"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Playing football in the park

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on February 12, 2011

OK, it’s been a while since I have updated but various writing commitments and a concentrated spurt of writing articles on Polterwotsit, mainly about the supposed Thorpe Park hauntings, though also about a Cumbrian haunt, has kept me busy. Of course I have been doing many things – I rarely seem to have much free time apart from the hours lost in reading — but yesterday David Sivier came up for our weekly meeting, and we as always went out for lunch. It was at lunch I realised I was becoming increasingly grouchy, and the even worse than usual service began to get to me. I don’t mind people getting my order wrong, but I’d prefer they just admitted it if they say they will change it; normally I’d just consume the wrong order, yesterday I argued my point, got it changed, and refused to accept I was at fault (and I wasn’t).  Still, that and a few other minor thing seemed to suddenly induce a murderous rage in me — and given how incredibly unlike me that is, I was a bit concerned, but not as much as Lisa and David.

I’m usually an incredibly mellow person, but since I have given up smoking I have reverted to my old teenage self, where the slightest insult will result in my wiping out my enemies clan to the seventh generation, boiling their bones and giving it as broth to their surviving kinfolk. Well something like that – anyway I was clearly not my usual happy-go-lucky self. Lisa suggested I seek medical advice and pills before I actually slaughtered or sadistically maimed anyone, which seemed a bit over the top. I was merely grumpy, and still far less so than most people get, I’m just more imaginative in expressing my annoyance I think!

So I decided I needed to do something, as giving up smoking is actually really quite nasty in it’s effects on my moods. Its been over eight weeks now, and I have been a bit more irritable than usual, but thought it might be over by now. Two months — how come I’m still grumpy? Lisa claims it is that smoking actually calmed me down, rather than giving up has made me more tense – if she is right, then I’m really stuffed – go back to smoking, or inflict wrath of biblical proportions on those who annoy me – I’ll take smoking every time. I really, really hate confrontation, anger and violence.  Besides, no one pays weregeld these days, and so blood feuds just take up far too much of a chaps time!

Anyway the good news is I thought of a compromise between being sedated in the interests of public peace (and to be fair I’m usually pretty mellow when Becky is here), and wreaking horrible vengeance on seven generations of the descendants of those who serve me diet not full fat coke  or the wrong meal, or give my change to someone else, or whatever else – all those annoyances were in twenty four hours,  and clearly one can see why faced with such provocation was no rational alternative but disembowelling them in a Viking Blood-eagle or hurling them and their kin in to pits of serpents?

I decided I probably needed some exercise, and to not sit around dwelling on the craving for ciggies. So David and I set out in search of a ball.

Now I’m forty one, which remarkably comes as quite a surprise to me. I had the impression I was forty two, I don’t know why, but when I got on a wii fit last night to check my weight (a stone lighter than Christmas 2009, which I think is good, as I have been furiously piling on pounds since I gave up smoking till I resemble a rather corpulent walrus, sans tusks) – anyway it seems I am forty one. I was born in 1969: I will not be forty two till August. I could have sworn I was already forty two, so it was  real shock, though I guess not an unwelcome one.  It is ironic that I can list every Conservative, Liberal and Labour leader since my birth (despite little interest in politics), tell you the names of the principal advisers of Charlemagne, and discuss in depth neurotransmitters, or the geology of the Cotswolds, or many many other utterly useless subjects – yet I do not actually know how old I am.  (actually I rarely know which day it is, and sometimes get confused on months and years, which probably accounts for my vagueness on my own age).

Anyway I’m forty one, and of generous build. Dave is about forty three (I know he is two years older than me, and we share the same birthday so I always know exactly how old Dave is if I know how old I am, which I don’t usually) and I think it is fair to say of equally non-athletic body. We are not going to win any awards as Cheltenham hunks, unless hunk is based on the dictionary definition of  “a shapeless gobbet; a roughly torn portion”. Still after discovering that the toy shop on The High Street did not sell footballs – “not in season, they are summer toys” – er, I thought the football season was in the Spring? – well what would I know! we spotted a huge basket of them in SportsDirect, opposite. SportsDirect seems to sell lots of stuff dirt cheap, so we wandered in and found respectable looking balls at two for a fiver (size: Small, but they look football sized to us).

So Dave, sometimes known by his nickname “Beast”, and i bought a football, and proudly wandered, well shambled, through town with it. That alone should end the days of fifty million pound transfer fees – the sight of us two with  a football has doubtless sent the style conscious youth of Cheltenham rushing to buy dominoes sets, eat cream puffs and donuts, and swear darkly never to be seen near a football field again. If we play football, it is no longer the beautiful game – it’s now something for the really scary old codgers, not something to admit to a passion for.  OK, it might take more than one park kickabout before we kill the game off – but three more sessions and I reckon that will be it, terminally unstylish!

So we then set about texting everyone we knew who was likely to be available, as we had an hour spare, but astonishingly most people claimed they had to work late. ;) Don’t they have windows? Or failing that, something they can quickly cosh the boss unconscious with before scurrying out to freedom? (you can see know why I need exercise or fags!) David and I had been working: now was clearly the time to play football. Luckily Paul Birkett was free, so we made our way to Winston Churchill Memorial Gardens, happy, free, and all to willing to kick a ball around and run amok on a Friday afternoon

On arrival we discovered the first problem; the gardens, once Cheltenham’s cemetry, before it filled up some time in the 1860’s, does not have much space suitable for ball games. Much is given over to the old funeral chapel, now a martial arts dojo as far as I can make out, and flower beds. We chose a patch of ground on the south side of the park – I did not mention to the others that the graves were only grubbed up here fifty years ago, as it seemed a bit grim, and makes me eye the mud on my carpet I trod home with a slightly bleak eye, as I think of the former residents who may be represented in it. It’s a nice park, but in future I think we will to Pittville Park:  not only was that never a cemetery, but we can stay further from the children’s play area. Yesterdays Citizen headline was about some pervert monster who abducted a teenage girl being sent down — we definitely got the impression the mothers were very wary of what we were doing a few hundred years away, despite me engaging them in jokes about our ball skills and a rather playful Cocker Spaniel called inevitably “Jarvis”. Eventually I think they realised we were there to have fun, and not to harm their progeny at the far end of the park, and I think laughed at the sight of two fat wheezing old blokes chasing a ball (and the lean and exotically good looking (as the part-Dutch go) Paul, the rat – he still plays hockey and is much younger than Dave and I! – anyway I think the weird spectacle of us trying to get a ball past Paul in goal amused them in the end. By the time we left mothers and children had all departed, and a group of Asian lads who wandered through averted their gaze from the horrific sight.

Winston Churchill Gardens seems to always have a good number of Eastern Europeans enjoying the park, but they generally ignore me, or politely move as I wander through, and they seem to enjoy the gardens. In the summer you get native drunk teenagers and locals in little clusters, and the odd bit of hassle apparently from gangs of feral teens, but I have never had any problems with anyone: I often know a few of them though, and generally laugh and smile when they shout stuff. I used to push Chris around the Park in her wheelchair, and after dark I can imagine it’s a bit scary down there, but it s a nice place to go during the day, and very well kept and heavily used by lot of different communities, a real success for an urban green space. We wandered home tired, sweaty and smelly after an hour of running about, as the Park was swallowed in the evening shadows. By the time we got back to mine, the street lights were on, and night had fallen.

I tried again today, it being a Saturday, to find some people to kick a ball about, but no one was interested, except two mormons on my doorstep who promised to come if I could find any more people for a kickabout. I guess it’s simple really why I want to go back to being ten, as Dave pout it, and play ball in the park – I have no kids, no real reason for exercise nowadays, I don’t even need to keep for for work , and I’m sitting typing most of the time.  Giving up the fags means I have put weight on, and I do seem to be getting more irritable, though hopefully that will pass – as I say it seems rare, and associated generally with having just eaten and wanting a cigarette. After two months I hope I’d be beyond all this.

Oh, and photos – yes I took a couple, just to prove Siv and I played football, (rather gently as as he has bad knees at moment) on my phone. But I can’t manage to email them off, so no photos this time. Think yourselves lucky, it’s not a pretty sight! If anyone would like to join us for a future kickabout, drop me a line. Pittville Park next time. Anyway, at least I’m much more relaxed now! ;)

cj x

Report from the Grand Tribunal of Stonehenge: Ars Magica UK convention 2010

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on August 25, 2010

OK, it’s all over. I am just working out how many hours went in to organising  it all: at least 70, as the Cheltenham con is not part of a larger event, so I end up doing pretty much everything. Still it was worth it just to meet some lovely folks, and spend a weekend dedicated to one of my favourite roleplaying games.

For anyone reading this who does not really know me well, Ars Magica is a roleplaying game set in 13th century Europe, as it was believed to be. Dragons live in the mountains, wizards study in lonely towers, and faeries haunt the forests. It’s not a computer game — it is a game played like Dungeons & Dragons by people with pencils, paper and funny shaped dice.  This was the fourth annual Ars Magica convention here in the UK; I ran the first two, Neil and Sheila ran last years in Cambridge and will host the event in 2011, and there have been three now in the US as well, held the same weekend. This was the largest so far: a total of 37 people being at at least some of the event, though not all were gamers, a few were guests or friends dropping in to say hi!

Woodcut of the freeform players by Pitt Murmann

Woodcut of the freeform players by Pitt Murmann

The venue is great, and usually very busy with community events and classes, so we were lucky to get it for a whole day and Sunday morning.

We opened on Friday with a very cheap meal at the Happy Garden restaurant, a local Chinese. It was great to gather 24 people together and just chat, and enjoy relaxing. For the Norwegian contingent  it was probably a much needed rest. Of course the day started much earlier for me and Becky, dashing around meeting delegates, and doing all kinds of preparation work — but that’s what happens when you host!

After the meal we made our way to The Cotswolds Pub where David Sivier gave an excellent paper on Fairy Beliefs in the 13th century & beyond. I learned quite a bit – I was not aware that changelings did not appear till the 16th century – up till then the fairies just left a wooden image in the place of kidnapped folks. The bit about the bloke who interrupted the fairy attempt to steal his wife and kept the captured wooden simulacra they had planned to leave as a useful bit of furniture made me laugh! I noted a number of similarities in the narratives with my recent work on poltergeists, and others had many questions for David who came all the way from Bristol to give the talk. Thanks Dave, and a belated happy birthday mate! (Same day as mine, the 23rd August). I was too tired to say much,a nd fighting sleep – because I was exhausted, but I hope Dave posts it somewhere on the web!

After that people just chatted or played card or board games – it was one o clock before people departed for their digs, even Lisa (who does not game) staying till the end, and I got home to find a problem with both my keyboard and printer, so much later before I finally managed to grab some much needed sleep. The gas was off: we have had a few leaks in the street recently – and it was morning before I could grab a quick wash and run down to open up the venue, Gas Green community centre. It’s a great venue, with two generous sized halls, a few rooms upstairs and a kitchen area, and served our needs well.

The guests were rather late this year, despite good weather; we were due to begin games at ten, but it took till eleven fr most people to gather, so we proceeded straight to the freeform, Puck’s Dell. I had worked rather frantically to complete this in time, and while it ended up with 23 players rather thn the planned 25, it was I think a success. Well at least most of the feedback I got was very positive. The sight of 20+ people dressed up running around scheming, dealing, plotting and manipulating each other was really entertaining, though as I was the only referee I was rather busy, and utterly exhausted by the end, where many true identities became apparent – think of it as As You Like It meets Ars Magica and you get the atmosphere and a rough sense of what it was about.  It is impossible to single out any one player, but it was amazing how Andrew O. composed an eight line song and melody (with help from Taryn) and got everyone to perform it while also trying to get his non-existent covenfolk (recently changed back from mice) to meet the many demands of magi and companions, and I think Nick Galaxy was absolutely amazing as Lugh the Apprentice!  Lloyd however was disappointed that his character the priest Father Gerard did not get to conduct any marriages, a fact given the plot I find astonishing, but then again he did not get to conduct any funerals – the only “death” was Sir Pharisee, turned in to a collection of sticks and flowers.  Barrie looked awesome as Geron, and Black Tom was also a lot of fun to watch scheming. However really I saw very little of the game; though the fireworks between Kirstie and Andrew Sceats characters at the end was really fun!

Freeform game at Grand Tribunal 2010

Freeform game at Grand Tribunal 2010

For those who don’t know what a freeform is: it’s a bit like a huge murder mystery game, where everyone is given a character sheet with what they know about their characters and then has objectives to meet. It is hard to explain, and for a lot of our players was the first time they had tried it, but they really got in to it,and Daniel Vandenburg and Ivan really worked hard making tabards and stuff, and were excellent fun throughout.

Anyhow, after the freeform I was utterly exhausted, but it was straight in to games. Tom Nowell ran a mystery playtest, the first of three over the weekend, for Atlas Games by special permission of line Editor David Chart, with the players signing Non-Disclosure Agreements.  This was part of a book still “in production” for Ars Magica, so I can’t say anything at all about the session (or the other two) but hopefully the feedback provided will prove useful for the authors.

Meanwhile Becky and  I played Leif Olav Josang’s The Unquiet Grave,  a wonderfully written game for grogs, with elements of low humour and high adventure, set in 13th century York (which happens to be where our Tuesday night saga is also set). Its a great adventure, possibly the best I have played for Ars Magica, highly recommended. Leif should publish it on the Special Ops Atlas Games site or in the Sub Rosa fanzine. Becky had never played Ars Magica before, and had only roleplayed twice, but she enjoyed herself too.

At the same time Nick Galaxy ran the entire Fourth Crusade, including the sieges of Zara and Constantinople, in just four hours.   only caught glimpses of it, but it looked great, and I heard the row between the Doge Dandolo and Boniface and things seemed to pan out as they did historically, except Zara surrendered and was spared sacking. I wish I could have played that as well; but we had to reshuffle time slots, so I missed out. I must ask Nick to let me see the character sheets though, because it looked like an incredible game, and because I am one of the authors of the latest Ars Magica supplement The Sundered Eagle which covers Constantinople and the Tribunal of Thebes, and indeed wrote the “modern” history bit.

The Sundered Eagle

The Sundered Eagle - out soon!

I’m going to have to speed up or this will be immensely long; the evening saw only one game run, as Lloyd wanted more time to prep hs mystery playtest. I think a boardgame was played, but I wandered off to get food, letting Tom Nowell take my place in Andrew Sceats’  The Archmage is Busy; he had just run a session and I felt he ought to be allowed to play because he could not make the Sunday morning.  I think it was run with 3rd edition rules, and apparently it was a fantastic scenario – maybe someone can write a review, without too many spoilers as I hope to play it in the future?

I got to relax a bit in the evening and chat freeforms with Mark Steedman, games with the Mark S and Ars writing with Mark Lawford.  Then it was home fr a much needed shower, and last minute prep for Sunday! The Author’s panel featured Neil, Sheila Mark Lawford and myself, and we read a message from David Chart where many forthcoming releases were discussed or hinted at – but no we can’t tell you, yoiu had to be there! Thanks to Lloyd, Mark S and Andrew O. we managed  link up with Caifornia, and chatted to folks at the Grand Tribiunal US event briefly before we lost connection I think, but that was fun too, and the raffles raised £187 for our three charities, which was amazing. :)

Sunday opened promptly, and all the remaining delegates (bar Sheila who was off to church) were in a game; well Becky watched mine. Two were Mystery Playtests, one run by Kev Sides, one by Lloyd so I can’t say anything about them as they are covered by the NDA. I myself ran Twilight Fades - a very unusual Ars Magica game, in that it was set in Summer 2010 with four bored eleven year olds banned from TV and trying to find something to do in a  rural Suffolk village – but by the end it was classic Ars Magica, kinda, sorta! I really enjoyed running it – excellent performances all round, Barrie James and Barry Cowden were hilarious, Mark Lawford somehow kept them moving and was the sensible one but a pleasure to play with, and Daniel Vandenberg’s Matilda was priceless —  “I want to be a Ballerina!” Well soon she was a ballista – not quite what she had in mind! :)

And then it was one o clock, all too soon, and time for everyone to go home. Not that everyone did – for many it was straight down to Wetherspoons for the Flying Ship Design contest! I had to pop up to meet JK at the Queen’s Hotel, but caught them later, and that evening was treated to a lovely birthday lunch by Leif, Karl and anders before they set off home for Norway in the morning.

Despite being utterly exhausted I enjoyed a wonderful weekend, and will do it all again in 2012! next year Neil and Sheila are hosting again, and I hope to make it, finances permitting.

So how did it go? Really well I think. I was shattered for my birthday on Monday – but we had fun, and what was noticeable this year was how much the emphasis was on grogs and non-magi characters. Puck’s Dell has Grogs, Nobles, Magi, Apprentices, Magical People/Faeries and Covenfolk as the five types of character – I hope all were equally fun to play. Twilight Fades, The Archmage is Busy and The Unquiet Grave all emphasized grogs. It just goes to show what you can do with the Ars Magica setting, even without your magus in the limelight, and how much potential troupe play has.

Apologies to anyone I have not name-checked in this brief run through — it was lovely to meet you all. I have to dash, but see you all again in 2012. Next year Neil and Sheila are hosting again, in Cambridge, as part of the Consternation con.

cj x

Grand Tribunal is held by kind permission of Atlas Games. “Grand Tribunal” and the “Grand Tribunal” logo are trademarks of Trident, Inc. d/b/a Atlas Games, used with permission.

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

CJ goes to the cinema: ‘Paranormal Activity’

Posted in Paranormal, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on December 20, 2009

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…

cj x

My fortieth birthday complete with infamous game photos

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…

The Game

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…

The Photos

Devil Toaster Ruined my Life!

Devil Toaster Ruined my Life!

What car would Jesus Drive?

What car would Jesus Drive?

Werewolves Protest Plan to Blow up the Moon

Werewolves Protest Plan to Blow up the Moon

Nun Fight at the OK Chapel

Nun Fight at the OK Chapel

Nun Fight at the OK Chapel

Nun Fight at the OK Chapel

9' Guinea Pig Attacks Joggers

9' Guinea Pig Attacks Joggers

9' Guinea Pig Attacks Joggers

9' Guinea Pig Attacks Joggers

Man takes out Restraining Order on Invisible Friend

Man takes out Restraining Order on Invisible Friend

Gnomes of Death/Killer Strippers

Gnomes of Death/Killer Strippers

Satan employs PR firm to improve his image

Satan employs PR firm to improve his image

The Fatal Fart

The Fatal Fart

Cowardly Matador Only Fights Rabbits

Cowardly Matador Only Fights Rabbits

My toilet Roll Holder is Possessed

My toilet Roll Holder is Possessed

How to Housetrain Your Werewolf

How to Housetrain Your Werewolf

Woman gives birth to 8lb Duck

Woman gives birth to 8lb Duck

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

hula hoops lead to alien abduction

What Car Would Jesus Drive?

What Car Would Jesus Drive?

Judge who refused to allow Witches to Adopt turned in to Hamster

Judge who refused to allow Witches to Adopt turned in to Hamster

Vegan Vampire Attacks Tree

Vegan Vampire Attacks Tree

Vegan Vampire Attacks Tree

Vegan Vampire Attacks Tree

vampire3

The Bell and The Ram: Ghosthunting with GSUK

Posted in Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on July 13, 2009

I said I’d write something about the weekend, and i guess I should, but for anyone hoping for fantastic proof of the paranormal, look elsewhere! What follows is a short account of a weekend ghost hunt that was notably devoid of actual spooky happenings.

About GSUK

GSUK is a small psychical research group set up by Becky Smith and I after we stopped working for Richard Felix at Derby Gaol. It’s every much a group of friends, and we have a forum where we chat, occasionally talk about the paranormal and plan our low cost little ghost-tourism jaunts, where we go to supposedly haunted locations and stay a night, a lovely way to see the country. I can’t recall exactly how many trips we have done, but we have ranged all over the Midlands and South West of England, and our regulars do try to attend every single event, for which we are very grateful. Perhaps the most interesting thing about GSUK is just how little of a paranormal nature ever seems to happen to us – in all our trips, only on one have I been really convinced something very odd was afoot! So unlike many ghosthunting groups, we are spectacularly unsuccessful in our endeavours.

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Another peculiarity of GSUK is the wide range of beliefs that members hold. A year or two back Becky and I got our folks to fill in Michael Thalbourne’s Australian Sheep/Goat survey, an instrument for testing belief in the paranormal. The majority of our members were actually extremely sceptical compared with the British public, and i was the second LEAST sceptical member of the group. Only one member counts as a strong “paranormal believer”. Yet we are convinced that the phenomena are worth investigating, and even Balders (Tony Robinson), our most sceptical member by far, is open minded enough to drive all over the country checking out the evidence for himself.

Even in religious beliefs we are diverse, ranging from Natalie Evans, our Wiccan-Spiritualist believer, through to the passionate atheists and then David Carter Green, David Sivier, Dawn Bedwell and myself, all practicing Christians. No, we don’t burn psychic believers at the stake – though if I could get away with it a few New Agers might make for a great open air barbecue! We are a tolerant bunch, often amused by each others ideas but we are good friends through shared experience I guess, even if the experience is limited to talking on a forum, eating together in nice hotels and wandering around looking for spooks! Anyway a great group of people, and we always welcome new people, as long as they are not loonies. :)

The Plan

Anyway there was not even time to advertise this one on Facebook, where GSUK has 60+ fans – we just mentioned it on the forum, and it filled up immediately. We had to turn people away for once, almost unheard of!  The plan was simple – make our way to the Old Bell, Long Street, Dursley, and book in, have a meal – the food there is simply wonderful, huge meals very reasonably priced, then drive down to the Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton-Under-Edge, stake it out till the early hours then return to the hotel in Dursley where people could sleep or sit up and look for ghosts as the mood took them.  As the Old Bell is very reasonably priced, and we agreed we would give John Humphries owner of the Ram a sensible donation, the weekend was not too expensive, and I think it was worth every penny, even if I say so myself…

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

Getting There – an adventure in itself!

On Saturday Becky picked me up and we made our way to Dursley, where our intrepid investigators assembled form all over. Many arrived at Cam & Dursley station, or as Tracy calls it after an earlier visit, “Damn and Cursely”. Would be ghosthunters should note it is a few miles up a very steep hill from Dursley, and a couple of miles from that town and Cam. There is a bus route, but folks dropped of by train in what appears to be the middle of the countryside may feel a little hard done by, so arrange lifts or look at bus times in advance! Once we had all arrived at the Old Bell, we had the usual meeting and greeting, the aforementioned excellent meal, and as many of us had been to the Old Bell before, in my case many, many times, a cheerful social afternoon.  Any ghosthunters reading this may wish to check out the Old Bell Hotel, a wonderful place to investigate with a genuinely ghosthunter friendly staff (and I’m usually available to show you round with enough notice as well if you want to know my side of the story – I blog about my previous experiences investigating the Old Bell here), but be warned – the hotel rooms are directly above Capone’s Nightclub, which is open till 5am in the morning, and the exuberant youth of Gloucestershire and pounding music  are VERY audible all night.

More decor from the Ancient Ram  - photo by Tony

More decor from the Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

On a previous investigation we ended up parodying Most Haunted, with me shouting “Did You Hear That?” over the sound of dance music, and when an ashtray moved in the dining room on the first floor it was clearly the vibrations from the speakers. You would have thought we were disgruntled, but not a bit – it’s very comfortable and we all I think enjoyed a good nights sleep, except those disturbed by certain member’s almost legendary snoring! However if you are planning to investigate here, do choose a week night.

At seven pm we set off for the Ancient Ram – you need cars to get there across the hills from Dursley, it’s about thirteen miles I think. We set off in convoy but some cars quickly became detached, but most of us went the wrong way in Wotton itself, and when Becky and I took the lead we could find no where to turn round, so we drove some eight miles before we finally managed to turn back, and I managed to get us to the Ram. We arrived in darkness, and pouring rain. I know where it is, I have been many times over the years, most recently being filmed for a US show called Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel, showing this month) just a month or two back, but I can’t find the Ram’s postcode anywhere and so Sat Nav was useless – and owing to some fault Becky’s Sat Nav played up all day.

The Ancient Ram House

I have quite a long association with the Ancient Ram. Back in 1993/94 I conducted a lengthy investigation, including a 72 hour vigil with a team. On another occasion I investigated alongside a team from ASSAP, and with the CPRG made a number of other trips there. I believe Derek and Harry’s report will still be filed at the SPR offices in Marloes Road – I was not actually party to the report, and am not sure what was said therein, but I certainly personally formed the conclusion that there did seem to have been a series of poltergeist type events in the late 1980’s when John’s daughter was resident in a room at the top of the stairwell. My memory, which may be faulty, was at the time we investigated John lived in the area which is now called The Barn,  and was sole resident. I don’t actually recall the “ancient grave” which is in the main room downstairs, though I do know it was apparently uncovered in late 1968, so how I missed it I have no idea! The house itself is far more cluttered than it was then, and the upper storey and attic is now no longer reachable, after the staircase collapsed under the weight of some rather large ghosthunting ladies. This has led to some notoriety for John Humphries as he has signs up which inform the public that fat women are not welcome upstairs! If you are at all sensitive about your weight probably best give the Ram a miss – even if you are slim as Becky, who is positively thin, you might be worried the building might collapse about your ears.

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

The Ghost Adventures episode was not my first time with TV at the Ram – Most Haunted filmed there, though I was not present, in the period I was a researcher for them, and ditto Dave Barrett’s Y Files and of course the episode of Ghost Hunters Spectres of the Severn in which I feature quite prominently talking about fault lines and Gloucestershire hauntings in relation to the geology of the area. The building is definitely picturesque, with features of historical interest, and there has been considerable controversy about the council’s refusal to help the owner John Humphries preserve a grade 2 (star) listed building which is clearly in structural disarray, and at the time of his taking it on in 1968 was actually as I understand it condemned to demolition.  I do not really know the ins and outs of the court actions, and the loss of an adjacent area of land ot New Life Church Dursley following another court action, but it is clear that John is struggling to keep his home in a habitable condition and that the property requires massive capital investment if it is to be there for future generations to enjoy.  Ghosthunters are one of the ways, along with American tourists brought to the building by a Mayflower connection, that John is able to attempt to fund the restoration.

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

Arriving finally at the Ram it was already nighttime, and we managed to make John hear and gain admission. He has recently been hospitalised after local kids beat him up after breaking in (he is 82) and he is now very security conscious. He proved, despite many rumours, an excellent host, and we all felt sorry for the sweet old chap, who is little like the more vigorous and opinionated John Humphries of the 90’s.  He gave us a lengthy guided tour, in the course of which I noted several features I had not seen before, but mainly I was amazed by how much stuff he had accumulated – almost every room is filled with piles of stuff, from furniture to soft furnishings, stacked high. When Most Haunted was filmed they must have carefully filmed round this, unless the clutter is much more recent.

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

The Science of Ghosts: how it went, part 3

Posted in History, Paranormal, Religion, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on April 8, 2009

OK, I may as well get on with the review I guess! Next up was The Haunted: A social history of ghosts by Professor Owen Davies. This moved form the science of ghosts to the history and cultural construction of ghosts, and was absolutely fascinating stuff – unfortunately I have read Professor Davies book of the same name as the talk which Becky gave me last year I think for my birthday, but I have not read it all yet. Then again, I also have spent many years of my life with the noted folklorist and historian of the supernatural David Sivier as a close friend, and working in a related field (the social construction of Earth Mysteries in the inter-war period was the subject of an MA dissertation I wrote.)

However, I still learned a great deal, and if I can try to briefly summarize – Davies concentrated on roughly Reformation to late 18th century spooks, and mentioned the tradition of the ghost in the white (winding sheet) as the standard depiction. This leads to an obvious question -did the percipients actually see ghosts in the burial garb, or is this simply an artistic convention used in illustrating them? I guess I shall have to look in his book! Davies mentioned the naturalistic looking spooks, which seem to be found in all ages – my mind was however working on how patches of ground mist can easily be interpreted as spooks in white clothes.  Some years ago now I was coming back from a meeting with Karl and Yvette having just stopped working for ANTIX as a researcher for Most Haunted, and having dropped Phil Whyman off on location we were driving back along a country road when Hugh slowed down and steered round “something”, as what looked disconcertingly like  a little old lady crossed the road in front of us, picked out in the car headlights. It was of course nothing more than ground mist! I also wonder how many “Black Monks” are down to shadows?

Owen Davies actually mentioned the prevalence of Roundhead and Cavalier ghosts – anachronistic but identifiable – but how reports of Roman ghosts were rare until the modern period, simply because kids in school were not taught how Romans dressed, so they have no concept of “Roman”.  This leads to two thoughts – a) we can not actually deduce from this Roman ghosts were not seen – they may have been, but were not describable as such, as they could not be identified as Roman  and b) it is curious that one of the best actual witness statements on Roman ghosts, that of Harry Martindale in his famous sighting under the Treasurer’s House, York, does NOT have classic Roman legionaires as the description, but auxilaaries with oval shields as I recall. Maybe thsi add credibility to that sighting? Dunno! Obviously by the 20th century Romans formed part of the taught history curriculum in most schools I guess – I’m surprised given the incredible importance of Classics that Romans were not discussed before. Generations of school children appear to have known The Aeneid of Virgil, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch etc? Were Roman’s really obscure in the educational curricullum of the past? I’ll need to look this up too!

A couple more things stick in my mind. Davies stated that child ghosts are very uncommon – definitely odd, as he said, given the high level of infant mortality. Was there not one famous child ghpost associated with Laud or somesuch? Once again I shall have to look it up – Ed Woods is the best person for this kind of work by far. What I definitely do not think is the case was Davies speculation that psychologically people were less effected by the death of children : this was largely demonstrated as untrue by the nnales historians, and while admittedly I have not read much in Family & Children’s history since I finished my history undergrad in 1990, it was idea that had fallen significantly out of favour at that time, based on documentary evidence as I recall.   So why no kids ghosts? I certainly find, with my modern sensibilities, the idea of child ghosts creepy, and they crop up repeatedly in the cases I am called upon to investigate — but thinking about it, I can’t think of any children ghosts in MR James and early 20th century ghost fiction; I guess Henry James Turn of the Screw may be the moment that childhood and ghosts meet with eerie force.  Also, the Medieval sources, such as the Bylands Abbey chronicles are as far as I recall devoid of child ghosts, as are the classical sources I know of. Immediately though a cause springs ot mind, and this is based upon something that Owen Davies mentioned in his talk – modern ghosts seem curiously purposeless, whereas the ghosts who haunted (often literally) the dreams of the classical and Early Christian ear were motivated by unfinished business – indeed this last right through Davies period to the dawn of modern era, with even 19th century ghosts depicted “pointing” at some wrongdoer, where there bones are hidden, where the will is concealed, etc, etc. And of course we have this in the annals of Psychical Research – 19th century cases like the Chaffin Will Case.  Are modern ghosts really purposeless? I guess one might argue that we are simply less interested in the teleology of the ghost – it is not the goal of the ghost that makes a modern mind wonder, but the fact that we are witnessing a ghost at all! If they exist that is…

:)

So why no child ghosts? I suspect the answer is simple – because children do not have “unfinished business” to the minds of this era, but are seen as innocents. Without getting in to a lengthy discussion of pre-Reformation notions of Purgatory (roughly 1200 and onwards at a popular level in this country I think)  think a lot of ghosts are denizens of Purgatory, seeking redress for wrongs, or prayer for salvation and entry to Heaven.  I’m trying to recall how Thomas argues in Religion and the Decline of Magic how ghost beliefs are effected by the Reformation, but certainly the notion is not immediately dismissed by the triumph of Protestantism, for sixty years later William Shakespeare uses exactly this motif, albeit perhaps with tongue in cheek, in Hamlet. The ghost of hamlet’s Father is back seeking justice – a pointing ghost!

I’d best wrap this up or it will get very long, but the other thing Owen Davies mentioned that sticks in my mind is there are no or very few disabled ghosts. I think this has changed by the 19th century, with the madwoman in the attic, who is often a physical invalid in some sense, and grotesque hunchbacked villains – physical deformity as a way of expressing supposed inner vices or sin I guess — terribly unpleasant and harmful, but seemingly unknown in earlier ages. This is according to Davies because of the theological belief the dead take on board perfected bodies – based on the Pauline Epistles, in particular Corinthians I think –  but I’m not entirely convinced there were not some disabled ghosts in British folklore. In fact I seem to recall a few stories, though most are actually perhaps witch or devil stories – I’ll look in to it!

A fascinating talk, well illustrated, I think Professor Owen’s book will prove a very entertaining read and look forward to getting back in to it.

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