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.


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.

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