Monday, 19 March 2007

Make my flesh creep

Ghost tours are incredibly popular, it seems.

I knew Edinburgh had a couple  of spooky attractions. And I'm not averse to a spot of the macabre. But the ghost tour seems to have taken on a life (after death?) of its own. There are more ghost tours than any other kind of tour of Edinburgh, and now there are ghost tours in York as well.

What's the hook? I suspect  it's the same things that's made ghost stories irresistible through the ages. It's the motivation of the Fat Boy in Dickens - "I want to make your flesh creep." It's my brother watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa (he wasn't afraid of the Daleks, he was afraid of the opening sequence!)

While anyone can tell a ghost story, some of the tours have managed to find really unique selling points. For instance one of the tours in Edinburgh offers a visit to the Mackenzie mausoleum and Covenanter's prison by night - locking the 'tourists' in. I suppose it has its attractions, though I'd rather spend my time with malt whisky if I wanted a night with an unco' spirit....

Ghost stories and travel writing don't seem that far apart sometimes. MRJames for instance sets stories memorably in the depths of rural Ireland, in Saint-Bertrand des Comminges, on the bleak East Anglian coast. (Simon Raven picked up several of the threads from Saint-Bertrand and expanded them to Greece and Venice in his 'Roses of Picardie', though I don't think he does ghosts as well as MRJ. Nobody does.

My favourite ghost story? It's in Shakespeare's A winter's tale, Act II sc 1. Mamillius starts:

There was a man

Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly:

Yond crickets shall not hear it.

The really scary thing about it is that the crickets never hear it, and neither do we; and by the end of the play Mamillius is dead -  one of the tragedies that the tragicomic ending can't erase.

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