I have had a pretty painful few months, with a dental problem that defied easy treatment and eventually rendered me constantly ill and miserable. I have rather lost the will to write for some months, and have been focussing on a huge research effort in reading the poltergeist literature, interspersed with some writing of freeform games and keeping up my commitments to the Ars Magica rpg. I have dome other things as well of course – designing and playing boardgames, arguing on forums in sporadic bursts, and being fairly busy, but I have not really been “with it”. (To be fair I did find time to post so far seven episodes of my Ars Magica RPG podcast Arcane Connection).
Last week I was fortunate enough to finally have the long awaited operation, and am now recovering well, All is good: I received excellent care from the NHS, and feel much much better. I went home and saw my folks, enjoyed being driven round my beloved Suffolk, and had a few new thoughts on the vanishing house mystery. I’m doing OK. and now I am back at my computer, and planning to start blogging again.
Anyway I thought I’d just say hello as it has been a while, and hope to be in touch with you all soon.
all the best
If you asked people what the worst natural disaster to befall Britain in the 20th century was (baring disease epidemics like the 1919 flu), most people will look at you and probably have no idea. It was actually in 1953 when a Spring tide combined with low atmospheric pressure led to an incredible storm and flood, and left 30,000 people homeless, and 307 dead on land, and over 224 at sea in the UK. Where I grew up it was known as the Great East Anglian Flood; however in the Netherlands they call it the Watersnoodramp, and Wikipedia calls it the North Sea Flood of 1953. Closer, but even that does not really cover the scale of the disaster – 28 died in Scotland, and the MV Princess Victoria a ferry doing railway duty on the Stranraer to Larne crossing sank with loss of 133 lives, with just 44 saved. Across the Low Countries and UK, over 2000 people died. 13,000 cattle drowned: a thousand miles of coastline flooded, and in modern terms did £941,000,000 in damages – that is £50 million pounds in 1953 money converted by purchasing power. This was nothing compared the Netherlands – there around 1,800 people perished.
The first casualties were on the MV Princess Victoria — a “roll on roll off” ferry. It went down around 2 in the afternoon, having been battered by the storms. The navy tried to reach it with HMS Contest and the lifeboat Jeannie Spiers; a few were saved by the heroism of the lifeboat crew of the Samuel Kelly and two merchant ships in the area. It was a day of heroes, and the valour of radio operator David Broadfoot who remained at his post till the very end sending the SOS was marked by his posthumous George Cross. Notably Captain James Feguson was last seen as the ship sank standing on the bridge, saluting: he went down with his ship in line with naval tradition, and all of the other officers were lost.
Despite the potential to notify those on the coast as the storm beat round Scotland, warnings were not passed on – many port offices were unmanned on a Saturday night, and the radio did not broadcast late enough. Some telephoned warnings did save lives, but everyone reacted as if it was a local problem. At least today modern communications technology would instantly notify almost everyone as to the impending threat.
Sixty years ago tonight. If the sinking of the Titanic was a defining moment in my grandmother Alice Bentley’s childhood, the Great East Anglian Flood is a memory that my parents told me of. They married in 1952 – I was not born for another 17 years, but they were living in Bury then. The memories of ’53 have conflated with a later East Anglian flood, probably ’64, when the Lark Valley flooded deeply apparently, as did many streets in town. I can’t imagine that had much to do with tidal surge — it has to have been rain run off, and one day I am going to go and find the Bury Free Press archive and take a look at the photos. Eastgate Street was flooded – and my father was amused by stories that he had been seen rescuing people in the road in a rowboat; it is the kind of thing one can imagine him doing. Well, he is a Viking! However, back to 1953…
There were heroes, like Reis Leming, one of those “oversexed overpaid and over ‘ere” US airmen who were part of East Anglian life for so. Reis died last year; but his heroism that night lives on. It is sad that Reis, who saved so many despite not being able to swim, could not be here for the 60th anniversary. All kinds of folk stories arose about the flood – but in Bury the effects were inconvenience and amazement, but not terrible tragedy as on the East Coast, thirty miles away. One of Alice’s friend’s husbands died; I recall sitting drinking tea in St. John’s Place and her telling me how she lost her husband, Mr Laytin that night, washed away and drowned near Felixstowe if I recall correctly. He was a coastguard or port official – I’m hazy on the details some thirty years on, but it was an awful thing to hear.
For all the stories I heard growing up, my knowledge of the event is limited to several articles and a single book I read years ago, that focussed almost entirely in the East Anglian aspects of this “perfect storm”. It is to my mind a very local tragedy — and everyone regards it this way. So despite some wonderful coverage today (and a decade ago) in the press, which seems to render any commentary from me redundant – after all witnesses like my parents are still alive and able to tell what they saw that night — I thought I’d comment here. If you want to see what it looked like, Pathe News have some footage here : http://www.britishpathe.com/video/east-coast-gale-disaster
It was not “a very local” disaster at all – it was a national disaster. Yet the scale of the losses on Canvey Island down in the Thames Estuary, which was devastated by the flooding with a huge loss of homes, was just as severe as in East Anglia, and the losses in Scotland and Lincolnshire grim too. So why is it recalled as such a local matter? This is what interests me — I actually wondered if there was an intentional cover up, given the late and ineffective government response, or whether it was just the local press primarily reported the story which was therefore perceived everywhere as a local matter, and for some reason the London Press played it down? This was post-war Austerity Britain – and the Coronation and Festival of Britain demonstrated a “move on, keep cheerful” (I nearly quoted that bloody poster) attitude that natural disaster would have been at odds with.
I think that is probably the truth — people were sick of doom and gloom, and while the disaster was noted, to London it was (despite killing one person) a fairly minor thing. In Lincolnshire, the Western Isles, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, East Anglia and The Thames Estuary as well as across in the Netherlands it was very big news, the papers never reported the big picture, and so it has gone down in folk memory as a local affair. Perhaps it is for the best, for such a perfect storm should occur again, maybe not for centuries, but inevitably, and then we will see if the flood defences built in the aftermath really do work…
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
Every Christmas I attempt writing fiction, and most specifically a short Christmas ghost story. I think my best so far is Ethel, which I wrote last year. This year I tried something slightly different - and something I think very hard. I have attempted to write a realistic ghost story. That is, I have tried to tell the kind of story I often hear when interviewing people who claim to have experienced paranormal phenomena. Therefore I am afraid you will find little of the usual spine chilling stuff; no Victorian ladies spectres walk through walls, no headless corpses rise from unquiet graves to seek ghastly vengeance on the living, and no strange curses are muttered on moonlit moors. Instead, my story is rather mundane, and rather modern. It could happen in any home. Your home even. Tonight.
I hope despite all this, a few of you enjoy it. It is not finished yet, if it ever will be, but perhaps I will continue tomorrow if the writing frenzy befalls me again. Oh and one last thing — it is fiction, and never happened: but the central phenomena are based loosely on a real case I once investigated, many, many years ago.
Now I’ll let the narrator take up the story.
OK, so it’s 1982. Thursday evening, the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m walking home in crisp white snow, humming “Hymn” by Ultravox. I stop to look at some mysterious footprints, surely those of a giant panther or wolf in the crisp frozen snow? and then turn away as three older kids on BMX’s wobble unsteadily by. I want a BMX – but no way will I get one, not this Christmas. (Or the electronic Tron home arcade game I’d seen on TV). Nope, I’m due to get a “sensible bike”, but that will do me I guess. I was walking back from the Scout’s carol service, and no one had asked me to sing, but then at 12 your voice can go any time. Some of my mates, like Paul, well he already has a voice like Darth Vader. My voice, it’s more Minnie Mouse.
As I approach the house, the church bells loose off another thunderous peal, the bell ringers hurling defiance at the sodium orange tinted clouds overhead. Tea time, but seems to have been dark for hours, yet the open curtains of our little house – “our house in the middle of the street” – Madness are still in the Top Ten with that – anyway the windows cast bright squares of light on the thin crust of snow turned to ice.
Now the house is the hero of my story, so I’ll introduce it. Built a long time ago, it is exactly the same as all the other houses in the street. Like all of them it has been done up, and the little icy path to the loo at the bottom of the garden is redundant these days, replaced when I was little more than a toddler by the new brick built extension where the old kitchen was, with a modern bathroom and indoor loo. About 74, maybe 75? I have dim memories of sprinting freezing cold past the rhododendron bush and over the mossy path slick with slug trails to the icy confines of the loo up there, and the crisp feel of medicated toilet paper, horrid stuff but did not get damp no matter how bad the roof leaked. The privy in the garden, well it’s a tool shed these days – dad keeps his junk in there, when mum forces it out of the ‘dining room.’ Not often in winter; but right now the bits of radio, lawnmower, model aeroplanes and of course his illicit CB radios. Many a night he is in there, working on some US kit, sawing down aerials or doing whatever he does, if not busy talking in numbers to bored farm hands and passing lorry drivers. He tried ham radio, but the illegality of CB remains the thrill for a bored rebel like my dad.
Oh yeah the house. Well like many other houses – kitchen filled to the bursting with Christmas food we were forbidden to touch as the great day was not yet upon us, a tiny parlour with a turkey to big for the fridge sitting in a bowl of icy water, over which mum cooed and ah’d like it was a newborn, the front room where I tried to watch Top of the Pops if mum went to bingo that night, and enjoyed Terry & June if she didn’t, and the dining room which was really dad’s lair filled with his gadgets, machinery and rubbish. Upstairs three bedrooms, one quite bare and empty – I used to hurry past the open door at night, and slam it shut without looking in to the darkness. Mum said she heard someone died in there, a former tenant, but now it holds are racks and racks of old shirts, pullovers and spare bedlinen. Still gives me the creeps. My room and my parents: and the ‘new’ bathroom, all olive green fittings and deep blue walls slick with the steam of the piping hot bath water (if someone had remembered to turn the immersion heater an hour before at least).
There remains just one more thing- the loo. Olive green to match the bath – but who wants to hear about our toilet? Yet I’m afraid it is the toilet, this modern comfortable convenience, that is the heart of my story. Not the grim cold little privy long disused at the bottom of the garden, but this most convenient of all, well, modern conveniences. It was upon this very throne that five years ago on Christmas night Uncle Roger had passed in to eternity, just four months after Elvis met a similarly tragic fate.
Now I can’t recall much of that night, apart from the cheery ambulancemen wishing us all “a very Merry Christmas” as they wheeled out Uncle Roger’s corpse. What a way to go! Roger was my mothers brother, a kind jovial plump chap, who we all liked. We are far less keen on his wife, the rather glamorous Aunt Gladys. She hailed from somewhere in Surrey, and from a ‘good family’ I’m told, and they never really forgave her for marrying Roger; a provincial librarian was not what they had planned for a woman who was I am told in her day a prominent society type. I know Gladys as a women of decidedly uncertain complexion and very forthright views, who makes disapproval an art form. The thing she most disapproves of most in the world is my mother; dad however comes a close second, with the dog and I vying for third. Her (extremely infrequent) visits are ordeals, inspections, perhaps even inquisitions? She seems to take delight in being disappointed, and I had never known her to spend a single night under our roof. When Gladys and Roger came, it meant picking them up from the hotel, and not even a small sherry for dad till they were safely back in the Station Arms, where Gladys had made herself the least popular guest in that worthy establishments history. She likes like to criticize, does Gladys, and the staff take umbrage at her extremely honest (and lengthy) descriptions of her failings.
Enough! I must speed up this story, or I will be here all night. On getting in and tramping slush and ice over the carpet of the hall, I saw Dad in a state of wild agitation. He was carrying a milk crate stuffed with motor parts, bookies forms, long dead chequebooks and jam jars full of valves, defunct batteries and odd bits of wiring. No word was necessary; he as off to the outside privy, to put away as much as he could, and tomorrow he would drive to the skip to abandon three years cherished treasures. He was clearing the dining room; for the first time in 36 months, and only the second since we lost Uncle Roger, Gladys must be coming to visit, and last time had been a fleeting and unwelcome visit on legal matters. Gladys, or Mrs Broome-Verall, as I must not desperately attempt to remember to call her. The hour was at end, and the innocence of youth was gone, Christmas was no longer a time of cheer and goodwill, but a time of sterile manners and terrified politeness, amidst the hostile stilted chatter of my elders, and the long silences. Silence, because Mrs Broome-Verall as Gladys shall be henceforth, well she does not like the TV on. Television is a vulgar medium, as she is fond of saying.
OK, OK. This is supposed to be a ghost story, and I can tell by the look on your face you are bored with it already. Let’s cut to the chase…
It’s midnight now, Christmas Eve creeping in as the clock ticks on closer to Gladys and a Christmas ruined. Dad is furiously scrubbing something, mum shouting at the dog as she re-hoovers the front room for the fifth time– lucky old Mrs Siddons next door is deaf as a post, and I can faintly smell emulsion as dad has tried to make the dining room look respectable, OK, less shabby. I’m reading my mothers copy of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which adults have raved about for weeks and I just can’t see the humour in. Then it happens: a sharp, persistent rapping, loud enough to reverberate throughout the house.
The hoover instantly cuts out, and Dad lets slip a word I’ve never heard him use before, even after a dozen pints at one of his roisterous CB eyeballs at The Thorn. Debbie the Dog lets loose the most ghastly, unearthly howling. It’s like a game of freeze tag. We all stop, frozen by a dreadful realization – Gladys has come early. Even know she is standing outside, her prim pointy little nose doubtless growing icicles as her mood becomes more icy than the weather. For a moment the whole house seems to crouch in terror, the painful expectancy building. And then a sudden flurry of agitated violent raps breaks the calm, and I hear dad steeling himself for the horror to come stride manfully over and throw open the door. The whole world waits juddering in pace for a second; then anticlimax. No Gladys, no polite but frigid hugs, no sound of machine gun tutting as she enters. Just mum and dad laughing, and the sound of dad bouncing up the stairs, shouting down “well we know she is not here till three tomorrow” with a kind of wild joy. He does not bother to knock, but hurls open my door, and shouts at me “what’s with all the banging? You’ll wake the neighbours.”
And then it happened again. A short staccato burst of machine gun raps, sparking off Debbie’s howling again, and echoing clearly from along the passage. Dad actually jumped, as did I, so unexpected was it. In his jubilation at discovering Gladys was not already at the door, he had forgotten the violent knocking he had taken as an omen of this doom. Now he decided it was an omen of failing plumbing, and rejuvenated by the prospect of dismantling the hot water system shot off downstairs to find a spanner.
I wasn’t so sure, but the hour was late, and I needed the loo. I walked along the passage, and saw the basted door to the “haunted” room had swung open again, so averted my eyes and tugged it shut as I made the leap for safety in to the bathroom. Well nearly, even as I was barging in, a sudden flurry of deafening raps send me skidding backwards, the light snapping off in my hand as I fell on to the lino, and nearly wetting myself in terror, crawled back towards the sanctuary of my bedroom. That was how dad found me, clad only in Y fronts, crawling like a thing possessed away from the bathroom, waving the light cord like a trophy. I don’t think he knew whether to howl with rage, tears or laughter, but he chose the latter.
A while passed, the banging now seemingly over. Dad fixed the light cord with a quick knot, and set about dismantling the immersion, muttering about air blocks and lime scale build up but happy to have an excuse to take apart the whole system, however unnecessarily. In the meantime I discard Adrian and quickly dressed, as I hear mum calling with a certain urgency. Turns out all she wants is for me to pop next door and check old Mrs Siddons is alright. “After all dear, it would be awful if she had had a fall, and is lying there banging on the walls trying to get us to hear, and we did nothing – it being Christmas and all.” Biting back the urge to ask if it would be better if we left her to die slowly at Whitsun or Easter, I pulled on my old parka that no longer fits properly, and scrambled off on my errand of mercy.
On arriving at Mrs Siddon’s front door however I was rather lost. All the lights were off, and I could hardly knock till she awakened if she was safely asleep. Even if she did not mind me woken after midnight, and she is always up at 5am sharp to go get her morning paper, even if I she doesn’t mind, the noise it would take such a deaf old woman to come down would wake the rest of the street. And if she had fallen, and was lying somewhere in the darkness upstairs rapping on the wall for help, how was she meant to answer the door even if she heard me? I decided I’d best see if the back offered any more possibilities. I slipped back through our house, and heard mum saying in a hollow tone “and the stupid bitch still believes I poisoned him. I should have done to put him out of his misery with her, would have been be a mercy I tell you”. Even now Gladys arrival overshadowed everything it seems.
I tried to call the dog to follow me to the back garden, but Debbie was clearly upset. She had retreated in to the parlour, squeezing herself behind the beer crates and boxes of never used silver wedding gifts. Always does that if there is a row in the house, and spends most of her time there when Gladys is in the house,but just as well as Gladys can’t abide dogs. I nose out in to the garden, the sky still the colour of a muted electric fire from the myriads of street lamps. Then I recall mum’s dream.
It was just a few weeks after Uncle Roger had passed from us; mum had woken suddenly, having trouble sleeping. The funeral had not been a success, and the missing will and almost open hostility of Gladys to us all had really upset mum. I wasn’t meant to know about the dream, but I have heard her tell other story when she thinks I’m not listening. Maybe a dozen or more times now, and always in those hushed tones she adopts when talking of sad or strange things. On the night in question she had awakened, and heard a voice calling her name. She did not wake my father, but went to her bedroom window, and looked out, and there was real as life was Uncle Roger, deathly pale and clearly a corpse, staring up at her from by the rhododendron bush. She had really liked, indeed loved her brother, but in that instant she said she felt a chill of utter pure evil, and she threw herself backwards on to the bed, awakening herself and my father instantly. (I can still recall the muffled screams from them both – I just wondered what the hell they were up to, and deciding better not to ask, went back to bed. There are some things we are not meant to know, at least when it comes to your parents bedroom pursuits.)
My mother was not right for a few days after that, and she kept shaking. Dad told her Roger was probably still alive, having faked his own death and was doubtless hiding out from Aunt Gladys in the potting shed, but no, for once she failed to see the funny side. The “ghost” had really really upset her. However I could tell dad was worried, and a few days later he took mum off to see the doctor, who I think gave her “something for her nerves”. After that, normality slowly returned.
Anyhows as I walked through the frozen night garden, past that rhododendron bush, I shivered and I’m not sure it was entirely the cold. Then my blood ran – well not exactly cold, as it was freezing in my veins from being out there in the night, but the thumping in my ears told me it was doing something. From the privy I heard the phantom rattling of chains! After a second or two I realised, it was just the chain on the cistern blowing in the wind. Spooks! What rot! I steeled my nerves again, and climbed over the fence in to the inky blackness of Mrs Siddon’s yard.
Suffice to say this proved no more useful than the front; and actually I did not try very hard to find her, for there propped against the wall I discovered a shiny new bike, a 5 green gear racer, still firmly wrapped in Halford’s plastic. So this was where my Christmas present was concealed! When I finally got back in, there had been no more knocking, and mum and dad were demolishing the Christmas port and lemon. Given we had no central heating, not even storage heaters, I left them to their drinks and scurried off to my welcome bed, head racing with thoughts of what five gears could achieve on a downhill run.
Christmas Eve dawned with the frost staining my window in a fantastical pattern of faerie ferns. I jumped down the stairs, hoping my parents inevitable hangover from last night had not precluded them getting up and putting the electric fire on, to be greeted by the reassuring smell of toast and frying bacon. And I’m afraid nothing of interest happened for hours, not till maybe eleven, by which time the house was once again a whirling kaleidoscope of frenzied tidying, panicked squealing and near hysteric dusting. Only a few hours till the doom that is Gladys needs picking up from the station, and the lucky old hotel staff stand inspection for the first of her tirade of complaints. Soon after that, our turn! What that, isn’t this a ghost story? OK OK, I’ll move on…
It was just before noon it started up again. Mum and dad were arguing downstairs, in fact shouting quite loudly. I did not need to ask what about. I was upstairs, arranging the linen in airing cupboard. It was the banging again, clear, sharp, raps, and close by. In fact this time they seemed to be getting faster, indeed building in speed and momentum, until finally there was a tremendous rapidfire volley of sharp short cracks. And then I realised it was coming from the bathroom.
OK, it took a moment for that to sink in, and in that moment my parents stopped shouting, and the banging ended. I wandered in to the bathroom, and looked suspiciously at the taps, and dad started to come up stairs to see what was going on. Mum wasn’t having that – she had to get the last word in, and so she did, and as they started shouting again, I began to carefully inspect the plughole. Snap! Snap! Right behind me, causing me to yelp in sheer shock, the air knocked out of my lungs by the unexpected rapping. And then I saw the ghost.
You look relieved that I have finally got to the ghost, but I suspect you won’t be. What I saw was no misty apparition, not even a figure like mum’s dream of Uncle Roger: nope what I saw was the plastic toilet seat on our loo banging up and down, up and down, seemingly as if slammed with real venom, hatred even, by an invisible hand. I’m not a brave person – not even a strong willed one; but the effect was both so odd and so ridiculous I could do nothing but stand and stare, and then giggle, and finally laugh. The more I laughed, the harder it slammed, as if my jollity in the face of this unnatural phenomena, this sanitary convenience from the other side, was somehow annoying it. I must have laughed a good thirty seconds, and all the time the lid slammed with greater speed, until I heard both my parents running up the stairs. I cared not: I wanted them to see this. And then suddenly, a tremendous gurgling built up, and a strange watery voice issued forth from the cistern, crying “GET OUT!!!” I fled for my life down the passage, knocking my mother flying, and causing dad to pirouette in to the wall and fall clutching a long string of shiny tacky tinsel.
OK, time to leave this for tonight. I’ll finish the story later if anyone cares.
I’m extraordinarily tired, so what follows may make painfully little sense. Before I collapse in to my bed however I would like to quickly record my impressions of a wonderful weekend spent at a games convention called Consequences F. Don’t stop reading just yet though — this is not just about my usual roleplaying games hobby.
This weekend I have been Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle, a spiritualist medium in 1920′s Arkham attending a gallery opening, a troubled English aristocrat in 1938 England, a brave (but rash) young Viking warrior trying to prove himself, an industrialist on a backwater planet, an AI programmed to open a stargate, and … well the list goes on!
You may be familiar with the idea of murder mystery games, often played at dinner parties, where people dress up and play a character, trying to solve a mystery. They are a type of roleplaying game, but unlike “tabletop” games which are played with a group of frreinds, dice pencil and paper around (as the name implies) a table, these “freeforms” are a form of LARP (live action roleplaying). You walk around, talk to other players in character, and physically interact. Unlike the kind of LARP you occasionally see on Facebook or even the TV, these games are played without bashing one another with foam rubber weaponry. I think the Americans call this “theater style gaming”, but I’m not sure that is much more use, unless you realise all the actors in the game have freewill, and the script is determined by their actions and in character actions. No one knows whether the mystery will be solved, your chap will get the girl, your pig will win the contest, you starship will survive the battle; until it happens! A hard working teams of referees (GM’s) write the games, and cast characters, and you take your role and try and achieve your goals while everyone else tries to achieve theirs! The rules cover the outcome of inevitable conflict, but your ability to piece together information, understand clues, scheme and manipulate others or just convince folks your character is a nice person, that is what determines how you do.
Anyway Consequences (so called as it is held nine months after another games convention for tabletop games called “Conception”) is an annual freeform game convention held down in Naish, near Christchurch, Dorset. The site is a holiday camp, and all the players stay in chalets on site under bleak November skies, gathering in the main building to play whichever of the many games on offer have taken their fancy.
Now I can’t afford to go on holiday: I really, really can’t. However this year I went to another great gaming convention dedicated (mainly) to tabletop roleplaying games called Continuum up in Leicester, with my friends Lloyd and Hugh. There we met some lovely people (who shall remain nameless – I’m not going to name any other names, because people may not want their gaming hobby exposed ) who persuaded me that after five years of reading about Consequences this year we should all attend. So we saved up £78 each for a chalet for four nights (!!!) , Hugh agreed to drive, and we paid our £30 booking fees to attend the con. I had always thought Consequences sounded pricey – but that was because I mistook £312 or whatever a chalet costs as being the cost per person. Nope that is the cost per chalet, each of which has two twin and two double rooms — so in theory you could have 8 people stay for four nights for just £312 – less than a tenner per person per night. The trick is to go with a friend or two, and as the chalets are self catering this is possibly the cheapest holiday I have ever had, and i specialise in pretty cheap holidays when I taken them at all.
OK, so what happened? Well about a month ago, having paid up front in July, I suddenly realised I had best sign up for some games. I chose Starship Aries, a Star Trek style game, Dulce et decorum est (set in 1938 during the Munich Crisis), Midsummer Mischief based upon the characters of PG Wodehouse, Gallery of Shades a Cthulhu game set in the 1920′s and Come Hel or Hiawatha, a game set in Viking Vinland. There were many many more games, Tolkien inspired, Science Fiction – the space marines were very colourful to look at, and even some games set in Zelazny’s fantasy worlds of Amber. Hugh played a cyberpunk game Marlowe 2020, and a different one, Collision Imminent, set on a spaceship (he had a great time in both!)
OK my experience: after Continuum where the costuming had astonished me – people REALLY dress up – I was dreading having to costume for 5 games. However, I need not have worried as much – while my costumes were fairly cheap, as I borrowed, scrounged and improvised what I needed, anything from perfect historical dress to theatrical minimalism – a pair of mirror shades say for cyberpunk – was perfectly acceptable, and some folks who stepped in at the last moment for games did not costume at all. I could not costume for Gallery of Shades because I did not see my character till the day of the game, so I used the same outfit for the 1920′s as I had for 1938 — and that worked fine, but actually I found that dressing as a character and having a single prop (a book, a cabbage, whatever) helped me get in to character and probably enhanced my enjoyment of the game!
Getting down to Christchurch was a nightmare. Lloyd went ahead, and Mark a friend we met at Continuum who was sharing the chalet with us also drove down earlier. Hugh and I planned to set out quite early, but by mid afternoon gales and widespread flooding not to mention torrential rain had closed many roads, and we finally waited till 9.30pm before setting off, missing the first half day of the con. Luckily neither of us had signed up to any games till Friday. When we set off we agreed if conditions were too bad on Salisbury Plain we would just turn back, and the trip was to be honest pretty harrowing. The worst of the weather had passed over by the time we set out, but I honestly did not think we would be able to make it. Still by Marlborough I was more confident, and once we passed Salisbury things improved, and we arrived on site by half midnight.
Of course we were too late to sign in: luckily I knew the chalet number, and the others were there with keys, but if you have ever looked at the ranks of chalets in a holiday park in pouring rain in the teeth of a howling gale a hundred yards from the cliffs down to the English Channel on an icy November night, wondering just where ML65 might be, well you will appreciate our concern as we stood in the car park looking at a scene devoid of human activity, outside a locked reception!
Just then Lloyd hailed us. Quite by chance he had gone back to some folks chalet for drinks, and considerably the worse for wear had got lost wandering back, and had returned to Reception to get his bearings. We fell upon him like a guardian angel sent to deliver us – we might have kissed him had he not seemed so bewildered at our great joy in seeing him a few hours after we last had in Cheltenham. He directed us to the chalet, and we unloaded our many bags of costume, food, and necessities.
Wow! Chalets are far more luxurious than I recall. We had two toilets, a proper bath, a fully equipped kitchen, a TV, and it was all toasty warm. Despite the late hour we knocked up some food, greeted Mark with equal joy, and played a quick game of Dominion (a board game) before crashing out. I really recommend Naish as a holiday venue, though obviously it costs more in high season.
Friday morning saw me up at 8am, ready for the 9am start of Starship Aries, a game run by friends of mine. It was what is called a “horde” game; a very clever device by which some folks play one character for the whole game ( the starship bridge crew in this case) and others like me had up to 5 different roles to play, sequentially. I really enjoyed this — I was Ambassador Lexington, out to make contact with a frontier world, then I was … anyway I can’t really say. The wonderful thing about freeforms is you can run them many times with different players — and I can’t give spoilers, because I am sure this one will run again. Costuming required was also minimal – any black trousers and something red as a shirt , or blue if you were bridge crew. This worked just fine. The game lasted 3 or 4 hours, but I had no time to grow bored, as I had to keep changing roles and the fiendishly clever plot was worthy of (several) Star Trek episodes. I took part in a coup, failed to keep my secret relationship with my professor very secret, and almost destroyed the Starship Aries: but they are not spoilers, as if the game runs again whoever runs the characters I had will do things completely differently I’m sure.
After Starship Aries it was back to the chalet to dress in white tie, or some semblance thereof, for dinner at Markyate Manor, home to the Viscount Markyate. The Athertons in 1938 are a troubled family, and Geoffrey who I played was certainly troubled with reason. I am afraid I can say almost nothing about him or what transpired, but this was emotionally intense dramatic gaming about people more than plot, and was one of the best games I have ever played of any type, freeform, tabletop or whatever. It helps (if a chap at least) if you have some knowledge of the period, and the politics and issues of the time, but after the first half hour that need faded for me as Geoffrey’s own personal issues and goals became increasingly paramount. The character sheet was brief, and I had no clearly laid out goals; nor did it tell me how Geoffrey felt about things, leaving that for me to decide. I knew facts about what had happened in the past – my own response to them was however left to me as Geoffrey, and a few very simple events quickly spun me in to a web of intrigue, mystery, complicated romantic and familial relationships and an increasingly rising pace until I suddenly heard a referee call “5 minutes left” and realised I had spent three or more hours completely immersed in being Geoffrey, and that I needed to do something to try and resolve the desperate situation I found myself in. Geoffrey had a final scene talking with his father, a terribly fumbled pass at a French opera star as he stalked out, and a rather harrowing leave taking of his family. Even I don’t know exactly what he did after he shouted his final sardonic farewell to the assembled guests and walked out in to the night. Epic stuff! I’m no actor, and I hope my bumbling at times portrayal of Geoffrey did not spoil anyone else game, but I did really get in to this one, and liked the character a great deal, whatever his (many) flaws. Dulce et decorum est is certainly an apt title for this game: very highly recommended.
After a quick meal in the chalet I was back to gaming, this time in the 1920′s for Gallery of Shades. I had mixed feeling about this one. I have loved HP Lovecraft since boyhood, love the Cthulhu Mythos, and am particularly fond of Robert W Chambers King in Yellow cycle. I have written a book for Call of Cthulhu; I own almost everything for that game, and loved Cthulhu Live, running a very successful Cthulhoid larp with it over seven weekends in the year 2000. Yet recently Cthulhu has become a constant geek cliché, and is endlessly parodied, and HPL has become increasingly reinterpreted in more and more parodic and playful ways. There is even an episode of Supernatural I am told that references Lovecraft and the game Call of Cthulhu! Furthermore I know from experience of running my own games that doing scenarios about the king in Yellow and Hastur cycle are extremely hard, if the players are to have any meaningful input in to the outcome. I fear my reservations on this as least proved true.
I finally signed up for Gallery of Shades because the referee is known to be outstanding, and the level of game prep in terms of the game environment was very high. That however is no replacement for a pre-game issue at least the day before of a character sheet so one can dress for the part, and think about how to play the role. I actually liked the character, someone who had experienced an apparition with an enigmatic message and had become a medium — but I would have asked to play a very different role if I had the chance to fill in a casting questionnaire. The reason why was the fist few minutes of the game, when none of us were sure if we were “in character” or “out of character”. Some poor soul asked me “what can you tell me about the theories of ghosts?” I was really pleased someone was interested in my research and replied in character (just in case) limiting my response to the state of the topic in 1927. I fear I may have bored them to death — this essay of mine is pretty much what I related, though it brings the survey of the field up to date. At least I was not asked to play a parapsychologist (though Tischner does not coin that phrase I think until 1929 — So I mean psychical researcher I guess )
There was another moment once the game was in full swing a while later that shows the perils of trying to keep in character and out of character knowledge separate – my character had been intensely religious in youth, so when it came to the inevitable debate with a vicar suspicious of my spiritualism, I was ready to quote scripture and make theological arguments. The poor vicar’s player of course can not be expected to counter that, as they have probably not thought about the issues quite as much as an Anglican ghost hunter like the real life me — but they took it in good grace, and we laughed about it, and broke off the conversation when it was clear that I was going to go the full ten rounds. I still felt a bit of an arse about it, and thereafter limited myself strictly to what it said on my character sheet, however likely I thought it the character would know something about Spiritualism.
Anyway this started out as a great game: and it ended wonderfully, with some incredible effects. However… I am not one to critique others games. I have written what I am sure were lousy games, and some players probably avoid me after one bad experience. The set up here though became intensely frustrating – it was not that we could not do things – we did all kinds of things, and there were some wonderful pieces of characterisation, the suffragette was amazing, the decadent flapper Greta a perfect mix of boredom, indifference and sensual amorality, the utterly insane (literally) lady in the burgundy dress was magnificent, and Walters, Bream and others fine characters and great fun to play with – the PI and I had our moments too – nothing wrong with the characters, they were all great, or the players – nope, the problem was we felt we could not do anything to resolve the issue we faced. The game went on an hour to long, because the person who needed to act in a certain way to provoke the next scene did not realise it, and despite my best efforts to find the catalyst, it seemed a very long time till the resolution, while a few players appeared to me bored and not committed, as they felt there was no way to influence the outcome?
This is a game by one of the finest freeform authors there is: it has a magnificent climax, but in disempowering the characters, and driving them to madness frustration and a realisation of cosmic futility, it is important not to alienate the players. That is a very hard trick to pull off. For a few I don’t think it worked. This was a first run, and Gallery of Shades should certainly run again, but it needs a few minor tweaks to give those battling to save their characters sanity a sense of small gains, and large losses, rather than a static brick wall of frustration and inevitable doom, no matter how Lovecraftian that may be in essence. Recommended for future runs, but needs a tiny bit of work. I enjoyed it though.
Friday night the Belgian contingent threw a wonderful chalet party, and I got to chat to some of the other delegates I had not met before. This was a great part of the whole experience. I woke up late on Saturday, perhaps at ten, and I had taken a whole day off gaming. A friend came down to visit us, and we enjoyed a long walk with Lloyd around the beach and cliffs, and down the “bunny” and back. In hindsight I probably could have played another game on Saturday – everyone has their own endurance on how many games they can face in a day,and two I think might be my limit really; perhaps tiredness leads one to not enjoy a game as much as you should.
Saturday night however was to prove amazing, for me at least. I was off to Blandings Castle – my castle in fact, for I was Lord Emsworth, and with the county fete just four days away I was determined the Empress of Blandings my prize pig would take the prize. Midsummer Mischief is a perfect slice of pure Wodehouse, and whoever the authors were, I wish to thank them for this heavenly madness. There referees did an outstanding job, time flew by (one day an hour, and four hours till the end) and one had a real sense of freedom to scheme, plot, interact and do some pretty odd and very very silly things.
Now one of my biggest fears in any game where I get a chance to play an over the top character is that I will spoil it for others with my rather exuberant performance in the role – I certainly never wanted it to get too silly, because then comic characterisation fails as absurdism creeps in. It can work in a Monty Python sketch, but there is one episode of Father Ted that I felt became just marginally too surreal: for me a brilliant comic character is like Basil in Fawlty Towers extreme but (just about) believable. I’m hoping I managed to stay just the right side of the line, and keep dear old Emsworth eccentric but acceptably so, rather than making him a thin parody! However some players clearly liked my Emsworth, which genuinely surprised me, but I guess it was my sheer love of the character and the enthusiasm and real joy I found in playing the role that shone through, whatever the deficiency in my “acting”. Beach was absolutely perfect in the role, Connie and the other two sisters present were fantastic, and Pru and her bloody cats, Vee and Aggie and their romantic arrangements, blasted Freddie my son and the insufferable Popjoy all kept me running around in increasing panic, while bloody Huxley — I can say no more. Maudie the librarian was great, and Lord Vosper with the pig kept me so so paranoid, while that slime Parsoe-Parsoe (beautifully played) outwitted me as I expected. I should have asked Gally to biff him!
This is an older game, and the use of item cards can to me be distracting, as can the multiple envelopes and sub-systems of the rules certain players need to know, but it all works perfectly. I don’t recall speaking to a ref once in Dulce in decorum est – there was simply no need, the game ran itself. Gallery of Shades needed a couple more refs, Starship Aries was just right, but the three referees in Midsummer Mischief were worked off their feet and served admirably. They were marvellous, simply marvellous. I can not give a best game, as they were so VERY different, but Dulce and Midsummer are certainly among the best games I have ever played, and if you love Wodehouse you must play this game!
Saturday night saw an amazing chalet party, and astonishingly good hospitality, plenty of booze (which I did not partake of ) and great company. I’d like to thank our hosts, and hope the chalet survived the influx! I was home by 4.30am and in bed by five — shame I had to be up at eight thirty today…
The final game of the weekend for me was Come Hel or Hiawatha, a fun game set in Vinland. Some Vikings have landed in the wake of an earlier failed expedition, and met the natives, the Skraelings. Plots involve the tense negotiations between the two parties, tempered by romances, personal ambition and the epic consumption of mead. Strange things are afoot, and my character was a rash young Viking warrior, who I played as wildly impulsive, hotheaded and not exactly bright. I hope that I did not take it too far, but I did really enjoy the character, and while he had the same name (Gunnar) as my dad, they were very very different Vikings! My character married the girl of his dreams and gave up on a career as a warrior to farm ducks. I called them all Anders, in case you were wondering.
This is a gem of a game, that could be played slightly comically, or totally straight. We played it straight, with my character providing occasional moments of mild comic relief from the tense negotiations. Well crafted, definitely worth playing!
OK, so we left after the closing ceremony, Hugh driving back through driving rain, but finding time to take in the Rufus Stone, Stonehenge and Avebury en route. I had a great weekend, and if anyone is interested in learning more about Consequences or Freeforming do check it out or email me: a good place to start with friends at home might be these excellent games.
A wonderful memorable weekend, but I’m off to bed.
‘Tis Halloween night, and CJ can look out on the street, confident that soon ghosts will come a rapping and knocking at his door. Goblins and Vampires too – and while recording the knocks echoing through the maison CJ will not add anything to Dr. Barrie Colvin’s research efforts, these rather tangible spooks will need feeding, so I have bought in some chocolate bars. The wind is howling across the roof, and the rain lashes the window – how long till we hear the low rumble of approaching thunder? Perfect Halloween weather I guess!
Since the early 90′s I don’t think I have had many Halloween’s at home. It’s TV, or radio, or a public lecture, but this year while the Trick of Treaters will come knocking, the media haven’t. I can’t say I mind. I could do with the money; a sum like that with things as they are– but actually, if you think paranormal TV or writing on spooks make you rich, you are (as you may have gathered from this blog) seriously misguided. Nope, it will be nice to be home, and yet I feel a trifle neglected.
Yesterday Becky successfully defended her thesis on “A Century of Apparitions”, for her PhD on spooks. She still has revisions to make to the thesis before final submission, but I guess it’s nice to have a girlfriend who is an expert in the area. Sadly she is in Derby tonight, so I’ll be warding off the undead without her expert advice. I received a research grant this year from the SPR to look at poltergeists: well I will, and am actively researching. Not tonight though! You might think with my background in this area I might want to go out and party, or sit at home and watch The Exorcist or something, but actually I have asked some friends round to play a Halloween roleplaying game. Yeah, I know, a bit dull for this old ghostbuster. I’m really looking forward to it though.
Now I could write a lot about the history of Halloween, and why it’s really a Christian festival not a pagan one historically, and why I don’t think that matters a fig and wish all my pagan friends a wonderful Samhain, I won’t, because I have done no original research on the matter. I will just point you to Prof . Ronald Hutton’s Stations of the Sun, if you are outraged by this claim, and you can read his brilliant academic work in the area. Ron is a pagan, and he can say these things without the local moot throwing chairs at him, unlike me. Ah the good old days!
Nostalgia, it’s not what it used to be. Anyway I think back to 1985, when Hugh and I ran our first Cthulhu based live action roleplaying game on Halloween. My parents were away, and we had a group of friends investigate a mystery in our “haunted house”, which had other players dressed up as ghouls in truly horrific monsters, and all kinds of carefully created special effects. Some Trick or Treaters knocked on the door, and were greeted by JB in a full monster costume made for horror impact not Halloween kitsch, and offer them a huge (real) heart. They fled: it was an ox-heart, we had acquired from the butchers – kidney, sheep’s eyeballs and other visceral props were carefully positioned, but I kind of feel sorry for those poor kids. I’d have stopped JB if it had not coincided with one of the players stepping through the cucumber frames in the dark – luckily Axel was not seriously hurt. Anyway the game was fantastic, the players genuinely scared, and the final scenes in the woods near Fornham absolutely terrify, even tome as referee. I hope Hugh dug up the bones he had placed in a parka anorak, and removed the dummy swinging on from the tree afterwards. It was the first “murder mystery” type horror game I ever ran, and while I have run many many more the first is always the best in some ways! Nowadays we would use less fake blood and real meat, and actually use more sophisticated props, but hey we were just kids. If anyone ever wants a game like this run for their friends, you can email me (email@example.com) and my new more vegan-friendly games I will happily run for you and your friends I guess, though it would help if you offer to pay me!
It probably helped that I did not believe in ghosts back then – that was not to change till 1987 and the Thetford Priory incident. I guess if you want a Halloween ghost story, that is as good as any…
Soon after I was off to study for my degree, and in the small Church college I attended Halloween was regarded with deep suspicion by many of the Christian Union. Nothing like the suspicion they regarded me or wicked Uncle DC with. Still the uni (as it became) had Halloween Discos, I think only Hugh ever managed to traumatize people with his Halloween costume. Once I joined the SPR I used to argue I should get the discount for fancy dress as I was dressed up as a ghosthunter, and I did actually manage this one year, so notorious was I. Soon after I founded the Student Parapsychology Society, and every day was Halloween then, not just Halloween at Christmas. My years in the CPRG, SPS and various other groups meant I was often running around at Halloween, and paranormal TV meant it was a time you were always at work.
Hey I could reminisce all night, but soon the ghosts and goblins will approach my door. I had best go and stock up on more chocolate, and buy some tacky Halloween mask I guess just for once I should enter in to the spirit of the season, but to be honest, Halloween is probably one f my least favourite events of the year: perhaps because it normally means work, perhaps because familiarity breeds contempt. For every else, have a wonderful safe and happy Halloween folks, and I’ll pray for you benighted souls as the forces of darkness creep closer to your doors…
And as a strange sadness creeps over me, I’m thinking of Crowley-cat, his shade prowling round his old home tonight I’m sure! I miss you boy, I really do. And on that note, here is my favourite Halloween song, with the best video I can imagine for it. Tonight, while the ghosts of Houdini and Lovecraft play checkers in the hereafter, I’ll remember those great sceptics too, and hope you enjoy this little slice of American Gothic.
First up, do me a favour. If you don’t know or care about Ars Magica, but you enjoy strategy games, or fantasy games, or history games, go to this Kickstarter and think about pledging $20. If it funds, you get a download of the game when it is completed. If the funds aren’t raised, your money never leaves your account. $20. Do it for CJ I’m not involved with the project, but this is a computer game based on the rpg I spend my life writing books for, so I’m keen to promote it as hard as I can If you help fund, and later play and enjoy the computer game,perhaps one day you will understand what this whole Ars Magica thing is about So $20 – and you either don’t have to pay if it fails, or you do and get a cool game.
I’m pretty sure all fans of Ars Magica were delighted to hear about the kickstarter to raise funds to allow the funding of an Ars Magica based computer game set in the Schism War, and a lot of people would like to know more. Funding is going well, but after 4 days the project is still only 10% funded, so I think it’s vital now to push it as hard as possible, and let as many people hear about the project as I can. I think it probably will fund, but I am an optimist: yet very few roleplaying games have the beauty of setting and design that Ars Magica provides, and a lot of people who might never want to play the tabletop rpg might be excited by a game of wizards in England in the century of the Norman Conquest. Atlas Games have licensed it: if funding allows it will go ahead!
Now I won’t explain in detail what a Kickstarter is, or what Ars Magica is - basically a Kickstarter is a way to raise funds for a creative project, and you buy in at a certain level, pledging money if the project funds. If it funds in 30 days your money is debited and you receive certain rewards, based upon the level of your pledge – if the project is even a dollar short of the total, no one pays anything at all, and the project never goes ahead.
The guys at Black Chicken have a history of delivering high quality computer games, and are also genuine fans of the Ars Magica system – so here is my (slightly redacted) light hearted interview with them!