When I came to have my photographs of Matlock Bath developed, I was astonished to find that, among my snaps of the Venetian Night boat parade on the River (taken from the Jubilee Bridge) there was this –
– quite clearly a ghost – perhaps of someone unlucky on the Lovers’ Walk – who had thrown themselves from the bridge in a fit of despair. In a second photograph, the ghost – perhaps startled by the flash from the camera – has dissolved into a swirling mass of ectoplasm –
Explain that one away, if you can, Psychic Investigators …
On Sunday I went on a guided tour of the Hammond Arboretum at Robert Smyth School. There were any number of beautiful and fascinating trees there, but, inevitably, my eye was attracted to this. Apparently it (a Prince Eugene Poplar) used to be the tallest tree in Leicestershire, before it caught a disease that made it turn completely white. The guide described it (I think) as having had a spectral appearance in its later years.
Dickens is sometimes credited with (or accused of) inventing the modern Christmas, but, in this case, he was reminding his readers of the older rural Christmas that was being eclipsed in the contemporary industrial cities. The Ghost of Christmas Present is recognisably Father Christmas, but also (witness his effect on Scrooge’s room) at least a cousin of the Green Man, reviving and greening the earth in the depths of Winter.
“It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see:, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”
Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.”
So, we move on to the second apparition – the Ghost of Christmas Past.
In this “stave” we see that Scrooge’s problems are not only intellectual (a particularly brutal form of Malthusian Utilitarianism), but personal. Some of what occurs is taken directly from Dickens, but the film version goes out of its way to provide a plausible psychological explanation for Scrooge’s behaviour by, as we would say today, “fleshing out the back story“. (The Spirits are tough on hard-heartedness, tough on the causes on hard-heartedness).
Not only was he temporarily abandoned by a violent and capricious father, but he was lured away from the values instilled in him by the philanthropic small businessman Fezziwig by the unscrupulous Jorkin (a character who does not appear in the book). Jorkin believes in “progress”, and in replacing men with machines. I’m sure that, if you were to look hard enough, you could find some of the preoccupations of 1951 here, as well as those of 1843.
The film rather ducks out of trying to represent the Ghost. Unsurprisingly so, really …
“It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.”
(Also visible in this clip, George Cole as the young Scrooge, and Jack Warner (Evenin’ All) as Jorkin. The romantic scenes are a little in the spirit of Gainsborough Pictures).
My daughter has begun to study Macbeth and A Christmas Carol for her GCSE English (in tandem, which is an interesting idea, and not one that I would have thought of). So that I can offer aid and assistance, I’ve been re-reading A Christmas Carol. I suppose it’s one of those books that everyone thinks they have read, even if they haven’t (someone’s definition of a classic, I think – Alan Bennett? – Anthony Burgess?). What sometimes goes missing in adaptations, but is evident if you read the book, is how specifically Dickens has in his sights a particular piece of legislation (the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act), the philosophies behind it and its consequences – “You may talk vaguely about driving a coach and six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament”.
Scrooge’s redemption represents, I suppose, the triumph of sentiment over brute reason.
Here is Scrooge’s first visitation, from the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, in the 1951 film adaptation (unfortunately a “colorized” version). Alastair Sim plays Scrooge, Michael Hordern the ghost. It’s worth watching to the end to see how they represent this scene …
“The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped. Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night. Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever. Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.”
If I get time, I think I shall try to arrange some more visitations in the run up to Christmas. Any comments such as “Humbug!” will be deleted.
Another statue. From a distance, given its location, it looks a little like the Tomb of the Unknown Yuppie, but it’s really something quite different.
"Three printers" by Wilfred Dudeney
This is situated in a garden where I sometimes eat my lunch – the Goldsmiths’ Company garden. It was originally commissioned by the Westminster Press and stood just off Fleet Street. When the area was redeveloped it was removed and ended up in a scrapyard in Watford. It was rescued by the writer Christopher Wilson, who persuaded the Goldsmiths’ Company – who owned the land on which it had stood – to relocate it to their garden.
The name is misleading, as only the figure on the left, as you look it, is a printer. He is a compositor, and his “stick” spells out the name of the sculptor (“stick” being the technical printer’s term for the, er stick that held the type that he was about to set up). (My grandfather and his father before him – on the more literate side of the family – worked as comps incidentally, and both, no doubt as a result, were dab hands at Scrabble). The slightly simian figure on the right is a newsboy and the one in the middle is variously described as an editor or a proprietor.
The compositor has, of course, been rendered obsolete by the march of progress, and so too – since the Evening Standard became a free-sheet – has the newsboy. I wonder how long it will be before the editor joins them?
I haven’t been able to discover a great deal about Wilfred Dudeney, apart from the fact that he was born in Leicester and was the son of a journalist. His other famous work is Boy Riding a Ram, which is to be seen in Derby.
(Every time I insert spaces between the paragraphs in this post, some unseen hand removes them again. Perhaps some ghostly comp taking his revenge?)
by accident and felt slightly spooked by it – as though I was witnessing some sort of spirit manifestation (and I suppose it is intended as a kind of reanimation).
Even leaving aside the visuals, this always seems to be the effect on me of hearing the recorded voice of someone I think of as having lived in the pre audiovisual world – though in Newbolt’s case this is irrational in that he lived until 1938, so he could theoretically have appeared live on the TV (though in what capacity he might have done so I can’t imagine.)