It’s Halloween again. The one night of the year when the spooky and gruesome is all around us – and the undead walk….
Here at Another Kind Of Mind, I do worry about you, my lovely readers, at this time of the year; a season when the nights are creeping in and the cold wind rattles spookily through the keyhole in the dark – and especially what with all those zombies and vampires who’ll be out on the streets tonight, just waiting to eat your brains or drink your blood when you least expect it. So, just in case you should encounter one of the undead on your travels this Halloween, I put together this handy historical guide to making sure they’re really dead… Or are they?
Modern medicine has all sorts of highly technical and complex methods of checking whether or not an individual has sadly breathed their last (and even then they don’t always get it right). Determining whether someone is dead or not isn’t always as simple as you might think.
I guess we’d all like to think our dying words will be something as witty and pithy as those attributed to Oscar Wilde, who, on his Parisian death bed, is supposed to have commented:
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do
However, some people don’t seem to get this final moment of mordant wit quite right. A classic example of this is the final words allegedly spoken by Pancho Villa (the Mexican revolutionary); seemingly on the very subject of final words – or the lack of them in his case:
Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.
But some people manage to get it gleefully, wonderfully right – which is why I had to smile this morning while reading the many obituaries published in tribute to the nurse, newspaper agony aunt and NHS campaigner Claire Rayner, who has died at the age of 79. The BBC report on her death says:
She told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”
And I should bloody think so too! Considering that this country is still paying the price for the last Tory government’s ‘reforms’ of the NHS (let alone what the last Labour government did to it…), further Conservative fiddling with the health service should strike fear into the hearts of patients and NHS staff alike – and the ghost of Claire Rayner should strike fear into Tory hearts everywhere!
I’d love to think she’ll be as good as her word – so, if reports start filtering out of Downing Street of poltergeist activity and sightings of the ghostly figure of a grey-haired, kind-hearted, slightly bossy nurse-type lady around David Cameron’s office, I think we can safely conclude not only that there is life after death but also (and more importantly!) that Claire Rayner has returned and she’s not very happy with this government….
BENEATH THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY
OF A BRITISH WARRIOR
UNKNOWN BY NAME OR RANK
BROUGHT FROM FRANCE TO LIE AMONG
THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE LAND
AND BURIED HERE ON ARMISTICE DAY
11 NOV: 1920, IN THE PRESENCE OF
HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V
HIS MINISTERS OF STATE
THE CHIEFS OF HIS FORCES
AND A VAST CONCOURSE OF THE NATION
THUS ARE COMMEMORATED THE MANY
MULTITUDES WHO DURING THE GREAT
WAR OF 1914 – 1918 GAVE THE MOST THAT
MAN CAN GIVE LIFE ITSELF
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
FOR LOVED ONES HOME AND EMPIRE
FOR THE SACRED CAUSE OF JUSTICE AND
THE FREEDOM OF THE WORLD
THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE
HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD
Inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey
The Western Front, 1916:
The Reverend David Railton is doing his rounds as a frontline chaplain for the British army in France, providing spiritual and pastoral support for the young men in his care, many of whom have been fighting in the trenches for upwards of two years. His is not an easy job, but, as a Church of England clergyman, he feels he has both a calling and a responsibility to look after these soldiers, some of whom are no more than boys.
He is rapidly becoming more and more appalled by the death and destruction he sees around him, and is particularly moved by a simple, makeshift grave he comes across in a garden near Armentieres that day. The grave consists of a rough wooden cross, carefully inscribed in pencil: “An Unknown British Soldier of The Black Watch”. The simple inscription and the care taken in commemorating a fallen comrade sets Railton thinking, and eventually results in one of the most famous and moving war memorials of them all…