I managed to go a whole year without getting a cold or sick, and was becoming all too smug about it – and now I find myself on Christmas Eve laid up in bed unwell! Well next year I shall do better. Anyway I did not manage to sort out any Christmas cards, apart from a few for my family I shall take home when I visit mum and dad next – because what sibling would not want a Christmas Card in mid-January? Anyhows, I figured I’d make a Christmas card, and then if people want it they can download it and read it, and if they don’t, they don’t have to and I won’t know anyway and we can all live happily ever after.
Now if you know me you have probably guessed that my saving on rewarding Clinton Card’s shareholders and saving Wicked Postmen DC, the lugubrious Postmen Ben and Tom “Christmas Temp” Nowells’ backs as they heft mailbags is not why I did not send cards. I am of course, a notorious Scrooge, and chose to pay the rent rather than do it. That is not the only reason Scrooge appears above though, for this card is about to turn in to an account of the horrors that have recently visited me!
‘Twas three nights ago, and I was soundly sleeping the sleep of the just, having been reading the latest Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (henceforth SPR). “I’ll just read this fascinating article and then…” – and of course I was snoring away. The cats padded around mewling, looking for food: from somewhere in the house came snoring, but in my room all was peaceful. And then it happened – I awakened to find two terrible shades, clanking chains and moaning their guilt, calling upon me to repent and mend my ways! (See illustration above). Yes; I was faced by the shades of Derek and Harry, forever banished in to the outer darkness for their sins against psychical research!!! These former ghosthunting associates of mine wailed upon me to REPENT! REPENT! I was immediately filled with curiosity, sat up, grabbed a pen and started to take notes. Derek (and Harry) were alive: There is no doubt whatever about that.
“Oh Frightful Shades summoned forth from my mis-spent youth” I cried, “you two are still very much with us, which means you have probably not run in to the SPR committee recently. You are therefore clearly ‘Phantasms of the Living’? So are you actually telepathic projections from the appearant, namely yourselves, hallucinated by me as percipient, or are you actually caused as Gurney appears to suggest in some of his later writings telepathically generated by me after I passively survey the environment using ESP powers?”
The two phantoms stopped clanking, and looked extremely annoyed. No one likes a smart arse., especially one who has spent the last 15 years since they gave up on this stuff studying theories of apparitions. The phantasmal Derek wailed a lament “You are supposed to say ‘You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’”.
I was too interested to remark on how our understanding of hallucinations in the sane had moved on a bit since disordered digestion was commonly blamed, I was now far more interested in learning all I could about the two “Marleys”. ‘Are you consciously aware of your projecting status? Can you supply me with some veridical data, that I can note down and subsequently show to prove that you were external entities not mere dreams? The winner in the 2.15 at Aintree, your current bank accounts details and sort code and security three digit code, that sort of thing?” I inquired hopefully.
The phantom Harry now responded, in good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon, and with a muttered threat about three more ghosts they vanished wailing through the floor.
Oh well, I’d be ready for them now…
The Ghost of Christmas Past never stood a chance. No sooner had he walked through the wall, the blinding flashes of my cameras froze him in terror. I was upon him with a dictaphone. “Right, spook, I’ve waited years for this chance. First question, are you composed of normal matter and energy? That is, are you physical?” I rammed him unapologetically in the bottom with an EMF meter, and the poor spook let out a howl of horror. “Ah fairly physical.” I prodded his ectoplasmic bulk again, and then scraped off some of his beard in to a Petri dish for analysis. “Right, Second question, are you a telepathic projection, or are the discarnate spiritual remnants of a deceased human as Spiritualists suggest?” It seems the question was too much for the poor spook: he turned, and with a truly melodramatic wail launched himself up the chimney. Never mind. Two more to come…
Like any Big Game Hunter, I have patience. And kit. The unquiet shade of Christmas Present was not leaving until I had thoroughly grilled him on the conditions of the hereafter, and advanced parapsychology 200 years and won a Nobel. Ha! Dawkins and Randi will never recover! All thoughts of Goodwill to All Men, Women, Ghosts and Small Fluffy Animals had left. I had my chance and I was going to take it – these ghosts were gonna talk, or else! My only problem was I do not have a Proton Pack, PKE meter or any of that fictional stuff. What I have is vast amounts of peer reviewed parapsychological literature on ghosts, and that seems to be singularly lacking in practical advice in how to grab one and interrogate it. However soon I had a plan!
I have always said Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 magisterial study Poltergeists is a wonderful book, and as the Ghost of Christmas Present came through the wall, I took my chance to finally use it’s 389 page bulk, and deftly clumped the spook over the head with it. To my horror the book just passed straight through it, and the ghost of Christmas Present flailed about horrified as cameras flashed and my webcam recorded every gruesome detail. “Hey” I said “you looked like John Travolta there pulling those dance moves” The spirit looked indignant, and I hastily pursed my advantage. “OK ghostie, I have you on video to show the world. Now we can do this nicely – or I can dub Staying Alive on that little performance of yours, and post it to YouTube? You will be a laughing stock. So sit down and start telling me everything.”
I felt just a tiny bit mean, but this was for Science! The poor old ghost knew when he was beaten, and sat miserably down. “please” he muttered “ just don’t start on about paradigms, phenomenology or the nature of consciousness. I’d prefer to sit through Skeptics In the Pub than that any day!”. Now I had him! I prepared to discover who was right on apparitions – McCreery and Green, Tyrell, Hart, Myers, Podmore or Gurney! Now I could revolutionise the field.
And at that moment, Marmalade came hurtling in the room, chasing Cuddles, in some 3am feline game. I was distracted, and as I turned to shoo the cats out, the Ghost of Christmas Present grabbed my webcam and apported it to another dimension, before leaving up the chimney in a flash of spectral smoke.
I had twenty minutes to modify the hoover, and I used all I know of Paraphysics and Weird Science. This time the spook was not getting away. I have never built a Carnacki Electric Pentacle before, but I have now, and it glowed beautifully in neon colours on the floor, ready to trap and contain the third pesky ghost. This time, I was READY for them! I had donned a set of painter and decorators overalls I keep for when Hugh is called upon to help out (frequently), and had strapped Lisa’s GOBLIN hoover on my back, and looked for all the world like a cut price DIY ghostbuster…
Anyway, you can guess how it all ended. If the Ghost of Christmas Future is not something you have ever seen it, imagine it as a sort of balefully spooky version of Metal Mickey the robot from the 80′s kid’s show. The electric pentacle did its job well, and I was able to suck the ectoplasmic shade up in to the bagless hoover, but then it all went wrong. The hoover became possessed, and even as I struggled Becky up to witness the apparition, so at least it would count as a collective case (she muttered something about “already passed my VIVA” and went back to sleep) the hoover ran around and around in circles, bleeping eerily, and waving its hose in the air in a frighteningly Freudian manner. Even as I prepared to leap upon it and unplug it, prepare dot bear it in triumph to the SPR office at Marloes Road, the blasted thing managed to open a vortex to another dimension.
Now I, being a generous soul, had of course bought an exquisite, expensive and lovely presents for you all. Unfortunately as the ghost and hoover vanished through the TV to another dimension, it took with it all my carefully purchased Christmas gifts. And this is why I don’t have much research to show the SPR for their generous research grant this year, and why I have not given any of you Christmas Presents and Cards – because a spectre telepathic descending from my attic came and spirited them away, hey?
So it simply remains for me to wish you one and all a Wonderful Christmas time, and a truly magical 2013.
All the best
I wrote a little Christmas ghost story, which may amuse some of my friends. It’s a story I have been trying to write on and off since the Most Haunted days, when it came to me one Christmas Eve in a dream. It’s a little unfair, because to really understand it relies on you getting the joke, and spotting the references — which I suspect very few of you are likely to know. Still if you do it may amuse, and even if not I hope it is mildly spooky. This is in lieu of a Christmas card or Christmas message, and yes I know it’s not very good, but some stories just demand to be written…
Ethel – A Christmas Ghost Story
There has been much speculation in the press over the disappearance of my dear friend, while in the act of “ghost hunting”.
While sceptics groups have taken the tragedy as a warning to the curious of the hazards of engaging in the infantile pursuit of the impossible, and believers have made many strange and curious speculations about spontaneous combustion, the police have taken the line that he left, perhaps deranged by his recent illness, of his own accord, and will turn up somewhere.
It seems quite probable he did meet a young woman holidaymaker, and has set off to make a new life for himself. Those of us who knew him knew he was at the time of his disappearance both financially burdened and saddened by the end of his media career, but do find it out of character he has not been in touch with anyone.
Temporary amnesia, a romance, or perhaps sadly severe illness seem more likely explanations than the foul play suggested by sceptics or the paranormal end suggested by the woo crowd.
Whatever the truth, his possessions were found by myself when I arrived, two days after his last email and concerned by the rambling bizarre nature of his last message to me.
All of his possessions barring his wallet, clothing he was wearing, laptop satchel and mobile phone were found, as his email suggests, neatly placed in the pantry.
Enough time has now passed for me to share with the interested public his last emails, in the hope they may shed light upon the curious case,and help bring him back to his friends and family. Do contact me or the police if you have any idea of his current whereabouts – young and romantic, he showed great promise in the field of psychical research, and was a good friend to me for many years.
Here are his emails, in order.
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. I stepped off the train in to a scene from a Christmas card; snow had fallen, snow on snow, and while miraculously it was exactly the right kind of snow, everyone had made tracks for home. I walked down a few steps to view the tawdry holiday lights of Marley High Street. An American might have been taken by the quaint charm, but I just felt light headed – my recent flu has not quite left, and the wooziness flushed from my floaty brow to my tingling toes. I felt like I was walking in the Christmas of my childhood, in a magical world, where the ghosts of Christmas Past were near.
A few folk wrapped staggered by, hard wrapped against the winter cold; even The White Horse pub appeared to be a derelict floating on a sea of ice, despite the chalkboard promise of big prizes for the pub quiz tonight. Yes, Marley really was dead tonight.
Still, I’m not here for the holiday spirit; I’m here to work, and the very fact that the place seems to be little more than a dormitory town with all the charm of off-season Great Yarmouth makes it all the more appealing. The icy wind actually seemed to clear my head, and the walk through the centre (a rather wonderful art deco cinema – you really should check it out!) and then out along Compton Lane to the house did much to improve my spirits.
It’s about three miles from Marley town centre to the house. Seems that until the ribbon development of the thirties led to houses growing out along the roads, it was a separate village, and the district still holds its old name of Compton. Not a taxi to be had in this Christmas Card scene, so I trudged the whole way, rucksack on my back passed shiny new build estates filled with delightful children and advert-ready families. Or so I imagine: I did not stop to peek through whatever-has-replaced Laura Ashley curtains.
By the edges of Compton I was dizzy and tired, and despite the cold had broken a most unseasonal sweat. I think I told you in my last email; the Letting Agent had three tenants leave, citing “ghosts”, and the landlord who lives abroad finally agreed to my visit, on the understanding there is no publicity. I expect damp or noisy neighbours are the real issue, but a week over Christmas to get over the flu and think about where my career would take me next. Downhill fast probably, without brakes – is that not the definition of “career”? Still my reputation as a “ghost expert” has finally got me something worthwhile, a little holiday not far from town.
When I saw the house I was a little taken a back – on the train my feverish fantasies had been of a little thatched cottage, roof pristine with glistening snow awaiting only the soft thud of Santa’s sleigh, or a crumbling gothic manor set back from the road. In fact there is such a place – Bott Hall, once the home to a man who made his fortune manufacturing some condiment considered quite delicious in the inter-war period – big enough to get a mention in the guidebook, devoid of any charm, it now serves as a conference centre or some such.
Anyway the house I had come to evict the spooks from is quite ordinary; Edwardian middle class home, according to my notes once home to a successful stockbroker, since the early seventies owned by the current landlord (who now lives in France), and let to a succession of tenants, none of whom complained until he had some much needed renovations done a couple of years back. Since that time no one had stayed long, and some had fled well within the six months they were required to pay for. The stories seemed hazy, contradictory – voices, the roar of a motorbike when none could be seen, a black almost shapeless “thing” that scurried around the kitchen, and much more besides.
I passed the village school, now yuppie apartments, the Norman Church and the bookies – which still preserved the antique sign in glistening gold paint of a former occupier, “Theobald the Barbers.” Nothing about the tiny suburb of Marley suggested spooks, and as I walked up the path I was ready to put on a lemsip and settle down for an uneventful week of reading – I brought the book you bought me on Roman religion along, and Simpson & Westwood too.
Suddenly my attention was drawn to something quite ordinary, yet strangely unsettling. I can’t put my finger on why I found it worthy of attention at all, but across the snowy fields I saw an old wooden barn, broken down, indeed barely standing. Something about the silhouette of the ancient structure seemed malignant, like a hunched beast waiting to creep, as son as the curtains were shut, close to the house, and reach out for…
The milk bottles on the doorstep broke my reverie – empty of course, but as I slid on the icy step I kicked them, and cursing struggled to find the right key. And then I noticed something odd – one was not empty, but contained a murky grey liquid, not frozen despite the temperature. I fumbled with mittens, and picked it up, and the secret was revealed – someone had dropped a stick of licorice in it, and seemingly shaken it. Odd, but hardly eerie, so I left it there and went in.
OK, the layout is prosaic enough – a sitting room, dining room, what used to be called a “morning room” and a bookshelf lined study on the ground floor, the kitchen and pantry and a couple of small rooms, perhaps once servants quarter in the basement, with a coal hole and a kitchen door opening on to steps. There are four bedrooms – one was clearly the master bedroom, one had a vaguely feminine air, and their was a smaller room, probably a child’s, overlooking an ancient tree. Cosy enough, I turned on the electric, fired up the boiler – pilot lit first time, and placing a Carbon Monoxide meter in position (could the answer to the ghosts be that simple?) I set out looking for the best place to sleep. Given the fact it’s let unfurnished, I chose to place my sleeping bag in the kitchen, and thanked the landlords foresight in installing gas central heating, even if it had stirred up the ghosts. Anyway I have managed to get a wifi connection, and have fixed some food – there is both a kettle and microwave down here, together with a lot of other stuff seemingly half packed. I’m thanking the ghosts for scaring the last tenants away so well they could not be bothered to collect their possessions!
Have a good night, and if I don’t have time to write or get eaten by the beasties a great Xmas! Will email tomorrow if the Horrors have not got me…
I sent my last about twenty minutes ago, but something quite extraordinary happened. I ate a bit – helps with the fever, and then I thought I heard the sound of a motorbike pass by. I’m not sure what it is – probably just the central heating warming up – but it sounded for all the world like a really badly tuned bike driving in, coasting on the gravel, and being lent against the wall with a clank. I was looking at the boiler when I heard what sounded like the back door opening, and someone creeping in, wearing socks and trying to be stealthy.
I have been set up on ghost hunts before, so I slipped my shoes off, and quietly keeping to the sides crept upstairs. Nothing: except an old fashioned tennis racket leaning against a wall, just inside the back door. I never saw it on my first tour, but I neglected to take photos then. Yeah, I know, some “ghost expert” I am. Obviously it was there before and I overlooked it, but it was still a bit odd. I would have paid more attention, but I got a whiff of cologne, and convinced someone was in the house hiding from me I dashed up the stairs, only to freeze in terror.
In the door of the child’s room I thought I saw the thing – perhaps a giant rat, a beady eyed thing. On reflection it perhaps looked more like a dog than a rat, but the scruffiest most outrageous jumble of breeds you can imagine, a disreputable animal. I was standing there looking at it, and it was looking at me – but neither of us moved. Then suddenly it was gone, and I advanced in to the room cautiously, still clutching that absurd old tennis bat.
Nothing – bare boards, moonlight, and the swaying of the apple tree branches, heavy laden with snow. Suddenly I realized – it was just a shadow, and the glistening reflection of ice. How stupid I am! I went round the whole house just to be certain, and apart from a faint whiff of pipe tobacco in the study, which may well have just been my imagination, nothing. In the morning I’ll make sense of this place, and lay the ghosts for good.
I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas Day. I have had a fairly dull time, but that is how I like it. The fever has now nearly gone, though I think last night played a strain on my nerves, and I’m still a little shaky. I’m annoyed I shall miss Dr Who, but I’ll catch it later on I-Player. I hope you enjoyed The Ladykillers, and dinner was good and DC wicked, or vice-versa.
Not much of interest occurred in the morning – I woke after a strange dream, in which a woman’s voice called repeatedly to someone called Ellen to “get the pudding on to steam”. I did not open my eyes, but lay in a reverie in which I imagined a kitchen bustling with the clank of pots and festive preparation of a century ago. I wonder if they used Bott’s sauce? I seem to recall somewhere that if you consumed too much it was so rich it made you vomit!
The floorboards settled overhead, and I imagined a family sitting for lunch – a stern father, his head in The Times, a tired looking mother dealing with a tousled haired lad, forcing him to go wash his horribly stained hands, and an older boy and his sister filled with excitement about their holiday plans. After an hour or more of vivid dreams and fitful sleep, I forced myself up, had a quick wash, and emerged blinking in to the brilliant sunshine reflecting off the snowy garden.
I had intended to explore the village, but instead I slipped through a gap in the fence, and went off to have a look a look at that run down old barn, determined to exorcise the vague unease it had conjured up in me last night. As I approached I saw that the door had long since fallen, but someone had tacked a notice to the framework: I expected a notice advising demolition and an application for planning permission – it’s right on the edge of town, in unspoilt countryside, you know what barn conversions go for!
Instead I found the most remarkable document, a ink stained piece of paper apparently torn from an exercise book, and scrawled in the most awful hand. It read
Chrismuss Paygent here today 10am.
No Hubert Lainites.
By kind permisshun The Outlaws.
Stopping only to think what text talk and the X box have done to the new generation, I slipped in. Whatever had occurred, I had missed it – I realized it was nearly noon anyway. A smoky fire of wet twigs still burned, and a semi circle of ancient packing crates showed where the “audience” had sat, but of them and the performers there was no trace. Just a single discarded bottle, with a trace of grey disgusting water and a tiny piece of partially dissolved licorice. Something about the scene seemed wrong – I can’t put my finger on it – but for some reason I turned and hurried away, towards the village. I had the strongest impression I was being watched, and jeered at, by some local kids. For a moment I thought I saw them, four tousle haired youths crouched in a ditch across on the field boundary, with a small yapping dog, but when I looked again they were not there. Bloody fever.
I spent the whole afternoon in the house, and nothing untoward happened. I’m heading down the pub now – will email tomorrow.
I thought I saw those bloody kids again. They were following me, but all dressed up in suits, scrubbed pink and shiny, in best shoes. Was down by the church. The dog was skulking nearby, and it looked like the shadow I saw last night. If they are hoaxing me I’ll tell their parents. Getting to me, and my head is swimming. Pub lunch here. Merry Christmas.
Sent by Android
Of all the things I thought of when I cam here I never expected this. I have met a girl, and she is adorable. Not in the pub, as you might expect – as I was walking home. She is slender, adorable, has red hair, in a very stylish bob, and was dressed in old fashioned clothes. When I commented on her 1920′s outfit and how well she pulled it off she laughed and asked if I had been at the Christmas Pageant too, and then I understood! Fancy dress!
We met just outside the pub in the street, and she joked when I made a passing comment about how good she looked and she said I looked quite remarkable as well. She really is very attractive, and Ethel – that’s her name, rather sweet hey – Ethel Brown, well we stood and talked for ages, and eventually wandered down to the Churchyard, and sat and talked in the church porch. I mentioned what I had seen at the barn, and she said it was just a copy of the adult pageant put on by her dreadful little brother William and his awful friends. Apparently he is quite the little savage, and eleven years old. I thought by eleven nowadays kids were all about playing Skyrim, GTA or whatever else is fashionable on the consoles. I swiftly changed the subject, that boy gives me the creeps.
And then another mystery was solved – we heard the roar of a motorbike, and Ethel said it must be her brother Robert, on his way home, and she must go. We have agreed to meet again tomorrow, at sunset, in the churchyard. I hope to be invited to dinner by Mr and Mrs Brown, they obviously live nearby. I walked home light headed, and I’m not convinced it was the fever. Did I mention Ethel is adorable? I should have told her where I was staying…
Dreadful night. Voices kept whispering, and people creeping about. Ellen the maid nearly fell over me with a plate of pies, and leftover cabbage smells vile, I have moved in to the pantry so as not to get in the way. But Ethel is here, I heard her at breakfast above, talking to her parents and Robert. Oh and William, her little brother, and his gang. I was nice to him, gave him a fiver, but he just said it was funny “furrin” money. They took me to the barn, and I had to drink some of that licorice water and pretend it was the best thing ever. I keep promising William stuff, and I heard him tell Ginger, Henry and Douglas I’m “soft” on his sister. Jumble tore my trousers while trying to worry my sneakers laces. Awful mutt!
Still soon will be sunset, and I am meeting Ethel at the churchyard, and plan to be introduced to the family. I went in to Theobalds and got my hair cut, and boy I look like a freak, but judging by Robert and his mate Hector the ridiculous hairstyle is fashionable round here.
The sun is setting, and I’m sitting shivering, teeth chattering, whether with cold or fever I know not. Laptop is working again, was unable to get a signal most of the day. I’m sitting on the garden wall now and hope this gets through. Oh, one thing. As the sun sets, the chinks in the old burn make it glow red, as it slips below the horizon behind it. Did you not once tell me that the Red Barn at Polstead got it’s name that way, and in Suffolk such places are associated with the supernatural?
Anyway must go, signal getting intermittent, and soon will be with Ethel. She really is adorable you know…
Please note this was my 2011 April Fool’s Joke – it is NOT to be taken seriously!
Hello! I am very excited to announce my new book, detailing my spiritual adventures and a guaranteed path to unleashing your full psychic power! Reasonably priced, the book launch today will be accompanied by a book signing and I’ll also be performing auric realignment, spiritual massage and colonic irrigation of the chakras for the lucky few who get to attend the signing!
This book has it all, all the accumulated wisdom I have gained from studying at the feet of great masters. Once I doubted the very existence of psychic powers, but years of studying have slowly revealed to me the magical wisdom of my Danish ancestry, the healing power of hops, and the deep secrets of the multiverse. With this book you can master them too!!! Sceptics will laugh and point and write blogs about you, but armed with these powers you can turn Hayley Stevens and her ilk in to a frog. (I turned Susan Blackmore in to a newt…. she got better.)
Learn how to
* Attract women — by spiritual gravity! * Become irresistible to NICE men! * Develop your Auric Armour! * Summon pixies to do your house chores! *Remote Homeopathy! * The Von Juntz formula! * Dream your way to Riches! * Get research funding from the SPR! * Banish Wiseman and other household pests! *Read the Prunes! * Cast a Deadly Spell! * See through peoples clothes with the Intellego Animal rite! * Pass through the gates of Alkoth! *Locate the Holy Grail in Stafford Castle! *The Secret of the Godlearners! *What Olaus Wormius was too scared to translate in the Necronomicon! *Look sharper than a Supermodel! *Turn Sceptics in to Small Amphibians! * The Forbidden Secret of Mazille! * Fly without Ryan Air! * Improve your Quidditch Technique!
Let’s face it, bending spoons is so 1974. With my esoteric training you will be able to bend minds, starting with your own!!!
From the publishers website –
“CJ Romer is undoubtedly among one of the great mystics of our age, and a 7=6 Ineptus Exemptus of the Order of the Silver Twilight. In this book he finally reveals the results of years of occult study at Durenmar, his mastery of the obscure tomes of Bonisagus, and his esoteric heroquest with his friend DC to find the legendary lost treasure of the Cathars. Learn how with a German Secret Master named Axel he rediscovered the lost secret of Remote Homeopathy, and the terrible inner secrets of Romerian Witchcraft. A practical Self-Initiation Guide, this book can make you EVERY BIT AS PSYCHIC AS CJ, GUARANTEED!!!!”
I do hope you will all rush out and buy a copy this morning???
I guess this is my 200th post. I was intending to write something yesterday, on 1/1/11, for a 200th post, but ended up playing the boardgame Agricola with Tom Nowell and Becky Smith for hours, and checking errata for a recent Ars Magica book. Fortunately they were prety minor for my chapter, but it is depressing that I always miss something it seems! Anyway, a very Happy New Year to you all. Mine is going well, nearly three weeks now off the fags this time, and I’m recovering from my illness that left me wiped out before and over Christmas — I slept most of it!
And now from WordPress, this arrived this morning. I have just posted it, I never wrote it!
WordPress report –
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 44,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.
In 2010, there were 64 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 199 posts. There were 114 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 34mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.
The busiest day of the year was October 25th with 709 views. The most popular post that day was From Televangelists to Dawkins; the Selfish Genes will prevail?.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were rationalskepticism.org, facebook.com, en.wordpress.com, forums.randi.org, and scienceblogs.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for robin hood, mr blobby, virus, flying pickets, and kelvin.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
From Televangelists to Dawkins; the Selfish Genes will prevail? October 2010
Running Ars Magica – advice for new story guides, part one October 2009
The Futurist Movement; Italian Art & History – a very short introduction May 2009
OK, just a short piece as I’m out tonight and snowed under by work. The majority of people who come to my blog look at the home page, and of course those strange loyal souls who have subscribed get all my nonsense in their in-tray, but I thought today it might be interesting to use the WordPress settings to see what people actually read here. So here are my top ten posts to date, not in the little star ratings, but in number of visits…
THE TOP TEN
A short piece I wrote on the roleplaying game Ars Magica - so far 7,500 visits. The game is clearly VERY popular! This is by far and away my most popular piece, making me wonder if I should put up part two which I wrote a long time ago but have never posted
I recall thinking when I posted this that a piece on an Italian Art Movement of the early twentieth century (that had been on my website for ten years) would hardly register ten visitors. I was wrong – 4,827 people have looked at it.
Curious this one; it was just me thinking about viruses and evidence based medicine – well 1,767 readers so far. I guess we all get colds!
A heavier article, and I think an important one. 1,397 visitors.
I don’t write about politics much, but this short piece from just before last years UK General Election got 1,394 views. I’m not sure why!
This one does not surprise me at all – a lot of people loved the forum, and it became newsworthy for a few days, as Dawkins argued with his fans.
Again, given the popularity of the game no great surprise. Maybe games manufacturers should send me review copies or pdfs?
I was in a good mood, and despaired of ever defeating this atheist forum cliche, so I wrote this. 962 people have read it.
Social commentary on the bank charges High Court case – 960 views
and finally back to roleplaying games –
An excellent game, and 910 views.
Not much correlation with my highest rated articles as it happens, and not to my mind my best ones, but that’s what people have looked at! WHat is peculiar to my mind is how badly my articles on psychical research, my main interest, do. Not one hits the top ten. Ditto most of my writings on Science and Religion. It would appear my blog is too esoteric for most people’s tastes?
THE TOP TEN SEARCH TERMS
OK, just for fun here are the top ten search terms on this blog –
1 robin hood – 5,365 — well that explains the banking articles views! Shame not what they wanted
2. Lord Kelvin — 2,549 — Lord Kelvin really outdoes Darwin on my search results!
3. mr blobby — 1,415 — well I resemble him I guess!
4. virus -- 1,275 — the common cold, not pc ones
5. Carra -- 1,100 — the futurist artist
6. Boccioni - 879 – another futurist artist
7. Fying Pickets - 635
8. Atheism – 586
9. Ticket to Ride Europe – 500
10. Jerome23 — 413
Yep, I’m a few dozen ahead of Aleister Crowley as a search term to find my blog
Welcome to Earth: Our Home — The Board Game!
For 2-4 players, ages 8+
For the contest this month I decided to do something a bit different, and so I have designed a board game. If you are brave enough you can print it out and play it, and if you do please tell me how it went! Feel free to modify or improve it as you see fit.
You can now download the components at (including much smaller and easier to printversions – read the text file first!)
You can see the board, counters and some of the cards here on this article, but if you want to print and play the game, and I really hope you will, then you will find it easier to download the printer friendly zip files and print the files in there which are configured for A4 card or paper.
What’s it about?
The game covers the development of life on Earth from the Cambrian era – c.500 million years ago, with the last turn representing he arrival of the first hominids – Homo Erectus and friends – about 1 million years ago. Even the most fanatical board game player will be pleased to hear that each turn is not a million years! Instead of 500 turns, game play is divided in to five EPOCHS – each epoch covering a lengthy period of Earth’s history.
So what do you do in it?
Well the problem with any game based on evolution is that the process is rather blind and to some extent random – and there is absolutely no guarantee that if we re-ran the tape of Earth’s history we would have human beings here now reading my writing, or indeed any recognisable species, or perhaps any life at all. So in this game we take the viewpoint in each epoch of a GENUS*, a set of beasties related to one another by descent, competing to adapt to and survive (and proliferate). Each turn you lay down 18 counters representing your current SPECIES on the map of the world, trying to control HABITATS. Of course its not just a matter of your species happily filling up these habitats. Other species probably want them too – each habitat can only support three counters (with one exception we will come to later). Given that other players are controlling the other species, and might well be fiercer, hungrier or just plain bigger than your species — well bad things will happen. If a habitat gets too popular, and hence overpopulated, bad things happen.
Only the species which is best adapted to life in that area is likely to survive, and many of your beasties will die: in the worst case some of your species may even go extinct, potentially removing you from the game, and certainly meaning you will have to explore other avenues of evolution. In fact given the constant struggle for resources, it may be that your species will have to kill off its relatives (from the same genus, but earlier epochs)just to find space to survive.
Survival of the Fittest
So how do your beasties take over habitats and make sure they don’t die out? By being better adapted to their habitats than their competitors, and that comes down to random luck to some extent – little bundles of chemical information called GENES. Each epoch your species gains new genes – and develops, becoming more effective at taking over territory. Unfortunately you don’t control what new abilities nature grants you – you just pick a gene card, and your new species counters get that added ability, as well as all the ones they have from their ancestors (your previous species).
As you add gene cards at random to your species however where they might prosper and the best strategy for which habitats to try an colonise will shift, causing you to make tough decisions. Not decisions about which genes you get – you can’t control that – but about how your beasties can make best use of the genetic heritage they have to prosper and survive.
You should firstly print off the big colourful game board. If you are short on ink, printing 16 pages of A4 (or whatever) and taping them together strikes you as hell, or you otherwise can’t print the map, it’s fine to just draw it on a big bit of card or a wall, so long as you get ti to look roughly the same in terms of areas. Take a look at the board: you will notice it shows two views of planet Earth from space.
The board for “Earth: Our Home” the game: a larger version is included in the zip file, you will need it to play.
Part of the globe is not shown: it’s the Pacific Ocean, and mainly sea, so in this game it’s represented by the little rectangular box labelled “Pacific Ocean”! As you can see the board is divided in to hexagons, some complete, some partial, which represent HABITATS. Some partial ‘hexes’ are too small to be bothered putting counters on so we ignore them, but most of them have one of three symbols – a water drop for a MARINE habitat (the sea!), a palm tree for a TROPICAL habitat and a pine tree for a TEMPERATE habitat. Temperate and Tropical habitats are LAND: marine habitats are, unsurprisingly enough, SEA.
Now take a closer look at the board. Earth is a funny old place, so to handle movement some zones are marked with a letter. A and A, see two of them? B and B? C and C? D & D? The two bits marked with the same letter are the same habitat: all the rules apply as normal (no more than three beasties in each, and so forth). Living on a globe plays hell with inventing rules for “movement”. The Pacific is a huge area where 11 counters can peacefully co-exist – enter from any region marked with a P adjacent.
The counters for Earth: Our Home board game: download the zip file to get printer friendly ones at the right scale.
Next up you should see counters: 100 for each genus, divided in to 5 species representing something about the type of life forms involved. Don’t take them literally – your creature in epoch one lives in the sea, and may well be a fish, but not a modern one, and the frog on the epoch two counter just means your species then is an amphibian, and can go on land. Epoch Three shows an Allosaur, but you might be anything, and Epoch 4 is just a mammoth for the age of mammals – but maybe on ‘your earth’ the dinosaurs never died out, and really it’s a big lizard. Use your imagination, and describe what your species looks like to the other players. That last little man is a Homo Erectus by the way. Still maybe your final species look like super-intelligent jellyfish, or lizardmen, or big birds, or… anyway you get the picture, it’s just an illustration. Now you will need to print the counters off: you use 18 of each species on the map, one is a spare, and one you place on your genes cards – more of which later. Stick them on coins, mount them on card, whatever works for you. You play them to the board by piling them in the appropriate habitat.
Finally there are 32 gene cards. There are four types of gene card, distinguished by the letters A, B, C, & D (in reality we would have the letters A, C, G & T for adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, but I was worried someone might take this too literally.) They are so important they get their own bit of the rules (see below).
At the beginning of each epoch comes the MUTATION PHASE. Random variations in offspring born have led to a development in your species: on turn one it will effect your little fishies. So shuffle the genes, and randomly deal each player a gene card, which they put face up in front of them with a spare counter of the current species on. So if it’s turn one, and you get an “A gene”, put the A card in front of you with your spare fish counter on it.
What do they do? Well an A card gives your beastie a +2 in SURVIVAL CONTESTS in temperate habitats, and represents some kind of adaptation (big teeth, camouflage, better brain, improved senses) which give it a big advantage in that type of habitat. A B card does exactly the same in Temperate climates. C & D cards do something similar – they reflect a new adaptation that works well in ANY environment, but if you happen to have the symbol in the corner, say you are playing blue square genus and you get the blue square C, well sheer random luck means it happens to be a very powerful adaptation, worth +2 in ay environment. (Really big teeth, or squirrelly reflexes – at first sign of danger you grab your nuts and run?) No having an A or B gene in Epoch One, when everyone is confined to Marine habitats is pretty useless.
However unlike in individuals today, genes can’t do you any harm: you are a species, only the members with good genes get to mate with the lady or gent beasties as much and have lots of little beasties, so no need to worry about poor genes.
Those fishy genes which only work on land areas (A or B cards) will come in to their own later, because when you take your new species, it draws new card, and adds that to the existing one. Any remaining members of the former species on the board don’t get the advantage of the new gene – only the latest species, but it gets both. So your Epoch 5 creatures will have the advantage of ALL 5 genes (assuming nothing terrible has happened along the way). So ok, they give you +1, or +2, in either certain habitats or anywhere.Why does this matter? Because you add up these bonuses to work out your species counters CONFLICT VALUE. A creature in a temperate environment with genes A, A, C (but no their symbol) gets 2 +2 +1 = 5. Their conflict value is 5. It’s not about fighting: it’s about how well adapted you are to your environment.
Gene cards: You need the A,D and B ones as well to play. Download or message me for a copy – it’s free
GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY
Firstly, if it’s not the first turn, choose one of your counters to mutate. Take it off the board, and replace it with a counter of your new species that has evolved out of the old one. In the first turn you just plonk your six counters down. Each turn after drawing your mutation each player plays counters to the board, representing their species going forth, multiplying, and slowly filling up habitats. In each turn someone is first player, and they MUST PLAY SIX COUNTERS (well five including the one that ‘evolved’ ) ONE AT A TIME to habitats adjacent to that species. You can put up to three counters in any one habitat, or spread out thinly, up to you, but each habitat you enter must be adjacent to, or the same as, a habitat you already have a counter of this species in.
Note species: if you are putting Mammoth counters down they must be adjacent to an existing Mammoth counter, not another older counter of your colour(they may be in the same habitat, and that’s fine, though) Once you have put six counters down, the player to you left plays six counters exactly the same way round their newly evolved species. .After there turn, the next player, and so on till it’s your turn again. You don’t start a new Epoch, you just play your second six counters, and when your turn comes round again your third six, so now hopefully (but not necessarily) you have 18 counters on the board.
In Epoch One your beasties must stay in the sea: In Epoch 2 they can go on sea or land, being amphibians, from Epoch 3 only land zones are used.
You have to play all your counters, and once played to the board they never move. Soon you will start to run out of space in habitats, as your giant horned bunnies or whatever eat all the Jurassic cabbage. No habitat (except the Pacific Ocean: it can hold 11) can ever have more than 3 counters of any colour in it.
If at any point, a fourth counter is placed there (or a 12th in the pacific) something has to give, and someone has to die. So who wins out? The better adapted species of course! Add up the CONFLICT VALUE based on your genes for the species counters in that habitat. Which ever species has the lowest value, remove one of their counters. Then continue: if you play another counter there (presumably because your opponents counter got removed not yours) you do it again immediately – remove on of theirs, add one of yours. If yours (or if two opponents are in the spare there) Survival Values are equal, then comes the tragic bit: both remove a counter; Still the habitat has space now for you to play another counter in., even if you lost one.
Note it is the absolute survival value: that matters: you DO NOT multiply the conflict value by the number of counters in that habitat, so if player A has SV 4 for their mammoth, and your hominid has SV 5, but they have two mammoths, doesn’t make any difference 5 beats 4. In human warfare God is on the side of the big battalions, but in this game it’s not really about warfare: it’s about outbreeding, out eating, out thinking and out living your opponents species.
Counters removed are out of the game: you don’t get to play them again.
As soon as you lay your 18th counter on each Epoch, but before the next player takes their go, you need to see how your species is doing. You DO NOT score any points for earlier species of your genus, so killing off your own counters is fine and dandy: eat your ancestors! For every habitat you have a counter of the current species in , even if shared with another players species, you gain points; 2 points for each Land habitat (tropical or temperate), one point for each Marine Habitat. Everyone can ask everyone’s scores at any point: it’s open information.
The first player card– Adam & Eve frightened by a blue butterfly.
If your former species from a previous Epoch vanishes it’s sad but has no game effect. If your current species fails to make it, that’s a bit more serious. The most likely scenario is that having played some of your species counters other players kill them off before you can get all 18 down: it’s no big deal. Flip over one of your predecessor species, discard your species gene and draw a new one, and lose 5 points off your score. It happens. Another form of your species evolves and continues, except you might not have many of them. If your species is completely wiped out, you do not get to evolve at the beginning of the new Epoch though. You play Mammoths (or whatever) again while the others move on to hominids. Your points are halved now.
WINNING THE GAME
At the VERY end of Epoch 5 everyone indulges in a last round of point scoring, in addition to the one at the end of their turn. Every habitat, land or sea, that they have their (hominid) species in grants 1 additional point. Add to existing scores, and the person with the most wins! If you never evolved to hominid counters you don’t get these bonus points.
* I tried to design a gene viewpoint game, but it was not as attractive visually sadly, nor as readily linked to “Earth Our Home”. It may well appear on the Richard Dawkins forum in the future though if I get it to work.