Thursday, 24 December 2015

Not Exactly Ghosts ~ Andrew Caldecott

Sir Andrew Caldecott (1884~1951) was educated at Uppingham School and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he became an Honorary Fellow in 1948. He held various posts within the Malayan Civil Service, which he joined in 1907, and developed a genuine interest in the country's language and folklore. He was Governor of Hong Kong from 1935 to 1937, and then Governor of Ceylon from 1937 to 1944. He had a lifelong interest in the supernatural and, as is evident from his two volumes of supernatural tales, he was an accomplished writer, but it wasn't until after his retirement in 1944 that he published his first volume of ghost stories.

Not Exactly Ghosts was published in 1947 by Edward Arnold & Co. It contains twelve tales, all of which are excellent and very entertaining. It's a collection that I highly recommend. I particularly like Caldecott's dark sense of humour. And there's even a quote from M. R. James in the final tale.

In 'A Room in a Rectory', Reverend Nigel Tylethorpe, the newly arrived Rector of St. Botolph's in Tilchington, decides to reopen a room in the Rectory that his predecessor kept locked for years, having instructed his staff to 'leave it alone'. The room becomes Rev. Tylethorpe's study, but the sermons he composes within it become more and more concerned with the sinister and occult. And as the Rector's interest in the occult turns to obsession, he begins to believe that he is not the only occupant of the room.

In 'Branch Line to Benceston', Adrian Frent, a railway enthusiast and herbalist, is the first tenant of 'Brentside', the newly-built house next to the narrator's own abode in Brensham. Frent is a partner in a firm of music publishers, but he hates the other patner with a vengeance, feeling that the man has blighted his existence since they were boys. And when the partner dies from influenza, things take an unusual turn.

In 'Sonata in D. Minor', Peter Tullivant asks his friend Roger Morcambe to take part in a little experiment. He asks him to listen to a specific piece of music - Siedel's Sonata in D Minor - then leaves him in a locked room to do so alone, for the recording has a dramatic psychological effect an all who listen to it.

In 'Autoepitaphy', during a visit to the Senior Common Room of Selham College, Cyril Hunslow, once a history tutor at the college, reads a paper that was intended for the College Psychical Society. It concerns events at Little Court, the house he now owns, and a writing desk that appears to induce anyone who sits at it to write messages from beyond.

In 'The Pump in Thorp's Spinney', young Philip Falmer is given a working model of a garden pump for his fourth birthday, inspiring an interest in all forms of hydraulic apparatus, including ball-cocks and radiator taps. But not all of his encounters with pumps are positive, and three leave him a sufferer of terrible nightmares, especially the one that takes place during a visit to Sockstead Hall, when he goes to visit the disused pump in Thorp's Spinney, of which his model is a copy.

'Whiffs of the Sea' concerns Rupert Madgeby, who, as he explains to two visiting friends, was once haunted by a smell. Having bought a watercolour drawing of a harbour, that a friend describes as 'almost unpleasantly alive', he finds that on waking at night his nostrils are accosted by the strong smell of the fishy, shrimpy, salty sea, and the smell is accompanied by a recurring nightmare. On examining the painting, he comes across an almost erased inscription - a smugglers' song - which leads to a discovery concerning the fate of the painting's creator.

In 'In Due Course', Alec Judeson, having been sent home from Malaya after suffering malaria and then dysentery, is invited by his uncle, Matthew Judeson, to live at Saintsend, the house Alec is very much looking forward to inheriting in due course (as in, on his uncle's death, which he hopes will be soon). But Uncle Matthew appears to be far too healthy, and Alec isn't about to allow all his hopes of a speedy inheritance to come to nothing.

In 'Light in the Darkness', Martin Lorimer, principal of a Teachers' Training College in Kongea, is an outspoken critic of superstition and writes a scathing article about the Sadilena pilgrimage for the Takeokuta College Chronicle. When three of his pupils ask for time off to go on the pilgrimage to the Sadilena Cave to worship the Holy Gleam, he agrees as long as he goes with them. His intention is to debunk the whole thing, but his actions bring about unexpected consequences.

In 'Decastroland', Mr Lorenzo de Castro is the leading light in the art scene of Kongea. John Mainbarrow, an English artist who has travelled to Kongea for the benefit of his health, begins to loathe the sound of de Castro's name, as he hears it from everyone he meets and is constantly confronted by de Castro's daubs everywhere he goes. Inspired by a nightmare about his rival on the journey to Kongea, Mainbarrow maliciously sets about painting a portrait of de Castro as he appeared in that terrible dream, but in doing so is he 'giving substance on canvas to his nightmare on the voyage'?

The narrator of 'A Victim of Medusa' inherits the library of his bachelor cousin, Herbert Sidden, following the latter's sudden death. The library contains two manuscript volumes of poems and a scrapbook, the contents of which suggest that Herbert was rather obsessed with jellyfish and dabbled in mysticism, both of which were the cause of his downfall.

In 'Fits of the Blues', Dudley Lenbury, a jeweller, attends a ceremony in Kokupatta, Kongea, where a sapphire is sacrificed to Situwohela, goddess of the waters, by being flung into a lagoon. Irked by the waste of a beautiful gemstone, he can't get to sleep and goes for a swim in the sea, where he just so happens to come across Situwohela's sapphire on the sandy bed. He pockets the gem and returns to England. But who in their right mind goes pinching things from a goddess? There are bound to be consequences.

In 'Christmas Re-union', Clarence Love, a wealthy man with a somewhat questionable past, is spending Christmas with Richard and Elinor Dreyton when he receives a telegram that prompts his early departure. Already having undergone a sinister change as a result of receiving this message, Love appears even more shaken when Father Christmas visits and bids him pull a cracker. And Love's premature departure with old Santa is followed by some shocking news.

The first edition of Not Exactly Ghosts is difficult to find in fine condition, and a copy will set you back about fifty pounds or more if you find one (that's around $75). Ash Tree Press published a limited edition hardback in 2002, but that's long out of print. A fine copy with the jacket costs around thirty pounds upwards at the moment (about $45), but there aren't many of those about now. Wordsworth Editions published Not Exactly Ghosts and Fires Burn Blue in 2007, but that's out of print too. As Wordsworth paperbacks are flimsy productions to begin with, secondhand copies tend to turn up rather the worse for wear; they generally cost just a few pounds. I haven't come across a Kindle edition.

Photograph: Sir Andrew Caldecott, 7th of October 1947, by Bassano Ltd. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

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