"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Charting the Unknown: Ghosts, Memory & the Progress of Time

Posted in Debunking myths, Paranormal, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on March 8, 2010

OK something mildly interesting tonight – very much a preliminary set of thoughts on something Becky and I are still working on. Before she started her PhD we undertook some simple research on reports of “paranormal experiences” together, using a novel new methodology which is actually quite close to that used by the SPR in the 1894 Census of Hallucinations. And something has already come up that I find fascinating!

I don’t know yet if Becky is going to develop said methodology for her PhD, so I won’t talk about it here, but the important thing is with the help of a number of friends, including but not limited to Yvette Nicole-Hall, Axel Johnston, Rupert Scott-Ward, Miranda Cardew, Lynn Cinderey, Emma and Paul Tudor, Thomas Nowell and others (the full list will appear in the final paper if we ever finish writing this up: please drop me a line if you took part and I  have missed you off the list!) we collected sixty “paranormal” type experiences. We then coded them, using a Grounded Theory approach, and I’m still looking at the data.

Scooby Doo

And I would have gotten away with it but for you pesky parapsychologists!

The question that was posed in our “accidental census” (Becky developed the methodology quite by chance) was

“Have you ever – when believing yourself to be fully awake and unaffected by illness, drink or drugs — had a vivid experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there is nothing there and no ordinary cause you can find?”

or one of three other minor variations of the same, as we were playing around with the wording, experimenting with the original SPR form, DJ West’s, the MAss Observation Survey question and finally Becky’s own version (above). The only difference noted was in number of responses,

So what did we find? Well one thing I mentioned the other day leapt out at me immediately. Remember I said in the piece on Thetford Priory and my own ghost experience that I thought experiences diminished rather the grew in the telling, and that many events that seemed quite “paranormal” at the time are quickly forgotten?  Well sixty cases is not a lot to base anything on, but here is a quick chart I just knocked up in Open Office Calc.

Chart of time elapsed between event and report on paranormal events

Bit blurry as I’m not good with the Export function. Anyway at first glance, it seems to show pretty much what we might expect in terms of a fairly even distribution of our experiences. Ah I hear you cry – there are only 49 percipients (people who experienced the event)  listed here. Yep, in some cases it was impossible to work out exactly WHEN the event occurred from the narratives we received, and we also omitted repeated phenomena (as in “this happens to me every day” and continuing phenomena, as in “and it’s still happening…”) from this chart.  If they were included the effect would be stronger I think…

So what is puzzling me? The garishly (and with no regard to red/green colour blindness: I should have checked how to change the colours) bars do not represent equal periods of time.  Two people reported their event the day it happened, the first bar.  The second bar is those who told us of something in the last week, the third the last month.  The first 5 bars represent events that were experienced in the last year…  But as we get further down the chart, well the fifth bar is four years (from 12 months to 5 years), then we go up in 5 year blocks, then ten years.

Here is the important bit: in the last twelve months, twelve people claim to have had an experience of the type we are interested in – including witnessing an apparition, seeing an object move in what appears to be a “paranormal” fashion, hearing voices, being touched by invisible presences, etc,  while well and not under the influence of drugs or drink.  So lets assume that people are more likely to recall and report accurately events in the last twelve months. Using that 12 months as a baseline; if that rate was the average (assuming that Dave Williams was wrong earlier tonight when he joked “it looks like Zuul is coming to the West Midlands!) then we would expect sixty reports in each of the 5 year blocks; the mean is actually 4.6 reports per five years. So where are the missing 275+ reports?

Well the age of the population reporting is obviously crucial. We only asked by decade of age, and though I have some precise ages, for most people I only know if they were say in their thirties or forties. I created  a chart to show the distribution here. With the limited data I have I would estimate the average age is somewhere around 33.  It is hardly surprising then that many people do not report events forty years ago — they were not born.

This leave three main hypotheses to consider to account for the issue

1. The one the SPR Report On the Census of Hallucinations put forward in 1894, and I mentioned to Wiseman & Watt at the Science of Ghosts event in Edinburgh last April, which seemed to surprise them –  – people rapidly forget anomalous experiences in the main.

2.  People are reporting the most spectacular events they can think of they have experienced, and ignoring minor recent experiences that would meet the Census question.

3.  People are making up their experiences, and claiming these false experiences  happened recently. I rather doubt this one for various reasons, not least the mode of collection for the data, and the fact the same pattern is found in Sidgwick (1894) – and I suspect in Donald West’s three studies.

I will return to this issue tomorrow, and talk more about the preliminary findings. For the moment I welcome any comment, in particular suggestion of appropriate statistical measures to employ on the quantitative data as Becky has returned to Derby to work, and I’m fairly rubbish at this sort of thing. :)

cj x

The Bell and The Ram: Ghosthunting with GSUK

Posted in Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on July 13, 2009

I said I’d write something about the weekend, and i guess I should, but for anyone hoping for fantastic proof of the paranormal, look elsewhere! What follows is a short account of a weekend ghost hunt that was notably devoid of actual spooky happenings.

About GSUK

GSUK is a small psychical research group set up by Becky Smith and I after we stopped working for Richard Felix at Derby Gaol. It’s every much a group of friends, and we have a forum where we chat, occasionally talk about the paranormal and plan our low cost little ghost-tourism jaunts, where we go to supposedly haunted locations and stay a night, a lovely way to see the country. I can’t recall exactly how many trips we have done, but we have ranged all over the Midlands and South West of England, and our regulars do try to attend every single event, for which we are very grateful. Perhaps the most interesting thing about GSUK is just how little of a paranormal nature ever seems to happen to us – in all our trips, only on one have I been really convinced something very odd was afoot! So unlike many ghosthunting groups, we are spectacularly unsuccessful in our endeavours.

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Another peculiarity of GSUK is the wide range of beliefs that members hold. A year or two back Becky and I got our folks to fill in Michael Thalbourne’s Australian Sheep/Goat survey, an instrument for testing belief in the paranormal. The majority of our members were actually extremely sceptical compared with the British public, and i was the second LEAST sceptical member of the group. Only one member counts as a strong “paranormal believer”. Yet we are convinced that the phenomena are worth investigating, and even Balders (Tony Robinson), our most sceptical member by far, is open minded enough to drive all over the country checking out the evidence for himself.

Even in religious beliefs we are diverse, ranging from Natalie Evans, our Wiccan-Spiritualist believer, through to the passionate atheists and then David Carter Green, David Sivier, Dawn Bedwell and myself, all practicing Christians. No, we don’t burn psychic believers at the stake – though if I could get away with it a few New Agers might make for a great open air barbecue! We are a tolerant bunch, often amused by each others ideas but we are good friends through shared experience I guess, even if the experience is limited to talking on a forum, eating together in nice hotels and wandering around looking for spooks! Anyway a great group of people, and we always welcome new people, as long as they are not loonies. :)

The Plan

Anyway there was not even time to advertise this one on Facebook, where GSUK has 60+ fans – we just mentioned it on the forum, and it filled up immediately. We had to turn people away for once, almost unheard of!  The plan was simple – make our way to the Old Bell, Long Street, Dursley, and book in, have a meal – the food there is simply wonderful, huge meals very reasonably priced, then drive down to the Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton-Under-Edge, stake it out till the early hours then return to the hotel in Dursley where people could sleep or sit up and look for ghosts as the mood took them.  As the Old Bell is very reasonably priced, and we agreed we would give John Humphries owner of the Ram a sensible donation, the weekend was not too expensive, and I think it was worth every penny, even if I say so myself…

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

Getting There – an adventure in itself!

On Saturday Becky picked me up and we made our way to Dursley, where our intrepid investigators assembled form all over. Many arrived at Cam & Dursley station, or as Tracy calls it after an earlier visit, “Damn and Cursely”. Would be ghosthunters should note it is a few miles up a very steep hill from Dursley, and a couple of miles from that town and Cam. There is a bus route, but folks dropped of by train in what appears to be the middle of the countryside may feel a little hard done by, so arrange lifts or look at bus times in advance! Once we had all arrived at the Old Bell, we had the usual meeting and greeting, the aforementioned excellent meal, and as many of us had been to the Old Bell before, in my case many, many times, a cheerful social afternoon.  Any ghosthunters reading this may wish to check out the Old Bell Hotel, a wonderful place to investigate with a genuinely ghosthunter friendly staff (and I’m usually available to show you round with enough notice as well if you want to know my side of the story – I blog about my previous experiences investigating the Old Bell here), but be warned – the hotel rooms are directly above Capone’s Nightclub, which is open till 5am in the morning, and the exuberant youth of Gloucestershire and pounding music  are VERY audible all night.

More decor from the Ancient Ram  - photo by Tony

More decor from the Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

On a previous investigation we ended up parodying Most Haunted, with me shouting “Did You Hear That?” over the sound of dance music, and when an ashtray moved in the dining room on the first floor it was clearly the vibrations from the speakers. You would have thought we were disgruntled, but not a bit – it’s very comfortable and we all I think enjoyed a good nights sleep, except those disturbed by certain member’s almost legendary snoring! However if you are planning to investigate here, do choose a week night.

At seven pm we set off for the Ancient Ram – you need cars to get there across the hills from Dursley, it’s about thirteen miles I think. We set off in convoy but some cars quickly became detached, but most of us went the wrong way in Wotton itself, and when Becky and I took the lead we could find no where to turn round, so we drove some eight miles before we finally managed to turn back, and I managed to get us to the Ram. We arrived in darkness, and pouring rain. I know where it is, I have been many times over the years, most recently being filmed for a US show called Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel, showing this month) just a month or two back, but I can’t find the Ram’s postcode anywhere and so Sat Nav was useless – and owing to some fault Becky’s Sat Nav played up all day.

The Ancient Ram House

I have quite a long association with the Ancient Ram. Back in 1993/94 I conducted a lengthy investigation, including a 72 hour vigil with a team. On another occasion I investigated alongside a team from ASSAP, and with the CPRG made a number of other trips there. I believe Derek and Harry’s report will still be filed at the SPR offices in Marloes Road – I was not actually party to the report, and am not sure what was said therein, but I certainly personally formed the conclusion that there did seem to have been a series of poltergeist type events in the late 1980′s when John’s daughter was resident in a room at the top of the stairwell. My memory, which may be faulty, was at the time we investigated John lived in the area which is now called The Barn,  and was sole resident. I don’t actually recall the “ancient grave” which is in the main room downstairs, though I do know it was apparently uncovered in late 1968, so how I missed it I have no idea! The house itself is far more cluttered than it was then, and the upper storey and attic is now no longer reachable, after the staircase collapsed under the weight of some rather large ghosthunting ladies. This has led to some notoriety for John Humphries as he has signs up which inform the public that fat women are not welcome upstairs! If you are at all sensitive about your weight probably best give the Ram a miss – even if you are slim as Becky, who is positively thin, you might be worried the building might collapse about your ears.

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

The Ghost Adventures episode was not my first time with TV at the Ram – Most Haunted filmed there, though I was not present, in the period I was a researcher for them, and ditto Dave Barrett’s Y Files and of course the episode of Ghost Hunters Spectres of the Severn in which I feature quite prominently talking about fault lines and Gloucestershire hauntings in relation to the geology of the area. The building is definitely picturesque, with features of historical interest, and there has been considerable controversy about the council’s refusal to help the owner John Humphries preserve a grade 2 (star) listed building which is clearly in structural disarray, and at the time of his taking it on in 1968 was actually as I understand it condemned to demolition.  I do not really know the ins and outs of the court actions, and the loss of an adjacent area of land ot New Life Church Dursley following another court action, but it is clear that John is struggling to keep his home in a habitable condition and that the property requires massive capital investment if it is to be there for future generations to enjoy.  Ghosthunters are one of the ways, along with American tourists brought to the building by a Mayflower connection, that John is able to attempt to fund the restoration.

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

Arriving finally at the Ram it was already nighttime, and we managed to make John hear and gain admission. He has recently been hospitalised after local kids beat him up after breaking in (he is 82) and he is now very security conscious. He proved, despite many rumours, an excellent host, and we all felt sorry for the sweet old chap, who is little like the more vigorous and opinionated John Humphries of the 90′s.  He gave us a lengthy guided tour, in the course of which I noted several features I had not seen before, but mainly I was amazed by how much stuff he had accumulated – almost every room is filled with piles of stuff, from furniture to soft furnishings, stacked high. When Most Haunted was filmed they must have carefully filmed round this, unless the clutter is much more recent.

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

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