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
OK, so this year for Christmas I took a huge risk and bought Becky a boardgame Ticket To Ride Europe. I am happy to say this proved to be an excellent choice! If you enjoy games, whether a hard-core gamer, or are just someone who likes to play something with friends other than Chess or Bridge or Strip Poker from time to time, I’d seriously consider buying this game. Even if you normally don’t like games, give it a go! And do read the review – because I include details on how you can try it out from the comfort of your own pc for free…
How do you explain TTR? It’s a family boardgame, which anyone aged over twelve should be able to understand the rules of an play, and intelligent kids from ten up should handle it – hell I was playing Avalon Hill’s Diplomacy at that age! It is certainly not Snakes and Ladders, but actually I think it is much less complicated than say Monopoly, and to me many many times more absorbing. I’m not a fan of long drawn out boardgames, and I quite like the mission cards in Risk which let the game end earlier if you meet your objectives — and yes, this game is easier to learn and more enjoyable to my mind than Risk. In fact I think it may be my favourite boardgame ever — and an avid Diplomacy fan like me has to admit that I may even prefer it to that great game. I’ll come back to that at the end of the review. Well this game can be played with 2 to 5 players, with the 2 player game being as good as the 3, 4, or 5 – just faster – and all of thm can be played in under an hour once everyone knows the rules, and maybe less.
So how does it work?
Ticket to Ride Europe is an amazingly simple but elegant design. You start with a game board (fairly large, will fit on a coffee table though- normal boardgame size I guess) depicting a map of Europe in 1901 (Spring 1901 perhaps?). Place names are generally rendered in the local language – Vienna is Wien, and so on. The map is fairly geographically accurate, with a few places positions nudged a few miles to fit better on the board, but t will certainly teach you geography, and may actually be useful in that respect. The map is attractive, and covered in pretty coloured railway lines – well potential railway lines, waiting to be built.
These routes are then built on by the players taking it in turns to lay their little plastic train carriages, to connect cities. It sounds deadly dull, but it isn’t. It’s utterly fascinating! To build a line you have to play cards, and you on each turn can either take two cards, from a face up selection, or from the deck for a random choice, to add to your hand. Alternatively you can play cards from your hand in sets to build lines (there is a third and fourth option mentioned below). So from London to Edinburgh can be built by playing a set of four orange cards, you have collected, or four blacks. Once someone has built a line that’s it : the route is claimed, and other players can’t build there, with the exception of double tracks, which you can build anyway – like London to Edinburgh – if you have the other colour. In the two player game only one set of double tracks can be built on. Lines do not have to be contigous: you can build anywhere on the baord you have the cards to play. Grey routes are wild, any coloured set of the relevant size can be played to complete them, but having the longest track does give you extra points and aid greatly in winning.
As well as the pink, white, green, yellow, orange, red and black cards their are also locomotive cards which are wild and can be played anywhere. They can also prove useful for building tunnels: I won’t explain tunnels and ferries here, but the rules are simple and elegant. The full rules can be downloaded here if you are interested, but it’s much easier to understand them if you have the map and pieces in front of you: neither Becky nor I were very excited when we first read the rules before we tried to play. (In fact she said it looked like “a game for trainspotters”). Now we are both addicted to this game! New features over the original Ticket to Ride (itself avery fun game, set in the USA 1901) are Tunnels, Ferries and Stations which add a little complexity but are enjoyable.
Building lines earns you points: byut the game is far more than this, and there is a nother vital deck of cards I have not yet touched upon – the Tickets. Tickets are destinations, and come in to two types – long routes and other routes. There are only six long routes in the original game, and this is perhaps the only weakness of the game as sold – you soon (after the maybe forty odd games I have now played – I told you it was addictive) -get to know all the long routes off by heart. There is an expansion pack which gives morte destination cards including 9 more long routes, but we have not bought it yet, as the game is very playable without it. These Ticket cards are at the heart of the game: you start with one long route and three short routes, randomly drawn, and get points for connecting these cities. You cn reject a couple if you want, and take a risk and draw more in the game (drawing three of which you must keep one is the third play option on a turn.
The final option is building a station – these allow you to run a service along a short stretch of a rival’s line, say Essen to Kobenhavn (Copenhagen for the Danish impaired among you, and I mean the language not my friends!). This costs you four points at the end of the game, but can be well worth it. There is an excellent tutorial and guide here on the publisher’s website, with loads of photos, a fun video which will show you the basics, , and all kinds of other great stuff.
Winning the Game
The player with the most points at the end wins, and you gain points by laying “track” – for example 1 point for a one stretch, 7 points for a four piece track and 21 points for the 8 piece tunnel between Stockholm and Petrograd (presumably actually a mix of tunnels and ferries, doubt anyone would try and bridge or tunnel under the Baltic there in reality, probably a line through Finalmnd off the top of the map?). Completing tickets earns you more points, and your long route is worth 21 or 20 alone – but if you manage a route from Kobenhavn to Erzurzum in Turkey, Palermo to Moscow, Athens to Edinburgh or Brest to Petrograd to give just three possibilities then you deserve it! Actually these long routes nearly always get completed – if you don’t complete a route, you LOSE the points instead of adding them, so you will lose 40 or 42 points from what you would have had if you made it.
The final source of points if for the longest continual stretch of of track built: ten points. Final scores range from about 150 (by me) to the lowest score I have ever seen, 30, achieved by Ed, though I think Becky managed that on an USA 1901 online game last night!
Fast and absorbing, especially in the 2 player game. Even in the 5 player you are usually busy planning your next move till your turn comes round again, though if another player is absorbed in an interminable text message conversation with a girlfriend on their turn or are a bit slow of understanding owing to being absorbed in something else like say cooking, it can be annoying to have to prompt them – but it’s the same with anything, and such people should be banished from civilisation (to Buxton, I know Ed never reads my blog so he won’t notice this!) anyway.
There is a lot of room for tactics and a large degree of skill, but also with the drawing of cards plenty of room for dumb luck and of the best laid plan to fall through. Careful play can usually mitigate this: Becky still wins most games, but we have all won a few, and DC won his very first game, which may have been through skill. The game is however quite low on interaction: you don’t trade cards, and the only real interaction comes in blocking each other routes by building where someone else needs to go. Experienced players see opportunities to do this more: they know the routes and important bits of track — (hint: the two piece green routes from Frankfurt to Essen and Rostov to Kharkhov are usually worth grabbing fast) — but even if you realise that Bob is building from Athens to Edinburgh, it is not really worth trying to block him, except possibly in 2 player game. You only have 45 pieces of track — and you will need all of them. In online play deliberately blocking someone is considered unsporting by many players anyway: wasting track messing about with your opponents planned routes is rarely worth it anyway, as you are more likely to win by going for your own destinations. I tend to like highly interactive games like Diplomacy: I still love TTR.
How Can I Try It Out for Free?
Go to the publishers website, Days of Wonder. Make sure you have read the rules – I put the link above. If you register on the Days of Wonder site you can play online free, I think four free games, which usually take about twenty to thirty minutes each to complete – online play seems much faster. You should be able to work it out quite quickly, and so long as you understand tunnels and ferries and stations (to play a station online drag and drop a card over the city you want to build on, and hit ok when it asks you: to play track drag and drop card on the route, and to take tickets double click on the Ticket cards.) Look for a game called For Beginners – and remeber that Ticket to Ride USA is the easiest to learn and play (no tunnels stations or ferries to worry about) so start with that. If you like it you can buy the online versions – owning a Days of Wonder boardgame gives you a ten per cent discount, and buying from the US store in dollars it was less than a tenner to buy Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride Europe online versions. It might take you a little while to work out how to join a game etc, but the tutorials are excellent and you are made to play a solo game against robot players (bots) first to make sure you get the hang of it when you register. So why not try it? I’m registered as CJ23 on the site, so do add me to your buddies when you join and I’ll play you if we are online at the same time.
Fast, addictive, plenty of strategy and a lot of fun – go play trains!
If you enjoyed this review you may wish to read my review of Agricola here
As I won’t be able to get to my blog for a few days, well not much, and I am rubbish at sending cards, please consider this an e-card from CJ! This year’s card is a picture taken by the very talented Ed Woods a few days ago in Buxton: Ed is here in Cheltenham for Christmas, and I thought this was really pretty…
And my old RD.net Christmas message seems appropriate, as it covers most of my my friends and readers (the two are really mutually inclusive categories…)!
“Evening! I have been meaning to write a little Christmas post, so I will. It’s in lieu of cards – I have not been organized enough to send any of those in over the last decade. I am one of those people who is today considering buying a few presents tomorrow and will doubtless hand them to friends and loved ones mid-January. My crapness is legendary! (As I give them random gifts through the year they tend to forgive me and not lynch me!)
A long time ago, far from here, a child was born. A VERY special child, utterly unique – a child who would grow in to a wonderful, special person. A child whose life would touch many – who would laugh, love and suffer.
Schmaltzy it may be, but we are all unique. It does not matter if we knew our parents, have big families or no one in the world – we are each absolutely unique, and absolutely worthy, at least potentially. We are all in a sense special, from the most disorganized old pseud like me, to the most brilliant scientists. We have one life (Buddhists and other reincarnationists please forgive this claim!) and one chance to be happy, and make others happy in this world.
At the risk of being banned or warned i’ll do a brief preachy bit: I believe in the radical equality of worth of every human being. The baby Jesus grew up to teach us that we should love one another, as God loves us all: crap will happen to us all, as he reminded us that the rain falls on the good and bad alike, but we are all worthy of love. Those who deny the value of others, the hypocrites who are without compassion, deserve to be spoken against – but our love should extend to even our enemies. It’s hard to be enemies with someone you love.
Now this love thing is pretty hard, and lets face it we all get it wrong. You try not to hold grudges, you try to be understanding and rational, but as Schiller remarked “with stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain”. My personal struggle is with people who say “love the sinner, hate the sin”. I can see the logic, but so often it means condemn you for what you are, and feel good about it. That’s pretty sick.
Now you don’t need religion to decide we are all special and unique – genetically it’s true, and physically it’s true, and mentally it’s true. Every death diminished us, as John Donne reminded us – priceless experiences lost. However, all too often, we forget that fact.
And right now, here is my Christmas thought, in true Jerry Springer style. You are special, and worthy of love, and deserve good things. We are always being told to love others, our enemies etc, but hell, this Christmas be good to yourselves. I joke about how rubbish I am, but I’m completely happy being CJ, and you should all love yourselves. (Well maybe not literally and physically, at least in public; don’t want you spending Christmas in jail!). Remember, it’s hard to love others if you don’t like yourself. You are in my experience a wonderful wild and wacky bunch, and I hope you all realize how special you really are!
Now I don’t think Prof Dawkin’s would disagree with me on this. This week I re-read The Selfish Gene, and it struck me I agree with the Prof here. You all know by know that I equate “original sin” with the selfish genes, our inherited mammalian traits, and you all know that I think we can rise above petty territorialism, self aggrandizement and aggression to build a better, more rational world. I’m no speceist – I love trees, lichen, moths, cats and the city streets – but humans have a unique ability, according to the Prof and to I, to rise above our genetic imperatives. Read that famous last chapter of The Selfish Gene again, the one detractors so often ignore, and you will see that humanity has a unique chance to shape their evolution, to forge their future, to have a society in no way “red in tooth and claw” – a special dignity. As far as we know so far, we are pretty unique in this as a species – so let’s not blow it dudes!
So love yourselves guys, and be good to yourselves this Christmas time.
It only remains to say to you all have a wonderful festive season, and a splendid annual rotation of the sun to follow!
Happy (insert whatever you want to celebrate!) “
and for those with a sense of humour, a favourite story of mine, by HH Munro – Saki – now long out of copyright…
Respectfully dedicated to my pagan. psychical research and occultist mates…
The She Wolf
By Saki (HH Munro)
LEONARD BILSITER was one of those people who have failed to find this world attractive or interesting, and who have sought compensation in an “unseen world” of their own experience or imagination – or invention. Children do that sort of thing successfully, but children are content to convince themselves, and do not vulgarise their beliefs by trying to convince other people. Leonard Bilsiter’s beliefs were for “the few,” that is to say, anyone who would listen to him.
His dabblings in the unseen might not have carried him beyond the customary platitudes of the drawing-room visionary if accident had not reinforced his stock-in- trade of mystical lore. In company with a friend, who was interested in a Ural mining concern, he had made a trip across Eastern Europe at a moment when the great Russian railway strike was developing from a threat to a reality; its outbreak caught him on the return journey, somewhere on the further side of Perm, and it was while waiting for a couple of days at a wayside station in a state of suspended locomotion that he made the acquaintance of a dealer in harness and metalware, who profitably whiled away the tedium of the long halt by initiating his English traveling companion in a fragmentary system of folk-lore that he had picked up from Trans-Baikal traders and natives. Leonard returned to his home circle garrulous about his Russian strike experiences, but oppressively reticent about certain dark mysteries, which he alluded to under the resounding title of Siberian Magic. The reticence wore off in a week or two under the influence of an entire lack of general curiosity, and Leonard began to make more detailed allusions to the enormous powers which this new esoteric force, to use his own description of it, conferred on the initiated few who knew how to wield it. His aunt, Cecilia Hoops, who loved sensation perhaps rather better than she loved the truth, gave him as clamorous an advertisement as anyone could wish for by retailing an account of how he had turned a vegetable marrow into a wood pigeon before her very eyes. As a manifestation of the possession of supernatural powers, the story was discounted in some quarters by the respect accorded to Mrs. Hoops’ powers of imagination.
However divided opinion might be on the question of Leonard’s status as a wonder-worker or a charlatan, he certainly arrived at Mary Hampton’s house-party with a reputation for pre-eminence in one or other of those professions, and he was not disposed to shun such publicity as might fall to his share. Esoteric forces and unusual powers figured largely in whatever conversation he or his aunt had a share in, and his own performances, past and potential, were the subject of mysterious hints and dark avowals.
“I wish you would turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter,” said his hostess at luncheon the day after his arrival.
“My dear Mary,” said Colonel Hampton, “I never knew you had a craving in that direction.”
“A she-wolf, of course,” continued Mrs. Hampton; it would be too confusing to change one’s sex as well as one’s species at a moment’s notice.”
“I don’t think one should jest on these subjects,” said Leonard.
“I’m not jesting, I’m quite serious, I assure you. Only don’t do it to-day; we have only eight available bridge players, and it would break up one of our tables. To-morrow we shall be a larger party. To-morrow night, after dinner – “
“In our present imperfect understanding of these hidden forces I think one should approach them with humbleness rather than mockery,” observed Leonard, with such severity that the subject was forthwith dropped.
Clovis Sangrail had sat unusually silent during the discussion on the possibilities of Siberian Magic; after lunch he side-tracked Lord Pabham into the comparative seclusion of the billiard-room and delivered himself of a searching question.
“Have you such a thing as a she-wolf in your collection of wild animals? A she-wolf of moderately good temper?”
Lord Pabham considered. “There is Loiusa,” he said, “a rather fine specimen of the timber-wolf. I got her two years ago in exchange for some Arctic foxes. Most of my animals get to be fairly tame before they’ve been with me very long; I think I can say Louisa has an angelic temper, as she-wolves go. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering whether you would lend her to me for to-morrow night,” said Clovis, with the careless solicitude of one who borrows a collar stud or a tennis racquet.
“Yes, wolves are nocturnal animals, so the late hours won’t hurt her,” said Clovis, with the air of one who has taken everything into consideration; “one of your men could bring her over from Pabham Park after dusk, and with a little help he ought to be able to smuggle her into the conservatory at the same moment that Mary Hampton makes an unobtrusive exit.”
Lord Pabham stared at Clovis for a moment in pardonable bewilderment; then his face broke into a wrinkled network of laughter.
“Oh, that’s your game, is it? You are going to do a little Siberian Magic on your own account. And is Mrs. Hampton willing to be a fellow-conspirator?”
“Mary is pledged to see me through with it, if you will guarantee Louisa’s temper.”
“I’ll answer for Louisa,” said Lord Pabham.
By the following day the house-party had swollen to larger proportions, and Bilsiter’s instinct for self- advertisement expanded duly under the stimulant of an increased audience. At dinner that evening he held forth at length on the subject of unseen forces and untested powers, and his flow of impressive eloquence continued unabated while coffee was being served in the drawing- room preparatory to a general migration to the card-room.
His aunt ensured a respectful hearing for his utterances, but her sensation-loving soul hankered after something more dramatic than mere vocal demonstration.
“Won’t you do something to CONVINCE them of your powers, Leonard?” she pleaded; “change something into another shape. He can, you know, if he only chooses to,” she informed the company.
“Oh, do,” said Mavis Pellington earnestly, and her request was echoed by nearly everyone present. Even those who were not open to conviction were perfectly willing to be entertained by an exhibition of amateur conjuring.
Leonard felt that something tangible was expected of him.
“Has anyone present,” he asked, “got a three-penny bit or some small object of no particular value -?”
“You’re surely not going to make coins disappear, or something primitive of that sort?” said Clovis contemptuously.
“I think it very unkind of you not to carry out my suggestion of turning me into a wolf,” said Mary Hampton, as she crossed over to the conservatory to give her macaws their usual tribute from the dessert dishes.
“I have already warned you of the danger of treating these powers in a mocking spirit,” said Leonard solemnly.
“I don’t believe you can do it,” laughed Mary provocatively from the conservatory; “I dare you to do it if you can. I defy you to turn me into a wolf.”
As she said this she was lost to view behind a clump of azaleas.
“Mrs. Hampton – ” began Leonard with increased solemnity, but he got no further. A breath of chill air seemed to rush across the room, and at the same time the macaws broke forth into ear-splitting screams.
“What on earth is the matter with those confounded birds, Mary?” exclaimed Colonel Hampton; at the same moment an even more piercing scream from Mavis Pellington stampeded the entire company from their seats. In various attitudes of helpless horror or instinctive defence they confronted the evil-looking grey beast that was peering at them from amid a setting of fern and azalea.
Mrs. Hoops was the first to recover from the general chaos of fright and bewilderment.
“Leonard!” she screamed shrilly to her nephew, “turn it back into Mrs. Hampton at once! It may fly at us at any moment. Turn it back!”
“I – I don’t know how to,” faltered Leonard, who looked more scared and horrified than anyone.
“What!” shouted Colonel Hampton, “you’ve taken the abominable liberty of turning my wife into a wolf, and now you stand there calmly and say you can’t turn her back again!”
To do strict justice to Leonard, calmness was not a distinguishing feature of his attitude at the moment.
“I assure you I didn’t turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf; nothing was farther from my intentions,” he protested.
“Then where is she, and how came that animal into the conservatory?” demanded the Colonel.
“Of course we must accept your assurance that you didn’t turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf,” said Clovis politely, “but you will agree that appearances are against you.”
“Are we to have all these recriminations with that beast standing there ready to tear us to pieces?” wailed Mavis indignantly.
“Lord Pabham, you know a good deal about wild beasts – ” suggested Colonel Hampton.
“The wild beasts that I have been accustomed to,” said Lord Pabham, “have come with proper credentials from well-known dealers, or have been bred in my own menagerie. I’ve never before been confronted with an animal that walks unconcernedly out of an azalea bush, leaving a charming and popular hostess unaccounted for. As far as one can judge from OUTWARD characteristics,” he continued, “it has the appearance of a well-grown female of the North American timber-wolf, a variety of the common species CANIS LUPUS.”
“Oh, never mind its Latin name,” screamed Mavis, as the beast came a step or two further into the room; “can’t you entice it away with food, and shut it up where it can’t do any harm?”
“If it is really Mrs. Hampton, who has just had a very good dinner, I don’t suppose food will appeal to it very strongly,” said Clovis.
“Leonard,” beseeched Mrs. Hoops tearfully, “even if this is none of your doing can’t you use your great powers to turn this dreadful beast into something harmless before it bites us all – a rabbit or something?”
“I don’t suppose Colonel Hampton would care to have his wife turned into a succession of fancy animals as though we were playing a round game with her,” interposed Clovis.
“I absolutely forbid it,” thundered the Colonel.
“Most wolves that I’ve had anything to do with have been inordinately fond of sugar,” said Lord Pabham; “if you like I’ll try the effect on this one.”
He took a piece of sugar from the saucer of his coffee cup and flung it to the expectant Louisa, who snapped it in mid-air. There was a sigh of relief from the company; a wolf that ate sugar when it might at the least have been employed in tearing macaws to pieces had already shed some of its terrors. The sigh deepened to a gasp of thanks-giving when Lord Pabham decoyed the animal out of the room by a pretended largesse of further sugar. There was an instant rush to the vacated conservatory. There was no trace of Mrs. Hampton except the plate containing the macaws’ supper.
“The door is locked on the inside!” exclaimed Clovis, who had deftly turned the key as he affected to test it.
Everyone turned towards Bilsiter.
“If you haven’t turned my wife into a wolf,” said Colonel Hampton, “will you kindly explain where she has disappeared to, since she obviously could not have gone through a locked door? I will not press you for an explanation of how a North American timber-wolf suddenly appeared in the conservatory, but I think I have some right to inquire what has become of Mrs. Hampton.”
Bilsiter’s reiterated disclaimer was met with a general murmur of impatient disbelief.
“I refuse to stay another hour under this roof,” declared Mavis Pellington.
“If our hostess has really vanished out of human form,” said Mrs. Hoops, “none of the ladies of the party can very well remain. I absolutely decline to be chaperoned by a wolf!”
“It’s a she-wolf,” said Clovis soothingly.
The correct etiquette to be observed under the unusual circumstances received no further elucidation. The sudden entry of Mary Hampton deprived the discussion of its immediate interest.
“Some one has mesmerised me,” she exclaimed crossly; “I found myself in the game larder, of all places, being fed with sugar by Lord Pabham. I hate being mesmerised, and the doctor has forbidden me to touch sugar.”
The situation was explained to her, as far as it permitted of anything that could be called explanation.
“Then you REALLY did turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter?” she exclaimed excitedly.
But Leonard had burned the boat in which he might now have embarked on a sea of glory. He could only shake his head feebly.
“It was I who took that liberty,” said Clovis; “you see, I happen to have lived for a couple of years in North-Eastern Russia, and I have more than a tourist’s acquaintance with the magic craft of that region. One does not care to speak about these strange powers, but once in a way, when one hears a lot of nonsense being talked about them, one is tempted to show what Siberian magic can accomplish in the hands of someone who really understands it. I yielded to that temptation. May I have some brandy? the effort has left me rather faint.”
If Leonard Bilsiter could at that moment have transformed Clovis into a cockroach, and then have stepped on him, he would gladly have performed both operations.
I don’t often go to the cinema – in my whole life I have seen eight films there. The Wizard of Oz (got scared and had to be taken out), Excalibur, Ghostbusters, Mississippi Burning, Dracula, the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings part one – The Fellowship of the Ring, Tombraider 2 – where I screamed and Lisa swore she would never go to the cinema with me again! That’s it, every film I have ever seen in my whole life at the cinema, until last night, when I went with Becky to see a film called Paranormal Activity.
I have watched about the same number of films on TV, and maybe the same again on DVD (including Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, Battleship Potemkin, Oktober, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Producers (original version, never seen the new one) and Dr Strangelove. I have enjoyed all these films, and maybe I should watch more; but I acknowledge that many people watch more films in a month than I have seen in my entire life, so I may be the worst person in the world to review films. However compared with the other films I have seen, let’s get one thing straight — Paranormal Activity, the film I saw last night–was not very good. Or was it? I can’t make my mind up!
So what is the film? It’s pretty simple in concept – hand-held camera home movie of a couple experiencing paranormal activity. The two main characters are called Micah and Katie, a young couple who live in a house I think near LA. Katie experienced “paranormal activity” in her childhood home aged 8, then later at age 13 – though we learn very little about the second bout of activity. Micah is I think a “day trader”, which I assume is some kind of depraved bloodsucking capitalist vampire, or is that a “day walker?” On seeing their house my first thought was people this rich deserve to be haunted, I hope they spontaneously combust. That may just be me though… Actually in many ways the house was a star of the film – I wonder if it belongs to one of the cast? It has that kind of homely feel, and would certainly meet the overall theme of the film. It was almost an exploration of what could be, a house’s neuroses. It was anew house, like the Barnwood poltergeist case I investigated in 95 – it had a very authentic feel in that respect. A weaker film would have used an old house – this was a film which deals with the kind of noises in the night any new tenant has to face. I hope that was the writer’s intentions, because if it was he did a great job.
The plot, in as far as there is one, reads like something I would research or Becky would be studying for her PhD (which in case anyone does not know is on a replication of an 1894 Society for Psychical Research survey). Given we both are active in spontaneous case investigation, and both watched the film from that parapsychological perspective, our perspectives may be warped.
So I’m going to look at the film briefly on a number of levels..
Firstly as a film. It did not move me, certainly did not scare me, it made me laugh out loud a number of times, but in a nice laughing-with-not-at kind of way – Micah Sloat (yes he is actually called Micah, and Katie is played by Katie Featherstone) has some fantastic lines, and both characters are likable and believable. The ending was a bit naff, but overall the film tried for the ambiguity of the classic ghost story – it came closer than most to The Turn of the Screw in this respect, and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is the best you can get. I would have ended thsi film a minute earlier, with them just going downstairs after Katie screams – the final shot was really not needed. Still, full marks that the house did not blow up, the thing was never seen, remain an eldritch horror lurking off camera, and I will say the script by Oren Peli shows huge promise.
Was there a script? I should say “idea by Oren Peli” (I hope I got his name right, I tried to remember the actors and writer) because you get the idea that much of this was improvised – it’s the most natural dialogue I have seen since Alan Partridge stayed in a Travelodge outside Norwich, and actually that is really a serious compliment.
It works, and works well. A way in I suddenly whispered to Becky – Dogme 95, and i think she though I was mad, if she heard me. Dogme 95 was a manifesto I associate with Danish genius Lars von Trier (anyone seen Riget? Not Dogme 95, but brilliant – watch the series! ) Hand held camera, classic unity time and place, no budget, shot in colour with natural lighting – all there. This may ironically be the most commercially successful Dogme manifesto film ever – I’m just not sure if that was intentional, and Peili was aiming for that, or he just hit upon the same formula because it works so well for this kind of film. Oddly it seems far closer to Dogme 95 type films that to say it’s obvious parallel, The Blair Witch Project. I tried to sit through a video of Blair Witch once, mainly cos I knew a Cumbrian Witch called Jo Blair and thought it funny, but this film was better. Artistically, intellectually, creatively, an excellent film.
Emotional response; same as any review of a spontaneous case video; more interesting than the hours I have spent watching footage from locked off cameras waiting for the ghost not to show, but at least in those cases it was real. This being fiction made the tedium less acceptable, even if I just had to watch the edited highlights. This made Most Haunted Live look exciting: in fact it made sitting “backstage” at Most Haunted Live chatting to Phil Whyman and David Wells look like a hot night out. I was tired and if cinemas were more comfortable might have fallen asleep on Becky’s shoulder, as it was I ate a large bag of popcorn and was mildly entertained. Maybe some people are scared by this film — if so I suggest they do not attempt a career in paranormal TV, or spontaneous case investigation. I was personally more scared by the Muppets take Manhattan.
I was however drawn to Micah’s character – he reacts EXACTLY as I have on occasion – when folks were calling out “is there anybody there?” I have done exactly what he did “What is your Quest?”, “what is your favourite colour?” The Monty Python quip is an obvious one, and the mix of humour and suspense is good throughout, but I laughed a little too loud as I recognised something of myself, not least the absolute frustration that drives Micah to try and make stuff happen, and Katie’s resistance and just wanting the phenomena to go away – the central paradox of psychical research of this type, the people experiencing it want it to end, the investigators want to see more. The film captures that paradox nicely, framing it in the young couples reactions. There is probably something also about the voyeuristic male gaze – why men like porn and pictures, women relationships here, but I won’t explore that lest this become a nightmare essay. Oddly the film does not seem voyeuristic or an intrusion on intimacy to me, but then I was viewing it from the perspective of someone interested in the phenomena, not the relationship – this may be an unusual way to read the film and one my own odd perspective brings ot it. I’ll have to read some reviews later see how others not in this line of work see it.
Now let’s look at it with my “work” hat on. This comes closer to being what the kind of cases i have looked at in reality are actually like than any other film or TV adaptation I have seen. It feels authentic. The psychic was beautifully understated, and the phenomena were entirely believable. I found myself wishing I had a dictaphone to record the rumbling bumping noises and apply Barrie Colvin’s ideas on sound analysis of poltergeist cases h discussed at the recent SPR Study Day on Poltergeists to the sounds, which were disturbing – was infrasound used? Dunno! Only the ouija board scene seemed over the top to me – the recovery of the misplaced photograph was beautifully shot, and i keep trying to recall where I have come across that motif before, as I think through real pyrogeist cases from the literature. It seemed familiar. I thought the footprints of the thing seemed to be like those of a giant chicken – again something I think I have seen in have seen in the literature.
A couple of missed opportunities – having the bead clothes form a simulacra, whole body of face only is in keeping with the reported cases in the literature, I think Amherst, and of course M.R.James fictional Oh Whistle I’ll And Come To You My Lad, and an apparition of a rabbit or white animal, or a talking mongoose called Gef would have added to my pleasure. Actually if there has been a parrot in a cage I think that might have freaked me out and made me think this was a documentary after all, but I won’t explain that just yet – you get the idea I have found pet parrots involved in a rather a lot of poltergeist cases, why I know not! Unlike say Ghostbusters there were no knowing nods to the psychical research literature – and that was good, Katie and Micah are not normal people eschewing (strongly in the case of Micah) so-called “expert” involvement. Again, full marks for authenticity.
Now let’s talk Demons. Yes I know, another Sunday night in with CJ.
In the film the phenomena is interpreted not as RSPK (Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis, or a common or garden lesser spotted Poltergeist to you and I) but as demonic, or perhaps to be more accurate daemonic activity. Actually, nah, let’s face it it was a demon. (A daemon is just a discarnate intelligence – angels, demons fairies, elementals, whatever other psychical bogeyman can be found on a Theosophophist’s shopping list really.) This was a demon – you know one of them satanic, malign, malevolent, evil, insidious beasticles which most cultures have in their cultural history. This is mildly disturbing, but mirrors something going on in real life.
When I first got in to the ghost business my Christian beliefs made me often feel a bit of an outsider – sure in the UK we have the Church Fellowship for Psychical And Spiritual Studies etc, and David Sivier and David Carter-Green. However Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists who see paranormal activity through the lens of the demonic were a peculiarly American, and I thought distinctly non-mainstream fringe. However, just as in the UK Most Haunted brought Spiritualism and spontaneous case investigation back together, and made the use of psychics fashionable (at least I’d be playing around with Gertrude Schmeidler’s ideas on Quantitative Assesment of a Haunted House for a good decade before that, and knew the pitfalls) in the USA demonology is now huge.
Ironically, given that I am famous (in some circles) for saying “if it acts like a demon, bites like a demon, stinks like a demon it’s a demon” I’m a bit disturbed by all this It’s not far from the idea that all paranormal event are demonic to seeing them rooted in people’s sins; the victim is once again victimised. Exorcism kills – you know my friend I wanted you to know that, because I am deadly serious. While the churches on the whole have been careful, circumspect and intelligent in requiring psychiatric, medical and natural explanations to be considered, there are now crowds of amateur US ghosthunters who see demons behind every rosebush, in C.S. Lewis’ memorable phrase. This film eschews the spiritualist “dead guy” interpretation of the poltergeist (the shade of Professor Ian Stevenson is no doubt annoyed) and equally rejects the “nervous break down outside the head” living agent hypothesis (and for once, the shade of D Scott Rogo shakes his head glumly in agreement with Stevenson’s spirit.) I am tempted to say it’s like William Roll never happened; it’s actually more like Roll, Gauld, Cornell, Cassirer, and all modern parapsychology never happened. Come ot think of it it’s like the whole 18th century never happened – we are stuck in that milieu Shakespeare lived in, just after the Reformation: ghosts might not be visitors from Purgatory, but instead ‘that damned mole’ may just be a demon masquerading as your father on the battlements of Elsinore Castle.
I have some sympathy with the theology and the analysis, but the ramifications and craziness that may follow as amateur ghosthunters throw away their EMF meters (ya!) and pick up crucifix and holy water terrify me. And i mean that – as I said to Jeff Belanger on the phone earlier this year, this can only end in a tragedy. Guys leave the spiritual forces to the devout ministers of God – we really can dabble in things we don’t understand (a point the film makes, through the psychic who is far wiser and more mature than the reality of dealing with such often leads me to expect. Astonishingly for an American film it also avoids religious symbolism, crucifixes, pious cant and much of the craziness – perhaps it’s a Jewish ghost – actually, Oren, Micah, I may be right, and if so I’m glad?)
So all in all, what did I think? I’m glad I saw it; a clever, well shot, intelligent film, not remotely scary but highly enjoyable, with a great cast, marred a little by the Blair Witch style opening and closing “it’s all real” credits. I look forward to seeing more of the actors – Micah Sloat is outstanding, and Oren Peli will doubtless go on to great things, and deserves an even better house than the one used in the film, or to buy that one if it does not belong to one of the cast! Katie Featherstone was very good too I think, and I could completely forget it was a film at times, suspend disbelief an actually get interested in the case.
But it won’t scare you, unless you a bigger wuss than even me, a noted self confessed coward who was terrified by and screamed out loud to Lisa’s horror…
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.
OK, so I’m still recovering from a long weekend of debauchery. Well ok, I drank half a pint on Sunday night!
A good crowd of folks descended on Cheltenham, and some took part in almost everything, and some took part in only one event, and some appeared for five minutes then vanished as swiftly as they arrived! I think most people have come here looking for the infamous Screws of the World game photos though, so I’ll concentrate on posting those…
For those who don’t know, the Screws of the World is just a slang term for a British newspaper, The News of the World, which is actually quite readable and is a weekend paper – the daily is called The Sun, best known for it’s famous Page 3 girls. It’s a tabloid in the British sense, not the American, it reports real news! Anyway as the game was just named after it you don’t have to know any more – the game was invented by Ben Hayes and myself back in 2000 one long hot summer, and we played it then with interesting results, and some of the teams narrowly avoiding arrest…
So for my fortieth I decided to revive the game, and it can be explained simply – nine players were split in to three teams of three each, and given three hours to take photos to illustrate ten of the most outrageous tabloid headlines i could find (not all from the News of the World of course!) They had a total of forty real tabloid headlines to choose from. The photos that follow are some of the “best” of the attempts – team Jez, Martin and Barbie won in the end, their photos being voted the best, but that hardly matters. Here follow the photos, each captioned with the tabloid headline they were trying to illustrate…
Well, anyone who does not know that cj.23 or Jerome is me, is probably not going to be excited by my blog anyhow! And having finally worked out how to change the title, I thought I would. If anyone wants to know where the title is from -
Lather by Jefferson Airplane.
Lyrics (c) RCA Music.
Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys.
His mother sent newspaper clippings to him,
About his old friends who’d stopped being boys.
There was Harwitz E. Green, just turned thirty-three,
His leather chair waits at the bank.
And Sergeant Dow Jones, twenty-seven years old,
Commanding his very own tank.
But Lather still finds it a nice thing to do,
To lie about nude in the sand,
Drawing pictures of mountains that look like bumps,
And thrashing the air with his hands.
But wait, oh Lather’s productive you know,
He produces the finest of sound,
Putting drumsticks on either side of his nose,
Snorting the best licks in town,
But that’s all over…
Lather was thirty years old today,
And Lather came foam from his tongue.
He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
what the old men call insane,
And sometimes he’s so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play…
Which words to say…
And I should have told him, “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…baby-wide.
As far as I know it was written for Skip Spence’s thirtieth: “never trust anyone over thirty” was a hippy motto, but I still, after my years with the Nameless Anarchist Horde and roleplaying games, find it strangely apt and moving. It ended my set at the Axiom, on the goth night I dj’d to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, a great track to go home too. Yes I used to be a goth dj! Indeed do many things come to pass!
I’m a huge fan of Jefferson Airplane as my friends all know, and if you are wondering what they sound like – amazingly diverse is the simple answer. But here is Lather! Do have a listen…
Many, many years ago I wrote book with Eric Quigley and Nicola Talbot (nee Jordan) named Spectral Suffolk about the ghost stories of that county. My publisher went under, and very few have seen it, but every so often Richard Felix and I chat about the possibility of republishing it. I thought tonight it would be fun to share an extract from it…
ROUGHAM GREEN: We have all heard of haunted houses, but who has ever heard of a house that is a haunt! Yet for over a century this is exactly what has been occurring on the stretch of road between Rougham Green and Bradfield St. George. Our story begins in 1860 when a Mr Robert Palfrey was out in the fields on a warm June evening, putting the finishing touches on a haystack. He shivered as the evening grew suddenly chilly, and then was shocked to suddenly see a large redbrick house with gardens in full bloom, where there had been no house a moment before.
The next sighting was in 1912 and happened to the great grandson of Mr Palfrey, Mr James Cobbold. While riding on a pony trap alongside the village butcher George Waylett both were startled by a sudden cool breeze and drop in temperature, along with a whooshing noise suggestive of air being displaced. The pony reared in panic, and the butcher was thrown to the ground. Any thought of helping him vanished from young James’ mind as he saw a great three storey Georgian mansion, complete with grounds, where moments before there was only the fields. As he turned round to see what had become of George the house was enveloped by a mist… and then simply not there. The butcher was unimpressed. “That’s the third time I’ve seen that happen” he stated, and picked himself up out of the road.
Mr Cobbold was to tell his story in the pages of the magazine Amateur Gardening in 1975, and stated that he knew of two more sightings from the previous ten years. Our next sighting however dates from an October afternoon in 1963 when a young school teacher and her teenage ward were exploring the countryside in the vicinity of Church Road. Walking down a path they came upon a greenish yellow wall to a large estate, and shortly thereafter passed the great iron gates. Making a mental note to enquire as to who lived at the grand house, they returned home. Over evening tea however they were surprised to be met with a general shaking of heads. There was no house of that description in the neighbourhood, and attempts to retrace their steps left the two women totally confused. In 1934 the story was featured on a BBC radio broadcast and to this day no solution has been found.
Mr Edward Bentley was as a young man in the early 1940′s employed by Aubyn Davies, the fashionable gentleman’s outfitters of Bury St Edmunds. In those days Mr Davies himself ran the business and in the summer months after harvest time it was his habit to deliver catalogues of his clothes to all the houses in the rural districts surrounding Bury, as the worker’s received a harvest bonus payment and often acquired new outfits then. On a hot sunny afternoon Mr Bentley, Mr Davies and another lad were making deliveries and driving down Southall Street when Edward spotted a large Georgian style house set back from the road. He called out to Mr Davies, who reversed the car, and found… nothing. Ashamed, Edward put it down to a trick of his mind until one day many years later when discussing these things the authors related the story of the vanishing house. Edward pointed out the exact spot where the house was seen before, near Colville Grove…
The vanishing house sounds like it may have a prosaic explanation. In the 1950′s a similar example of phantom scenery was located by a diligent SPR researcher following up the case, down a slightly different road to that the witnesses believed they had followed. It is also worth noting that the house normally appears on bright sunny days, and this led experienced psychical researcher Tony Cornell to investigate the area with a view to establishing if there was any similar property in the area. As it happens a large house does stand relatively close as the authors ascertained by field research, but it does not correspond with the detailed descriptions of any of the witnesses. We have deliberately not given those details here, so that if anyone else sees the house we can establish its identity and the strength of their claims by comparison. Tony, who is still active today and is among Britain’s best field researchers of the paranormal, could not find a solution.
This fascinating story does not appear in any of the standard books on British hauntings but in the few cases where it is mentioned one fascinating claim is usually repeated, namely that no building of the nature described ever stood on the site. Yet this assertion is very doubtful, for it seems to stem from the fact that the excellent local historian Mr Leonard Aves and Mr James Cobbold were unable to find the house marked on a map dating from 1885, some 25 years after the ‘ghost house’ was first seen… I would refer the curious reader to maps extant in Suffolk County Record Office in Bury St Edmunds. The 1815 map of Southall Street left us unsure, but an earlier eighteenth century map seems to show a large house in roughly the right place. I say roughly because the family coat of arms could indicate the house stood anywhere in a three mile radius, the map being more pictorial than diagrammatic. This offers superb possibilities for a fascinating piece of research.
The authors conducted their own enquiries. Firstly we carefully examined the accounts, and were delighted to find that the seeming contradiction in the colour of the house can be explained by the fact that Miss Wynne and her pupil were apparently on a footpath that ran along where we may presume the back of the estate was, and thus saw different terrain from the other witnesses. Our next move was to explore in detail the location. We swiftly discovered fragments of red brick and pan tile, although we felt they were probably of comparatively modern manufacture and not that uncommon in any field. Then as we walked through a copse towards the road where most of the witnesses were, a realisation struck us. There is a path down the centre of the wood and it is slightly lower than the sides, which appear banked. Furthermore the largest trees seemed to stand on either side of the banks. We were in a long overgrown avenue, similar to that described by Miss Wynne and her pupil! Frantically scraping away the earth bank we found underneath what was clearly a foundation of a wall, made of crumbling greenish-yellow brick. It is the author’s intention to pursue our enquiries with the landowner this summer, and we would welcome any offer of assistance! Did a house really stand on this site in the early 1800′s, as its architecture seems to suggest? We are still not sure, but perhaps the mystery is starting to unravel.
The Vanishing House offers an intriguing glimpse of a bizarre possibility. If the house really did displace air, it is presumably physically present. Is it, just possibly, usually outside time and space as we know it, a kind of homely Brigadoon? The question it raises is obvious. What if we were to enter it? Where would we go when it vanished. Would we return many years in the future, or simply die of starvation in some unknown part of space? Are the inhabitants still living on within, aging only a few minutes each decade, waiting till they return to earth full time? Chris’ facetious suggestion involves a doctor with a floppy hat, long scarf and strange metallic dog who drops in for a quick pint now and again!