Lately, I’ve been thinking about ghosts.
The first? Well, Mr Wilson and I are in discussions about a proposed editorial project that might well involve spooks, spectres and other supernatural occurrences. We both love the traditional ghost stories of MR James and his ilk, all dread and gaslight, lonely academics, cursed landscapes and desolate beaches, and are interested in attempting to put together a collection of tales that can instil the same feelings of dislocation and creepiness with a contemporary setting. But more on that as it develops.
The second reason that ghosts are preying on my thoughts (so to speak), is that we’ve recently been visiting Britain’s oldest surviving music hall: the Britannia Panopticon. The Panopticon is on the formerly sealed-off second floor of a Victorian building on the Trongate which houses an amusement arcade at street level. There’s an auditorium and a balcony (unsafe for use), the remains of a stage, and that’s about it. Around the walls are displayed old music sheets, theatre bills and newspaper clippings from its heydey and they indicate that it wasn’t only a music hall, but also a zoo, an early cinema, a freak show and a venue to which gentlemen went to watch saucy ladies dancing. In its day, most of the big names in Scottish variety played there, along with touring performers from other parts of the UK. Archie Leech performed there as an acrobat in the days before he moved to Hollywood and changed his name to Cary Grant, and the Panopticon stage was where a young lad from Cumbria named Arthur Stanley Jefferson made his debut. But I’ll come back to him.
What I will say at this juncture is that the place is really worth a visit. It’s full of atmosphere. It has spirit.
The Britannia restoration society has recently been making the Panopticon available for various fund-raising performances. The first of these that we went to was an evening of Burlesque performances (which appears to be all the rage these days), a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours not even slightly marred by the various technical problems that arose with the sound. I only mention these they were attributed by the Britannia people to… the resident ghosts. Trust me, in that place you could just about believe it.
The second event we attended at the Panopticon was a rather special one. I mentioned young Arthur Jefferson earlier. Well, he changed his name some time later to Stan Laurel and even now has rather a lot of fans. So, on the hundredth anniversary of his debut, we were treated to a showing of some Laurel and Hardy classics, which I was never that fond of as a youngster, but in that venue, and in the company of a bunch of extremely affable fez-toting gentlemen (and one rather dishy usherette), I felt like I got it at last. A lovely evening it was, and perhaps the ghosts were showing their approval by keeping their technical interference to a minimum.
So, the upshot of all this? Well, I’ve sketched out an idea for a story which will feature, the Panopticon, an animatronic Stan Laurel and a friendly ghost.
I get like that. Haunted by ideas.
But for now, back to finishing the novel.