was often asked how he could possibly believe such garbage. He replied that his attitude was entirely scientific and that proof of survival was available. When urged to explain this he referred to `cross-correspondences`. This is where it gets complicated so I am about to give you the simple version. Evidently for many years psychics, mediums etc have been receiving messages which in themselves mean nothing. However, if you put them together and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Classical Greek, mathematics, early Vietnamese gastronomy and the omnibus edition of The Archers the messages coalesce to form an entirely lucid and clear statement. I `m afraid I don`t know what the statement reads. However, Professor Roy argued that since psychics are so good at faking plausible messages from `the other side` the only way to be clear that you are communicating from beyond the grave is by `cross-correspondences`.
Armed with that wisdom I am inclined to pour myself another excellent cup of tea and let the after-life surprise me. The present one is sufficiently full of interest. My best-selling novel, Masks of Venice, deals with past lives rather than after-life in the normal sense. I have no idea what happens after death but I can see how being reborn could be helpful. It explains a lot that is not easily explained otherwise. Perhaps I just like the idea because it would give me time to do all the travelling that I`m not going to manage in this life even if it is quite long. I had great fun writing the novel and have some reason to think others have had fun reading it. Being able to disappear to 16th century Spain or Renaissance Italy struck me as more fun than working out tedious puzzles to let one brilliant but unusual Glasgow Professor prove we`dall be playing harps in Heaven