It just struck me that I have never written about ghosts of Cheltenham, and considering former SPR President Robert H. Thouless wrote that one of our famous apparitions was among “the best attested in the annals of haunting” I thought I should. It’s tempting to start there, with the famous Cheltenham Ghost, as I have done a lot of original research on the case over the years, but I’m pushed for time today so instead I will write briefly about some other Cheltenham spooks.
A Rosehill Ghost Busted!
It seems fitting, as I first came to Cheltenham to attend the university (then the College of St. Paul and St. Mary) to begin there. Let’s go back to late September/ early October 1987, when I have just arrived and lived on the Rosehill Campus (which no longer exists). I was living in the East Wing Flat of John Priestley House, with a couple of other lads, in Halls of Residence (and shortly thereafter moved to Fullwood Halls on the Park Campus as it happens). I had had my experience at Thetford Priory only a few months before, and another strange experience I rarely tell back in Suffolk. I was very open to ghost stories at this time in my life!
One morning I woke up to find my flat filled with some of the Rec Studies students, big hefty sport lads. Turned out they had fled their rooms in one of the modern brick houses surrounding JPH (also Halls) because of a ghost! In fact I seem to recall some actually stayed in our flat for a few days. My memory is rubbish now, but I do recall the story pretty well though I have not told it as much as I have the Thetford story. If anyone can add more, or correct me, do comment or email me.
It seems that the “ghost ” was actually pretty innocuous – it was the sound of a ball bouncing down the main staircase, heard every night at the same time. At first it had gone unnoticed, until they were told the story of a depressed student who had hanged him or herself by the rather strange method of balancing on a medicine ball at the top of the stairs, and kicking it away, before dying. The ball bounced down the stairs, and that is the sound heard today – so the grim legend went. Of course, it all makes very little sense, but interestingly the witnesses were clearly hearing something.
I was caught up in the first week of college and homesickness, but I found time to make enquiries. No student had committed suicide in the building in question (and indeed any on that campus, and given it was with the exception of JPH fairly modern and the people I asked had all been around before it was built they would know!) and the legend was just that – a story that had arisen to scare Freshers. However, my flatmates and others went and heard a dull thudding sound, as described. In fact I seem to recall I gave them a flat bed Panasonic tape recorder to tape the sound, but whether they did or not I know not. It was getting softer over the two or three days of the phenomena, less audible.
The cause of the spook was now discovered. In the buildings the hot water tank and gas boiler were in a sort of cupboard area under the stairs, safely locked away. The building, empty of students and unheated over the summer holiday had become damp and cold; as the heating came on each evening the stair joists dried out, warmed up and expanded, causing the thudding. No ghost – just building noises. You can always find out of a “ghost” is caused by this by resetting the time your central heating turns on and seeing if the “ghost” follows suit. It only happens normally when you first turn it on for the year, in England in late September/early October, in other words about the time students come back.
Sadly nearby Pittville Campus had no ghost stories I am aware of.
Frances Close Hall really looks like it should be haunted, though doubtless Dean Close chased all the spooks of The Marsh as the area was called before he developed it and built the college around 1849 away. Tennyson called him the “Protestant Pope of Cheltenham” and despised him, and even today his reputation seems to be of an incredibly strong and rather scary religious fanatic, though he was greatly loved by the working people of Cheltenham at the time. I have been all round FCH at every time of day and night and seen and heard nothing, though there was in the late 1980′s a story that the corridor from the main staircase to the library which has a modern faux-Roman mosaic with the Latin phrase for the “legend lives on” was haunted, and students avoided collecting their post at night for fear of what they might encounter. Some said it was the ghost of a Roman legionnaire, which seems rather unlikely given the modern date of the mosaic! I never lived in halls at FCH (no longer a Hall of Residence but still very much a campus) and so am reliant on J.K. and Steve Wood for these vague rumours. If you know more, do email me! While a Roman soldier is out of place at F.C.H it would make perfect sense at Oxstall Campus i believe, but again I know of no alleged hauntings there.
Again, Hardwick Halls had no ghostly reputation that I am aware of, and neither did The Folley. Shaftesbury Hall did have rumours in it’s declining days after it’s sale by the college when it was being run as a jazz club and community centre in a state of increasing dereliction, but I never found any evidence of any haunts (some of the buildings opposite do have good stories however.) The only story I heard that seemed to have a slight ring of authenticity was stories about the Theatre being the source of loud noises and annoyance to the priests who live nearby after it was derelict and long boarded up and empty. I suspect they were hearing noises from Gas night club (later Chemistry I think) across the road, or the short lives Rhythm Rooms in the old Shaftesbury bar. However there is an interesting ghost story concerning the public passageway which runs behind the former Shaftesbury Campus and St. Greg’s church next door, where you can still walk it being a public footpath. I won’t tell it here now because it is not technically a university ghost, but will return to it later!
Ghosts of the Park Campus
And so we come to the place I know and love the best, the Park Campus. I still recall the legend of the Black Duck of Fullwood, a giant black vampire duck that ate Freshers, invented by Martin Peters I think to take the mickey out of my interest in spooks in 1987. It was a running joke. There is one oddity that if I was more inclined to believe my own senses might have been construed as a time-slip. Soon after arriving to live in Fullwood Halls (since demolished; the villas are on the site, but the Refectory and Principal’s House still stand) I wandered down to the lake with my good friend J.K, and turning right we found a lovely paved areas with a bench and little well tended area. A couple of days later we returned, finding the whole place far more overgrown than we remebered, and the bench missing. (if you find the paved spot and look in the water you will see what is probably the legs of it). We remarked at the time that it seemed to have all changed. The most likely explanation is someone threw the bench in the water; still it was replaced, and there is still one there today.
I love the lake and will haunt it one day. Sadly the swans seemed to have gone and been replaced by geese, but I wonder if the 6′ plus catfish still lurks in there? He was immense and monstrous, and it took several sightings by me before my friends believed me after I saw it.
Fullwood inevitably had a ghost story, told by a porter, though I never tracked the fellow in question down, and I knew many of them. It is recounted in Bob Meredith and Peter Reardon’s little book on local ghosts Cheltenham Town of Shadows, and having not asked for permission I will not repeat it here. You can still find it in some shops or second hand here – I can’t believe people are selling it new for £20 and £70, when it is really a very small booklet! Recommended. Ross Andrew’s Paranormal Cheltenham is well worth picking up – I reviewed it for the SPR here.
Anyway the ghost story took place on I think D South, far above the roofs of the current villas, in the now demolished Fullwood Halls. What the bombs of the Luftwaffe failed to achieve (they damaged the north wing in 1941) improved fire regulations made inevitable, but I knew the area well, and lived on B floor for three years without ever hearing anything of the ghost! Still, we do have one real ghost story where I interviewed the witness myself from the Park Campus, and being pushed for time I shall recount it here and then sign off for today. Here is the story as it appeared at the time on the uni website, written by, as usual, me… I have updayted it in [square brackets] where clarification is needed thirteen years later.
Cheltenham, May 3rd 1996
The SPS is based here at the Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education [today the university of Gloucestershire - CJ], and it is interesting to be able to report our first College ghost story in the society’s history. Pseudonymns have been used throughout, but the facts are all correct. I would like to remind would be ghost-hunters that the College is private property and that trespassers are likely to be eaten by the famous College guard dogs and security officers!
The setting for the sighting is Fullwood Hall of residence, which was my home for three years in the late 80′s. I must state at this point that I have never in my ten-year association with the College heard of any similar sighting, so we must assume this was a one-off…
On Friday 3rd of May 1996 the college staged a ‘May Ball’. It was a fancy dress event, on the theme of 60′s/70′s/80′s music. A good time was had by many.
At about 1.30am Amy and her partner Bill had returned to Amy’s room on ‘D’ West on the third storey of the building. The room’s window overlooks a semi-quadrangle, open at one side, covered in grass and with two trees. [Note: this area is immediately north of the Principal's House, D West being the then designation for student rooms up there. The grass area still exists as far as I recall, near the modern villa's]
Amy was looking out of the window, when she saw a woman standing by a tree. The woman was wearing a white dress, had dark hair, and a broad brimmed white hat with several large white feathers protruding. The style of dress was described by the witness as that of an Edwardian lady.
Amy was interested in the woman and observed her for what she estimates to have been three minutes. The woman then walked around the tree and stared at the [presumably "in the direction of" - the line of vision would be blocked by trees and the rise] lake. The area is very well lit; Amy noted the shadow of the tree but no shadow from the figure, which appeared perfectly solid.
Suddenly panicked she went to call Bill who came to the window – taking perhaps thirty seconds. The figure had vanished. It seems highly unlikely that the figure could have ran out of sight in that time, though the possibility of entering the building by a door or window must be admitted, and in a brief test I was able to sprint up to trees and cover in about twenty seconds.
You can read an account of a poltergeist investigation in a student house I did on my blog here.
The University’s Student Parapsychology Society (Defunct!)
For about a decade the university had a student society, the SPS or Student Parapsychology Society, founded by me and deeply involved in investigating spooks etc. (I’d like to see it reborn – contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about this, or tell me a uni or college ghost story, or comment below). I was rather amused to find the old programme of events…
SPS Meetings Spring Term 2000
SPS meetings are held from 5.30pm – 7.30pm every Wednesday of term, and are open to all students. Students should e-mail John Madden for details of lecture locations.
Wk 1 Careers in Parapsychology… CJ
Wk 2 Theories of the Poltergeist
Wk 3 Experimental Psi Research
Wk 4 Modern Resarch in Survival of Bodily Death
Wk 5 The Case for Survival; A Debate
Wk 6 Investigations in the History of Psychical Research… CJ
Wk 7 Do we need a new Psychical Research?
Wk 8 Guest Lecture… speaker to be announced
Wk 9 Psychiatry and Psychical Research
Wk 10 Christianity and Psychical Research: The Power of Prayer?
Wk 11 The Ley of the land; Parapsychology, Earth Mysteries and Cultural History…CJ
I note with wry amusement that 9 weeks talks were given by me, and they really were lectures with handouts, coursework and everything! Oh how I miss those days with the “spusslings” and our bottles of little dead guy wine – they still sell it in what is now Sainsbury’s Bath Road I noticed today! One grows old so fast.
If you have any university or otherwise ghost stories do share them with me – email@example.com, or comment below
On Thursday I’m Talking Ghosts At Skeptics In the Pub, Cheltenham Science Festival Fringe. Controversy May Ensue :D
A quick update seems in order. It’s Tuesday 12th June and The Times Cheltenham Science Festival is under way. I’m still wondering why the brochure appears to feature a perspex butt plug though? Or is it just Global Melting, like Global Warming but hotter? Anyway so far I have seen no events, simply because I have not yet got up and gone out except for a quick trip to acquire breakfast. Secondly, I have a talk to write!
No, the Festival organisers have not gone mad. Every year however Cheltenham Skeptics In The Pub run a wonderful Fringe programme – last year I saw the Festival of the spoken Nerd and Dr Harry Witchell on the Science of Dating. This year the programme looks just as exciting, and while it gets little attention the Fringe Events are excellent and well worth attending if you are in town for the Science Festival. I was thinking of going through the whole run down, from Dark Matters to Science Show Offs on Saturday, but the website does that better than I can. Also these events are all FREE, with a donations bucket being passed around if you want to give (Being Skeptics it’s a bucket not a collection plate – there may be some subtle symbolism I’m missing?)
So I am trying to write my talk on The Science of Ghosts for Thursday night…
Now most of my friends so far seem to respond with “there isn’t any!”. Given I have spent twenty five years studying it, I think there is — but as a recent row on the Rational Skepticism forum suggests, a lot of people think that when I say “ghosts” I mean “Dead Guys” ( & Dead Gals too). This is unfortunate, because it is all a lot more complicated than that. I could say I take a phenomenological approach, rather than making an ontological claim, but I think people would just look at me funny, and I don’t mean phenomenological in the sense of Philosophy they might also think I’m nuts. So just to be clear, I’m looking at how we study two things: the ghost experience, and the causes thereof. (“Tough on Ghosts, Tough on the Causes of Ghosts”? If you want to be really bored you can read my ASSAP conference talk here: this one will be faster, funnier cover very different ground and have more “science” whatever that means!
Anyhow this year my talk will be mercifully free of asides on the philosophy of science, epistemology and other big words too. In fact it will be a) light hearted, b) loud, c) visual (I’m using a lot of video or whatever you call the digital equivalent) clips and also very hands on. Yes I’m running some little experiments and audience participation events, because well, why ever not? So be prepared for Circle Dancing, Knocking On Wood, learning the Power of Expectation and Suggestion, and I’m even doing a little jokey tribute to Bem’s precognition research, which sounds deadly dull, but isn’t at all, at least in my version I hope.
So is there any Science of Ghosts? Yes, way, way too much to even just list the areas covered in the time I have, unless I over run by a week. I think the best way to go is to keep the first half light hearted and fast moving. I have been through loads of topics I could cover, and have thought about presenting on a little of everything, but in the end I have chosen just two topics for the first bit that I can present well upon and have never given a talk on before, one of which is very suited to hands on experimentation.
One thing that seems to confuse a lot of people is why I am talking at Skeptics In The Pub. Paranormal Believers often seem to regard Skeptics, or as us non-Americans usually call ‘em, Sceptics, as the enemy. (Why do we use the American spelling? Is it to prove we know Greek or something?) Skeptics/Sceptics think people like me who spend our time on parapsychology are all woos, unless they have heard of us (Chris French and Richard Wiseman are exempt from this it seems. Stuart J Ritchie probably still gets called a woo, as he is not yet a household name?). I’m desperately hoping that Professor Brian Cox might show to run a picket line and to tell people I’m an utter nobber, but sadly feel that highly unlikely.:D
Anyway why am I talking at a Skeptic’s meeting? Well I have always regarded myself as a sceptic. Yes I’m a methodological sceptic, and sometimes I come to conclusions that sit uncomfortably with other sceptics, but I do believe firmly that doubt and “rational sceptisicm” are the only way forward and are central to the scientific method, or rather most scientific methods, as I don’t think there is only one. It often amuses me that I am far less certain of many things than self-proclaimed forum sceptics who are absolutely rock solid in their beliefs where I have little more than an ever expanding list questions, a lot of data, and a few tentative, provisional conclusions. I encounter this time and time again on the JREF and other forums: people whose faith is stronger than mine.
Anyway, enough rambling. I have a talk to write. I’ll let others decide if I am a Fake Sceptic or not. Whatever you think about ghosts and parapsychology, the questions it raises for Science, how we do Science, how we communicate Science and what constitutes real Science are vital, or so I am inclined to think. I hope some of you will come a long and heckle, whether sceptic or believer!
Here are the talk details
Thursday, June 14 2012 at 7:30PM
40 Clarence St
What’s the talk about?
Ghosts don’t exist, all skeptics know this, right?. Yet even a skeptic can experience a “ghost”, and when one does all kind of awkward questions arise. That was what happened to CJ, and the story of how he became involved in parapsychology, spent twenty five years investigating hauntings and became embroiled in working in paranormal television for a decade before ending up with far more questions than when he started may amuse and hopefully cause you to question your own deep seated beliefs on the subject. Learn the inside view behind shows like Most Haunted, and why despite everything for CJ at least the serious research must continue.
So can Science really address the ghost experience? For 120 years scientists have wrestled with the question of what is really going on when people think they see ghosts, and in this talk CJ promises to present a whistle stop tour of the science that has been published in the field, good, bad and bogus. Can science finally exorcise our ancient fears of the unquiet dead, and explain the night hag? Are buildings haunted, or is it people? And what should you do if you actually see a spook? If that seems unlikely, come along, and find out how you could
The event is FREE, but we will be shaking the Skeptic-Bucket to cover costs
In terms of UK Science, I can’t think of a bigger name than Martin Rees, or to give him his proper title, Baron Rees of Ludlow. President of the Royal Society, Astronomer Royal, with if you will pardon the pun a stellar career in academia, and author of a number of highly acclaimed books, one of which, Just Six Numbers, I frequently reference and quote as it is so beautifully and clearly written. When it comes to the public understanding of science Lord Rees is a giant, and I think many of my generation accord him the respect my dad holds for Sir Patrick Moore for sheer verve in presentation. Suffice to say I have immense respect for the chap, and when I heard that he was speaking and Dave R offered to buy us both tickets I leapt at the chance.
This was the best attended of all the events I went to all week, held in the EDF tent, and sponsored by Winton Capital, a hedge fund management company about whom I know nothing but am delighted that they chose to sponsor this event so if you have money unlike me I guess you should have a look at their site, and their reputation is very good I was told. The whole Science Festival was also sponsored by Pfizer — while I am known for my distaste for the world of finance and “big business”, I thoroughly applaud and respect those companies who invest in science education so I have taken the time to mention them, and hope you understand and will bear them some good will for their generous corporate sponsorship. Well done to them all for investing in our future.
So anyway, it was very busy, and I was surprised at how the demographic had shifted; the audience was on average older, with a higher proportion of men, but also ranged from maybe 7 to their mid to late 80′s, all united by their love of astronomy. It was heartening to see so many people there, especially given the torrential rain and high winds that buffeted the marquee alarmingly. Indeed after the sunshine of the last few days the Science Festival in the rain was a desolate sight.
The talk opened with a picture of Sir Isaac Newton (“a really unattractive man”) and after that laugh was spiced with humour throughout. Newton in the Principia calculated the velocity needed for a cannonball to enter orbit, which I always find hard to envisage as what it is, a kind of endless falling! And then we were off, for a really wide ranging discussion of all kinds of fascinating aspects of space, from the scales of the universe, cosmic inflation, event horizons through Cosmological Fine Tuning (on which Rees was admirably open minded saying the question can not currently be resolved as far as I could make out), manned versus robotic space travel and much much more.
One thing that really shocked me was when Lord Rees pointed out that there is only 66 years from the Wright Brothers first powered flight to the first men walking on the moon, some 42 years ago now. I thought for a moment that our knowledge of space may be stagnating, then I realised as Rees spoke on the tremendous achievements of those 42 years in terms of unmanned space exploration, and thought of my shock on first seeing pictures taken on Mars, and just how far our probes have gone – Voyager is now approaching the edge of the solar system. Still from Kitty Hawk to the moon in less than a single lifetime – indeed my grandmother lived through both events, and long enough to see the Pathfinder missions to Mars, yet as she once told me as a young girls she had disliked aeroplanes believing they would disturb the angels in the clouds! (She remained deeply if unorthodoxly religious, and curious about scientific discoveries, right till her death.)
This is what Rees does so well: he uses brilliant illustrations that make you think. A picture of an Ouroborous showing the cosmic scale of things was really gripping, with humanity falling right in the middle from the atomic scale through to the astronomical. If you have read Just Six Numbers you will be familiar with this, but still nice to see again. Another interesting thought which surprised me was that to today’s kids the moon landings are something old, historic, “like the Wild West”. I was born in the year of the moon landings, and when I was young we were all excited by space travel, and many of my friends wanted to be astronauts when they grew up. ( I hoped to be an archaeologist, and ended up a third-rate ghost hunter. These things happen!) Now few kids would aspire that way — this is one of the themes Marina Benjamin explores in her fascinating little book Rocket Dreams, where she charts with nostalgia how my generations love of Space, the final frontiers has been replaced by a new generation who seek potentialities in the unlimited fantasies and virtual worlds of cyberspace. Well worth reading that book actually.
I did not have a notepad on me to take notes, so I scribbled some phrases on my ticket. One thing I found very interesting was the idea that “nowhere in the solar system is as hospitable as even the top of Everest or the South Pole.” Still Martin Rees remains as always an optimist about our potential, while pessimistic about politics, with I think good cause. “A technological optimist, a political pessimist” was how he put it as I recall.
He ended stating that this century has a special responsibility, as we can finally destroy our evolutionary progress and throw it al away by destroying ourselves, or perhaps move on in to space, or something to that effect. I’m going to end though with my favourite quote of the whole talk, that hopefully I have got right…
It is better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science, more entertaining; and no more likely to be wrong
- Martin Rees
OK, so it snowed, and for a few days now people have seemed to think the world is ending. It might be, but a few inches of snow hardly constitutes a cause for alarm and widespread panic!
OK, so my photo is dull, but by now you have seen a million dramatic photos of people in the snow doing heroic or exciting things. I am to photography what Pooter was to diaries.
OK, look it’s probably more interesting than anything that happens INSIDE my bedroom, ok? Unless you find people reading Ars Magica 5th Edition arousing, in which case seek help (or join the Berkllist, the Ars Magica mailing list.) Actually I could tell a couple of amusing stories about that, but I won’t…
Does not look at all bad in this photo; actually it was pretty unpleasant, the roads were a mushy mess, and the pavements treacherous. Gets better as you get in to the Town centre. Drivers get roads gritted, but pedestrians are left to die in droves*, Hugh says possibly because if they salt the pavements and mess up you get more injury claims?
(* OK, a slight exaggeration. Cheltenham High Street was devoid of corpses when I walked down it: no carnage ensued, and only two people fell over while I was in town. It was hardly Massacre-on-Ice — but with everyone over excited about a sprinkling of snow I thought I could be a bit dramatic. )
How fare the brave inhabitants of Normal Terrace in this icy wilderness? Well none of the cats in the street seem keen on going out, but otherwise business as usual…
Yeah, we did not get any post for one day, and the bins were not emptied, but bravely we struggle on, displaying that British stiff upper life (and in my case Anglo-Danish sagging belly)
Are you still reading this? Google returns 3,290 hits for “hot babes in bikinis” and you are still reading this? Oh I see – well 6,170,000 hits for hot men in underwear? Or even 531,000 hits for for improving sermons.?
OK you like pictures of snow. I get it..
Shame I have no talent as a photographer. Or as an ice sculptor come to that. I felt snowmen were sexist,and snow women sound bit dodgy, so I made a snow cat…
OK, even I can stand this little longer. Another shot of Normal Terrace…
Hey it beats Google Earth! Who wants to look at satellite pictures when you can see Cheltenham back street s in the snow? Well pretty much every one I guess. Let’s go nocturnal…
I had a stalker once, many, many years ago, but even she gave up on me because I was so dull. Shame really, she should have just read my blog rather than standing around in the chemist shop doorway across the road from my old flat.
Yes, I know you are bored with photos of Normal Terrace in the snow. Here is the next street over, St. Paul’s Street South. It’s not any more interesting though…
And finally a shoggoth eating a car. Oh sorry, not Lovecraft’s horrors from the Mountains of Madness: it’s a bush in Normal Terrace! (You guessed it – in the snow!)
Well there you go. It’s probably not MUCH more boring than many of my other blog posts, but hey, I think it may possibly be of use to insomniacs, masochists with a taste for people’s holiday photos, and people who like to laugh at the British overreaction to snow. If you read this far, please do comment, if only so I know to turn the lights off and lie on the floor when you come round, as clearly you are dangerously deranged. Anyway, keep warm, keep safe, and enjoy the snow while it lasts!
OK I was watching A Haunting last night as Liz is off back home to Bicester and wanted to chat and watch TV. In the course of it i decided to tell the story of how my house came to be haunted…
Long long ago in the late 19th century the area where my house stands today was a muddy field. One day a builder came along and started to dig foundations. Now it just happened at that time a brand new Indian restaurant (Cheltenham’s first) opened down on the High Street. People flocked form far and wide to taste the exotic cuisine.
Now I am sure many of you are aware that Cheltenham’s reputation for being posh originated with the spa, but it was perpetuated when the town became a fashionable place of retirement for retired colonial administrators and military folk back from service in India.
So when the restaurant opened it was an instant hit. There was only one problem.
The family who ran the restaurant came from Kerala and the cuisine was flavoured extensively with coconut milk, and dessicated coconut. The aging colonels were on the whole more used to Northern Indian cuisine – and so as they hurried home with their takeaways, and en route excitedly tasted the food. Disgusted, many simply hurled the cartons repulsed to one side – and mainly in to the foundations of what became my house.
The restaurant soon closed – it was just too alien to British tastes of the time –even ex-colonial ones– but my house was built on those foundations.
And that is why today my home is haunted - it is built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground.
(And if you believe that you will believe anything!)
Let us start at the beginning – whatever the faults of such a strategy, there is tradition upon its side…
Once upon a time there was a boy called Christian Jensen Romer, and he almost deserved it. It was late on Wednesday night, and he was terribly excited. A book he much admired (despite reservations given Gray Barker who was heavily involved known propensity for hoaxing), The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, had been made in to a movie. Christian was very excited; three times that day he had been reminded of the book, which in some ways is the closest thing he has ever read to his own rather bizarre ideas on ‘the paranormal’. He was now thinking of buying the DVD, but whilst flipping through channels on TV, he found that BBC 1 was screening it at 10.45pm!
Oh joyous day! Calous, Calay! He galumphed down to his basement chortling, and posted a Facebook posting tipping people off, and settled down to watch the film. Lisa was in the house, asleep upstairs with the cats, and I watched alone. Every someone commented on my Facebook status, and I replied via my mobile, texting a comment reply.
And then it all got very weird. Suddenly a whole string of random numbers appeared on his status as a comment supposedly from him, and he pondered on what was happening. A cat on the keyboard? Stephen Atty’s suggestion was reasonable, but no cat and how did it hot the post button? That would require a mouse. It happened twice more. As far as I can make out my Facebook account is un-hacked – it’s hard to imagine any change to my details that would be funnier than the truth anyway. A long discussion develops between Parasoc Bruce and Stephen, with myself making passing comments – the film sadly bears almost no resemblance to the book, and I had by this time lost interest. I was talking to Becky about how disappointed i was by text message.Everyone agreed it must be something to do with my phone…
And it was. When Becky Smith goes quiet one knows the world has ended or the phone is not working. Furthermore this morning I was due to see Postman Ben, the man with the bleakest attitude I have ever encountered, someone who makes Marvin the Android look like an exponent of the power of positive thinking. He had asked me over for breakfast today, but when he failed to text or call to confirm I suspected something must be wrong…
The insomnia did not become apparent until 3am. Try as I could, I could not sleep. I have a few tiny revisions left to make on a manuscript I’m working on, and email to reply to, and an event I’m organising to finish arrangements for. Somehow, I could not concentrate. I was too tired to work, too awake to sleep. I watched TV till 6am – still no calls, no texts. At 7am I decided I may as well just give up on sleep and try to work – and I then wake at half ten, confused to find I still had no calls, and no texts. What was going on? Clearly my phone reception had failed? A few ‘phone calls to Becky confirmed all calls to me where going straight to answerphone. Oh well, I was already late for my breakfast time discussion of misery with Postman Ben, so I threw some clothes on, and in that state of mild anxiety being left incommunicado usually provokes in me hurried to catch the college bus.
I’m not sure exactly when my trousers gave up the ghost…
Now of course anyone who knows me knows that “builders bum” is a curse I inherited from my father, a very talented and clever man who for many years had a small firm of builders. I assume it’s genetic – why else would my arse so steadfastly refuse to remain properly ensconced in fabric. It is something of a joke among my friends, and a source of constant horror and shame to my girlfriends, that my trousers sometimes slip a bit, revealing not the whole of the moon but more than is generally considered fashionable if you are not an 18 year old girl prowling a nightclub like a wolf on the pull. (I like that actually – “The Assyrians came down like a wolf on the pull”). Anyhows…
SO I enjoyed my breakfast with Ben, who seemed in someways positively chirpy – misery is still his favourite word, and when I asked why he was off work he assured me it was through anal warts contracted cottaging – the truth was a chest infection, but it gives you a good idea of his general demeanour and personality. I stepped outside his house, directly opposite the uni campus, to make a call – no reception in there even if my phone was working, and I noticed a white van driver who came in giving me really funny looks. Sure I’m unshaven and scruffy – but this seemed rather direct even for that. Then I realised. My jeans had torn from almost waist to knee, and were flapping open, revealing my underwear, buttocks, and shapely legs. Now I’m not Kylie Minogue I admit – I don’t think my arse is that horrific though. Sadly the world disagrees with me.
So I panicked, ran back in, showed Ben who fell about laughing – his misery lifted as my acute embarrassment and discomfort became obvious – and in the best traditions of tabloid journalism I made my excuses and left. Now Ben’s flat is directly opposite the Park Campus, which seems to be filled with plump identikit 18 years olds with the same peroxide blonde hairdo. I’m sure they are all lovely, and have very distinct personalities, but they are far too young and impressionable to be faced with my bare buttock – and here I was facing the Hiroshima of trouser malfunctions. Luckily I was wearing my coat…
So hurrying off my bus home, which happens to be the Uni campus bus as well, I wrapped my coat round my waist as a sort of makeshift skirt. Now I’m unshaven, unkempt and feeling rough – and after I asked some students where the bus stop was these days, I am horrified to notice there reaction. Yes I look like a stereotypical flasher! At any moment people probably assumed I was going to throw open my caot/skirt, revealing my shortcomings to the world… Luckily in a few seconds a bus arrived, and clutching desperately at my coat I jumped on, showed my ticket and sat down. Students were now joined by a young mother with children who eyed me warily, and a host of little old ladies all of whom appeared to be looking at me oddly and giggling. Still, the bus stops just a minutes walk from home – almost safe!
I had caught the number 10, which dropped me straight in the middle of town, a town it seemed populated entirely by pretty female office workers enjoying their lunch who looked at my strange shambling figure desperately clutching a coat around me with obvious suspicion. I made it down a couple of streets, and then thought “I know! I’ll call someone on my mobile, and seem to be normal and unconcerened!” So I phoned Becky, who seemed thoroughly unimpressed as I had phoned her not long before. So I remembered Lisa was on lunch-break, and called her, but she was having a bad day, 15 minutes late for lunch and in a foul mood – I ended that call just as quickly.
I have rarely been so relieved to pass through the arch in to Normal Terrace. I bumped in to Chris as I came in, and I think she is still recovering from laughing at me after I showed her why I was holding my coat like that.
Oh well, at least my other phone works now I have transferred the sim. I have had better days though.
I have only the vaguest recollection of this case now! From the mid-90′s…
A Local Poltergeist?
Tonight I have been privileged to investigate a possible poltergeist case, albeit of a minor nature, which has been troubling a personal friend. I was informed of the case some two weeks ago but owing to other commitments was unable to give it much attention until tonight. I will use a fairly self-explanatory structure in this report, which unfortunately must use pseudonyms.
The Garden (basement) flat (above ground level in the main, from the rear of the house) is home to two students. Cathy, aged 22ish is a English student, and Tom, about the same age is a mathematics- and science-orientated teacher trainee. They share the kitchen of their flat with Simon, who is also a student and does bar work at a local pub, but who has a room in the main (upstairs) part of the house which is occupied by the [[ B]] family. The [[B]] are a couple in their fifties, who live upstairs with their 18 year old daughter who Cath describes as a “sporty type”, quite happy and pleasant enough. The events are as far as we are aware confined to the downstairs flat, Cath having not broached the subject with her landlords.
Cath has been resident in the flat since September ’93, and after a troubled relationship with another girl, who left the flat in February ’94, lived there alone until September ’94 when Tom moved into the house. Relations between Tom and Cath are very good, the couple enjoying a strong platonic relationship. Simon is not communicative with Tom, while not hostile. Apparently he got on better with Cath before Tom moved in.
The flat consists of four rooms: kitchen, Cath’s room, bathroom, Tom’s room. The kitchen is shared with Simon. All of the rooms connect via Cath’s room, and during the daytime Simon must walk through first Tom’s and then Cath’s room to get to the kitchen, and Tom must pass through Cath’s room to leave the house or enter the kitchen or bathroom. At night Simon walks around the outside of the house to use the kitchen. All the same Cath must get very little privacy, although she does not seem to overly resent this.
When Cath first moved into the flat Simon (already resident upstairs) said that he could feel a presence in her room, sitting in a chair. He later admitted this was only to tease and frighten her, in which he succeeded, Cath being fairly timid about such things.
No futher mention was made of the “ghost” until Cath had a schizophrenic friend called Mary come to stay. While Cath was in the toilet and Mary was on the bed in Cath’s room Daphne, Cath’s then flatmate wandered through to the kitchen. On her return she looked startled and asked Mary if she had been on the bed all the time, insisting she had looked and failed to see her there on her way to the kitchen. This amazingly trivial incident seemed full of psychical significance to Mary and Cath who discussed it at great length. I would say it was evidently a perfectly normal case of misperception.
From this point nothing occurred until the Christmas vacation ’93/’94. The next incident was related to Cath and Tom by Simon. Tom and Cath were away, and the [[B]]’s were leaving so Simon would be alone in the house. The building has a burglar alarm which is set and turned off by a key, although the [[B]]’s own two copies. Just before they left they discovered one key was missing.
On New Year’s Eve Simon was working at the pub. On his return in the early hours of New Year morning he was astonished to see the missing key on a table with the container which held the other one, in plain sight. He was sure it was not there when he went out, but he was the only inhabitant in Cheltenham at the time.
At the risk of casting Simon as villain in this suburban melodrama, there is a perfectly rational explanation. Simon is, as we shall hear again, prone to fiddle with things and distractedly carry them about. Is it not likely that he was carrying the other key all the time, having forgot to replace it? He may have been too embarrassed to admit to the family he was still carrying it, but as they asked him to look around for it in their absence he did not need to invent such an extraordinary story. “It was down the back of the sofa!” would have done just as well. Then again, conscious deceit is far from necessary. He could easily have used it to disarm the system without thinking, and then noticed two, not one keys, in front of him. I don’t think I’m too harsh if I say barmen are not renowned for their sobriety in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Then again perhaps this really was Small Object Displacement.
On January 9th Tom and Cath both returned back to the flat. Tom immediately noticed that his set of three juggling balls was missing from it’s usual place on top of the piano. He assumed that Simon had borrowed them and absent mindedly forgotten to return them; Cath also noticed evidence that Simon had entered her room and played some of her music tapes. Two of the balls have since been located; one appeared in the kitchen, and the other on Tom’s bedroom floor. Both were placed in plain sight. Cath believes this piecemeal return makes Simon’s involvement unlikely; he would just have returned them all. Tom is not convinced.
The spot where the balls normally “live” in plain sight is marked with a J on the sketch map. They are just to the right of Tom’s door through which Simon must pass to reach the kitchen, and on top of the upright-style piano are at roughly chest height. The compulsive twiddler Simon probably picked them up absently as he wandered in and out. I have a theory that Simon is not sneakily returning them but simply playing with them as he wanders down to the kitchen and discarding them en route, without thinking. I suspect the missing ball will be returned or another vanish soon. This theory is strengthened by the fact that Cath and Tom have not liked to ask Simon if he’s seen them!
The case however, even if we discard the apparent Small Object Displacement must surely be proven or disproven in the two most dramatic incidents, which share several things in common. Both objects apparently moved, both were items of personal significance to Cath and both were in Cath’s room at the time.
The first object may be presumed to have moved during Cath’s absence during the vacation. The item which moved was a photograph of Cath’s mother, which was in a relatively inaccessible postion on a shelf some 6′ off the ground and standing behind two other photo’s which were untouched.
The photograph weighs the 3g and moved about 6″ upwards and 6″ to the left. Although Simon had apparently entered her room and played tapes, etc, etc, during the vacation Cath finds it highly unlikely that he would move a photo of her mother. If he wished to consult the photo albums it is unlikely that he would move the photo; this was simply unecessary. However, I would like to suggest that this explanation, while highly improbable, could be seen as less improbable than invoking poltergeist activity!!!
The relationship between Cath and her mother is at the moment very good, and is generally amiable. Cath noticed the photo had moved shortly after her return, and believes it probably moved during the vacation. Cath is unable to state if she noticed the occurrence on the day of her return or the next day.
The photo (which resides in a cardboard frame) could not have fallen to the face down position in which it was found without having:-
1. Previously been moved to the top of the albums, and then fallen. Cath denies she did this, and that seems reasonable enough.
2. Been physically picked up and moved, presumably by Tom, Simon or Cath. There are no cats or other pets to confuse the issue!
3. Performed a strange and “paranormal” flight!
I personally have to come down in favour of option (b) but do acknowledge that option (c) is interesting. If (c) is the case then I would suggest two further immediate possibilities, being (1) PKE (or psycho-kinetic energy, whatever that may be) generated by a human agent, or (2) a disembodied spirit. Before we consider these options let us look at the two further incidents of “haunting” reported to me.
Perhaps one or two nights after her return Cath was startled awake at 4 a.m. by feeling something falling on her bed. She was frightened by this, not unreasonably, and on turning on the light to investigate found it was a plastic cow wristband which makes a “moo!” sound when a button is depressed. This novelty item was given to Cath just before her return, and was sitting on her bookshelf. It weighs exactly 1 oz and had travelled some twenty inches, in a downward curve (I estimate 8″ horizontally, 12″ down).
The bookcase is open at the back, more of a shelving unit really, and is relatively stable. I bounced up and down all over the floorboards without disturbing anything on it! The “moo-er” had been sitting on a pile of books, and Cath demonstrated that if it had slipped off naturally it would have fallen on the floor. By experiment we discovered the “paranormal” flight could be replicated by pushing it hard from the other side. If this was done the “ghost” would then have had to dash into Tom’s room (door closed), the bathroom (door closed) or the kitchen. In any of these eventualities Cath would have noticed as she was startled awake.
The cow-thing incident is hard to explain, but it is possible that the object merely slipped and that the flight path was more natural than myself or Cath realised. I wouldn’t like to rule out a natural or paranormal explanation for this one….
The next incident is undoubtably the most curious, and pushes back my personal boggle threshold another millimeter or two. On Thursday, 12th January Cath was suicidal. Her depression is rooted in stress of college work and uncertainty as to her direction in life more than any problem with her personal relationships, although she had just chosen to end a relationship with a chap she had been seeing as a “partner”, although neither particularly emotionally or sexually entangled with the aforesaid male. Presumably she had washed her hair, for she was drying her hair when she noticed something extremely odd. The hairdryer was plugged in but the switch was at the off position. The hairdryer continued to function when she unplugged it, completely isolating it from the power supply. She eventually turned the device off, puzzled. Despite many attempts she has never managed to repeat this.
What happened? Well two possibilities immediately spring to mind. One; the incident never happened except in Cath’s mind. Her depression caused her to hallucinate the episode in some way, and this false memory provided a stimulus and mystery which eventually helped jolt her from her ennui and depression. It is of course possible Cath was lying; I have only her testimony for almost all the events although Tom certainly doesn’t believe this to be the case, and neither do I. I think we can rule out conscious falsehood, if only because most of the incidents were of such a trivial character and Cath remains interested in getting to the bottom of them.
That leaves option two; that the hairdryer was operating while disconnected from any obvious electrical current. Rational explanations do not spring readily to mind. Was there a secondary power supply based on batteries, which ran flat before her second attempt? I only briefly examined the offending device, but could find no battery port. Does the hairdryer have capacitors or backup power supply internally? I can’t say but if so would expect Cath to suceed in her attempts to reproduce the effect. Could Cath have been in contact with an exposed wire and powering the hairdryer herself? She should have noticed a continual 240V shock, to say the least! No obvious source for such a “live” wire (literally!) theory could be found….
This does not necessarily invalidate the idea of a (nonlocal) power source. My stereo when sitting idle though plugged in frequently comes to life with taxi cab radio messages. While extremely unlikely, I can not rule out a remote power source.
So what are the possibilities of PKE being behind the events? Cath returned from her vacation on January 9th. She had been staying with a penpal (male) with whom she has a warm relationship via mail, although she finds it harder to communicate in person. The penpal’s home is over one hundred miles from Cheltenham, so if Cath was creating PKE effects during the vacation then the energy decay curve for psycho-kinesis is to say the least interesting! [Roll, 1977 is probably the best authority for this; under his theory this is an impossible action]. There is some evidence that a PKE-field or battery can be created and discharge itself when the focus is no longer present. If forced we could invoke this; however there is no proof that the object moved during the vacation. It could have occurred before Cath left or since she returned.
Now let us consider the well known agent theory for poltergeist activity for a moment. There seem to be three immediately obvious agents for a poltergeist focus, but if the “paranormal” hypothesis is correct who is it?
Is it a) Tom, the mild-mannered flatmate?
If Tom was at the centre of the occurence then why did Cath’s objects move? If he is unconsciously using PKE to apport or SOD objects he is unaware of this latent gift. Tom is highly intelligent, sociable and shows signs of diverse tastes in his reading matter, amidst which I was happy to note H.H. Munro (Saki) and M.R. James. He is scientifically inclined and puts the “haunting” down to Simon fiddling with things. He stated that he was under no particular stress at the moment, though he has been helping Cath through her bad patch.
So what about b) Cath, the sweet student eco-guerilla?
Cath is also highly intelligent, and has a strong interest in things occultish and paranormal. Before you ask, attention seeking can be safely ruled out; I can only offer my personal testimony on this but feel I am the last person Cath would try to demonstrate preternatural abilities to, being well known to her for my cynicism and scepticism. She takes a rational stand on matters paranormal, although she does possess a crystal ball and tarot cards. She is amused by how unpsychic she seems to be, and perhaps a little disappointed.
She offered me the chance to investigate in casual conversation, and in the two weeks before I contacted her made no attempt to raise the subject again. She was happy to participate in the study, and did not seem at all miffed by the fact I remained dubious of paranormality in this instance. She is furthermore a friend of my girlfriend and previous partner and very much part of my social “scene”, and took a risk of ridicule by allowing the investigation to occur at all from these two formidably sceptical ladies.
Cath was following the vacation in a state of deep depression, and college stress was undoubtably partly to blame. She has reached a kind of intellectualised nihilism in which all meanings are negated, and on the day of the hairdryer incident was suicidal. Tom talked her out of this mood. Following this her mood has fortunately improved drastically. She believes that her mental unbalance and depression may underlie the “poltergeist”, and is amused and interested by this.
I have frequently referred to poltergeist activity as a “nervous breakdown taking place outside of the head”, and Cath thinks this is the most likely cause. I am disinclined to agree simply because Simon seems such a perfect villain, but am willing to accept this as a possible cause.
So what of c) the villainous Simon?
Does Simon act as a poltergeist agent? I feel not, although he does certainly have a habit of fiddling with things. I myself have observed Simon pick up and play with small objects as he moves around the flat, and on one occasion he moved a “Cuddly frog” toy from Cath’s bedroom to the kitchen while wandering through. This and other “SOD”, “JOTTLE” or apport type events were ascribed to Simon because he was seen doing it. However Simon was the only person present throughout the time when the purportedly paranormal events, and if we are going to invoke the agent theory of the PKE poltergeist then we really must consider Simon as a primary suspect.
What about the other possibility? It is of course possible that a disincarnate spirit or “ghost” is behind the events. I personally feel it unlikely and offer the following points against:-
1. There is no evidence of an attempt at communication on the part of the ghost, unless it’s mind is totally alien to us.
2. There is no known legend of the house being “haunted” until the comparatively recent events, exceptions noted above.
3. No easy identity can be provided for the apparition, and there is no known person who may wish to haunt the property.
4. There are no sightings of, or sounds of, a “disincarnate” visitor.
I admit that the above is largely negative evidence, and I may well be proved wrong. The “haunting” at first glance seems to be focussed on Cath, but events have also happened to Tom and Simon. I personally believe that it is unlikely that all the events are misperceptions, Simon or other normal causes. It is however extraordinary unlikely that a poltergeist is involved – so I must favour the former. I leave the individual reader to judge for themselves and would welcome comments.