The eerie case of the haunted tuba

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The Independent Online

Christmas time. Time for sitting round the fire and telling each other ghost stories. And just in case nobody seems to want to tell you one this Christmas, here's one specially for you...

Christmas time. Time for sitting round the fire and telling each other ghost stories. And just in case nobody seems to want to tell you one this Christmas, here's one specially for you...

"Have any of you ever seen a ghost?" The speaker was a middle-aged man, sitting in the window seat of a train I was on the other day. There were four of us at the table. Me. The man who had just spoken. And a married couple. Well, I assumed they were married. You can't tell these days. But they hadn't talked to each other since Slough, so I assumed they were married.

The husband shook his head. So did the wife.

I said: "Nor have I. But I assume that you have. Otherwise you would not have asked that question. And I suspect that you are now going to tell us all about it."

"Well, aren't you the pompous fellow and all?" said the first speaker, in a stage Irish accent. Then he relaxed and smiled. "The fact of the matter is that I may have seen a ghost and I may not have seen a ghost, but I do know that last year I met a man who swore black, blind and blue that his musical instrument was haunted."

I exchanged glances with the married couple. We would be coming to Didcot soon. With any luck, we could all get out, walk along the platform and get into another carriage. Then we would be rid of this madman.

"This is your train manager, Michael, speaking," said an announcement suddenly. "Due to an electrical fault we shall not be stopping at Didcot. I hope this does not inconvenience you, especially if you live at Didcot. Thank you."

So that was that. We sat back, resigned to the yarn about to come.

"I had gone to spend a weekend at a brass band summer camp, in Yorkshire. There were about 30 of us, all very keen. Does any of you know anything about brass band musicians?"

"Yes," I said. "You are all wonderful musicians, but you display no taste at all in the rubbish you play."

He looked at me narrowly.

"Cruel, but fair," he said. "Well, there was a tuba player I made friends with from Northumberland, and one night in his cups, because all brass players drink a lot, he blurted out to me that he thought his tuba was haunted. 'I hear voices coming from it, Charlie,' he said. 'It is haunted by the ghosts of a man and a woman who hate each other. I am going to kill you ...'

"'Are you?' I said, startled.

"'No,' he said. 'That's what the man says to the woman. In my tuba. The man wants to kill the woman.' Now, I know that places are sometimes haunted by the spirits of people who were very happy or sad there, but how in God's name can a tuba be haunted?"

The man in the train looked at us inquiringly.

"Well," said the married man, "let's think. Maybe it previously belonged to a tuba player who was insanely jealous of his wife and beat her to death with the tuba. That way her spirit might have possessed it."

"No proper brass player would risk injury to his instrument in that way," said the man promptly.

Just then, the train drew to a halt. I looked out. It was Didcot Parkway. How extraordinary. We had just been told we would not stop there. An official was passing down the carriage, so I hailed him and asked how it was that the train manager called Michael had told us that we would not be stopping at Didcot.

He looked at me oddly.

"There is no train manager called Michael," he said. "I am the train manager. My name is Simon. There was a train manager called Michael, but he died last week in an accident. At Didcot, as it happens. So he couldn't have made an announcement."

"Oh, but these people will vouch that he did!" I said, gesturing round me. It was an empty gesture. I was all alone at the table. I froze. Had I imagined everything?

A reader writes: Dear Sir, What on earth is Mr Miles Kington waffling on about?

The editor of The Independent writes: I assure you, sir, that we have nobody on the staff of our paper called Miles Kington. Nor has there ever been. You must have been imagining it all. I suggest you go and lie down for a while till you feel better.