OK, so I’m still recovering from a long weekend of debauchery. Well ok, I drank half a pint on Sunday night!
A good crowd of folks descended on Cheltenham, and some took part in almost everything, and some took part in only one event, and some appeared for five minutes then vanished as swiftly as they arrived! I think most people have come here looking for the infamous Screws of the World game photos though, so I’ll concentrate on posting those…
For those who don’t know, the Screws of the World is just a slang term for a British newspaper, The News of the World, which is actually quite readable and is a weekend paper – the daily is called The Sun, best known for it’s famous Page 3 girls. It’s a tabloid in the British sense, not the American, it reports real news! Anyway as the game was just named after it you don’t have to know any more – the game was invented by Ben Hayes and myself back in 2000 one long hot summer, and we played it then with interesting results, and some of the teams narrowly avoiding arrest…
So for my fortieth I decided to revive the game, and it can be explained simply – nine players were split in to three teams of three each, and given three hours to take photos to illustrate ten of the most outrageous tabloid headlines i could find (not all from the News of the World of course!) They had a total of forty real tabloid headlines to choose from. The photos that follow are some of the “best” of the attempts – team Jez, Martin and Barbie won in the end, their photos being voted the best, but that hardly matters. Here follow the photos, each captioned with the tabloid headline they were trying to illustrate…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!