The Shared Diary of a Novice Paranormal Investigator, aged 52 and Three Quar

When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer.

(Stevie Wonder)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.


Ri fol ri fol tol de riddle dee.


The End

Scrawling yourself as the main character in your own story is possibly the most self-indulgent hobby available to humankind.   There is no more narcissistic way of spending one’s time; no other context in which every fart, twitch and stammer can be accorded such status.  I have had a wonderful time. 

I promised myself a year.  I took a little longer: it has been fourteen months since I missed my first meeting with the spirit fans, just before last Halloween.  We are now looking the turn of the year in the eye. 

I did not get what I expected.  I did get bonus results.  My driving has improved.  I have become an internet fan.  I started taking photographs.  I learned how to dowse. 

When we know nothing, we do not know how much there is know.  I have uncovered all kinds of communication channels and sources of information about the world of the weird, but all I really know is that there is much more to find out.

It is strange for me now to look back and remember how little I understood about this field fourteen months ago, and yet the seeds of my eventual conclusion were there in myself all the time. I had expected to end the year doing something new and different.  Oddly, the change has been less visible.  I feel different.  Not new, but better organised inside. 

Poking about in the paranormal is about making choices about what beliefs a person may develop.

When we make such choices, we are choosing which world we think we live in.  I think I live in a world characterised by the interaction of subtle energies, where everything feels alive.
We also make choices about how we want our world to be.  I want a world full of stories, myths and legends. 
Lastly, I like to hear about the worlds other people have chosen; what stories they are telling, why they cling to them and why they tell them.

So, after 14 months, I understand who and what I am these days, now that I can be myself.

I could be described as a Fortean fan, which means that I am in it for the craic.  That is my silliest and most shallow level, and I am not ashamed. 

I am a person who loves mythology, including the modern stuff which we do not always realise is mythology at all. 

Lastly, in a deep corner of my being, some kind of soul exists, and it is nourished when I feed it.  I will learn how to be proud of that.  In a busy, hard-nosed world, where people do not suffer fools at all, I have given myself permission to admit I have a spirituality, and I am currently feeding my soul.

That is it.  The end of the project.  I am sorry to let you go, dear diary.  I am also glad, though.  When an important chunk of your leisure time is actually a secret to all but your very closest friends, you do tend to run out of small talk.   When you meet new people, and find yourself all the time wondering whether or not to write about them, it makes for uneasy relationships.

Goodbye, dear diary.  Onward, ever onward (but quietly, now).  There is still Stuff to find out.

..and that is where we leave Rifol, forever in January of 2010, poor thing, it was not nice.  

Of course, the world keeps turning and everything changes and grows.  More has happened; we all keep learning and doing, there are always more adventures, but there is no more Rifol and no more diary, there is just me now.  

I thank you for letting me share this with you, and I hope you will go on to share it with others who might like it.  I am leaving it here, like a little fossil for people to stumble across.    

Goodbye, and stay Chipsy,



My dowsing rods have for some weeks been languishing in a corner, no doubt yearning for those heady glory days of midsummer, when we swung around picturesque remnants of the Neolithic world.  I was happy to put away the pendulum.  The rods are different.  They have a much stronger resonance for me.  I like to be outside, I like archaeology and I like stories.  Rods fit in with all of that, and they feel right to me.

Some might think I have taken leave of my senses when I stop hiding my rods and become an out dowser.  I do not care.  My year’s journey has introduced me to some people and some beliefs wacky beyond tolerance.  Observing the enormous range of wackiness and kookiness on offer has given me the confidence to make this choice.  I felt something working when I dowsed those locations.  It is my little subjective view, and my own experience.  The rods moved.  Now I just need to work out why.

 I cannot separate the influence of a subtle force from the work of my imagination or from the natural effects of walking over rough ground.  I decided to get help from the dowsers’ on line forum.  I can find my way around a forum, now.  At the start of this project, I was hardly aware such things existed.

I do like the dowsers.  They represent an interesting tea and scones conformity against a background of outlandish individualism.  I first received kind replies to my post, all urging me to keep trying to learn my own way, but maybe to find some support from a more experienced dowser. 

These were followed by some more detailed postings, which told me more about the complexities what some dowsers in this field believe.  One answer led me to a site where a dowser had painstakingly drawn a diagram of lines he had traced at a stone circle.  My findings at the same circle looked like a half-finished version of his; I had lines in the same places, but he followed them for longer, and they ended in little spirals.  Finding that picture was like opening a gift.  Start the party!  Bring on the balloons!  Something went right!

There is no orthodoxy, no party line among the dowsers.  There is pottiness at the extreme edges.  At times, there are echoes of Spouter, I am afraid.  All corners of the offbeat world are tainted by people who inflate their personal experiences into dogma.  I need to proceed with caution and choose with care.

So that is it.  I am not tying off this particular thread.  I know that something is working for me there, and I know I can have guidance from good, Spouter-free sources if I am careful who I mix with.  Dowsing is going with me.


Psychometry and a Precious Ring

Back near the beginning, my friend Chief Moral Support lent me a ring.  I knew nothing of the ring’s history, and CMS put the details in a sealed envelope, which I then lost for a long time.  We were planning to give it to a medium to find out if he could truly gather information from it, or if he was just picking up clues from appearances.  I was curious to know if psychometry was really happening.

I did not have an opportunity to try this out.  When the mediums are working the crowds, not all the punters get a chance.  My friend asked for her ring to be returned before I had a useful face-to-face encounter.  As a ruse, I was cooling to the idea anyway.  I could see some mediums were obviously fakes.  Others seemed to be doing something, but I was not sure what.  The experiment was not going to happen.  I gave up on the idea and bought a cake instead. 

 Before my friend arrived, for tea, cake and property return, I went upstairs and fished out the ring.  Just as I had been instructed, I took the ring in my left hand, closed my eyes, then dropped it into my right hand.  Very quickly, before I could think about it properly or forget any of it, I scribbled down the words in my head.  It did not really make sense:

 Brown man-y damp boat a little bit dirty quiet blue jumper
Then I left the piece of paper in a little box and went downstairs to put the kettle on.  That was about three months ago.

 Today, cleaning up the pre-Christmas detritus of lists, receipts and crumpled gift tags, I found it again.  From another box, in a different room, I retrieved the sealed envelope.

 Inside the envelope was an old photo of my friend standing next to a man in a blue jersey shirt and a brown jacket.  He was her deceased father, and it had been his ring.  I had never met him.  There was lots of information in the accompanying letter.  There were dates, there were details of his employment, and there was a little description of his character.  It told me how he liked to spend his leisure time, how he had passed away and, finally, what had happened to his ring since then.   

 So, did I get anything right?  Not bad for a chipsy person, I would say.  Brown, tick.  Blue, tick.  Boat, tick.  Man, tick.  Quiet, tick.  Damp?  A little bit dirty?  A possible beach reference there. 

 On the other hand – it looked like a man’s ring.  I have long known there was a boat connection in the family.  They all like boats.  If I had written ‘tax inspector’, then that would have been impressive.  If I had mentioned cryptic crosswords or carpentry as well, then that would have really been something.

 I have seen self-proclaimed mediums take applause for providing information in a similar league to mine. 

 There is probably nothing special about any of us, but I want you to know that at least I have cheekbones.  Case closed.  Another thread tied off


Unexpected Feminism

Perhaps the most positive result from this year’s adventure is that now, equipped with my little water bottle, an emergency apple and my trusty satnav I can hurl myself up and down motorways without a second thought.  Before I started this project, I regarded any drive of over five miles as a major undertaking, to be agonised over for several days, and then avoided if at all possible by any means fair or foul.  Once a year, I would announce I was Going On A Trip and, starting out at five in the morning, when I hoped everyone else would still be in bed, I would drive at a steady forty miles an hour until I reached my destination.  Whoever I was visiting would be astounded that I had managed to arrive there in only ten hours, and it would take me three days to recover.  Those days are gone.  I am experienced now.

So it was with only a moderate amount of trepidation that I faced the long, long drive to my latest adventure.  I had been waiting for this the whole year.  Two days of training run by National Rational.  Playing with the Big Kids at last.  Time to talk to People who Know Stuff.  I was excited.

I decided to arrive the evening before the training, taking the opportunity to visit Old Chum.  It rained relentlessly for the first two hours of my journey.  The motorway was like a paddling pool and quite terrifying.  So much for developing motoring confidence.  We had our usual chummy chat (‘So what the **** is it you are up to, you nutter?’) and a very good cake.

The next morning, satnav delivered me bright and early to a small huddle of houses in sodden farmland.  I drove around a couple of times, parked in the grounds of the largest building I could find, decided it was a private house, ran away and drove around again.  This time, I found the venue, and after only two or three attempts, I managed to park quite neatly. 

We were to be housed in an outdoor pursuits centre; a building mostly accustomed to witnessing ten year olds drawing willies and tearing their waterproofs.  There were brightly coloured posters on the walls and we had dorms with bunk beds to sleep in!  I had an urge to play at Mallory Towers.  It was quite charming, but the classroom was freezing cold.  I guess most people using it would not be sitting still for as long as we did.  By eleven o’clock, I had to apply an extra layer of clothing.  The pashmina is by far the best fruit of civilisation.  Forget cats’ eyes, forget medicine, forget the microchip; I am voting for the big scarf.

I was surprised and disconcerted to find that my fellow trainees were all more experienced.  Mostly, they were members of active groups from different parts of the country, but they were smugly bingo-free.  There were about thirty of us, from a variety of backgrounds and a good mix of ages and accents.  All rather white and anglo-looking, however.  I understand that this fascination with the unseen is more common in murky Northern Europe than it is in brighter latitudes, so these damp, foggy islands are good spawning ground for Paranormal fans. 

As a cohort, we spanned the sartorial continuum from slightly bohemian, through sensible sweaters, right across to urban sharp.  For me, it was a Weird Fish weekend.  I liked to think of myself as outdoor elegant.  Appearances and backgrounds apart, we all had in common an intellectual curiosity, as opposed to the experience-seeking focus I had met previously when out with the Spirit Fans.

It was a joy to hear at last some lucid discussion.  Over morning coffee, slightly over-stimulated, I found myself chatting with strangers about whether or not Science was a religion.  Over afternoon tea, I heard the hilarious tale of how a medium had been observed having a long conversation with a rustling plastic bag.

Some people do argue that Science is a religion.  In National Rational, Science is a deity.  We were instructed to use stringent logical measures when investigating reported phenomena, and only to report on that which can be accurately measured and documented.  The silly fingers on the glass routine, the dowsing rods and the medium are all to be discarded from the investigation site because you cannot use something unproven or unreliable to explore something else which is also an unknown. 

The kind of behaviour I had witnessed when out and about with the Spirit Fans, where mediums led punters in a story-making exercise, would never happen with National Rational.  Nor would they wave around the bizarre equipment carried by some groups; measuring damp, dandruff, compost content and tea bag fluctuation, all for the sake of looking technical.   If they investigate a location, they form a plan based solely on whatever has been reported, trying to uncover the details and, if possible, establish an explanation.  Therefore, if the witness complains of a ghostly draft, they will only investigate the movement of air.  If a witness has heard ghostly moans, they will only investigate sources of sound.  Spirit fans, on the other hand, would pile into any location with their whole repertoire of mediums, gadgets and gizmos to see what might turn up.

We were told that we might one day investigate a location in response to tales about or complaints of paranormal activity. On the other hand, we might choose a project, in which we could investigate one particular aspect of the paranormal world, such as, for example, a wizard who perhaps claims the ability to summon mysterious showers of lentils.

 We were introduced to the basics of how to interview witnesses, and we had a crash course in the psychology of warped perceptions.  We were given careful instruction in health and safety and in the ethical and legal guidelines which we must follow if we ever want to claim we are operating as a part of that organisation.  It was like a complicated version of common sense.  Once the paperwork is done, there seems to be a severely limited field of activity left for the Strictly Scientific Investigator.  I will explain.

Suppose you were investigating a report that every time Mrs Periwinkle switched off her TV at 11.00, she felt a ghostly hand touch hers.  After producing all the correct documentation and having a long chat with Mrs P, you would observe her night time ritual.  According to National Rational’s worldview, you would most likely discover that Mrs P has failed to notice that her voile curtain is charged with static electricity and that it clings to her hand as she stands near it.  This is the kind of result they predict for 99.9% of domestic investigations, and it would indeed be an excellent outcome for the beleaguered Mrs P, who would be able to change her soft furnishings and then operate her TV with confidence.

I am delighted for all the Mrs Ps out there, and proud to be connected, however loosely, to the kind of people who are able to help them.  I agree wholeheartedly that ghostly experiences most often have a mundane source, and that having this made clear is both healthy and desirable.  I still, however, have reservations:

National Rational suggests that natural explanations can be found by listening to the witnesses then examining the environment sensibly.  That presupposes that all phenomena can be easily described or observed.  How would they cope with my Agnes?  Agnes jumped into my head on my first ever night out with the Spirit Fans.  I knew she was there, but it was my individual experience.  Nobody could have seen it or measured it.  Many would not have believed it.  How would they cope with that Nasty Thing still mooching around in my childhood home?  I know, because I have experienced them, that some events do not produce a physical trace we can observe and measure.  I also know that the very act of observation changes the environment we are observing.  If investigators for National Rational only collect tangible, measurable data then they will have many, many successes, but they will also exclude themselves from poking about in a whole raft of other, more subjective phenomena.  Nobody could have put this better than Mrs Essex, who, towards the end of Saturday afternoon exclaimed, ‘So what exactly can we do then?  It looks like we can’t do anything except just sit there watching!’

 All year, I have felt the tension between conflicting world views.  In one world nothing needs to be proven; there are mystical layers of a Spirit World, Mr Spouter and all the little Spouters interpret the unseen for us with unchallenged authority and naughty young men secretly push upturned glasses around scratched tabletops.  It is a world full of wonder and hope for its fun-loving inhabitants. 

In the other, rational world, the atmosphere is congenial.  Jokes are funnier; the conversation is more interesting.  Apparently paranormal effects generally have natural causes.   The only authority is that which resides in empirical Science.  Unknown entities and ethereal energies may or may not exist, but, whichever way, if they cannot be observed and measured, they just do not count.

At this point I hear an echo from History Land.  Here, the lives of active females over a few thousand years may have been vivid and important, but, until comparatively recently, they just did not count.  If the acts and creations of the females could not meet the criteria of the male context then they were automatically invisible or worthless.  What an odd connection to make.  I did not expect that.

So, there are two starkly different worlds.  I do not want to live completely in either of them.  Talking with some of the Para-types on the course, I started to realise that they did not want this, either.  They were independent thinkers.  Everyone I spoke to had other interests and experiences which went beyond the purist parameters of National Rational’s world view.  They inhabited a middle ground, using empiricist methods when required by circumstances.

 Empiricism is like a motorway system.  It is fast and straight and it goes a long way.  There are, however, whole stretches of Geography quite far away from the motorway.  Sometimes, a b-road is the only route; you just might want to be choosy about which ones you use.
I would like to continue with National Rational.  The weekend taught me that their contribution is a method, not a philosophy.  Methods, you have to learn, then use or not use.  Philosophies, you just have to figure out for yourself.


I Wonder Where the Monster Went?

As we re-traced the steps of my monster walk, I earnestly explained my mission to LSS.  He listened with the air of gentle puzzlement he reserves matters unrelated to football.  Now I came to share it with someone else, it did seem a silly tale, after all.   

I had kept in my head an image of a remote spot, with eerie trees hiding a sinister creature.
The path had a quite different appearance today, and it was difficult to remember where my scalp had first prickled.  It was somewhere between the last building and the gate, but these were not as far apart as I had remembered.  I thought it was a distance of a hundred yards or more, but they were very close together.  I must have been within sight of the house the whole time. 

The bank above the path was not nearly as steep as it was in my memory, and there were hardly any trees.   Why had I remembered trees?  In my head, the path had been isolated, running under a steep, wooded bank.  In truth, it ran between two scrubby fields, close to some houses.  No wonder the World of the Weird has such a bad reputation; I was not trying to impress or scare anyone but my story was still full of lies.  

Ho hum.  We stood around awkwardly, trying to look like monster bait.  We both took a couple of photos.  We chatted a bit.  I guessed that a person might be less likely to have an Experience strolling along in good company, nattering about what to cook for dinner and poking fun at the government.  Actually, I suspect LSS would only have noticed a monster if it had leapt out kicking a football.  If it had carried a bottle of beer as well, he would probably have chased it.  Untroubled by supernatural beings, we had leisure, as we continued down the hill, to consider why the path and the valley beyond it might give rise to frights and fantasies.

LSS had not heard the theory that some so-called paranormal experiences may be induced by physical causes, such as electro magnetic fields or infra-sound.  I still do not know, of course, how much credence these ideas may have among people who actually know something about electro magnetic fields and infrasound.  At any rate, the whole valley is packed full of pylons and the energy fields must be jostling for space down there, treading on each other’s toes and tripping up over handbags all the way along.  People sensitive to fields generated by electric wires would be crossing in and out of their influence, organs and brainwaves lightly toasted en route, possibly giving rise to juicy stories as they pass.

We also considered what uses people made of  this valley.  Most of it is a suburban country park.  Country parks are there for all of us.  That includes people who feel at home in the countryside, but also people who might be more accustomed to spending their free time in neatly tamed town parks, or, maybe, indoors.   

There is no problem at all with this, of course.  Nobody would claim that hill walkers occupy any moral high ground.  Nor would anyone suggest that ignorance of which way up to hold a map would imply that a person had an irrational fear of sheep.  I do think it likely, however, that, once in a while, a stranger to the outdoors might be thoroughly and blamelessly spooked by the noises of nature.  Startled by an owl.  Scared of rustlings in the bushes.  God knows, after thirty years of walking the Pennines, curlews still give me the creeps, and wild geese sound like the souls of the damned.

It is easy to think you saw something, heard something or felt something when you are in an unfamiliar place, it is growing dark and your blood sugar is a bit low.  If you add to that the probability that some evenings there will be lively groups of marauding young people, enjoying a giggle, or possibly a chemically altered state of consciousness…

The thing about country parks is that they are used by people who live in towns.  Often, people who live in the town next to the country park, who then go back, pop into the co-op, run into a mate and tell great stories about what happened in the country park.  Local legends are born all the time.

We returned home with no great stories to tell, but we had enjoyed another happy wild goose chase, and I closed off another section of my project, resloved as far as such matters ever are resolved.


Back to the Haunted Path

Rifol is back, and hopes some readers are back, too.  She is trying to pull together the loose threads of her year-long exploration...

Way back near the start of this journey, before I had learned anything at all, I walked alone to spot associated with a local legend.  Before I reached that place, I had an uncanny experience; a feeling that something nasty was watching me.  It seems a long time ago.

I now receive newsletters from an Anomalous Phenomena group.  I like them because they seem to have a broader range of interests, and nobody has mentioned Bingo to me yet.  They appear to do plenty of business by e-mail, with pictures. 

The second newsletter I received contained an article about the valley near the place where I felt the presence.  I read thrilling new stories about some kind of dangerous entity menacing people in that area.  The AP group had taken a prowl around one evening, but had met nothing.  After only two months of thinking about doing it, I e-mailed the editor with my tale.  He took no interest, so I carried on anyway.

Then I looked for stories about the place on the Paranormal Database.  Last year, I knew nothing about these networks or these sources of information.  Today, I can find out what stories other people are telling.  There was no story of other people feeling glared at on the path, but people have claimed the site is haunted by the ghost of a child with black hair, and some say they have heard disembodied voices.  Wonderful.  Oddly enough, I have still found no mention of that first story I had heard, long before I started this project.  It was something about a phantom piper.  Where did I hear it?  What is happening in that little area, that it should give rise to so many different tales?  Is it something in the air?  Is it radioactive rock?  Local mushrooms?  Are there other places like it?  I will have to go back.  As I think I pointed out before, that valley is less than fascinating to look at.  If I felt inclined to invent spooky stories, I could choose a dozen more convincing locations within a short moorland mile or two.  Time for a walk.

Yes, Possibly (..the Worst Medium in the World)

Rifol is still a little put out.

 At the start of this project, I vowed to treat everyone with the respect they deserved.  I am still doing that, but nobody is getting more than they deserve.

 My third club investigation proved to be a dreadful disappointment.  I had assumed that it would be the best one, because this was the most well known, long established group.  Wrong again.  The rot set in from the start, when we found the team leaders in the car park, eating chips and amusing themselves by putting on comic Irish accents.  They moved on to poo jokes after a while.  The fart jokes they saved for later.

The whole group was in fine high spirits, anticipating an exciting evening’s entertainment.  We had only an hour and a half of waiting around, in the car park and the foyer, while the club officials carefully put batteries into a few hand-held instruments.  Then we were split into two teams.   Working with our team was the only obvious, see though fake medium I have met in the entire year.  This man made up stories which made no sense at all because he knew nothing at all.  Insufferably arrogant, he produced a torrent of ‘sensed’ balderdash, all of which exposed his ignorance of History, plays and the theatre. The criminal even pushed in front of us when we queued up for tea.   Lying to punters is naughty enough, but tea is tea, for heaven’s sake.

We visited several locations during that long, dark night of the intellect.  I enjoyed having a private tour of the theatre, especially backstage, where we could see some of the mechanisms and structures used to create the set.  I felt like a naughty child, exploring the posh boxes and sitting on any chair that took my fancy.   We even went in one of the subterranean dressing rooms, and sat in the chairs where actors put on make up.  Moving between the faded plush of the public areas and the functional concrete of the actors’ workplace provided an interesting contrast.  In every room, however, Mr Spouter treated us to the same meaningless fantasies.  Nothing else was allowed to happen.  If a punter suggested anything, Spouter changed the subject.

In the circle, I did see a blurred, shadowy figure moving quickly towards the aisle, but I was the only one.  It could have been a ghost; it could have been astigmatism.   When, from time to time, something of interest did happen, Mr Spouter and the Team Leader took care to ignore it, in case it interfered with the story telling.  Early on, the tinny little electro-magnetic field meter shot right up to red when held over a table in the bar.  Mr Spouter wisely took it away, just in case there was a danger of anyone gaining information from it. EC later told me her mobile phone had set it off.  Having an engineer in tow on an investigation is a very good idea, even if ‘mediums’ are not keen on them.  Later on, Spouter proudly showed everyone an anomalous photo he had taken.  He was not able to tell anyone where he had been standing when he took it, of course, so we could not return to that spot and do anything silly, like working out why it had happened. 

There was a floor length mirror in the corridor outside the dressing rooms, and there were greasy smudges on it.  The team leader gleefully claimed this to be proof that spirits were with us. 

The punters had a lovely time.  Sometimes, they had a turn at contributing to the stories spun by Spouter or Trainee Spouter.  Women’s magazines with lurid covers seemed to have had a very strong influence on their suggestions.  We heard about jealous lovers, nasty accidents, malicious plots and a secret love child.  It made a change.  In the breaks, we had chocolate biscuits.   Sometimes, there were jokes and fits of giggles.  They enjoyed their big night out.   We enjoyed some of it.

EC and I let ourselves out at about three thirty.  I felt I had done my time.  I asked EC if she would like to go again one day, but she said she would rather lick a toilet seat.  Children can be so cruel.

So that was the ignoble end to my short but expensive career as a punter with the clubs.  I met kind and friendly people each time.  Each time, I had an experience I could not easily explain.  I have learned why the clubs are popular with the regulars.  I have noticed, (and who could not have noticed?) that a lot of money is changing hands in the paranormal community.  I have formed my suspicion that some people running clubs may well be up to all kinds of interesting antics, possibly well considered, methodical antics at that, when the punters are not there.  As a punter, I have not been on anything that could truly be called an investigation; all three were Jolly Nights Out, especially for the regulars.

 I will have to wait for National Rational to help me to find the serious and systematic procedures I am looking for.  It is comforting to give up on the clubs – to know that I will no longer have to lurch clumsily around cold buildings in the middle of the night, debilitated by sleep deprivation, listening to mediums telling me stories.   I am in no position to say that some mediums may be honest, eerily skilled people or that they are all charlatans, every last one.  It was an entertaining experience, and apart from Mr Spouter, with his unruly tea-related behaviour and his outrageously bad performance, I will have fond memories of the spirit fans, but I cannot say with honesty that I regret leaving them behind on my journey.  Goodbye, spirits, spirit fans, mediums and punters, and good luck with the whole industry thing.

Rifol will be back, possibly in a better mood, on 30th October.  Until then, stay chipsy.