Ringing the Changes

RINGING THE CHANGES by Robert Aickman

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Although I myself live on the east coast out of Liverpool Street, I’ve never visited Holihaven, as the name often  assonates and resonates too much with Halloween and honeymoon for me. And I read this terrifying story first in the 1960s, just when I moved away from the east coast. I have returned since in more recent years, though. And keep my ears open for the bells of distant Dunwich, while having finally found my own sea here. The sea that is so elusive in Holihaven and its quay.

I often recall the honeymoon of Gerald in Holihaven with his wife Phrynne, twenty plus years younger than him. A train journey there  slower because it was flatter. Neither had been there before and when they arrived early in the evening it seemed deserted even for October. With echoing bells practising, they are told — enough bells for two churches. They have booked at the lodging house run by the Mr and Mrs Pascoe: the husband with a great gob of spit and a bad stomach, and the wife belittled by him for breaking  a whole bottle of brandy. Phrynne thinks men wear too many clothes. And there is a regular at the lodging house, a Commandant who stares at the “toppling citadels in the fire” around which they sit in the coffee room, or was it the lounge? He tells them the bells are ringing to wake the dead on this very day the honeymooners have chosen to arrive in Holihaven, and Phrynne gets an “unusual devil” inside.

A suit of Japanese armour outside the Commandant’s room, the Commandant whose  sword was once  broken in half, we are tellingly told. He, though, tells the honeymooners to leave Holihaven straightaway for fear of what might happen to them on this special night. What’s the difference between ‘ecstatic’ and ‘agonised’, I ask. The peals swell and diminish. Phrynne becomes part of it all — and I need not tell you what that ‘all’ actually is, as we all already know this famous story — but there’s something sexually aberrant as well as morbidly so. Mrs Pascoe stares at Phrynne’s revealed pretty body with animosity.  And it is as if recent events in our own times, with that Wembley football match the other night, reflected in this ‘all’, one of the swaying lumpy wraiths waving his arms “like a negro”. Others ‘were agitators bawling a slogan, or massed trouble-makers at a football match.” Dancing, whirling, bursting their lungs. Pandemicised lungs, I say.

No wonder in the aftermath, the milkman in Wrack Street had the name of another town on his cart. And, as you can see above, at least one of the peals was a peel…

“Then passion began to open its petals within him, layer upon slow layer.”

 

All my reviews of Robert Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

PS: See THE WAITING ROOM in first comment below…

4 thoughts on “Ringing the Changes

  1. THE WAITING ROOM by Robert Aickman

    “Their love was like a magnifying glass between them.”

    Like this story and its reader. A Northern railway waiting-room haunted by the burial ground upon which it is built has long waited for the late traveller who has missed trains and needs to spend the night here.
    Uses “polypetalous” as a word.

    Cf “Then passion began to open its petals within him, layer upon slow layer.” — from RINGING THE CHANGES in the same Dark Entries book that published the Waiting Room.

    A burial ground means its travellers are no longer waiting, I guess.

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