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.


Psychometry: up close and personal.

There can be no less appetising food than the traditional buffet.  Pork fat dyed pink and wrapped in greasy pastry.  The fatty remains of factory farmed chicken.  Woolly white bread with plastic cheese.  Cosy Local strikes again.    One quiz, one buffet and two hours after the meeting had begun, we were given opportunities to try some activities.

Today was psychic circuit training, with a different activity in each part of the room.  I began with psychometry.  We were told to work with a stranger and exchange a possession.  We had to take the object in the hand we did not write with, transfer it to the hand we wrote with, then try to sense something.  I made the exchange with a jovial bald chap.  Straight away, I blurted ‘Hot, hic’.  He was bemused.  ‘It is ‘hot’ and a hiccup or a sound like hic or ick.’ I said, having no idea why I was saying it.  ‘Well I do often feel hot, I’m a hot person,’ he mused, ‘but I don’t know what ‘hic’ means.’

Then it was his turn.  Rolling his fingers round my worn and somewhat misshapen wedding ring, he told me he could see a nice, clean bed in an attractive bedroom. Dream on.  At home, our untidy bedroom is inhabited by an ill-tempered cat with digestive ailments. 

We tried our watches next.  As soon as I held his, I said ‘itchy.’  He was very surprised.  He called out to his wife. ‘What’s that rash called that I got this morning?’  Men of a certain age do not take personal responsibility for their bodies; they have staff to do this for them.  His wife looked slightly irritated.  ‘Prickly heat.’ she said.  This was certainly one for the diary.  I had said ‘hot, hic, itchy’ to a man with prickly heat hidden beneath his shirt.  I have super powers!  Perhaps he does also.  Consider the images he saw.  From my little bits of experience so far, it seems to me that these nebulous extra senses feed into our image making, poetry forming selves.  They do not provide our carpet measuring, car driving commonsense selves with useful, factual information we can transfer straight on to an organised list.  Instead, fragments slip in via the imagination, clawing hold of whatever sound, shape or picture will represent some content to the thinking, speaking mind.  If I were holding a wedding ring, I think a pleasant, clean bedroom would be a fine symbol for a stable, long established partnership.   Of course, the tenuous, symbolic quality of information gathered in mysterious ways is precisely what makes it almost useless, which is possibly why humanity developed language as a more efficient communication system.

I next made the exchange with a very kindly lady.  We had been chatting earlier, and she had told me she suspected I had a Native American spirit guide.  I wondered if being aware of another person’s spirit guide was considered impolite in these circles, a bit like reading someone’s post.  The popularity of Native American spirit guides stems from spiritualism’s origins in nineteenth century USA, and the romantic view of the skilled hunter and tracker, able to guide the novice through the wilderness.  I did not want to mention this, for fear of seeming churlish.  

‘I still think you have a Native American guide,’ she frowned, concentrating.  This just felt wrong.  I could not think why spirits would waste time trying to guide people who were oblivious of their presence and who, what is more, ought to be grown up enough to cope on their own.  I still think it presumptuous to assume the living should be so served by the dead.
‘I don’t think I’m important enough to have a spirit guide.’ I replied.
She looked truly shocked.  ‘My dear!’  she said, ‘You are a spark of the Divine, of course you are important enough.’

To my horror, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  Her kindness and reassurance had shifted something deep inside me.  I felt terribly vulnerable, and rather foolish.  I had no idea I was so needy.  ‘You should look for messages.’ She told me.  ‘Your spirit guide will leave you little signs and signals.  It might be the name of a book, or a piece of music and if you find a white feather, your guardian angel is close by.’  

From my ring, she had an impression of open spaces, and of trees in the garden.  Those were both appropriate images for me, but I guess they would also have fitted most people in some way.  Her next comments surprised me.  She related images of Africa.  ‘You are seeing my past.’ I told her.  She shook her head.  ‘Are there pyramids in your past?’ she asked.  I said there were not.  ‘I think that is your future.’ she said.  I do not have any plans to travel to Egypt.  I do wander, these days, chasing butterflies and drifting on the tide, but – Egypt?  Very unlikely, and not particularly attractive to me right now. 

Then it was my turn.  Again, words by-passed my brain to fall directly from my mouth.   ‘Water, blue.’ I said.  She told me she lived by a reservoir.  There was a bit more.  ‘A cute animal, but not a real one.  Something like a panda or a teddy bear.’  She said she had a toy Pooh Bear. 

So, there seems to be mileage in psychometry.  Glancing through a few websites, it did not take long before I had found several wonderful explanations of how it worked.  Everything has an aura, which we can learn to read.  Objects vibrate with the stories of their past.  We absorb information from the mind of the object’s owner.  Events of the past and the mind of the seer are simultaneously present in a hazy quantum otherworld.

None of that, of course, makes it very practical for us.  The slight snippets and flavours we sensed when exchanging property would not have helped us in the workaday world.  Psychometry would not make the trains run on time.  It did make us feel closer to each other, though.  In a few short minutes, I gained a small sense of the essence of those two people: a process normally requiring time and a good deal of tentative effort.  Similarly, I was at once both happy and alarmed to know they had been aware of me.  Letting down the guard to allow some human contact is a dangerous action when a person is among strangers, but sometimes it does feel good. 

If this capacity for sensing something of a person through their property has always been latent in all of us, it has certainly been suppressed.  Perhaps that is why it is usually bad manners to handle other people’s property, or to move into their personal space unless they are intimate friends.  I know I inhabit an exclusion zone almost a mile wide, and I once almost fainted with shock when a colleague picked up my handbag for me.  What if this is not just due to shyness?  Physical wariness might be a barrier our ancestors learned to erect in order to maintain some privacy, and it then became encultured to varying degrees in different societies.   It was obviously particularly important during my formative years.  I did not look directly at anyone until I was thirty -four.

After psychometry I proceeded to the next activity with a little confidence.  We were going to practise dowsing, and I knew something about that!  This activity was run by one of the leaders, a pleasant man I now knew to be addicted to peanuts.  He had put a row of three envelopes at one end of the table.  If you wanted to play, you had to run your hand over the envelopes and try to guess which one had a picture in it.  I guessed it was envelope ‘A’.  Saying the first thing to enter my mind had just been quite successful for me, and I had no other resources.  Next, Peanut Man put another three envelopes in front of me.  One of these had a corresponding picture, and I had to use rods to dowse for it.  He said I did not really need to use both rods, but I asked if I could.

‘Show me yes!’  I asked.  These rods were satisfyingly sturdy and they crossed beautifully for me.  I held them over envelope ‘A’.  ‘Is there a picture in this envelope now?’  I asked.  The rods crossed.  I tried the same with the other two envelopes and the rods did not cross.  I told PM I thought the picture was in ‘A’.  One look at his face told me I was wrong.  Oh, dear.  Back to the drawing board.  I guessed the rods had crossed at ‘A’ because I thought it was the answer.  The rods, I am informed, move in response to tiny muscle twitches in the hands holding them.  Having told myself the picture was in envelope A, I then twitchily told the rods as well.  The paranormal is a complicated place for the novice.  I asked Peanut Man what it was in the  picture.  ‘Casper,’ he said.  You cannot help but like Cosy Local, even when you fail in public.

I moved away so someone else could have a turn.  The final activity was, yet again, the fingers on the glass routine.  Our glass remained stubbornly uncommunicative.  I only mention this part of the evening because, a few minutes after I joined in, I thought a tall man was behind me and I glanced over my shoulder.  Towards the end, Peanut Man came up to see if anything was happening.  ‘You often pick up a man here,’ he said. ‘He stands over there, by the fireplace, but he doesn’t say much.’  I was, of course, just in front of the fireplace.  As usual, little, meaningless things happen...


It's fun to be 50 (and some...)

I have been exploring magazines.  Apart from tedious professional periodicals, which I hide for two months before reading, I almost never buy magazines, so I had never scanned the shelves before.  I found several magazines with a paranormal theme, and I bought two.  The first read more like one of the less inspiring women’s magazines.  ‘Craft your own angel!’ ‘My son plays in a vortex!’  ‘Recipes!’  The second was different.  Within a couple of pages, I was hooked.  I felt it must have been written especially for my needs.  I was fascinated.  Satisfyingly thick and glossy, it contained a mix of news, reviews and speculation about anything and everything that does not quite fit into the empirical world.  The whole family devoured it, including the adverts.  I had to queue for two days before I could grab it back.  By the time I had finished it all, the next edition had appeared and I had to buy that as well.

One article could not have appeared at a more appropriate moment.  It was a tribute to the thinker and writer John Mitchell.  When I read the article, I realised that I had read his most famous book some years ago.  Reading the article returned me to some of the preoccupations of my younger self.  Perhaps this is what we are like in our 50s.  We return to things abandoned in our busier or more conformist years; we dust them down, give them a shake and check if there is any wear left in them.  LSS has for the last couple of years been surrounding himself with large and complicated pieces of photographic equipment.  As a boy, he learned photography from his Father, but for nearly thirty years he hardly took a holiday snap. Now he is revealed as a talented artist, and he is enjoying a fulfilling obsession.  Being suddenly in possession of leisure hours and disposable income, at 50 we can confidently declare that we intend to dress as chickens, skip backwards around the market or make a model brontosaurus out of hummus without a care for consequences, including the inevitable sarcasm from our loved ones.  The happy half century effect was what began my paranormal adventure.

Mitchell’s famous ‘The View Over Atlantis’, dealt with prehistoric engineering and earth mysteries; just the territory I have been approaching.  While reading the article, which included photos of the book covers, I remembered my copy.  I searched the house for it.  Now, I am covetous around books.  It is unseemly, the way I hoard them.  I declutter cupboards and wardrobes with Stalinesque brutality, but the bookshelves are allowed to harbour useless and damaged drivel for decades.  I even held on to the Byron for twenty years, and the only thing I liked about him was his shirt.  I keep the soggy ones, which have fallen in the bath, the ones with marmalade stains, the boring ones I should never have bought.  There are volumes soaked in spotty teenage angst from my tender years, and there are tatty beloved oldies, re-read each year or two.  I force myself to undertake a minor cull each decade, or we would have to move house.  My copy of the Mitchell, it seems, fell foul of one such cull. I was cross with myself for not remembering Mitchell.  I guessed I had a secret snobbery lurking beneath the surface – I would never have forgotten his name if he had written Literature.  Did I remove him because he was too wacky for my sensible business years?  Had I decided to purge what I felt to be disreputable?  I think so.  Without doubt, a lot of the mental baggage I have been unpacking in this diary must have been put there by Mitchell during my impressionable years; the last time I had this quality of personal time and head space.  I am detecting the sources of my half formed beliefs!

From Mitchell, I had learned to expect an explanation combining the intellectual, the spiritual and the practical for the sensations we sometimes experience in certain outdoor places.  I had absorbed, and I retained, all these years, a sketchy gist which goes as follows: some kind of design went into ancient monuments, which meant that some kind of power could be generated, and it was all connected to things arranged in straight lines across the landscape.  I seem to remember that the sums got a bit hard beyond that. 
I had expected stories like this to be part of the territory of the local paranormal groups, and I had been disappointed. 

Through reading Brill Mag, however, I discovered that there are also other groups to be explored, with much wider fields of interest, and they do not seem to work with mediums at all.  They are keen on UFOs and all kinds of things I have not even thought of yet!  Crypto zoology!  Crop circles!  They have conferences all over the place!  Here we go again.


Talking Dowsing

‘How many centuries are you living in at the same time?’ demanded CMS, leaning on a fence.  Three days of relentless rain had given way to a heavy, humid afternoon I felt could be classed as ‘good weather’, since there were no gale force winds.  We were wandering out for a leg stretcher.  Taking the path past the overflowing reservoirs, we soon came to a place where two peaty streams hurled themselves down from the hilltops.  As we stood watching tea coloured water sluicing down broken rocks I explained to her how I had spent the last week learning how to program my new iPod and how to dowse with a pendulum.  I felt I had just turned the first corner with both pieces of kit.  Some of my problems magically vanished after I abandoned the first two sets of instructions I had been following in favour of a third set, recommended to me by one of the local dowsers.  This one was working so well for me, I was starting to feel in some kind of control.

The iPod I found delightful.  As a dedicated gym bunny, I have endured the torture of the DVD jukebox.  This perve machine displays on a large screen the front and back bottoms of women gyrating in submissive poses, all backed by depressing music.  Well into my dreary second year of this, I took the plunge into ownership at Tesco’s and never looked back.  Unfortunately, I seem to have set two or three copies of Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ to repeat at random all the time.  Now that is a fine album, but I do not need to hear it quite so regularly.  Both iPod and pendulum are work in progress.

I take dowsing very slowly.  I move one step forwards, practise for a day or two, put it away for a day or two.  Some of this is because I wait for those rare moments when the house is quiet and I do not have more pressing work, but some of it is my reluctance to push forwards in case it stops working for me.  Every day I delay making progress is another day when I can tell myself it is working so far.  Studying dowsing is like exploring the twists and turns of your own will.  Talking to CMS always helps.  I return home feeling purposeful.  If the thing stops working, then it stops working. 


A Night with the Dowsers

Beards: 1.
Fleeces: 2.
Biscuits: 0.
Cups of tea: 0.
Pubs: 0
Chats in car park: 0
Minutes spent getting horribly lost in horrible places: 60
Glasses of wine on return to warm bosom of family: 2 large.

After suffering major nervous breakdowns on two motorways, I found the right town, then drove in the wrong direction for five miles twice.  Going the other way, I found myself exploring a Hogarth picture behind some dark satanic mills; driving down menacing alleyways littered with broken glass and punctured footballs.  After taking directions from a child who did not speak English and a man who did not know the one way system, I inexplicably found myself going through a modern town centre at ten miles per hour.  This was with satnav.  Without it, I may never have been seen again.

When I finally arrived, only one hour late, there was a distinct atmosphere outside the community centre.  Two men appeared to be Having Words with a group of boys, and possibly with each other.  One man had come out to tell off some naughty boys, and the second man had come out to tell off the first man for doing it wrong.  A deeply unpleasant pink and powdery old lady loomed up at me, looked me up and down and asked if I were with the dowsers.  I took this for a good omen.  She showed me how to sign in, then told me I had done it wrong.  She was delightful, and she only added to the lovely atmosphere.

I found the Dowsers.  They were clustered around a large table hunched over google earth printouts.  I felt as if I had accidentally intruded into the serious end of the Library just before Finals.

They were a little surprised to see me, since the person who had invited me had not told them about me, and had not turned up himself.  I realised that they did not quite know what to do with me, and actually they were rather busy.  I tried to make myself inconspicuous so that I could just watch without getting in the way.  Each one had a pendulum.  They were Remote Dowsing.

 This means that they were looking for an underground watercourse by studying an image of the place.  Apparently many dowsers feel that this works just as well as visiting the real place, and it prevents inconvenient encounters with mud and nature.  Each dowser hung a pendulum over the picture, gave it a little push, muttered, then started again.  Sometimes they conferred a little.  A character from a pre-raphaelite painting waved her prettily designed pendulum over the photo and told us ‘I’m getting bones, from the 5th century’.  ‘They’ve not been there long then!’ responded an older chap, rather shocked ‘this century’s only a few years old.’
 ‘No,’ said Pre-raph, ‘5th century.’ 
‘Well it’s the new century now, they can’t have been there that long…’
 ‘No, I said 5th, not ‘this’ - 5th.’
‘Oh, I thought you said ‘this century.’
 It is amazing how much entertainment can be had from a pendulum. 

‘I’m not sitting there it’s giving me headache’ growled the chap next to me.  He scraped back his chair and lumbered off.  ‘There’s a line of negative energy running just where you’re sitting,’ explained a kindly soul.  I looked around in alarm, but could not see anything.  This evening was proving to be more hazardous than I had anticipated.  ‘He’s always complaining about it, but he’s not moved it yet,’ quipped the older chap, setting off a Mexican wave of grins and chortles around the table.  ‘He can’t do it,’ he added, presumably for my benefit.  It felt like they were discussing fixing a bookcase, not detecting and influencing mysterious underground energies.  Later, I was advised that as soon as I became proficient, I should check around my bed to make sure I was not exposing myself to negative energy through the night.

‘Come on then! Get yours out!’  someone called jovially.  I was being encouraged to try my skill with the picture and the pendulum.  Shyly, I admitted that I had not got a pendulum, only rods.  I had associated dowsers only with rods, and I had not thought to buy a pendulum, as well.  I felt nervous about showing them what I had bought, in case they started chortling again, but I fished them out of my bag and waved them around ineffectually.  Some reciprocated, and I could see what a variety of designs there were.  Headache chap had a telescopic rod, which fitted into a neat little pouch.  Someone else had a huge, heavy home-made version; ‘It’s got a crystal in it’ he explained with a little grimace, ‘Some people think it makes them work better, I dunno…’ The older chap had what looked like two huge metal bars held together at one end with duct tape.  He held the loose ends apart and looked for all the world as if he were wrestling with it.  I thought it sinister.

Headache chap, not a fan of remote dowsing, and fed up with his chair, invited me to step out into the corridor with him, so he could give me a few pointers.  He advised me that I did not really need two rods and that I might do better with just one.  ‘Talk to your rod,’ he told me, without blinking.  I dug my nails into my hand.  He demonstrated how to walk with the rod – holding it steady and looking straight ahead.  A dowser does not look down, she catches the movement from the corner of her eye when the rod reacts.  Indeed, when HC glided down the corridor, his rod obediently bent at a right angle every time he passed a certain spot.  Of course, when I did it nothing happened.

He told me about currents of energy and he measured my aura.  Apparently it is a nice healthy size.  He asked me if it all sounded like ‘mumbo jumbo’.  It did not.  The way the dowsers spoke of energies and movement chimed with so much that I had felt, not just since starting my diary, but over many years.  Comparing them with the Spirit Buffs, I guessed I would be comfortable with the Dowsing belief system, and much more at home in their world.  In order to get a little closer and understand it better, it is necessary to be able to dowse.  A possible sticking point, there.  I had read that everyone can do it… almost. 

I found my way home.  Keep trying, Rifol.


Dowsing up the Motorway

The dowsing is warming up.  I have a ‘yes’ sign and I have a ‘no’ sign.  We devised game: Youngest hides one ear-ring and I hold the other in my left hand behind the rod handle.  I have only 30% success rate.  I have dowsed for the cat and for Youngest (he was in front of the TV).  I took the rods to one of my Special Places, and watched them twirl like helicopter blades.  Of course, it was a bit windy.  Yesterday I realised that if I walk over the water pipe, they cross.  I also found out that I could make them move how I want them to by squeezing them gently.  So gently, that nobody would know, and I could even pretend to myself that I had not really done it.

I have booked myself on a two-day course to learn how to use them, and I have found the local society.  I have received hearty welcome messages of advice and encouragement.  I am heading for my first meeting later today, the intrepid explorer of another unfamiliar section of motorway.  With only a satnav to protect me, I am once again driving myself too hard; or at least to somewhere where it is probably too hard to park.

I anticipate a church hall atmosphere, possibly a high beard count, and plenty of women like me, wearing fleeces.  I think the buffet of Cosy Local will be replaced by tea with too much milk in it and those boring biscuits everybody eats at meetings, even though they are just not worth the calories.  I suspect a select band disappears to a pub sharply at the end of the meeting, and another gaggle hangs around chatting in the chilly car park.  I am going to hare it home.  It is Friday night and I want to take my shoes off.


A Ghost-hunter's Equipment

Of course, after my little adventures in the world of the Sprit Fans, I am now a seasoned investigator.  I know the ropes.  From my lofty viewpoint, I can offer words of wisdom to any about to follow in my footsteps.  Here is my list of Essential Investigation Equipment:

  • For running noses in the cold, dark night, and for the weepy eyes of the Sensitives, carry a good supply of tissues.
  • A torch and a camera will both be useful.  Keep your camera out of its case.  In one location, our leader thought he could hear a sigh, but I had to disappoint him; it was only the sound made by a fussy lady, juggling a camera case and a Kipling bag.  Some groups only let you carry red torches.
  • I was told – take caffeine pills if you are driving home.  Early morning roads were once hazardous because of all night partygoers driving under the influence of drink.  In the twenty-first century, the grown ups are all quite sober, but we still cannot drive safely because we have been out looking for ghosties all night.  Plus ça change…  Some clubs operate a coach service, so you do not have to drive. 
  • A handbag gets completely in the way, so you need huge pockets for all of the above (plus your purse, phone and keys, of course).
  • For the eternal cold, exacerbated by inactivity, warm but unrestrictive layers of clothing.  I am trying to start a fashion for thermals.
  • I tried wearing furry boots – these kept my feet warm but they were uncomfortable when I had to sit on the floor. 
  • A big scarf is wonderful protection from the worst cold spots and drafts.  My pink pashmina goes everywhere with me now.
  • Whatever refreshment the club says is on offer, make sure you take an independent supply, especially if you prefer your food to have some nutritional value.

My equipment list is rather different from the one I had expected to have.  When I started out in the Autumn, I had expected to build up a stock of more technical equipment with lots of Machines that Measure Things.  That was a delusion.

Machines that Measure Things proved to be rather dull, in the end.  I had imagined myself boldly pointing a black box into a corner and announcing ‘I can confirm a reading of 8.6% hobgoblin 2.4 centimetres from the apex.  We will certainly need a sprocket.’  Sadly, this did not happen.  I did have a turn on a spot thermometer, although I kept pressing the wrong button.  This is like a little gun, and when you point it at one particular point in a room, it will tell you the temperature of that spot.  We are all told that spirits use up heat energy so a dip in temperature should be an indication of paranormal activity. 

When I had my turn, the readings made no sense to me, as I had no idea what the temperature was expected to be.  I was recording meaningless numbers, which were different in all parts of the room anyway.  I was fascinated to see the investigator recording just such a drop when PYL believed a spirit to be present.  However, I also saw this happen on another occasion when I was informed there were no spirits with us.  Sometimes, it just grows colder on its own.

There is money sloshing around in Paranormal Land.  Selling electrical equipment to buffs and punters provides an income for somebody.  Even if a novice punter can only afford a starter package, the current vogue for ghosties means that there are many, many of these novices all buying a little kit, then maybe upgrading a year later.   A lot of little makes a lot.  Here is the punter’s Birthday wish list of equipment for a club-style investigation:

  • Infra red cameras, to record images and moving images in the dark.
  • Large screen for playing back footage and displaying images to other punters.
  • Spot thermometer, to check for temperature changes in specific parts of a room.
  • Data logger, to track temperature and humidity over a number of hours.
  • Infra red torch, so you can move around without needing the white light which scares away the phantoms.
  • Sound recording equipment, to catch karaoke from beyond the veil.
  • Hearing enhancer, in case the spirits whisper shyly.
  • Electro magnetic field meter, to measure, oddly enough, electro magnetic fields. 
  • Motion detectors, in case something or somebody tries to sneak past.
  • Radio for communication between team members in different parts of the site.
  • PC to store, process and share information.
  • Lots and lots of batteries and cable.

Any number of traders would be eager and able to provide all of the above, should my loved ones feel moved to sacrifice their dwindling pension funds in order to further my interests. 

Such a noble sacrifice could well be wasted, says National Rational, along with many other organisations.  The most important investigation tools in their view would be a pen and a paper, for noting who has experienced what and when.  They need the witnesses, before the machines.  Rather than measuring temperature right away, investigators from these groups would research the history of the phenomena and seek to understand the human interactions and perceptions at the heart of the story.  They would also take a good long time to log every creaking floorboard, every wobbly window, every clanking pipe.  They would check which way the wind had been blowing on the evenings when the door mysteriously flew open by itself.  They would return many times, slowly gathering a full understanding of the physical and emotional background to reported phenomena.

‘Well I’m here again, Mrs Toast-Crumbs, to see how I can help you with the poltergeist.  Last week you told me how small objects appeared on your bedroom carpet after being lost for several days.  Now, I wonder if you can show me where you keep your laundry basket?’

National Rational does not abhor the use of Machines that Measure Things, but it does advocate very cautious use of such measurement.  If you wish to search for the abnormal, it warns, you must first establish without doubt what normal looks like for that spot, and that is a complex, time consuming activity.  Many similar sources also point out that the equipment normally available is just not sophisticated enough to provide informative readings.

‘So, Mr Shout-at-TV-news, I am just going to measure the electro-magnetic waves.  To get a true picture, I will use plenty of meters, all the same top brand and same model of course!  We need everything to be precise and equal.  That is what we call a Fair Test.  I will put one in the corner of the kitchen to see if the reading changes when the headless horseman comes through as usual at tea time, but I will put several others around the house and a couple in the garden, so that I will be able to compare the different areas of the property on days when there is activity, days when there is no activity, days when the trains are running, days when trains are not running, days when there is a thunderstorm… ‘

The Rational style of investigation costs time. In order to undertake such a project, the investigators would require plenty of visits to the site and meetings with witnesses, and they would need to reflect and plan.  Clubs, hiring a building for one night’s access, taking with them unknown groups of potentially potty, giddy or inexperienced paying punters on an adventure, will never have that luxury.  Operating electrical devices may be one kind of substitute.  Following the leadership of sensitives and psychics may be another.  You pays your money and you takes your choice.


Stock Taking

Rifol has made it through the winter!  On her time line, many busy weeks have slipped by and she is overdue a little quiet reflection before dashing off on a new trajectory.  

It is time, once again, to take stock, to reflect on the stages of my journey and to plan the next.

At my first stock-taking, I was disgruntled because so little had happened.  That was in freezing January.  We are now, on May Day, safely defrosted and considering red peonies for the patio.  I cannot complain that too little has happened this time.  I am more like the politely puzzled customer in the hairdresser who murmurs ‘Well I am sure it is very nice, but it is not quite what I asked for…’

I have investigated with two different clubs, and I have a third waiting in the wings.  I have learned more about what makes the groups tick.  I have experienced contact.  I have used two machines to measure things, and, although I am ashamed to say I did this very badly, I did see how someone with more sense used one to good effect, and that was a special l moment in my journey.  I have discovered that I like dowsing rods.  I might have found a stone circle.  I have taken a strange photograph. I have swooped around the internet, picking up fascinating threads of history, science, mythology and anthropology; dropping them again when something even brighter and shinier winked at me from the horizon.  It has been great.

With no clear direction, I am still scrabbling around in the foothills, I suspect that I have not even arrived at base camp yet.  If I continue to dabble and dawdle, I will not get anywhere.

Club investigations were logical starting places, but they do not go very far.    My experiences on those club investigations were real, even if I was not certain what caused them.  The other punters may well have thought I was fantasising, when I exclaimed in surprise that something unseen had touched me.  They did not know me from Adam, just as I did not know them.  We could all have been liars and frauds.  The only satisfactory way of investigating a site would be in the company of known and trusted companions.  As a punter in a club, I can never have this.  I also want more than a moment of contact.  If there is ever a real contact I want to follow it up, to understand it.  As a punter, I will never have that, either. 

Of course, club leaders embark on other investigations without punters.  In fact, our trip fees fund their activities (and, it seems, sometimes pay their wages).  I think that is why they are so nice to us. 

I am aware that the club interpretation of ‘paranormal’ is not like the one I am developing in my head.  They are largely concerned with experiencing contact with what they call ‘spirit’ in the same public buildings investigated by all the other groups on the circuit.  They are operating within a belief system drawn from a religion.  For me, ‘paranormal’ covers many of the mysterious phenomena we may hear of or encounter at the edges of our mechanical, work a day world.  I am still mostly curious about hauntings and bumps in the night, but there has to be more on offer than that.  I am drawn to outdoor peculiarities, to dowsing, to earth mysteries as well.  I still have unfinished business on the moor, where we now have two possible contenders for the site of the stone circle.

I have not yet signed up for any one particular belief system, and I am suspicious of all of them, including empirical science and the evidence of my own senses.  However, at present, clubs are the only places where some of my odd experiences fit in, and that is why I need them.  It is very easy to find and join a paranormal club. 

For the next leg of my journey, I will continue to keep one foot in that curious land of punters, mediums and all-night junk food binging.  Clubs are fine, if you don’t expect any more of them than they are designed to give.  There are, hopefully, other organisations to explore, other people to learn from.  There has to be a wider structure than just me and the internet; I will grow an anorak if I continue like this. 

Since I like the dowsing rods, I will travel that road next.  A group meets just up the motorway from here and I can go on a training weekend.  The website, a model of accurate punctuation, inspires trust and hope. I have got my rods and my CD; the world is my oyster.

Stocktaking over, I am all set with my plan of action: enter the dowser!

Dear reader, if you like following Rifol's journey, tell your chums to take a peep.  Our numbers are growing, but we are still greedy for more, and there are lots of Good Bits to come.
If you have arrived half-way through, the beginning is still out there in cyber-land for you to (hopefully) enjoy. 


The Dowsing Rods, the Home, the Cat and the Chocolate

In front of me lie two pretty pieces of copper, bent at a 90 degree angle and decorated with little glass beads.  They are my very own dowsing rods, purchased with the assistance of that faithful pal, the internet.  This computer enables me to buy anything I want and to talk to anyone I want without making any effort at all. It is intoxicating to sit here and set all kinds of mischief in motion.  A quick flurry on the keyboard and I have badgered paranormal buffs with irritating questions; press another key and I have become a dowser!

Not a very good one, I am afraid.  The introductory CD leads the novice through several lessons.  I have so far completed step one; holding them the right way up.  My rods swing freely within neat little sleeves.  This is to stop me cheating, I think.  I have to pick them up and hold them out parallel at waist height, allowing them to move.  When I do this, sometimes they swing around wildly and sometimes they settle quickly to a still parallel position.  I find this fascinating.  I like holding them and watching them.  This is as far as I consistently get. 

The next step is beyond my abilities.  The dowser has to establish what position the rods habitually take when they indicate a ‘yes’ answer.  I settle them in parallel position and politely ask them to show me ‘yes’, while trying to concentrate.  Sometimes they cross, as the CD suggested they probably would.  Sometimes they do nothing at all; sometimes they swing around so that one rod points accusingly at my chest.  If I breathe deeply, or give one rod a little jiggle, they obediently cross, but I suspect it is naughty to tamper in this way.  I have been trying to complete step 2 for about three days, off and on.  I notice more success after an dozen or so tries, as if the rods warm up slowly each session.  I do not think I am concentrating hard enough.  Perhaps I would have more success if not for the attention-seeking cat, the infernal drum and base music and other by-products of home and family.  It is hard to concentrate when so much is happening.  It is better to wait until the house is empty, or until Youngest is called away on play station related business.  That way, they don’t know what I’m up to, either.

Virginia Wolf needed a room of her own and some money in order to write.  The rest of us also need a little peace and privacy if we are to engage with anything as self-centred as a hobby or an independent thought.  Anyway, free time has arrived.  Spouse, Youngest and cat all went out, in that order.  It is just me, the rods and the chocolate now. 

A few minutes later…
 on first attempt, nothing happened.  On the second and third attempts, the rods crossed within about 10 seconds of my asking for the yes sign.  Then I decided to watch without asking for anything, and the rods crossed again.  There are no wild movements this evening, just either nothing or the cross.  I wonder if this is progress.  I have decided to move on to the next step, and ask the rods to show me the ‘no’ position.

A few minutes later… ‘no’ seems easier.  The rods moved slightly apart and the left one trembled a little.  This happened three times, quite quickly and easily.  The third time, I asked for a ‘yes’ after the ‘no’ and the rods did not move.  I think they need to be re-set after each movement.  I have eaten all the chocolate.

Pause, to let in the cat through the back door, offer him food, hang up the washing, then let out the cat through the front door.  Refreshed, I tried a different grip.  As well as the CD which arrived with the rods, I have a booklet, purchased the old fashioned way, by wandering in to my favourite bookshop, rummaging around for twenty minutes then giving a real human being some real, physical money.  My booklet advises holding the rods in your fists.  This worked for me straight away.  I have also started holding the rods closer together now – only a few inches apart.  Heartened, I moved up to step 4; I asked a real question.  The CD suggests saying your address and asking if you currently live there, then saying another address and asking if you live there.  Both these worked for me, giving appropriate ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.  It is a little spooky.

The book is mostly about how dowsers search for water or minerals underground.  It is very matter-of-fact and not mystical or potty at all.  It suggests that the rods move because the dowser involuntarily makes tiny reactive movements in response to the presence of whatever is being sought.  If that is true, then my reactions moved the rods.  The book also points out that some dowsers believe the rods are powered by a kind of earth force, which may or may not be magnetic.  If that is the case, I am not sure how useful my copper rods will be.  Perhaps steel ones work better with magnetic fields.

Wikipedia told me that a German experiment with dowsing produced results which were simultaneously interpreted as a concrete proof of the effectiveness of dowsing and also as a thorough de-bunking of the dowsing myth, depending on which side you listened to. rose above this; with a shrug of its virtual shoulders, the website pointed out that nobody would waste their money employing people to dowse if it did not work, and that dowsers seem to have been in lucrative demand for an extremely long time.

Even a short time browsing dowsing uncovers several distinct, but not conflicting, aspects of the practice.  I am interested in two of them. 

There is a ‘hard hat’ type dowsing which involves looking for water or minerals, or other items required by engineers and such.  There would be little room for conjecture about whether or not the dowsing had been successful in these cases, although, interestingly, I read that you were most likely to have success if you had an understanding of Geology and local conditions before getting out your twig.  Hmm.

Then there is a ‘get out your chakras’ type dowsing, which involves mapping lines of force and energy in the earth itself.  A huge potential for disagreement and confusion exists because there is no visible or tangible proof to dig up and expose; there is only the experience of the dowsers themselves.

 I want a go


The red stripe, cameras, psychology and the silly woman.

National Rational explained my red stripe for me.  In order to decipher their explanation, I needed to take a quick trip to photography land.  This is how a camera works:

The tiny hole in the front of the camera lets light in.  The light hits the camera lens, which focuses it to make an image and when we hit the button, the picture is saved. 

If light enters the camera at certain angles, it does not hit the lens properly, so it bounces around and the lens cannot focus it properly.  If we hit the button and save an image like this, the resulting picture will have shiny extra features, which may seem ethereal.  When this happens, it is called lens flare.  The photo of the glass taken in the pub investigation has a lens flare.

My red stripe picture was a little more complicated.  I took it with the camera on a ‘night scene’ setting, although I did not have a clue what that really means.  I just thought it might be a good setting for a rather dark room.  ‘Night scene’, I now understand, is the setting which opens the hole for four seconds, which is a long time in photography.  The diagnosis was that during the four seconds, I had moved the camera.  The flash therefore made a stripe across the image, instead of hitting one area.  This feature is called a light trail, and the blurriness of the trail makes it easy to imagine extra features within the image, like heads or faces in the wall. 

Having this help from NR was gratifying, if slightly disappointing.  It is reassuring to know that skilled people will take time out to look at my snaps and explain them.  It is a shame that I do not seem to have anything special after all.  I copied the explanation to Cosy Local, who curtly replied ‘thank’.  It seems that by invoking the spectre of National Rational I had forfeited their friendly cyber-stroking and no longer deserved the other half of the phrase.  Never mind. 

The two phantom heads look different every time I see them.  Perhaps we see what we are in the mood to see.  Maybe sometimes, we see what people tell us we can see.

I know I have sometimes witnessed an event, and formed an opinion about what happened, and what motivated the participants, only to revise my thoughts after conferring with other witnesses, with different perspectives?  ‘Nah!  She didn’t call him an arrogant lying toe-rag because he spent her money on a peroxide tart!  She called him that to deflect attention from her long standing affair with the one-eyed bookmaker!’  It is only by comparing notes and revising our thoughts that we gain a full picture. 

It is dangerous if we no longer trust our own judgement at all, or if we inflexibly cling to it in the hope that only complete independence makes us strong.  How can we recognise the truth?  I see marks on a wall and someone else sees faces, then I am persuaded that the faces are there, and I in turn persuade LSS that he can see them, before deciding that they are not there after all.  My truth has changed three times now, and each time it changes, I spread a different story. 

When we visited Loch Ness, I began the day as a believer and ended it as a cynic.  LSS and Youngest converted the opposite way. 

Psychologists regard perception as a kind of conversation between our surroundings, our senses and the way our brains interpret what arrives.  We interpret what we see according to what we already know.  We use our experiences to decode the world.  Sometimes, our eyes or our brains are tricked.  If we see something outrageously new, we may not even be able to perceive it properly – instead, we believe we have seen something a bit closer to what we have been accustomed to seeing.  The investigator from Cosy Local saw two phantom heads because that was the kind of thing she was looking for.   At first, I saw nothing but the background to the red stripe, because I was only expecting to see either the room and people in it, or beings draped in bed sheets shouting ‘boo!’

The investigator had social influence over me because I was in uncertain territory and she had more clout.  I also wanted to be a part of her world, so I accepted her leadership and what is called her ‘informational influence’.  I allowed her version of events a certain prestige.  That is why, when she said there were faces, I saw faces.  LSS, glancing over from the periphery with one eye, assumed I had selected my mentors with more care and colluded with both of us.  Had there been another person involved, no doubt she would have been persuaded just because there were already three of us talking the same talk.  It is astounding that I can be so unguarded as to give another person power over what I see and do not see, but I am only one among millions of easily deluded souls.

Fickle, impressionable follower that I am, I stopped seeing the faces when National Rational told me a different tale, because they occupy a higher place in my internal hierarchy of storytellers.

I have learned, though, that proper investigators search every pixel.  I have been sloppy and must improve.  In future, I will look more closely at my dull snaps.


OMG I got a picture!!!!

On both investigations, we were encouraged to take snaps at random.  The theory goes that, by chance, sometimes you record an image of something you did not notice.  I snapped away and now I have a small store of uninteresting pictures.  I hardly looked at them.  When I eventually stirred myself to upload the second lot, I was puzzled to see a broad red stripe crossing one image.  I had no idea why it was there.  It looked like the kind of damage caused by light, when cameras contained film.  LSS cast his photographer’s eye over it.  He said it looked odd to him.  Brilliant!

I sent a copy to Cosy Local.  To my surprise, someone emailed me back and asked what I had been looking at in the picture.  I replied, ‘The red stripe – what were you looking at?’  The response knocked me for six.  As an ignorant novice with a brain like a pickled walnut, I had not thought to blow up my pictures and search every pixel, which is, of course, what a proper investigator would do.  Cosy Local had uncovered two hazy faces in the red stripe.   I looked more carefully at the version they had made, and then I could see them.  I called LSS to look, and he saw them, too.  I drew little rings around them, as best I could.

I sent the image to National Rational, to see what they made of it.  I am excited.  Paranormal Stuff is happening!


What are all these spirits up to, then?

Now a veteran of two club investigations, I have lots of questions to put to the experts.  I need to understand more about their beliefs.

Why do we have to investigate in the dark?
Why do we have to investigate at night?
Where do the spirits live and what do they get up to over there?
Why are they sometimes here?
Are we supposed to look after the unhappy ones?
Why were some spirits in the Victorian building dating from pre-Victorian times?

There are a small number of sites from organisations like National Rational, which I would describe as Scientific.  Some are more academic than others, but they all wear their badges on their sleeves in that their sites lay out what they believe in and what they are trying to do.  My questions are, however, about the doings of a different kind of organisation; the kind I have experienced, which tend to be the most easily accessible for the beginner.

There seem to be countless numbers of these clubs, all similar to Cosy Local and the A Team.  I have now found four based within a half–hour drive from here. These are the ones which will take punters out for a fee and they use mediums to gain access to spirits.  I am calling them club-style, because there is a social element to their function.  Cosy Local’s site has a jokes page, for example, and an internet chat room, in which members shriek joyfully in textese.

It is oddly difficult to gather information on belief systems underlying these paranormal groups.  They share in common the same loose connections to Spiritualism but, trawling through site after site I have found very little written down about how these spirits may operate and why.  The reader has to deduce it, to tease out implications.  Site after site explains fully the use of equipment and tells detailed stories of investigations; some even define what a spirit or a ghost may be, but the information is very limited and simple. This reinforces the conclusion that these clubs share the same limited aims; namely experience and contact (and making money, I guess). Nothing wrong with that, of course, but that is why their sites carry so little metaphysical explanation.  They all do have forums, however, and if a punter poses a question, someone will always reply.  It is not always clear if this is someone of understanding and experience, or someone repeating what another punter told them in the pub, but I got friendly and helpful replies every time I asked a question.  Potty or not potty, you meet a nice crowd in the paranormals.
I summarise what I learned below:

Where do the spirits live and what do they get up to over there?  Why are they sometimes here?

 Spirits dwell in another place.  According to some, it is several places and spirits progress from one to another as they grow in understanding.  The places are given different names, like ‘the other side’ or ‘the spheres’ by different sources.  Spirits have to study, for their own development, and they have to help or teach, to assist others.  Sometimes, their duties demand they help the living. 

The living may also encounter other entities, such as ghosts.  These are not the same as spirits.  Some sources say that ghosts are not sentient.  Elementals and demons are non-human entities.

There are some spirits who have remained here with us instead of moving on.  They may be unwilling or unable to leave.

Some spirits might be destructive or dangerous.

Are we supposed to look after the unhappy ones?

 Some of the clubs have an additional function in that they might remove troublesome spirits from some locations if requested.  This is called ‘psychic rescue’ and it involves advising the spirit to move towards a white light, which is the way of leaving our world in order to arrive in the spirit world.  Other people who replied told me that they would not presume to know what might be best for the spirits, and therefore would not interfere.

Why do we have to investigate at night?

 It is easier to move between the two worlds between 1 and 5 a.m. (cheap rate tickets?) The A team responded that, ideally, they like to investigate during the times when most paranormal activity has been observed.  This could be day or night.  However, many buildings are in heavy use during the day and investigators cannot have access to them.

Why were some spirits from pre-Victorian times sensed in the Victorian building?

I asked Cosy Local this question, as it arose when I was in their company.  The medium had told us that he thought two men who looked like Cavaliers were fighting with swords in one of the larger rooms.  This puzzled me because I knew the building had not existed at the time of the Civil War.  I asked him if they were having a fancy dress party, and he ignored me.  The team member who replied explained that the spirits were not necessarily connected to the building currently occupying the ground, but could have connections to earlier uses of the land. 

I wonder.

A quick trip to a local history website revealed that, prior to the Industrial Revolution, that settlement had been ‘a small hamlet’.  Not a likely setting for cavaliers, then.  Should there have been a surprise Civil war skirmish in that small hamlet – perhaps Cromwell was after someone’s pig - I am certain it would have merited a proud paragraph or two.  There is something not right here. 
A few sites made references to spirits roaming freely around via ‘portals’ or ‘vortices’, possibly even being attracted by the activities of the punters, and not necessarily connected to the building at all. 

This implies, of course, that we do not have to uncover the facts from history behind any spirit story we are told, since the spirits could have wandered in from anywhere.  We are excused all need for logic, knowledge or research.  Once again, anything goes and every story must be believed.  I cannot cope with that.  It is intellectual anarchy!  Sloppiness!  I bet these people don't tidy their rooms either.

Why do we have to investigate in the dark?

 Yet again, the A team were good at explaining stuff.  According to them, we do not have to investigate in the dark, but many people find that switching off the lights helps them to concentrate. 

Of course, a big part of investigations run by social style clubs is the ‘sensing’ of stories.  This may be easier in the dark.

Some of what I read is so outlandish that I enjoy it like a fantasy novel.  I know it is complete nonsense.  Despite this, I still cannot dismiss all of it out of hand.  Too much has happened for that. 

A few years ago, we stayed overnight in a very old B&B.  It was a fascinating building and I was sorry just to be passing through.  We arrived late and left early.  When we got to our room, I knew we were not alone.  I saw nothing, and I heard nothing, but I knew, sure as eggs, that in our room there was a woman who had maybe very large hips, or a wide skirt, or something wrong with her hips.  I also knew, by some mechanism, that her being there was not a problem for us.  I felt only mild irritation because I was tired and wanted privacy.  I said nothing, and I could not identify the moment she left, but I was aware after some time that we were alone again.  If that was not the start of sensing a story, I do not know what was.

Who am I to poke fun at spiritualists and sensitives, when I have felt the same?  I cannot dismiss the notion that Stuff Goes On just because I do not trust the other punters.


Another Night Out for the Pink Pashmina

Have we all had a good time?
Are we all coming back again soon?

Cosy Local had moved their holiday camp into a large public building for an overnight investigation and I went along with them.  When engaged in an investigation (as opposed to being busy with a buffet) Cosy Local knew their stuff and we were well looked after.  They put me with the one other lone novice, who proved to be one of the most personable young people I have ever met.  I was also pleased to see Mrs Other Couple there.  I was starting to recognise some of the players in our local scene! 

The team was careful to ensure that all punters felt involved.  While team members and mediums (should that be media?) lead groups in a number of activities in different locations around the building, we were all encouraged to join in fully.  It was not long before I observed the disadvantages of this.  As with the A Team, most of the night was taken up with hanging around in dark rooms trying to sense things, or sitting with fingers on a glass and inviting any passing spirits to chew the fat with us.  Members of our little group put heart and soul into it all, and one busy woman felt taken over by a chimney sweep, a sleepy entity and the Lord of the Manor, all in quick succession.  This last was startling, it being a Victorian building. 

So enthusiastic were my fellow investigators that I felt sorry for any spirits trying to join in.  If they had been trying to respond to our efforts to communicate, then it must have been a struggle.  Each punter ignored all the others, and called out a rapid, baffling stream of invitations and questions:

Busy Woman: Are you a man?
Personable Young Lady: Are you a woman?
Tall Punter: Did you live here?
Cheeky Punter:  Do you fancy me?
Busy Woman: Did you die here?
Personable Young Lady: Do you know you’re dead?
Tall Punter: Did you live here?
Cheeky Punter:  Do you fancy her?
Busy Woman:  Are there any spirits here?

This could not be described as an investigation.  No thought had gone into this procedure.  Suppose some kind of intelligence had been able to communicate by moving that glass.  Suppose one really could have questions answered.  My guess is that most people would try to collect information, note it down and then later try to verify it, by doing a little research into local history.  Or a person could find out more about whatever mysterious after-life spirits may be experiencing in the ether.  That would be a kind of investigation, and to do it properly would require thought and organisation. 

At about half past two, some of us were invited to a ladies only session.  We were told that the spirit in one particular room was disfigured and very shy, but responded well to women, and liked to party once he felt comfortable with the company.  The glass remained stubbornly still for several minutes, but started to move when we asked it about parties.

Me:  Do you like brandy?
(Glass moves slowly towards YES.)
Personable Young Lady: Does brandy make you randy?
(Glass moves strongly to YES.)
(All punters shriek and laugh.)
Me: Do you play parlour games?
PYL: Do you play hide the sausage?
(Glass moves to YES.)
(Raucous laughter.)
Cheeky Punter:  Do you fancy anybody here?
(Glass moves to YES.)
(Hysterical fits.)
Cheeky punter: Is it her?
(Glass moves to YES.)
(Really, this was good enough for Blackpool.)
Cheeky Punter:  Do you fancy me as well?

I joined in the laughter.  It was outrageously funny, for a little while.

Unfortunately, we never moved on from here.  PYL gleefully told everyone in the building she had become engaged to the spirit and that he was sweet.  Patronising is one word that springs to mind.  Callous is another.  I do not pretend to know whether or not there really was the spirit of a shy, deformed young man hiding in that room, but PYL was behaving as if she believed it.  In which case, treating him with a little consideration and respect would have been a good start.  Throughout the event, I found myself worrying about what kind of responsibilities we might be incurring, if any of these spirits were real, and how shallow our communication with them seemed to be.

It was Mrs Other Couple who helped me to understand their perspective.  During a tea break, I told her about an experience I had just had in one of the rooms.  Sitting slightly bored with my finger on yet another glass, I had copied the other punters as they called out encouragement to any spirits floating nearby.  ‘Come and try to move this glass!’ they kept saying, ‘You can do it!’  Numbed by all the repetition, I started to ramble, ‘Come on, you can do it.  You can do it if you B&Q it.’ I had said.  Immediately I felt a sharp dig in the back of my neck, as if someone was letting me know that they did not intend to tolerate any levity.  Completely astonished, I had apologised to the thin air, for causing offence. 

‘I’m glad you had that,’ she said, ’You got the contact.’  That is how I came to understand the nature and the purpose of the ‘investigation’.  It was nothing more or less than a search for contact.  Punters and team alike, we were all extending our hands into the darkness, to see if there was anyone in there who might put their hand out to us.  That is why the there seemed to be so little invested in gaining an understanding of whatever had been contacted; a sensation of presence was the true goal, and it is not my place to call it ignoble.

One late, but hugely significant episode during the night’s long saga gave the procedure more credence.  In one location, PYL claimed to sense a frightened child hiding behind her.  We had a spot thermometer with us.  You can direct a spot thermometer to display the temperature in a specific part of a room, and some paranormal buffs believe that changes in temperature indicate spirit activity.  The leader working with our group confirmed that there were stories about a child associated with that room, and he used the spot thermometer to show that the temperature behind PYL was indeed dropping, although the rest of the room was not changing.  In that room, convergence of story, perception and technology showed us that there is more going on in this world than meets the eye.  If punters are regularly experiencing moments like this, it is understandable why so many of them return time after time.

I limped through to morning, coping with exhaustion, boredom, frustration, irritation and the odd moment of dazzling shock.  I waited for the same feeling of discomfort I remembered from the investigation of the pub.  When something akin to that crept up on me, I tried to relax into it, only to find that I really needed to go to sleep.  Perhaps some of us are just born prosaic.  Other punters claimed various experiences, most of them, I am sure, as tangible to them as that poke in the neck had been to me.  We had no way of knowing, of course, who was making it up, who was deluded and who was for real.  Courtesy demanded that we accept everything at face value. I failed to do this, since I was convinced of the pottiness of some punters, but at least I kept my peace.

By far the best comedy happened during the séance.  We assembled in one of the larger rooms to sit in a circle in the dark, inviting the spirits to join us.  It must have been after 3 a.m.  Next to me was Cheeky Punter, and next to her a frail-looking elderly chap.  Once settled, we started to hear sighs and heavy breathing.  Several commented on this.  As tactfully as possible, I suggested that someone may have dozed off.  One of the mediums told us we could expect to feel gossamer touches on face and hair as a signal spirits were close.  Once the first person claimed to feel this, the next, the next and the one after felt it too.  Of course, it was by now well past bath time.  We sat with old sweat and dirt clinging to our faces, surprised that we felt our skin prickle.  Soon after this, some commented on hearing the wheezy sound again, and Cheeky Punter stifled honest laughter as Elderly Chap’s gentle snore drifted eerily through the séance circle.  Perhaps to change the subject, the medium said that itching was another sign of spirit presence.  Almost straight away, several people claimed they itched, then a few more said they itched too.  Sitting in the dark with nothing to do or think about would, I suspect, make anyone prone to general itchiness and twitchiness of the body.  A punter claimed to feel poorly.  Another said she had been feeling ill for a few minutes.  Another said he felt really ill.  Several more agreed.  I lost the will to live.

I arrived home an hour before the milkman, with mixed feelings.  Had this one been worth it?  I had had my contact, and I had observed the temperature drop behind PYL.  I had had another go with the dowsing rods.  These were important developments for me.  I was not, however, convinced they represented an adequate payback for the eight sleepless hours and large helpings of pottiness I had endured.  I was growing fond of Cosy Local, but I thought our association might not last much longer


The Shelter of a Pink Pashmina

The final installment of Rifol's first investigation.  We join her group as it enters the first location.

 Along with four other punters, I squashed into the smallest room on the top floor.   I would have been disappointed if I had booked bed and breakfast here.  It was a horrible room: tatty, cold and musty.  Someone had left a large set of ladders propped up against the wall.  Our pleasant and perky leader, possibly from Hertfordshire, warned us that some found the room too much to take.  It did not need anything paranormal to be nasty.  There was enough physical discomfort in there to stock a whole row of haunted houses.  I positioned myself at the head of the bed, against the far wall, so that I could see everything.  This proved a mistake, as only one Measuring Machine was handed out, and the young man nearest to the door got that.  It was an envirometer.  It measured temperature and humidity.  We were told that the temperature in the room was 20.  This was surely a wicked lie.  I asked if he meant 2.0.  We may have stayed in there for fifteen minutes.  During that time the temperature slowly sank and the humidity slowly rose.  Possibly Hertfordshire told us this was most unnatural.  Right now, I have to take his word for this.  I do not know how much temperature and humidity might normally change in a closed room, and I do not suppose anyone else did, either.  National Rational advise taking such readings regularly, over some days, to establish an impression of what normal fluctuations might be expected for each setting.  We were only doing this for a very short time.

The light was switched out. 
‘Do any of you notice anything?’ asked PH.  I thought I caught a flash of light over to my right as he switched off the light and my right ear became very cold.  I did feel very uncomfortable, and, I cannot tell a lie, I felt a creeping dread.  Resisting, I squared my shoulders and covered my frozen ear with my favourite pink pashmina.  I did not intend to fall at the first hurdle.  After a few deep breaths, I regained my composure.  Having kept Agnes to myself, I thought I should share this latest.  ‘I thought I saw a flash over there and my ear has gone cold.’  I reported.
‘Over where?’ asked PH.
‘Over there.’  I pointed.
‘I can’t see you,’ he explained. 

Now, as I have already mentioned, I can remember poems from 40 years ago.  I can recite long tracts of Shakespeare, and I know the lyrics to almost every song I have ever liked.  This makes me the kind of person who does not know her own phone number and I struggle to distinguish right from left in a hurry, especially near bedtime, under stress.  I flailed one arm around, trying to find the words ‘right hand corner’.
‘Near me.’ I tried again.
‘Do you mean from the television?’ asked a helpful punter.
Ah.  Reflections.
‘I hadn’t noticed the television.’ I admitted, feeling sheepish.

Now, considering those events in my safe and cosy home, I return to that frozen ear, to that sudden wave of discomfort.  I thought I was screwing up my courage to the sticking-place when I took those deep breaths and steeled myself against the fear.  Suppose, though, that I was, in effect, doing something else?  Suppose I was closing something down?  Rebuffing something?  Denying access?  I promise myself that should I encounter those sensations another time, I will relax into them and follow wherever they may lead.

The A team used ‘trigger objects’.  These are small, like coins or nails, and they are placed so that it will be obvious if they have been moved, and everyone promises not to move them.  Their purpose is to show signs that a spirit has been moving them.  This does not explain why a spirit might get the urge to roll someone’s pocket debris around.  It must be bad enough being condemned to walk the night in a rundown B&B.  Being asked to do party tricks must only add to the burden.

‘I feel uncomfortable on this chair,’ a Helpful Punter complained.  ‘I feel like I should not be here.’  We later realised she had been sitting on the trigger object; in this case, a coin on a sheet of paper covered in talcum powder.  By the time she discovered her mistake, she had transferred the talc to most of her clothes and to a few other locations on the top floor.  She was right about it not being a good place for her to sit.

After nothing had happened for a little longer, the group next door invited us in to share their experience.  We were told that the distressed spirit of Sara was crouched in one corner.’ Can you feel her?’ asked official Sensitive.  I had to admit that I could not, and nor could the other punters, although Impressionable Punter was feeling things by the bucketful, and reacting to the corner as publicly as a person could. 

There was a small table in the middle of the room, and on it was a glass.  We were invited to sit and each put one finger on the glass.  Sensitive called out to Sara and asked her to move the glass, using our energy to accomplish this. 
We complied.  It was very uncomfortable.  I wondered, a few times, if I had felt the glass twitch a little, as if it were trying to move.  Sensitive discounted this.  ‘When they move, they really race around,’ she told me. I gave up after a few boring minutes of watching the glass gathering dust.  It felt slightly silly.   Looking for entertainment, I took a few random pictures, in case anything should show up.  In the snap below, we lesser mortals might only see an old fan in an unpleasant room, but I was assured that the unseen Sara sobbed away her after-life there in the darkness. 

Suppose she really was there, and suppose we could be aware of her.  Would that not make easing her distress somehow our responsibility?  Surely that needs to be considered.  In the next snap, there is what may be a lens flare, or it may be evidence of an unknown energy.  Don’t ask me, because I do not know.

Shortly after this, there was a tea break and a welcome chance to warm up in the downstairs bar.  The young man had left the envirometer lying on a table so I switched it on.  I was going to measure something.  I pressed some buttons until I saw a number, then I felt happy.  I was an investigator!  One of the organisers picked it up, gave me a hard stare and took it away.  I did not blame him, really, I would not trust me, either.

While the other group of seven explored the top floor, our group returned to the large guest room on the first floor.  Once again, I happily secured the good chair.  I was interested to see that the medium had two pairs of dowsing rods, and I volunteered to have a turn.  I was hooked straight away.  They felt good in my hands.  They were L-shaped metal rods with long arms, which moved about.  My pair had handles like sleeves, so the rods moved freely inside, and they had luminous tips, for use in the dark.  Why do paranormal investigations happen in the dark?  There could be all kinds of ghosties doing a tap-dance and nobody would see them.  The rods spun crazily in response to my slightest movement.  I had a good wriggle so that I would be able to sit as still as possible for as long as a compulsive wriggler ever can sit still.  Medium asked the rods to cross if there was a spirit in the room.  I watched with fascination as both pairs crossed.  Medium asked the rods to point to the spirit.  One of my rods moved slowly and steadily towards the left, pointing at the wall close to Possibly Hertfordshire.

It sat like that for some time until I decided I should share nicely, and offered the rods to Impressionable Punter.  For the next half hour, we tried to sense things.  The evening turned into a communal story-making venture.  I was able to observe how the Medium, by speaking of whatever she had sensed or imagined, led us into shared story-telling, in which we were invited to add what we had sensed, building the story of this room.  Together, we created a story about a businessman who had connections to textiles and transport.  Medium said that the spirit had suffered from Parkinson’s. Impressionable Punter shook like a jelly for the next twenty minutes.  No doubt the next group to visit will be told how we sensed all this, and then they will continue to build on it.

We finished by holding hands in a circle.  That was scary.  Nobody had warned me I would have to endure physical contact with strangers.  I sat between Medium and Possibly Hertfordshire.  His hand was icy, but hers was warm.  She claimed the spirit was standing behind us (in roughly the same spot indicated by the rod) and asked me if my back felt cold.  I said it did.  Every part of me felt cold, and I was so tired I would not have noticed or cared if Elvis and Buddy Holly had cycled past together dressed in clown suits.  I do not think I was concentrating as well as I should have been.  People said they could hear taps.  I defy anyone sitting quietly in the dark not to hear taps and creaks all night.  I wanted to go home.

I did not go home for another half hour.  We were offered a final activity; standing around in the haunted toilet.  Given a choice between sipping a nightcap in front of the fire and standing in a dark toilet, obviously the toilet won.  About ten of us crowded inside, jammed against the stalls and sinks.  It felt vaguely embarrassing as well as uncomfortable.  Nothing came into my mind except an image of Moaning Myrtle.

Someone suggested fingers on the glass again.  Four of us had a turn, including Waif’s Boyfriend.  The glass sped all over the table in big circles.  This was because he was pushing it.  Good manners are important.  Is it rude for punters to expose or accuse fellow punters?  Should this be the province of team leaders?  Should we just allow the criminal to blunder on until everyone else has noticed?  If he has already broken the rules by cheating, should we also break the rules by exclaiming, ‘Leave it out, sunshine’?

Possibly Hertfordshire had a clever way of solving this dilemma.   Hiding in one of the cubicles, he told the spirit that he was tracing shapes on the wall and asked it to copy the same shape with the glass.  The glass did not get one shape right.  However, one of the sensitive types explained that the spirit must be small child, unable to cope with this task.  Whatever happened, there was going to be an explanation.

Ending on a sour note did not distress me too much.  I stumbled up to bed at about three and dragged myself to work the next day.  It had been worth it