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

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

(Stevie Wonder)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.


Ri fol ri fol tol de riddle dee.


The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, and stay Chipsy,



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Psychometry and a Precious Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unexpected Feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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