Here’s why we should all be spooked as the leisure industry makes a mockery of British history.

A HEX AT THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION

May Day, 9.45pm: Aleister Crowley makes an appearance in the library of a retirement home for upper-crust ghosts. I must have missed him. Diminutive Lancashire medium Ian Dougherty however, was convinced that the World’s Most Evil Man was right there with us. Ian shivered and gave an eerie little moan. Well, if old Aleister had been here, you’d have thought we’d hear the doors of perception creak a little bit. But nothing … … the wind beat the sky to a pulp and shutters groaned like abandoned cabins. It should have been easy to believe that the Prince of Darkness was with us, inside the whispering

shadows of this ancient library. Some of this new breed of Ghostbusters with us began to complain of headaches. Another said he’d lost all feeling in his legs … Medium Ian solemnly led us to a place of safety. In the cold light of night, though, I knew that this incarnation of old Aleister was just about as real as the rest of the wax works British history is becoming.. I’m not a sceptic - I want to believe in ghosts, I live in one of the most haunted houses in Britain, after all. But it wasn’t scary - just spookily expensive. Welcome to Alton Tower’s Fright Nights and we’re here in the darkened ‘exit’ lounge of the theme park’s multi-million pound Hex ride! “Roll up! Roll up! Only a few quid per person - 8.30pm ‘till sun up!” the fairground Barker convinced us with his promises of ghosts, ghouls and apparitions inside this once-crumbling Staffordshire pile bought by Tussaud‘s for millions a few years ago. For our dosh we got a plastic cup of coffee and not enough shocks to put the willies up Larry Grayson. It was history shackled in the new laughing stocks of Merry Old England … I first saw the joke in Warwick a year ago and jotted down these notes: “The hologram of a ham actor announces that the history of the world is about to go out like a footlight. Phut! The message might have been subliminal, hidden deep inside the hologram, but it was there, on a gossamer screen inside Stratford-upon-Avon’s new £100m Shakesperience. (Transparent butchery. Fleshless ham. Bloodless Shakespeare)” Oh, on the surface, the hologram serves its £13.50-a-head purpose very well. It banters and it bows, doffs its cap and shakes its great white belly about. It emotes and it soliloquises. It postures and it parries … but all the while it floats three inches above the floor. This is history facing extinction. Perhaps the past has become too real, too painful. Perhaps we don’t want to learn from it anymore … … all that blood-letting. Torture chambers. Severed heads on telly, a bit of gory entertainment in between reality shows, Celebrity Hanging Gate, Spot the Bomb that Disembowelled My Baby - The Blair

Stitch-up Project, One in the Bush is better than Two in the Barrel. We need something more palatable nowadays. More tourist board. But the philistines who fondle the under-carriage of Great Britain are erasing our memories with laser beams and boom boxes. They’ve decided we no longer need alchemy of fossil, tusk of mammoth, jawbone of ape, cave painting, or theatrical word of man. No tablet of stone, portrait, folklore or biography. We no longer need our heritage. Or our ghosts. The philistines have replaced them with brightly blurred nothingnesses flashing like fridge door lights. It’s a tragedy better than Shakespeare could ever have written. I’m not long back from a jaunt to the United Fakes of America. They were still bragging about driving the great brown bear up into the cloudy Rockies. And do you know why? To make room for a great brown bear theme park, that’s why. They bragged about turning the tobacco plantations of North Carolina into smokeless zones. They dug up Lake Lure, put in a plastic bin liner and built luxury tumbledown cabins by its side. They’ve even put a lift up the flu of Chimney Rock Mountain. Look away, look away …Disneyland.

But here am I, in a castle at the very heart of Britain, sitting on a bench hewn from MDF – not DNA. It should be poisonous elm chopped down at midnight in a medieval graveyard. I am appalled. It’s a feeling that’s been building up all day. Warwick Castle may once have been one of the most important historic monuments in Britain. But now it’s just another wax works, like the one in London, or the ones in Paris and Barcelona. Even the ancient rat catcher is playing his iPod. The toilets have been Cillit Bang-ed and the tape in the haunted tower has looped. Fake bread is baking in the air. My condemned house by the side of a Shropshire highway has at least six ghosts. They don’t clank chains or wail like caricatures of Edward Monk. But they are troublesome at times. Visitors have been known to decamp to a nearby hotel. It’s not that there is anything tangible in the house, nothing you could put your finger on. It’s more like an atmosphere. A visitation of the past, breath cooled to zero by the icy outcrops that separate the centuries. A real or imagined touch from inside the smoke.

Warwick Castle 2006 has been rendered down. The fat has spat and the gristle has gone. Its ancient white walls look craggy as cellulite. It’s as cleaned-up and as petted as Karl Marx‘s corpse. But, instead of turning dead things into history, Madam Tussaud’s has begun to turn history into dead things. The Shakesperience is another kiss of death. And Julius Caesar’s men riot in battle fatigues and Kalashnikovs at the Swan Theatre. Boom boxes, Kalashnikovs, holograms - media mediums, they are all wiping our history books clean. Time passes but history fights to remain the same. It was history wrote itself across the face of time, after all. History is as strong as bone, as cleansing as steam, as powerful as radio valves flashing like lightning inside the pulp of the sky. And out of the blue, I met an old soldier who was fighting to remain in the past. Gerald Lesinski, aged 58. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that the cull of the colourful has missed a victim. We still have this court jester, this soldier who has finally found his fortune. He appeared to be the ultimate keeper and protector of history with his diamond-white smile. He’s a huntin’ shootin’ fop who wears his monogrammed slippers with pride, even as he strides around his own quadrangle. And may God protect him like the rare bird he is, for Gerald should have been one of the few hopes we have left. Gerald is a self-confessed technophobe – and a homophobe too, but not in the gaybashing sense, ‘just won‘t allow them to live together as man and wife under my portals, if you understand me, ol’ boy‘. His prejudices fit him as well as his cavalry twill jacket and his regulation slacks. He has the thoroughbred elegance of a preening horse. He slots the strands of his thinning mane back into place with a flick. He whinnies at the intimacy of his own delicate innuendo. Much to my shame, I immediately forgive him everything… his conceit and his tweeness and his bigotry. He is custodian of The Lord Leycester Hospital where old soldiers troop off to die but are pleased to find they can simply fade away. I met him under his very own Hanging Gate. He shook my hand like a consummate swordsman, his small finger and his index brushed my palm as he searched to see if I am

on the Square. He envelopes me with scented breath. “Welcome to my home,” he throws back his head as he salutes and snaps his leg like the string of a bow. Leycester Hospital is as dried out and brittle as an old lady, its beams are bitter and twisted and the wattle and daub is as cracked as pancake. Ghosts have arrived here by the stagecoach-load for centuries. They used to hang people by the neck from the Hanging Gate – you know the sorts, felons, thieves, pimps and gays. The gay cavalier would have had no chance, Gerald sniggers, as a bit of a party piece. But he takes pride as he tells me that Robert Dudley, the third of five sons of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, and a close friend of Queen Elizabeth I, was one of the true altruists of the 16th century. He wanted to build a home where lame and wounded soldiers could beat the retreat. So, in 1571, he bought this cluster of 14th buildings by the original Norman gate into Warwick and founded - and misspelled - the Lord Leycester Hospital. And he made another mistake - he called it a hospital when it patently isn’t and never has been. It was and is a home with rules and regulations just like any other. It has its Master and his twelve Bretheren. And that’s how it remains today. 420 years later The Brethren conduct a morning service in the Chantry Chapel seven days a week. On summer mornings, after the service, Gerald likes to retire to the Master’s Garden with its hanging flowers and weeping well. It was here that we talked. “The thing is old chap, that history matters as much today as it always has. It’s simply that people have different priorities about things. When people like us first experienced history, in – dare I say it – The Fifties, it was a musty, dusty thing, something you had to fight through the cobwebs to reach. “But now it has to be an experience. That’s the difference between Lycester Hospital and Warwick Castle for instance. Warwick Castle is a tourist attraction first and an historic monument second. They might not agree – but it’s true. Warwick Castle has become similar in concept to Alton Towers … but the Hospital must continue as an historic document, wattle and daub and all, dry joints and creaking brethren.” As he wandered off in his nifty red slippers looking like a dapper Don Quixote in search of a windmill, it was obvious that the world would soon have to tilt at him too. A few weeks later it did. The pinball smashed through the glass and bells and sirens

began sounding. In a hurried phone call, Gerald told me he had received Lottery funding. “Not much,” he seemed to apologise: “A few thousand pounds. No more, old boy, just a little to help us enlist with the 21st century, dontcha know.” But Gerald saw it as his chance to drag the ghosts of Lycester Hospital limping and screaming, brittle boned and chilly into the dawning of the new age. The balls had dropped into place and Gerald decided to install a virtual reality show.

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