You’ll Give Us a Turn

You’ll Give Us a Turn

This week’s choice is “Colonel Fazackerley Butterworth-Toast” by Charles Causley which I have chosen partly because it’s funny and partly because there’s a commemorative festival in Launceston this weekend celebrating Causley.

Said the Colonel, “With laughter I’m feeling quite weak!”
(As trickles of merriment ran down his cheek).
“My house-warming party I hope you won’t spurn.
You MUST say you’ll come and you’ll give us a turn!”

Charles Causley (1917—2003)

Poem 274. Colonel Fazackerley Butterworth-Toast

Colonel Fazackerley Butterworth-Toast
Bought an old castle complete with a ghost,
But someone or other forgot to declare
To Colonel Fazak that the spectre was there.

On the very first evening, while waiting to dine,
The Colonel was taking a fine sherry wine,
When the ghost, with a furious flash and a flare,
Shot out of the chimney and shivered, “Beware!”

Colonel Fazackerley put down his glass
And said, “My dear fellow, that’s really first class!
I just can’t conceive how you do it at all.
I imagine you’re going to a Fancy Dress Ball?”

At this, the dread ghost made a withering cry.
Said the Colonel (his monocle firm in his eye),
“Now just how you do it, I wish I could think.
Do sit down and tell me, and please have a drink.”

The ghost in his phosphorous cloak gave a roar
And floated about between ceiling and floor.
He walked through a wall and returned through a pane
And backed up the chimney and came down again.

Said the Colonel, “With laughter I’m feeling quite weak!”
(As trickles of merriment ran down his cheek).
“My house-warming party I hope you won’t spurn.
You MUST say you’ll come and you’ll give us a turn!”

At this, the poor spectre – quite out of his wits –
Proceeded to shake himself almost to bits.
He rattled his chains and he clattered his bones
And he filled the whole castle with mumbles and moans.

But Colonel Fazackerley, just as before,
Was simply delighted and called out, “Encore!”
At which the ghost vanished, his efforts in vain,
And never was seen at the castle again.

“Oh dear, what a pity!” said Colonel Fazak.
“I don’t know his name, so I can’t call him back.”
And then with a smile that was hard to define,
Colonel Fazackerley went in to dine.

This poem reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s story “The Canterville Ghost” whose eponymous character has equivalent success to Colonel Fazackerley’s in scaring away the tenants of his ancestral hall.

The poem opens with our hero the Colonel buying his dream home: a castle. The vendors however have neglected to mention the existing occupant, perhaps in the interest of making the sale…

The ghost makes a series of attempts to scare the Colonel, starting in the second stanza with its initial appearance “with a furious flash and a flare”; his intended victim, rather than being frightened out of his wits, compliments him and imagines that he’s on his way to a fancy dress party—today it would probably be a cosplay event.

Ignoring this suggestion “the dread ghost made a withering cry” to which the Colonel admits his admiration—“Do sit down and tell me, and please have a drink.” So he offers the spirit some…spirits?

Unmollified, the ghost continues to make a nuisance of himself, floating about the room, walking through walls and windows and climbing into the chimney before returning. Colonel Fazak (if I might be familiar with his name) roars with laughter and invites the old spectre to his house-warming to entertain his friends.

Beginning to lose heart, the ghost makes a final spirited performance: “He rattled his chains and he clattered his bones”—which delights the old gentleman so much that he calls for an encore. Frustrated and driven beyond endurance by the aplomb of this complimentary Colonel, and with “his efforts in vain”, the spirit vanishes forever.

In the final stanza we get a rather knowing coda from the Colonel: “And then with a smile that was hard to define,/Colonel Fazackerly went in to dine.” Clearly, the good Colonel was quite well aware that if he held his nerve and treated the ghost with courtesy, the poor thing would be the one unnerved and would beat a retreat.

The poem reminds me of “The Canterville Ghost”—instead of the courageous Colonel, we have the family of the American Minister Mr. Hiram B. Otis which allows Wilde plenty of opportunities to poke fun at the British aristocracy and their American counterparts:

Indeed, in many respects, she was quite English, and was an excellent example of the fact that we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.

Despite the warnings of all around him (including Lord Canterville himself—one place where the poem and the story differ), the Minister buys Canterville Chase and he and his family are immediately assailed by the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville who is determined to rid himself and his residence of this “horrid, rude, vulgar, dishonest family.”

The Americans, however, are undaunted by his many appearances, all of which have lurid descriptions—my favourite being “Gaunt Gibeon, the Blood-Sucker of Bexley Moor”—and the younger members of the family visit a number of indignities on him, from accurately shots with their pea-shooters to the old bucket of water balanced on the open door trick.

Poor old Sir Simon, rather like Colonel Fazak’s haunter, begins to give up the ghost as it were:

He now gave up all hope of ever frightening this rude American family, and contented himself, as a rule, with creeping about the passages in list slippers, with a thick red muffler round his throat for fear of draughts, and a small arquebuse, in case he should be attacked by the twins.

However, Wilde’s story takes a turn here, and rather than the ghost fading away as in the poem, Sir Simon’s fate is decided by the daughter of the family that have caused him such travail.

The poem also reminds me of the film “Beetlejuice” where a recently deceased couple hire a freelance “bio-exorcist” to evict the new occupants of their home.