I had the best screamer yet on the Haunted Underworld tour.
The lady in the black hat was wonderful - see the picture below. The slightest movement or noise in the dark and she gulped and yelped. She was a bag of nerves. If anything moved or there was a loud noise she hit the high notes at such volume we were all covered in a light drift of ceiling dust by the end.
Screamers is just what ghost tours need. A screamer causes the fear to spread and that becomes infectious and then every member of the group becomes that wonderful word, 'jittery'. Very jittery.
The great thing about the group was their good nature, easy smiles and desire to be entertained. On some ghost tours you can get some spoiling sour sceptics. Not today.
I much prefer screaming women.
By the way the lady in the red coat in the picture below was from Hong Kong - she won the prizeless award of furthest distance travelled to Manchester for the tour. I'm not sure whether she'd travelled all that way just for my tour, but we can pretend.
"When you asked who came from furthest away," said one guest with a smile, "I was going to say Brighton. Glad I didn't now. It's just round the corner in comparison to Hong Kong."
Before Christmas I'd taken a couple of groups up Manchester Town Hall Clock Tower.
Most impressive of all, certainly most unusual, is standing underneath the hour bell as it tolls the hours. This is a mixture of the therapeutic and the terrifying.
Someone also suggested the bell delivers an erotic experience but I'm not sure you could go that far. Unless you're a master campanologist. Or get off on being wildly vibrated. They may have a point.
The hour bell has a name, Great Abel. Good name for a bell - Abel.
The name actually derives from the Town Clerk, Abel Heywood, who presided over the construction of the Town Hall - architect Alfred Waterhouse's masterpiece. The bell could fit four fat men in sleeping bags under its immense span.
On the second tour of the evening the group were in place just before 9pm.
Then slowly the hammer on one side of Great Abel drew back before flinging itself forward at the huge lump of finely tuned hanging iron.
Then the noise amplified by the cunning neo-Gothic soundbox of the Town Hall spire threw itself out across the region. I have heard Manchester Town Hall bell on sharp winter mornings from ten miles away.
And after the crash and clang came the most magical thing of the whole experience, a reverberation that went on and on and on. A low almost electrical hum, the sound waves of a tuning fork after it had been struck, but very low this time, very bass, vast, otherworldly.
Space precludes mention of the other powerful elements experienced on the tour - the sweet clock mechanism, the huge clock face, the views from the balcony, the carved slightly sinister angels on the elevated balcony. You can read the story of how Manchester got this particular tower here.
On that second tour as we came down the tower and into the public areas of the Town Hall there was a school awards event taking place.
"What's going on?" asked the late-teen daughter in a family of four.
"It's a Xaverian College awards," I said.
"Oh dear," said the girl, "of course."
"That's the one you were supposed to be at wasn't it?" said the mother.
"It's the one I could have been at," corrected the daughter.
The father, mother and sister of the girl all looked at each other. But there was no tension in the air. What they all had forgotten was that they'd booked to come up the Clock Tower on the same evening as the awards taking place 150ft below.
They started laughing and the group joined in, mystified, but amused by the oddness of the exchange they'd witnessed.
As we got further down the stairs and then towards the entrance the girl kept meeting teachers and pupils she'd known.
One final point.
Great Abel has words from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ring Out, Wild Bells from In Memoriam cast round its skirt - In Memoriam was an elegy to the premature death of Tennyson's best friend, and also, his sister's fiance, Arthur Henry Hallam.
The lines read on Great Abel, 'Ring out the false, ring in the true'.
Here's the whole poem. It's superb.
The religious element you can take or leave because in most part these lines by Tennyson are as life-affirming as that last long, lingering reverb on Great Abel.
RING out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying clouds, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.…
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
The Wikipedia entry on the poem didn't mention the Manchester Town Hall bell link with the poem. So I added it.