Conversations With Spirits

By E O Higgins

The story of a dissipated genius in a borrowed hat and coat

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Conversations with Spirits - 95 years ago this week.

The action (such as it is) in Conversations with Spirits, takes place 95 years ago this week. 

The book begins with Trelawney’s journey from London to Broadstairs on Friday the 14th December 1917, and ends – when the mystery is finally unravelled – the following Sunday.   

The news-journals that weekend were primarily concerned with the British forces’ ‘Jerusalem Operations’, - fighting that had gone on as part of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I

Having taken place largely in the Judean Hills, the conflict had culminated in early December with British forces capturing Jerusalem. 

It was such a big news story, that I thought it made sense to reference it. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

It struck me that there is something otherworldly about these great municipal railway stations - it’s the noise and smoke and waves of dispossessed people. I could readily imagine myself lost in some classical depiction of Hell.

Having procured a number of newspapers from the bookstall, I walked down the platform and boarded the train in a cloud of filthy air. Due to the mix-up with the tickets, I was still lugging about the carpet-bag that Sibella had packed for me. I planted the bag and the bowler hat into the wooden rack above my head and settled into a seat within the empty compartment.

Presently, the compartment began to fill up. A small, sallow-looking man climbed into it, furiously rubbing his hands together. The left leg of his trousers had lost its stitching and hung down behind his heel. As he planted himself into the chair next to me, I was hit by the curiously potent scent of old bread crusts. He was closely followed by a slipshod woman, of robust character, who dropped breathlessly into the seat on my other side. Unclasping the handbag resting on her knees, she delved inside and surreptitiously extracted a large pink saveloy, which she devoured hungrily.  

Just as the whistle blew, and the train departed the station, a beery looking bloke (from the candle wax staining his frayed shirt cuffs, evidently some manner of tallow chandler) clambered into the carriage from the platform’s edge and settled into the vacant seat opposite me - whereupon, he instantly took up a knife that had been concealed within his left boot. Not unnaturally, I started at this, and, observing my surprise, the man looked across at me with some relish. Then, apparently by way of explanation, he took a pippin from the pocket of his dishevelled greatcoat and sliced into it. “Don’t worry,” the man breathed in a low, rasping voice as he pulled away a chunk of the apple with his thumb. “You ain’t my man. You needn’t worry.” 

“I see our boys ’ave gotton Jerusalem back,” said an old man from behind a quivering newspaper, further down the line. “It’s about time we gave ’em what-for - filfy Arabs.”

“I know,” replied a marmalade-haired woman sat two seats to my right. “It ain’t right, is it, the Germans ’aving that? After all, it were buildeth ’ere, weren’t it?”

I laughed at this, but a succession of angry faces suddenly angled towards me made me realise quickly that the remark was not intended as a joke. The old man’s newspaper lowered and he regarded me fiercely.

“It’s easy to larf if you’re over ’ere, mate,” he said, whistling through his off-coloured overbite. “Different matter when you’re out there, I daresay.”

I was taken aback. Having never been addressed as ‘mate’ before in my life, I resolved, there and then, to purchase a better hat at the first opportunity. 

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