Image from The Wizard Torn 3: an online Ars Magica convention.

Tonight I am writing about my gaming hobby so feel free to skip reading this unless you are a tabletop rpg gamer or very curious! I will be back tomorrow to normal topics (whatever they are?)

Well another Image from the Wizard Torn comes to an end. The big news this time is that the next Image will coincide with Grand Tribunal, and will cover the Stonehenge Tribunal of 1209 but will also have two programmes of games running concurrently, one for those physically present in Cheltenham, England at Grand Tribunal (tickets available from http://www.grandtribunal.org now) and the second Image half running online as the last three Image from the Wizard Torn have.

The games that ran at this weekend’s free online convention included

It’s not a playground! by Christopher Barrett. You are the children of the covenfolk, living day to day at the same place your parents work. The magi are scary, the few apprentices snobby, your parents bossy, and the work hard. Why not see if you can make it fun? (All characters are between 5 and 8 years old)

The Drowning of Marzanna by Sunette The death of Marzanna, according to Slavic folk beliefs meant the awakening of nature to life, and thus the beginning of Spring. But this is not a happy tale…and not for the faint of heart. (CJ adds: a delightfully gothic very dark tale of impossible choices and the darkest aspects of faerie).

A Field Trip by Darkwing A field trip for apprentices proves to be something very unexpected indeed, when the apprentices are Diedne and are hurried away from the covenant on a summer’s day in 1107…

Sabren’s Wall of Shells by Anna. The faerie queen of the powerful River Severn requests aid from Sir Nathaniel and friends regarding the Dominion boundary, revealing the story of the half-giant and why he lies low. The latest’s instalment in Anna’s long running adventure series set in Mythic Shropshire.

The Stonehenge Tribunal of 1202 by CJ. Using some new mechanics to speed up calculating the influence of various covenants over NPC covenants, twenty players from the four player covenants in his current saga (plus a couple of NPCs) schemed, traded, politicked and finally voted on cases and revisions of the Peripheral Code on both Friday and Sunday night. The most important addition was the decision by CJ to henceforth peg game time to real time, at two seasons to one week, to try and synchronise covenants.

Thanks to everyone who attended or played, and look forward to seeing you all and new faces in August. Also we still welcome new players and potentially new covenants in the saga, playing weekly or biweekly.

If you are interested in playing do contact me or post here: if you attended do post reviews.

Thanks to all our wonderful GMs and players


CJ x!

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Webinar uploaded: Haunted Northeast Derbyshire with Bill Eyre

Very brief post tonight as I am in the middle of hosting Image from the Wizard Torn an online Ars Magica rpg convention.

I am also these days Chair of the Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena and every Thursday night from 7pm to 8pm I can be found wearing a silly hat to hide my bald spot and hosting a webinar with one of the great and the good from the worlds of Anomalies research: parapsychologists, psychologists, historians, cryptozoologists and UFOlogists, theologians, and anthropologists, folklorists and Forteans. We do not endorse as an organisation any viewpoints but we do give the speakers a respectful hearing and a thorough grilling.

Now Bill Eyre is a veteran ASSAP investigator, and his thoughts are more spiritualist than mine: but he  has so much experience that the differences in our viewpoint in no way get in the way of my respect for the man. He is a genuine authority on haunting cases.

In this video filmed earlier this year we discuss weird phenomena from Chesterfield, Matlock and area. Sadly the first few minutes were lost.

You can find out more about ASSAP at www.assap.ac.uk

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Review: We Keep The Dead Close by Becky Cooper

I don’t read True Crime normally as I find it depressing and disturbing but this book has been highly praised and deals with a case I had heard of, the 1969 murder of Jane Britton at Harvard. It is a well written book that does not require you to understand anything about American campus life to follow and that has been widely praised for its reflections on women and power in academia and institutional privilege and a lot of other really important stuff.  And yes it does that, and there is a fascinating story with 5 main suspects and several other missing and murdered women, and it is a real page turner. But…

Spoilers: probably best not to proceed if you intend to read this. I mean it is presented like a whodunit, and I am going to reveal that…

…..
….
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Still here? OK so there is a really strong case built by the author and various true crime researchers against three separate Harvard professors; and a couple of minor suspects. Cooper looks in to each in great depth and it is really well done.  The victim was an anthropologist who had been on an archaeological dig in Iran: she was found dead in her apartment with red ochre thrown over her, and fur coats and blankets piled on top of the body. As red ochre was used in burial rites thousands  of years ago in cultures all around the world this ritual element suggested she was killed by an anthropologist.

So the sleazy line up of suspects appears, and the key one seems to have played up to the rumours he killed her. And everyone at Harvard knew it was him, but the uni covered it up. Except…

He didn’t. After 300 exhausting pages of investigation of all the academic suspects, and boy are they suspect — DNA testing is finally done and the murderer is revealed as a burglar rapist and petty crook who died in prison twenty years ago. Underclass, not academic, Black. Cooper in particular is disappointed he is just a stereotypical bogeyman: he raped and murdered other women, but neither he nor they get much attention. This is a book about a murder where the actual murderer is really a footnote.

The worst bit? I predicted this twenty pages in. Ada Bean a 50 year old secretary was killed in a similar way in the same district within a month and left under blankets: no red ochre though, but the crimes appear similar, though the police dismissed the identical MO as a copycat or coincidence because no red ochre. Because there was no connection between the women they could not be linked. Except of course if a burglar was raping and killing random women…

Yet Cooper almost completely dismisses Ada Bean: I feel she appears on one page, and is referred to in passing a couple more times. Whereas the wealthy, outspoken and bohemian Jane is celebrated throughout, and Cooper increasingly identifies with her and grows to “befriend” her and let her influence her own life and relationships, Bean is dismissed. Unrelatable? A retired fifty year old secretary lacks glamour: her brutal death becomes a footnote. Yet almost certainly looking at that case and other rapes would have thrown a very different light on the case. And it is not that the author narrows the focus exclusively to Jane: another young female academic’s disappearance gets a couple of chapters. 

Also Harvard does not seem to have actually covered anything up and cooperated with the police throughout. Yes several professors were alcoholic, sleazy or dodgy but they are not protected by the institution. That angle is much promised and “Me Too” gets mentioned but there is little real depth to it. Harvard apparently allowed relationships between faculty and students until only a few years back: now postgraduates are allowed to date professors, but not undergraduates. In fact one of the few interesting bits here was that while women have only had Harvard degrees since 2000 and had Radcliffe (the women’s college) also on their degrees till then the female alumni bemoan the loss: the erasure of the Radcliffe tradition that occurred with that.

Yes Jane dated professors; lots of girls did, but where the power lay in those relationships strikes me as more complicated than I expected. Jane was a pretty cool character and I can see why Cooper came to identify with her: but ultimately she herself inhabits like Jane a world of incredible privilege – the author gets free room and board in a Harvard colonial senate property for baking cookies three times a year for a function while she researches the crime, dates an intelligence agent who buys her Palantir software access as a gift, etc, etc…

Cooper tells Jane’s story with her own; but her own is very lightly sketched, and while we learn a lot about her feelings towards Jane and increasing identification it feels like the editor stripped the author out of the story, and what is left is an uncomfortable feeling of a shadow woman mourning the death of a talented and glamorous woman. More of Cooper in the story might have helped– she sounds at least as interesting as Jane?

Yes was Jane really glamorous? The author insists she was but she seems to have been  highly intelligent woman who struggled a bit in archaeology on site, had an emotionally distant boyfriend she was besotted with and who liked to sleep with people she met because she could. She was no beauty or icon: she was a very real down to earth woman with a scathing ability to put people down and piss them off. She sounds fun, bawdy and annoying, not the romanticised figure of the true crime victim.

I was also a bit uncomfortable in how intrusive it felt as Cooper hunts down family and friends, but guess that goes with the genre. Becky Cooper though seems to be a good hearted woman and an excellent writer: look forward to seeing more from her.

So if you love whodunits you will hate this book; the end is a crushing anticlimax. And by twenty pages in you have learned the Red Ochre that gave the murder its name was probably not that: possibly just red paint. Which takes us back to Ada Bean and the true lesson of this book: if you are going to be murdered be witty, sexy and aspirationally relatable  — but above all be middle class or you will be just a footnote in someone else’s story, and finally make sure you are murdered by someone interesting… 😦

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Review: The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story, by Kate Summerscale

Sometimes you should not review a book: it is a job for someone else.

It was the morning of my mother’s funeral; late September 2020, bright sunlight and sudden darkness; an angry wind shouting at me as my housemates gathered in a Wetherspoons in Stowmarket.  We had made our way separately across the country, a country closed down by disease. My first trip out in months – I was anxious and — well whatever feelings bubble beneath as you prepare to say goodbye to your mum in the age of sanitiser and face masks. Not long recovered from my bout with Covid, maybe I was grumpy despite the mountain of fried breakfast. Heaven knows I had every right to be, but I needed distraction and the papers provided it.

And then: an article in The Guardian about Kate Summerscale’s book on the Thornton Heath poltergeist utterly infuriated me. I felt the same annoyance as when yesterday an article declared some “unknown poetry” by a local Great War poet was discovered in — the archive of his work at the local library here!!! Why do journalists always have to frame research as serendipitous breakthroughs, and assume no one else has ever looked there? Why bother to keep these archives if you don’t expect people like me to go look in them? 

The problem with the shallow “previously unknown” convention is that implies that no one else has looked: and a lot of people probably have. Of course when you are writing a paper you hope you are being original: it is always painful to find others have got there first. Anyway the point was that this piece irritated me: I could certainly give most of the key facts about the Thornton Heath poltergeist, and so I declared “I must not review this book!”

So here I am, reviewing the book…

Now anyone who knows me knows I am suspicious of literary types and middle class dilletante authors who chance upon psychical research and are inspired to write worthy works in  beautiful prose about the cases that I specialise in. They often seem to have achieved but the thinnest patina of actual understanding of the literature. Many of you are probably waiting for me to burn Kate Summerscale in effigy as another privileged literary outsider dabbling in my subject. I suspect all literary, cultured types — I occasionally read Smolett or Sterne or Swift or  — anyway I one day hope to reach authors beginning with T. I am basically ignorant of modern literature, and not proud of it. 😦

Luckily, Summerscale overcame these prejudices: but I have set them out at length because they were so marked. If the book was dreadful I would not be reviewing it — so in many ways it is remarkably good, and you must certainly read it. So what is it about?

The book deals with a woman Alma Fielding who was at the centre of a poltergeist case in Thornton Heath, London In 1938. She was investigated by the Hungarian parapsychologist Nandor Fodor, an interesting fellow. My very brief summary of him in the first edition of the Parapsychologist’s Handbook reads “A Hungarian lawyer who moved to New York while acting as a foreign correspondent for a newspaper in 1921.

There he met Hereward Carrington, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and became deeply interested in the pursuit of psychical research. In 1926 a meeting with a psychoanalyst led him to develop that field as a personal specialty, and from 1927 onwards he investigated ghosts and mediums using psychoanalytic techniques.

In 1928 he transferred to a London newspaper group, and remains there into the 1930s. During that decade he published his theories that many poltergeists and hauntings originated in repressed sexual energies, which led him into bitter disputes with the easily shocked. His controversial theories in to the psychosexual origins of many hauntings, combined with a belief in Freudian theory and the unconscious manifesting paranormal events scandalized some and amused others, but few in the field doubted his knowledge and ability.”

If you are familiar with Fodor you may have read his 1935 book The Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, but the Fielding case is covered using  pseudonyms in his less known On the Trail of the Poltergeist. My own interest in him was reawakened reading Christopher Laurson’s excellent PhD (“Reimagining the poltergeist in twentieth-century America and Britain”) a few years back, which is definitely worth searching out if you are looking at psychical research in the 1930’s and if you enjoy this book.

So what is the book like? A well written page turner covering Fodor and Alma, and their relationship which is probably of more interest if you are not focusssed on the poltergeist element; except there is no relationship beyond the poltergeist, and poltergeists might well be products of relationships. Summerscale has really done her research and gone way further than any previous researcher on this case: hats off to her. She is one of Us now. One of us, one of us… 😉

The case captures a moment in time when new myths start to replace old ones: this is the beginning of the consensus that poltergeists are a “nervous breakdown outside the head”, an exteriorisation of unconscious conflict,  rooted in past trauma, and  all of the psychological theorising that posits poltergeists as produced by unconscious human agents, not spiritual dæmonic forces.

Fodor faced the central problem of all psychical research: how the hell do you pay the bills while doing this? (Other issues include the existence of ESP, survival after death, the nature of the Poltergeist, etc — but I can assure you from decades of bitter experience they are all secondary.) Fodor managed to get an income from the International Institute for Psychical Research — not Harry Price’s one but one endowed by I believe Arthur Findlay. As such the board had a pro-Spiritualist tendency: clashes between Fodor and the Board over his debunking of various mediums were exacerbated by a libel case brought with regards to Barbanell’s spiritualist journal Psychic News.

Now I believe the distinction between ghosts and poltergeists arose from the structure of the Census of Hallucinations and the particular biases of the SPR Committee 1888 to 1894, as long term readers of my stuff may know. However it is Fodor and to some extent Hereward Carrington and Eileen Garrett who manage to shift this to the hegemonic position, clearing the way for J.B. Rhine claiming it as a form of PK (recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis) and adding it to the General Extrasensory Perception hypothesis.

The much cited notion that poltergeists manifest around sexually frustrated women (a view much championed by sexually  frustrated psychical researchers, who are sometimes but not always dirty old men) or adolescent girls that was firmly ensconced in popular culture by the 1970s is a crude form of this idea. (It is also a nonsense: see my article on ‘Sex and the unmarried Poltergeist’ in Seriously Strange issue 146. Or even better read the only book on Poltergeists you ever really need to read, the magisterial Poltergeists (1979) by Cornell and Gauld.)

Anyway Summerscale’s book covers the poltergeist; the subsequent mediumistic experiments at the Institute; and what sounds like Fielding’s sometimes very clever trickery and strange personality. She is bored but happy to be strip searched (by women) and the centre of attention: she comes over in this account as a woman who is likeable but a bit scatty, with neurotic and hysterical symptoms as far as Fodor is concerned.

Fodor explains her strange behaviour in terms of repressed trauma; he suggests an orthodox Freudian view, and eventually his wife gets him an interview with the ailing Freud to discuss the case. Here there is a definite issue: Summerscale strongly implies Freud was not privy to and potentially antagonistic to psychical research: yet Freud had been a member of the Society for Psychical Research for at least twenty years by this point, and his conversations with Jung on the subject are well known. The story of Fodor’s fearless wife getting an interview with the great man by arriving at his apartment is a good one, and may well have been told by Fodor, but it is misleading.

Furthermore there is an emphasis in the last chapters that Fodor did not really think it mattered if the poltergeist was real in any sense, what mattered was the psychodynamic forces raging in Alma Fielding’s shattered psyche. I suspect this is bollocks – though he certainly said it at least once: Fodor remained committed to some paranormal forces at work in these cases, he just saw them as exteriorisation of internal forces within the agent not external spiritual forces. I could be wrong, but that is my reading of his later work with Eileen Garett et al. I expect Lisa Colette knows more than anyone alive in these subjects: despite Summerscale consulting her I am not convinced the inference one might draw of “Alma was a clever but disturbed woman and the only spooks were in her mind” is true to Fodor, no matter how much it is the story Summerscale’s readers want.

And then there is the elephant in the room – Freud. I know nothing about Kate Summerscale– I imagine from the text a prize winning product of some minor public school, sharing my background in history or cultural studies, but who maybe studied English at some Oxbridge college in the 70’s? See my prejudices writ large; I declare them freely. The reason I say this is because Psychoanalysis, repressed trauma, the sexual dogma, exteriorisation, the Id the Ego and the Superego all strike me as far more dubious than poltergeists; humbug psychiatry of the dark ages. In the 90s when I briefly trained as a psychiatric nurse we did not take Freud seriously; psychologists had rejected him in the 50s, embraced Behaviourism, rejected that and were creating new paradigms for the next generation to debunk by my time. (Trying to teach me NLP was an ordeal apparently owing to my overwhelming cynicism; I left before CBT was established as the new frontier… Actually trying to teach me anything ever is an ordeal according to some people? But I digress.)

Freud actually worked sonewhat on the wards back then for much the same reason Sun Sign astrology does — vested in cultural authority and any thing can work as therapy if you believe in it and your culture is permeated in it. Yet it was long rejected– the only place where Freud still had immense authority was in English Literature classes (and Developmental Psychology, where Freudian notions ludicrously persisted in how we understand Infant development and to some extent still do.)

Freudianism was largely dead and buried outside of there, literary theory and cultural studies. I used to be wildly amused by my friends textbooks, and was reading The Madwoman in the Attic, Seven Types of Ambiguity and any other literary theory I could lay my hands on in the bar. It often dazzled, sometimes sparkled, rarely convinced.

And then in the 90’s I believe Jeffery Masson or some such worthy published In the Freud Archives asking the question “what if Charcot was right and these women were actually abused, and the Electra/Oedipal complex was a myth?”.  That and the Sokal affair plus having adopted a grunge look inadvertently that tipped me briefly in to high fashion saw me reach my academic apogee: I had form for saying Freudianism is bollocks and became briefly reputable.

Kate Summerscale uses the story of Fodor, Alma and the spiritualists as a lens in to our cultural history, and questions of authority, knowledge and vaguely sexuality though the latter are treated with the delicacy of a vicarage tea party (and not the type with the latex clad randy rev. showing Nine Inch Nails videos). It feels too cosy, too hyggeligt — a book for Radio 4 listeners not those of us who get Heart FM and like it because we are not the drivers. She cites a whole raft of books in which the supernatural horror is ambiguously real, and the evil forces may be in the protagonist’s mind: but she suggests Fodor is the origin of this rather than the obvious origin, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (topic of a paper I am working on) forty years earlier!

There are two key passages which summarise the ambiguity of her position 

“The investigation of ghosts was ‘basically a psychological inquiry’, Fodor declared in his column for the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, ‘concerned with motives and emotions, and not with facts’.”

He did indeed, while courting the psychoanalytic movement. I am sure Andreas Somner could talk on this for a week. But then Summerscale herself concludes

“Since the 1980s, researchers in the psychology of supernatural belief have found a correlation between childhood trauma and adult experiences of paranormality. People who have been sexually abused as children are unusually likely to report supernatural events. Psychologists speculate that damaged children learn to use fantasy as a form of escape, while their desperate wish for control generates delusions of psychic power. Fodor believed that the desperation sometimes produced real supernatural force.”

And here is the rub: what research? The whole issues of trauma, repressed memory, the link between Fantasy Prone Personality and paranormal belief and paranormal experience (they are not the same) are so complex and so desperately contested it would take a longer book than this to go anywhere.

So in conclusion beautifully written, well researched and useful, tends to imply Fodor more central than he was in some ways — Hereward Carrington, Eileen Garrett and dear old Harry Price deserve treatments this good — occasionally misleading and ultimately probably slightly depressing, a bed time story for an audience with no time for a moral.

Recommended. But what would I know?

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Can we fix Britain’s Big Cat Flap?

Are big cats the new UFOs? Or are they the extraterrestrial pilots of the Flying Saucers, or perhaps Black Triangles? Are we being invaded by felines from Outer Space? (And wasn’t that the plot of a sixties Disney movie?).

I ask because we are in the middle (or perhaps end?) of a Big Cat flap. For many years now, long before I became ASSAP Chairman: in fact long before I had any role at all, I have posted in this group every paranormal related news story I see. A lot are pretty dismal, but as Charles Fort wrote “one measures a circle beginning anywhere” and so I am inclusive in my trawl, and try to avoid any prejudice. The good news about this approach is I get a pretty good feel for how things are, and what changes.

When I was young it was all The Beast of Bodmin: Dartmoor, Exmouth and other wild places were rumoured to have exotic big cats prowling them. Now doubtless this does actually happen from time to time; http://scotcats.online.fr/abc/realcats/index.html has a good list — but generally these cases never resolve in to actual carcasses or recaptured beasts.

When I was young the fashion for Joe Exotic style dangerous pets resulted in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976
  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangerous_Wild_Animals_Act_1976

— and everyone said that many owners turned beasts out in to the wild and there they roamed and bred.

I am a bit cynical about this explanation: I strongly suspect if large numbers of big cats existed there lack of road sense would result in a lot of insurance claims as cars got wrote off in the same way deer and badgers often damage vehicles and kill motorists all the time. (c.400 collisions and 12 to 20 drivers or passengers killed a year in the UK by deer. I have seen estimates of up to 50,000 badgers killed by cars — and the odd wallaby.

So am I suggesting they are ghosts? No: though the Big Cat sightings share some attributes. I actually think lycanthropes more likely– I mean if were-pumas are a — oh OK, maybe not.

So are they physical beasts? I am keen for ASSAP to get out their and look. My own family had two separate big cat sightings in 80’s Suffolk, and one produced definite tracks. So spoors can be located, sightings recorded, trailers set up. If you are keen to be part of this initiative drop me a line at chairman@assap.ac.uk

So are they real, mistaken sightings of normal cats and dogs, some weird paranormal thing manifesting as a big cat or just modern folklore? I don’t know: all of the above and recently a wave of clumsy fakes. I mean it sounds reasonable they could be real: they seem to cluster in fairly wild areas (and Milton Keynes) and lockdown has tempted a lot of rare animals out of hiding and right up to our towns. Is this why we are suddenly seeing them?

Or is it simply that bored with coronavirus and the dismal state of British politics the papers are desperate for news worth printing? How many ghost/ufo/monster stories you get in a region often depends on the local journalists and how interested the Editor is in running such: in the 18th and 18th century ghost stories were very rare in papers and often explained away. It might be that now any sighting with a photo is deemed newsworthy — and it may be some agencies pay for them and aggressively promote them. I know not.

Still back in 2010 there was a cartoon strip going around that said the camera phone had conclusively proved ghosts aliens and cryptids do not exist, because everyone now has a camera on them all the time and yet where are all the photos? Well here: hundreds of ’em.

But wait: why are they all so terrible? Out of focus, blurry etc? Partly the problem here is that most people seem incapable of getting good shots with their camera phone, and that in the excitement of the moment faced with the primal fear of being eaten, well they are even worse. Also I have a black cat the fearsome Cuddles-Caligula: photos of him often look like a black blob. So I tend to think criticism of the quality of photos is misplaced; my wildlife photography is not much better.

So what is going on? I don’t know, but we need to start by mapping the sightings and developing a research strategy. How do you think ASSAP should address the mystery big cats? All opinions welcome!

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Review: Waiting for Another War – The Sisters of Mercy 1980 to 1985 by Trevor Ristow

So I read Waiting for Another War the history of the Sisters of Mercy (till 1985) by Trevor Ristow. It is a really good readable book with a limited market (probably people who bought The Reptile House ep) and charts the various incarnations of the Sisters of Mercy to ’85; three main line ups and styles, with only the auteur Andrew Eldritch making it all the way through: though Gary Marx had every opportunity to…

Eldritch is as you imagine: aloof, intellectual, amphetamine driven and a huge fan of late 60s rock. He despises The Cult, which surprised me given they were doing much the same thing — trying to be Led Zeppelin. Except Eldritch was trying to be Lemmy. Still Eldritch is a sympathetic character to my mind in comparison with Wayne Hussey — who is depicted as immature, fawning and dangerously our of control at times, such as when he drove a car through red lights all the way down 5th Ave. just for fun. (One of the bands biggest US promoters was killed a couple of years later crushed by a car when someone did the same). Of course this is a massively pro Eldritch book – he comes over as a dick only twice really – so I shall read Salad Daze by Wayne Hussey when time allows.

Goth culture seems to have come together despite the intentions of the bands associated with it and was a post punk thing with distinct British and US trends, but Eldritch hated goths with a passion. Hussey saw them as a fantastic market, and liked them – his own sensibilities were pure Led Zeppelin, exactly as with The Cult, but Eldritch was desperate to reject the goth label to stop the band being sidelined and forced from the mainstream. (He utterly failed and bitterly resented it).

There are less rock n Roll excess stories than you would expect, and a lot more of Eldritch getting his label WEA to give him total artistic control, and then experimenting with other band members having some input before deciding to do everything his way. Marx did not want to be a rockstar and wanted to be at home with the missus, and Ben Gunn found taking the Sisters seriously as a deal breaker and walked first. Craig Adams and Hussey loved excess and partying and wound up good mates: Eldritch seems to have pitied them rather, and held out a hand but the end was inevitable.

Where the book is weaker is in the lyrical analysis: some good stuff but I am pretty certain that there are far more dense layers of literary allusion. Marian reminds me of Marianne by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“And hark! a rush as if the deep
Had burst its bonds; she looked behind
And saw over the western steep
A raging flood descend, and wind
Through that wide vale; she felt no fear,
But said within herself, ‘Tis clear
These towers are Nature’s own, and she
To save them has sent forth the sea”

and his subsequent death b drowning see: https://wordsworth.org.uk/blog/2014/07/08/full-fathom-five-the-poet-lies-the-death-of-percy-bysshe-shelley/

More than the Romantics though the spectre of T. S. Elliot appears again and again, and many lyrics are taken from there in much the way Jefferson Airplane plundered A.A.Milne and Dadaist poetry. The author acknowledges this, citing Elliot’s “White bodies naked on the low damp ground” which obviously is mirrored in The Floorshow lyric. I would have enjoyed more of this kind of teasing out the multiple layers of allusion.

Now let us be clear: Eldritch is avowed anti-Fascist, but one of the most interesting way to read his lyrics is through Klaus Theweleit’s classic study of Freikorp art and literature: Male Fantasies: women, flood, bodies, history which is replete with symbolism of pure snow, trains and red terror. As a cultural analysis of certain expressions of dangerous masculinity it is unexpected- and while the English translation was 1987 it was originally published as Männerphantasien, 2 Vols., Verlag Roter Stern/Stroemfeld, Frankfurt am Main/Basel 1977–1978. This is Eldritch – I am sure he appreciates German literature and film too, and read the important intellectuals from a Leftist position?

This is the most intellectual type of dumb rock and roll ever concieved: and Eldritch is unlikely to explain himself. The Sisters at their best represent a tearing conflict between the Appolonian and the Dionysian, and I really loved them though I never got them. There may be a reason for that.

Eldritch’s biography in the book is scant: RAF child Ely – Singapore – Great Malvern – London. I am astonished there are no West German bases there. Ely however really explains some of the lyrics and my affection for them. There is something of the more melancholy baroque about the music, and Ely cathedral might loom over it. Mostly though it reminds me of the Fens, and the Breck, driving through the landscapes of my youth – 1984, Weston at the wheel, the landscape pure floodland, a mirror of snow under the blackest of skies, a train rumbling to Cambridge, and the roar of US jets across the sky.

I guess we all find our own meanings in every song we love, and Eldritch is more willing than most to step back and let us. Shame, he seems like someone I could talk to. Still, while we have no autobiography Ristow’s book is a great place to start. Highly recommended.

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The Fakenham Ghost: a monster for April Fool’s Day

A poem of Fakenham Magna, a mile or so from home in my Lodge Farm days…

Games From Folktales

A little poem by Robert Bloomfield, read for Librivox by Colleen McMahon. Thanks to the Librivoxians. I was going to save it until Halloween, but I’m sure I can find other ghosts before then.

The Fakenham Ghost

A Ballad.

The Lawns were dry in Euston Park;
(Here Truth [1] inspires my Tale)
The lonely footpath, still and dark,
Led over Hill and Dale.

Benighted was an ancient Dame,
And fearful haste she made
To gain the vale of Fakenham,
And hail its Willow shade.

Her footsteps knew no idle stops,
But follow’d faster still;
And echo’d to the darksome Copse
That whisper’d on the Hill;

Where clam’rous Rooks, yet scarcely hush’d,
Bespoke a peopled shade;
And many a wing the foliage brush’d,
And hov’ring circuits made.

The dappled herd of grazing Deer
That sought the Shades by day,
Now started from her path with fear,
And gave the Stranger way.

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The Case Against “Paranormal Unity”; or why Ghost Hunters have become meaningless.

Those who know me probably know that I am a ghost hunter. What does that actually mean, in real terms? Do I wear a pith helmet and shorts, and carry an elephant gun, and like the big game hunters of old, try and bag a ghost? Do I strap a proton pack on my back, and try and zap spooks into a ghost-trap while my trusty PKE meter warns we are facing a disaster of near Biblical proportions? Do I use a Ouija board to make contact with the little girl who drowned in the mill stream, or do I use a medium to move over the tragic victims of the great beer flood of 1814? Am I a devout Roman Catholic engaged in a parachurch exorcism movement, battling demonic forces? Or a scholar in the tradition of the Society for Psychical Research? A neurologist trying to understand the physiology of hallucinations, or a psychologist explaining the phenomena in terms of Anomalous Psychology — misperception, priming, etc? Am I a horny teen trying to scare my girlfriend’s pants off at the ancient burial mound, or a witch trying to open portals between the worlds? A necromancer trying to raise the ghost of John Dee at Mortlake cemetery to learn lost secrets of alchemy, or a couple whose Urbex podcast never took off who are intent on becoming what ever the spooky version of influencers are? Am I a Cable TV producer trying to make the bigtime, or a sceptical blogger intent on debunking all the nonsense? Or am I a raconteur like Elliot O Donnell, or a physicalist ghost hunter like Andrew Green? A Society ghost hunter like Peter Underwood? An academic specialist in the cultural history of spooks? Or something else entirely? I have hardly began to scratch the surface of the possibilities. When you tell me you are a ghost hunter, I honestly have not got a clue what you mean nowadays. Perhaps it is time we abandon the term?

WE ALL HATE EACH OTHER

Let’s face it, we don’t really have much inn common do we, other than an interest in the paranormal? Yet time and time again we hear talk of Paranormal Unity (makes me thing of the Vulcan mindmeld!) or of the “Paranormal Community”. The one thing my slightly outsider status in the Paranormal Community has shown me about different groups is that many of them actively loathe one another — hate each other in fact.

Now a lot of people are going to criticise me for expressing this entirely true fact, but come on, we all know that it is the case. Go back to the 1960’s and every county in England had a ghost group or two perhaps; by the late 1990s maybe three. Then post 2003 and Most Haunted, BOOM! Ghost groups everywhere!

Except while a lot of new people have got interested and started investigating, and some have been doing it a long time (33 years in my case and still not caught a single spook so I really am crap at it!) generally the explosion of groups is not caused by new folks getting started, but by the previous groups falling out and endless schisms. Or the groups die, and then are reborn with a new name: but the same old faces, still peddling the same old nonsense. Like me for example.

My first formal group, created on the 1st April 1993 was the CPRG (Cheltenham Psychic Research Group). It became national, then splintered – the Anglian Psychic Research Group was the best run follow up. Some scientifically minded members went off to found the Gloucester Psychic Research Group, and Prof. Mike White who ran that I believe went on to become Chair of ASSAP. The psychic and spirituality inclined members of the CPRG left to form GASP! – the Gloucestershire Association of Spiritualists and Psychics. I was left in the short lived CARP (Committee for Active Research in to the Paranormal) that died really fast after the newspaper got our phone number wrong and published the number of a house where the only person at home was a teen with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Then I founded the Student Parapsychology Society, and the SPS actively tried to reach students and build an interest in parapsychology, as well as give me an excuse to drive all over the country with a minibus full of really cool and cute students.

I had meanwhile fallen out with Tony Cornell (following an action of Andrew Mackenzie’s I somehow got the blame for!) and the Bizarre adventures of the CPRG’s Derek and Harry had basically resulted in my being blackballed by the SPR – the Society for Psychical Research. Still the 1990s saw me make loads of paranormal documentaries and news appearances – “experts” were rare and I was young, educated and articulate.

FCH Hall with fake ghost

So I left the SPR, but not before I was given a lorry load of their paperwork and journals however: and trying to get that in to good hands brought me in to touch with ASSAP (the Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena), which Mike White had now left, and which was back in the hands of the Walton brothers. A schism in The Ghost Club that had split in to the Ghost Club and The Ghost Club Society caused me to join neither, but when I left the university in 2003 the Student Parapsychology Society was finally wound up, as no one was left who wanted to carry it on. Then my friend Andrew pointed out we had no girlfriends, and so we founded the Myers Society, named after F.W. Myers who lived here in Cheltenham; that became better known as Parasoc, and as by this time I was a researcher for a cable TV show called Most Haunted. Oh, and we got girlfriends. (Priorities!)

Parasoc eventually felt apart in political infighting on the committee (they all do) but meanwhile I had formed GSUK and no I don’t have a clue what the acronym stands for now! We went ghosthunting all over the country and became friends, and then the Chairman of ASSAP David Wood co-opted me to serve on the committee of that organisation, following a mass resignation incident. My girlfriend Becky had turned her ghost research in to a legitimate PhD by this time (Coventry University 2013) and she joined too, and I set about working on the cultural history of psychical research — and discussing tabloid spook stories on Facebook. 😉

CJ and Jo-Dee on a ghost hunt!
CJ and Jo-Dee on a ghost hunt!

The thing is one CJ would be bad enough, but the field is littered with them. Bruce, Toss, Tim, Lyn, four more folks with a similar trajectory from round here. Let’s face it, we don’t exactly grow and get more groups: it is more like “Rock Family Trees“, if you know the book. Scandal, infighting, romance and skulduggery – and that is just the university academics 😉

Generally though the paranormal world is the traditional small pond with whale sized egos where everyone hates everyone, and you can’t get an SPRman, a Ghostclubman and an ASSAPman to walk in to a bar because it would be no joke, it would be murder. 😉

WE ARE NOT THE SAME

OK I exaggerate, and myself and Tom Ruffles famously published a joint article simultaneously in the ASSAP and SPR magazine calling for closer cooperation or union, and I remain dedicated to working closely with rather than against them . I grew up a couple of streets away from Alan Murdie who heads the Ghost Club, and shared experience of trekking to the Tollgate garage in Bury St. Edmunds in the rain to buy milk can overcome any institutional prejudice. 😉

So if I jest and exaggerate, my point is still sound. THE SPR, ASSAP and The Ghost Club each have slightly a different perspective and culture, but are all identifiably with the tradition of British Psychical research. I would argue those three groups, with an overlapping membership, are fairly similar in outlook and work together reasonably well. The Parapsychological Association seems to cross over with the SPR a lot, as does the Society for Scientific Exploration and the Scottish SPR; ASSAP has a crossover with the Forteans and the Magonian psychosocial Ufologists, the cultural studies bunch and the Anomalous Psychology brigade. The Ghost Club? I imagine stately home owners and habitués of London clubs, but I may well be wrong. 😉

League of Gentlemen at Ram Inn
League of Gentlemen at Ram Inn (c) Radio Four

Yet compared with the ghost hunting groups, we are like peas in a pod. Why? Because the beliefs of post of these groups are so widely divergent they are have almost nothing in common. The US Warrens inspired demonology inclined groups (John Saffis springs to mind) have almost nothing to do with the Spiritualist rescue circles of the UK. Those inspired by Most Haunted have nothing to do with those who use Frank boxes and ghost hunting apps: different generations? I thought K2 was a mountain; I found out when working at Derby Gaol for Richard Felix (I missed all that off my biography above) it is a type of EMF meter. Ouija boards have little appeal to me, but table tipping and Bacheldor, the Owens and Conjuring Up Phillip? Yes I am interested, though increasingly sceptical.

Book Seriously Strange tickets

And whereas in the past when a poltergeist case or a haunting developed the prime contenders of it were the SPR, ASSAP or the Church, the local Spiritualists or perhaps a dowser, well now the poor afflicted family do not have a clue as to who will turn up. And ParaUnity, the idea we are one big happy community with shared values? That possibly adds to the confusion. I mean I am pretty open minded, and ASSAP holds no corporate hypotheses on the nature of the phenomena, but we are big on ethical codes and rigorous methodology, to the point where it can get in the way of actually doing stuff perhaps? Still we have principles, and we have nailed our colours to the mast, and while I am Chair I intend to insist on good manners, fundamental decency and actually doing some research.

The problem with trying to all draw together is that we lose sight of who we are, and what we are trying to achieve, and who our audience is. And s my plan: to drive apart the community, and try and create scales, a questionnaire, to define where we fall on several axis, so we can say who we are and what we are trying to achieve.

SO LET’S SMASH UP THE PARNORMAL COMMUNITY!

Why? Not because we want to say X is better than Y; that is nonsense. Is Hockey better than Football? Netball better than Cricket? No! They are games played to different rules for different audiences involving different skills.

This is the paranormal scene; massively diverse, with different expectations, different ambitions, different theories. I have argued before that the paranormal is the Recycle Bin of Science; but it is also a home of spiritual seekers, clever raconteurs, amazing broadcasters, dedicated scientists, and so many others. We are a broad church: and we can and should get along. However much of the pettiness, the politics and the anger is not because we disagree: on the contrary, it is because we look at our “fellow ghosthunters” and they say things we don’t approve of or believe, but we feel they are bringing us in to disrepute. Our fellow group members have different expectations to us, and some will go from group to group searching for what it is they want (petite brunettes I’m told?) and never finding it: and we argue with them because they want a different outcome to us.

Psychic News article on the incident

The smaller the group, the more vicious the fighting I find: ASSAP is astonishingly peaceful compared with some groups I have belonged to, and national organisations can afford to have more diversity and disagreement, and wider goals.

However, if we can clearly define WHAT WE BELIEVE, WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO ACHIEVE, and WHO OUR AUDIENCE IS we might progress faster. If we can create scale and descriptions that are more specific than “paranormal researcher” we might start to see progress, and cases going to the most helpful people for that case. I seem to wander around the community making bad jokes and get on with a lot of very different groups, but we do not all want the same thing. In fact the only reason I can think of to say we do would be if I was trying to sell us all something and I don’t have a device on sale! 😉

Chart of time elapsed between event and report on paranormal events

In Part 2 tomorrow I will propose some scales and principles for defining what a group is about, and what the researcher is actually up to. For now, what do you think? Are we all working together towards uncovering the truth, or is the ghost hunting community more nature red in tooth and claw, endlessly fighting and never going anywhere?

Do comment folks, and feel free to tell me I am an idiot. I fear however I may be correct this time.

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A Churchyard Story

It happened one November night in the town of Bury St. Edmunds. From Hardwick Heath to the Tollgate, from Eastgate street to Gibraltar Barracks the snow lay soft as make up on the cheek of a bride; the streets shone with the glory of their magical veil.


Constable Bull was feeling very pleased with himself. He had been passing the Rose & Crown when he was invited in for just a pint or two of “community policing”. Well just a few pints, friendly like, while discussing the that matter of the stolen charity box. He had successfully apprehended the villain redheaded; well they more or less ran in to him. His reaction slamming him in to the wall of the Elephant and Castle was pure policeman’s instinct. Left a fair old dent in the sign that reads “no chip shop parking”, that his noggin did!

For this swift deed the lock-in had declared him a hero and “what policing needs”, and the Royal British Legion would doubtless be pleased that the poppy money would be returned to them. So to turn down a pint was impossible Constable Bull didn’t customarily drink on duty, for Duty was everything to him, but tonight duty demanded eight pints were downed even if he was in uniform.


He was pleased that he had a little tipple for the snow was still gently pattering down across town and the Traverse would be treacherous to traverse, so he chained up his bike (so many villains about these days) and rolled unsteadily out in to the bright night of moon varnished snow.


He was just a little unsteady after eight pints, and weaved unsteadily up Whiting Street, veering from kerb to kerb. He almost fell into the narrow lane that leads up passed the 6th Bury Scout Hut, but caught his footing and staggered on up by Model Junction to the Corn Exchange. Pausing outside England’s smallest pub, The Nutshell he slipped sideways and gravity bore him gently down Abbeygate Street.


It was just as he slid in to Angel Hill that he realised that he was alone in town this evening. Almost always late-night revellers like himself could be found winding their weary way home, but not tonight. As one who was lawfully employed about the business of the law he should not be sozzled tonight so the absence of a cloud of witnesses struck kim as a blessing.


It was at that moment that contrary to all normal custom his police radio crackled to life. Of course he had only had a few drinks, but being on duty they might not see it his way. And since he recovered the stolen money the lads at the station had been calling him “ a hero” but not in a nice way. They were just teasing him suggesting, that maybe he was taking policing a little bit too far by actually apprehending villains? Inspector Harris called him Judge Dredd and he was not entirely wrong at this moment Constable Bull felt positively invincible, but that could be nothing more than the beer. Meanwhile the radio shrilled and he staggered over to the illuminated sign and responded.

Grabbing at the radio he muttered a few words trying to keep it brief. He had no desire to reveal how much he’d taken on. Just Brenda, trying not to laugh as she relayed the task. ‘A member of the public’ (nutcase) had seen something. He thought he misheard the mild mannered telephone operator. No, the call was clear. Someone had claimed to have see a puma or a panther or some such creature lolloping down past the Dog and Partridge and heading across Chequer Square. He was to take a quick look then head straight to the station: the Inspector wanted a brief word.


A giant cat in Bury? What nonsense! Of course, he’d read about the supposed big cat in Flempton. And Eriswell, West Stow and Lackford actually – but such critters lived in Thetford Forest. He’d be as likely to meet Black Shuck himself as meet a panther in Brentgovel Street. What would they eat?


Still he was more than capable of checking this out. And so he turned his footsteps towards Athenaeum Lane, thinking that perhaps he should just back to the station and get have a coffee. Inspector will never notice if he gets a coffee and a couple of polos. He decided to head straight back, ignoring the stray kitty, by the Norman Tower and through the Great Churchyard.


As he walked passed the martyrs monument he glanced at the higgledy piggledy tombstones gorgeous in their moonlit shroud of ice. And then a bench, sheltered by a tree and clear of snow. He sat for a moment to collect his thoughts, and startled awake as a voice cried out close by…


It sounds like German. “Godne æfen!” Bull leapt to his feet, and peered around yelling “what you up to there boy. Who are you, are you lost?”


At that moment he suddenly noticed the great silvery dog, watching him, with a somewhat cocky look. Looking straight at him with great blazing eyes, a rather shaggy wolf like Alsatian. Big enough to be a threat even to a well built constable? Probably. He stepped back and almost fell over a grave and just for a moment he shivered. There was something unquestionably Lupine about this animal.


The wolf (for such it was) finally tired of this. “Salve! Me adiuvāre potes?” the wolf politely enquired.
Constable Bull did not know whether to reply or not. The hallucination was talking to him. Why he swore it was as if it was the very dog speaking? “I don’t speak Latin!” he mumbled apologetically, and immediately felt ridiculous.


His eye alighted on a memorial plaque on the wall of the charnel house “Sacred to the memory of Henry Cockton, author of Valentine Vox…” A Victorian comic novel about a ventriloquist, he did not – of course. Ventriloquism. Not talking dogs!


He would lure the joker out by playing along. “What you doing running around the graveyard at this time of night doggy, where’s your master?”


The wolf looked at him with the look one gives to imbecilic humans deficient in all civilised manners, concentrated hard, and blinked. Then it sat up, put its forepaws together and bowed it great hairy head, jaws trembling in pious prayer.


PC Bull had just started to tiptoe away when the wolf looked up and called out “Ah the Gift of Tongues! Xenolalia and Glossophalia!”


“I’m afraid I am not musical either. And I have no idea what you’re on about” replied the bewildered police officer. He sat down heavily on the bench. The cold air would soon sober him up?


There was suddenly a strong and pleasing aroma of violets. It is not exactly what you associate with wolves. You expect really them to have more breath that smells of Pedigree Chum. The night grew ever stranger.


“Who taught you to talk?” asked our hero, still peering in to the gloom waiting for the joker to reveal itself. In response the wolf padded over and held out a paw. Instinctively Bull shook hands, and then felt the warm rough tongue of the wolf as it licked him on the nose.

“You’re cold man. You need to be warm. We need to get you hot bread.”


The Constable laughed. “Oh, I’m all right, just for now. I always imagined wolves to be less, er, parental? You hungry?”


“I caught a partridge earlier; I could share a bit.” The wolf had now adopted an accent that was a little like the actor Peter Bowles, and that made it all the more terrifying.

Bull winced. “No, that’s okay. I think I’ll wait till breakfast when the cafe will be open” said the policeman, suddenly very sober indeed.


“Hmm, very well, if you are quite sure then we can proceed”.


“How can I help you sir?”


“Oh, that’s quite simple. It’s not me you could help. It’s my master. He’s lost something we need to find so that he can be about his business.”


“Your master I assume is a loquacious hedgehog? An opera singing sparrow?” PC Bull giggled at his own joke. Not sober yet.


The wolf decided against descending upon him like an Assyrian on the pull or whatever Byron’s phrase was: truth be told he had shamefully neglected reading the romantic poets. Instead of tearing apart the drunk cop he decided to stick with the facts.

“No, he is a saint.”

“I am sure he is very kind to you…”


The wolf sighed. “He’s called Edmund. This is his day, November 20th, or will be when the sun dawns. He was once interred in a golden shrine here, thanks i must note in part to my efforts in Hæglusdun wood. To be martyred by Danes is one thing, but that fox was going to make a snack of his head. I showed him!”

The wolf fluffed up with pride, provoking a shudder from the PC.
“Anyway Edmund’s relics survived a fire at the shrine, but then a bunch of sacreligious heathens who they called reformers…”


“Steady on! My great Aunt Caroline was a Garland Street Baptist!”


“Wrecked the abbey. And tragically while his bones were taken to France, his head was secretly interred here at the Abbey l, hidden by the heroic monks. They thought they were doing it for the best. Of course, it is somewhat inconvenient “


“I see and you’re saying that your Masters head is over there?” Bull waved a hand towards the West Front and the Abbey ruins. “And the rest of him is in France?”


“No, he standing behind you” the wolf dramatically raised a paw and pointed. Constable Bull turned his head and looked behind and to his utter horror saw looming over him a handsome young man, dressed in royal robes: a young man minus his head.


The glorious saint held out a pale and delicate hand to bless the frightened police officer. But all Bull could do was stare at the red mark where his neck ended. Instinct cut in and he bowed. “Pleased to meet you your royal highness.”


“He can’t talk” said the wolf. “He doesn’t have a head and he is technically in France and here; it is called bilocation. Have you never heard of it? I see not! Oh, that’s a shame — there’s also multiplication of relics. But that requires one to have the original to start with. If only we had his head, or could lay our paws on it, Edmund could have many heads as his cultus require. At least I understand that was the theory. I’ve never seen this achieved in practice.”


Constable Bull stood up and thoughtfully went to relieve himself behind a tree. In mist company this would normally cause him considerable embarrassment but both saint and wolf seemed utterly unbothered.


“So, what must we do?” he said on his return.


“That’s the spirit” said the wolf. “Acquire digging implements, then proceed to the burial spot, about two hundred paces east of the High Altar. Tough ground, my paws never made a mark in it.” The wolf winced at the thought.


And so it was that the wolf, the glorious king and martyr (murdered by pagan Danes in 870), and PC Bull set out to the West Front, and accidentally awoke Mrs W as they ransacked her toolshed in one of the most audacious burglaries ever conducted in this fair borough.

If only she and young Jemima Fletcher had been asleep; but the crash caused by PC Bull putting his foot threw the cucumber frame as he slung his not insignificant bulk over the wall drew both to their windows. Alas! The bright moonlight showed only the wobblesome arse of the PC with pickaxe on shoulder as he hurried away.


And so they came to the tennis courts, and the hard labour began. PC Bull finally broke the tarmac, and a good deal of effort later he was up to his neck in a deep pit, assisted by the furious scrabbling of the wolf.


“Think anyone heard us?”


The wolf stopped tongue lolling from his jaws. “No – and if they did, Edmund can deal with them like he did with Canute.”
Our hero decided not to ask and reveal his ignorance. He vaguely recalled saints could be quite irritable, though Edmund seemed a very nice young chap, all things considered.


Suddenly the pickaxe struck metal. A glint of gold, and the trio as one triumphantly plucked the reliquary from the soil. Edmund fumbled in excitement, and placed a head of golden curls still surmounted by a silver crown on his handsome shoulders: not a mark showed the join. “Film star looks” mused Bull to himself, and then gasped in shock as the saint carelessly hurled the empty golden casket in to the River Linnet.


“Thanks awfully” drawled the boy saint, “sincerely, much obliged, and just in time” and as he spoke PC Bull became uncomfortably aware of voices approaching. “Sun will rise soon – but I will intercede for you.”

And with that Edmund and the wolf quietly departed like ghosts at cock crow, even as Inspector Harris and Sergeant Southgate appeared at the edge of the pit. “You’re nicked… Bull?!?”


And those was how my friend John left the police, and became a lollipop man. And very happy he is, helping children cross the road, and from that day to this he has never touched a drop. And every November 29th he lights a candle for our towns saint, then drives to Stansted and catches a flight somewhere with a beach, in some heathen place where men have never heard of St. Edmund’s Day.

And that I am afraid is it: but you owe me a pint in the Bushel, and may good Edmund watch over you all…

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Thoughts on a Global Pandemic (and my latest wild idea…)

It has been a long time since I last wrote: longer perhaps than it should have been. I don’t blog much any more, partly because my days are filled with things I should be doing, and I spend much of my time sleeping and evading those things. “To me responsibility, is a tragedy” to quote Sister Sledge.

Still I have been spending a lot of time looking at the news on this new coronavirus. I believe I had it back in the middle of March: two weeks of fever, and some pretty odd symptoms. I wrote an account of it on my Facebook when I was sure I was through it, but it was not a great time. Still Social Distancing and the lockdown saved the day, and now we are relaxing things, and people are talking about the risk of a second spike. I might share my warning from history: the 1918 epidemic had a March/April peak, and then seemed to fade away, before returning in November to kill a quarter of a million people in the UK. Anyway I guess my brush with the disease made me interested, and I have started to look at the figures, and to be honest I am puzzled. I was puzzled when the disease faded rapidly in Wuhan, and I am puzzled more and more. It looks like in most countries it effects 4 to 5%, kills tens large numbers and then fades away almost as quickly as it came.

So my friend Hugh and I started testing very hypotheses based on the figures. There seems to be no obvious relationship between the increasing temperature and the epidemics curve: and I can’t see data that suggests a meaningful relationship between Vitamin D and the disease, but I would take supplements anyway, just in case. Stick to the RDA though…

So what is going on? Or to put it another way, have we burned through the available population? Everyone kept telling me that 80%/65%/25% had already had it as various experts were wheeled out, but I stuck to my estimate of no more than 6 to 7%, and that might be a bit high. When the ONS figures were released and my completely amateur guess was proven right I was encouraged, and kept poking at the data.

And finally I have come up with a loony hypothesis to explain the fall in numbers and a few other things. I think I was wrong all the time, and a much higher percentage have resistance to coronavirus than I believed, or than show antibodies. Now bear in mind that I know NOTHING about microbiology, and Donald Trump would be as reliable a source as I am on this. Listen to the experts, follow government advice, ventilate your rooms and eat healthy. Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice, except that previous sentence. So naturally I posted my dingbat hypothesis on Facebook. Here it is!

I’m still trying to make some sense of this epidemic. The die off may well be social distancing, but that alone does not seem to account for it. The only thing I can think of is we may have some other factor providing resistance?

CDC Image of a betacoronavirus from Wikimedia. Fantastic isn’t it? by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM – This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #23312.

I wonder if antibodies to another human coronavirus like OC43 a betacoronavirus that causes the common cold might accidentally help? I actually believed coronaviridae was a morphological term, given the amount of horizontal gene transfer in viruses, but i guess the four virii in the genera are related.

So as a thought experiment OC43 causes 10% of colds I think, and so a LOT of people have exposure (as young people might have twelve colds a year, and households with children six). It effects the epithelial cells of the throat in a similar manner to SARS-cov2 (different receptors). This is one of the few candidates I can see for providing some resistance to the new coronavirus. So has widespread resistance saved us from far higher death tolls? I would expect then to see less new coronavirus infection in two groups: children, who are notorious for spreading respiratory illness, and women, who suffer from more colds, but are generally less severely affected by the symptoms. The elderly, who generally have less colds would therefore have less resistance: more COVID19 deaths. Urban areas would have more colds and higher resistance than remote rural areas, where transmission would be less and severity greater, if colds are less common there?

This is probably batshit for good microbiological and chemical reasons: I am to medicine what Frank Spencer was to Health & Safety. I mean is resistance from one virus to another even be possible? Yes it has to be because Jenner used Cowpox to inoculate against Smallpox,one orthopoxvirus conferring resistance to a much more deadly one. I have no idea what this is called: I never did Biology at school. (I did not want to dissect frogs!). Fortunately I did do history, and live round the corner from Jenner’s house.

However if OC43 was providing resistance, why all the deaths in care homes? And given that resistance in human coronavirii and OC43 last six to twelve months, would it produce sizeable resistance? I don’t know. However from what I have seen almost 100% of six to fourteen year olds have OC43 antibodies in their blood, at least according to a Finnish survey from 1979. If so perhaps we are the opposite of Martians, not cured by the common cold (I don’t think Wells actually specifies which virus but never mind literary accuracy) but saved by it?

This is a wild guess from someone who is frankly ignorant of the science. Note the OC43 cold antibodies might produce different proteins to the COVID19 ones, so they might not show up as no one is looking for them. However some resistance from exposure to another virus seems like the best fit for what I have seen of the data, and this was my first guess. I am however a ghost hunter and do not expect to be taken seriously, but feel free to tell me why I am wrong. Just be nice.

And of course if some colds are providing resistance, well we have all been locked down and not spreading them, but rendering this cold virus inert and inoculating with it? I guess it could be tried, but hopefully the pandemic is fading away and we will all face a bright and disease free future. Trying to work it all out on the back of a bit of paper with nothing but common sense and a questioning attitude was something my dad would have done: he was as flaky as me, and I am a proud son.

Take care folks;

love CJ x

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