So they used the Seldon equation?

Because you can calculate that sort of thing.

I watched 2012 this afternoon. It was one of those disaster movies in which if any volcano can explode, it will at the worst possible moment, but the speed of the pyroclastic flow will be insufficient to catch any vehicle no matter how slow it travels. And so on.

Anyway, John Cusack bumbles into the whole end-of-the-world party during an outing with his kids who live with his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Actually, who needs to rehearse the rest when you can extrapolate from a single cliché? Yeah, it’s the old broken family-brought-together-by-a-disaster movie

It’s overlong. It’s overblown. I can imagine Roland Emmerich calling for bigger volcanoes, bigger tidal waves, and more clichés. 2012 came, went, and might be parodied in The Simpsons or Family Guy sooner or later.

As for the Chinese angle, it was a rather insignificant part of the film. I couldn’t help but observe that one of the characters on the sign attached to the fence when John Cusack and his friends reached the area where the arks were being built was traditional not simplified as you’d expect on the Mainland.

The end was ridiculous with the sea level conveniently declining, Africa being a safe haven (never mind the Africans), and no mention of the effect of Yellowstone National Park blowing up or the billions of dead people or the destruction of the entire global economy and infrastructure. But apart from that, everything else was just peachy.

[17.10.13. Ironically, I’ve been showing 2012 to my classes in connection with natural disasters (IB Year 2). Unlike other films which I’ve seen time and again, this hasn’t grown on me. Instead, I was pleased to see the back of it.]

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“That was my last bullet, Holmes. Any suggestions?”

“Elementary, my dear Watson. Kick ass!”
I finally got round to watching Sherlock Holmes last night, a kind of steampunk take on Conan Doyle’s literary ’tec. In the film, the evil Lord Thumbsucker uses the premise that advanced tech seems like magic to the uninitiated and appears to rise from the dead to create a New World Order while Holmes and Watson race to thwart his evil schemes. In the meantime, Watson has reached puberty and is now a bit keen on some girl, while an old flame of Holmes’s gets thrown at him as an enticement by Professor Moriarty who merely lurks in the shadows because he’s waiting for the sequel.
Somehow everyone gets from the Houses of Parliament to Tower Bridge (under construction) in short order, and knowing that the grand finale has to take place in a precarious location, they ascend to the top of the bridge for the Big Fight™. This time Lord Thumbsucker really does dangle and they all go out for tea and cakes.
Overall, I’d say that Sherlock Holmes is not a bad film. It’s a little League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with its steampunk elements, although they’re much less pronounced than they were in LXG. Some of it departs a little too much from canon for my taste with Holmes taking to the ring and the pair of them going ninja on the villains, but it’s fun in its own way if you’re not going to demand too much of it. No sign of Holmes the drug addict except in one scene when he’s performing some arcane ritual, but perhaps 7% solution and Robert Downey Jr.’s history didn’t sit comfortably together.
As for the RDJ’s accent, before the IMDb was blocked[1], I saw a lot of comments about difficulties people were having understanding it. Actually, it was perfectly intelligible with occasional lapses into American sounds. The other issue was the allegedly gay sub-text, but Holmes and Watson were perhaps like schoolboys, one of whom had discovered girls. This seems to be a common theme of (American?) movie reviews, that two men can’t be friends without it being a gay thing.
Notes
1. On that score I’m wondering whether the associations which Avatar had for Chinese audiences had something to do with that; alternatively, Nanny feared what reactions there might be to the Confucius biopic: “That was my last arrow, Master. Any suggestions?” My dear Yan Hui, the Master says, ‘Kick ass!’
Eventually, the IMDb was unblocked, but the whole affair made no sense.

Now showing outside Walmart

Road traffic accident porn.
 
Because we’re moving to the other building tomorrow, today was the last day of term for us. The AS class was mostly absent this morning with a few students turning up at whenever o’clock. The girls wanted to watch some ghastly Japanese medi-soap called Heli-Doctor which seemed to have a cast of 17-year-olds pretending to be doctors. They briefly turned their attention to The Sleeping Forest, but that palled, and they ended with Johnny Countdown, which was either the name of the programme or the name of the large band of effeminate Japanese boys dressed like girls. I wasn’t sure which. The boys went off to the computer room to play World of Warcraft. I read some more of Human Traces by Sebastian Faulkes.
 
I hung around at school after that because we had a meeting at lunchtime about tomorrow’s move. The Internet went down probably because the computer room was being dismantled and after the meeting (mercifully brief), I packed my stuff in a blue plastic crate.
 
I needed to buy yet another medium-sized suitcase (the fourth or fifth since I came to China?) and headed off to Trust Mart where I couldn’t find anything for less than ¥200. Having paid not much more than ¥150 or so for a suitcase in the past, I wasn’t prepared to spend quite that amount of money.
 
I headed down the road to Walmart where I found a large truck with a TV screen on the side of it parked outside showing footage of accidents at intersections in uncensored detail. I saw a little while I parked my bike, but I could not have stopped and watched because what little I saw was too harrowing. From what I saw, the campaign seemed to be aimed at cyclists and electric bike riders venturing across intersections against the red light and getting mown down by some speeding motorist. That seemed to be the other part of the production – motorists going too fast through intersections. The music serenading the carnage was Beethoven’s 5th.
 
When I came out of Walmart with a suitcase which will do, but isn’t really what I was after, an even larger crowd had gathered including a squadron of electric bike riders on the side of the road. Apart from entertainment, was the obvious lesson, that you’ll die or be badly injured if you try some idiot stunt like these, actually getting through to them? I’m very lucky in that I’ve never seen accidents like the ones which were being shown, but I’ve seen plenty of accidents waiting to happen as some cretin dashes across an intersection just as the light has turned green for the other line of traffic.
 
We’re going back to school tomorrow to move our kit and then after that, the holiday begins with an excruciatingly early departure for Hong Kong on Sunday morning.

The SarcMark

“I want one. I really do,” said Mr Bamboo sarcastically.

sarcmark Who said that Mr Bamboo isn’t abreast of the latest developments in punctuation. Shortly to be joining the interrobang as the world’s least used punctuation mark is the SarcMark which, as you can see from the picture, is a twisted (deformed?) ex­cla­m­at­ion mark. It probably cost US$100,000 to develop, but you can have one in the com­fort of your very own home for US$1.99. Money well spent, methinks. For example, how much easier things might’ve been for Google just recently with the SarcMark. Before:

Google: We’re not going to censor stuff because we’re not making any money in China.
Corrupt official: Dude, we’re totally cool with that.
Google: Really?!
Corrupt official: No. I’m being sarcastic.
Google [disappointed]: Oh.

After:

Google: We’re not going to censor stuff because we’re not making any money in China.
Corrupt official: Dude, we’re totally cool with that <insert SarcMark here>
Google [disappointed]: Oh.

Of course, I’m now waiting for Nanny to block the SarcMark or else you might get

Disgruntled Chinese person: I’m going to criticise the government.
Corrupt official: You go right ahead and do what like <insert SarcMark here>
Disgruntled Chinese person: You’re just being sarcastic. I’m going to keep my mouth shut.
Corrupt official: Damn this accursed SarcMark!

I find that the Chinese for “sarcasm” is 讽刺 fěngcì (or have I mentioned this before? The word looks vaguely familiar), although I’m not sure how close the sense is to the English word because it’s more to do with satire; or there’s 挖苦 wāku, which means “speak sarcastically or ironically”. A 挖苦话 ~huà is a “sarcastic remark”.
My cup of sarcasm is quite keen to run over because of the fairly dire essays from AS1’s reading and writing exam. Unfortunately, there would be only so many times I could write “What a well-written piece of work.” or “Who said originality was dead in China?” or “I just couldn’t stop reading.” I’m also trying to avoid writing report-style comments linking the dullness of their writing with the class’s general dullness this term.

Exam week

Now with added irrelevant pictures.
 
Willow in violet, Wuxi. It’s exam week this week. Well, exam tri(h)emera, perhaps. I do wish exam week meant a whole week of exams and signalled the end of term (well, they are end-of-term exams), but we still have classes on Thursday and Friday, and next week. Apart from spending (part of) a class going through the answers, I’m going to designate the rest of the time as practical leisure classes. 学曰: What are we doing, teacher? 子曰: “Whatever, paduan learners. Only when you grow like bamboo and flow like water will you understand the ways of the Force.” 学曰: Star Wars geek. Knowing that the PAL classes are not very good at leisure, I expect they’ll all resort to homework. Do you get this sort of hanging week in the normal world? In the past, our exams were the week before school exams, but in this case, our exams are the school exams.
 
The canal looking south-west, Wuxi. I finished marking the PAL1 reading and writing exams this afternoon. The results were the same as last time, but the average has dropped. I was stricter with the summary exercise, which ended up being a lot of copying from the text, although a few answers attempted a paraphrase. But on the whole, I was expecting the average to be an A.
 
We were having quite a laugh in the office this afternoon at some of the addle-brained answers to the grammar section of the AS paper. Glancing through AS1, I see that a lot of students had to add a negative to their conditional sentences to make them correct.
  1. The house hasn’t burned dwon [sic!], if Mrs Smith couldn’t have fell asleep with a cigarette in her hand.
  2. If the house had not burn down, Mrs Smith wouldn’t fall asleep with a cigarette in her hand.
  3. If the ship had not sank, the captain would not have seen the reef.
Several students managed to produce some form of the arse-backwards second and third sentences. As Colin observed of the third sentence, the reef must be underwater. I also note a lot of “sanked” among the answers. But who in AS1 needs my assistance with their English when they think they know it all so well?
 
Nor did the PAL students shrink from a little unintentional comedy. One claimed that if humans stopped eating meat, we’d become vegetables; and another said that students were prepared for review writing by being irritated.
 
From the pictures, you can see the banks of the canal have been decorated with strings of violet lights. From my window, I can see a line of willow trees which are coloured violet by the lights. When I got to the trees, I found the effect was different from ground level. The tree above is about as close as it gets to what I see, and even that isn’t quite it. The second picture is looking back to the road bridge on the other side of which is 运河公园. The name of the lane beside the bridge is 挹秀路 (Yìxiù Lù), which either means “promote beauty (or, excellent people)” or “scoop up (or, ladle out) crops”.
 
I’ve bought my ticket for Hong Kong and have booked a room in the usual guesthouse. The prices have gone up slightly since last time (now two years ago). The travel agent suggested a couple of hotels for about HK$500 a night, but I’m not feeling that wealthy. Besides, this is largely a shopping expedition, which reminds me that I need to buy a medium-sized suitcase.
 
An oddly warm day. qq was claiming that it was about 15°-17°, which may well be right. I have my windows open to let some warm air in because the place has been feeling a little chilly in spite of the generally warmer temperatures outside. It seems to have rained a little last night, was clear this morning, cloudy by 11am, and then mostly clear later. That was the weather. Now for the literature.
 
I finished reading The Power of Darkness, Tales of Terror by Edith Nesbit the other day. This is a collection of short stories published by Wordsworth. It includes Man-Size in Marble which is to be found in a good many anthologies along with nineteen other tales. I think I’ve had enough of such stories again because I felt that most of these were workman-like but nothing special. My favourite was actually Number 17 in which a commercial traveller manages to trick one of his colleagues out of the best room in the hotel where they’re staying with a tale of terror. The story appears to be unavailable online, or it may be buried away in an anthology. That just leaves me with the anthology of stories by Sheridan le Fanu which MR James edited, and once that is out of the way, I will’ve finished my horror story collection.

Inside outside

It’s like upstairs downstairs, but all about in and out.
 
I went to Blue for tea last night where I had a rather expensive steak pie with mashed potato and gravy, and peas. It’s the first pie I’ve had in, er, well… Not sure, but it’s been a long time since I ate a pie.
 
Having spent most of this weekend orchestrating a tournament between Chess Titans and Shredder 4 to see what I could learn about playing against Chess Titans as black, I used the excuse of needing to buy some milk to go on a brief adventure locally.
 
wuxi_ruins
 
Demolition on the houses down the street behind the school has started, with some already well on their way into history. I’ve been meaning to get a photo of the street in the morning while it’s bright, but the sun hasn’t risen high enough into the sky to be visible. There’s been something about that partially muted lighting that I quite like. Probably it’s not something my camera could capture.
 
wuxi_colonnade
 
I decided to go over to 运河公园, which largely didn’t exist when I arrived and now has ancient colonnades with inscriptions on which the paint hasn’t dried. I’m not exaggerating either. [There really is a first time for everything. –ed.] There were some council workers blackening the characters of the inscription further along to the left.
 
wuxi_willows
 
I then went the opposite direction and rode alongside the canal towards the bridge that crosses to the island from this side. I’ve never actually been along there, although I’ve seen it out of my window innumerable times. There’s a line of willows down their whose branches turn violet at night from the string of lights which run along the balustrade. I ought to go down their one night and get a picture.
 
It was surprisingly mild out in spite of the day being clear, although mild at the moment might mean 8°, which would indeed feel quite warm after the sort of temperatures we’ve had.
 
Speaking exams ended on Friday with the results being good, bad and ugly. The surprise was Diana, whose written English is fairly dreadful, but her spoken English is excellent. I found that may pairings did not always work as well as I had hoped because they were based solely on the mid-term exam in which we only did reading and writing. I’m also going to need to be better prepared for the vegetables in the classes. The most difficult exam I had was the dim girls from PAL2 who could barely string a brain cell together between them and who gave me little or nothing to work with. Depending on what happens next time, I think I might test the vegetables singly rather than in pairs.
 
The exams start tomorrow. Of course, mine would start first thing. I have no doubt that the little darlings will probably repeat their performance from the mid-term in the reading and writing, but I think the listening will drag a lot of them down. The problem with the book is the lack of listening material, and what I did last week was too little too late.

But we were such best friends

Beardie boys bugger Baidu.
 
According to this story on The Register, the Iranian Cyber Army hacked Baidu’s front page. Do my eyes deceive me? I thought China and Iran were BFF. Perhaps the only part of Cyberia that people in Iran can surf is China. Danwei has a short article about it, but no more than the absolute basics along with a screenshot. Perhaps the Iranian ambassador was summoned to Zhongnanhai and told that supplies of pirated Japanese AV would be cut off.
 
I then went to Monsters and Critics (now that the evil IMDb has been blocked) and was reading the review of Daybreakers. It says
So when the hole is drilled through Dafoe’s leg and a bolt inserted through the leg to captivate the victim that is more shocking than simply human flesh being torn from the bones of living victims as happens in “Daybreakers.”
Captivate? I hope I’m never captivated again if this is what happens. Is this an instance of Vulgar (or Medieval) Latin Syndrome in English? Is the principle being applied here “Short words are informal; long words are formal”?
 
According to my Oxford Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, the word did have the sense implied in the review – in the 16th century.
 
Or perhaps I’m missing something. I get the impression that the review needed editing for clarity because on first reading I’m not sure whether the quote above refers specifically to Daybreakers or Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (in which Willem Dafoe also appeared). Perhaps “captivate” is the correct word after all, but has been so decontextualised that I don’t understand it. On further consideration, I think the sentence does refer to Antichrist, but as I said, editing for clarity is required. Perhaps I’m going to see “nominate” in the sense of “name (vb)” sooner or later (as in “What did you nominate the baby?” or “We decided to nominate him Bob”).
 
Meanwhile, at lunchtime I found I had a mail message telling me that the speaking exam was being couriered to school today, although nothing turned up. I’m a bit bloody annoyed because it would’ve been nice to have been told that this was going to happen. I went to the CIE website to get a speaking exam because I’d scheduled the speaking exams to begin yesterday evening. And because I didn’t have any details about the exam, I set the length at about eight minutes per pair so that I could get through everyone this week. It was only when I finally saw a speaking exam that I found that the whole exam is meant to take about 15 minutes (and that would, under normal circumstances, be for one student).
 
Let me put it like this, the IGCSE ESL speaking exam could learn a thing or two from the FCE and IELTS exams.
 
Yesterday, a little snow. Today, bright sunshine. Even felt a little warmer by this afternoon.

Triumph der Übertrouser

As translated into German from I Panteloni by Giuseppe Verdi.
 
Another delight evening in Wuxi Just when I thought we might be in for a dry winter, the rain returned today for the first time in about a month or so and the over-trousers my parents sent me were put to the test at long last. Sea trials were successful and my trousers remained unscathed. Actually, the rain isn’t exactly heavy, but I doubt whether there’s been any cessation all day.
 
I ended up spending the day most playing Easy Chess, winning matches, and then analysing the games in Shredder. I do not, I admit, win the games easily. I may be triumphant, but I’m triumphant incompetently. In one match I could’ve ended things on the 20th move quite easily if I’d noticed, and in another there were a couple of moves which unnecessarily delayed the outcome as I fought local battles. So I may win, but until I can consistently and comfortably outplay Easy Chess, I don’t feel I’ve really achieved anything.
 
Generally Easy Chess does play poorly with lots of pawn moves, a lack of development, terrible moves (worse than mine – yes, that bad), and irregular openings (with the occasional Centre Counter Defence or Philidor’s Defence). Perhaps it’s the disorderliness of the program which makes it a struggle for the novice player to overcome. On the other hand, Easy Chess sometimes gets rather aggressive and chases pieces for a bit. It’s also prone to playing Bb4 and Bg4, which can be singularly annoying moves.

Yours forever

A true tale by Mr Bamboo.
When my grandmother died just recently at the age of 105, the family went through her house and my father, being the youngest and fastest of his generation, managed to purloin several items long suspected of being quite valuable antiques, some of which allegedly date back to the late 18th century.
 
Among the objects which my father inherited was a portable writing desk which he noticed seemed to contain something because he is susceptible to detecting rattles where others detect none. There was nothing obvious in the writing desk, but he soon realised that there must have been a hidden compartment, and my mother found a means of opening it using a concealed latch while my father was getting his power saw. This was fortunate, because this particular portable writing desk, which is is excellent condition, is very valuable.
 
Inside the draw was a tightly rolled sheaf of papers which contained a diary written by my grandmother’s great aunt, Agnes Pembury in around the mid 19th century. I’m not quite sure why the diary was passed on to me (my father said something about it being in Old English, which is clearly not a variety of English he knows), but it turned out to be much more interesting than the china and pewter antiques of utterly uncertain provenance which elderly relatives of a certain generation have had in their keeping for 60 or 70 years.
 
It will take me some time to transcribe the whole diary because the hand writing is rather dense and can be difficult to decipher at times. None­the­less, I’ve read enough of it to be able to present this pseudo-novelisation because my great-great aunt’s style of writing shows a flare for story-telling, although I can’t say whether her style was influenced by the likes of, say, Sheridan le Fanu, Bram Stoker, or any other 19th century authors with a penchant for ghost stories. Of course, unlike those writers, Agnes Pembury’s story is wholly true.

“Will you always love me?” said Agnes gazing longingly at Ernest Bell.
 
“I shall love you forever, body and soul,” he replied.
 
“Oh Ernest!” Agnes kissed him impulsively.
17th March 184_
Today my joy and happiness have reached their summit, my darling Ernest having proposed, of which papa, knowing him to be of good character and excellent prospects, did not hesitate to approve. I cried; mama cried; and even papa’s lip trembled in response to the general sentiment which prevailed in the room. We are planning to get married in May at St Albans, the delightful church near Alton…[1]
The wedding was duly held on 14th may under the most auspicious circumstances. The weather was fair after a week of overcast skies and rain, and Agnes wrote that God himself must have approved of the match to bless them as he did.
15th May 184_
I was with a man for the first time last night. My hand trembles to confide such an intimate event to my diary, but it is an event of such moment that I feel I need to inform someone or some thing. Yet I am sure that we erred in the way in which we performed the act, though when I raised this point with Ernest, he assured me that that was how they did it at Winton[2] and Cambridge. Since I cannot disagree with the custom of places where the best practices are to be found, I should not object in spite of finding it rather painful.
20th May 184_
I am now rather enjoying it and expect to find myself with child any day now. Nonetheless, I have my doubts about the way we do it. Both Ernest and I long for a child…
21st May 184_
“How is married life?” asked Lucy Atkins.[3]
“To be recommended as the greatest felicity a person can possibly know,” said Agnes pausing while the waiter brought them tea and cakes. “Ernest is an ideal husband, I dare say. I could not hope for more.”
“And is there any news of that happiness being augmented?”
“Not yet.” Agnes leaned forward conspiratorially. “I have some doubts.”
“You don’t want a child?”
“It is not that. It is…” Agnes hesitated before describing as delicately and as periphrastically as possible her most intimate moments with her husband.
“No wonder you are having no success. That is what is known as the,” (and here she lowered her voice even further), “public school method.” With equal delicacy, Lucy described how Agnes and Ernest had erred.
Now knowing that of which I was previously ignorant, I can scarcely wait until tonight for the proper intimacies which pass between a married couple. I also wonder how Lucy, who is unmarried, should know these things better and in more detail than I who am married.
22nd May 184_
Last night, having informed Ernest of the mistake we had been making, I persuaded him to try the act as I originally believed it should be done. Lucy, who is a fount of knowledge which would only be expected among the common sort, says that the public school method is common in Catholic countries. I can only suppose that we now employ the Church of England method. I found it a little painful and yet more satisfying.
In spite of changing how they did the act, Agnes failed to become pregnant that summer even although there seemed to be no impediment on either side. The knowledgeable Lucy explained that conception was a great deal more difficult than commonly believed, but she was sure her friend would soon blessed with a child. As the summer wore on, Agnes was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the frequency of marital relations, and with Ernest’s preference for the public school method.
17th September 184_
After getting caught out in the rain yesterday, the worst has come to pass and Ernest has contracted a fever which has confined him to bed. Dr Ashford came this morning and said that Ernest should rest for a day or two. Ernest has been rather busy at work again recently and I think a brief respite would not go amiss. I have written his mother a letter to inform her of his situation and assure her that he is getting the best care.
18th September 184_
I am beside myself with anxiety. Ernest’s malady seemed to have taken a turn for the worse around mid morning, and I summoned Dr Ashford. When the doctor asked me for a few moments alone with Ernest, I regret to say that I did not act with the greatest propriety but listened at the door to the conversation which ensued. As a wife, I believe it is my duty to know about my husband’s condition so that I can provide him with the best care. Dr Ashford explicitly enquired whether Ernest was familiar with the public school method and whether he practised it. When Ernest admitted that he knew it and had done it, the doctor revealed that his ailment had not been caused by the rain (which, he said, has no deleterious effects), but by a long history of using the public school method. Ernest’s first concern was not for himself, but for my well-being, and Dr Ashford having questioned him closely said that he doubted there would be any harm to me.
In just a few months my greatest joy has now become my greatest sorrow. I can write no more.
21st September 184_
I had thought that I would never write another entry, but last night’s events are so extraordinary and unbelievable that they demand to be recorded. I was in bed last night but in spite of my exhaustion, my distress was preventing me from falling asleep. I was sure that I kept slumbering briefly for a few moments, but that Morpheus kept turning me away from his door, which continued until my head was quite dizzy and my sense of reality distorted to such an extent that I was uncertain whether I was awake and hallucinating, or asleep and having the most vivid dreams. I was sure that I could hear someone downstairs, but thought that it was one of the servants; and when I heard footsteps on the stairs, I thought the same.
Because Jane has been most solicitous since my terrible loss, I believed that she was coming to check on me and the footsteps coming nearer stopped outside the door and the handle rattled as it was opened. I feigned that I was asleep so that I might be left alone. The footsteps sounded heavy and ponderous as they approached the bed, which are unlike Jane’s since she is a most light-footed girl, who might come and go from a room without being noticed. But whoever had entered the room came over to the bed and stood on Ernest’s side. There was a pause and a sort of throaty murmur before I felt the sheets being pulled aside and someone get in the bed beside me. If it was Jane, I thought, then she was taking her duties too far, and I demanded to know who it was. The reply was not one I was expecting in an odd voice which sounded as if it was coming from far away. “It is I,” was all it said.
“And who would you be daring to enter a lady’s room and climb into her bed?” Agnes demanded.
“Dare?” replied the voice. “I did not know that I needed to be daring to lie in my bed beside my wife.”
“This is outrageous!” said Agnes angrily and fumbled to light the candle beside the bed to reveal the true identity of the intruder. The light flickered into existence and she raised the candle above the bed where to her utter horror lay the body of her late husband. She opened her mouth to scream, but her terror was too great and no sound came out. The shock of seeing Ernest, his skin grey and waxy, was too much for Agnes’ spirit and she fainted.
When she recovered from her faint, the candle was still burning and Ernest was now sitting in a chair beside the bed. He seemed to be looking at Agnes, but his eyes were dull and lifeless. She shrank back in fright from the apparition and watched with a strange fascination as Ernest’s mouth dropped open and that same distant voice spoke.
“You really ought to be more careful in future. If I had not been here when you dropped the candle, the bed would have caught on fire.”
“Ernest?” Agnes finally found her voice, but it seemed to be as weak and distant as her dead husband’s. “But you are dead.”
“True, but I did not forget the promise I made all those months ago when I said I would be with you body and soul forever.”
“That was just romantic hyperbole.”
“So I was not meant to take my own words literally; and yet I must abide by the promise I made.”
“That’s not possible. You are to be buried tomorrow.”
“Then the funeral will just have to be cancelled.”
22nd September 184_
The terror which I felt when it reappeared the night before last has now given way to a general loathing for this animated corpse which I cannot bring myself to refer to as Ernest because it is a mockery of the man I love. I had Ted fetch Reverend Brewer[4] this morning, but he was uncertain what might be done because it was wilfully refusing to return to the undertaker’s and get back in his coffin. Since the Church disapproves of superstitious practices such as exorcism, he recommended me to seek the assistance of Father Harris. I sent Ted at once to get the man while it chatted quite happily with Reverend Brewer as if there was nothing remotely unusual about the situation.
Father Harris arrived about an hour later and seemed quite personable for a Catholic. He was, I note, quite handsome. I would expect Catholic priests either to be red-nosed Irishmen with a fondness for communion wine, or untrustworthy, swarthy Frenchmen. He was a rugged, masculine Englishman. He was also sympathetic and understanding about what had happened, and had come equipped to exorcise the fell spirit that was inhabiting my dear Ernest’s blameless mortal remains. But when he began his ritual, it told him to take his popish practices and leave the house at once. I urged Father Harris to ignore these injunctions until it looked up from the newspaper and informed the priest that since he was Church of England, Catholic rites of exorcism would be ineffectual. Father Harris persisted for a time, but seeing that his efforts were having no effect, had to admit defeat and promised to enquire further into the matter.
23rd September 184_
Although the funeral never took place today and the will was never read, I still went to Mr Hughes-Wilson’s office to consult with him regarding what legal recourse I might have under the circumstances.
“You have my deepest sympathy, Mrs Bell,” said Mr Hughes-Wilson whose own cadaverous appearance reminded Agnes of the thing in her house. “I hear there has been an unusual complication.”
“You are correct. I have come to you seeking legal advice about my dead husband who is now living in my house, and refuses to be buried. I want a divorce.”
“If you did not seem to be in a rational state of mind, I would rather think your statement just now that your dead husband still resides with you was mere uxorial hysteria. I think, however, that I can clear this matter up quite quickly by asking you one question. Is there a signed death certificate?”
“There is,” said Agnes producing it. “I brought it with me specifically because I want you to keep it safe for me.”
Hughes-Wilson examined the document and said, “I shall do as you request. I assume that you fear that your late husband may attempt to destroy this document.” Agnes nodded. “So long as this document is in existence, your husband is deceased and all matters which pertain to widowhood such as remarriage apply. In short, there is no need to consider divorce proceedings because Ernest is legally dead and has no legal rights at all.”
“None?”
“None.”
25th September 184_
A funeral should be a time of lamentation, but in defiance of convention, it was a time of relief for me. Ernest is finally at rest…
Armed with knowledge of the legal situation and great-uncle George’s French cavalry sabre, I was able to deal with it yesterday. I am, by nature, a normally timid and placid creature. I remember when I was a little girl seeing Uncle George’s sabre (which he won from a dead French cavalry officer in some battle during the Napoleonic Wars) and fearing that although it was hanging on the wall in its scabbard, it might fall and cut me in half. When Uncle George once took it down for me to examine more closely, I shrank in fright from even touching it. Even now that I am much older, I drew the blade with considerable trepidation, fearing both it and what I had to do with it.
The monster which was pretending to be Ernest was sitting in his favourite chair in the conservatory reading the paper. I was grateful for Heaven to have placed it in this way because I am not sure that I could have struck the first blow if I had had to look him in the eye. But though he was facing away from me, I still hesitated before I could summon the resolve to perform that necessary, tragic and terrible duty to bring rest to Ernest’s unfortunate soul. I cannot bring myself to describe what I did. I am trying to forget what I did, and the sickening sound of every blow. It did not even cry out and again I must thank Heaven, for if it had cried for mercy, my resolve would have been swept away. Afterwards I cried from sorrow and relief until I could cry no more.
I invited Father Harris to the funeral to thank him for his recent efforts. Although Catholic priests are celibate, I wonder whether that extends to the public school method.
The cat is scratching at the door, no doubt wanting to curl up on her mistress’s bed for the night.
Agnes put down her pen and went to the door expecting Lucretia to saunter in with her usual feline insouciance. But that night she opened the door not to the cat, but – would she never be free of it? – Ernest’s right hand, which promptly scuttled into the room like an enormous spider made of decaying flesh and leapt onto the bed.
There is no indication of what happened, but the diary, which is quite a large book with a rather solid cover, has a hand-like stain, still visible against the dirty brown leather, on the back cover. I shall leave the reader to draw some conclusion from this since the mark may have some other cause and its shape may just be coincidental.
Notes
1. The village near the Bell family seat in Hampshire.
2. A minor public school, now defunct.
3. My great-great aunt’s best friend who would eventually marry Agnes’ brother, Frederick.
4. Like Livingstone, Brewer was a missionary explorer in Africa who was responsible for the discovery of the sources of several tributaries of central Africa’s major rivers. In 1853, he marched into the interior of the continent with a small expedition in search of some ruins which were alleged by locals to be about a week’s march into the jungle, but was never heard from again. It was not until 1978 that ruins were finally discovered in the general area where Brewer had vanished, but it seems unlikely that it will ever be known if he found them.