I don’t mean Lisa, I mean my internet activities.
I just saw a friend has joined a Liberal Christian forum on Facebook, and it has brought to mind a few thoughts on what many people think is a rather perverse feature of my personality; given that I am a religious and ‘paranormal’ believer, with fairly strong beliefs that I express freely, why do I spend most of my on-line existence in atheist and sceptic sites?
Well firstly, as I have pointed out for many years now, I don’t see there being a dichotomy between ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’. The opposite of belief is disbelief: often a leap of faith in itself, and an opinion. Yet the notion of ‘belief’ and ‘disbelief’ is pretty meaningless unless we understand the context in which it is being employed. I know hard atheists who believe in life after death, hard Christians who have no belief at all in angels, and hard-core mediums who think psychic powers are bunk. If you are confused by any of those statements, just ask for clarification, but I think we can all accept that a believer in werewolves may or may not believe in ghosts, and a believer in a God may or may not believe in fairies.
Some atheist friends often remind me of all the gods I purportedly do not believe in (and then I like to argue henotheism awhile for fun!); yet often they seem to fail to apply the opposite notion — a disbeliever in deities (god/dess/es) may or may not disbelieve in all kinds of other things. There are plenty of virulent atheist spiritualists out there; and mediums seem pretty equally split on whether they do or don’t believe in reincarnation. Some of us may still believe in the Tooth Fairy; some may believe in Santa Claus, and some may believe Ipswich Town FC are a first-rate club. There is no necessary relationship between those beliefs.
The terms disbelief and belief are opinions on a specific issue: context is all important.
I see Scepticism as something very different – a process of understanding, by which one questions assumptions and truth claims critically. The sceptic may or may not believe in deities, ghosts or the Easter Bunny – that is an outcome of their enquiry, not scepticism in itself. One is a method, one a conclusion – the two should never be confused. As such one can believe sceptics believing in almost any hypothesis, given a limited set of data from which to draw their conclusions.
So scepticism is never enough – with scepticism must go work, research, and an attempt to apply the methodology objectively to as much pertinent data as possible. Any methodology applied to insufficient data will result in worthless results: sceptics must make an effort to make an informed and reasoned case, and that unfortunately is often a lot of hard work. Given the differing access to the evidence, it is unsurprising that sceptics often sharply disagree in their conclusions. Yet ultimately is hard for me to see any difference between a sceptical approach and a rationalist-empiricist synthesis scientific one. It’s almost impossible to define the scientific method, as long-term readers will appreciate, but scepticism comes pretty close. One critically examines claims, by a variety of methodologies – much as in the humanities actually.
So I regard myself as a process sceptic. I like to examine beliefs, including (especially) my own, and try to see if they stand up:and the acid test for doing this is surely in dialogue with those who have very different readings of the evidence, and hold very different opinions? One of the beliefs I hold is that “linguistic communities” who hold similar beliefs build them in to a way of interpreting reality in line with their paradigm — magicians learn to talk magic, Wiccans wicca, Atheists atheism and Hindus Hinduism, and by adopting certain linguistic ways of rendering or negotiating their lived experience they create a feed back loop that sustains and strengthens their pre-existing beliefs.
I’ll give the example I always give. Many years ago the Christian Union had booked a coach for an outing. The coach broke down, and by midday it was clear we could not get a replacement bus. I thought the bus had broken down owing to a mechanical fault: but I saw two divergent opinions arise among the Christians sitting around waiting for news. Some saw this as an attack by the devil: little imps had engaged us in spiritual warfare, and we were facing the opposition of the Evil One. Others, mindful that the devil has no power over God’s children, saw it as a sign from God – we were meant to stay and witness on this glorious sunny day to the heathens at the university, rather than take a coach to the sea-side. My comment on the bus probably being badly maintained and this being the cause of us being stuck there was passed over without any comment: yes that was the cause, but not the meaning of the events. Fair enough – what was fascinating to me was how this rather dismal outcome was negotiated in terms of existing theological and language structures to affirm Christian beliefs. It all felt a bit “heads I win, tails you lose to me” but of course if you believe that God is sovereign over all and intimately concerned with our lives that makes perfect sense: I accept the theology, but don’t process things that way, I have not spent enough time in Christian communities to interpret on those lines.
It’s easy to take cheap shots at Christians: I can imagine some of my dear atheist mates laughing heartily at this. Yet atheist communities, paranormalist communities, Lib Dem communities and for all I know Country Music fans do very similar things. They build consensus modes of interpretation, filters if you like, and they view the world through those lenses. Challenge the assumptions, and you may be ostracised, or ignored. In-group ways of seeing prevail: it takes a lot to upset them, because they are learned short-cuts for dealing with reality. Some one who has been unemployed a very long time will view the world radically differently from a bank manager, or office worker – but the difference between a Wiccan, a Spiritualist and an Atheist may be even stronger, as they have learned to read reality from utterly different perspectives. To a materialist the notion of a meaning beyond the cause of the coach breakdown is just silly. A spiritualist may find the idea of ESP bonkers: they knew stuff because a spirit told them, not because they psychically read Uncle Joes’ mind.
In fact we defend our communities beliefs passionately: we are annoyed when people question the common sense right to love as you will, live as you will, work as you will, in line with our concepts of what is right and proper. We form communities with like-minded people, and we pat each other metaphorically on the back, and only fight to establish OUR version of the party line. A fight between Anglicans is likely to be more heated than a row between a Baptist and an Atheist – the closer the conceptual closeness, the more the heresy hurts.
So maybe that is why I hang out on atheist sites: I am too annoyed by my fellow Christians to want to spend much time discussing with them, as they say things that challenge my own reading of Christianity, and I am too cowardly to defend and fight for my interpretation. Or more positively, because I see the value in learning a completely disparate mode of interpretation, so I read every communities I cans stuff, and try to self identify with te concerns and ways -of-seeing of that group, and engage in playful guerilla ontology, forcing them to question assumptions by mere existence at the party.
I don’t know: maybe I am just perverse, after all. I do know though that as a self-proclaimed sceptic it never does any harm to open yourself to other perspectives, and to listen to others.
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…
OK, a word of explanation. Lisa was doing a pharmacy paper on this subject, and I thought I’d do my version, using some of her notes and stuff. See what you think!
The argument that religious belief is a form of delusion is a common one. In psychiatric terms it is not correct; DSM IV clearly states that this, where delusions are stated not to include ‘articles of religious faith’. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 765)”
DSM IV does contain a new category of religious or spiritual problem –
“V62.89: This category can be used when the focus of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem. Examples include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 685)”
This was adopted for the fourth edition. It has proven controversial – but this refers to psychiatric problems related to religious belief, not religious belief in itself. Delusions can of course take on religious aspect, and some religious beliefs may be delusional, but a standard definition of delusion,
“A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient’s educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty” (Sims 2003)
Cultural and social background clearly excludes most ‘mainstream’ religious beliefs. A woman who believes her cat is a deity may be delusional; a man who rips out the hearts of victims to offer them to the sun god is delusional, unless he happens to be an Aztec priest of a former era, in which case arguably the definition would endorse his beliefs. Religious belief in itself is clearly not a delusion. in psychiatric terms.
Are religious people, if not delusional, still psychotic? Some have argued that the religious are neurotic, and that religions roots lay deep in personality issues ( for example, (Freud, 1939)). Others have looked for neurological and organic problems, most famously Michael Persinger with his ‘God Helmet’ experiments. These however were not double blind, and when replicated without the subject knowing if the machine was running or not or the purpose of the experiment did not work, showing suggestion at the root of the claimed results. (Granqvist 2005)
At the heart of the discussion of whether those who believe in a God are psychotic must be whether that belief, theism, is a false belief. Richard Dawkins has become famous for asserting “there is no evidence for God”, (Dawkins, 2006) but the claim is clearly untrue – many people claim to have experienced gods, and there is much evidence offered. When challenged he asserts he means “there is no scientific evidence for God”. This however is equally problematic – the basis of all modern Science is methodological naturalism –
“It is an epistemological view that is specifically concerned with practical methods for acquiring knowledge, irrespective of one’s metaphysical or religious views. It requires that hypotheses be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)
As such questions of God’s existence can not be admitted as scientific questions, and no scientific evidence can be offered. Also The Problem of Induction is settled in all modern Science by Hume’s assumption (see http://18th.eserver.org/hume-enquiry.html) of a universe governed by Natural Laws which are uniform and constant, which precludes direct Divine Intervention. If a God or Goddess exists it will be invisible to Science because of the axioms underlying all Science.
Science is not the only way of understanding however – the questions “how do I feel today?”, “what caused the First World War?”, and “does my mother love me?” are meaningful but not scientific. One can quite rationally argue a proof of a Creator using modern cosmology, (see Davies 2006, Rees 2000) or philosophical arguments. such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalam_cosmological_argument
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, DSM IV. Washington: American Psychiatric Association.
Davies, P (2006) The Goldilocks Enigma, Allan Paul
Dawkins, R (2006) The God Delusion, London, Black Swan
Freud, S, (1939) Moses and Monotheism, London, Routledge.
Granqvist et al (2005) ‘Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields’ in Neuroscience Letters, 379(1), p.1-6
Persinger, MA (1983) ‘Religious and mystical experiences as artifacts of temporal lobe function: a general hypothesis. in Journal of Perceptual and Motor Skills. Vol 57( Pt 2):p. 1255-62.
Rees, M, (2000), Just Six Numbers : The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, Phoenix
Sims A (2003) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology.3rd Edition, Saunders.
Let us start at the beginning – whatever the faults of such a strategy, there is tradition upon its side…
Once upon a time there was a boy called Christian Jensen Romer, and he almost deserved it. It was late on Wednesday night, and he was terribly excited. A book he much admired (despite reservations given Gray Barker who was heavily involved known propensity for hoaxing), The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, had been made in to a movie. Christian was very excited; three times that day he had been reminded of the book, which in some ways is the closest thing he has ever read to his own rather bizarre ideas on ‘the paranormal’. He was now thinking of buying the DVD, but whilst flipping through channels on TV, he found that BBC 1 was screening it at 10.45pm!
Oh joyous day! Calous, Calay! He galumphed down to his basement chortling, and posted a Facebook posting tipping people off, and settled down to watch the film. Lisa was in the house, asleep upstairs with the cats, and I watched alone. Every someone commented on my Facebook status, and I replied via my mobile, texting a comment reply.
And then it all got very weird. Suddenly a whole string of random numbers appeared on his status as a comment supposedly from him, and he pondered on what was happening. A cat on the keyboard? Stephen Atty’s suggestion was reasonable, but no cat and how did it hot the post button? That would require a mouse. It happened twice more. As far as I can make out my Facebook account is un-hacked – it’s hard to imagine any change to my details that would be funnier than the truth anyway. A long discussion develops between Parasoc Bruce and Stephen, with myself making passing comments – the film sadly bears almost no resemblance to the book, and I had by this time lost interest. I was talking to Becky about how disappointed i was by text message.Everyone agreed it must be something to do with my phone…
And it was. When Becky Smith goes quiet one knows the world has ended or the phone is not working. Furthermore this morning I was due to see Postman Ben, the man with the bleakest attitude I have ever encountered, someone who makes Marvin the Android look like an exponent of the power of positive thinking. He had asked me over for breakfast today, but when he failed to text or call to confirm I suspected something must be wrong…
The insomnia did not become apparent until 3am. Try as I could, I could not sleep. I have a few tiny revisions left to make on a manuscript I’m working on, and email to reply to, and an event I’m organising to finish arrangements for. Somehow, I could not concentrate. I was too tired to work, too awake to sleep. I watched TV till 6am – still no calls, no texts. At 7am I decided I may as well just give up on sleep and try to work – and I then wake at half ten, confused to find I still had no calls, and no texts. What was going on? Clearly my phone reception had failed? A few ‘phone calls to Becky confirmed all calls to me where going straight to answerphone. Oh well, I was already late for my breakfast time discussion of misery with Postman Ben, so I threw some clothes on, and in that state of mild anxiety being left incommunicado usually provokes in me hurried to catch the college bus.
I’m not sure exactly when my trousers gave up the ghost…
Now of course anyone who knows me knows that “builders bum” is a curse I inherited from my father, a very talented and clever man who for many years had a small firm of builders. I assume it’s genetic – why else would my arse so steadfastly refuse to remain properly ensconced in fabric. It is something of a joke among my friends, and a source of constant horror and shame to my girlfriends, that my trousers sometimes slip a bit, revealing not the whole of the moon but more than is generally considered fashionable if you are not an 18 year old girl prowling a nightclub like a wolf on the pull. (I like that actually – “The Assyrians came down like a wolf on the pull”). Anyhows…
SO I enjoyed my breakfast with Ben, who seemed in someways positively chirpy – misery is still his favourite word, and when I asked why he was off work he assured me it was through anal warts contracted cottaging – the truth was a chest infection, but it gives you a good idea of his general demeanour and personality. I stepped outside his house, directly opposite the uni campus, to make a call – no reception in there even if my phone was working, and I noticed a white van driver who came in giving me really funny looks. Sure I’m unshaven and scruffy – but this seemed rather direct even for that. Then I realised. My jeans had torn from almost waist to knee, and were flapping open, revealing my underwear, buttocks, and shapely legs. Now I’m not Kylie Minogue I admit – I don’t think my arse is that horrific though. Sadly the world disagrees with me.
So I panicked, ran back in, showed Ben who fell about laughing – his misery lifted as my acute embarrassment and discomfort became obvious – and in the best traditions of tabloid journalism I made my excuses and left. Now Ben’s flat is directly opposite the Park Campus, which seems to be filled with plump identikit 18 years olds with the same peroxide blonde hairdo. I’m sure they are all lovely, and have very distinct personalities, but they are far too young and impressionable to be faced with my bare buttock – and here I was facing the Hiroshima of trouser malfunctions. Luckily I was wearing my coat…
So hurrying off my bus home, which happens to be the Uni campus bus as well, I wrapped my coat round my waist as a sort of makeshift skirt. Now I’m unshaven, unkempt and feeling rough – and after I asked some students where the bus stop was these days, I am horrified to notice there reaction. Yes I look like a stereotypical flasher! At any moment people probably assumed I was going to throw open my caot/skirt, revealing my shortcomings to the world… Luckily in a few seconds a bus arrived, and clutching desperately at my coat I jumped on, showed my ticket and sat down. Students were now joined by a young mother with children who eyed me warily, and a host of little old ladies all of whom appeared to be looking at me oddly and giggling. Still, the bus stops just a minutes walk from home – almost safe!
I had caught the number 10, which dropped me straight in the middle of town, a town it seemed populated entirely by pretty female office workers enjoying their lunch who looked at my strange shambling figure desperately clutching a coat around me with obvious suspicion. I made it down a couple of streets, and then thought “I know! I’ll call someone on my mobile, and seem to be normal and unconcerened!” So I phoned Becky, who seemed thoroughly unimpressed as I had phoned her not long before. So I remembered Lisa was on lunch-break, and called her, but she was having a bad day, 15 minutes late for lunch and in a foul mood – I ended that call just as quickly.
I have rarely been so relieved to pass through the arch in to Normal Terrace. I bumped in to Chris as I came in, and I think she is still recovering from laughing at me after I showed her why I was holding my coat like that.
Oh well, at least my other phone works now I have transferred the sim. I have had better days though.
OK, I’m a bit too hot, after nearly an hour in the sun. I also seem to have a lot of road on me, and grease all over my hands. Most annoyingly, I have a bicycle that sounds like Einsturzende Neubauten (did I spell that right?) in concert when I even push it down the road which is all I am likely to be doing with it for the foreseeable. If I try and ride it it sounds like Sooty & Sweep meets the Velvet Underground crossed with Stockhausen on amphetamines. Still apart from that, a few bruises and a twisted ankle are the extent of the damage. I can still hobble about, for which the world can be grateful or callous as the mood takes them. So what happened?
I have no idea. The facts are simple. Took bike out for spin. Notice odd clanking. Get off bike, look, not much wrong, apart from my back brake cable has been taken out – that requires considerable force, but could have happened I guess somehow. My front brake is fine. I turn for home, and noise gets worse, but luckily I’m almost outside Paul Wheeldon’s flat. I decide to wander in and see if he has a moment and any tools, and to see if I can fix it, at least reconnect the back brake. I say hi to Paul’s landlord, a nice chap, and then park my bike by the kitchen window (in the yard) and knock. No reply. I curse my luck! I knock louder, still no reply, so finally remembering Paul is at the back of the house i try the door, and finding it open wander in. Him or Rob might be asleep, but with a spoon I can always fix it. I don’t normally burgle people’s houses! Then I hear someone out back, so I shout “Paul, yahoo, it’s CJ!” And he appears, looking like I have just shot him. Maybe he thought I was a very cheerful homicidal maniac come to slay him in his bed, or in true Mayor Quimby style his bed was actually filled with sexy young interns? Or maybe he really was juts trying to prepare his pub quiz for tonight, and could not be disturbed. He explained politely, but in that manner people have when flustered by unexpectedly being visited by people they really do not want to see right now that he was really busy and I’d have to go. I looked around for a spoon or something, but he did not seem very amenable to any further discussion, just kept repeating “you have to go I’m busy” so I left. And then things got worse.
I’d hurt my foot wearing some shoes which are not utterly disgraceful when I went to Dudley on Friday – the wrath of Becky is far worse than sore feet – and my left foot must be bigger than my right, for it currently has plasters on – so I was limping a little. I climbed on the bike, and gingerly set off up the road, when three things happened at once – firstly a car came down the (dead end to traffic) street far too fast, on my side of the road as people are parked on the other. Secondly my back wheel suddenly stopped turning, and then as the wheel left the ground as I put the front brake on, came off my bike entirely. I’d like to say it went rolling down the road in a cinematic manner – in fact it just seems to have fallen over on the spot, being already stationary. I leapt left, in to a wall, entirely unnecessarily as the oncoming driver stopped, and I believe nearly died of apoplexy laughing at the sight of my ungainly impact with the road. Well actually I think it was quite graceful? Who knows. Of course I land on my bad foot and twist my ankle…
OK, so just superficial bruising, and a twisted ankle. If it had happened on the Tewkesbury Road could have been fatal, but it didn’t, it happened at really slow speed in an alley. I now stood up, and found that my back wheel had come entirely off – the noise was caused by the nuts working free. Someone must have loosened them? That and the back brake not being attached led to the rather odd crash. Never had anything like that happen before! For a paranoid second I wondered if someone was trying to kill me. I keep my bike in the living room, and I never ever leave it unsupervised outside – I don’t even carry a lock nowadays. I just use it for pleasure jaunts. It has no panniers, and it’s hard to ride with shopping balanced on the handlebars. If I leave it at Richard’s while i go to TESCO he stands and frets over it like a mother hen guarding her young. If it was sabotaged it was done in the house – but who would have any reason to kill CJ? Not Lisa for sure! She has access at work to far better methods anyway.
So a homicidal visitor? A mental review does not suggest any! In fact, I am totally puzzled. Yet there is one prime suspect. A young lady, from Somerset, who has a known history of sabotage…
I have an exercise bike here. Occasionally we ride on it – I used to use it a bit till one day it fell apart under me. Lisa had exactly the same experience. We tighten the bolts, and yet it falls apart as soon as we are riding. And one day we found out how.
The young lady, who is two years old, has uncanny strength in her paws. Hansine, a small tabby cat is also a gremlin with an amazing ability to destroy things. Unlike other cats he does not just chew them – she undoes them, with her paws. She has no malicious intent – she just plays with any loose nut, working at it till the object in question falls apart. I don’t believe she could have disconnected the brakes, but if a nut was loose, she would have amused herself for ages unscrewing it. I would not believe a word of this, had we not witnessed repeatedly her sabotaging the exercise bike. So is she trying to kill me? Nope. But if there is a prime suspect, well Hansine is it. (NB: My cats are rather dangerous. I recently had to inform Cuddles he was not Corgi registered when he started to get very interested in the gas pipes.)
Well I got too hot standing on that blasted road. I would normally have wheeled the bits of my bike back to Paul’s, but he was VERY busy and quite insistent. So I wandered home, having reattached the back wheel after a titanic struggle in which I discovered the British public has an amazing capacity for telling you what you know and stating the obvious “wheel come off?”, “you got a problem with the bike?” and one girl who nervously said “do you live round here?” Yes, of course. I live just opposite. That’s why I’m standing by the side of the road sweltering covered in grease with a dismantled bicycle. I thought it so much more fun than repairing it with tools in the privacy of my own garden! One cheerful bearded fellow offered to help, but that was just as I finally got the wheel on and the forks bent back enough to actually wheel it home, and coast the last few triumphant yards down the alley where I live, bring Tina out to see what the noise was. Maybe she thought a scrap iron merchant pulling a wagon load of metal with a boneshaker, or the Angel of the Millennium heralding the Last Trump. Whatever she thought was drowned out in the cacophony of my triumphant arrival back!
Anyway enough. I’m going to the pub. I know I don’t drink, but hell, I think I might tonight. I won’t be repairing the bike in my perilous current financial state for a month or two, but I might ask DC over to have a look. For now, I’m just glad to be in one piece!
Just glanced at the hits counter on the blog and it has reached 5,000 visits to the blog. When I hit 2,000 we had a celebration of sorts – so I guess 5,000 needs marking as well! So a little celebratory wittering about my recent activities seems in order!
The blog has changed in character a little in recent weeks – other commitments have kept me from posting regularly, and when I do post it has been more personal CJ stuff about my day to day activities, and less of my lengthy essays on science, religion and parapsychology. I certainly will be blogging on those subjects again, and I have a whole new series to try out – I’m going to interview a number of people, some of whom readers of the blog may know, but all of whom have achieved eminence in their fields. The People: series will start soon, and will cover many of the unlikely and fun folks I know from the worlds of Science, Media, Games and History. Amusingly some of the people I have approached to interview actually seem quite flattered — and none have refused to date!
So what else is going on? I have pretty much quit the Richard Dawkins forum now, as I said I would, happy to let my record stand — I have made rather a lot of posts there, and I am happy that anyone who wants to can read them. I have been helping an old friend, making a lot of phone calls, and hoping some good comes out of it for him – I won’t say more – and this weekend is Lorna’s birthday, Becky is coming to visit and I will get to see Clare “Goldfish” Hatfield for the first time since my thirtieth birthday while she is in town. Been a while! Lisa is up to her neck in nationality paperwork, the cats are loud and demanding as always, but just as lovable, and generally “all quiet on the Western Front.”
Today was supposed to be busy with work, and a couple of hours out to go do a piece for an American ghost show. I met Dave Williams a lovely guy who gave me a lift to where we were filming in the south of the county, but we left early to be there on time, and by the time we had finished well that has put back work a good day. I’m going to have to work like crazy tonight to catch up — so naturally I’m blogging instead. The TV show was one of these Most Haunted format things – I signed no NDA and can comment freely, but I will wait till after it airs before naming it, but the usual rules apply — the distinction critical to normal TV between talent (on screen) and crew (off screen)is lost, the guys filming the show are the stars of the show, and they spend a night in a haunted location. With Most Haunted of course (for which I was briefly a researcher for Hanrahan Media on the early Most Haunted Lives, and then later for ANTIX on the series) one of my criticisms was that the experience of the crew takes place largely in a vacuum – you see and hear little about earlier experiences, or how the claims tie in to the parapsychological literature and other cases. (OK, not always, sometimes they interview witnesses – but not much). This show does not take that approach – I was asked about an experience about sixteen years ago, which I related to camera, and then talked a lot about the history of the area, the building, and so forth. It will be cut to a thirty second snippet if I am lucky – which reminds me of a funny story…
In 1993 I set up a psychic research group in Cheltenham. The Cheltenham Psychical Research Group to be exact, or CPRG. My then landlord Derek Newman was terribly “busy and efficient”, and soon we had a full blown office and a seriously impressive organization. (later it all went pear shaped, but more of that another time!) Unfortunately our press releases went out to the local media on April 1st, and I’m sure some of them thought it was an April Fool’s Joke. Back in those pre-Most Haunted days ghost groups were still rare, and people used to offer to pay us to visit their properties! (For those who don’t know, some owners of reputedly haunted houses are booked solid every weekend till next year with fee paying investigators nowadays…)
Anyway a week or two later I did an interview I will never forget. It went something like this–
Journo: So you study ghost and poltergeist cases?
CJ: Well I study alleged ghost and poltergeist experiences yes.
Journo: What would you do if you were in someones haunted house and a ghost threw an axe at you?
CJ: Pray and duck! I’m pretty confident that won’t happen though. (laughing)
Journo: So can you get rid of a poltergeist?
CJ: When I start to investigate the phenomena seem to invariably end. Maybe the spooks are shy?
Journo: So how do you deal with cases?
CJ: I sit down, have a coffee with the witnesses and try to work out what they experienced, record testimony and understand the claims fully…
Next day I was less than delighted to read in the paper “Local Ghostbuster …(CJ)… says he can cure any poltergeist with prayer, optimism and a cup of coffee!”
The only good news about all the press coverage was they usually got my age wrong, making me a couple of years older than I was. I once got in to an over-25′s night at Gas Nightclub with cheap drinks (I was 23 at the time) by waving a set of newspaper clippings giving the wrong age at the bouncers. Oh to have people believe I was under 25 today!
Anyway, back to the filming. It was ok, and it was clear sensation was the order of the day. Luckily I had quite a sensational story – nah, ok, it was interesting though. Dave had a fantastic story — I was jealous. Mine was “mildly interesting”. So I got to double up as historian. I seemed to spend an awful lot of the day standing under a tree sheltering from the rain, and a fairly short period in a graveyard being filmed. Of course the graveyard had nothing to do with the story, but it did remind me of sitting chatting to Clare the Goldfish there, some sixteen years ago, the night Derek and Harry were “busy and important” and Dave “the Munchkin” Aukett was swallowed by blue ectoplasm. OK, he got in his blue sleeping bag, but recorded it as the former! People were fairly bored and constantly told to write down ANYTHING that happened – which led to vigil record sheets with things like 1.06pm “fly enters room”. 1.07pm “fly buzzes Dave”. 1.08am “fly deceased.” I ended up chatting to people, and amusingly when who was with who as vigil partners was randomly drawn ended up with the very pretty Clare for almost all the sessions – my then girlfriend Sarah was not much impressed as I recall!
Heck, I suppose in my twenty years of ghosthunting I have a lot of anecdotes but like these ones, they really are only of interest to my friends, and the people who were there. Anyway I enjoyed the day, met a witch and talked incubi and pagan politics – not so much “Wicca and Witchcraft” as “Bicker and Bitch-craft” – and a chap called Alan who took a photo of the building which showed a figure looking out of the window. Even while they were doing interviews stuff was happening apparently, but I was not really privy to it until I was briefly filled in by one of the three main investigators later. Nice chaps, but I never really felt I got to know them at all – us “witnesses” talked among ourselves mainly, and I spoke to the crew quite a bit – but fun all round. Many thanks to Jeff Belanger for setting it up – I really enjoyed it even if I now have to work hard to catch up and not let my current employer down.
And on that note – well I enjoy blogging I guess, though I suspect i have very little worth saying, but maybe my life has a few moments which might amuse. It was nice to come home and find a comment from Keith Hitchman, who I have not seen in a long time, and I have been to TESCO. I shall resist the urge to coment about that. Yet, mundane or a little screwball as my life may be, a blog would be nothing without he readers and commentators. Whereas Beast has long wonderful academic discussions, my blog is a more light hearted affair, and I thank you all for reading.
And just before I say goodnight and do some work ready for more of the interminable phoning tomorrow, what search terms bring people here?
“how to use vacuum nipple clamps”
“richard wiseman spanking”
“bottomless bathing suits”
are among my recent favourites. Shame it oes not tell you who searched – I’d like ot meet Swindon’s lonely transvestite, and say “good luck!” I have a transexual friend, but as far as I know no tranvestite ones – yet.
“anna richardson sexy” got many hits which must do wonders for her ego – her career is going well, though I’m more disturbed by people searching for her address! Maybe they just want to write for an autograph. Over seventy people have looked for the Rev. Keith Hitchman – “revd keith hitchman 2009 cheltenham” was one search string from tonight, and “cress seeds experiment” is pretty popular. People are still looking for the Science of Ghosts website, and parapsychology, atheism, “was easter pagan?” and “bonze age myths” all rank highly in searches bring people here. Some people are looking for Jerome – friends from Richarddawkins.net I guess, or enemies from the same – and my esays on “Science and Religion” do very well. The highest ranked search term though? “Lord Kelvin”! Given the number of wonderful sites there are on Kelvin, that really surprises me. He massively outdoes “Darwin” as a search term. Maybe some school has a Kelvin essay title? I’ll add a good Kelvin link in the morning.
Night all , and thanks for reading!