Folks in the English
Lake District were often heard to complain about the lack of
“Seven miles to
the nearest bus!” exclaimed Mrs. Brown from the butcher’s shop
to anyone buying her sausages. And I appreciate it probably
was inconvenient for the villagers of Little Eden, with only
two shops and a post office on Tuesday afternoons. But if they
found it awkward, how much harder must it be for two young
In these days of
equal rights, I think it’s high time a Spectral Relations Board
was established to give us a voice—our own being orally challenged
so to speak. Discrimination is definitely an issue. It’s not
as if we had done anything wrong to find ourselves in this
predicament. The lady in the Tourist Information assured us
that Coniston Old Man was a perfectly safe mountain and didn’t
require any special mountaineering skills.
If I were alive,
I could sue. I’ve seen adverts on the television asking if
I’ve had an accident in the last twelve months. I wrote to
one once but they asked me if I was willing to appear in court.
I didn’t see a problem. I can appear more or less anywhere
I want to now, although St. Mary’s Church and the graveyard
are more usual in the tourist season. James and I have increased
visitor numbers dramatically since our accident last winter.
But the firm wrote back saying that wasn’t what they meant
and they didn’t feel qualified to represent life-expired clients.
Discrimination again, you see.
The point to this
preamble is that we decided we needed a break. Pretty though
the village was, we felt like a change but how could we hitch
a lift if no-one could see us? Appearances take a lot of energy
and can’t be sustained, you see. At one time a ghost could
have slipped into any car but now there are anti-theft devices.
And these are strident and upsetting to a young and sensitive
“We could always
walk to the bus, Rebecca,” said James one day, after another
alarm almost made me jump out of my skin, metaphorically speaking.
“It’s seven miles
to the nearest bus!” I repeated in horror.
He frowned. “Well
we’re only twenty-two, you know. Or we were when we passed
away and I don’t suppose we’ve got any older.”
James was always
keen on outdoor pursuits. When Great-Aunt Matilda left us the
cottage in Little Eden, he was overjoyed at the prospect of
“Mountains and lakes
everywhere,” he cried in excitement. “The great outdoors just
waiting to be conquered.”
Don’t get me wrong,
I’d enjoyed living here too before the mishap. The vicar was
particularly welcoming, delighted at the prospect of swelling
her dwindling congregation. Well—doubling it if we both attended
the morning service. And even the Women’s Institute approached
me in honour of Matilda, a stalwart member for over seventy-two
“We really need
some younger women,” explained Mrs. Brown as she untangled
my sausages. “Olive Meldrew had such an original idea. She
suggested producing a certain kind of calendar.”
She winked at me
surreptitiously as she said it.
I didn’t know how
to break the news so I decided to suggest something completely
different. What about a reality show set in the Women’s Institute?
How long would Jordan or Madonna survive before the viewers
voted them off? Sadly the plan came to naught the day we climbed
that treacherous peak.
Mind you, it’s not
all bad news being a ghost and I wouldn’t want you to go away
thinking it is. The funeral was nice to start with. It was
touching to see so many of the villagers turning out to give
us a good send off. They weren’t to know we weren’t actually
going anywhere. And Reverend Pettigrew became emotional as
she gazed out across the rows of occupied pews.
“Oh, what a wonderful
sight,” she sighed happily. “Just like the old days.”
was forced to remind her she was conducting a funeral and she
became embarrassed and remorseful but we didn’t mind. Let her
have her moment.
Afterwards we all
went back to the cottage and the villagers had tea. Naturally,
they weren’t aware of our presence at that time and it was
amusing standing by the mourners, listening to them eulogise
“Such a charming
young woman,” sighed Roger Carstairs, the debonair and astute
owner of The Grange.
“That’s not what
Olive Meldrew said about you,” James reminded me curtly and
I had to agree. We did discover one or two rather catty people
in the village.
After that we continued
to live in the cottage much as before except for the fact we
didn’t eat, of course. With my cooking it wasn’t a great loss
and on the plus side you didn’t have to diet. We soon learnt
how to appear and disappear at will, although walking through
walls is a myth. I suggested James experiment one day but at
least we discovered it was possible for a ghost to feel pain.
It was only in the spring that our continued presence in Little
Eden was finally discovered. Unfortunately it is true that
a few canines are sensitive to the psychic presence. And that
pesky border collie at Honeysuckle Farm had to be one of them.
What a fuss! Naturally
reactions were mixed and ranged from neurotic vicars planning
exorcisms to entrepreneurs adding us to the ‘What’s on in Lakeland’ guide
produced by the National Park. At first I have to admit it
went to my head and I almost felt like a celebrity.
I took to popping
up unexpectedly in the gift shop, floating tea towels and mint
cake around the visitors’ heads. Or lurking in the village
pub, mysteriously hiding pints of beer when the customers weren’t
looking. This wasn’t so successful and I was finally banned
after several nasty fights broke out. Honestly, it was only
James brought me
back to earth one day with a bump.
“Rebecca, if you
carry on like this, we’re going to be in serious trouble. At
the moment we’re a useful tourist attraction and accepted as
harmless spirits. But you’re going to get us exorcised if you
don’t stop this. I overheard Reverend Pettigrew on the phone
to someone yesterday. I don’t know whether it was the Archbishop
of Canterbury or the Pope but either way there could be unpleasant
repercussions. For heaven’s sake, Rebecca, we’ve got a nice
afterlife here in the village. Please don’t spoil it for us.”
I was subdued. I
knew in my heart or whatever passed as a substitute these days,
he was right. But I was young and bored—which was why I came
up with the idea of the holiday.
“Why don’t you pop
in to the Tourist Information?” suggested James tactlessly. “They
might know of some special excursions.”
“And they were so
helpful last time,” I muttered sulkily.
Still I could always
look at the leaflets and cause no end of problems for the assistant
at the same time. She’s still looking for her guided walks
itinerary and the Beatrix Potter diary. Childish perhaps but
hobbies are limited for a ghost and anyway she started it.
This was how I happened
to spot the notice advertising the W.I. day out to Ambleside.
I appreciate to some of you this may not seem like the glittering
occasion of the year but in Little Eden it was always a big
event. And we didn’t even have to sneak on board because they
knew our situation already. Wasn’t I a member?
reared its ugly head.
“Oh no, dear, it’s
not because you’re ghosts,” explained Mrs. Merryweather reassuringly. “Haven’t
we always been broadminded? No, it’s simply that James is a
man and we couldn’t possibly take one of those with us.”
“But you can’t even
see him,” I wrote down on the pad we took everywhere with us.
She read the words
mysteriously appearing under the biro and shook her head.
“Ah, but we’d know
he was there, dear. I’m sorry.”
That was it. I had
tried to play by their rules but this time they were being
totally unreasonable. I invented a foolproof plan. On the morning
of the trip I was waiting by the minibus, pad in hand.
“Is that you, Rebecca?” said
Mrs Brown politely to the air beyond my right ear.
I lifted the pad
and wrote my message for her.
“Oh, James insisted
you come on the trip on your own, did he? Said it would do
The pad nodded.
“Lovely, dear. Just
put your note on the seat so we know where you are. Wouldn’t
want to sit on you, would we?” she joked, weakly I thought.
She wasn’t to know
James had slipped on board ahead of me and I was actually sitting
on his knee. It was all quite exciting actually. As I’ve said
before, we don’t get out much in Little Eden.
The journey through
the Lakes was lovely, although James found out more than he
wanted to about Molly Winterbottom’s hot flushes. Not to mention
a ghastly home remedy for cellulite. He was feeling quite queasy
when we finally climbed out of the bus and even I was glad
of the fresh air. But at least we were here—and we had the
whole day to ourselves.
We slipped aboard
a lovely old Windermere steamer and managed to find plenty
of empty seats on the top deck. Every now and then someone
tried to sit on us but our reactions are fast and no-one was
aware of our presence. I don’t really know what came over us
but it was like a second honeymoon. Don’t forget we could do
exactly what we liked and no-one could see or hear us. And
it was so romantic as we sailed the length of the calm blue
lake in the gentle warmth of the soft summer sun. Mrs Winterbottom
would certainly have had a hot flush if she could have seen
“There’s a lot to
be said for being a ghost,” murmured James softly into my neck
and he got no argument from me. Not to mention the fact we
didn’t have to buy a ticket.
In the afternoon
we visited Rydal Mount which was fascinating. I had no idea
William Wordsworth was still living in the old house with his
wife and sister but he was very friendly and welcoming. They
don’t meet many ghosts apart from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and
apparently they pretend to be out when he calls round.
to the poppy,” murmured William shaking his head sadly.
I hadn’t realised
that was possible for a spirit but you live and learn. Well,
perhaps live is the wrong word. Actually, I found Dorothy a
bit odd myself but I don’t know what I’ll be like at a hundred
and fifty and anyway we shouldn’t judge. We moved on and even
managed a quick look in the shops to pick up a new pad and
a packet of biros.
At last it was time
to go home. We were tired and it had been a wonderful day but
surprisingly we were both ready to return to Little Eden. At
least everyone knew about us there and it really wasn’t such
a bad little village. I think going away always makes you appreciate
I snuggled cosily
against James as the little bus meandered its way along the
lanes and we were almost asleep when Molly Winterbottom made
“Are any of you
ladies interested in the Mothers’ Union trip to the coast next
Thursday? I’ve been told there are still four seats available.
Rebecca, what about you?”
I looked at James
and he winked mischievously. The biro roe up and started to
I don’t know about
you but we’ve always found the sea romantic...
# # #
Spectral Relations by
published May 7, 2008