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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My Father: Eulogy for Gunnar Romer.

It is a year ago today since my beloved dad died in the West Suffolk Hospital. At his funeral my sister and I both delivered eulogies for dad, Gunnar Jensen Romer but the most moving thing was delivered by mum. We sang “Yours” by Vera Lynn, but the funeral director cut it short. Mum remained standing when we all sat, and just carried on singing quite alone till the end of the sing, in a voice cracked and broken but oh so brave. We spontaneously applauded her as she finished it…

Yours ’til the stars lose their glory
Yours ’til the birds fail to sing
Yours to the end of life’s story
This pledge to you dear, I bring

Yours in the grey of December
Here or on far distant shore

I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you
How could I, when I was born to be
Just yours

After that it was hard to say anything. These are the words I managed to find; it has taken me a whole year to feel I can cope with putting them up.

“I am going to say a few words about dad; I was his youngest child, and lived the furthest away, but the time I spent with him was always precious. I am not going to tell the story of his life – we would be here for a week and barely begin to tell of his adventures – I am just going to say what he means to me. And I say means, not meant, because I believe dad is, and always will be, very much present with us.

Dad was, as we all know, born in Denmark; yet he lived longer in the UK than many of us might expect to live at all. There is a paradox here: someone who left their country to fight for it, and never went home. A man who loved England as dearly as any one I know; loved the flowers, the weather, the birds and the bookies – yet whose heart was forever in Denmark. Dad never really got to grips with the internet, but he always loved new things, new technologies When I came home to visit he and I would scurry off to sit in his room, and put on the computer. What would we look at? Denmark of course!

The Falster Nyheder, going through the headlines, translating the stories, and the best bit of all the weekly “round up” – reader’s photos from Falster & Lolland! Mum used to get quite annoyed sometimes when it got late, she had long gone to bed and dad was looking at house prices in Marielyst or watching an hour long Youtube video of a sugar beet lorry driving from Nykobing to the far side of Lolland. I remember one night she came downstairs, and told us it was time for bed; and dad said with laugh “I am only 91 now; next year when I am 92 will I be allowed to stay up late?”

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On the computer screen there is a picture of Pouss, dad’s cat who died a couple of years ago. He was one in a long line of animals – Tinker, Wogan, Nibs, Pippi & Peppi and doubtless more, back to Nippe dad’s first dog. Dad loved animals, and had a great sense of empathy with the natural world. I recall a night when mum was trying to kill a fly that had been buzzing around the living room all day – in the end dad tempted it with sugar onto a piece of paper and ushered it out of the window to safety. He was a kind and gentle soul, who animals loved, and even wild creatures came to him. I remember us sitting surrounded by wildfowl once, while dad clucked and cooed at them. In the garden the robin used to hop around after him, and the pigeons would greet his appearance but not fly away. In the evening as the sun went down he would watch the vast flocks of rooks fly across the sky to the woods up here; tonight dad you will fly free with them. (Edit: As we left the funeral a vast flight of rooks came flying overhead, and we all laughed).

And dad loved freedom; he joined the army to fight for it, and as soon as he was free of the army he never wanted to work for anyone else again. He chose to work for himself, at his own pace, and he told me that when he worked with his hands his mind was free, free to let him think and dream about things that mattered to him. He was stubborn, hated being told what to do, and hated bullies. Dad was never too worried about what others though, and many of his ideas and ways were wonderfully eccentric; but he was oh so free. In the last few weeks of his life he lost more and more of his freedom, and at times grew desperately angry at being confined in hospital; now his spirit runs as free as the wind, all cares lost.

Dad was effortlessly athletic, strong and hardworking, and utterly fearless. His incredible pain threshold and remarkable endurance left lesser mortals in awe, and he worked long hours fuelled by bread and butter with sugar and tomatoes, his favourite meal. He told me he worked like that because he had a family to support, and to buy mum nice things. His generosity was like many aspects of his character — far beyond the norm; he would absolutely give me his last pound, and I would have to hide money he tried to press in to my hand in his room for him to discover after had gone back to Cheltenham. I soon learned that was pointless – he would send a cheque as soon as he discovered it! And this was why dad loved to gamble on the horses, the football pools, or the lottery -but mainly the horses. If you lost, he explained, the sums were too small to notice. If we ever won big, we would buy a house in Denmark. For the last ten years of his life every visit would involve looking at 4800 region houses in Denmark til salg; he would talk about how when he won he would buy me one, and help me do it up. We both knew I would never have the money, but we would sit and look and chat about places and people from the past.

Dad loved his kids, and he tried to provide for us all. And Dad loved his grandkids too, and his great grandkids; one of the most touching things was when he was in hospital dying he would ask me often about how little Charlie was doing in Addenbrookes and he so wanted Charlie home safe. Whenever he saw Molly or Jake his face lit up – and he adored little Mabel.

Dad loved the world, and the world seemed to love him back. He was quiet, shy at times — unwilling to put himself forward. And yet he had the most incredible charisma, and a smile that absolutely transfigured his face – when he smiled he really did seem to bless everyone around him with a tangible joy. Through the dark hours we sat with him in the hospital, so many staff come up to us to say how they loved Gunnar. “His smile!” they would proclaim. I met one young nurse who cared for him when I went to collect the death certificate, and when she learned he has been readmitted and died she broke in to floods of tears. I know every death effects us, but even those who knew him at his weakest and most vulnerable often grew to love him. “He smiles like an angel! He is just so happy!” said another nurse who treated him on his death bed. She never heard him speak a word she understood, because for the last two weeks he could only speak Danish; but she told me he made her day better with his smile. We all loved Gun Gun, which is why we are here today: but he touched many more in his life, and left this world a better place.

Finally, and most of all, dad loved June, my mother. He said as a small boy in Denmark he had some kind of revelation he would marry an English girl; then years later in England he was working when he saw a pair of girls walk by, and announced to the person he was working with he would marry that girl, throwing down his trowel. Soon after mum approached him at a dance in Risbygate Street, and soon they were off to Denmark, a fairyland where rationing, still much in force in the UK, did not exist. They married in Vaegerlose Church, and mum went on to take Danish citizenship; 68 years of marriage followed, a marriage blessed in so many ways. Mum and dad were inseparable, and truly loved “till death do us part”

dad

Yet I believe death is not the end; Dad certainly believed God had a plan for the world. On his 21st birthday he was assigned guard duty in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed and was betrayed the night before his arrest and crucifixion. He moaned to the other young Danish peacekeeper that this was where he got to spend his birthday – and it turned out it was his 21st as well! The story ends happily – they were relieved and went to a party – but there in Palestine, caught in the middle of a conflict between Jew and Arab that forged Israel and so much of the modern world, dad had a real sense of being in the places he has read about in the Bible, and that something apocalyptic was at hand. Yet he would toast to Thor and Odin, and has now ascended to Valhalla – but he lives on, within all our hearts, and in our tales of him.

And this is Gunnar Jensen Romer: a man who loved, and was loved, and we will love until we join him ourselves. This is not goodbye: some things are stronger then death. We bless you Gunnar, as you blessed us; and may we be heroes to our children as you were a hero to us. Love you.

I end with the words I wrote on hearing the news that day to announce dad’s death.

Half eight this morning the wintry sun shone bright here in Suffolk; far away in Denmark clouds blew across the sky, until suddenly light broke through, and the sea sparkled like jewels.

Down at Hasselø things are much as they have been for decades; a horsewoman trots by the long line of cottages fronting the sea; the wind stirs the reed beds, a tractor roars in the distance followed by hungry gulls clamouring for food. Across the island Væggerĺøse church stands proud, before the sprawl of Marielyst and the beautiful white sandy beaches, thronged in the summer with holiday makers but now empty but for a dog playing with his stick.

At the bottom of the garden in a little house in Hasselø a young boy stands, staring at the eels as they skulk in the seagrass beneath the crystal waters of the Guldborgsund. His dog Nippe quietly joins him, raising a head to be nuzzled in his hand. A small sparrow sings out happily in greeting, and then in the house Hansine shouts that breakast is ready and Dolly is laying the plates.

Looking out over the sea, the boy thinks of distant lands for a moment, and then turns and runs happily to the house.

He has come home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Ya Gonna Call? The Problem with British Ghosthunting

This is going to be a controversial article, and is going to annoy a lot of people. It is about ghosts, and how we investigate them, and how we try to learn about the nature of paranormal phenomena. The UK has become full of groups who say they scientifically investigate spooks. Given the tens of thousands of person hours being spent by people off ghosthunting every week you might have thought that by now we might have built working proton packs and pk meters, and be way ahead of the fictional ghosthunters. At least we would have pretty solid and convincing evidence for the reality of the phenomena?

Of course we haven’t. We have got nowhere much, and while individuals might have had experiences they find personally compelling, most of the UK population, Brian “nobber” Cox, and the scientific community are all awaiting decent rigorous and experimentally validated evidence and theories that tie spooks in with the Standard Model of Physics ( if they are not too busy sneering at us “ghostbusters” 😉 ).

I therefore put it to you that the ghosthunting scene has fundamantally screwed up, and that we are going nowhere fast. It is in fact possible that in our enthusiasm we are actually slowing down or preventing progress in the field, as cases that used ot reach people with better methodologies are now dealt with by someone who is a big fan of Ghost Strippers (OK, I made that show up!) but clueless.

Now some big assumptions here. This article won’t apply to many of you. If you only go ghost hunting for your personal satisfaction, or the thrills, or the women, or the sitting around in the dark being bored, or whatever turns you on – fair enough. If you go to Fright Nights or wherever and have a great time with your mates, and you enjoy it — that’s grand, and you keep doing it!

Ghosthunting is a fun romantic and exciting hobby, like when teenagers drive to spooky places and get excited and scream – legend tripping is the technical term. I am absolutely 100% behind this, and you go enjoy yourselves – just don’t damage anything – especially yourselves – and don’t end up in jail. Go have fun, I mean you clearly don’t need my permission but heck you have my enthusiastic support! Such romantic scary shenanigans are killed stone dead by scientific methodology and critical thinking – so go get spooked, fall in love, and scream a lot, but don’t bother reading this. It is not aimed at you.

No I am writing to the OTHER ghosthunters – the ones who are serious, intent on finding evidence, and intent on being part of a wider community, and who regard their methods as scientific and their work as useful research. I think a lot of us have made some fundamental mistakes, and I am going to try and put them forward – not to put anyone down, but to OPEN UP A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE WAY FORWARD. I am going to ask you to “think outside the box” as corporate types used to say, and examine a lot of stuff we have been taking for granted. You may well get offended: in which case I ask you to laugh, call me a moron, and then (politely if you can) tell me why I am wrong below.

So What Is Wrong With the Ghosthunting Community?

Firstly – discontinuity. Let’s go back to the 1980’s. Peter Underwood, Andrew Green, Tony Cornell, The Ghost Club, the SPR and ASSAP etc were all active. Ghost hunting had developed some tried and tested methods, and a lot of them involved throwing new technologies at the problem of what a haunting is.

Often it was referred to as Spontaneous Case Investigation as most parapsychologists were messing around in the lab doing hardcore science to investigate the nature and existence of ESP and the Psi hypothesis. Have you heard of these people? Have you read their books? Quite probably. And you assume we are in their tradition?

We aren’t. We are in the tradition of Yvette Fielding, Zac Bagans and the plumbers from TAPS, Alan Robson and maybe the early 20th century Ghosthunter Elliot O’ Donnell. We are not even in the tradition of Harry Price. Our default assumptions are not learned from books or from old ghosthunting snobs – we learn how to investigate to a tremendous extent from TV shows, or nowadays from streaming shows.

That in itself is no bad thing. There is nothing wrong with cable TV, and I have learned more about some aspects of science and history from TV documentaries than I have ever learned from textbooks and journals – and I am an academic. Popular does not mean bad. Elitist does not mean good. Snobs can get lost.

The problem is that we can trace from Scariest Places on Earth and Most Haunted to the modern day how the TV format of paranormal programming has developed. Now not all shows follow the core format I will critique, but many do.

At the time when Paranormal TV suddenly exploded there was a move away from soap opera, aspirational TV and Hollywood fantasy towards shows about “ordinary people” living like the viewers – Reality TV. Some suggest it grew out of the webcam girls of the 90’s, or the increasing prevalence of CCTV – but reality and authenticity were now prized. Most Haunted is basically Reality TV ghosthunting and all credit is due to Karl Beattie and Yvette Fielding who created a whole new genre with their show. And stuffy elitist old academic ghosthunters — well some disparaged it, some loved it, and most of us thought it was fun and took the cheques to appear. I had spent the previous decade doing TV talking-head slots about ghosts, but this was the first time any of us reached a mass audience.

What we did not realise was these harmless seeming shows were to completely change how people looked at investigating ghosts. Now that is often a good thing – it is what I want to do with this article, though the chances of anyone bothering to read it or it having any impact are slim. The problem is however that ghosthunting nowadays is not like ghosthunting in the 80s – it is a new thing, using different methods, shaped by the needs of Television and the audience.

The old school ghosthunter like say Steve Parsons is a dinosaur now, a relic of an older generations methodologies and ideas. The problem is that their methods may have worked better – and a huge scale experiment with tens of thousands of people spending hundreds of thousands of hours in what I will call the New Ghost Hunting hasn’t got us anywhere in 20 years.

Are the New Ghost Hunters No Good Then?

Many of the New Ghost Hunters are way more skilled, intelligent and experienced than even the biggest names of the past. They know how to use a lot more technical equipment, have dedicated far more hours than even Harry Price could dream of to research and have got impressive results on occasion.

They are often really great people too, whereas some of the Old Guard were a bit — well politics is nothing new in the paranormal research community.

My argument is not that the New Ghost Hunters are no good; they are great. My argument is that they could be even better, if they could see the things that are holding them back.

We all move in cultural contexts, our thinking shaped by the ideas around us. To British ghosthunters this is most evident when they look at their USA colleagues obsession with demons. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who remarked that the young believer often sees demons behind every rosebush – if they are American ghosthunters they really do.

Now Britain is essential atheistic, and that even the religious part of our population are unlikely to attend church outside of christenings, funerals and wedding, and we don’t take demons any more seriously than we do Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy on the whole. (Now I am from a Church college, so I do – but most Brits just find it all a bit daft). We might accept dead guys hang around, and vague Spiritualist ideas – though Underwood and Green would have no truck with them as I recall – but on the whole we don’t think in terms of demonic forces.

Whereas in the USA, the culture is permeated by Christianity, and unlike here where we sing hymns at school and academically study religions for years in the classroom putting us off by the age of ten, in he USA there is a great popular piety (well maybe not in SF and NY, but you gte the picture). Furthermore, Americans are likely to have been influenced by the weird Catholic parachurch tradition which I associated with Ed and Lorraine Warren and their friends, and indeed the strength of traditional Roman Catholic belief in many of parts of the United States as compared to here. Of course there are numerous exceptions in both countries and the Internet has a global influence.

Now whether the British or American approach to the true nature of what a haunting is right will not be the point I’m concerned with today – though it is one we must address one day. No my point in raising demons (er, not like that, Faust!) is that the cultural context is something we swim in like fish in water, and while many British ghosthunters are often disparaging about organised religion, many Americans have sharply different ideas. (Interestingly British and American UFOlogy has sharp divides as well. And let us not even mention the French or the Germans! 😉 )

So What Has This Got To Do With TV?

Grab a pen and paper. Think about the format of a paranormal TV show you used to watch. What happens in it? Make a list of things and assumptions. You will find way more things than I have. Keep the list – and next time you watch a paranormal TV show make more notes. This is a work in progress, and while the formats vary from show to show, many of the assumptions are similar. Here are a few of the assumptions I have identified…

  • The Investigators must visit the property. This seems like a no brainer, but actually an awful lot of pretty hard core ghost research was conducted for over a hundred years by correpondence, and some ghost investigations never needed anyone on location. I personally did a lot of work without visiting locations, because I couldn’t
  • The Investigators must try and experience the haunting themselves. I think this is a huge difference from when I was first active. I would go and record the testimony, take photographs, and try and work out what had occurred. The only times I would stay after sunset was when the family asked me for a meal or needed me to sleep over to reassure them they were going to be OK. I did experience some very strange phenomena, but it was incidental to the investigation. That probably sounds very odd nowadays.
  • It is all about the Investigators. In the Old Ghosthunting, the primary job was to interview and record what the witnesses had experienced, like a detective – not to stand around and shout for the murderer, sorry ghost, to come and slap you! Most ghosthunting shows are about the stars visit to ye olde haunted pub- so we hear very little about what others have experienced there before.
  • The Investigators often don’t know what others have experienced before entering the property. Now I can sort of understand this if your primary aim is to witness the phenomena, but again it is a major departure from methods often used in the past. We would try and learn all we could about the stories, and interview time and time again the witnesses. We would test the theoretical material against what they had reportedly experienced. In a lot of modern ghosthunts what has gone before is only revealed at the end. Now this might be the case if you are trying something like Gertrude Schmideler’s Quantatitive Investigation of A Haunted House approach, and it has its place there – but it is hard to understand what the witness experienced if you are unaware what the experience was.
  • The Investigation is one night only. “24 hours in a haunted house” was a motto of Most Haunted. So the TV show ignores what came before, what comes after, and what lies outside of the property. The small screen seeks what TV writers call “a classic unity of time and place” – you don’t want to distract the viewer with the bigger picture. History, geography, geology and climate are ignored in favour of keeping it centrered on human drama and the building. Ghosthunting TV decontextualises the phenomena. This may be the biggest tragedy of adopting TV genre ideas – people only investigate a haunting in relationto their own visit, and often never return. The occupants and witnesses are excluded during the vigil. If the Antique Moose Pub does not produce anything the night they are there, they say “not haunted” and move on. They do not look in to the history, previous owners, historical records, folklore and other properties in the area, let alone try and understand the human terrain. We once spent several months living and working with a family in a haunted pub, becoming part of the psychological set up and witnessing the phenomena. People now are upset if nothing happens in three hours…
  • Paranormal phenomena is primarily physical. So ghosts will appear on camera, objects will move and people will be scratched, shoved or levitated. Now actually an awful lot of phenomena is physical in haunting reports, but what ghost hunters report and what people in historical hauntings reported are often quite distinct. The classic study on this was Dr. Becky Smith’s M.A. dissertation on the Spook Book from the Station Hotel, Dudley, where she analysed two years worth of ghosthunting groups reports after the hotel featured on an episode of Most Haunted. The problem with the physical assumption is it is directly contrary to a lot of theoretical work on apparitions, and we don’t have many good photos of ghosts. We do have several cases where witnesses have seen a ghost, and the person standing next to them has not. People often think hallucination means unreal, not being familiar with the idea of a veridical apparition in psychical research. The use of technology requires physically present entities I guess?
  • There are no Experts in the Paranormal (except the TV stars!). Now unlike Chemistry, Physics or many other sciences, we actually know not a lot about the phenomena in question. I have suggested the analogy of the parnormal as the Recycle Bin of Sciencein the past. However, there are experts in the paranormal. There were experts in poltergeists (Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell to start with), experts in apparitions (G.N.M Tyrell, Arthur Myers, Louisa Rhine), experts in OOBE (Celia Green) and experts in Ganzfeld Psi experiments (Honorton, Hyman, many many others). There is a very sizeable peer reviewed literature, and it is easy to amass a sizeable library of books on the subject with something worth reading in. There are loads of experts, and they are hard to shut up. My old essay here has quite a few books in the bibliography that you should seek out. However just because you don’t like reading or are not academic is no reason not to be a ghost hunter; almost every skill is relevant in some case or another, from being a good listener, knowing about how to chat to a distressed family, carpentry, knitting to electrical knowledge and the ability to calm a wary dog! Common Sense, something I personally lack, is invaluable!
  • You need to call out and offer to let Spirits use your energy. So if spirits are real things, is this actually a good idea? What is going on when someone is possessed? Is this good for them? Are there long term repercussions? Do spirits even exist? Why are we doing this? In the old ghosthunting table tipping etc was often used to keep a family on one place and under observation. People did sometimes try and ‘provoke’ ghosts, but I was normally too busy running away if anything happened. 😉 And to be fair, this calling out thing does have the disadvantage of priming you to interpret whatever happens next in paranormal terms, and making you sound like loonies toanyone not involved in the investigation.
  • Psychics are an integral part of every investigation. From what I recall Yvette and Karl did not intend ot have a psychic on Most Haunted, but Living TV had Derek on contract, so a psychic was added. The rest is history! I am not sure if psychics and mediums are big in the US ghost hunting shows? (I really should watch some). However in the UK a ghost hunt without a psychic is like Christmas without a tree it seems these days? I actually did experiment quite a bit with psychics in the 90s, so maybe it is my fault?
  • It’s all about the ghost, baby! We want you to perfom, little ghosties. Out you come, do some tricks, give us thrills, and then our medium will move you on to another place (but come back on the 25th as we have another vigil booked). It wasn’t like this y’know? We used to help people, you know distressed families, and take recordings for science if we could. primarily we tried to stop distress, and increase the expertise of the research community as a whole by publishing our results. Nowadays people don’t publish, they just post videos shot on nightvision cam that look like a very dull relative of Paris Hilton’s infamous sex tape (not that I have seen it). That’s because no one cares about other people’s findings any more, because it is ALL about the experience and you have to be there. 😦
  • Hauntings are place centered, and ghosts are essentially invisible people who live in houses (as opposed to person centred, and arising out of family dynamics or being associated with one person, an agent). Except they move house with families, and certain people seem to attract lots of “paranormal incdents” while others never experience anything? However you can’t really make a TV show about haunted Donna if Donna is not one of your stars…

So What Do We Do Then?

My argument is not that the New Ghosthunters are bad – they aren’t – it is that they have adopted assumptions from these TV shows that aim to entertain an audience, keep it simple enough to please a Producer and exciting enough to keep a jaded Comissioning Editor happy. Not all these assumptions are bad – some may be useful even – but they are dangerous if you are not aware of them, don’t question them, and assume it is just “the way Ghosthunting is done”. If you want to advance our knowledge of hauntings, you ne4ed to think about how to share your findings with others. You need to question what you have learned, and be willing to unlearn bad habits. Most of all, you have to help move beyond the current methods, the tired old cliches, and think about how you can move forward, and where you are trying to get to with your research.

I hesitated to write this piece, because I can see some people being offended. I honestly believe the time has come for a serious critical look though at what TV has taught us, and a grown up conversation about how we can create a Newer Ghosthunting that is tough on Paranormal TV, and tougher on the causes of Paranormal TV.

So I need you to think about these issues, and if I am right or wrong, comment if you find htis helpful or not, and look at ways we can al develop and improve our research. And if you are able to join me at the (very reasonably priced) ASSAP Conference this September you can buy me a drink (or throw one over me!)

All the best

CJ x

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The Great Gatwick UFO Mystery

So what do people think of the Gatwick UFO case? Because that is actually what it is — the alleged drone is by an unidentified flying object; the fact it is interpreted as a drone rather than aliens or Santa doing practice runs just tells us about how we perceive things these days. A modern myth of things seen in the sky, indeed…

So the police are now stressing they believe the 67 eye witness reports of a drone over the airfield: a drone that was apparently chased by a police helicopter. Yet despite the fact 67 people saw it, Gatwick we might assume has rather a lot of surveillance cameras and one presumes quite good technology for seeing what is going on in the sky and thousands of annoyed people taking selfies as their holiday plans are ruined, the police have not found a single photo or recording of the drone? It is more than a bit strange.

So yes, this is a classic UFO case, and possibly a job for ASSAP. It tells us something about strange phenomena, and maybe we should be looking in to this case, whether ufo, hallucination or moral panic, or just an elusive drone…

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Peter Clark: Memories of John Francis Bull

Peter has written a moving tribute to John Bull, our friend who died on Saturday 8th July 2017, aged just 47. I reproduce it here as a guest post.

“I can’t adequately express how saddened I am by John’s death.  He was one of my oldest friends and over the years certainly my best.  With the exception of a few months when I moved to Cheltenham and when he moved back to Suffolk I saw him almost every week.  It’s difficult to comprehend that I won’t see him again.

Although he often portrayed a veneer of combativeness in the way he spoke I always thought he was a decent, quiet and clever man who sometimes hid those attributes from others.  I hardly ever saw him angry and I’ve never knew him to do anything deliberately hurtful to anybody.

I knew John best through roleplaying and wargaming, together we travelled in our imaginations through stories sweeping from the depths of space to the grimy alleys of Victorian London and beyond.  John always added something to the games, bringing encyclopaedic knowledge of certain parts of history and a sharp, clever mind that was often more than a match for any puzzle or plot I might devise.  I know roleplaying is difficult to understand if you haven’t participated but I still remember sessions that John and I were involved with going back over the decades, including one memorable instance in his shop when we only realised how long we’d been playing when the rising sun started shafting in through the windows.  I will also remember the sight of John in his full Lorien Trust gear, clad in his leather armour, sheltered behind a huge shield, an altogether imposing sight.

As well as roleplaying we shared many other interests, John was a military historian like me and we often had conversations about obscure bits of military history that left others mystified.  I realised how much I would miss him while back in Bury last week …. I looked up and saw the unusual sight of an Osprey Tilt Rotor and wanted to share it with someone but I realised that John was the only one who would have understood and I’d never be able to talk to him about it now.

I don’t feel these few words do justice to this good man, I miss him now and I’m sure as the years go on I will feel his absence more and more.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t be at the funeral.  I’m sure my friend was give a send off that was worthy of him.  My thoughts and condolences are with all of you.

Yours,

Peter Clark”

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Phil Mansfield: Eulogy for John Francis Bull

A guest post, in which Phil shares his memories of a dear friend and founder member of the Nameless Anarchist Horde Bury gaming group…

John Bull

I have had the pleasure of knowing John since the early 80s when me met at the Mid Anglia Wargamers. It soon became clear that he was a very enthusiastic wargamer and was quickly joining in games and raising armies. I still recall fondly his very green tanks. 

He quickly showed himself to be an able opponent and was soon collecting armies in very diverse periods but which ever period of history we were discussing, he was able to demonstrate an incredible knowledge of weapon systems and tactics.

John also started coming along to the role playing group that met at Christian’s house on a Thursday. John played his characters in the same style as his personality, they were always particularly well armed, and often in an innovative way. On one occasion in an attempt to out manoeuvre John, CJ said to him as the game keeper you are just carrying a book about flower growing, you are completely defenceless.  “Oh no I am not,” replies John and described putting the book back in the bag and using it as a sling.

Just like John in real life, his characters could be relied upon for their ability to work their way out of a tight spot, with him often coming up with ingenious (or slightly crazy depending on how you look at it) ways of getting us out of trouble. I played more role-playing games than I can recall with John and again, just like in real life, h0e always demonstrated loyalty to his friends.

My friendship with John really took off when, through his shop that he ran briefly in Bury, we found  out about a board game called World in Flames (strategic board game of WW2) which for the four of us John, Pete Dave and myself quickly became a favourite. The problem was we had nowhere to set the game out and leave it set up but on that front John came to the rescue with his offer of playing at his house where he lived with his parents in Stanton.

We must have spent at least three or four summers whilst we were going through university not doing a lot else other than playing Wif. Now John had a knack of rolling dice well, but in this particular game rolling high was not always an advantage. He and Dave were allies and Dave was desperate for the turn to end which it would have done on any roll of a dice unless John rolled a six. Could John managed to roll anything other than a six?  No, and the turn went on and on – much even to John’s amusement about the position that Dave was finding himself in.

Life got in the way of endless Wif games but we still managed to find the way of holding them by for what became known as Wif week when we would literally spend the whole week playing. John and my addiction got so bad we even managed a Wif holiday, going to a convention in Germany. I know now from conversations that I have had with Carol that John as ever was very laid back about the trip as he was with most things in life. When Carrol enquired as to where he was going and where he was staying – Phil’s arranged it and off he went.

John had by now become a very good friend of mine, and when life took him in a different direction with his move to Cheltenham I was disappointed I would not be seeing him for a game or two.

Now aside from a get together to see Dave off move to Australia, I had not seen John for some time. A couple of months ago I heard from him out of the blue to hear that he was moving back to Bury and we were messaging, as is the way these days, about meeting up for a game. My regret is that life again got in the way as before we managed to get that organised his life has been cut tragically short.

The meaning of friendship to me is the ability to talk to someone who you have known for ever but not seen for some time. I know that if we had met up we would have been discussing life, but mainly gaming and it would have been as if we were meeting up to carry on our wif game.

 I have struggled a bit for anecdotes about John because being in his company was a normal everyday occurrence for such a long period of time when we were growing up- it was an every day event.

I am very sad today but more importantly I am proud to have known John, and called him my friend. He would and often did anything to help his family and friends (well apart from Bogbrush). He enjoyed life and I will always remember his grin and him scratching his head as he rolled a handful of dice and crushed my army.

Rest in peace my friend and look forward to gaming with you again in the next life.

Phil Mansfield
 

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Eulogy for John Francis Bull.

Today saw the funeral of my friend John Francis Bull. This was the eulogy I delivered…

Two score and seven years ago John Francis Bull entered this world; and in his unassuming way, quietly and without fuss, he has now left us again. It was typical of John that he went without fuss – but he went here, in the family home, in the county he loved, and that is the single ray of light in the deep sadness he left. John has left us, but he has left us so much the richer for the warmth, the humour, the kindness and the strength that he shared so generously with those who had the privilege of knowing him.

There are many here who knew John better, more deeply than I. We became friends in our teens, and knew each other for some three decades; but John held discretion as his watchword, and much of his life and activities was private. We all knew of those he loved deeply – his parents, the wonderful John and Carol; his grandparents Frank & Lucy who adored him as he adored them; and of course despite all the teasing, his beloved sister BogBrush, or Emma as I understand she was mistakenly baptised? 

And of course we must mention Gremlin his kitten, who loved John as only a kitten can, and loved John only!

John Francis Bull was aptly named.  I’m sure we have all seen depictions of John Bull, the British equivalent of the Yankee Uncle Sam. That  Bull is a stout country yeoman, representing the loyal and brave rural Englishman whose liberties will not be trodden on. Fuelled by roast beef, good beer and patriotism John Bull has the strength to see off all who would attack our island home.

 Our John Bull shared these qualities; he was a warrior at heart, who lived his life with courage and dignity; not in the armed forces, as he wanted, for his diabetes counted against him – but he was always there when called upon. And when called upon, in whatever crisis, John was utterly unflappable. One of his friends, Jo-Dee reminded me that when surrounded by utter chaos John stood calmly smiling, dealing with things that needed doing, totally in the control of the situation. That is true strength, and true leadership.

 John was also a good strategist, but he excelled in small unit tactics, and I learned much from watching him. In one game we were aware that the enemy was above us, and had the stairs covered. John simply moved across the room, aimed at the ceiling, and declared he was shooting through the floorboards. The referee called a kill, and we achieved our objective, winning easily. 

 John admired many of his colleagues he worked with in Security, and learned from them all, speaking very highly of them. It was our countries loss that John could not serve as a regular or in the police owing to diabetes; but it was the gain of many young and vulnerable teens and students whom he looked after in that steady reliable way of his. Physically he was very Strong, and his puppy fat gave way to honed muscle as he worked out. For the gamers, John had Strength 16!

John was fiercely loyal, and honest to the point of bluntness. His dedication to duty was absolute, and must be celebrated. He earned Man of the Month for Abbey Security soon after joining them by working a full shift, and then coming in again to cover for a sick colleague. If John said he would be there, he was. His capacity for hard work as inspiring. 

You need sound judgement and great kindness to do that role, and here the Francis part of his name comes to mind because like St. Francis, John loved animals, and they loved him.  Women regarded John with absolute trust, and felt very secure in his presence. John rolled very high for Wisdom too!
 Yet his Intelligence was even greater.. It took me years to recognise it, and it was not till John joined C23 and I saw him working on problem solving and doing analysis that I realised that he was one of the cleverest, if not the cleverest man I knew.  John was so humble, and his personality at times defensive – he survived rather than enjoyed Culford, and did well in an age that failed to recognise dyslexia as sympathetically as we do today – and John was never one to boast. However if faced with a problem, John would make sudden intuitive leaps, and see patterns in data long before others.

His proposed solutions were often gung ho and witty, if usually a little impractical – hence Haverhill has not  yet been shelled to rubble, despite appearances. John was extremely clever in the best way: he never bored anyone else with his cleverness. Sure if you were playing a game John would “rules lawyer” and minimax, finding every loophole there was. One roleplaying game, Ars Magica 5th edition, was influenced by John designing a perfectly legal character, William Ex Miscellanea, who broke the previus edition by being better than anyone else! William appears as a character in one of the Ars Magica books, and while people play that game John’s alter ego will live on. 

Usually John used his intelligence for good though – if you went to John with your problem, he would come up with solutions. John rolled 18 for Intelligence.

As to Charisma, John Francis had it in spades. He was cynical about gurus, demagogues and people who used fancy words, and in our games club the Nameless Anarchist Horde he was the person who generally kept us grounded. In a world full of idealists and romantics John stood for pragmatism and hard British common sense, and the truth no matter how inconvenient.  Phil Mansfield will read his tribute at the pub, in which he expresses just what John meant to us as gamers, as friends, and as kids growing up. John had Charisma, and that led him to hold rank in the Romans, and as Erin, in the Militia at The Gathering

John’s life seems short to us: but it was extraordinary, though in his humility he passed himself of as the most ordinary chap of all. I knew John Francis for three decades, and countless adventures in dozens of worlds. Now his last hit point has gone, his saving throw failed and we affectionately place his character sheet back in the folder; but the stories of his life, and the tales we told together, will live on. John had but half a life; but what a life — a glorious, fun, generous and exuberant life, exemplifying the finest qualities of England — what we would expect from a member of his family.

And us who live on?  In our games let us celebrate our fallen comrade, in the way we conduct ourselves let John’s example guide us as the good and true man he was, and in our hearts may he live on until we meet again.

Farewell, John Francis Bull.  England Expects, and you did your duty.

  

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