The Presence and the Press: Once Again Science Journalists Tell Us Ghosts Explained Away!

OK, I blog very rarely nowadays, but I thought I had best respond to all the press excitement caused by an article from Current Biology, which pretty much everyone (including the authors) seem to think explains away “ghosts”.  You should quickly read about it here or on the BBC News or pretty much anywhere on the web. So does it explain spooks away like the cock crow? Hard to tell without a copy of the full text of the article, but I’m going to doubt it for now.😉 Entitled “Neurological and Robot-controlled Induction of an Apparition” by Blanke et al. the articles abstract is as follows –

 Tales of ghosts, wraiths, and other apparitions have been reported in virtually all cultures. The strange sensation that somebody is nearby when no one is actually present and cannot be seen (feeling of a presence, FoP) is a fascinating feat of the human mind, and this apparition is often covered in the literature of divinity, occultism, and fiction. Although it is described by neurological and psychiatric patients  and healthy individuals in different situations, it is not yet understood how the phenomenon is triggered by the brain. Here, we performed lesion analysis in neurological FoP patients, supported by an analysis of associated neurological deficits…

 You can read the full Abstract here.

Bold claims! However this is an interesting and useful study in to the neurology of proprioception, defined by the dictionary as

Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

The parts of the brain involved are the PCML for conscious proprioception and the dorsal and ventral spinocerebellar tracts for unconscious proprioception. THis study may show us more about the sense of presence – I know little about it, though Dr James McHarg published on it in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR) back in the 1980s with relation to the sense of presence, and I seem to recall addressed the SPR on the subject.

Society for Psychical Research

Society for Psychical Research

Certainly parapsychologists have been interested in the subject, and James McHarg got me interested in Temporal and Parietal Lobe Epilepsy in terms of explaining anomalous experience – an idea whose time was probably the mid-90’s, and now seems peculiarly dated to me. However back in 2011 my friend the fantastic Emma McNeill covered this well in a Fortean Times article – TLE and Anomalous Experince 

So the new article builds upon ideas that have been kicking around in parapsychological and Fortean circles for a while  (for about forty years in fact – from 1974) and the experimental validation of the idea is of course cool. Of course – there is a problem, and a serious one. You guessed that, right?

Emma’s article includes a few things I’d take issue with. Persinger’s God Helmet work that is invoked in the Nature coverage and Emma’s FT piece , unrelated to this experiment (Persinger was not an author or involved) has been severely critiqued by Per Grandvist – but that is not the issue here. I merely sound a note of extreme caution. No the issue here is in a line from Emma’s article

“Ghost sightings are easiest, with the sudden chill, sense of foreboding and looming presence.”

And here is my problem. In fact, while we all may nod in agreement,  studies of the apparitional experience by Sidgwick et al (1894), D.J. West (1948, 1990) and Smith (2013) have actually shown that these three elements – a drop in temperature, foreboding before the experience, and  a “presence” – occur extremely rarely, in fact in 0.5% to less than 2% of apparitional experiences studied.

They are of course staples of *ghost fiction* – both literary and TV/film – but in first hand percipient reports they are rare. Now Smith did find that 4.5% of her “disturbances” cases – those which involved purported physical movement of objects or other physical phenomena – included reference to a sense of presence; but bear in mind this “haunting” category reflects experiences over time – the “presence” seems to arise as an explanation for the phenomena? Even then, it is rare.

Now of course there are well known cases of “presences” – most notably those experienced by high altitude mountaineers, like that famous reported by Reinhold Messner on Nanga Parbat , (See for example Brugger et al (1999) “Hallucinatory experiences in extreme-altitude climbers” in Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol. Behav. Neurol. 12: 67–71) This may well explain them. These are not however seeming related to the common or garden spook experience! rubber hand   Post Ehrsson’s rubber hand experiments which were wildly reported as explaining Out of the Body Experiences a while back ( Ehrsson et al , (2005)  “Touching a rubber hand: feeling of body ownership is associated with activity in multisensory brain areas” in the Journal of Neuroscience 2005; 25: 10564–10573) there has been a lot of interest in proprioception and its role in anomalous experience –  but while parapsychologists have embraced it, as we saw in the Liverpool Hope conference a few years backs papers on OBE, in this case, has the paper really explained anything new about most apparitional experiences despite the title?

Fotheringay church at night, from GSUK fieldtrip.

Fotheringay church at night

Nope. Apparition means “appearance”. The paper deals with a sense of presence, which as I have noted is not usually, or even commonly, indeed hardly “infrequently”, associated with apparitional experiences. Of course no one bothers to ask a parapsychologist, or humble ghost researcher (like myself, or the aforementioned Smith who happens to be my partner and who completed her PhD on the spook experience last year) about this stuff.

Whenever “Science explains X”, no one ever seems to think of asking the small academic group of experts on “x”, whatever “X” may be this week! ;)  You may recall my amusing description of all of the parts of the brain that have been invoked in different competing explanations of the Near Death Experience, or Sleep Paralysis, or — well let’s just say our Science journalists report the same mysteries solved year in year out, with little apparent progress in some topics. The real solutions will one day be uncovered by science i am sure – but for now, we gloss over just how hard that search may be.:) Still despite my cynicism, I suspect some good science lies behind this paper – and yes it might explain some presence cases – juts they don’t have much to do with “ghosts”, and I’m not sure how many mountaineers have a robot tickling their backs – (maybe a robot yeti? ) – still good stuff.  Like the “shadow people” Blanke may well have helped explain in an earlier paper, they simply don’t show up very much in our case files.

A GSUK member participates in an a experiment in Tamworth Castle

A GSUK member participates in an a experiment in Tamworth Castle

I won’t comment on the schizophrenia claims – I have no idea if a “sense of presence” is common in that condition – Aleman and Larøi (1999) do not mention it in their excellent Hallucinations when discussing sensory modalities, but there is a body of medical literature that suggests the primary sensory modality of the disorder varies by culture. I will leave it to Claridge and others qualified  to assess the importance of this research in the medical area – I am afraid I must stick to discussing spooks, or I will never get to bed. I am hopeful something will come of the paper, but who knows? I can probably look up the papers I have read on the sensory modality of illness related hallucinations if anyone needs them, though I expect PubMed will turn plenty up. So to return to the experiment, how did they induce an apparition, that is a hallucination in the visual modality? No idea! I am hampered by the paper being in press. What I am fairly sure is it was not as reported here

But when the movements of the robotic arm were delayed by about 500 milliseconds the participants reported seeing up to four ghosts around them and felt that the robotic finger stroking them belonged to an unseen presence.  (The Independent)

Is this the case? Not that I can see! What actually happened was people who were blindfolded – so it would be hard to have a realistic visual hallucination imposed on the background as in genuine “spook” experiences – were simply unnerved by the feeling of presence. I see no evidence of an apparition (lit. appearance, from the Latin) So where did the journalist get four spooks from? I suspect this passage from Nature

In a further experiment, another set of participants was put in front of four people who were chatting, and told that one or more of them may be in the same room when they carried out the test. During the test, the delayed touch led them to feel that there were several people in the room — even though they remained alone.

So why am I bothering to comment on all this? Well firstly I’d like to congratulate the team at Lausanne, and hope they continue to advance our knowledge of proprioception, and Science generally.  However once again lousy media coverage will make the task of those of us who actually engage with the apparitional experience and what it means that little bit harder, as once again we will be told “Science has explained away ghosts”, just as we were after the interesting work of Tandy and Lawrence some decade ago. So please, please, think critically when you read this stuff, and do always read more widely in the literature of the experience before leaping to wild conclusions… cj X

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Dealing With Ghosts, Part One: Some friendly advice for journalists, T.V. researchers and writers.

Every few weeks I receive a phone call or email from an interested media person, wanting me to help them out with an article, documentary, occasionally a film and sometimes a series. In the past I have cooperated, and have appeared in everything from Women’s Weekly to GQ, even getting a couple of column inches on the cover of The Times one Christmas Day.

I have appeared in ten or eleven different paranormal TV series, and more unusually have also been a researcher for several, and have written for and developed shows for TV (some paranormal related), working for a good number of production companies. While I no longer work in the media, I have experience in front of and behind the camera, understand the industry, the pressures, and the laughs. I have a host of silly anecdotes about my time in TV: and plenty of great stories about my 27 years as a paranormal researcher.

Unfortunately however, when the paranormal as a subject meets the hapless parapsychologist or ghosthunter all kinds of things can go wrong…😉

Utterly unconvincing ghost

In this short article aimed at the media people, I’m going to try and offer some pointers, some advice, and hell if despite you printing this off and waving it at your Editor/Producer they still demand the impossible, I do consultancy. Details of that at the end though:) The idea is to give you enough material to make do without me.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

So first up, you need people…  Skeptics. Parapsychologists. Ghosthunters. Mediums. Dowsers. Reincarnation Researchers. EVP People, Tableturners. Cryptozoologists. You need an expert? OK, I can probably point you at the person you need, or someone who knows them.  It’s a pretty small field, with most of the “experts” knowing the other “experts” – at least on the academic side of things. I can probably point you to who you might want to talk to, but the key is to know what you are looking for.  Most of the time people don’t, and they have tried to research by reading websites, but sadly that does not really explain much about the culture of the paranormal in the UK.

 

Essentially you have the academics – boffins if you like – who are experts in some narrow aspect of the field (and know vast amounts about everything else it seems to me). My girlfriend, Becky is one I guess – she defended her thesis last Halloween and has a PhD on ghosts.  No one from the media has ever paid any interest in her research as far as I know, and she is currently working on her book, but actually it was quite fascinating stuff.  If you want someone who REALLY knows their stuff there are the people to turn to – Prof Alan Gauld for example is simple incredibly erudite and knowledgeable about mediumship, poltergeists, apparitions. Steve Parsons is your man for environmental factors that might be related to ghost sightings. Tom Ruffles will certainly be able to provide critical comment on any haunting, and knows far more than I ever will about ghost photos. Cal Cooper is who you call for phone calls from the dead.  So if you want to deal with peer reviewed science, then you should contact the Society for Psychical Research (established 1882) at www.spr.ac.uk and they can point you in the right direction.

SPR logo

If you are north of the border you will also want the Scottish Society for Psychical Research.

Of course it could be that you want a university department that researches parapsychology. The KPU at Edinburgh University can help here – there page contains links to most of the research centres in the UK.

smLogoProf Richard Wiseman is the sceptic most journalists seem to go to first, but don’t forget the APRU where Prof Chris French can provide intelligent comment.  

So yes, those are the academics. And if you are interested in Dr Becky Smith’s work on ghosts, and what she found out, I will happily put you in touch with her. (chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com)

Next up are the non-university experts, whose learning is often equally formidable. I guess most of the ghosthunters can be found here. The premier organisation for paranormal researchers is ASSAP – the Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena. Their website has an incredible amount of resources and the blog is updated regularly, and everything is written in a clear, interesting and non-academic gobbledigook way.

ASSAP Conference

A panel at the 2012 ASSAP Conference underway.

You will find believers and sceptics here, just as in the universities, but there is more interest I think in reaching the general public.  ASSAP will almost certainly know someone who can help you, if your project can be done ethically and usefully (see below). For a really good media communicator from the sceptical side of things who is fiercely intelligent try Hayley Stevens – she will point you to a good sceptic if she can’t help I’m sure.

Scooby Doo

And for sheer history and plenty of experience and expertise you could try The Ghost Club, who may well have what you need.

Now I’m going to concentrate on the ghost side of things now – you can find pagans via the Pagan Fed, I can’t help you there much, and for mystery and out of place animals (panthers, yetis etc) you definitely need the Centre for Fortean Zoology,  UFOLogy? Well the Magonians are fascinating and BUFORA are still going strong. Dr David Sivier has considerable expertise on the academic side and would certainly point you at the right people. I can put genuine journalists in touch with him, as he does not maintain much of a web presence. For psychics and mediums I think Psychic News   and the Spritualists National Union ideal places to start, but for physical mediumship try the Arthur Findlay College and the Noah’s Ark Society.  I could go on for ever – I don’t for example know anything useful about Ganzfeld, Remote Viewing, or various other topics – but you should;d be able to find someone from one of the above who is a bona fide expert.

Finally there are local groups and experts. These can range from the brilliant – for example Parasearch in the West Midlands – to the utterly stark raving bonkers. Many of these groups split, change their names, and become new groups – but often there are a few hardcore folks, who may have considerable knowledge, For a local newspaper, they may well be brilliant, because they have that local knowledge you need, and stories relevant to your readership. Many of the “experts” above may well also be involved with smaller groups like these, and of course there are also authors of books on local ghosts – here in Gloucestershire I think of Lyn Cinderey, Eileen Fry, Bob Meredith, off the top of my head –  who are great for radio or papers or TV. They know their stuff!  You just need to find the right people for the tone of what you want…

CJ and Jo-Dee on a ghost hunt!

CJ and Jo-Dee on a ghost hunt!

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, you can ask me to do it. I do sometimes act as an agent for a number of folks in the field, filtering through media requests and making sure journalists find the right person. You can email me in the first instance with what you are looking for and why – and I might be able to point you to someone. if the request is trivial and just involved me telling you who to speak to which I immediately know it is free – if you require me to poke around and find someone, and set up something, hey then I will expect to be paid. See below. If that has not put you off, you can reach me here. (chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com) or via the following

IN part 2: finding locations, ghost photos, acquiring art and illustrations, and what ideas are simply a waste of time and every commissioning editor has heard them a dozen times before. Plus ethics, and why you probably can’t get anyone to help you do what you want if you want any credibility…😉

CJ x

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A Serious Warning to University of Gloucestershire Students: They Aren’t Lying To You About Cars (Updated for 2015)

In past years I have written advice for Freshers of the University of Gloucestershire. My friends who work or studied at the uni have added to it. You can find it at Fresher’s Week in Cheltenham: Six Things I Wish I Had Known   This article has been updated for September 2015, with the updates in bold…

This year, a warning. The University has probably told you not to bring your car to uni. You may think this is insane. No, they are sensible. Here is why.

Most housing developments round the college have allocated to them in planning between 0.3 and 0.5 parking spaces per household as far as I can make out. So basically, at best you or your neighbours can park outside your houses.

Now a lot of working families have 2 cars – this is luckily offset by he fact that many people in Cheltenham don’t need a car at all, or can’t afford one, or can’t park the bloody thing. However if a typical student house with 4, 5 or 6 residents (that typical student terraced house was originally built for a family of 2 adults and a kids) all bring a car along – you are going to have hell from your neighbours from Day One. Maybe fortunately, that won’t happen, because you won’t be able to park in your street.

The council has recognised there is not enough parking, so residents – meaning homeowners in the main – can pay £70 or so for a permit which lets them park in their streets, but of course there are only half the number of permits needed.  Most of Cheltenham is covered with these permit schemes, street after street, and you are not going to be able to get a permit.

UPDATE September 2015: The permit scheme has now reached St. Paul’s, so if you park in a street around FCH, and are not a resident of a house there with a valid parking permit, you will be fined £70 each time.  This has already claimed victims in Normal Terrace, because our alleyway does no look like a road and so some of my neighbours assumed the permit scheme would not be enforced here, despite the signs. A friend of theirs who left their car outside cos he had had a few drinks got done on the first day of the scheme.

The permits are assigned at a maximum of two per household; the first one is £50 or thereabouts, the second I believe £100. However I tried to get a second one and was told they were all sold out for my area, and that was on August 3rd, two days after the scheme went live, so I don’t think you are likely to get one.

I’m also going to stray off topic and note that my housemate, a strong willed woman who has lived in the area for  over a decade, no *longer* feels safe on parts of the Lower High Street or around Swindon Road after dark on her own. I have taken to meeting her, but I feel a bit worried at times on the Lower High Street myself now. This is a fairly recent development – within the last year – and there has been added security cameras and so forth after some attacks on women around the Swindon Road/Matalan car park area, but I saw a couple of young ladies chatting tonight in what I thought was a pretty dodgy place where I would certainly not loiter, and they seemed quite comfortable.

Cheltenham is a very safe place indeed, with a few mildly dodgy areas, but a quick search on public data shows between 60 and 90 incidents of “violence or sexual assault” per month in 2015 within one mile of FCH, or about two and a half a day – though incidence is higher in the warmer months, and yet drops over July – no students around? Dunno? You can check out the stats here. A one mile radius of FCH covers most of the town centre, but click on the area button to see.  Now fear of crime is probably a bigger problem than crime at times, and the odds of you being attacked by a stranger are  very low, but please be sensible! 

So if you bring a car, where can you park it? Well you can rent an off-road parking space or garage- they are like gold dust, and the one we have costs £800 a year, but anything from £800 to £1000 is reasonable. If you will be driving home every week, or to work somewhere not serviced by public transport, that is one solution. Another is Cheltenham is well serviced with car parks – but it is going to cost you at least that much and involve getting up to put tickets on your car unless you can buy a season ticket.

Now if you park your car near a couple of our sites, its pretty likely to be vandalised, broken in to or wrecked anyway, because these areas are not actually *very nice* – and if you park outside someone’s house, they might just torch your car. Now things are much better than twenty years ago, but seriously, I have lived here for decades now and I would not take the mickey out of the locals around FCH or Hardwick; I am have a healthy respect for my teeth. Violence is uncommon  – I was the victim of unprovoked violence in day time on the streets only twice in all my student years, and I was unlucky — but seriously, as some of my friends who live in St Pauls and can’t get their cars off their drives because the four students in the house across the road all brought a car will tell you — annoying your neighbours is a bad idea in these parts. You are going to have a bad time.

Still, if you figure you can afford the insurance, aggro and prescriptions/dental work, you could bring a car. However what good is it? If you are in Cheltenham in any sensible student housing you are close to either the town centre or Bath Road, and it is unlikely you will need to drive anywhere. I have lived here since 1987 without a car, 27 years now. I went nightclubbng, shopping, and to lectures on all campuses, and was just fine.

Students who park in St Pauls often regret it!

Students who park in St Pauls often regret it!

Still you are determined. OK, so you drive to The Park, or FCH, and then what? There is uni permit parking, and some space in the car parks for those with special needs, but they cost.  Otherwise, you can just drive round the streets looking at the permit only parking areas designated for residents, and wondering what the hell you do now.

So don’t being a car. There is a fine inter-campus bus service, which I campaigned for back in the late 1980, so you can thank me later. It has stopped being free a couple of years back, but it will get you from A to B. Or there is the Honeybourne Cycle Path,  Have a look at this guide to cycling in Cheltenham – especially the map. Copies are usually available from FCH and possibly Park Reception.

From FCH or Hardwick it is a minutes ride to a path that leads up to this mercifully flat (no gradients as former railway line) route which will take you up to the Railway Station, where you can cut through on to the Landsdown cycle path to St Stephen’s Road then down to The Park; 2.38 miles of easy cycling. From Pitville Halls cut through by the Pump Room, down the hill to Pitville Park and through to Tommy Tay;ors Lane then join the Honeybourne by the Leisure Centre. Cycling is extremely popular in Cheltenham right now, and if you do run in to the problems you can at least out-pedal any hassle one hopes.:)

So yes I have painted a bleak, but I think realistic picture. Use the bus, walk or cycle. Don’t bring your car to university, unless you can afford to pay for parking. It’s going to get even worse as the Permit Scheme finally reaches the far side of St . Pauls and Peters this year,

And hey it’s not all bad. Here are some University of Gloucestershire ghost stories for you!

FCH Hall with fake ghost

CJ X

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The One About How CJ came to LARP… Part One: The late 1970s/ early 1980’s

Tonight  I started thinking about my time in LARP – live action role playing – and what I learned from it. I doubt many people will be interested, but if you are a larper, freeformer or follow me because of my Ars Magica writing you might find something that sparks memories here.  Tonight I’m just going to write on this, even if it is self indulgent and there are much better and more important things I could write about, because I really need to get back in to the habit of writing, and because it’s fun to write about myself because I’m an egotistical maniac.😀

Playing Games

I started playing rpg’s young – Traveller was my first purchase, and I played D&D at school and then with various friends, but most notably Axel Johnston and  Mark Weston in the early days.  I was a founding member of the Mid Anglia Wargamers club along with Phil Mansfield, and also got to play RPG’s there, and in the mid 80’s sessions of the “Nameless Anarchist Horde” rpg group were regular events on a Thursday night at my parents.  Axel was  hosting his Runequest and Cyberpunk games on a Monday, and Peter Clark was running games on the weekend. RPG was a big part of my life, but I was also a committed miniature wargamer and board gamer, and indeed some of my board game designs I now realise were actually pretty good and far ahead of the curve.

Treasure Trap

However, this is about Live Action RPG, and I guess I first heard of that in the early to mid 1980’s when a company called Treasure Trap started to run adventures at Pekforton Castle – sort of D&D for real. Ever since the invention of D&D back in 73/74 roleplayers had dressed up and gone to conventions, doing what today would be referred to as cosplay. When my gaming friend James moved away to Kent, he returned a few months later (the last time I knowingly  saw him actually)  and told me about how his GM (or DM, Dungeonmaster in D&D parlance dressed up for the game in robes etc. I smiled and said “cool!” but I must admit my first thought was “what a freak he must be!”.  However, going beyond dressing up, and actually acting out the narrative of the game, moving from “rpg as radio play with an improvised script” to “rpg as full costume drama/contact sport” – that was a pretty obvious development too.

Now I have been involved with lots of strands of LARP, and for a long time now – almost 30 years – but I have noted very little interest in the origins of the hobby, and almost no attempts to write a history or LARP. As far as I was concerned Treasure Trap in the UK founded in 1982 was the earliest commercial LARP company, and the only one I had heard of. Curiously the UK roleplaying magazine White Dwarf was to my memory scathing and derogatory about Treasure Trap and “Live Action Role Play” or LARP as it became known, and I seem to recall the word “freaks” and “rubber swords” being used a bit. I may well be wrong — it has been thirty years, and while I still have many old issues laying around, I can’t locate the article or editorials in question, but when the company ran in to difficulties with accusations of financial misbehaviour and general misery in 1985 — the ins and outs of which again I never knew, and only gleaned from an often hostile gaming press – there seemed to be a note of relief.

Now maybe I’m imagining it – if there was hostility to LARP, it was probably on the part of one or two writers anyway – but I think I understood it, and shared it to a certain extent.  D&D and gaming generally had been suffering from the US backlash against the game, led by BADD and the legendary Patricia Pulling, whose son,  a gamer,  had committed suicide.  Worse was to come — Chick Publications brought out Dark Dungeons, possibly the most infamous anti-gaming tract ever in 1984.

Uni & The Dungeonmaster

If that was bad, we were all reeling from something far, far worse. It is so shameful I hesitate even now to mention it in public. Yet I must, and years of therapy mean I can now recall it, and indeed sadistically inflict it upon you. Take 20 minutes to watch this. You will never be the same again…

Yes, the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon really killed 90% of the credibility of the game.  Long before even that however, something to have a more enduring legacy had occurred.

Enter the Steam Tunnels

In 1979 a brilliant but troubled 16 year old prodigy named James Dallas Egbert III had gone missing from Michigan State University.  His parents called in Private Eye William Dear, a tough guy PI of the old school I think from his book. He however also comes over as humane, understanding and pretty liberal — and genuinely out to save hi client, the missing boy.  Dallas, as he preferred to be called had issues with his mother (according to Dear) who had very high expectations from him, but the real issue seems to have been he was far younger than anyone around him, and he was also homosexual at a time when that may have been a bit harder than today. After 30 days Dear got him back – but the media circus that erupted was very much focussed on the fact Dallas was a keen D&D player – though kicked out of the only group who admitted to playing with him for being high all the time it seems — and may have been playing D&D in the 8.5 miles of steam tunnels beneath Michigan State University campus.

Now let us be clear – Dallas was manufacturing heavy drugs, and using them, and involved in gay sex while a minor which could have got his apparently older partners in to huge trouble. The reasons for his disappearance he gave were family expectations, but he may well have had other reasons, or parts of it may have been involuntary, or, well who knows? It was a long time ago, and tragically Dallas killed himself later. His original disappearance was part of a botched suicide attempt, and later he tried again while missing. This is all awful and miserable, but it had nothing to do with D&D.  William Dear however played up the gaming angle, and attempted to play down the drugs and gay angle, and the media got very excited by those steam tunnels which it became clear were used by students to travel and play games and for darker purposes.  Still Dear had uncovered the first LARPERs – and curiously also records in his book that some people were by the summer of 1979 playing D&D on company computers after work hours by modems – putting internet RPG sessions back to 1979.

The Dungeon Master by William Dear US hardback

The Dungeon Master by William Dear US hardback

Now in the USA the Dallas Egbert case was headline news, and it was noted in the papers over here, with the D&D leads to boy vanishing spin I guess. I think many people were more intrigued by what he reported about people playing “D&D live” though. In 1984 Dear published a full(-ish) account of the case, The Dungeon Master, which is often referred to as anti-gaming literature. I have read ever one of the 402 pages and I don’t get that impression at all.  William Dear himself paid sixty bucks (so about £90  in today’s equivalent cash) to a student to run a D&D adventure for him, and narrates it in the book (high on DM fiat, sounds enjoyable though).  He has only positive things to say about the staff of TSR, the game manufacturers, and seems generally positive as do his staff about the geeky SF fans, Tolkien Society members and D&D players they interacted with.  However there was a five year gap between the case and newspaper headlines and his book coming out.

In that time an American author Rona Jaffe wrote a novel that loosely refers to the steam tunnel legends, and in the minds of those who remembered coverage of the Dallas Egbert case might have seemed connected. In fact there may be no connection — because plenty of people other than Egbert had played D&D in the MSU steam tunnels, including according to Dear professors, and his inquiries uncovered a whole subculture of “live D&D players”.  Southern Methodist University and California Institute of Technology had these proto-larpers in the tunnels there; and Dear reports “It was a seven-day-a-week vocation for some students at the University of Iowa” (Dear, 1984, p.163)

What is also interesting is the gender aspect in these larp circles. “Half were girls. Dungeons & Dragons isn’t an arm wrestling contest, it’s a mental game. The women in our group were very imaginative. It got tough in the tunnels, of course, but it  wasn’t the sort of tough that required lifting heavy boxes or duking it out with John Wayne types. The women could handle the conditions as well as any guy.”

(Dear 1984, p.158)

The DM for at least one MSU tunnel game was a woman. I have been trying to work out how the game was played – were there  live combats? – as Dear mentions other campuses where wooden weapons were employed, usually bamboo rattans at this point – but it is not clear from his text.  What we do know is this

“You could get lost very easily. And the conditions were terrible – so hot you thought your brain would boil… The DM would hide treasures, which all of us had chipped in to buy, and the person who found them could keep them.  And there’d be niches you could reach in to. You might come up with a handful of decaying calf’s liver, or soggy spaghetti representing an orc’s brain, or something equally unappetising. Of course you might find a treasure. The DM did not really have to set traps. There were plenty of those already”.

(Dear 1984, p.158)

Rona Jaffe’s book Mazes and Monsters took as it’s plot a steam tunnel game of D&D, or Mazes & Monsters as known here, that goes badly wrong. One of the players becomes obsessed with their character, and ends up, you guessed it, nuts in the steam tunnels. CBS bought the TV rights, a made for TV movie followed, that you can still catch from time to time, probably only because the obsessed boy was played by a very young Tom Hanks.😉

It’s late, and you have plenty to watch.  Tomorrow I’ll pick up the story in 1985, when for the first time I decided to abandon sanity and head out in to the woods to play D&D live, with no real idea of what I was doing :)  What could possibly go wrong? I’ll also reveal the story of “Romeo & Juliet meet the Verona Chainsaw Massacre” the KEGS school KILLER game, and finally our Halloween 1985 attempt at playing Call of Cthulhu Live, which was extremely cool.

And yes, some of this has been embarrassing. Geeky silly sterotypes abound still today, we just laugh at them more. I rather wish my 1985 experience in Lawshall woods – or was it Hartest woods? – had even been as respectable as this video Harry posted earlier — which just goes to show that embarrassing stuff was not exclusive to the 80’s😉

Night all

cj x

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events, Student Life in Cheltenham, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 12 Games of Christmas — Board Games are not ALL Terrible!

First, Merry Christmas!

Secondly, we have all been there. A family Christmas turns toxic when someone suggest playing a board game, and Aunty drags Monopoly out of the cupboard. Now Monopoly can be a lot of fun I guess – but it is not for me. There are MUCH worse games on the market — but there are also some real gems out there, which deserve to be better know. I write games, design games, create games, and there are many that are like a special kind of Purgatory that can put you off the idea of board games for life. So today, hampered by a badly cut finger that makes typing really difficult, I thought I’d have a go at listing 12 games that you might actually enjoy playing this Christmas. I’ve played all of them, and missed an awful lot of favourites out, but seriously, these are all great games.

Hugh and Barby playing King of Tokyo

Hugh and Barby playing King of Tokyo

I’m not ranking them by quality, but by complexity and price, with family suitable and “people-who-don’t-play-games” games first. Some of these really require a serious effort just to learn, so try the lower numbered games before you rush out and drop fifty quid on Agricola unless you are already a hard core gamer. At the end I’ll list places you can get them from, as unless you have a local hobby retailer you might struggle.

So without further ado, on with the games!

Game  1: HANABI

Hanabi is ace. It’s  a game about fireworks, and making them, but really it is a game about collecting cards in sets of five, and working together to match colours and numbers. At around a tenner, and playable with 2 to 5 players, age 8 and up, you can play a complete game in 20 to 30 minutes. The cards are boldly designed and pretty enough, but this game is sadly utterly unsuitable for the colour blind, as I have pretty good colour vision and under electric light struggles sometimes to tell green from blue, and white from yellow, so if you are red/green deficient you are really going to struggle.  The rules are very short, and really it’s a sort of Patience card game where the players work together to try and complete 5 fireworks before they run out of cards or time or make too many mistakes. The catch is you can’t see what cards you are holding, holding your hand to face the other players.  It is quite hard to explain, but for a simple fun family game, I would highly recommend it.

Hanabi is fireworks!

Hanabi, a fun cooperative card game for 2 to 5 players

Game 2:  SETTLERS OF CATAN

This is a modern classic, a fun game for those aged ten up, but also Becky’s favourite game of the moment. Perhaps the biggest drawback of this game is it only works with 3 or 4 players, and while it lasts an hour and a half that speeds by.  An island is constructed of hexagon tiles, and players build roads and houses across it by collecting cards and playing them in sets. You can find this one in your local W.H.Smiths and prices are usually around £30 to £40, but honestly it’s worth it if you have two or three other people who you might play games with. I’ve been playing since 1995 and I’m not bored with it yet. My review can be found here on this blog, and you can find loads about the game on the internet.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan in play – my first edition set I think

Game 3: TICKET TO RIDE/TICKET TO RIDE EUROPE

The game that turned me in to a hard core board game player after years of not being keen on them.  Even Settlers has begun to leave me unsatisfied after ten or more years of play, when I picked up this game to take to Becky’s one Christmas. We played it at least weekly for months, in fact maybe a year, before my Agricola passion took over.  Ticket to Ride is the USA map, Ticket to Ride Europe covers –well, Europe! — and both are great games, which handle 2 to 5 players well, age ten and up I would say.  Coloured cards are a feature but the pieces and cards have symbols on so if you have good eyesight colour blindness many to be such a big issue as in say Hanabi, where the symbols are hard to describe and differentiate at a distance. However the pieces and tracks on the board are small, so be cautious and check – don’t take my word for it.  So what’s it about? Railways, and building tracks between cities! I review the game here on this blog and there is a good online version you can play free a few times to see if you like it.  Expect to pay thirty to forty pounds for this one!

Blurry photo!

Ed & Becky playing Ticket to Ride Europe one New Year at my house

Game 4:  LOVE LETTER

A ridiculously simple but clever game that uses a handful of cards and some little pink cubes for scoring. My copy came in a red velveteen bag that a friend said looked like it should contain some device from Anne Summers! Set in a court where the Princess has taken herself off to her her room after the Queen was arrested for treason, and various princes are trying to get the staff to smuggle love letters to her. You play one of the princes (or princesses I guess) trying to win the heart of the Princess, and you do this by playing special cards. For 2 to 4 players, aged ten and up this is a real gem worth seeking out. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to play, the rules are a bit complex but once you get them elegant, and it costs under a tenner, indeed maybe £6 to £8 I think. Definitely recommended.

I like this game, OK? Perfectly macho game!

Love Letter, a fun and cheap card game

Game 5: PANDEMIC

The theme of this game is utterly grim. Viral pandemics have broken out across the globe, and you play the desperate attempt to contain them before they wipe out humanity. This is one of my favourite games, and a co-operative one – the players as in Hanabi work together  to beat the game, not each other. The game supports 2 to 4 players, though you could adapt it to play it on your own I think if you really wanted. A clever game mechanic sees little wooden cubes spread across the map each turn as cards reveal where the diseases are flourishing, and you race around the game map sharing resources and ideas with other players trying to stop a cataclysm. If you work in a Path lab, or have friends with a love of medical drama, you must buy this.  My only caveat is this – buy the Second Edition.  I owned the First Edition, and the supplement On the Brink – and I have just bought the latest supplement for the game, but I then had to buy covers for all my cards as the second edition has new artwork, and so the In the Lab supplement is only really usable with second edition. Given how much I had already spent buying the first editions I was hacked off, though pleased when I found the company sell a set of cards to upgrade your old version to the new. Until that is I found out how much they cost, and that retailers don’t carry them so I’d be paying to have them shipped from Canada. Poor show, I probably won’t buy any more Pandemic stuff now, though I have covered my old cards with card protector sleeves so I can play In the Lab if I want to.

Pandemic 1st edition. Buy the Second Edition for compatibility with supplement reasons

Pandemic 1st edition. Buy the Second Edition for compatibility with supplement reasons

Game 6: CTHULHU 500

I don’t know much about motor racing, but I am a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction. Unfortunately far too many games in my opinion try to involve elements of his Cthulhu Mythos, but in this case the bizarre mix of racing cars and eldritch tentacled horrors actually works. A fun card game for 3 to 8 players with fairly light mechanics, you will need a couple of ordinary six sided dice. Definitely worth a go, if you can find a copy! I’d say the complexity level was about that of the old Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, so age 12+?

Cthulhu 500 is a fun fast paced card game which uses dice and feels like a boardgame. You need a couple of six sided dice to play

Cthulhu 500 is a fun fast paced card game which uses dice and feels like a boardgame. You need a couple of six sided dice to play

Game 7: KING OF TOKYO

Another game I reviewed on this blog, a homage to “Giant Monster ate my city” type movies. Designed by Richard Garfield who gave the world Magic: The Gathering, this is a great little family game for age 12+. with 2-6 players playing the part of Giant Monsters competing to trash a city. It’s great fun, and fiercely competitive, and while it has some small pieces and is a bit pricey at around £30 I think anyone could learn the rules if they read them carefully and the components and presentation are beautiful. Do get this one for a Christmas rampage! I have already reviewed it on this blog.

Up from the deeps, thirty storeys high, breathing fire, his head in the sky - GODZILLA!

King of Tokyo is a lot of light hearted fun!

Game 8:  DOMINION

A card game of considerable complexity and sophistication, we played this loads for a while. You need the table space you would use for a board game, and it is hard to explain except to say it is a bit like Magic the Gathering or a collectible card game, where all the players have access to the same cards.  I enjoy this one, but do think it is less suitable as a first game unless you have played some card games like Magic first.  2-4 players aged 10+, maybe even 12+ as the strategies get mind-boggling pretty fast. So what’s it about? Well you collect cards and play them to get money to buy cards to acquire kingdom cards. Yes I know that leaves you little the wiser, but trust me it’s a good game! Twenty to Thirty minutes, probably around 30 pounds.

It's a card game, but takes a lot of space

One Day, One Day, One Day, Dominion!

Game 9: 7 WONDERS

This one is quite complicated as well. Play through several periods of history building up your civilisation by acquiring technologies, monuments, armies and building your Wonder of the World! It’s again really a card game, but the hands of cards are swapped between players after each turn, and there are little game boards and coins as well, and some tokens used in scoring. A really fun game, the complexity is probably age 12+, and you need three to seven players. Takes a little while to understand and explain the rules, but once people understand the rules a good game can be played in 30 minutes. Prices seem to range from twenty five to forty pounds for this one.

7wonders

Game 10: TWILIGHT STRUGGLE

NOT a family game. GMT Games produce serious wargames in the style of the old SPI/Avalon Hill Games ones, but this is not a hex based wargame – it’s a card and map driven simulation of the period 1946 to 1990, covering the whole of the Cold War. It’s for two players, one playing the Soviet Bloc, one playing the USA and allies, and I guess the subject matter is grim — the game can end in a loss if one player accidentally goes too far and causes a Nuclear Armageddon.  However if you lived through some of those years, and have a good knowledge of 20th century history, this is about the finest three hour tense political and military game you can play I think. A lot of counters, well written and informative rules, it simulates the perceived reality of the Cold War from the perspective of the Soviets and Americans — a chilling game of brinkmanship, imperialism and real world horrors. Cards reflect actual events of the Cold War period, and doubtless some people would argue the game is in horrific taste, but it is certainly educational and makes you think.  It is a also a beautifully constructed game, giving a balanced outcome — if the Soviet’s don’t win early though they face a serious struggle to hold off the US. The Space Race mechanic is great, and how many games give you the decision to boycott the Olympics or not, hey? 1989 dealing with the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in that year is another game with similar mechanics and an equally perfect evocation of an era. If you are 30+, love modern history, and want a serious two player game, look no further. It’s a long way from Christmas jollity though!

Hugh Won!

Twilight Struggle in Play

Game 11: STAR WARS: X WING

Less a board game than a little wargame you can play on the kitchen table featuring painted models of Star Wars ships. For your thirty pounds you get everything you need to play, with one X wing and two TIE fighters.  The introductory rules are absurdly simple, and suit age 9+ I’d say for 2 players, but there is a decent little wargame in here with a lot of complexity once you move to the main rule book, and the manoeuvre rules are really quite cool.  The only drawback is you want more and more ships, and at about £12 a ship it could prove pricey, though I would say an additional fifty quid would give you enough ships to satisfy most folks, or you could just buy a second basic box set. I like this game, and it seems to appeal to the lads, but not as much to the ladies — though I am sure big Star Wars fans would love it! Definitely worth buying this Christmas, some branches of Waterstones have it in.  A lot of fun with pretty model spaceships, and only 30 minutes or so to play a dogfight like you saw in the movies!

May the Dice Be With You!

Star Wars: X Wing miniatures game

Game 12: AGRICOLA

If you know me you probably know that my current favourite game for the last couple of years has been Agricola. It works well with 2 to 5 players, though I think I play 3 player most, has difficult rules that take a lot of reading to understand, and takes an hour to two hours to play — but once you master the rules and complexity, it is a beautiful game.  I have played it a LOT – a couple of hundred games now – and it is one of those rare games that I think is improved by a supplement, in this case Farmers of the Moor.  However Agricola will set you back £50, and is definitely age 12+, though with the amount of play I have had from it it certainly has been worth every penny for me.  I won’t describe it in detail here, as I have already reviewed it on this blog, but Agricola remains as of Christmas 2013 my all time favourite game, having replaced Diplomacy in my affections.

Agricola

So Where Can I Buy These Games?

Firstly a warning. If you buy online, many of these games have supplements and expansions. If you know about the game you will recognise the difference, but there is no point in buying an expansion without the game itself. So check you are buying the game, not a supplement for it!

If you live in Cheltenham first try Proud Lion, your local game and comic shop shop on Albion Street, across the road from the back entrance to Debenham’s. Ben can advise you well, and he keeps a good selection of titles in stock upstairs.  I would certainly recommend Green Knight Games, another local business (mail order) who have an excellent knowledge of the games and are always helpful and efficient.

If not, you can try ordering from the net. Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com stock many of these titles, Leisure Games in London stock pretty much everything too, are very helpful,  and do mail order — and it is worth checking your local branch of Waterstones or WH.Smiths, where some of these games can be found.  There are of course hobby shops up and down the country, and they vary greatly in customer service – sadly I can no longer recommend Wayland’s Forge, Birmingham,  after a friend (Andy) gave the guy behind the till a sum of  money when we entered the shop and said “this is for CJ’s birthday, let him just grab what he wants”, and then when I went to pay a couple of minutes later found the shop guy had converted it to Store Credit – so I could get no change, buy no second hand goods and the money Andy had given to me for my birthday had suddenly become tied to buying stuff there.  Admittedly it was odd Andy gave him the money before I completed the purchase, but for refusal to backtrack or do anything about it I stopped shopping there, which must have cost the business rather a lot over the years. I’m still annoyed about it 7 or so years later! Of course the bloke in question may be long gone by now, so perhaps worth a try.

I do hope you will try a game this Christmas! This is by no means a definitive list, and many of my favourites do not appear, but do offer your suggestions in the comments section below, and advice on local stockists near you or games you have enjoyed.:)

Agricola is awesome!

A cheery Hugh playing Agricola. Yes it’s complex!

cj x

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An Unexpected Kindness…

A few of you may know that I write a lot for the books for the Ars Magica 5th edition roleplaying game published by Atlas Games, and that I am something of an enthusiast for the game, originating and often hosting the UK Grand Tribunal convention, running the Arcane Connection podcast and trying to get more people involved in playing Ars Magica and even creating tutorials on how to play, as well as occasionally contributing to  Andrew Gronosky’s Project Redcap and Mark Lawford & Ben McFarland’s fanzine Sub Rosa.

Over the last 14 years I have been heavily involved with the Ars Magica community, from the Berklist to the forums and beyond. By this stage a few of the fans know my name and know that I spend a lot of my free time on Ars Magica, though I’m certainlyu not one of the big names of the field. In fact, I doubt most Ars Magica players have any idea at all who I am. This made the events of today very touching, and unexpected!

Lloyd came over this evening, bring a big box which had been delivered by Amazon to my old address. Inside the box were two parcels —

Image— beautifully wrapped! The card reads — well I may as well show you!

Image

“To encourage you to further endeavours. The Secret Masters of Ars Magica”. An anonymous gift! Was it a bomb?

microphone

Nope it was an amazing microphone! Anyone who has ever listened to Arcane Connection the Ars Magica podcast knows that poor equipment has bedevilled almost everything we have ever tried to do, so this is truly a wondrous gift, better than a whole rook of Creo! And yet there was even more!

The second parcel contained this —

Image

It is a magical device enchanted to cast Image from the Wizard Torn, a dubious benefit to anyone who ever seen my Presence -5 form, and who knows that the humble monk Chretien de Roamer has the Flaw Monstrous Appearance! It is however absolutely perfect for the Google Hangout Ars Magica chats I am experimenting with, and I am floored by the generosity of the fans.

Now for the first time in several days (lot happening right now, but sadly not Ars related good things) I wandered over tothe forum and found the person responsible for sending the Amazon to deliver the parcel. Poor Lloyd! He has barely recovered, only his Parma Magica saved him from her feminine wiles, deadly sorcery and ferocious single weapon attack! (The traditional Redcap delivery would have been just as acceptable chaps😉 ). I therefore must thank Timothy Ferguson who despite my protestations for some time that I would never accept a gift or donation towards my podcasting and Ars related activity went on and did it anyway.😀 I hope Timothy was not the only contributor: the only problem is I don’t know who else to thank, and with my magical supplies so short, and the Stonehenge Tribunal limit on turning base metal to gold, well I can’t hope to reimburse people in the traditional way, by silver coins.

I am humbled by this gift, and rather astonished. I did not think the podcast, forged with the technical skills of Kevin Sides who somehow keeps my PC running, and let us not forget the third member of Arcane Connection, Tom Nowell, who often bought the cat food while I bought another £3 microphone (they die frequently!). Without Tom and Kev’s enthusiasm, and all the folks who have managed despite difficult time zone issues and poor connections to appear as special guests, there would be no Arcane Connection.

I will however repay folks, or at least try, in another way. I have a project for my usual 30 days in November series for the forum — not saints this year, or hermetic Tribunal cases — something rather different — and possibly a second one. Furthermore come December I shall try and provide a little Christmas present for everyone — an adventure — but right now i’m still formatting and sorting out the pdf’s for the last one, months overdue, which goes to Grand Tribunal attendees! Assuming everything is OK over the next week or so, (I’m awaiting some news which may prove stressful in the extreme, but hoping all good) I promise to continue doing what I can to reward and expand the fan base.

So thank you very much to the chaps and ladies of the Ars Magica community, especially to Timothy Ferguson for refusing to take no for an answer, and to David Chart and Atlas Games for giving me the opportunity to keep doing what I love! I’m not a big name rpg writer, or even prominent member of the fan community, but it was lovely to be given the opportunity to keep producing stuff and reassuring that some people actually enjoy it!

So thanks so much!

all the best

cj x

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The Day I Met Myself: or how I survived my death-omen doppleganger.

It was an overcast day, and I was walking through Bury St Edmunds with my best friend, Hugh. After lunch sometime, killing time before our scheduled afternoon classes. I don’t know the date or even the year — and Hugh is not sure he was with me at the critical moment. I think he was a few steps behind: certainly he joined me within a few minutes at most, but I recall talking to him immediately after the experience. Memory plays funny tricks.

I can’t recall precisely what we were doing — we had I think bought aniseed balls, but why we had strayed as far as Chequer Square I don’t know. I don’t know what we were talking about, what I was thinking or feeling, or why Hugh was a few paces behind (by my memory) as I looked left down the side of the cathedral, and saw myself looking back.

Not exactly — this is the memory I have of what I saw, and Hugh confirms it is what I said I saw…

A crocodile of school kids, rather strung out and disorganised, in St. James middle school uniform, walking towards me. The sun had come out, suddenly everything was warm, and the bright light bathed the scene. They were walking down the path from the gate that leads from the left side of the West Front towards my position, between St. James Church (the Cathedral) and the Norman Tower.

And I was among them, looking at myself. I was very neat, but my shirt hung out a bit (this was always characteristic of me) and I did not appear to notice myself looking back — only myself some five or six years older, a hippy looking type with shoulder length hair and a slouched demeanour very different to this upright young Chris I was viewing.

Frustratingly, I don’t know how the experience ended, I know I looked again and I was not there, and I think I asked Hugh if he saw me, and he looked at me oddly, and I told him what had happened, Hugh says he clearly recalls me telling him about the experience, but whether it was there, later in town when he met me, or even back at the school he can’t recall. He was concerned because I was clearly very upset and “not myself”. He remembers the realisation I was ill, and that we spoke at length before I went to my afternoon English class with I think Jill Curtiss back at KEGS. Hugh wasn’t doing English – he went off to his class — but by that time I was feeling very odd indeed, and was shaking a bit, had nausea, and a bad headache.

Image

Our conversation revolved around the fact I thought my Middle School me would have hated my Upper School me – and now if it had seen me, the reason I felt so dizzy, “not me” and in fact downright odd might have been because previous-me was now making life changes that would result in now-me no longer existing. The fact that I claimed to have seen myself did not seem to worry Hugh – he was convinced I had, and intrigued, and I think we both thought our conversation was perfectly normal, which just shows how imaginative and odd we could be.  The fun of the whole parallel time lines/ weird Dr Who type vibe was spoiled by my increasing anxiety, and the fact I felt absolutely awful. I was by the time I somehow made it up the stairs to my English class suffering from a stomach pain, legs like jelly, and a raging headache.

Was it Miss Curtiss or Miss Daniels who took that class? Again I have no idea. My friend Gary McFegan may well have been there — but I don’t know. What I recall was I was sitting by the door, facing across the room from the windows, and the dull light shining in seemed ridiculously and painfully bright, and it slowly dawned on me I had a fever. I could not look at the window, covered my eyes with my sleeve and began to retch.

Whoever took that class, they realised I was very unwell, and told me to go to the nurse, or home, or something. I offered no explanation, and think I just walked out of school and to my grandmother’s house, only a few streets away. There I recall sitting quietly in the dark of her front room with the curtains drawn, until somehow I was taken home to my parents, and went straight to bed. I don’t know if my parents knew I was ill – mum never took or gave pills, and so I was probably left to sleep it off. I have vague memories of flashes of pink and green lights, and of a raging headache. I never get headaches. This was incredible.

I think I missed a couple of days of school, because I felt like I had been through a tumble dryer. I ached from head to foot. I felt abysmal. Yet at no point was I running a temperature, and curiously it was only last night reading a book on hallucinations I finally understood what had happened back then. I had had my first migraine.

Most of my friends who suffer from migraine seem to do so regularly — at least not infrequently. I have had three migraines as far as I know, and the next one was in the early 1990’s when I lived at Hewlett Road, Cheltenham. Each one has hit me terribly hard, but there appears to be a decade or more in between them. However I have lived with migraine sufferers, and have seen their symptoms. I never realised however that what happened to me that day was a migraine induced hallucination — I had never heard of such a thing.

I think I would have forgotten the incident, putting it down to a trick of the imagination, if I had not been so ill afterwards. Oddly, despite having spent two decades of my life working on other peoples ghost experiences, and hallucinations, and having trained in psychiatric nursing in the early 90’s for a while, I have never thought of this as a ghost, or even a hallucination. I put it down to some wild hiccup  of the mind. It had scared me badly, but nothing bad happened. Hippy Chris morphed in to CJ as we know me today, and that bizarre moment when I appeared to be seeing myself, well, it was an in-joke for Hugh and I to laugh over.

I was also frankly embarrassed. I have always prided myself on my rationality, and while I recalled a tale of Goethe seeing himself (or was it Schiller?), and probably knew even then that the doppelganger was an omen of the percipient’s death, it was easier to forget about it. I think I have told a handful of people over the years, maybe mentioned the experience in passing online, but I have never felt it “paranormal”. (Compare and contrast with my obsession with the event at Thetford Priory). Even now I hesitate to share the story, as it does make me sound nuts. The truth is of course that given the right conditions, we can all hallucinate.

So why do I think it a migraine? Well the symptoms I felt after the “vision” certainly sound like migraine to me now — though I’m no expert. Becky is making her final amendments to her PhD thesis, and is deeply involved in the mechanics of the apparitional experience right now, and I had picked up a pile of her books and was reading through them. Oliver Sack’s popular 2012 book Hallucinations was among them, and I was reading through it when I found the section on autoscopy, seeing your own body from outside, most commonly mentioned in Out of the Body Experience (OBE) research. I had noted years before the section in Green & McCreery’s classic Apparitions (1975) on what they term “autophany”, seeing one’s own apparition; and I knew the case from Gurney’s Phantasms of the Living (1886) of a lady called Sarah who alarmed herself and guests at diner one night by manifesting by the table! Strangely despite my own odd experience these cases had never really interested me much — but on reading Sacks book I suddenly realised the link between the migraine that followed the experience and my doppleganger vision.

It seems I am in good company — the great naturalist Carl Linnaeus had similar experiences, linked to his migraines according to Sacks. So did Goethe, though we know not if migraines was involved, and also Guy de Maupaussant, who wrote Le Horla. I have never had such an experience again, and in a sense I am relieved: there was a strong sense to me, however unreasonable, that my double was in fact hostile. Given I interpreted the experience in terms of a projected memory, or a timeslip — I considered both — that is actually quite odd. I quite like myself after all!

Migraine is just one reason for this kind of unpleasant experience, and a search on Google shows up several papers on the subject published in the last ten years. And yet, despite my immense love of studying the apparitional experience, and the years I have read round the literature on hallucinations to understand it, I have a curious reticence about even speaking of this odd little thing that happened almost thirty years ago.

Last night, Hugh and I, still friends and now both living 150 miles from the scene of the incident talked about it over a boardgame, and I thought maybe others might be interested. So many kind people have over the years risked ridicule t share with me or Becky or other researchers their own anomalous experiences, and I find it easy enough to discuss what happened at Thetford; that was something one could easily classify ghost, and “ghosts are OK?” in our culture I guess. So I am sharing my story, and hope it might perhaps reassure others having truly weird experiences that nothing bad came of it, either in the form of a severe and prolonged illness, or being haunted to my doom by my doppleganger. I’ll tell you what though: migraine was bad enough.

cj x

Posted in Debunking myths, Paranormal, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment