Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Note in the Margin

Se tu nonveneris ad me, ego veniam ad te.’ *

It was one of those intensely uncomfortable moments in life when one is confronted by some phantom of the past that one has not seen in an awfully long time and quite frankly would never really care to see again, but there it was. George Caernhume was walking along Bond Street when he was stopped by an old acquaintance and college friend by the name of Cedric Gray. Cedric was a tall, wide-eyed man of about forty-one years who spoke with a slight lisp and had a cigarette hanging on his stupid lips, the smoke of which frequently got in his eyes and caused him to blink furiously.
‘Hello George, you haven’t changed a bit! It must be over twenty years since I clapped eyes on you last!’
‘Cedric, hello, yes more like twenty-six I believe.’ George said, shaking Cedric’s hand.
‘Do you remember that time when you and Lavinia Wyndham...’
‘It is indelibly printed upon my mind Cedric’ said George, stopping him short ‘and I have gone through ten years of therapy to forget it! Thank you for undoing all that good work!’
‘My pleasure old boy, think nothing of it! Still the same sense of humour! That hasn’t changed either!’ George and Cedric entered a little coffee shop and ordered two coffees and sat down at a table.
‘What did happen to Lavinia?’ asked George.
‘Oh you know a spirit like that can’t be contained! She went travelling around the world I believe and married some French man!’ Cedric slurped his coffee, much to George’s annoyance.
‘I remember the first time I saw her’ said George, ‘she came bursting into the common room at College like thunder, an uncontrollable mass of beautiful energy! My thoughts at the time were that I must get to know this wonderful creature, and sure enough I did. We had some marvellous times together!’
‘Yes, she did prefer to help those in need and you were certainly never more needy George!’
‘Thank you Cedric, it shall be my epitaph!’
‘I believe it will! Think nothing of it! Tell me, what are you up to these days?’
‘I work for a local paper, restaurant reviews, you know the sort of thing?’
‘Perfectly well, lots of free food and wine eh?’ Said Cedric, nudging George’s elbow off the table and half spilling his coffee.
‘And what about you Cedric, what do you do?’ George asked, feigning interest.
‘I work in theatre, had to happen old boy, you can’t resist this much charm for too long you know, the “stage” was inevitably my destiny eh?’
‘Quite!’ George yawned and looked out of the window at the people passing by.
‘And where are you living these days George?’Cedric said, releasing George from his dreamy gaze.
‘I have a room in Manchester Street, not much but it suits me!’
‘You don’t say! A friend of mine, a man named Finch lived in Manchester Street at number 41 and had the most god-awful experiences there!’Cedric said.
‘Finch! That sounds familiar! Didn’t he disgrace himself at University one night by going on a rampage and smashing some incredibly old and probably priceless statues?’
‘That’s the chap!’ Cedric said smiling, his bright eyes like flares all of a sudden.
‘Yes as I recall he decapitated one with a bench!’ George shook his head.
‘He got kicked out of Halls because of that!’
‘Good riddance! He should have known better being a “so-called” artist! They were Georgian for God’s sake! He should have been strung up!’George frowned and sipped the remainder of his coffee.
‘Perhaps it was an artistic statement, y’know, some grand post-modern swipe at convention and establishment or something; an iconoclastic gesture of the sort!’
‘Drunk more like!’ exclaimed George. ‘Damned foolish! For a time he was the most wanted man on campus I recall!’
‘You know I shared a room with him’ said Cedric, ‘and one of his little escapades began with him throwing all my bedding out of the window, I wasn’t there to stop him at the time, he’d drank half a bottle of whisky and proceeded to do a midnight streak around the campus grounds! Really you could write a book on his misadventures! In fact he did publish a book of poems called “Epitaph for a Somnambulist”!’
‘Buffoon!’ said George.
‘He even went out with a bang as I remember! On his final day on campus, he was drinking heavily, wine all evening at some silly event and he decided to sneak into the girl’s Halls of Residence to sleep it off! So he lay in the bath but he failed to notice the tap was dripping furiously and the plug was in! He woke the next morning completely wet through so he spent some time half-naked in the kitchen drying his clothes over a gas jet. Suddenly a woman cleaner came in and reported him to security who swiftly ejected him from College! And I won’t even mention the time he was supposed to be at work and spent the evening in a “boy bar” getting very drunk indeed!’
‘You just did! So what happened?’
‘Well, you’d think the days of Auden and Isherwood and those heady days in Berlin had never ended! He woke up the next day with no recollection of what happened to him or how he got home and was six-hundred pounds lighter!’ Cedric said laughing.
‘I didn’t know he was that way inclined?’ frowned George.
‘He puts his feet into both trouser legs at the same time if you understand me old boy? And besides, I bedded him myself once! Does that shock you George?’
‘No not at all!’
‘Pity, I’m awfully fond of shocking people you know!’ George and Cedric re-freshened their coffee and sat back down.
‘So what happened to the statue-smashing little anarchist? Is he still fighting the establishment?’ George enquired.
‘No, he became it! He scraped an upper 2.2 with Honours and is now Lord Abington!’
‘Well I’m blown! So much for his de-constructivist principles, damn him!’ George said angrily, expecting to hear he was doing time at her majesty’s pleasure for cat strangling or something.
‘Anyway, as I was saying’ Cedric continued, ‘this man Finch had a room at 41 Manchester Street and apparently he did some abominable things there, y’know, black arts and all that!’
‘You mean devil worship; demonology stuff?’ George whispered.
‘That’s exactly what I do mean! I went to visit him there once and it would have taken a man with absolutely no feelings of sensitivity whatsoever, someone much like the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, a man known to have a heart of stone when it comes to feelings, to have not felt the awful atmosphere upon ascending the stair and entering his room; it was remarked upon several times by acquaintances! He confided in me once that he suffered terrible tortures every night by some sort of “other-world” visitation.’
‘You mean a ghost?’ said George scratching his ear.
‘Not quite old boy, a succubus!’ Cedric said, looking round as if he at any minute would be accosted by something ‘unseen’ himself!
‘Succubus? I don’t understand!’ George said, blowing his nose.
‘A succubus is an entity which in female form makes sexual congress with a man, usually during the small hours of the night while he is asleep or in a semi-wakeful state. Its male counterpart is called an incubus!’ ‘So this man Finch is the prey of some female creature that disturbs his sleep wanting sex?’
‘Precisely!’ nodded Cedric.
‘Sounds like my ex-wife!’ George said laughing to himself.
‘It’s no joke old boy! If you saw the state he was in! And he wasn’t just perpetrated by the succubus you know, the male incubus attempted to seduce him too!’ Cedric said with a look of alarm on his face.
‘You must forgive a young gentleman his indiscretions! So, what happened next; I am intrigued Cedric?’
‘Well I being my usual pragmatic self decided to look into the history of the building to see if anything untoward had happened there in the past and I discovered that a man had lived in the “haunted” room at Manchester Street, in fact, I was able to find out quite a lot of information about him!’ Cedric pulled his chair closer to George for fear of being overheard, which was strange as he hadn’t cared who overheard their conversation up till that moment!
‘Do go on!’ whispered George.
‘Well, for one thing, this man, the enigmatically named Ulam Boolam (his real name is not recorded in any data) lived a solitary existence in the room with his cat “Elsinore” and began acting very strange!’
‘In what way strange?’ George enquired.
‘Following his “night attacks” he began reading the Bible to ward off the creature which seemed to work for a time and eventually he became completely enmeshed in Christianity and began living his life as if he were a Saint! That Bible became his only companion; even the cat was forgotten and eventually wandered off in search of a new master! Ulam took his “calling” to undiscovered heights: Do you know he could fondle himself to the point of puritanical eruption and land himself like a full-stop upon a penny four feet away!’ Cedric remarked.
‘Not Sovereign’s face upwards I hope! That would be disrespectful – the only thing that should be on the Queen’s face is Prince Philip and that very seldom! How disgusting! How disgraceful! How deplorable! I’m damned sure that’s a treasonable offense you know!’ George retorted, quite shocked.
‘Not in the least! It shows great dedication, determination and dexterity!’ laughed Cedric.
‘Depravity more like!’
Cedric continued, ‘well, you know, that sort of control of one’s will is bound to have a major effect, in fact, he decided to become ascetic to the point of almost non-existence – he religiously bathed once a month, whether he needed it or not! He ate an assortment of boiled vegetables, but only when there was an “f” in the weekday; and he abstained from sexual thoughts and activity on every day of every month which began with the letter “s” without fail, every leap year!’
‘And how did that fair him?’ asked a puzzled George.
‘He died!’ exclaimed Cedric.
‘I should think so too!’
‘Oh it was not his way of life which finished him, no, not at all, he hung himself in an attempt to prove the validity of the resurrection!’ ‘Wouldn’t crucifixion be more suitable?’ George pointed out.
‘Probably, but being a confirmed hermit who would he get to hammer the nails in?’
‘You have a valid point there! But really, I can’t be doing with all that religious tosh! Why should we, a modern nation believe in the word of some long-dead foreigner and his far-away clap-trap? I can’t think of anything more un-believable and detestable – it’s an outrage! I’d rather believe in Aesop’s fables! Granted, this Jesus person was very clever and his tricks were faultless to the primitive mind, if grossly exaggerated, but look at the Old and New Testaments: the parting of the Red Sea; the Plagues of Egypt; Lazarus...’
Cedric cut him short, saying: ‘talking of Moses did you know that “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously, Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses, as Moses supposes his toeses to be!’
‘I beg your pardon?’ said an astonished George.
‘The quotation game! You remember, we used to play it in College!’
‘Oh yes, of course! “Singing in the Rain”!’
‘Well done!’ grimaced Cedric.
‘Talking erroneously, time has blown all that biblical guff out of proportion. In two thousand years time Morrissey will be seen as the Blessed Virgin Mary and Batman will have achieved mythic god-like status! Why can’t we believe in something English eh? Like good ol’ Saint George or better still King Arthur, now there’s a story, Camelot and all that!’ George clapped his hands together with glee.
‘A good musical!’ sang Cedric.
‘Yes indeed, in fact, “when I hear that happy beat, I feel like dancin’ down the street!’
‘What?’Bemused Cedric.
‘”Gotta Dance”. Gene Kelly. “Singing in the Rain”. 1952.’ Said George smugly.
‘Oh yes, you got me there old boy! But seriously, I fear you are upsetting the Christian in me!’
‘Are you Christian then?’Said George a little perplexed.
‘No, I just ate one for breakfast and he’s causing me indigestion!’ laughed Cedric, almost falling off his chair.
‘Very amusing Cedric! By the way, did you find anything else interesting on this “Ulam Boolam” character?’
‘Just that his death certificate was signed by a ‘Doctor Umbilicus’, which made me laugh out loud but apart from that there isn’t much else to know! When the door to his room was broken into by the landlord upon several complaints of the “resinous and pungent aroma” emanating from the room, the body of Ulam Boolam was found, much decomposed, hanging from a neck tie and upon his bedside table were two items and two items only: a little silver crucifix and his Bible. The Bible that he owned has an account of his nightly visitations and background details in his own hand, written in the margin which is the only real document we have to support the ‘haunted room’ suggestion and the succubus claim. The Bible is there in the British Library for anyone to investigate should they so wish and happen to be in the ownership of a readers’ ticket.’
‘Did your friend Finch recover?’George asked, finishing his coffee.
‘After treatment and after moving away from the accursed place he did. But he was never really the same again, he took a “journey to a strange new world” and left “all thoughts of the world” he “knew before” he let his “soul take” him where he longed to be, only then can...”’
‘“You belong to me!”’ George finished.
‘”The Music of the Night”. Andrew Lloyd Webber. “The Phantom of the Opera”. 1986’
‘Damn! You’re too good at this!’ Cedric exclaimed.

*’If you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you.’ [‘A School Story’ from ‘More Ghost Stories’ by M R James. 1911]

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