On our riverside walk today, we spotted a father blowing a dandelion clock for his young son and a family of four litter-picking with grabbers and a big plastic sack. Several couples were exercising together. Perhaps they don’t have the space to do it at home. The paths were choked with cyclists and there were more runners than at the London Marathon – I presume because the gyms are shut and they’ve got to take their exercise however they can. None of them appear to be that great at social distancing, though, and you’re not going to convince me they’re all from the same family or household.
Only the other day, a friend told me of her neighbours, who were holding a barbeque party in their garden and had invited ten people round. Meanwhile, for every idiot out there, others are anxiously following the rules to the letter and not even going beyond their own front doorsteps. Now that Boris has said we can go out more than just once a day (officially; some were doing it already anyway), let alone the other gubbins he spouted, which has left us all even more baffled than before, I predict utter chaos…
At the completely deserted station, the tannoy system was issuing: “A warm welcome to all NHS staff and key workers using our network today…”
Our walk takes in a beautiful, panoramic view of our local landmark: Hampton Court Palace. We feel privileged to live so close to this magnificent building, and it set me to wondering how the ghosts are all bearing up in there right now. For, whatever your own views on the supernatural, there have been many sightings and unexplained events by a great many people over the years, and they can’t all be making it up. I have heard some of the tales myself and I believe them. Something that old carries a great deal of weight from the past and its walls must be soaked with the stories and emotions of all who have been a part of it.
The ghosts are probably wondering where everybody’s gone. (I wonder if we are all ghosts to them? Discuss.) Do they even bother to go through the motions of haunting when there’s no ready audience, or are they forever trapped in a chain of events they can’t break? Where do they all hang out? Do they stick to their designated spots? (I’m not talking about the ones in the supermarkets.) I mean, they could have a lot of fun with the place all to themselves.
What do they make of the actors who wander around in period costume on special occasions? Do they think they’re one of them, or do they think they could have saved Equity the bother and done a much better (and, let’s face it, more authentic) job of it themselves?
This reminds me of the tale I heard recently from one of the guides. An electrician was working in a room and, after he had finished, commented to another guide how impressed he was with the actor, dressed in period costume, who had been standing nearby watching him work and who had “remained in character throughout.” Only to be told there were no actors dressed in period costume in the palace that day…
Everyone’s heard the story of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, trying to evade arrest (for adultery) from Henry’s guards and running, screaming, down what is now known as The Haunted Gallery. People claim to hear her screams to this day. It’s certainly got a slightly odd atmosphere. What was it called before? Let’s go back, way back, pre-CH and her ghastly fate, and imagine the conversation between a couple of the courtiers:
“Orders from Above. We need to utilise The Corridor. You know, that rather dull area upstairs the designers couldn’t work out what to do with. We’ve tried warming it up a bit with some colour, a feature wall, nice graphics, even, but nothing really works in there.”
“Hmmm, I know what you mean. It’s such a loooong space – needs breaking up with something. I suppose we could whack a few paintings up and call it The Gallery. What’s missing is a good haunting; that might just work. Turn it into a more interactive, user-friendly space.”
We all know what happened to poor Catherine: she was caught and lost her head. But suppose, mid-haunting one day, she skids to a halt and decides to try another tactic? ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers,’ she thinks. ‘I’m sick of the same old, same old and besides, my throat really hurts with all that screaming,’ as she points to the far corner, yelling: “What’s that over there?!” and makes a break for it while the ghostly guards are momentarily distracted. It’s a trick I used to deploy with my niece and nephew when trying to pinch some of their food at mealtimes (I was a horrible auntie), but they grew wise to it eventually. I must add they were toddlers at the time, not the adults they are now, though perhaps they’ve forgotten all that childish nonsense and I could try it on them again some time, heh heh heh…