"And sometimes he's so nameless"

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today… (Was I Briefly Sexy?)

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on September 24, 2011

It was twenty years ago today, or so the papers tell me, that Nevermind by Nirvana and Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were released.

Memory…

(and I **won’t** swear I did not have a gun…)

This seems like a good time to reflect; I have an update on the Sally Morgan story later if I have time; but for now, I’m going to think back twenty years to when a miracle occurred. As I joked on Twitter and Facebook, twenty years ago I was for a short period considered sexy and fashionable, and college girls chased me. As this is actually almost unbelievable, I’m going to talk about how it happened…

CJ, Christmas 1995

Christmas 1995, CJ at a formal due. This was what my hair was like throughout the late 80's when Tom Cruise was God of Fashion ;)

While I was born in the Summer of ’69, grew up in the drab greyness of the 1970’s, I hit twelve in 1981.  So I guess the first acts I ever loved were Blondie, Kim Wilde, Adam & the Ants, Abba, The Carpenters,  Dexy’s Midnight Runners and oddly perhaps Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Soft Cell. All great artistes, but by 1985 when I met Hugh Wake I had been heavily influenced by Axel Johnston’s tastes, so punk bands and indie pop were important to me. The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, etc. Axel introduced me to two bands who were to have an overwhelming influence on me – David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and as I already loved Bauhaus from their 1982 cover of Ziggy Stardust that was a natural progression, and the biggest influence of all Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

SO I started to get in to music, and after a while I stumbled across the Beatles, from my sisters old records still hanging round the house, and then I’m still not sure how I one day decided to try Jefferson Airplane, and never looked back. So while the lower sixth were getting in to Goth, and I was a huge fan of the Mission, Cure and Sisters of Mercy, I was also listening more and more to 60’s psychedelic bands.

Why is this relevant? Because by 1987 I had grown my hair long, and resisted the urge to wear all black (though I often did), and was more an more wearing flares, experimenting with tie dye and generally getting more and more hippy. By the time i went to uni in September 1987 I had already taken to adding “…man!” to every sentence and talking like a stoner, even though I wasn’t one. Still in 1987 I arranged a few “Happenings” in Fullwood Halls of what is now the University of Gloucestershire, and painted my bike a bit more white before I ran out of Humbrol Enamel, announced property was theft and left it unlocked telling people they could use it to go from campus to campus. It lasted a couple of terms; meanwhile my CD collection, which was large for the time, and my room became open property anyone could use. To the credit of my fellow students, it worked well.

I was reading more and more about the Levellers and the Diggers in the English Civil War, communes in the counter culture in the 19th century, anarchism and anything I could lay my hands on on the 60’s SF Haight-Ashbury scene. the twenty year anniversary of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band in summer 1987 was almost a religious celebration to me; and the quiet Bury St Edmunds lad became more and more a freaky hippy.  My room reeked of joss sticks, and I was more and more wildly Romantic. It was about this time Dave Curtin labelled me “the Byronic Man”, as I started to read Coleridge, Huxley and as much as I could on philosophy of religion, mysticism and Magick. “Do what thou wilt with the hole in the floor!” said a sign on the door of my room, B36, and the Christian Union became more and more concerned about both my bad jokes and the curious passion I had for Aleister Crowley’s wicked sense of humour and in contrast the radical Nazarene. My discovery of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement occurred about this point — I was now a full flung student anarchist hippy idealist Romantic.

CJ in his attempt to look respectable for work, early' 1990s.

CJ in his attempt to look respectable for work, early' 1990s.

In short I had become the epitome of an late sixties/early seventies student, at a time when style was rigorously dictated by the film Top Gun; military short hairstyles, shorts, jackets and chino; yuppie was in with filofaxes, and Rick Astley, Jason Donovan and Kylie dominated the charts with the wonders of Stock Aitken and Waterman, week after week of what now strike me as brilliant perfectly crafted pop.  I was completely outside the mainstream – there were not even any goths around that I knew, and only the metal fan Mark Leech had long hair, his much longer than mine. Looking at a picture of Dave Curtin from those days he looks a bit like Nik Kershaw, at least hair wise!

When Hugh arrived at uni, we were the long haired scruffy freaks, I wearing oddly misshapen baggy M&S pullovers or chunky knit black wool over torn faded and often painted jeans, with flowers and Pop Will Eat Itself logos mixed with New Model Army and All About Eve imagery. I briefly took on a Joy Division inspired look after I discovered C&A sold a range of black shirts, and while in my second year we studied Origins of Communism and Fascism, but I was always an anarchist at heart. Ultimately though I dressed like the poorest elements of Working Class Suffolk; my clothes if I had topped them with a Massey Ferguson cap were those of the agricultural labourers I grew up with, with a hippy accessories. Hell I even wore bells from time to time!

I’m not gonna crack…

And I found God…

About 1989 I got my first leather bikers jacket, later painted around 1993 with a Futurist style piece of art by Polly, with a quote from Laibach. Yet I never consciously thought about fashion as far as I know: while formality and looking “up market” and affluent became more and more popular, I inadvertently drifted in to a style that was to become famous as Grunge. I had no idea what was happening in Seattle – I was listening to the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and other obscure 60’s psychedelic bands. I had absolutely no idea of the Madchester scene, and that others were going the same way: Marcus played me some early Inspiral Carpets, but my one concession to modern music was Pop Will Eat Itself, and I really had no idea what was happening  outside the confines of my small Church college.

Give It Away…

The imagery is so Huxleyian/Castanedasque: Heaven & Hell…

I’m not going to talk about my girlfriends etc; it’s irrelevant. But in 1991 with the release of Nevermind (though it took a good year before it hit our college I think) I was suddenly gloriously and briefly in fashion, and in the early 1990’s I went from being terrified of women to being utterly petrified, as suddenly girls, strange frightening creatures who had always ignored me (and I them – I hit puberty very late!) started to pursue me. I was lucky I had a very sweet girlfriend, who I think I am still friends with today, and was often oblivious to all the attention. Hugh Wake actually dealt with the attention in very amusing ways, with some of the best lines ever that he adopted I think to scare off the indie girls — but it would be unfair to tell the story of the Angry Young Woman, and whose unfortunately brilliant inadvertent put down. Happy times!

Yes I looked awful back then!

And what did I think of Nirvana? As far as I know I had never heard of  grunge, the Lemonheads, the Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc, just as I was almost oblivious to the Stone Roses and the Madchester scene.  By the middle of 1993 I was night clubbing most nights of the week, and by 1994/95 I was an occasional DJ, but really I had very little idea of popular culture back then. So I am the worst person in the world to tell you what Grunge meant to the mainstream, because I had no idea. As my hippy idealism waned, and I struggled to work out how to cope with the “real world” post-uni, and I became utterly disenchanted with drugs and radicalism, I retreated in to something like what I have become today. I have always been a little non-conformist, bohemian perhaps, though that may be far too strong a word for someone who is essentially very mild mannered and quite happy to let others live as they please, and prone to occasional burst of wild energy and dangerous enthusiasms — but Grunge really meant nothing to me.

I knew the Lulu version of Bowie’s song…

but I was “closer to the Golden Dawn, immersed in Crowley’s uniform of imagery…”

Looking back on it, I think Nirvana were one of the greatest all -time bands, and Kurt Cobain a fine artist and poet. Sturm und Drang, or whatever the funny old Germans call it. I was a confused victim of their popularity, seen as ahead of fashion, a trail blazer, hip, cool and event to some misguided ladies sexy.  I wasn’t,  I just was being what I was, and had finally dropped all the hippy stuff, and dropped the Ziggy-esque roles I had cultivated, and had emerged in to adulthood scruffy, bedraggled, unshaved and somewhat slightly dazed. I was no innovator: I was simply clueless.

The one Red Hod Chilli Pepper’s song everyone knows, from Blood Sugar Sex Magik

(with one of the best playouts in rock…)

So twenty years ago today the world changed on me, and it took me a decade to realize why I suddenly could talk to women and actually really liked them, and to be convinced I was, to some attractive. But if you ask me what Nirvana meant to me: it meant nothing, for I was oblivious.

Such are the accidents that make up a personality and a life. A small town boy, average in every respect, I owe a lot to Nirvana…

(and here to end the first grunge track I ever heard…)

“most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids…” :)

cj x

Why Do Ghosts Go “Woo”? Part One.

Posted in Debunking myths, History, Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on September 21, 2011

OK, a light-hearted one this lunchtime. “why do ghosts go woo?” is an excellent question that was asked on Twitter by Ian Rennie to Hayley Stevens, and she, Kimberley Kendall and I discussed it for a while.  I always joke that in Denmark ghosts go “WØØ! WØØ!” (they don’t), but it does lead to the question of what noise the ghosts of other cultures and languages make. When Hayley referred the question to me I thought the answer would be easy to find; after all, I have plenty of books on the cultural history of ghosts, Actually it wasn’t, and i can’t find much evidence they do go “woo!” even in my children’s books, but I certainly had that impression. I think actually the real answer if this is a modern sound that beasties are meant to make is it may derive from the use of the theramin for making spooky sound effects for films and TV: but I could well be wrong. Steve Parsons of Para.Science responded to my Twitter query with a suggestion of early talkies (sound films) with white sheeted ghosts going “woooooo!” so perhaps some people can have a quick look? The Laurel and Hardy Society produced this, but the music stops us telling what the original sound if any was…

While trying to look it up I also found the etymology of “woo” as in the modern sceptical usage of a “woo” as a “gullible believer” discussed: the phrase was of course originally “woo-woo” and some have traced it back as far as the end of the 1960’s employed in this sense. I think we might be able to work out one possible source for it through that…

I think that may answer that, though I can’t of course be sure? :)

OK, so what noises do ghosts make? Well first we have to decide what is actually a ghost in our modern sense. What is often cited as the first modern ghost story. Pliny gives in his Letter to Sura: LXXIII) the following account –

Now the following story, which I am going to tell you just as I heard it, is it not more terrible than the former, while quite as wonderful? There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled, hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued. Even in the daytime, though the spirit did not appear, yet the impression remained so strong upon their imaginations that it still seemed before their eyes, and kept them in perpetual alarm. Consequently the house was at length deserted, as being deemed absolutely uninhabitable; so that it was now entirely abandoned to the ghost.

However, in hopes that some tenant might be found who was ignorant of this very alarming circumstance, a bill was put up, giving notice that it was either to be let or sold. It happened that Athenodorus  the philosopher came to Athens at this time, and, reading the bill, enquired the price. The extraordinary cheapness raised his suspicion; nevertheless, when he heard the whole story, he was so far from being discouraged that he was more strongly inclined to hire it, and, in short, actually did so. When it grew towards evening, he ordered a couch to be prepared for him in the front part of the house, and, after calling for a light, together with his pencil and tablets, directed all his people to retire. But that his mind might not, for want of employment, be open to the vain terrors of imaginary noises and spirits, he applied himself to writing with the utmost attention. The first part of the night passed in entire silence, as usual; at length a clanking of iron and rattling of chains was heard: however, he neither lifted up his eyes nor laid down his pen, but, in order to keep calm and collected, tried to pass the sounds off to himself as something else. The noise increased and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber. He looked up, saw, and recognized the ghost exactly as it had been described to him: it stood before him, beckoning with the finger, like a person who calls another. Athenodorus in reply made a sign with his hand that it should wait a little, and threw his eyes again upon his papers; the ghost then rattled its chains over the head of the philosopher, who looked up upon this, and seeing it beckoning as before, immediately arose, and, light in hand, followed it. The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him.

The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The bones, being collected together, were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.

Pliny gives some other (less often cited) ghost stories including one of his own, but here we have the prototype of many modern haunt stories. The philosopher in question, Athenodorus Cananites, lived from 74BCE-7CE, and so this is a ghost story from roughly the time of Christ. The ghost acts in archetypal form, rattling its chains, clanking and making a racket. And here we see why Victorian ghosts, and indeed many ghost in our Classically educated nation used to rattle chains! :) Actually the loud noise is similar to some cases of “phantom housebreakers” which I describe on my Polterwotsit blog; for here let us simply note the ghost is associated with human remains, and appears at night in human form, wanting repose and scaring folks. All pretty central to the ghost story?

Now of course there are much older stories of ghost and spirits, from Sumer, Babylon, the witch of  Endor in the Bible raising the spirit of Saul, from Ancient India, China, I could go on for ages. I won’t though, because this is perhaps the ghost story that had the biggest impact on British culture. It’s maybe hard for people to get now, but in ye olden times (well Early Modern Britain) everyone educated gent learned Latin and Greek, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Plutarch etc.  Right the way through from Shakespeare to the Victorians, we were a culture that was literate in both the Bible, and the Classic, and so tales of Greece and Rome were hugely influential. Pliny was someone cited as freely at Oxbridge in the 18th century as Shakespeare, Joyce or Ezra Pound are today, or if you prefer, as Dawklins, Ince, Cox and Wiseman are today!:)

So Victorian ghosts clanked and rattled chains? No, only in fiction and popular cultural representations. What “real” Victorian ghosts sounded like i will return to later, but for the moment let’s go back to the middle ages…

Medieval Ghosts

We have a number of sources for medieval ghosts. The miracula and mirabalia are books of miracles and wonders that were kept for the edification of tourists, sorry pilgrims, in many medieval abbeys. Ghosts sometimes crop up — and some are deeply, deeply, weird,more similar to what we today classify as “high strangeness” UFO accounts than apparitional reports. Ghosts change shape, being tortured souls seeking rest and entry to heaven – we encounter things such as a sinful knight who haunts in the form of a drinking horn, and souls trapped in the form of hats that fly around emitting sparks! For all the high strangeness cases, there are also a lot of fairly normal sounding apparition cases: and they do seem to groan, cry, or wail. Now Steve Parsons also mention the fact “woo!” sounds like the cry of an owl, and that immediately reminded me of Shakespeare, and from hence i recalled the imagery of Isaiah 34:13-15, here given in the King James version –

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.

This imagery of a desolate ruin, a potentially haunted place is certainly evocative, and would have shaped popular consciousness every bit as much as Pliny I guess. I may be unusual in that I know the KJV but even a century ago I think most people would know those words… (Incidentally there are much more accurate versions of the Bible around today, so don’t get too excited about the dragons!).

Anyway I can’t actually find a reference to a medieval spirit hooting like an owl: I read through the whole of andrew Joyce’s excellent book on Medieval Ghosts this morning, and had a quick flick through Jean Claude Schmitt’s (1998) Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society, and found nothing useful here. Still I recall many passages about screech owls in classical texts on Necromancy, and while I do not have my coipy of Daniel Ogden’s Greek and Roman Necromancy to hand, I certainly can look it up later.

What is clear is that medieval ghosts speak: indeed there primary purpose often seems to be to dissuade a sinner from their wicked ways, lest they end up suffering the same miserable fate as the ghost! Sometimes they need to put matters right or seek revenge, like the woman who had cheated her husband and son out of her will, giving everything to her brother, or the case of the man who fell through the roof and died while trying to ctach his wife committing adultery, then returns to haunt her! Medieval ghosts are actually very vocal…

The Living Dead

As a bit of a digression to out main theme, 12th century England was a bit hammer House of Horror. Specialists often differentiate between the apparition and the revenant, with the latter being an animated corpse — a descendant of the draugr of Norse mythology, the dead who rise from their graves and seek to terrify and destroy the living. These are the British ancestors of the Vampires and Zombies of today, but they are far more horrific than Edward Cullen – in fact they are far more horrific than even Jedward Cullen would be! (You will have to be UK based to get that joke I’m afraid…)

The Medieval Chroniclers tell us quite a bit about these beasties, and my favourite tales come from William of Newburgh. He dedicates three chapters of the fifth book of his Chronicle to the theme, and I think his words are still spine chilling even today…

It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony. It would be strange if such things should have happened formerly, since we can find no evidence of them in the works of ancient authors, whose vast labor it was to commit to writing every occurrence worthy of memory; for if they never neglected to register even events of moderate interest, how could they have suppressed a fact at once so amazing and horrible, supposing it to have happened in their day? Moreover, were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome; so I will fain add two more only (and these of recent occurrence) to those I have already narrated, and insert them in our history, as occasion offers, as a warning to posterity.

If you are interested in the whole story, read chapters 22-25 here.

Now you may very well be thinking at this point “pah! old hat! I knew all this…” I shall therefore proceed in part 2, assuming I ever find the time to write it, to look at what noises Victorian and Modern Ghosts make according to the findings of psychical research – but for now I shall leave you with an anecdote. I have above offered what I hope is a sensible explanation as to why Victorian Ghosts clank chains – but many years ago my friend David Curtin suggested that gurgling, groaning and the clanking of chains in ghosts might coincide with the development of the indoor toilet – rather than tell visitors Aunt Fanny was locked in the lave with a very dodgy tummy, the ghost was blamed for the noises! :)

And just in case you all think I have finally taken leave of my senses in dedicating my leisure time to the pressing societal issue of “why do ghost go woo?”, a) will it really be any more irrelevant than anything happening at a political conference this week, and b) I’m not the first – Ian Topham has a thread on the topic on the Mysterious Britain forum!

I’ll be back with a part two at some point :)

cj x

 

 

 

Wheelchairs, brothels and community spirit!

Posted in Social commentary desecrated, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on June 28, 2010

OK, it seems like forever since I last wrote. I stopped blogging during the election, and it has proved hard to start up again, but I suppose I will slowly get back in to it. Part of the reason is I have been so incredibly busy with the old lady down my street who I have long been friends with; we now go for an hour long walk every evening, and her cup of tea every night takes another hour, with frequent visits during the day eating up  my spare time.  She’s lovely but the endless phone calls as she has become forgetful do drive me mad! Still I guess this is part of the “big community” we hear so much about — I’m lucky enough to live in a street where people are very friendly, (yes, that includes very much the really nice folks from the brothel that used to be down the road till the big police raid a couple of years back — not that I ever twigged it was a brothel till the police kicked the door in, and I lived next door to it!), and spend a lot of time talking to one another and helping one another out.

Actually thinking of the brothel, or massage parlour or whatever it was in reality reminds me of the one night I nearly realised what was going on, or should have done. A chap in a wheelchair knocked on my door, and when I answered appeared to try to be asking me to sleep with him. He had a mild speech impairment that made communication difficult, and I was very polite, simply assuring him “I was not that kind of girl.” (I’m not any kind of girl actually, I’m a bloke.)  He remained quite insistent, and then I realised he wanted sexual favours from someone else, not me. I became rather confused and a little embarrassed, till he suddenly realised he had the wrong house  number. That was a relief! I should have referred him to the woman at Lloyds Pharmacy who covered Lisa and others holiday or sickness when she was a Dispenser there — she was unfortunately entitled a “Relief Dispenser”, and that was what this chap claimed to want!  Anyway the brothel is long gone, and life here has returned to what passes for normal in this ironically named street.

The whole brothel affair was brought to mind a few minutes ago when I was walking Chris in her wheelchair down the road. We parked in the shade of the garages to talk to Tina, and then a lady from a letting firm drove up, a pretty blonde girl.  So naturally I had to wander over to chat to her a minute, as the residents of the street interrogate any one we see walking past (more on this soon). I asked her if the house was still for rent, and she said no, it had just been let — “to a lovely couple of working girls”. I must have looked shocked, because she blushed and said “I mean professional women”… That did not make it any better, and we both burst out laughing, and then she said I knew what she meant — “women professionals”, and laughed more and apologised and said she knew all about the brothel raid! Nice lass, very friendly, as letting agents tend to be.  She assured us if we had any problems with the new people in the street we could complain to her — and I was mildly amused, and said “why on earth would we do that?”   To which she replied – it’s that kind of street!  Er, OK.

Life in the street progresses at the usual slow pace; we have all been worried about one of my neighbours cats, a beautiful fluffy black Persian that looks like a walking bush with two glowing orange eyes when she sees my cats and fluffs up. She was fitting on Friday, and it was touch and go, but after veterinary intervention, some shots and a considerable bill she is now seemingly fine – let’s hope she stays that way, she is a lovely beastie.  Yet I wonder how many people in the UK would know about the current state of health of their next door neighbour but sixes cat???

So let me get back to what started all this. I’m busy with work, Becky, and lots of other things — but I have to stop and think about the “Big Community” idea that is currently so fashionable in Cameron’s rhetoric. Obviously I like living like this — or I would not do it — but would you??? It’s an honest question. I like it, but it drives me mad. In a sense I have spent much of my life “growing up in public” — I never valued my privacy much, and much of what I do (though not all) is well known to many people. I’m a chatty, outgoing, open kind of guy. I think a lot of you think you know me and what goes on in my life pretty well for that reason (though I think I could still surprise even those closest to me at times!).   I know what “big communities” are like — and I know the pitfalls.

Firstly, I’m an amateur. What I do for Chris can not replace the dedicated health professionals — doctors, nurses, opticians, pharmacists, and the lovely NHS carers who come round four times a day to look after her. I can’t heal my neighbours cat — she needs a vet for that. I can’t look after the street lights, make sure the water supply is clean, or mend a broken boiler or chimney. Community activism and volunteering supplements but does not replace the need for dedicated professional services, and never will, unless we return to a very small economy and near subsistence living.  Even medieval villagers were not as self-sufficient and isolated as people often think.   A “big community” can do something to make life better, but it does not replace the need for social services and properly trained professionals.  Secondly, while the voluntary sector with superbly run organisations – we all know the Red Cross, Age Concern, The Samaritans, the RSPCA, NSPCC, etc, etc, which perform such incredibly valuable work in our society — can take up some public services and perform them very well, these organisations still need funding. More importantly, they need committed, hard working volunteers. And sure, twenty years ago I knew loads of people who did this kind of work — but in fact that is getting harder and harder to achieve. People on JSA or HB are seriously penalised if they spend too much time working in the voluntary sector – because they are limited to working less than is it ten or sixteen hours now, or face losing their benefits? The Benefits people look askance at volunteers – if you can work for the PDSA or British Heart Foundation shop, why are you not getting a proper paid job they ask?  So many volunteers are those who own their own homes, have an income from another source, or have well paid partners.  When I was an undergrad Student Community Action was a popular way to help others and get some stuff on your CV – nowadays its muh harder, and as Student Grants were replaced by Student Loans the number of volunteers diminished as students who previously were leading tea dances or doing gardens in run down parts of town were suddenly forced to do a MacJob to pay their way. Not necessarily a bad thing — but we saw a contraction of the voluntary sector, as economic realities hit home.

Next up, it might sound idyllic living with great neighbours who look out for you and always stop to talk or ask you in, but is it really?  Everyone in the street knows who Becky is, who Lisa is, and what my latest situation is at any given time. I can do almost NOTHING without becoming the centre of gossip for a week! I don’t mind, but you can absolutely forget privacy – DC, Kevin, Tom and Dave Sivier are all known by name and reputation and what they are up to equally to many of my neighbours, but they are just casual visitors to my home. In how many streets are passers by stopped and chatted to and quizzed about heir business? (the Brothel customers used to often walk round the block several times before ringing the door bell, because they were too embarrassed to walk up to the door while half the street was outside chatting, drinking tea and coffee on door steps or playing with cats or whatever…)  In how many streets would a letting agent come to do something at a house be interrogated by people from the street, and feel she had to offer assurances?

And that is what it’s like. Forget privacy, forget coming home after a long day and just watching the telly. I have a constant stream of visitors and telephone calls, a hundred demands upon my time.  Most of today has been spent on talking to neighbours, taking the wheelchair out, talking to Tom who popped round and making calls for people or just chatting on the street. I had a day fairly free – and while I had some work to do, and have spent more time on this post, I can promise you it can be a little tiring. I think a lot of people who bemoan the loss of community forget how claustrophobic the world I live in, a world that really is best represented by EastEnders or Coronation Street where everyone knows everyone’s business and everything becomes a cause for public discussion, is.  Fall out with someone here, and thank heavens I never have, and your life could soon become almost intolerable. I think it’s really quite intimidating for people like my new Polish neighbours, who are talked at whenever they walk to their house, and find themselves the subjects of intense scrutiny, or for the young married couples down the street who don’t know the history of the various households, or unwritten “customary law” and “traditions” of the road I have spent the last five years learning.   You park in the wrong place, like the poor actress who rented a house the Christmas before last for a few weeks while she worked the panto season, and face the consequences. She was unloading her baggage to move in  the house, and had a group of neighbours asking who she was, why her car was there, and shouting at her because she had parked in a spot outside their window. I went out and tried to help her, and managed to find out she was becoming a resident, but then I became the subject of some of the hostility – she only managed a few days before she moved on I think.  God help those who try and park their cars down here to go shopping: the roads nature pretty much precludes that though, as it is so narrow. Parking your car an inch too far across and impeding others access and you immediately incur a lynch mob…

Still it’s a wonderful place to live, and I want to reiterate that. If you are a private person like Lisa, or are used to the anonymity of a suburban semi, I’m sure it could be hell on earth. Communities are people, and big communities mean you have a lot more people in your life. I think Andrew Oakley would enjoy it here — I certainly do — but for those whose lives are shaped by privacy, neighbours who may nod in passing, and a comfortable retreat in to their own homes, this could be a future vision of Britain they are not keen to see come to fruition…

cj x

Romer Roams With The Romans!

Posted in Games, Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on March 25, 2010

This week DC is on holiday, and having failed to find anywhere pleasant in Bavaria to visit at short notice decided to mooch around the Cotswolds, just enjoying his time off.  On Tuesday he called me up and asked if I fancied  day exploring the Roman remains in the Cotswolds, and so we set off sightseeing.  I think this region was Britannia Primus, the first district of Roman Britain, and it seems little known outside of historians just how important South-West Britain was in the Roman period. We started by driving the twenty or so miles down to Cirencester, Roman Corinium, and drove past the amphitheatre to park up in town as  we were  hungry.  Still I have found a picture of the site today…

Cirencester Amphitheatre

Cirencester Amphitheatre from Wikimedia Commons

Anyway we parked up in the car-park in the centre of town and wandered round to the Black Horse, a lovely little pub in the centre of town that pleased DC by selling Jennings beer, his local (when he is in his native lands)  Cumbrian brewery. I don’t drink these days, but I did enjoy the food which was excellent and fairly moderately priced. I have known about the place for years, owing to a story reported by Marc Alexander in his book Haunted Inns that I read many years ago – I seem to recall the case was of a chap who woke to see an elderly woman in his room; she went to the window and scratched something there with a diamond ring, and when he leapt out of bed she vanished. In the morning though the pane of glass apparently had a name carved in to it.  I may be getting the details wrong – it’s decades since I owned a copy of the book, but I’m pretty sure his source was the vale of the Vale of the White Horse Gazette from 1937. I used the story in a Pendragon RPG adventure many years ago when the knights spent the night in the hostelry here, as a start for an adventure – but that’s a different story!

black horse cirencester

The Black Horse, Cirencester - click for link

I asked the pretty young barmaid if she knew anything of it, but it was her first week there as a trainee, and the manager was away. Oh well! We tried years ago when James was still alive to organise a PARASOC ghost investigation there but nothing ever came of it, and as it only has three hotel bedrooms we are not sure that even GSUK could manage much, unless we take a much smaller group than usual. It’s very reasonably priced for accomodation though, and the food was excellent, and the beer apparently good.

I snapped a shot of Cirencester as we walked

I snapped a shot of Cirencester as we walked

We wandered through Cirencester, a pleasant little place, to the museum. It’s excellent, one of the best I have seen actually, with some superb exhibits — it actually seems rather out of place in such a tiny town, but it benefited from a £5 million refit a few years back, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Britain before the Vikings. The medieval and later centuries do not get much emphasis, but the Roman and Saxon material really interested me – some readers of my blog will know that I wrote my ‘A’ Level History project on The Problem of Romano-British Survival, and what got me in to trouble in 1987 – saying the archaeological evidence pointed to assimilation and a native population adopting Saxon culture, not being exterminated and replaced in a genocidal war – is now twenty odd years later I believe pretty much the norm.   There are some wonderful mosaics from the latisfundia and villas that ringed the region, probably to my mind the richest area of Roman Britain, and I wish I had taken photographs, but I did not stop to enquire about the rules on photographing exhibits. The only photographs I have are therefore of me and DC. This  website however is a great place to catch a glimpse of what treasures are held within: sadly I can not find  museum website…

I took a snap of DC, who entered in to the spirit of things with the dressing-up box. He may appear as a Lunar officer in a forthcoming Gloranthan RPG session of mine looking like that! Even better than dressing up, we then found a Tabula (Roman boardgame) table with the counters, and set about a game, which occupied us for an entire hour. Made a nice change from modern Eurogames, but it seems that you can’t stop us being gamers, and it was hard fought till finally DC won! (He always wins boardgames actually…) Here is DC considering his next move!

DC playing tabula

DC playing tabula: he won!

It’s quite a fun game actually, and I thought I was winning when I finally got most of my pieces in the last quarter — I was wrong as it turned out. I’ll beat him when we play Hnefatafl though, I have the Viking blood!

I thought including activities like this in the museum was a nice touch. I spoke to the lady (Curator/Assistant Curator/Musueum Assistant – i’m not sure which she was) on the desk and joked very few people must play the game? She said no, it was very popular, people get absorbed in it and it’s hard ot throw them out when five o’ clock comes round and she is trying to close the galleries!

We had coffee and cake in the museum tea room, and talked politics for a while over the days papers before going outside to look at some modern frescoes and murals, and plotted paiting David’s garden walls likewise. Then finally, and a little reluctantly we emerged back on to the rainy streets of Cirencester, David with a book on Romano-British religion, I with no money with a set of little metal Romans he bought me for use in our game sessions, and made our way back to to Cheltenham.  I apologize for boring you all with my “holiday snaps”, but thought might be worth sahring and make a nice change from chronicling the Cork Poltergeist over on my Polterwotsit blog…

Cirencester outside the Museum

Cirencester outside the Museum

Boardgame Review: Ticket to Ride Europe

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on January 7, 2010

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…

Ticket to Ride Europe: the components

Ticket to Ride Europe: the components

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.

Ticket to Ride Europe: the game board

Ticket to Ride Europe: the game board

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.

Becky playing Ticket to Ride

We played all Christmas...

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!

We have played this game a lot now...

We have played this game a lot now... Ed and Becky during a New Year game at mine

Gameplay


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.

a game in progress

a game in progress

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

cj x

Just in case anyone wondered…

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on December 9, 2009

I’m still alive! I had an enjoyable board games evening last Friday night, and DC, Tom Nowell and Richard Lay came over for an hour and a half while we played a quick game of Condottierre, a fun card/board eurogame of Italian Renaissance empire building. Unfortunately DC then went down next day with the dreaded lurgy piggy flu, and so after a fairly depressing weekend in which I did not seem to achieve much (apart from being spaced out completely by some pills my doctor gave me) I spent much of Monday trekking about Cheltenham in the rain trying to get him his Tamiflu. Monday night Kevin  and Luke came over for Geist, the rpg of the unquiet dead, and last night I slept much of the evening. I’m glad to say it sounds like he is on the mend. Yesterday was taken up largely in running errands for people, and my failing to get my PIN number right so my bank account locked – I never made it to the bank today, but I will tomorrow. So after many hours of walking all over the place in the rain, and aching dreadfully and feeling run down, I have been sleeping most of today, and am glad to report I’m feeling much better and am pretty certain now I don’t have the dreaded lurgy. Anyway that’s my excuse for not having written anything here for a week!

Hope everyone well, cj x

PM’s Pledge To Flood Devastated Cumbria

Posted in Dreadful attempts at humour by Chris Jensen Romer on November 21, 2009

“PM’s Pledge To Flood Devastated Cumbria” is a headline today on Sky News. I thought it unfortunate, and wondered how he plans to get the waters to rise above the level of the local mountains. Presumably his plan involves damning the lakes, levelling Scafell Pike, etc etc, and building a huge dyke around the county before letting the North Atlantic rush in?  Flooding the county further seems a little unnecessary, given the “Act of God” (though one has to ask which one is intended by that phrase?) which has already done a pretty good job.  Still if you are in Cumberland or Westmoreland might I suggest starting to build an ark, and voting Tory? (I can’t believe I suggested the latter…)

My friend DC comes from Seaton near Cockermouth — I can’t see him being impressed by this latest government initiative. Or maybe Sky News intended to say “PM’s Pledge to Assist Cumbria, Devastated by Floods?” I assume the latter, but my reading was more interesting!

Best wishes to all Cumbrians struggling with the flood, and all News Editors struggling with the English language. :)

cj x

PS They have now an hour later changed the headline to “PM’s £1m Pledge To Help Flood-Hit Cumbria”

Shame the former version was more interesting, while significantly less accurate!

The Cats of Normal Terrace: mourning Ziggy

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on September 21, 2009

Nowadays my blog is filled with me talking about ghosts and stuff, and it’s probably easy for people to forget that I have a life outside of work, psychical research and religion.  This post is about the street where I live, Normal Terrace, and the most important residents – the rulers in fact of our lane, the cats.

This morning my neighbour Chris called to tell me the sad but not unexpected news that Ziggy, aged 17, a lovely black and white puss had finally died.  He had been ill for months, and in sharp decline the last few days, but so often had he recovered from the point where all seemed lost  that his passing still came as a shock to me. In some senses I think it was a relief to us all – poor old boy, none of us wanted him to suffer, but the death of a beloved member of the community always hits home.

Ziggy lived seventeen happy years, with his sister Zag and the elegant Suki. Chris loves them all so much, and serves their imperious demands with a devotion many a cat owner will understand.  I know we don’t have favourites, but in a sense Ziggy was her favourite.

My acquaintance with Ziggy began when I moved in to the street, maybe four years ago now. He and Zag were not the friendliest of cats – unlike  the white lady who basks at the bottom of the street, or the beautiful but highly strung black fluffball Tina owns, Zig and Zag always kept thre distance. Attempts to pet them were rebuffed — and my cats never achieved more than a nodding relationship with those two. I really thought they were unfriendly, aloof little kitties, but I was always pleased to see them basking in the sun outside Chris’ house.

Then came that terrible day 18 months ago, when after a frantic struggle to save him, and a trip to Swindon it still hurts to think of, we lost Lisa’s beloved cat Marmalade. Some of you know the vents that followed, and how we have another fluffball now called Marmalade, but we will pass over that – the important thing is that among all the condolences, and the incredibly kind efforts of David Curtin who drove us on that last terrible journey, and brought us back in tears, the support from Tina, Lynn and all our friends in the street – well that was the day I cam to know Ziggy.

I was sitting on my doorstep, crying my eyes out. I rarely cry; I had not cried since 1992 until that day, but the dashing of our hopes just when we thought we had saved him had left me distraught. The sight of a grown man crying on his doorstep is not one many people care for, and I was therefore surprised when I felt a nudge. It was Ziggy – he came, climbed on to my lap, and nuzzled my nose. For the first time, and I had sat in the doorstep many times before while he regarded me warily, he had approached me, and now he purred and rubbed himself against me. I don[t know if he understood I was distressed or not, but I do recall the comfort he brought me. There were other cats, and always would be – Marmalade had gone, but all over the world new kittens were being born, who would live, play, hunt and wail as kitties everywhere do.

Ziggy and I became friends from that day onwards. I came to regard him as a good friend, and as Chris was unwell and I came to pop round more and more, for our little trips to the shops or afternoon chats, I came to befriend Zag and Suki as well, and when they were ill, I took them to the vets for Chris when they needed attention.  Stephen Crickmore of Albion Lodge (by the Tesco on the edge of forever) is a wonderful, compassionate and highly skilled vet – and he always did Ziggy proud. Chris nursed him, with special diets, endless love and affection, and cared fro him as i cared for my beloved Crowley who left me on a dark December morning last year. I know the sting of loss – but also I know that there is comfort in friends, in the happy memories, and in the moggies who remain and make their demands of us. Zig will be yowling for his supper in a better place now, but it’s hard to imagine a better home than that Chris gave him – his Paradise must look alot like that little house in Normal Terrace!

One day in February I was convinced our journey together, Ziggy and I. would be our last. I walked to Stephen with heavy heart – I did not so much lift Ziggy in to the box as pour him in to it, and he had not eaten for days. I was trembling as I walked down the road, and yet as I approached I heard a loud indignant yowl and the old boy sprang up, and started purring. Stephen gave him some shots, and he was able to live another happy six months. Yet Stephen knew his days were numbered, and we all knew one day he would move on, leaving us to go play with the other kitties who have gone before.

Ziggy and Chris

Ziggy and Chris

That day has finally come, and I recieved the call from Chris this morning. I cried — I’m sad and sentimental at the moment anyway– but I have a happy thought. Yesterday the sun beat down on Normal Terrace, and Ziggy went outside, walked over to the fence, up and down a bit, and then lay down on his favourite spot. Last night he sat on Chirs’ lap till minutes before the end when he leapt down, lay down in front of the fire where he often basked, and went to sleep one last time.

Tonight we are taking him to Gareth’s to bury him, and pay our last respects. I’m hoping to be strong for Chris’ sake: I know how good it was to have Kevin Sides there for me when Crowley died, and am still thankful to Malcolm for his help that day. So I’m crying, but not for Ziggy – I’m crying for us — for Zag and Suki, for Chris, and for all of his friends he las left behind – but I’m not crying for Ziggy. He lived a wonderful life, and died content and peacefully at a great age, surrounded by those who love him.

I just hope, when the times comes, we can all manage to be as lucky as Ziggy.  Till we meet again Ziggy, love

cj  xx

The Haunted and the Haunters: the House and the Brain

Posted in Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on March 11, 2009

I managed to find this on the Waybackwhen internet archive, and as I frequently cite it, and thought it might be of interest, I’ll reproduce it here.  The title is taken from a very famous ghost story, but seemed appropriate!   This piece was originally written in 1994, and revised in 1995 and 1997.  [[XXXX]] indicates 2006 edits when I put it on my ghost group’s forum.

I note the revision history, but the position stated is very much that I held in 1994 – it has changed in many ways since then, but I think it was one of the first pleas to take an approach that looked at what we might find if both psi and the spirit hypothesis held some truth, or were partially true, but more importantly now is that I had realized the potential of experimental work with psychics even back then. Little did I realize  that Most Haunted would happen within a decade, and unfortunately every one would experiment in this direction!

Anyway, as people keep coming here looking for the Edinburgh Science of Ghosts event (and one more time – http://www.scienceofghosts.com/) which I will be attending as a punter like you, well I may as well publish one of my articles on the topic. Please note I am in no way at all connected with said event — I just thought it looked fun and advertised it on my blog after it was first mentioned on the parapsychology mailing lists!

:)

The Haunted or The Haunters;

The House and The Brain

(from copy dated July 18th, 1997)

When investigating a “haunting” there are two main schools of thought in the [[group]].

The first takes the ‘common sense’ view that the disturbances we look at are caused by external agencies, such as ghosts, spirits and the like.

This could be called the haunted school for it believes that paranormal events do occur and are something like an affliction, or at least little to do with the witnesses.

The second school is that of the haunters, those who believe that the occurrences are primarily the responsibility of the witnesses themselves.

This could be further subdivided into those who do not believe in the paranormal except as hallucination or delusion (the sceptic’s camp), and the position I intend to consider, that which holds that paranormal events do have an objective existence but originate within ourselves [as a result of unknown psychical powers.]

It is quite a remarkable claim. Imagine Mr. Jones has called us in to investigate mysterious goings on in his home. The last thing he expects to hear in reply to his worried question “What’s haunting my home?” is the answer “You are, Mr. Jones.”

Now of course for many years parapsychologists have postulated the idea that poltergeist phenomena are created by PKE or psycho-kinetic energy; that is that a human being is responsible for the haunting. Unfortunately popular works on parapsychology have created a popular conception of haunting as either by ghosts (apparitions appear, chains clank, doors open and close, etc.) or by poltergeists (an emotionally repressed and deeply frustrated youngster lets off steam by throwing furniture about psychically and generally having a nervous breakdown outside of their head).

This is the basis for the concept of the person-centered versus place-centered haunting; the former “poltergeist”, the latter a “ghost”.

Could it be the distinction is false? One of the great strengths of the [[my group then]] is that the investigators tend to make repeated visits to a property and spend several hundred hours at any site, and hence come to analyse cases thoroughly. Most of our investigations have included both traditional ‘ghost’ effects such as apparitions and a history of disturbance through several tenants, and traditional ‘poltergeist’ phenomena such as objects moving and in many cases S.O.D.

(Author’s note:  SOD is an acronymn for small object displacement. A good example is a craft knife which vanished while repairs were underway at The Bell in Dursley, and reappeared a few minutes later on a table where it certainly was not a moment before. SOD is easy to explain away as misperception but I am personally convinced by the fact this phenomena has been mentioned to me on almost every case I have investigated without leading questions, yet it is not considered part of the traditional repertoire of a haunt. SOD is easy to remember; indeed rarely has a technical term been so appropriate. The mnemonic to recall this is  “Where’s the sodding ghost put my car keys/cufflinks/whatever?!”)

The moon over Thetford Priory, Norfolk

The moon over Thetford Priory, Norfolk

So how then does one set about haunting oneself? Well according to most proponents of the RSPK [Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinesis – Star Trek style technobabble at its finest that I have critiques elsewhere] or poltergeist theory the human agent who creates the disturbance is unaware of their actions, at least on a conscious level. After suffering a set of paranormal events such as SOD and object displacement what is more natural than to start seeing ghosts?

In the 1950’s the then President of the S.P.R., G.W. Lambert devised his much maligned geophysical explanation for haunting resulting from underground water. His theory was in essence that an underground water course may flow under the ‘haunted’ house and that after heavy rainfall the stream results in subsidence of the property or other structural movement, possibly causing the house to vibrate and knock objects flying simulating ‘poltergeistery.’  He took the theory one stage further, stating that these odd noises could the be psychologically ‘rationalized’ by the percipients minds creating a ‘ghost’ to account for them, and then seeing the imaginary ‘ghost.’

Water flowing underground... well nearly! Thetford, Norfolk

Water flowing underground... well nearly! Thetford, Norfolk

In essence I think Lambert may have been on to something. Environmental cues such as the ‘Corridor’ and ‘occulted space’ things I found in my work with Curtin and Lay, as well as a variety of other stimuli, may lead a sucession of tenants to the same conclusion, namely that their house is haunted, even if no knowledgeable local tells them so.

Once the belief is there, or even the vaguest shadow of a doubt, it must surely become that much easier for the mind to generate micro-PK (or minor poltergeist) phenomena. It has been repeatedly claimed that believers score higher than sceptics on ESP tests, and there is some reason to believe that motivational factors should also be considered. Once the idea of a haunting is broached, do the family then begin to generate the haunting?

What follows? As the Psi/haunting builds up more and more people within the family become convinced, and their scepticism breaks down. Thus the haunting becomes increasingly severe. Members of the family then begin to explain the events by reference to a guilty third party or ‘ghost’ and may in line with Lambert’s theory begin to see or hallucinate apparitions. It may only be at this stage that they consciously begin to consider themselves “haunted”, the build-up having been largely ignored by the conscious mind. Then again a sighting of a ‘ghost’ with its origin in misperception, temporal lobe epilepsy or other stimuli may actually initiate the sequence.

If the hallucinatory nature of the apparitions seen seems unlikely, as in a case where two witnesses see an apparition simultaneously, it is still hard to rule out the possibility of one telepathically transmitting the image to the other. More problematic is the situation where two witnesses, many years distant in time and with no knowledge of the earlier experience both see an identical figure. This could be rather unconvincingly explained by recourse to archetypal or locationally suggested visions (a monk in a church for instance) or possibly by evoking the idea of Super-ESP which is sometimes used in discussions of mediumship.

Why does it end? Well if the initial PKE disturbance is occasioned by psychological forces then we may expect those feelings to eventually be alleviated as the chief instigator or focuses circumstances change. Often all that is needed to cure such a ‘haunt’ is the intervention of someone with counseling skills who is able to pay a little attention to the frustrated person. Of course it is significantly better if the person who ‘cures’ the situation has an air of authority and possibly even some hi-tech gadgetry to wave around. Simply announcing ‘the ghost’s gone’ may sadly stop the exteriorization of the internal complex and lead to the eventual breakdown of the agent if they can not find a better way of ‘letting off steam.’

What of ‘exorcism’, ‘deliverance’ or ‘moving on’? If the exorcist has less than full confidence in their own abilities or the focus has developed a dislike for the would-be helper then we might expect a violent reaction; the ejection of the exorcist or the worsening of the haunt. This is not a game for idiots or fools, but requires a mature sensible person who is likable and possesses certain counseling skills.

It is with the matter of exorcism however that we find the greatest problem with this theory. Practical experience, not as yet backed by any theorectical or experimental basis, has shown that haunting tends to reoccur some three months after exorcism. Unless there is some compatible pattern in the fields of psychotherapy, counselling or psychoanalysis I find it hard to see why this should occur. The second outbreak is rarely as severe as the first and is usually not a source of worry to anyone involved.

A word of apology and a disclaimer. This article has been hard to develop and reflects my own developing ideas. Although I am a [[group]] member this article is in no way representative of the ideas of the group. The group holds no corporate religious or philosophical beliefs, and all views are those of individual members. I certainly do not intend to denigrate the psychics, especially Miss M. A——, who is just as vital if these ideas are true, for she is the best ‘cure’ I know of for ‘psychic disturbances’. I therefore offer a brief word on the psychic, haunter and the haunted.

I have never rejected psychism as a belief system. This is a constant source of amusement to my more sceptical colleagues, but I see no conflict in my position. If poltergeists are caused by the mind of a human agent we do not necessarily have to give a psychosomatic explanation for their ‘exorcism’. The psychics energies may well be one and the same as those which are causing the haunt; that is the agent is in fact a latent psychic who simply does not know how to control the energy they are generating. The problem for me is that against my wishes I am being led further and further towards an epiphenomenalist rather than dualist position, and hence am rather inclined to see ‘spirits’ as exteriorized fragments or sub-personalities of the human agent or psychic, a convenient label or mental device to perform the task. I am however willing to be proved wrong, and end by stating that if anyone has any doubts about a psychic’s talent then they should meet a good one, and listen. The results are edifying. [[Obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of the reality of psychic powers!]]

[[cj]], 1994/95

UK-Sceptics Conference, Muncaster Castle, Cumbria, 18th-20th September 2009

Posted in Debunking myths, Paranormal, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on March 5, 2009
uk-sceptics conference 2009- see you there?

uk-sceptics conference 2009- see you there?

The UK Sceptics have announced their 2009 conference to be held at Muncaster Castle, Cumbria on the 18th-20th September 2009.  Speakers include Chris French and Chris Roe, but also interestingly John Walliss on mediumship and amazingly Nick Pope – yes,  Nick “real X Files” Pope! I have never heard of the other speakers but it looks like an excellent line up, covering a huge array of topics, from the social psychology of conspiracy theory to “The Lure of the Dark side: Sex, death and the paranormal in cult movies.” Sounds intriguing! I don’t know if I will be able to make this one – places are limited, and Cumbria is a bit of a trek for me unless Dave Curtin is interested or some of my other friends are interested, but if you are considering going do email me or comment and let’s see if we can work something out!

It is astonishingly cheap for a weekend in a castle — to quote their website “As is clear from the location chosen and the invited speakers, we have decided to make the conference a quality event rather than go for minimum cost; however, the price per head will still only be £65 as an Early-Bird booking discount (£75 if booked after July 1st).

This price includes, access to both days of the conference (10 talks, 5 per-day); access to the Friday night welcoming wine reception (meet the speakers) to be held in the castle; tea, coffee and biscuits each morning and afternoon session; a two course hot fork buffet style lunch on Saturday and Sunday, full access to the castle and grounds for the duration of the conference (note castle is open Friday and Sunday – grounds open all the time).

In addition, an optional 3-course dinner for speakers and delegates is available on Saturday evening in the castle (priced separately £45 per-head).”

Well I’ll be skipping the dinner, and it looks like one has to find accommodation – where is Dave when you need him? Still it looks pretty good to me! :)

So anyone interested?  Full details at

http://www.ukskeptics.com/conference-2009.php

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