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.
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.
Firstly, and foremost. It is all Kevin’s fault.
I never set out to organise anything – organisation and me are distant acquaintances, at the best. I rarely know what day it is; I sometimes struggle to recall the year. I find myself booked to six events on the same evening, and having failed to arrange a bus ticket to any of them. I can barely manage to dress myself, or organise getting dinner on the table. I may be the world’s most useless man. I may well live forever, as I will never get round to turning up on time for my funeral.
Well so my friends would have you believe. What my detractors would say is rather less charitable.
Of course I think I am a highly organised, very focussed individual with great project management skills. My issue is that I commit very heavily to doing stuff, unpaid stuff generally, that makes incredible demands on my time. I would argue that years of actually doing stuff, organising events and getting books written and projects completed shows that I actually am far from how my friends portray me. My persona is that of a muddle headed hippy; in reality I’m extremely efficient. They just believe the hype :)
Still, I’m the last person you would ask to organise a convention or conference. Or it would seem, the first…
It all started back in February 2007, on a mailing list dedicated to the roleplaying game Ars Magica. There was a discussion about conventions, and about how Amber (another rpg) players have their own events. And then Kevin announced yes, we should — and volunteered me.
And in a sudden fit of insanity I said yes, OK then, and that was it. I was a convention organiser…
Now Grand Tribunal is about games, but you can organise conventions and conferences and meet ups for almost anything. In this post I’m going to talk about what I have learned in my years of running events, the pitfalls, and the many positives. Grand Tribunal UK has only about 30 attendees each year – we are a tiny event – but a great deal of work goes in to it. If you happen to be interested in Ars Magica, or running a con dedicated to another roleplaying game this may be useful to you — but I hope what I have to say has some interest to anyone with a hobby they are passionate about.
Firstly, what was my con about? Ars Magica is a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, played round a table with the players pretending to be characters in a Mythic, slightly Fantasy version of our real 13th century. It’s been around a long time, has a very complex background and is rules heavy, and is an awful lot of fun. Players are distributed around the world, and some play on the internet, and others don’t play much at all because other players are hard to find. In Cheltenham I had built up a small but dedicated group of players, so that answers the first question for a con organiser — “why here?”.
Does Anyone Want This Event?
I knew I had a small group who would attend, and that is important. For an event like this to work, you need a critical mass of people, something I learned in my days DJ’ing. No matter what I played, no matter what club, unless you have enough punters in to actually make people feel they can dance without being watched by the other six folk propping up the bar, the night does not work. You are playing to an empty cavernous space; a few shuffle uncomfortably, others down there beer and head off in search of a more fun venue. Then a party of folks arrives, or the pubs kick out, or — well whatever the reason, you suddenly have 30-40 people in the room. The atmosphere builds. Get to 100 and you have a real night going, and people hit the dance floor.
My experience of academic conferences is that people come to socialise and network as much as listen to the speakers. I spent many an SPR Study Day or Conference standing outside in the rain talking to Tony Cornell while he smoked outside and regaled me with accounts of his researchers — the chap was probably the greatest 20th century ghost investigator, and he wrote two of the best books on the subject — do pick up this one, pricey though it is. Tony often missed lectures and official events — and it did not matter. (Incidentally while Tony developed a grave distrust of all people from Cheltenham in the field, and we stopped speaking in the mid-90’s, I learned more from him than I would have in any amount of formal talks and miss his gnomic wit and bitterly sharp intelligence, especially now he has died).
Anyway you need people. If everyone who will come can comfortably fit in a pub or living room, maybe that is your venue sorted.
First Things First
So you are going to need people to come to your event. Before you book a venue, before you write a programme, before you invite speakers or work out how to market, you need to know that you will have some people who think that the event is a great idea, and who volunteer to come, and to help out. In reality they might well not actually do either, but in this internet age starting a discussion about the possibility is the very first thing to try.
Assuming people are enthusiastic, you can now try and co-opt people in to your schemes, on the organising side. My first rule is “assume you will end up doing everything yourself”. No matter how good you are at people management, people have families, jobs, ill health and unexpected life events. And let’s face it, many people who will happily type away saying they will do something will then forget all about it, or spend months and years bemoaning the cruel indifferent Gods who condemned them to working on your event for no pay and precious little thanks. So with the best will in the world, organising your project roles, setting up a large committee and drawing up a set of goals, deadlines and project stages might be a complete waste of time, as these folk are volunteers. If you have paid staff, all these are great ideas — but most of us for a project of the scale I’m envisioning won’t have.
The Horror That is Dates
Next up – dates. The only thing I can really say here is that for your first event, sooner is better than later. A con a year off is too far for most people to commit to for a first event. I think we opened the doors about 3 months after the original idea was put forward. If the event works, you can plan a whole year in advance for the next one – but would say 8 to 10 weeks is the most for a first event.
A lot of people won’t be able to make any date you choose. Or rather, of your key audience, some folks will be unavailable on any given date. You will have to upset some people who already have commitments then. It’s inevitable – just choose a date and stick with it.
I messed up with dates twice, and I will reveal all, despite it making me look rubbish. The first time I simply booked the event for a weekend when there was another big event scheduled in Cheltenham – well a horse racing event. I had checked the Festival calendar, and made sure I was not clashing with the music, jazz, science or literature festivals. I chose a weekend when there were no other big games conventions in the UK I could find (easier a few years ago). Accommodation gets more pricey in town when something big is on — and is harder to find. And then I found out there was one of the two biggest race meetings of the year that weekend – the one I had never heard of, as opposed to the Gold Cup which I obviously had.
The second screw up came when I assigned the dates using the previous years holiday calendar, and found I had chosen a Bank Holiday weekend. Never, ever, run a little event on a Bank Holiday. It may seem an obvious choice, but a) accommodation is at a premium b) loads of big events occur then and people will go to those instead and c) many people work their family and holiday bookings around Bank Holidays. Luckily one of the delegates spotted the problem immediately, and I was able to change the dates before anyone had booked travel or accommodation. Yet neither of the people who had checked my booking had noticed the problem.
The Scope of Your Event
OK, so now you have a date, and hopefully an idea of what your event is about. In my case it was about Ars Magica, a game I had by that time written on several books for. Astonishingly parts of the fan community recalled my name and seemed enthusiastic to meet me, and I realised that getting the other authors along would be a big draw — and I found that a little odd, because rpg fans usually focus on rules mechanics and the quality of the book, and seem to pay little regard to the authors, as opposed to say Crime Fiction fans where authors become celebrities. E. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Greg Stafford, Marc Miller, Robin Laws, Ken Hite, Monte Cook — they are celebrity rpg authors, but most of us are barely noticed I think. Still I wanted the authors, and while they were spread over four or more continents, a gratifying number of the British authors signed up. And then t my astonishment two of the biggest names in Ars Magica, Matt Ryan and Erik Dahl said they were coming – from New York & California, respectively.
An Audience With the Authors panel was an obvious choice, and while the Line Editor David Chart could not make it (he was living in Japan) he immediately said he would write a short piece giving advance notice of the plans for the line, secrets that could not be leaked, but would be the exclusive knowledge of the fans who made it to the event. Once he said that, sign ups increased even more. There is nothing like a big revelation to get peoples attention, as the hype over the announcement of the new Doctor Who on TV tonight is demonstrating.
Still I actually lacked real concrete ideas of how the event would work at this point. I knew gamers would play games if given a quiet private space, and so decided to ask the delegates to bring games they wanted to run, and we announced them as we heard about them to get people excited. I started putting out regular announcements on mailing lists and forums dedicated to the game.
I was not going to run a general games convention or a hobby meet up, but one specifically about Ars Magica. I did not have any figures for how many people played the game, but I hoped there would be enough to provide a small but fanatical group of delegates :) By this time we had about twenty people who has indicated they were coming…
OK, so I wanted to run a convention dedicated to Ars Magica (and other products by ATLAS GAMES). I would be referring to their intellectual properties – trademarks, copyrights etc. I had always intended to run a non-profit making and unofficial event, but it was clear to me that I had to ask ATLAS GAMES for permission. So I did, and they were happy to support us, publicize the event and dent us some free stuff which we raffled off for charity, and which proved another major draw to the event. It was all systems go…
Except I still had no venue. With only twenty people at this point I obviously did not need a large venue, but gamers need tables, chairs, quiet and a room big enough for the live action dress up and be wizards game I now planned as a Saturday event. Many pubs have rooms you can use for free, but they expect you to drink, and anyway pubs tend to be noisy, even in private rooms. I wanted a larger, ,multi-room venue. Church Halls, Community Centres and Scout Huts were the obvious choices, but I would need one for a whole Saturday and a Sunday morning, as I expected the delegates to leave about midday.
The catch was I had no idea of final numbers, no money to pay for the venue if it all failed without incurring considerable hardship and until I announced the venue I could not really confirm the event. Also with people now coming from Norway, the USA, Germany and France I needed to be very quick, as flights needed to be booked and accommodation found. Yet I could not set the price or even confirm the event until I knew the venue cost…
I was lucky! I found a wonderful community centre at a very reasonable cost.
A Word On Venues
I love the venue we use, because it is close to my home, spacious and has car parking close by. Two regular attendees live directly opposite, so last minute printer hitches or lack of mugs or rulebooks can always be quickly sorted. It’s private, clean and has multiple rooms. However…
Not all the delegates were as easy to convince as me. The venue looks very ordinary (some would say shabby) from the outside. My expectations are not those of all of the fan base, many of whom can afford to eat meat every day and own cars, houses and attend prestigious events like theatre trips that cost ten times what this whole weekend would for a single ticket. For some, the area where I live must have seemed like a real slum, and the venue not be quite what they anticipated.
There is no implied criticism here. I think people were just surprised when they found it was just a church hall, as they were used to big games conventions run in beautifully landscaped university campuses. I did actually end up using a room at the university on the Sunday morning as my venue was not free, but that cost almost as much as the venue had for the whole of Saturday. Universities make money in the summer as conference venues for businesses with megabucks to spend, and only using the Student Union to make the booking made it affordable at all. I did try the university again one year for a quote, but then they switched to a third party conference facilities company and the price sky rocketed out of my budget, and all my plans went to waste.
Seven years later and everyone seems to have real affection for our lovely venue. The money we have been able to donate to help the Community Centre has perhaps helped a tiny bit, but every year the custodians improve it, and they have been incredibly decent to us. I would not hold it anywhere else now.
I did initially scout out another venue, a 13th century castle with a Youth Hostel set in a tiny village, about an hours drive from my home. Eventually I gave up on the idea – while it was lovely, and had plenty of accommodation at very reasonable rates, and let’s face it delegates pay more for accommodation than any other aspect of the weekend, it is very remote, with no public transport links, another hour from Heathrow or Stansted and difficult to find. Then I discovered quite a few delegates really did not want to stay in cheap YHA dormitory accommodation, and given the lack of local hotels, I realised the venue just would not work. Several changes of management at the venue, each of whom seemed to know nothing of my previous correspondence and plans made me abandon the idea. Atmospheric, but impractical, and again the final asking price would have been many times what I finally took in ticket sales.
One thing I will say – when you get a price, get it on paper, and makes sure you sign a contract as soon as possible. Our venue have been wonderful, even reducing the price for us, but the other venues I’ve worked with have pencilled in a booking, changed managers and price structures and then doubled or tripled what they were asking. Luckily I had gone with out community centre, and could tell them “No” very firmly.
Another option was a hotel’s conference facilities. This may be perfect for your event, but a word of warning — most are designed for committee meetings, not hordes of gamers and socialising, and a single room environment may or may not serve what you want from your event. In my case it was less than ideal. Furthermore conference facilities were only at anything approaching a realistic cost if I made a block booking on a certain number of hotel rooms — and then I would have to try and dictate where delegates stayed, and factor accommodation in to the ticket. I could not see this working at all.
My advice is simple – find a small, inexpensive venue, close to your home, and use it. Ensure the venue has Public Liability insurance that will cover users, and then at least you are slightly more covered. Make sure you read the terms and conditions, and the place has decent disabled access and toilets. Try to avoid upstairs venues like the plague, as even those who don’t visibly have mobility issues can struggle with steep stairs I have found. If you must use an upstairs room for something, make it absolutely clear. Because I took this in to account from Day One, I am delighted to say we have never had an issue with it.
Accommodating Your Guests
You might be planning to use a local camp site, and hope the English weather holds out. Guest of Honour like Erik and Matt we have put up in our own homes — though that is less than ideal, because you may find you have a huge amount to do in the hours before and during the event. Some people will come for the day — but many others will come a long way.
My solution was to post details of hotels, motels, B&B and camping options, as many as I could find, and to list the local Tourist Information. At least once guest stayed somewhere I later found they actually felt was verging on the unsavoury, and I made sure that place was not listed on the site. However I decided I had enough to do without worrying about accommodation, and rather than make the mistake I nearly did with the youth Hostel dorms and go for cheap and tied accommodation, or ask people to stay at the hotel I considered as a venue, it was better to let the guests chose their own accommodation and book it themselves.
We have had people show up without booking any rooms or had their room fall through for some reason (or just missed trains), and we have done what we can for them, and no one has ever slept in a hedge so far, but they might one year. I’m totally clear that we will do what we can to help you find a room, but ultimately booking accommodation is down to the guests. However we found a way to minimize this possibility!
Oh and as an afterthought, one of the most bizarre things i ever found – the discount rate for booking blocks of room sin hotels can actually be considerably more than the cost of booking the same rooms individually. Yes, really. I was astonished by this!
It was important people could ask advice about accommodation options, transport, car sharing, room sharing, and other matters. I created early on a YahooGroup dedicated to the con, which gets really busy for about a month a year, then goes quiet. The whole community of delegates and others who can’t make this year but are interested participate, and this is where the whole thing gets put together. I strongly advise you to consider a dedicated forum thread or email list to handle this kind of enquiry and where people can get to know each other before they turn up.
I got lucky here again – Karl bought the website domain www.grandtribunal.org and kindly let us use it, and Pitt Murmann has set up a wiki that has been invaluable and allowed all delegates to add content, edit and develop the site. This year we are using a wiki developed by Andy Oakley, which is just like Pitt’s much much faster than a conventional website to update. Nowadays we also have a Facebook page, and Twitter is used during the weekend to allow us to quickly send updates to all delegates as to where we all are and what is happening.
How Much Should I Charge?
A lot of the events have put on over the years have been completely free, but I knew I would have heavy costs for this event. I needed people to book in advance so I could pay the venue deposit, and I really did not want to make tickets available on the door as I had to know how many people were coming (actually to my delight every year I have run the con — in Part 2 you will learn about how friends ran it later on and the USA version, and the different options their experiences provide — a couple of people have arrived unannounced on the day on a whim! This is great, but hard to work with for a very structured event, but please please do come! Not everyone can plan weeks or months in advance, as I know all too well.)
So pricing. I did not want to make any money – any profits would go to charity, and in fact I have made small losses twice. Nothing serious, just a little. A few facts to consider when pricing —
1. Cover your venue costs. Obviously!
2. Look for hidden costs – tea, coffee, milk, squash, snacks, washing up liquid etc . There will be many. Put at least £20 aside for this sort of thing.
3. Charge something. If you charge people will take it more seriously. No idea why, but even a small charge makes people actually commit and feel they got something back.
4.Offer a generous range of small discounts for those with less money to throw around – the unwaged, OAPS, etc. You will feel bad when the price you have to charge excludes some people, but try to be fair and not give away tickets. The most important discounts for those who book early, before a certain date, which allows you to know your event will work and is viable in terms of numbers and pay deposits and advance fees
5. However, be aware that a number of people, including close friends, may not be able or willing to pay anything. Some will just drop in for a single event and therefore don’t want to pay. Close friends often figure any event you put on should not cost, because they don’t pay normally to hang out with you. Most of my close friends actually do pay, but you can’t really charge the people who spend a whole week setting up, organising the event, making stuff, and running to pick people up from the station, unless they really insist. I learned this not from my con but from non-game related events, but it is worth noting. The numbers on the delegate list may not reflect the numbers who paid!
The problem with letting your friends come for less than cost price is that it soon becomes impossible to charge almost anyone, as all regular attendees are soon friends. We don’t have this problem with Grand Tribunal, where I insist even my best friends pay (the only official exemption is my co-organiser and he pays anyway by putting much more than his ticket price in to the event supplies and so forth).
Unfortunately, you have to get good at badgering people. Most people are absolutely lovely though, and will do all kinds of stuff and pay extra just to help, and this year we had donations from two people who can’t come but just wanted to help out! Thanks to Pitt Murmann and David for that!
In Part 2 I will discuss how it all went, and what we have learned over the last six cons, two of which were organised brilliantly in Cambridge by my friends Neil and Sheila using a slightly different model. More pitfalls and traps will be revealed, and all the fun we have had.
Finally, if you happen to be interested in Ars Magica or rpgs, larp, freeforms or boardgames, you might want to just come along. Grand Tribunal UK 2013 is taking place in Cheltenham, England from August 16th to 18th – you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for details, but check out the website at www.grandtribunal.org
Grand Tribunal is held by kind permission of Atlas Games. “Grand Tribunal” and the “Grand Tribunal” logo are trademarks of Trident, Inc. d/b/a Atlas Games, used with permission. Grand Tribunal is Atlas Games excellent board game of magic!
OK, on the face of it, it does seem unlikely that I am pregnant, being a man and all, but over the years so many people have asked me when the baby is due while pointing at my pot belly a chap could be forgiven being a little confused. That is not however the reason I ask the question “am I actually pregnant?” today. On no! I have a far stranger reason
I awoke this morning from a dream about programming, to find myself craving baked beans. Now nothing unusual about that I guess for many people — but I loathe and detest baked beans. I’m not allergic to them or anything, and I can eat them without vomiting unlike Lisa, for whom the mere sight of them makes her green; no I just can’t stand them.
I can eat a spoonful without gagging, and don’t mind them on my plate as long as I’m not expected to eat them, but really, if carrots are Satan’s favourite vegetable, then baked beans are the droppings of Satan’s Bunny Horde, a host of hopping demons who do nothing but poop this vile orange stodge on to people’s plates.
I recall with grim horror the Bean Wars of the 90’s, when the price of a big can of baked beans was between 2p and 4p most of the time, till one supermarket just gave them away, I tried, inspired by miserable poverty, to eat them. Now it seems that the Bean Wars of ’96 have been judged as less culturally significant the Battle of the Beanfield — no one sings about when Tesco beans were tuppence a can, not even The Levellers – but the Bean Wars had victims too. Maybe a million people consumed way too much sodium (one can is 44% of your RDA for the ones I bought today), thousands were gassed in a terrible epidemic of flatulence, and huge numbers of children traumatized by this foul orange gloop. I don’t know how the price war ended – the Bean Wars just suddenly faded away? Perhaps when Frank Dorell became minister for Health he ended the war, issuing gas marks to civilians who had to travel by tube, encouraging a Blitz spirit, and encasing millions of cans of the horrid stuff in concrete and burying it with nuclear waste?
Anyway in 1996 I was poor, and tried to live off beans. I lasted one meal. Happy to watch you eat them, but no way I am going to. ..
So when I woke up today fighting an urge to eat baked beans I was baffled, but sure it would go away. It didn’t. It grew stronger, and stronger. My body craved baked beans. Nothing else would do. It was like giving up caffeine or nicotine, I began to feel physically unwell, so strong was the craving. I needed baked beans. In fact I was unable to concentrate, as images of baked beans stewed with cabbage and peas began to haunt me. I wanted beans…
Now there is actually one type of bean that I am allergic to. I’m not going to name it, as I don;t want to make potential assassins job easier. I also have a very mild reaction to sweetcorn, and can’t eat that. I detest broad beans as well. Even stranger, I have a strong psychological aversion to the colour orange, which actually seems to provoke mild anxiety in me. Yes, OK, I’m a freak. Yet know I was obsessed with eating baked beans.
Everyone I asked said the same thing “are you pregnant?” I had heard of women who are experiencing strange and strong cravings for odd foodstuffs – never actually witnessed it myself, but so strong was the baked bean desire I actually stopped to wonder if the Testes Fairy had visited me in the night, waved her wand and changed my sex. I still seem to be male, and I don’t have any reason to think I might be pregnant, so I’m wondering if there are other reasons for such a peculiar craving? Was I really short on salt or sugar or something? Did my body need tartrazine or whatever E number dyes them that ghastly bright orange colour?
Anyway I finally succumbed, and bought a can of them, and consumed it with relish – well actually without relish, I did not fancy adding more tomato sauce – but with apparent enthusiasm. So yes I actually ate a whole can of baked beans for lunch, and I’m still alive, and did not vomit, and the craving seems to have gone for now. What I fear however is that they might be addictive? Even psychological dependency would be too much. I can imagine a life wandering the streets begging for coins to indulge in a bean habit, and it is not a happy picture. I ate them, devoured them even, and hopefully now I can keep them down and not regurgitate them over myself, but this is all very very puzzling.
Oh well, at least I’m not pregnant.
OK, today Sally Morgan won a reported £125,000 damages from The Daily Mail in an out of court settlement. Those people who have said “The UK courts have endorsed psychic powerz!” are more out of touch than the wackiest woo-filled spoonbender — people the clue is in the “out of”!?! The settlement simply shows that what the Mail alleged about the facts on a certain occasion were untrue, or could not be shown to be true, and I suspect the actual bone of contention was the claim Sally wore an earpiece. Now if you have no idea what any of this is about, firstly go read the Guardian piece on the libel result. Then come back, and I’ll make it more interesting :)
Right, assuming you saw that, then you may wish to acquaint yourself with my first piece on the whole business here. How Sally Met Infamy?
The libel case appears directly related to the RTE radio broadcast and the accusations made on that day. Given it could have gone to court, and Sue and Dorrie could have testified, as I understand they made contact with Simon Singh – or did I get the wrong end of a Twitter stick here – why did the Mail settle out of court? I actually don’t get it at all, unless there was substantial doubt that the witnesses were correct and the earpiece ploy was in use. Maybe Stuart McKeown and Mick Skelly were willing to testify? I have been uncertain about the claims since the start, and have expressed my reasons for caution. I’m not sure if we ever get tot the bottom of this now, and I am no closer to believing Sally is psychic, but not much more convinced than I was she is a conscious fraud either. I wish she would just do some actual tests: not Randi’s challenge, I mean something with Tricia Robertson and PRISM or the SPR.
So far I have not really libelled Sally Morgan, and the truth is I have no intention of doing so, but now Hitler enters our story, along with Derek Acorah (OK, not physically, though “Hitler, Acorah, and Morgan walked in to a bar…” could be the start of the second most unfunny joke in history. In 1939 Hitler could have saved us from the endless pain of the most unfunny joke in history. And he tried, he tried.
Now physical humour can be repetitive.
That is still mildly amusing: however this isn’t. Last week Derek Acorah cancelled a show in a Scottish theatre, and rescheduled the venue, and the management put out the most tired, most unfunny joke I know “Psychic cancels show owing to unforeseen circumstances”. Today pretty much every paper has had some “should have seen it coming” psychic joke, as have half the users on Twitter – the half not too busy frothing over Bieber to know Sally Morgan exists.
I hear a lot of righteous cant about sick psychics preying on the bereaved: folks you are missing the real problem. If only these folks would turn some of that indignant anger to hunting down people writing shite headlines like this with “seen it coming… psychic” and dealing with them as they deserve! These are villains who are fully deserving of adding to the sum total of bereavement by being hastily despatched. “Kill them all: Acorah conjure up his own!” to update Arnaud de Amaury’s famous words.
Why is this joke so bad? Because psychics are not mediums, (unless like Acorah they call themselves “psychic mediums”) and purported mediums like Sally Morgan are not supposed to be able to predict the future.
And that bit is actually Hitler’s fault….
In September 1939 Spiritualist circles all over Britain and America were predicting that despite the growing international crisis, war would be averted, and Hitler would back down. And guess what? He did, and a golden age of peace— oh no, sorry he invaded Poland and France and England promptly declared war plunging us in to World War 2.
This led to a bit of a theological crisis for Spiritualism. The spirits had spoken, at length, in detail, about “peace in our time”. They had been shown to be completely wrong, as wicked old Hitler had carried on exactly as he wanted and ignored their prophecies. In the UK both Two Worlds and Psychic News debated the issue, and eventually a new doctrine came forth – that Spirit has no certain knowledge of the future. So mediums are not fortune tellers, and are not able to predict what will happen to you.
Now one day I will write up a little history of Spiritualism, Spiritism, the Christian Spiritualists and all the other groups and denominations. I’m not a spiritualist, I don’t approve of mediumship and I am generalising wildly, and I do not know exactly what type of medium Sally Morgan is. Furthermore, a recent statement has started to revise things back a bit —
An inhabitant of the Spirit World can, to a degree, predict future events with greater or less accuracy, according to conditions. This is done by reasoning based on observation of past and present conditions and events, and is more accurate than is the same process as used by us, because the Spirit reasoner is not hampered by a physical body, nor by the conventional and set ideas that go with the limitations of such a body — National Association of Spiritualist Churches
So they can’t actually see the future, just make a better guess than us, based on current conditions. That is really not very exciting, but it is a lot further than some late C20th mediums would go.
So in short: these Mediums and “Psychics” are not claiming to predict the future, or if they are they are not “orthodox” Spiritualists, and this “did not see it coming joke” deserves to die. No court has found psychics genuine, and for the first time ever I have seen the excellent Ben Goldacre talking utter shite – see Hayley’s excellent blog for the details.
Finally a little whine. The people talking about Sally Morgan on Twitter are generally not, with the obvious exceptions of Prof Chris French or Ciaran O’Keeffe (or Tricia Robertson if she uses Twitter) knowledgeable about testing psychics. They do not know the literature, have never read Robertson & Roy, and certainly have no idea of the wider issues. They don’t invoke Flew or Braude against personal survival of death – they say “it can’t happen because it’s rubbish”. This strikes me as the most dangerous fundamentalism of them all – when individuals decide all of their own unexamined beliefs are simply true, and use that naive world-view as a way to just say Sally is a fraud. I’m not convinced by her, but you need to do a lot better than this. Sure I’m an arrogant elitist tosspot who wants you to read books, do experiments and test and critically examine claims. I’m a real wanker in your eyes I’m sure to insult your fond fundamentalism like this – yet I am also a real sceptic. If you are going to be a champion of science, rationality and warrior against woo take the time and effort to learn the facts and major issues in the field. Otherwise you are just another frothing fundie, albeit from a denomination of just one! So go read up a bit on all the issues. Here is a good place to start – Jensen & Cardena testing a professional medium (who failed the test) — great bibliography, free access. http://ejp.wyrdwise.com/EJP%20v24-1.pdf
And please, stop getting so angry about Sally Morgan, :D I’ll discuss why in a future post. It is not like it will make much difference for reasons I discussed last year. :)
Anyway life is too short to get angry about this. Have a great evening!