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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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April 01 2023
Burlesque by Tessa Paxton  © Arlington and Beyond Burlesque by Tessa Paxton © Arlington and Beyond

A frightful tale of political intrigue and ghostly goings-on in the upper echelons of British society, as our reporter investigates the Ghost Creation Scheme. Words by Detective (not really) Chris Sampson.

Sipping on supermarket own-brand Worcester sauce, to wash down an unidentified foodstuff found in a fridge unopened since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I suddenly experienced a hallucinatory swirl of colours and ASMR-type whispering voices.

Had I gone mad? (What do you mean, madder? Cheek!) Or was the ancient East German nosh laced with nightmarish communist propaganda, as in the astonishingly bizarre 1957 film The Singing, Ringing Tree? Or was the sinister small print on the ersatz Worcester sauce warning me that it was designed for external application only?

None of the above, as it turned out. Rather, I sensed a chilling disturbance in the very ambience of Britain. And felt strangely drawn to a nearby Ouija board.

These are a rarity in the UK now, since Brexiteers realised that ‘Oui’ is French and ‘Ja’ German, and they had most of them burnt as mechanisms of Beelzebub or, worse (to their narrow minds), the EU.

Anyhoo. Via the Ouija board, I was contacted by The Grey Lady, the spirit of a, erm, lady who’d died in the Great Plague of 1665 and who had ever since haunted Splendourford Hall in the picturesque Buckinghamshire village of Bumface St Willoughby.

The Grey Lady wanted mortals to know that she and her fellow ghosts had voted to go on strike, in solidarity with NHS workers and many others feeling the pinch in the austerity of 2023 Britain.

“No more shall there be ye wailing and knockinge during ye guided ghoste toors of ye Great Halle, til ye Nurses are payed a realistic livinge wayge,” she spelt out on the board. As a writer (what do you mean, of sorts? Cheek!) I resisted the pedantic urge to Korrect her spulling, as no one likes a smart oarse.

Ahem. The Grey Lady bade me pass on her message to the current owners of Splendourford Hall, the Rt. Hon Lord Percival and Lady Pandora Ingleby-Thomas, who she characterised in terms unprintable in a family magazine like the Pavement. Suffice to say, both are Tory MPs.

After arranging to visit them, and enjoying the rarity of travelling outside of Zone 4, I arrived in Bucks, though declined to tug forelock, doff cap or exhibit any other form of deference to the landed gentry stipulated by the current owners of the stately pile. They let me in anyway, or at least their liveried butler did. As for the Strike of the Spectres, my hosts were dismissive. “Why, these wraiths are work-shy!” scoffed crusty old Lord Percival. “No better than Jobcentre layabouts or the homeless!” “Like, totes,” added Lady Pandora, his somewhat younger wife, judging by her vocabulary. “I mean, the government goes out of its way to kill off asylum seekers, benefits claimants and northerners in general, right? And now the scroungers won’t even haunt our stately home. I mean, duh! It’s a haunted house, and you’re ghosts. Do the maths, phantoms!”

It was time for your reporter to adopt Italics, like a proper journalist: You mean the government is deliberately letting people die? “Quite so!” Lord Percival agreed heartily. “Why do you think we brought in the Ghost Creation Scheme? Obviously, there’s no reason why claimants should have to wait five or six weeks without money to receive Universal Credit. It’s the 21st Century: changing from one benefit to another can be done at the press of a button. No one need die waiting.”

But they have. They do. Don’t they?

“Which is why,” Lady Pandora interrupted, “we’ve baked the delay into the legislation. You should be glad that we’ve managed to eradicate, like, 70,000 freeloaders, disableds, down-and-outs, and all sorts of stinky urchin types. No offence!"

Plenty taken.

Lord Percival nodded approval of his wife’s summary. “We got the blighters orf the streets and orf the taxpayers’ backs, found ‘em work in the afterlife, and are they grateful? Are they buggery!”

Are they buggery? Isn’t that a specialist club in Soho, your Lordship? Frequented by ex-public schoolboys? Even the homophobic ones? “Harrumph! I wouldn’t know,” he muttered, shuffling his feet and looking at them. “You bohemian scribbler types are more the sort who frequent such places,” he mumbled. Are we? Hmm, I wonder… Bunty Cavendish says hi, by the way…

His lordship seemed keen to change the subject. Time for your reporter to change tack. Are you prepared to go on record with what you’ve told me? About the unnecessary deaths, I mean? “Good lord, no!” he ejaculated. “If the British public ever found out the truth, there’d be a bally revolution!” But is it really true? 70,000 avoidable deaths? “It’s not a lie,” Lady Pandora chipped in. “It’s more an extension of the truth.”

But as they’d told me this, surely they must expect that I’d publicise the scandal? Unless, of course, they had other plans for me. Their eyes now shone, at odds with their rictus grins as they edged towards me. I sensed that liveried servants had been ordered to sharpen swords, axes and other weaponry found in stately homes, perhaps with a view to my joining the ghostly strikers if I threatened to spill the beans.

As for the Grey Lady and her fellow spirits, I don’t know if they did refuse to titillate ghost-hunting paying tourists to Splendourford Hall. I felt it more important to live to be cowardly another day, so I absquatulated sharpish.

Besides, I had another case to investigate back in London: The Case of The Haunted Condom. Did it once contain another, erm, member? Of Parliament, I mean. And was it really ectoplasm that was discovered at the scene of the alleged haunting? Or something much less likely to be printed in a family mag? Ew!