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.


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.


Because it took place in a theatre, Rifol decided to write up her third investigation in dramatic form!  (You may detect a slight note of dissatisfaction)

                      ‘A Night with the Spirit Fans’ (excerpt from a farce)

Scene 2
 Inside a dark, deserted theatre.  Enter assorted punters, led by Team Leader, and closely followed by Spouter.  All observed by unseen spirits.

TL:  Follow me, please.
Spouter:  (immediately starts speaking in loud, hectoring voice) I’m sensing a cleaner named Ada, a feisty young actress named Scarlett, a comic named Arthur, a dog named Boo…

(punters look bewildered and wander around like pinballs)

Spirit #1:  I’ve no idea who he’s talking about, have you?
Spirit #2:  I’ve told him twice to get lost but he takes no notice.

Spouter:  … a cub reporter called Jimmy, a horse with no name, a weatherman called Frost, Georgie Fame…
Spirit #2:  You know, I don’t think he’s dead.
Spirit #1: Hoi, Mr Spouter… Mr Spouter.. he’s not dead, Georgie Fame.  I am, though!  Dead as a doornail.  All made out of ectoplasm.  Mr Spouter!  Oh my word!  Did you see that?  He walked straight through me.
Spirit #2:  How rude!  Of course, he’s chipsy.

(exuent spirits, in huff)

Spouter: A stage manager called Mac, a detective called Dick, Alice…

Scene 3
Inside the dark, deserted auditorium.  Team Leader and punters sit waiting. Spouter stands declaiming.  Spirits lean against wall, ethereal arms folded.

Spouter:  Marlon Brando in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1955..
Spirit #1:  Played a lot of Shakespeare in the provinces during the 50s, Brando.
Spirit #2:  Yes, his Bottom was a wonder to behold.

Spouter:  Someone called Jerry, who used to work as a bell boy…
Spirit #1:  A bell boy?  In a theatre?
Spirit #2:  (loudly) Mr Spouter, bell boys work in posh hotels.  We don’t have them in theatres.  (sighs)  He can’t hear me.  Mutt and Geoff.
Spirit #1:  You know, I don’t think he’s been in a theatre before.
Spouter:  Serafina Pekkala, Semolina Pilchard…

Two punters nod off.  Another produces a luminous yoyo and starts to amuse himself. 

Scene 3:
Backstage.  It is dark and deserted.  Punters stand around a table, each with one finger on a planchette.  Spirits sit on the high catwalk, swinging their legs.  It is trainee Spouter’s turn.  She barely stops to draw breath.

Trainee Spouter:  … an angry singer called Dolores, looking for her daughter,  Caitlin.  Caitlin was a ballerina, here for an audition, in a pantomime called ‘The Nutcracker’, in 1947.
Spirit #1: Wasn’t this building a cinema in 1947?
Spirit #2: That’s right.
Spirit #1: I expect they had pantos called ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Les Sylphides’ as well.
Spirit #2: Yup!  I remember ‘Sylphides’ well, it was a roaring success.  Ended with a comic dance.  ‘Swan Lake’ was a bit wet, though.

Punter: I’ve got an itchy ear.
Old punter:  That’s sure to be a spirit.  I’ve got an itchy ear too!
Other punter: I’ve got a really itchy ear.

Trainee Spouter:  I can hear tinkly ballerina music.
Spirit #1: That’ll be for the sand dance in ‘King Lear.’
Me:  (Thinks: Dolores, for heaven’s sake!) So what about Dolores?  Is that a stage name?
Team leader:  Dolores is an Irish name.

Spirit #1:  Why do these people make up rubbish about stuff they know nothing about?
Spirit #2:  You know, if this lot are going to be here all night, why don’t we slope off?
Spirit #1:  Yeah, they can stand in for us.  

(spirits exuent)

Trainee Spouter:  Oohh!  Dolores is cross with me, she’s growling in my ear, but my spirit guide will protect me!

The end


How Chipsy are You?

Find out about yourself by trying this personality quiz!
NB: If you do not know what 'chipsy' means, go back one.

  1. As soon as you enter your home:
a)     You instinctively know who is there and how they are feeling, so you discuss their spiritual needs immediately. 
b)     You reach for the teapot.
c)     You want to run away again.

2.                  Which of these sums up your feelings about your home environment ?
           a) The gentle influence of angels enables you to create a perfect space for nurturing yourself and others. 
b) What?
c) I am sure it is your turn to clean the bathroom.

  1. How would you define ‘Most Haunted’?
a)     A brave team of dedicated researchers, leading the way for all of us.
b)     A comedy. 
c)     A fascinatingly clever mix of branding and characterisation, they must be rolling in it.

  1. If you sense a spirit do you:
a)     Use the ouija board so you can add it to your friends on facebook.
b)     Drink it. 
c)     Ignore it and continue with the crossword.

  1. When you are troubled you :
a)     Consult a psychic.
b)     Kick up a fuss. 
c)     Sulk in the bath/gym/pub/shed until you feel better.

  1. When you need to make a decision you :
a)     Cast runes. 
b)     Avoid it. 
c)     Weigh everything up carefully, go with your gut feeling, then forget what you decided the next day.

  1. At work are you:
a)     The still hub of a busy world, a spiritual influence on your colleagues.
b)     Hiding in the toilet.
c)     Underpaid

  1. When it is a full moon you:
a)     Light a special candle in the window and tell your neighbours all about it.
b)     Howl. 
c)     Sleep.

  1. When someone talks to you :
a)     You sense the real message behind the chat and you give them the full benefit of your understanding.
b)     You wait for your turn to say something.
c)     They are usually asking you for money.

Understanding your answers:

Mostly ‘a’: You are almost certainly chipsy, but you have not yet learned to embrace your true nature.  Try some simple exercises to awaken your chipsiness.  Watch the News on TV, for example, or visit a museum.

Mostly ‘b’: You are probably very young, a man, or both.  Stop it.  The good news is that you are definitely chipsy.

Mostly ‘c’: Congratulations, you are thoroughly chipsy.  Do not become complacent, however.  When you have intuitions, act on them without fuss.  Continue to develop your own spirituality quietly without allowing others to turn it into an industry or a carnival.

Join The Chipsy For Life Association

Join us now as we spread our message of chipsy joy!  Learn to understand and appreciate your own chipsiness!  Stand arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder with your chipsy peers to face the bright dawn of a new era!

Simply send none of your cash to us, and in return we will give you absolutely nothing.  Yes, nothing.  We will not clutter your shelves with books, ornaments, potions or gadgets.  We will not require you to attend any events at all and you will not be involved in any kind of ritual. 

Sign the chipsy pledge now:

  • I promise not to pretend that I am more sensitive than any other human beings.
  • I promise to recognise my intuitions as a normal part of human nature, not to be devalued or over valued.
  • I promise not to interpret my own experiences through shreds of old mythology and then try to pass it all on to other people as a mysterious truth.

The Chipsy for Life Association – because we have brains.


Psychic? No, Chipsy!

I was so fed up that I went to Kefalonia.

I returned refreshed and full of resolve; firstly to complete my horrible dowsing project as quickly and as sensibly as possible, and then to find at last a really good recipe for melitzanosalata.

Day 5: 8 correct swings out of a total of 16 swings.
Day 6: 5 correct swings out of a total of 14 swings.
Day 7: 8 correct swings out of a total of 16 swings.
Day 8: 7 correct swings out of a total of 14 swings.
Day 9: 6 correct swings out of a total of 16 swings.
Day 10: 9 correct swings out of a total of 19 swings.

This makes a total of 79 correct swings out of a total of 163 swings.
If I had a one in two chance of getting the right answer, I could have got, by chance, half of 163.  That is 81 or 82.  I scored a little bit less than chance.  Small wonder it was a depressing experience.

Counting only ‘yes’ swings, I scored a total of 27 correct swings out of a total of 67 swings.  Much less than half.  That is useless.  I am the opposite of psychic.  What would be the word for that, I wonder?  We are in need of such a word.  Could it be chipsy?    I can imagine the coffee breaks at future conferences: ‘Oh, you must meet Doris.  Her spirit name is Running Tallow.  She’s chipsy, of course.  It’s a wild talent, they say.’

I have discovered, fairly scientifically, that I cannot identify a hidden card using a pendulum.  No doubt the results were depressed by my attitude towards the task, but I will not be taking that into account. If a skill is going to count as a real, usable skill, I have got to be able to use it even when I am out of sorts.  Otherwise, it is not a skill, but something like a lucky guess; a by-product of feeling chipper, something like beginner’s luck.  You can notice it as a feature, but you cannot use it or depend on it at need.  I can still drive a car safely through a hazardous town even if I am in ten kinds of nasty temper.  That is a skill.  Being lucky when I am feeling lucky; that is just something which happens from time to time, even to the chipsy.

So that is how Science put paid to my pendulum.  A shame, as I liked the dowsers, and they all seemed rather keen on pendulums. 

On a more positive note: the secret to making a good melitzanosalata is to bake the aubergine until it is well cooked, then season it thoroughly with salt, pepper and cumin.  The addition of a little Greek yoghurt improves the texture.  You need less oil than you might think


Scientific Dowsing

This section is dangerously tedious.
If you are sensitive to tedium, or easily offended by arithmetic, please look away now.

Some time ago, dear diary, I undertook to perform a proper experiment in something approximating the manner of a Scientist.  I started counting how often I could find one particular card out of three just by dowsing with a pendulum.  I recorded a set of ten tries, repeated daily until I grew too irritated to continue.  The undertaking was deadly boring.  It involved hunching over playing cards, shuffling them and turning them over time after time after time.  The repetition was so mindless that just thinking of it makes me twitch.  Add to that a certain tension: every time the pendulum was correct, I felt pleased, because it had worked, but then I dreaded the next swing in case I could not do it twice.  Every time the pendulum was wrong, my heart sank because I thought the mistake was all mine and not the pendulum’s fault at all.  I felt my ineptitude was destroying the efficiency of a perfectly innocent pendulum.  I convinced myself that by getting a swing right, I was storing up mistakes for the future, and that by getting a swing wrong, I was increasing the likelihood that I would make more mistakes.  That was how this task proved both tedious and nerve-racking at the same time. 

The results did not support any faith in the power of the pendulum; I would have scored as highly just by chance.

Then, damn this work ethic, I realised that if I counted only the times when I had found the queen, I was discounting correct swings the pendulum made when it told me which card was not the queen.  I knew then I had cursed myself to another ten boring days of looking for the queen ten boring times.   As a rational adult, I turned over the page, steeled myself, girded my loins and kept to schedule for three whole days.  Then, as a rational adult with quite an enjoyable life, I found myself just too busy and forgetful for a good, long time. 

Eventually, being a self-hating girly swot, I did complete my ten sets of ten.  The results, the interpretation of the results and the implications of the results open up a whole new dimension of boredom: boredom of a richness usually only accessible to adolescents on a February Sunday.  Each day required thirty swings.  Sometimes, I knew in advance whether or not the card was the queen, sometimes I did not.

Day 1:  correct swings: 18.  correct swings, unknown card: 6  incorrect swings, known card: 3.  Number of times the queen came up first: 6. 
Day 2:  correct swings, unknown card: 11.  Correct swings, known card: 11.  Incorrect swings, known card: 1.  Incorrect swings, unknown card: 6.  Accidents: 1
Day 3:  Correct swings, unknown card: 10.  Incorrect swings, unknown card, 7.  Correct swings, known card, 11.  Incorrect swings, known card: 2.  (Interrupted by fruit of loins, two swings missing)
Day 4:  3 wrong swings, pendulum reversed its normal ‘yes’ and ‘no’.  Put pendulum away for a while, out of temper.
Day 4 mk 2:  Correct swings, unknown card: 5.  Total number of correct swings: 20.
Day 5:  Correct swings, unknown card: 11.  Total number of correct swings: 22.
Day 6:  Correct swings, unknown card: 10.  Total number of correct swings:  21.  Yearnings for new furniture instead of concentrating: a few.
Day 7:  Correct swings, unknown card:  9.  Total number of correct swings: 22.  Sulks:  15.
Day 8:  Number of interruptions: 7.  Correct swings, unknown card: 7.  Total number of correct swings: 19.  New patterns of pendulum movement which could mean absolutely anything or nothing: 2.
Day 9:  Number of correct swings, unknown card: 7.  Total number of correct swings:  21.  Cups of tea during session: 1 (needed to calm nerves).
Day 10:  Number of correct swings, unknown card:  7.  Total number of correct swings: 21.  Cups of tea during session: 1, with chocolate biscuit.

So, what does that prove?
 I can force myself to do things I do not want to do.
 The worse my temper grew, the fewer correct swings the pendulum made. 
Nothing else, dear diary.  Had I still been endowed with a functioning brain cell, I would have spotted my mistake straight away.   As it was, I did not grasp it until about day 8.  Then, damn this determination, I thought it too late to give up.

The number of unknown swings is not a constant.  Sometimes, the queen is the first card.  Then there is only one unknown swing per turn.  If the queen is the second card, or the third card, there are two unknown swings per turn.  Therefore, every day, the potential number of correct swings when the card is unknown can be anything between 10 and 20. 
I know, damn this honesty, that I can influence the swing of the pendulum, and that I have grown quite good at doing that.  I do have incorrect swings on a known card sometimes, possibly because my thinking mind has fled to a more entertaining location, but this happens less and less all the time.  I can no longer count swings on known cards as viable data.

Damn this damnation, I will have to start all over again.  This time, I will only count correct swings on unknown cards.  Scientists have a tough life.

Day 1: 12 correct swings out of a total of 18 swings.

Day 2:  6 correct swings out of a total of 14 swings.

This is killing me.  Each time I lay the cards out, I understand there is a one in three chance that each card might be the Queen.  Each time I swing the pendulum, I understand it has a one in two chance of being right. 

Each swing can be a yes or a no.  That is two variables.
Each swing can be correct or wrong.  That is two variables.
However, there are two cards in the set of three which could produce a correct ‘no’ and only one which produces a correct ‘yes’.  A correct ‘no’ by mere chance is therefore more likely to happen than a correct ‘yes’.  Does that mean that I should give a correct ‘yes’ answer more weight than a correct ‘no’ answer?  Should I have a scoring system?  One for a correct ‘no’ and two for a correct ‘yes’?

If that is the case, should I also give more weight to correct answers achieved at times when I am especially dispirited, or troubled by the unreasonable demands of a senile cat?  Hard day at work – three points for every correct answer.  Crisis of self-confidence; five points and a neck massage?

If there are ten chances of finding the queen, and each time the queen might be in one of three positions, and the pendulum has two answers, what is the square root of minus one and how many men does it take to empty a bath?

Day 3:  8 correct swings out of a total of 16 swings.

Day 4:  10 correct swings out of a total of 16 swings.



The Medium, the Buffet and the Hat

One last, grudging, diet coke, one last wilted buffet, one last hundred year long quiz. 

EC and I dragged ourselves to one final club meeting in order to ensure our tickets for the investigation of the theatre.  This was my third club.  No matter how many of these I attended, I knew I would never like them.  This group meets in an unattractive pub with ugly carpets and nasty tables.  I forced EC to come with me, as a punishment for having bright eyes and glossy hair.  She was slightly grumpy about wasting an entire evening and I did not blame her, so we were late on purpose and I agreed we could sneak out half an hour before the end.  Once inside, we buddied up with a retired couple to form the inevitable quiz team.  ‘Name a continent where you might find a vampire bat’ was the question.  ‘Transylvania’, he wrote.  His wife chewed her lip a bit and we changed the subject.

‘Did you find your hat?’ I asked.  EC had lost her hat some days earlier, and, messy thing, she found it hard to accept that she had probably just dropped it behind the sofa while distracted by something bright and shiny.  She glumly shook her head, and I sympathised.  It was a nice hat.
‘Ask the medium’ suggested Mrs Retired. ‘He found my keys for me not long ago.  He said they were underneath something green and I found them under the recycling bin.’
‘If I was going to ask for help finding anything, it would be my Tuareg necklace,’ replied EC.  She had lost this as well.  She really is very untidy.  I knew EC would never go to the medium, so I stopped paying attention.   Club nights can send me into a horrified trance-like state.  That is why I had not noticed that the medium was passing close to our table, no doubt sensing the proximity of a toxic sausage roll.  Suddenly, Mrs Retired jumped up and called him over.  ‘This young lady has lost her necklace’ she told him.  ‘Can you help her find it?’
Without ceremony, he reached past me, grabbed EC’s hand and then stood very still, apparently concentrating.  I felt almost assaulted by strong waves of heat coming from him, and when we later talked about what had happened, I discovered EC had felt this too.  After about half a minute, he spoke.  ‘It’s not in your house,’ he said.  ‘I can see a terrace with stairs up the middle?  I think you have the front bedroom?  Who’s Paul? It’s in a house with a very heavy old wardrobe, with thick legs.’  This was a mixture of almost-facts, all of which could be interpreted as connected to EC in some way. 

He did not have a clear answer.  If we were going to be believers, we might say he had struggled to understand where EC lived.  We might add this was because she has moved house so often that she doesn’t know where she lives anymore, and right now, she is staying at home with us as a stop-gap.

If we wanted to believe, we would be happy to record the truth he spoke: two of her homes were terraces with stairs up the middle.  She had the front bedroom in one of them, but that was before she bought the necklace.  Paul lives in a house with heavy furniture. 

We did not know what to think.  Standing with us, exuding blasts of heat, this man had produced a jumble of images with some relevance to EC’s roving life story.  If we did not want to believe, we would have to admit that some of those images were fairly generic.  Most people in these parts would have some connection with a terraced house.  However … unusual heavy furniture with thick legs?  That was specific.  We could not wait to get home and phone Furniture Paul.  EC was looking forward to being reunited with her necklace, and it sounded like she might have left it there. 

We escaped from the meeting while the club members were watching a DVD of themselves standing around in the dark.  On entering the house, before even taking off her coat, EC turned straight to the small, lightweight cupboard which stands by our front door.  She opened it, reached in, put her hand under a pile of her usual untidy detritus and drew out her necklace.  She had no idea what made her do that.  She was as surprised as I was.

Later, she worked out an explanation.  She decided that the medium had somehow picked images of different places from inside her head, and her engineer’s brain had been so horrified by the invasive experience that it had processed and reviewed all existing information relating to the necklace without telling her.  As soon as she was indoors, her arm received a direct command to retrieve the thing before she did any more weird stuff.

That makes as much sense as anything does in the world of the paranormal.

Can her brain take action without her permission?  Apparently it can.   A brief visit to Biology Land produces an interesting overview of what is lodged inside our skulls and what tricks it can perform.

The sections of the brain have wonderful evocative names.  Some of them sound sci-fi, some of them remind me of mythological creatures and some of them are surely just kitchen ingredients.  ‘Medula, queen of Cerebellum, was complaining that there was not enough thalamus in the stew, when suddenly, an Amygdala attacked and nutted her in the pons.’

The parts of the brain have evolved at different times.  The newest part is the cortex.  This is what makes us think, talk and imagine.  Only the very cleverest animals have one of these, and we human beings have the best.  It is such a shame we just waste it on watching soap operas and brooding over interior d├ęcor.
Hiding underneath this is an older part, linked up by a series of pathways called the limbic system.  A lot of animals also have a limbic system.  The limbic system links the parts of the brain concerned with the practicalities of being in a body and living the world.  It is about emotions, sensations, hunger, thirst, sex and then sleepiness.  This part of the brain decides what you will remember and what is not important. 

Right at the back is the very oldest part of the brain, the brain stem.  This controls the vital, automatic tasks a body has to do, such as breathing, heartbeat and the choice of correct footwear to match an outfit. The cerebellum (the wheat of war?) is in this region.  It controls our balance and movement.  Animals need a cerebellum, or they just fall over.  Young people lose these on Saturday nights.

As I have found so often when poking about for the purposes of this project, different sources contradict each other.  This leads me to believe that these facts are not cut and dried.   I started to suspect that, if there are psychic skills anywhere, they might be sited inside that old part of the brain served by the limbic system.  I chose this because the flashes of unexplained information I have experienced and observed by-pass the logic and language found in that sensible, businesslike modern cortex.  If that suspicion is something near the truth, I would add that the psychic skills may have atrophied because they are so much less useful than logic and language.   

That does not mean that they are not interesting.


Stone Circles and Wet Feet

About seven months ago, in the snow, we first looked for a stone circle on the moor.  Since then, I have examined why I feel megaliths have such significance and I have poked about Europe, waving dowsing rods in a hopeful, if rather inefficient manner, hoping to detect a pattern or two in the subtle energies of the earth.  Today, we hunted that elusive stone circle for the last time.

Our first contender had been chosen because we thought this stone looked like a marker:

When the earth was covered in snow, we traced what we thought might be a small circle there.  Today, we conceded that our circle had been a delusion affecting frost addled brains.  The land looks very different under snow.  Returning to that spot in late summer, it was hard for us to understand why we thought we had seen a circle there.  We stood and scratched our heads for a while.  We looked around.  Then, it all started again.  LSS had found something else. 

Living with someone who is Good at Stuff can sap your strength, sometimes.  One day, I am going to be right about something.  It is a little treat I am storing up to enjoy. 

He followed some whim, further into the bog.  Drawn by ties of habit and matrimony, I followed him.

For heaven’s sake.  I am the one with the dowsing rods, you know.

Some way from the path, he found this:

Small, granted, but it had the appearance of a menhir; perhaps one which had not been fed enough vitamins when young.  It stood in what looked like the ghost of a circle:

It was not very impressive, but surely it was defined enough to start a rumour that there was a stone circle of sorts on this moor.

There was yet more fun to be had.  Looking on, we could spot an extension.  Just a short distance in a direct line from our baby menhir, a large rectangular stone stood out:

When we stood by that stone, we could see a lump further along on the same direct line.  After a short trudge through a pleasant bog this was revealed as a small cairn:

When we stood, dripping, at the cairn and looked back, we traced the line back to the ‘marker stone’ we had found all those months ago.  That completed a rough alignment of four noticeable features running north to south.  It is only honest to point out here that I am not sure how wide the line would have to be in order to count.  We squelched doggedly back along the line to the baby menhir.  I fished the Y rod out of my rucksack and prowled around with it for five minutes.  A couple of times, I thought I might have felt a tiny twitch, but that was all.  Nothing exciting, I am afraid.

Perhaps the moor was a wild goose chase.  There is no law against consenting adults chasing wild geese on Sunday afternoons.  If the feature we found was an alignment, it was from the bargain range; in an esoteric supermarket, it would have a plain wrapper and be labelled in primary colours. I think, though, that we may have solved the mystery of the circle on the moor.  It is a stone doing a passable impersonation of a small menhir, standing on a circular patch of stony earth, in a rough alignment with some noticeable landscape features.  We may not have found much, but we had the thrill of the chase.


Magical Roslyn and a Ciabatta

The audience rowdiness was followed by much-needed lunch break, during which I discovered that AP fans, like spirit fans, enjoy awful food.  I escaped and found an excellent bakery nearby, where I had tasty cheese and fresh salad on herb ciabatta.  This was cheaper than the fast food gunk available in the conference.  I sat on a bench in the sunshine and ate it slowly, before plunging back into the busy theatre. 

After the break, we were treated to fascinating stories from someone with unusual beliefs about Roslyn Chapel.  The name of Roslyn is well known to anyone fond of weird stuff.  It contains intricate symbols and it has been in some stories, most recently ‘The Da Vinci Code’.  I was riveted.  A myth was growing before my eyes.  ‘Where’s that, then?’ asked the chap in the next seat.  ‘Never heard of it.’  The speaker told us that he had found, hidden in the chapel, a portal to another place, and he indicated his intention of passing through as soon as he could find how.  Some of us wished him god speed.  I have a mind so open you could run a motorway through it, but some theories go just one step too far.  Some go several steps to far, and this one was probably the champion stepper in the whole team of far steppers. 

The next day, I looked at the Roslyn Chapel website.  There was no mention of a mysterious portal.  That is a shame, really, as it could add such extra zest to the life of a parish:

Thursday night: the choir by candlelight, and Mrs Uglyhat will lead us in humming the magic chord to open the portal.
Friday afternoon: join us as we distribute fruit scones to our friends in the next dimension.
Saturday: bring and buy sale – with a new design of peg baskets from beyond the portal.

The last speaker at the conference was my favourite.  A complete contrast to Mr Portal, he was scholarly and meticulous.  The gist of his presentation was that paranormal phenomena are extremely common, but quite harmless and probably not very significant.  I suspect that he was speaking the truth which others fear.  If he had more showbiz, and access to a larger audience, imagine the damage he could wreak on the lucrative Spirit Fan market.  All over the country, punters are splashing out on investigations and equipment.  Countless TV shows are broadcast.  Mediums have huge followings.  There are magazines, books, DVDs and CDs on sale.  A few words in the right places from Mr Final Speaker and the whole food web could collapse. 

Perhaps, somewhere, there is a Godfather of the Paranormal, whose spies have warned him of the danger.  Maybe, they have infiltrated Mr FS’s workplace.  Maybe they have been secretly lacing his tea with a special drug which robs a person of the power to gain attention.  ‘Aha!’ cackles the Godfather in his secret lair, ‘The punters are mine, all mine!’  Perhaps a special ingredient in herb ciabatta enables the consumer to pay attention when interesting ideas are hidden in dull places.

That is the only explanation I have. 

The end of that conference was the end of the summer.  Time to go home, pack away the tent, move into Autumn mode… Goodbye, daylight.  Goodbye, trips.  Hello, busiest time of the year.  Hello, boots.  I like the Autumn, even the murky parts.  I stride towards September with confidence, knowing I have a good stock of candles and cushions.  Wait a minute, what is this up ahead, peeking out from behind November?  It is one big scary thought: it is the end of this journey.

I promised myself a year of exploration, and that year will soon be over.  I need to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, but I am faced with an untidy mess of half completed threads.  Some ideas are just taking a long time to work themselves through.  Others are languishing half forgotten in the doldrums. Autumn is time to get serious and finish the unfinished business.  I roll up my sleeves


UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and a Naughty Audience

UFOs are more interesting than I thought.  Now there is a sentence I never expected to write.  There is a whole culture and history surrounding how people react to craft in the sky.  It is rich territory for the story lover. 

Although UFO stories were the main focus of the conference, the variety of speakers and topics reflected the broader interests of the AP groups.  They inhabit a much wider world, and following them around for a while is a fuller experience.  There was also a little debate now and then, hinting at an intellectual territory as well as a hunt for sensational experiences.  National Rational had a stall!  I even spoke to somebody who knew something. 

AP buffs, especially the UFO Fans, are different from Spirit Fans.  Sprit Fans are a social bunch.  They like a good time and they take care of each other.  AP Big Wigs are seriously bitchy.  They bull themselves up and try to discredit each other.  Many of them seemed to think there was a prize somewhere, and they were determined nobody else would get it.  That was very entertaining for the casual observer.  I had a lovely time.

The Big Wigs told us all kinds of Stuff.  The government is not, I learned, hiding secrets about UFOs.  It is hiding its embarrassment.  Mystery craft are seen even by the armed forces from time to time, and those responsible for defending our skies are just as stumped as the sky watchers clustered on midnight hilltops.  Nobody knows anything useful.  Successive governments just do not like to discuss UFOs, because their ignorance makes them look silly.

I get wonderful pleasure from Conspiracy Theories, especially if they contain Freemasons or the CIA.  Tales of officials scurrying to cover up truth, or glibly producing convincing fraud always give me a happy warm place inside.  That is because you do not reach your half century without realising that even the most complex institutions of our society are managed by humans no brighter than anyone else, who may achieved high position through privilege or corruption.  We cannot rely on any of them, and they make just as big a mess of our country as we make of our own daft projects.  We may not be very good at assembling flat pack furniture.  People no cleverer than we are organise the army, the banks, the hospitals... 

That is why we love our Conspiracy Theories.  Just for a little while, we can pretend that somebody really clever is in charge.  That is also why, of course, none of them can ever be true.  We were told that the real issue with UFOs is not the government cover up, but the government mess-up.  There are powerful craft flying at will across our airspace, and if they were to turn nasty on us, we would have no protection. 

After our edification on the topic of UFOs we were offered a refreshing change.  A very young woman spoke about how she had chosen to abandon Club-style paranormal investigation.  I listened with interest, as she had drawn some conclusions which resonated with my own experience.  I watched with amusement, and something close to pity, when she bravely tried an experiment with the audience.
She wanted to prove that our perceptions can be mistaken.  To do this, she flashed up two lists of words and asked us to remember them.  Each list contained words drawn from one area of experience.  The first list was all about taste and the second was about conflict.  When we had tried to remember all of the words, and reproduce her lists, we had to look at what we had written.  Then she unveiled our mistake.  Almost all of us had written ‘sweet’ as part of our first list and ‘anger’ as part of the second, although these words had not been in her groups.  It was a cleverly designed experiment, and it taught us something about language, because most of us had included the most common word associated with each list, even though it had not been there originally.

Alas, she made one fatal error.

She asked members of the audience to indicate how many correct words they had remembered.

Suddenly, we were all back in High School.  An unseemly outbreak of squabbling and quibbling took place, as the assembled punters missed the whole point of the exercise, engaging instead with ludicrous side issues:

‘Ex abductees are disadvantaged by that test!  We have right side dominant brains!  We cannot remember lists of words; that has been proven.  You must not discriminate against abductees like me!!!!’  To be fair, this character had already made sure, several times, that everyone in the building was well aware how often he had been abducted by UFOs.

‘How many did you get?  Oh, I missed that one out!’
‘Twelve right!  That’s not bad.’
‘Fred got six’

‘I threw my paper away.’
‘There is no word for love on her list!  Did you notice that?  She has no word for love!  Where is the love?’
This is b*****x.’

Mercifully, everyone eventually regained adulthood, but it had been touch and go.  It only takes one small red herring to turn a well constructed presentation into a Whitehall Farce.  I had not laughed so much in weeks.  I never promised to be nice.


Paranormal Conference!

Off on another adventure.

By a few odd coincidences, people I know keep moving south-west and I regularly find myself washing up there, like a lost wave against the Quantocks.  Today I am heading that way to visit one of my oldest friends, for an evening which will certainly involve a good cake.  Tomorrow I will be moving on to attend an event not far from her home.  I have booked myself a day ticket for one of the conferences I spotted in Brill Mag.  We punters will spend the entire day strapped into theatre seats, hearing short presentations from paranormal buffs of different persuasions. 
I am not sure if I can sit still for an entire day, and I am already dreading the very long drive all the way home after tea.  However, I am eager to hear the Big Wig Buffs speak.  I wonder what they will say?  From the programme, there seems to be a strong UFO contingent.  I do not know what to think about UFOs.  I am fairly sure that if I saw one, I would think ‘That’s a funny looking plane’ and forget about it straight away.  Perhaps the world can be divided into three groups: people who see planes and think they are UFOs; people who see UFOs and think they are planes, and a very small number of clever folk who see stuff and know what it is.  We all hope we are either in that last group or at least headed in their direction.  Of course, there exists a fourth group, of people who just never look up.  We have all met a few of those.

This conference is organised for the loose network of Anomalous Phenomena fans.  They appear a different breed from the Spirit Fans who attend club nights and pay to go investigating.  From what I can make out, these groups appear to be male dominated, whereas the Spirit Fans have a healthy mix of the sexes in all roles.  I want to poke about in the APs because they have a broader range of interests, and I am hoping they will have a systematic, businesslike approach.  I am cheered to notice that they appear to steer clear of mediums and glasses on tables.  I am slightly worried by the possibility of a UFO rich experience.  Am I going to a theatre full of beer swilling UFO geeks?  Or am I going to my first really serious event, to meet with rational, interesting punters?