There Goes the Neighbourhood

I believe it is fair to say that London is famous for its ghosts. And the ghosts for which it is famous are rather shocking in their behaviours. Bloody, screaming, running up and down halls at Hampton Court palace, stalking the Tower.

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This looks reputable.

But if you are a ghost in London, then you know that things are not nearly so unseemly.

Ghost London is actually divided into neatly demarcated segments. This wasn’t necessarily a purposely done thing, although we British do like things to be tidy and purposeful. It’s more so that like attracted like, era-enclaves settled and put down roots, generational (and temperamental) strongholds developed over time.

For instance, the most modern of London ghosts tend to live in up-and-coming Islington or Soho. The Victorian contingency have taken over Hyde Park and its surrounding streets and insist upon decorum and a schedule that follows ‘the season’. The countryside nearest the city belongs to squires and Civil War Royalists, who seem to engage in a great deal of publican culture. The West End is deliciously debauched and multi-generational. And so on.

You are welcome to try out any part of the city you wish, and live where you best fit (with a few stipulations). Sounds rather happy, right? And it is, in any many ways.

But for a ghost like me—a categorical oddity—it also means that finding a suitable address is a bit of a headache. Which is why I decided to contract with a realtor, rather than wandering about on my own.

I went with Kensington Ghost Realtors (KGR) solely for nostalgia’s sake. I think of Kensington and I think of a young and pretty-ish Victoria, and a bit of my own youth comes rushing back to me. I filled out a survey and they matched me with a young man named Oliver, whom I insist on calling ‘Oli’ much to his resignation.

They handed me over to Oli, it seems, because he deals with most of their categorical oddities.

What does this mean, to be a categorical oddity?

“Right. I’ve had just about this side of enough of that.” – The Platypus

Well, in this case, it meant the poor man had to find a home for a bloke who is openly gay (and a bit gender playful) but also well ensconced in ‘traditional’ institutions such as marriage and fatherhood; not quite Victorian but not quite anything else either; middle-class in life with no sort of name, but upper-class in death with a name and famous husband in spite of himself; creative but also introverted.

What the hell do you do with a ghost like me?

Well, we started with a long walk, chauncing about and ruling out a couple of neighbourhoods on feeling alone. And at the end of the day, much to my chagrin, I found that I was most attracted to the neighbourhoods that were on the fringes of the Victorian part of the city.

I do so hate to be predictable, but that’s only because I’m so predictable.

The second step, then, because of the stringent attention to social standing in these areas, was to calculate my entry point into their society, which would govern where I could (and would want) to buy.  Oli plugged all my information into a KGR system that tabulates your net social worth, balancing your alively achievements against those you’ve made in death

As I said, there are some stipulations.

I have to say, the discovery of this wretched system nearly threw me back out on the prowl. I spent enough of my goddamn alively existence climbing social ladders and eclipsing judgment to last me six afterlives, and I was not about to give the Victorian enclave the satisfaction.

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The way he holds his tea cup! He’d sooner murder you than eat quail, I’m sure of it.

But hold on, Oli said, think of who your husband is, your reputation as a model, your philanthropy, your net worth. I can almost guarantee, this print out is going to tell you to live wherever the hell you want, barring noble houses, and that you’ll be able to put everyone right out when you settle in the midst of their serenity.

Well, when you put it that way…

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Hold on, I’ve something for you right here inside my jacket. I think it’s…yes, yes it is my middle finger. Fancy that.

He hit enter.

And about three weeks later, I closed on an altogether far too large, far too expensive, Georgian-style home on Holland Park.

Now, this is going to be a sometime home base for me. I have no intention of moving away from Marcus and the children. (The very idea throws me into a panic.) But I do have some intention of re-entering London life, staying at the townhouse on and off during the season, and making my way into new circles, since so many of my memories of London are hideous at best.

I wish to use this home, in other words, to recapture some of the twinkling life and love that makes me feel close to the happier parts of my Victorian existence—the fashion of Geoffrey, the radicalism of Marion, the intellectual explorations of Jon. I want to make some new friends, be openly queer in a city that now allows for that possibility, perhaps even host some salons.

I’ve been none too reticent to air these wishes, either, which means that the invitations have been rolling in—curious, polite, and dangerous all.

As it’s the close of the season, most of the polite invitations will have to wait until spring, as will my opening dinner party. The rumours as to what such an event might look like build as I write…

And in the meantime, I have the winter to appoint the house, determine how and to whom I should like to rent rooms for those parts of the year that I am not in often attendance, and take up a few of the more interesting invitations.

Dear god I wish I had Geoffrey to help me make those selections—he would know exactly which houses I must attend to in order to build just such a persona.

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With no more than this much Byron.

As I re-enter this society, I will endeavour to keep you informed of the oddities it reveals and the ghosts I meet.

(For instance, I hear Walsingham controls new appointments of nobility, sending in his spies to infiltrate the season while he skulks about in the countryside. The raven on the edge of the duck pond.)

But for now, I think I shall take a turn about Kensington Gardens…in a fleur de lis frock coat…on the arm of a Roman.

Oh, this will all be so much fun.

In Which I Accidentally Participated in a Battle on a Tuesday

London posts are coming forthwith, I promise, but as you can see from the title above, I simply must tell you about something else first.

Here’s what happened…

About two years ago, Marcus discovered a company that oversees fake battles—like a park districts oversees beach volleyball, but with more blood and vengeance, one supposes.  As I understand it, ghosts can sign up for battles that are specific to the wars they experienced in life, they can apply to teams of mixed experiences and weaponry, or they can just try out something new.  Whatever the case, your level of skill is measured and you’re assigned to squads or whathaveyou based on your best chance of ‘surviving’ while also pleasing the spectators.

Oh yes, there are spectators. In fact, there’s a videographer, but more on that in a bit.

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What do you mean the lens cap was on!?!

When Marc first told me about this, I was appalled.  In the end, I capitulated because I’d rather fake wars to real ones.  And since our One World Government has been terribly effective in eradicating the real thing, this was his only option for recapturing glory, or something like that.

So, Marc applied and paid his fee, and he got a letter back from the Committee saying, wait…the Marcus Junius Brutus?  And he said, sic.  And they said, how would you like to be a general for the summer season’s closing battle, the high point of our schedule?  And he said, duh.

Which is how he ended up leading a group of mixed elites into battle, last year, as well as some regular soldiers who paid a further fee just to be cannon fodder under Marc’s command…really, I do not understand this mentality.

Each year is themed, and last year was ‘Cavalry’, which was absolutely perfect for Marcus, being as he loves his warhorse, Nox, almost as much…as much as, but differently, than he loves me.

It wasn’t even much of a contest.  With Nox beneath him and elite cavalry around him, Marc ended up winning in record time, and he got a solid month of TV interviews out of the whole deal, as well as a full, gleaming, muscled spread in Ghost Sports Illustrated…which I certainly didn’t pin up in my carpentry workspace because that would just be indecorous…

Anyway, if you win, you are guaranteed your position as commanding general for the next year, to defend your title, and you get to keep your team if you wish.  Marcus did wish, and immediately began training his team in further maneuvers and swordplay, waiting for the theme to be announced.

About two months ago, the Committee revealed that the theme was to be Medieval, and the battle was to take place on the site of the Battle of Tours.  Marc immediately hired a champion knight to be his second in command, and they started having all these late night pow wows over wine and ale, talking shop and planning strategy.  I was not invited to these meetings because a) I wasn’t interested and b) Marc feels that I can’t be trusted around blondes, for some perfectly ridiculous reason.  It’s like saying to a bird, no you can’t fly around because there are bees and you may be stung!  But the bird has been perfectly happy to live with bees, and their stingers, for years at absolutely no risk to bird (brained) husbands whatsoever!

I digress.

Now, Marc gets really into the mindset of battles and general…ship? when he does these things, and if you haven’t noticed yet, I have literally no understanding of battles, wars, soldiering, etc.  In fact, I’m primarily a pacifist.  I mean, I enjoy a good boxing match as much as the next Englishman, but in principle, I think war is a horrifying waste of human life, and the only reason I can begin to play along with this whole rigamarole is that I know, in the end, it’s a game.  All the ghosts who are “slain” pop right up at the end of the battle and go out for a pint.

So, I said to him with a sigh, how can I encourage you in this?

Well, he said, looking coy.  It’s bad luck to go into battle from an empty bed.

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This woman will likely die in the field of battle. This PSA brought to you by Roman superstition.

Because I’m a terribly good sport, I am, I ended up draped in a cloak and sneaking through camp, only to discover it’s nye on impossible to sneak back out the next morning without learning new words for human anatomy and its objectives upon encountering it’s like.

This year, I decided, sod it, I’ll just play the part.  I’ll be the army ‘wife’, go to the pre-competition feast on his arm, make a thing of it, and look as dignified as possible, because anything has to be better than failed cloak and dagger.

I gussied up.  Marc left in his general duds, so I followed shortly after in my toga—he made me an honorary citizen of Rome as a Christmas present last year—with a few gold and leather cuffs and a shiny shoulder clasp and my ruby engagement ring that belonged to Cato and some killer hair if I do say so myself.  I showed up looking every part the patrician, and things immediately went better for me.  I even got to snub a few blokes who shouted things at me last year, not knowing I was anything more than a ‘tent bent’, let alone their commander’s husband.

I feasted and drank ale and fell in love with the blonde knight—the self-styled Sir Lucifer. And as the night was winding down, and Marc was giving me side eye, we were ambushed.

In the rules of competition, there is a clause about ambush. The clause states that you’re allowed to have your go at one, but it’s rather poor sportsmanship, and besides, you have to pay an exorbitant fee.

I guess Marc was up against a rich bastard.

Trumpets start blaring from the sides of camp, and Marc is up and out of his seat like a flash, barking orders to every one of his command around the table. They all take off like sizzling oil in a hot pan, and Marc turns to me, grinning like a devil straight out of hell, kisses me a good one, and says ‘Claudius’, before rushing out to the fray.

I followed on his heels, because I didn’t know where in god’s name I was supposed to find Claudius, and Tipsy Elliot was convinced that if he hollered loud enough Battle Marc might stop and pay attention to him.

Oh Lord no.  Not only was Marc in soldier mode, chest out and completely strident, but he had also whistled for Nox, so I might as well have been on the next continent over and up a tree.  Although I have to admit, the vision of Marc leaping onto Nox’s back, letting out his war cry, cape flying behind him like something out of a film, and galloping off into a rain of fiery arrows was one part thrilling, one part terrifying, and one part salacious.

I let out my own sort of whistle, and the chap standing next to me snorted and gave me this look as if to say, “Right?”

Claudius.

Claudius holds the honour of being the only man Marc has found, so far, who actually served under him in life.  Roman ghosts are a bit rare, and most Roman soldiers, says Claudius, departed when their wives or families left the earth, or if not then, at the fall of Rome.  Claudius is around because he is absolutely in love with the earth itself—he was a conscripted farmer—and because he’s determined that somewhere out there is true love of another kind.  Problem being he has terrible taste in men, and he also can’t quite live up to his make and model.  Bloke looks like something akin to Marc, but he trips over his own feet at least twice a day and has proved to be the sort of person for whom the idiom “bless his heart” was made.

Claudius tells me that Marc was expecting something like this might happen, and that he’s suppose to take me and the other spouses and significant others to a safe place.

I’m about six kinds of furious, then, because how dare Marc drag me into a perilous situation just to have a trophy sitting next to him at table.  Claudius waves his hands to calm me down and says Marc didn’t tell him as much but Nox was wearing a saddle which means the camp wasn’t fully dressed down or something or other.

(See! He can be quite sharp, I say, defending him to people who cannot possibly take him out for coffee.)

I’m still peeved, but I’m inclined to follow his orders on account of the fact that the firey arrows are getting closer.

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Like this, but fired by *soldiers* instead of Hollywood extras.

And then I find out the safe place Marcus determined to stash me is the camp kitchen, and I’m six kinds of furious again.  All done up and nowhere to go that doesn’t involve coals, dirty plates, a goodly number of crying girlfriends, and a hardened crowd of outraged wives who are demanding that Claudius let them out into the field.

So I did what any respectable Englishman does when trapped in a kitchen in the midst of a battle.

I made tea.

And when opposing soldiers finally broke through and made it into the camp, I did what any respectable Victorian orphan would do and threw a good number of kitchen knives with alarming accuracy.  Claudius looked quite impressed, and the videographer looked like he was in the midst of some kind of religious experience.  Solid gold BooTube material if there ever was.

Marc won the battle just as the dawn was rising, because if there’s drama to be had, he shall have it.  And we found a relatively unscathed tent in the midst of camp, because if there’s husband to be had, he shall have that, too.

Can’t say that I minded.

Then spectators arrived in droves only to find that the battle had already happened. They were utterly disappointed until the videographers made quick work of a highlights reel—including my transition from tea-drinking-gentleman to knife-throwing-rapscallion, I was pleased to watch Marc see.  This kept everyone all sorts of happy while the grounds were cleared away, and then the losing side of the fray had to joust for our pleasure.

I pointed out to Marcus one of the blokes I felled with a kitchen knife, referring to him as my prisoner, and shouting out a demand that he win the tournament for me.

The man had the decency to blush before closing his helmet.

And that is how I ended up participating in a battle of a Tuesday.