Tag Archives: Society for Psychical Research

The SPR & ASSAP: time to merge?


IntroductionASSAP FB logo

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) was founded in 1981 as the result of dissatisfaction felt by a few members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).  This is ancient history and it is not the present intention to rehearse the issues which created that rupture.  Suffice it to say that the two organisations have existed in parallel for over thirty years, attracting different, though frequently overlapping, memberships but generally standing aloof from one other.  Now that aloofness is dissolving, with each promoting the other’s activities on social media, and there is more interaction than has been the case in the past.  With this improvement in relations, the time has come to ask: why not merge to form a single body?spr_logolowres

The first response might be to wonder why they should merge when they have such strong individual identities and do well on their own.  The answer is that they have strengths which are complementary, rather than antagonistic, so that both sets of members would gain from unification.  Another question is that if some members were dissatisfied with the SPR in 1981, could the same happen in the future, leading to yet more friction and possibly a fresh split?  The answer to that is that the current SPR is a long way from its 1981 incarnation, and fully aware of how traumatic such a rupture is in the life of an organisation.

The following sections attempt to answer some more of the questions that will naturally occur in a discussion of the merits of bringing ASSAP and the SPR together.  It is to be hoped that these will generate debate, which may produce further questions.

What are be the benefits of a merger?

The obvious one is a bigger combined membership, with economies of scale and greater resources.  A larger size should increase its punch and authority, both within the field and among the wider public.

The SPR has dedicated premises and a paid full-time administrator which would improve the ad-hoc administration experienced by ASSAP members.  The volunteers who run the latter do a tremendous job, but a dedicated office function has to be more efficient.  ASSAP members would have access to the range of benefits already enjoyed by SPR members.  These include four numbers of both the magazine Paranormal Review and the peer-reviewed Journal (and occasional Proceedings); free access to London lectures, reduced rates to bi-annual study days and the annual conference; a permanent library, archives of international significance, and free access to an online library of publications back to 1882.  ASSAP officers could be brought into the SPR Council structure by means of co-optation.

In terms of research, ASSAP has an energetic and enthusiastic membership, and this injection of energy would be welcome in the SPR.  ASSAP’s spontaneous case network would reinforce the existing SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee and its emphasis on training would be useful in stimulating interest in investigation among SPR members.  A larger combined membership, and therefore increased income, would enable an expansion of the amount given to fund research activities.

Education, a core function for both the SPR and ASSAP, would be improved as well.  Integrating the libraries and archives would provide an enhanced resource (the new SPR premises, bigger than the previous rented accommodation, providing the required space for ASSAP’s books), and ASSAP’s records would find a permanent home.  A single set of periodicals, with a larger circulation than either achieves singly, would attract a wider range of writers.

There would also be benefits in geographical reach: the SPR is often seen as London-centric, whereas ASSAP is successful regionally.  With a combined membership around the country there would be motivation for regional activities, enabling members outside London to participate in their localities.  This is an opportunity to decentralise some of the SPR’s functions, with more grassroots involvement.

What about differences in scope?

The subject-matter of the two organisations is not identical, that of ASSAP covering a wider area than that of the SPR.  ASSAP members might legitimately complain that a merger is likely to squeeze out particular interests, such as ufology, earth mysteries and folklore.  This is not necessarily an impediment, even though such topics in general fall outside the scope of the SPR.   In these days of easy electronic communication it is straightforward for sub-groups to pursue their interests.  The new SPR website will make it possible for members to keep in contact with each other easily, so that even though say ufology is not a significant element of psychical research, those with such an interest can still interact, while enjoying the benefits of their SPR membership.

Membership fees

A stumbling block is that ASSAP’s fees have always been significantly less than the SPR’s.  The standard membership rates are noticeably different, with ASSAP’s being a quarter of that charged by the SPR.  This reflects the different set-ups of the organisations, ASSAP’s lower volunteer-based costs compared to the SPR’s permanent paid staff and building expenses.  ASSAP members would hopefully consider the broader range of benefits enough to justify an increase, but perhaps there could be a transitional arrangement, with incremental rises over several years for existing ASSAP members to bring the two sets into line.  The SPR membership rates are very reasonable, and ASSAP members would hopefully see that the increase was justified.  It is most unlikely that there could be any reduction in the SPR rates to bring them closer to ASSAP’s.

Events

On the other hand, ASSAP members would undoubtedly baulk at the costs of the SPR conference and study days (as do some SPR members).  With ASSAP’s expertise in mounting economically priced study days (notably the extremely popular ‘Seriously…’ series), there is no reason why these could not continue, augmented by the presence of SPR members who had never attended an ASSAP event before.  The status of some of these, such as conferences on vampires and witchcraft, would be problematic under the SPR banner but these could be run in collaboration with other organisations, such as the London Fortean Society; the SPR has participated in joint events with the Scientific and Medical Network so there is precedent for such an approach.

A concern which has to be acknowledged is that the desire to organise events might diminish, with those who had previously volunteered for ASSAP not wanting to make the effort on the grounds that conferences of all kinds should be arranged at the centre.  It is doubtful that the SPR office would be willing to shoulder the extra administrative load.

What about the name?

The name could be a sticking point for ASSAP members.  There is no easy way that the names SPR and ASSAP could be combined, and there would be overwhelming resistance within the SPR to altering an internationally-recognised name that has been in existence since 1882.  The most likely outcome is that the SPR would retain its name, but with ‘incorporating The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena’ on its literature – something that might not appeal to ASSAP members whose first loyalty is to that organisation.  This could be a major obstacle, but one that might be overcome if ASSAP members were convinced that the advantages outweighed the loss.

Mechanisms for reaching an agreement

This article has set out some of the pros and cons of a merger.  Bringing the two together would not be quick as there are a number of steps before that could happen.  In addition to a general debate among both sets of members there would have to be an initial discussion by the officers within the two organisations; a formal process of consultation with members; meetings between the two sets of officers to resolve any contentious issues; then there would have to be a vote, with a criterion for a yes vote agreed in advance.

Conclusion

This long after the event, most of those interested in our subject are not bothered about why ASSAP came into being.  What they want to see is a thriving organisation or organisations that can deliver the means necessary for them to pursue that interest.  Many join both with no sense of conflict, and a number of those who established ASSAP continued to take part in the SPR’s activities, clearly seeing no contradiction in belonging to both.  There is no doctrinal reason why the respective memberships should not combine and work together, and the practical difficulties could surely be overcome with goodwill on both sides.  In delivering their services the two organisations are capable of existing independently, but their combination would strengthen the voice for psychical research.  If that is our aim, then the case for coming together to our mutual benefit, and that of the field, is a strong one.

This article is being published jointly on the authors’ blogs, and publicised on social media, in the hope that it will generate a constructive exchange of views.  The authors are both members of the two organisations, but are not writing in any official capacity.  They welcome feedback of all types, which should be sent to tom.ruffles[at]yahoo.co.uk, in order to gauge levels of support for and opposition to the proposal.  This has to be a bottom-up process, with all opinions aired.

Tom Ruffles and C J Romer

10 October 2015

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Review: The Enfield Haunting, Sky Living Drama – Part One


So I actually watched it, only two days late! Firstly a note. Enfield produced a crop of iconic images, especially those by Graham Morris. I’m not reproducing them here. You have probably already seen them, and I don’t own the copyrights, and respect the owner’s IP, so sorry. 🙂 If the owner of the famous images reads this and is OK for me to license them for use in the review, drop me a line.

Polterwotsit is a blog about real poltergeist phenomena, not fictional ones, but clearly the two can inform each other. The new Sky Living drama about Enfield has attracted considerable media coverage, and from what I have seen so far good reviews. If it were just a fiction I would never get round to watching it – but it is (very notionally) based upon Guy Lyon Playfair’s This House Is Haunted and hence the Enfield Poltergeist. As such I guess I’d better say something. I have actually reviewed fiction before on my personal blog – you can find my review of the first Paranormal Activity film here.

“Everyone’s a critic” they say, implying that everyone who can’t perform or write themselves allows themselves to make harsh judgments of those who can. It is all too true in my case – as an actor I am appalling, as a screenwriter – well I’m not doing much of it now am I? – and as a writer, er yeah, ’nuff said. I did get an Asst. Director’s credit once when a real director taught me a bit and let me “call the shots”, but what I know about making film or drama can be written on the back of a postage stamp. If you want a considered review based on real knowledge of the paranormal on film go ask Tom Ruffles, he’s your man.

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; but of he get's the voice right I'm happy!

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; good actor though!

Still here is what I thought – the good, the bad, and the so ugly I twice paused it and walked away from the TV to go clear my head and stop being annoyed and shouty before I could continue…

Let me start by saying that as a representation of the events at Enfield, at least as depicted by Guy in This House Is Haunted, this drama is about as much accurate as Cameron’s movie Titanic is to the events described in A Night to Remember and the actual sinking of the Titanic. 

To justify that analogy – the dramatist, Joshua St. Johnston has pulled out strands of story, and woven together a drama, and set it against the backdrop of Enfield – and the sets are loving reconstructions of the 1970’s, with almost perfect verisimilitude in set, costume, and feel just as Titanic gets the ship and costume almost perfect.

I lived in a council house 1981 to 1987, very similar to the one the Hodgsons lived at – and it was pretty realistic, though we lacked slugs and snails and ours was in much better structural shape. Note to Producers – poor does not mean dirty. The pipes looked right, but a lots of working class homes are pretty immaculate. I like the was it was handled here – looked right, and the reconstruction of the girls bedroom was almost perfect. I think the Monopoly set on the wardrobe is a 1982 edition, but otherwise almost perfect set dressing.

So it looks right, the names are right, the period items are right, the atmosphere is 77 – even down to a clip of a famous Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em episode on the TV – the lighting is almost Dogme 95, and the claustrophobic shots build atmosphere – all excellent. It’s a fantastic effort; the Viewmaster-G series toy looked right, and I think the Ker-Plunk set was the correct era too.

This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

That’s the Good. The Bad now. And here is a confession…

I’m possibly not the target audience for this drama. I am going to guess that less that 50%, maybe less than a couple of million of the viewers of this show, will have ever tried to make sense of what happened at Enfield, written about it, talked to any of those there or describe themselves as “academic parapsychologists” on the dole forms.  I may be in the 20% or so of the audience who have actually read This House is Haunted, and maybe the few thousand who actually have read much on poltergeists. And as far as I know, I’m the only viewer who has a Poltergeist blog, cos this is the only one. Therefore, as this is not a programme made for pretentious nerds like me, I would be an arse to review it. I shall do so anyway, but bear it in mind.

I saw that the Telegraph or someone did a review calling it The Good Life with ghosts. I haven’t read it yet – I prefer to form my own opinions – but I think they have something. There is nothing of Margot & Jerry about it, or the Goods – but in a sense it is about an assault on hegemony, common sense of a society. However The Good Life, like Keeping Up Appearances, The Upper Hand, and pretty much every other 70’s and 80’s sit com was about something we barely understand now – social class. Well we pretend not to, we live in a classless society, but hell it’s rough on lads like me who aspire to rise above their station I promise you. I did pretty well, but like so many of the working class intellectuals of my generation, or maybe in my case pseudo-intellectuals, I ended up broke living in poverty on benefits in a house full of books.

Right now I get you don’t want a Marxist discussion of the base/superstructure model, and what economies generate poltergeists. 🙂 My point is that the 80’s and Thatcher changed so much that unless you were in the 70’s it is hard to imagine the class system, and how pervasive and taken for granted class assumptions were until maybe the early 80’s. And here is the first failing – while The Good Life was about two middle class couples, one of whom dropped out and lived what would not be recognised as a perfectly mainstream organic urban farming middle class existence; the Enfield Haunting has to negotiate class distinctions in 70’s England.

So let’s start with the Hodgsons – plainly working class, poor but respectable. Dad has left. So what is the single most important class indicator for a production like this? Accent. North London accents are divided by class; way more so then but now, and Enfield has an accent. Now luckily they avoided the obvious trap of Cockney – but the family just sound all wrong, shattering the illusion for me.  Eleanor Worthington-Cox sounds middle class, perhaps Cheshire (I’ll probably find out she grew up in Enfield now) and her brilliant performance as Janet is marred by an accent that would put her in the middle classes, not on a council estate in 1977. Now you can live on a council estate and talk posh – someone once said I did for instance, and I notoriously have  a “telephone voice” if someone calls me – but the accents of the family evoke a disconnect in terms of class and time and place. I guess you need fairly neutral accents for TV, but also I was surprised that the familiar diction of North London has gone – and even the choice of words feels wrong. “bleedin'” made far too few appearances. Are  there no North London child actors? Only Peggy really convinced by accent, and she looks like a middle class Oxo ad mum rather than a working class woman of the 1970’s. Still the families acting is superb, so all is good there!

Now as Becky says “this is TV” and Lisa “yes Chris it’s a drama, not a recreation”. Yeah fair point. I just felt stronger play on the language and class aspects would not have harmed the drama, though it may actually make younger viewers uncomfortable. People under 40 often seem uncomfortable talking about class.

mauriceNow it get’s harder for me; Spall and MacFadyen. Why? Because Maurice’s moustache and voice are totally wrong. I can do a pretty good impression of Maurice Grosse – I once dared to do it to his face, and he laughed, which was lucky as while a jolly and good natured chap he could blow up and explode in to harumphing rage if provoked. 😉 However the moustache, and the voice, and a few mannerisms made Maurice pretty unique – and a bit eccentric. Spall has played it safe, by playing Maurice as a more respectable, slightly sad figure – I recall him more as a frenetically driven, sometimes angry, often laughing, usually interrupting kind of bloke – but I liked Maurice, who I knew a little, so I like Spall’s depiction – I just don’t recognise it. So for the 75% of viewers who never ate with Maurice, or talked politics with him – well you guys will have to make up your own minds. Just don’t confuse Maurice Grosse and Maurice Grosse, if you see what I mean. I guess that is true of any fictional depiction of a real person, but I can’t think of any I have seen.  Maurice is odd – because you take away his North London middle class accent – a self made millionaire I believe, Grosse was perhaps working class made good, but he a long away above the Hodgson’s socially.  One lovely tough is Grosse’s red sports car, spot on.

Guy Lyon Playfair likes the drama, and I can see why. The depiction of him is pretty good. Of course there is one of the scenes which lefts me infuriated soon after his character arrives. As I recall Grosse and Playfair were sitting together at a monthly SPR talk  on a Thursday night when the shout went out and they volunteered to go look.  For dramatic purposes that is completely changed here, and – well I’ll get to that in my rant under “the ugly” below. For now what we have to note is Guy is very upper middle class – I find him a little scary, as I find most Cambridge graduates. The depiction of his in this respect seems good – he was good looking, well educated, and knew about poltergeists. He also seems a little more cynical and harder to befriend that Maurice – I always wonder if I am inadvertently “using the wrong knife” round Guy, but we do not meet often these days as I have no money for SPR meetings or conference. 😦 Guy also is extremely intelligent, a little belligerent when defending his case and while not a touch eccentric like Maurice, perhaps a little non-conformist. I like him from the few occasions we have met, but I’m a bit nervous of him, even by email!

The Ugly

There is a lot I actively dislike about the show. The biggest thing was early on, when Maurice and his wife take the call from the SPR (which of course never happened). There is a weird dream sequence in which it seems Maurice is looking at blood on a girl’s  head – I think Janet Grosse was 22 when she died, not a child, and her head injuries in the motorbike crash that killed her went a lot further than a bit of blood – but here the dramatist establishes Maurice was suffering “bad dreams” at the time of the case.

I know nothing of the sort to be true; I did speak to Maurice about his daughter’s death, well he told me, and he told most people – he was obviously very upset by it, and it was why he came to join the SPR – but I still don’t think bereavement effected him. Spall play’s Grosse as vulnerable – I recall him as a an energetic firebrand, but I could be wrong. I was only an acquaintance of his- others should speak on this.   Still this is a drama so that is fine, and the author is cleverly creating multiple potential explanations. enfield2

So what annoyed me in this scene? After Maurice leaves the house, his wife Betty is seen making a mysterious phonecall and saying something like “Ray, I’ve got to see you”. She smiles – and I immediately got an uneasy feeling the implication was that she was having an affair. Now this seems a nonsense from what I know – it serves a narrative purpose, to show that Maurice pretty much dedicated all his time day and night to the case – but Maurice was a family man and he and Betty were devoted to each other. Maurice has a son, Richard – perhaps that is the mysterious Ray, or maybe Ray is a family physician? The storyline will be resolved in the second or third episode I explain innocently enough, but it struck a nerve because of the David Baddiel incidents.

Baddiel wrote a novel featuring a fictional character called Maurice Grosse who has an affair –

GHOSTBUSTER Maurice Grosse did not see the funny side when he read a novel by comic David Baddiel with a storyline about an adulterer called Maurice Grosse.

Now the 79-year-old para-psychologist is suing the Fantasy Football star for libel – and demanding £10,000 damages.

In his book, Time for Bed: A Novel About Sleep, Sex and Skewed Clocks, Baddiel describes a psychic investigator called Maurice Grosse who lives in High Barnet, North London, and runs away with a married woman. The non-fictional Mr Grosse, who lives in Muswell Hill, North London, said: ‘I’m 79 and I’ve been happily married for 55 years.”

They settled out of court, and Grosse characteristically gave his winnings to charity. After he died however, Baddiel used the character again in another novel (and film) The Infidel. I am diplomatically going to avoid saying what I think of this move by David Baddiel…

So with that background, I think the screenwriter should have stayed well clear of teaser storylines about Maurice’s (as far as I know extremely happy) marriage. I was annoyed a bit, and went for a walk to calm down. I’m sure episodes 2 & 3 will as I say dismiss this but…

And then the portrayal of Maurice, and the bond between him and Janet, well it just goes a bit far. He comes over as a kindly uncle, all perfect, but did he sniff that hairbrush? We are viewing this in the wake of the historic sexcrimes investigations of Operation Yewtree and things that were totally innocent often seem dodgy to us in this cynical and perverted age. For a moment i felt uneasy – was Maurice being depicted as a perv, to set up a storyline where at the end of the evidence we learn about his daughters death and his  behaviour is explained? I’m probably too defensive of Maurice, but I felt uncomfortable. Nothing about him was in the slightest sleazy as far as I can recall! 🙂 Quite the opposite.

The third  thing that really annoyed me was the whole Playfair versus Grosse set up.  As noted above, the two had previously met at an SPR event or two, but only really got to know each other after they came to Enfield. In reality they both volunteered at the 4th August SPR 1977 meeting. Except in the drama Guy arrives at the house, and joins the investigation, and then forces Maurice briefly out, having talked some utter bilge (I assume) about being sent by Prof Beloff to stop Maurice and protect the good name of the SPR!  Would John Beloff have roared with laughter, or sued? I suspect the former, but it is a nonsense.

The SPR since its inception in 1882 has not held corporate opinions.  Members of the SPR may investigate cases, may have even been sent out by John Stiles and the Spontaneous Cases Committee, but they are investigating as private individuals and their opinions are there own, as the SPR does not hold collective opinions. If you don’t know much about the SPR ( http://www.spr.ac.uk ) you might want to have a quick look at this old blog piece of mind from my personal blog.  Whatever the case, I don’t think the SPR sent anyone to “shut down Enfield”. I may be wrong, but I very much doubt it, and it certainly was not Guy Lyon Playfair. Maybe a rivals dynamic is more interesting, and Guy is depicted in the role of all the Sceptics he had to answer, then and today, putting their critiques to Maurice, who refutes them. An interesting dramatic measure, making Guy Lyon Playfair the villain, but not what I understand happened. Both investigators were pretty self critical and sceptical, and I can’t imagine Guy rounding on Maurice with “I am the expert.” Good drama, don’t confuse it with the real dynamic. I think Guy here represents the other SPR members who came along and were woefully unimpressed, but “bandying the SPR name about?”. Really???

Holy Levitating Lyon Playfairs Batman!

The moment at the end of episode one where Guy is suddenly hurled to the ceiling by the poltergeist nearly became a major contribution to psychical research in its own right, in that it nearly killed me. I was eating a packet of crisps, and physically fell off the sofa crying with laughter. For a show about a poltergeist investigation – and it is about that rather than the poltergeist, the phenomena is firmly relegated to the background, with usually good but occasionally irritating sound – actually well done music but occasionally distracts rather than adds, blame the mix not the sound’s composer  I guess – indicating “this bit is spooky” the actual haunting effects are absolutely bollocks.  Janet sees an old man (is that Guy Lyon Playfair made up to look old and scary? You only see him for a second and I did wonder if he was playing a cameo!) through the Viewmaster toy – really? – the Mirror journalists are relegated to the role of barely adolescent wonks (they play a significant role in events) and the string of visiting experts seems boilded down to a cameo of what I guess are the guys from PYE.  The weird shot from Graham Morris showing the curtains blowing in turns in to a Hollywood horror movie sequence of the curtains strangling Janet…

The story is told higgledy piggledy, without regard for the   actual chronology of the phenomena, and while in places the phenomena are served well – the marbles which take the place of the marbles and Lego bricks that hit the Daily Mail guys scene is shot in such a way there is ambiguity about how it occurs, and if the kids chuck things, but seriously, the “creepy old man apparition” glimpsed through windows etc a la Mr Pipes feels more like a homage to Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch than anything to do with Enfield, unless it is supposed to be the chap Vic Nottingham saw at the table? (You will look in vain for the Burcombes, the Nottinghams, or most of the others who came to Enfield in episode one. I guess introducing the girls and investigators enough – Peggy hopefully gets  screen-time more in episode 2, and Graham Morris too. WPC Heeps gets a mention – but the problem with this simplification for good screenwriting, reducing an endless list of characters to a handful who perform their narrative function, is it severely reduces the strength of the testimony, and some twonks will make up their mind on Enfield not from the people, physical evidence or written sources, but from this drama 😉 Such people really exist, and I seem to meet them! 😦 ).

You are not going to learn much about poltergeist phenomena from this – go to the book. Unbelievably Becky claims most people do not actually WANT TO learn about poltergeist phenomena(!!!), and if they did they might not try a Sky Living drama. 😉 It’s like Lisa says “CJ, you simply don’t understand fiction and a good story: it’s entertainment”.  While a few phenomena were absolutely spot on – marbles stopping dead for instance – seriously, don’t confuse the real case (more dramatic at times) and the rather dodgy special effects here.

Overall

A few aspects of the case seemed a bit personal to drag out for a drama; the oldest boy Johnny sent off to an Approved School, the girls periods etc. I’m guessing Guy has good relations with the family and he approved the screenplay I believe; I was surprised to find I know a couple of people related to the current residents of the house, and I hope they are not being harassed by “ghosthunting kids” and that Sky Living make it worth their while. I’m not sure I’d want my childhood on primetime TV, but hey, that ain’t ever gonna happen so I can sleep easy. 🙂

A good intelligent drama, as entertainment 7/10, mainly for good acting and great backdrops and period feel, but the script is not what I would have hoped for. I could not do anywhere near as well though, so bravo! to all involved. 🙂 I am probably not the person to review this. 😀

CJ x

QA

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Filed under Poltergeist Cases, Poltergeist Dramas, Poltergeist Investigations

Drama, Controversy and Confusion: The Legacy of The Enfield Poltergeist


Polterwotsit has been rather a dead letter for a couple if years now; Becky has completed her PhD, my ghost group GSUK has not met, and Parasoc has quietly disbanded. Ironically I have been just as busy, if not more so, as always in studying poltergeist cases, and as this is as far as I know the only poltergeist dedicated blog on the web I think it is time to revive it.

The spur has come from a new Sky Living drama based on the Enfield Poltergeist, which begins tomorrow (Sunday) night and my friend Hayley asking me to answer some questions to assist with her writing for her piece on the case in The Skeptic magazine.

Unfortunately my answers were rather longer than the whole piece, so obviously could not be used — so I ran them past Guy Lyon Playfair – I have no idea if he read them, but we chatted amicably by email –  and shall present them here.

This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

Why are my opinions on a case that occurred a decade before I joined the SPR important? That may not be, probably aren’t — but I think if I can be taken as at least a little representative of the “next generation” of parapsychologists, my responses to Hayley’s questions may have some interest, and perhaps throw some light on the case for those whose interest is slightly more recent.

Obviously the real people to talk to are the family, and those who were there – Maurice is gone, but Guy still has plenty to say, and there is a vast amount of physical evidence that is not being studied.

This is not a primer to the case, or an introduction. It assumes some knowledge of what transpired, though even watching the drama might suffice, I don’t know I have not see it. (GLP seems to think it is good I’m relieved to say; that of course is not the same as “accurate” – accuracy is not usually a concern in drama!) If you haven’t read Playfair’s classic account of the case you should – This House is Haunted – and this Channel 4 documentary is superb too.

Anyway, here are my thoughts in response to Hayley’s questions…

Were the initial experiences significant/worthy of investigation?

A few years ago I made a calendar info-graphic of the case, showing the development of different symptoms, and compared them with those in the 500 cases collected by Gauld and Cornell from across 5 continents and many centuries for analysis in their 1979 book Poltergeists. Yes very much so…

The early part of the case is extensively detailed in GLP’s This House Is Haunted; the very first part of the case was recorded by BBC radio reporter Rosalind Morris who made several visits to the house in the period before the 45 minute broadcast on Radio 4 during The World This Weekend programme on September 11th 1977.

The case began on a quiet note, with two of the children’s beds shaking, which Peggy dismissed, but on the 30th August an unusual sound puzzled her enough to ask neighbour and builder Vic Nottingham in, who called the police.

WPC Carolyn Heeps saw a chair move, and it was clear the family were very distressed. WPC Heeps has always stuck to her statement “I’m absolutely convinced no one in that room touched that chair or went anywhere near it when it moved. Absolutely convinced”.

The next day Peggy Hodgson claims she saw an extraordinary sight – a chest of drawers ‘shuffling’ towards her. The children were at this point apparently terrified “just screaming and screaming”.

By the 4th September the Nottingham’s has called the Daily Mirror – and after considerable persistence (having been sworn at and cut off) they convinced the Mirror to send reporters.
Douglas Bence and Graham Morris came over – Graham was the photographer. Channel Four have done parapsychology a favour by recently recording extensive candid interviews with the two men for the show Interview with a Poltergeist – and it is clear that both men still believe something absolutely extraordinary was happening at Enfield, before Grosse and Playfair arrived.

I regard the amount of testimony from those who were present in the earliest phase of Enfield to be unusually good, and it is hard to believe that reporters, by nature a cynical bunch, would have been easily deceived.

So yes, the case was in every respect worthy of investigation at this point: it stood to tell us more about poltergeist cases, and the family’s distress was extreme.

Is the eye-witness testimony of the police officer who saw a chair move considered better? Does it make a contribution to the case?

WPC Carolyn Heeps gave more than one statement. The police officers returned to the station and logged the call out; however the statements usually discussed are those given to Maurice Grosse in writing and dated 10th September, and the February 1978 statement to BBC Scotland.

In a later (1982) statement to Mary Rose Barrington there were discrepancies – but five years had elapsed, and if I have shown one thing beyond reasonable doubt in all my years in psychical research it is that contrary to the “flashbulb memory” and confabulation models of memories of paranormal experiences, they erode with time, like any experience, only becoming ‘fossilised’ to some extent by constant re-telling, but losing detail, not gaining it. 

The 1978 statement given to Scottish BBC television director Peter Lamont reads

“The chair was by the sofa, and I looked at the chair and I noticed it shook slightly. I can’t explain it any better, and it came off the floor oh, nearly a half inch I should say, and I saw it slide off to the right about three and a half to four feet before it came to rest…I’m absolutely convinced no one in that room touched that chair or went anywhere near it when it moved.

Absolutely convinced I checked to see whether or not it could have possibly slided on the floor. I placed a marble on the floor to see whether or not the marble would bear the same direction as the chair did and it didn’t; it did not at all. I checked for wires under the cushion of the chair – I find no explanation at all”.

The 1977 Statement from 40 days after the event read

“On Thursday, 1st of September 1977 at approximately 1:00am, I was on duty on my capacity as a police women when I received a radio message to Green St., Enfield. I heard the sound of knocking on the wall that backs onto the next-door neighbours house. There were four distinct taps on the wall and then silence. The eldest son pointed to a chair, which was standing next to the sofa. I looked at the chair and noticed that it was wobbling slightly from side to side. I then saw the chair slide across the floor towards the kitchen wall. It moved approximately 3 or 4 feet and then came to rest”.

WPC Heeps was the only police officer to give a written statement, but not the only police officer to experience or be present during the phenomena, I think it would be worth trying to contact her colleagues now, before it is too late. As an external witness who was there right at the start when unidentified banging noises were suddenly joined by object movement phenomena, I think WPC Heeps testimony is important.

I find the minor variations over the years in how so she gave her statement more indicatives of truthful testimony than a made up story as well; however I have one caveat.

There is a tendency to rate “trained observers” as more reliable than others in terms of testimony. WPC Heeps seems to have no motive as an outsider to lie to us; I hesitate however to believe that because she was a policewoman she was any better equipped than anyone else to make accurate observations. Eyewitness testimony has been shown to be fallible by Loftus and many others; however these studies rarely dealt with the truly bizarre. One may fail to note an accurate description of a stage murder: however can one be sure the same rules apply when a kitchen chair moves unaided towards you in defiance of logic and physics? I don’t know!

My caveat is simply — don’t assume a police officer’s testimony is any more accurate than any other witness statement . Maybe, may be not. Depends on the person, the situation, and many other things.

If this scene happened now I would immediately think of the movie Poltergeist (1982): it is important to recognize this happened five years before that film came out, and the film drew from GLP’s This House is Haunted, not vice versa. (Likewise the name Gozer in Ghostbusters came from this case, not the other way round!)  I am inclined to think WPC Heeps description is highly accurate, but only because in one of the very few ‘paranormal’ experiences in my life I saw a coffee cup move in a very similar manner at a pub in Offchurch, Warwickshire in the mid-90’s. The vibration before the movement, the lifting and ‘flight’, are exactly what I an two others observed on that occasion. I was not aware to the best of my knowledge of the police officer’s statement before that date – I did not, perhaps surprisingly, read This House is Haunted properly until 2011.

Were there issues with the investigation? If so what?

Yes, of course. There are issues with any investigation. After a major police investigation the Home Office sometimes order a review to look over the case and see what lessons can be learned; the SPR did something similar with the Committee on Enfield under barrister and parapsychologist Mary Rose Barrington . Here we are fortunate; as well as the somewhat scanty reports in the literature, we have the at times almost confessional This House is Haunted, as well as the SPR review written by those unconvinced by the case.

It is clear that Grosse and Playfair were self critical; and there was a continual scrutiny by the press, and various sceptics and scientists who visited. In fact so many people visited Enfield at one time or another that I find it hard to imagine how more scrutiny could have been applied.

Of course I never went to the house: I was 8 years old the week it all began, and it was a decade later before I heard of the SPR, which I did not join until 1992. As such I freely admit my opinions are not worth much: in writing this I have drawn on notes from conversations in the period 1994 to 1996 with Maurice Grosse and Tony Cornell, who held very different attitudes to Enfield, and to the written sources.

I think it is fair to say that most of the SPR members who visited Enfield believed that some of the phenomena were genuine – and that the main investigators, who knew the family and case intimately and observed much of the phenomena first hand, Grosse and Playfair, were utterly convinced.

I think however that other members of the SPR who visited were far from convinced: they still however accepted that at the core the case had been genuine, at least that was my reading of Mary Rose Barrington’s position in the Enfield report. It was Mary Rose who first taught me that wonderful phrase of Renee Haynes, “the boggle threshold”. Some of the phenomena at Enfield fall close if not just over my boggle threshold: I find them hard to accept. I turn to the magisterial work of Gauld and Cornell, neither particularly impressed as I recall by Enfield, and I find by looking at the tables in their book Poltergeists that actually many of the phenomena are pretty normal for poltergeist cases.

So were there issues in the case? Yes, but one of the major ones seems to have been the reluctance of the SPR to fully commit to a full scale investigation. This is really a result of the actual constitution and set up of the SPR – it holds no corporate opinions, and members reflect all manner of beliefs. As such the opportunity was there to bring many perspectives on the case: but of course SPR members have jobs, families and lives outside of psychical research, and here Playfair and Grosse as relatively ‘junior’ members may not have had the back up they deserved.

Still that was because by the time other SPR members arrived on the scene, things had developed in to the more questionable latter stages of the case – the voice, the levitations, the pillow moving through the roof, etc. I can’t at this distance really tell you what happened: I do however think it highly dangerous, if not a little absurd, to privilege those critics who visited the house once over those who spent many months there like the journalist and Playfair and Grosse.

enfield2The two main objections I have heard are both directed at Maurice Grosse, no longer here to defend himself, but quite willing to do so, to court if necessary I feel, when alive.

The first is what I call the ‘Good Man’ critique – Maurice was a thoroughly decent fellow, who was genuinely moved by the appalling poverty and hard conditions the Hodgson’s endured. He therefore “helped out” financially, and also emotionally, becoming something of a surrogate father figure to the kids whose own father had left.

There are problems here; although the father had left the kids, he was in contact and visiting – and may well have been a kind and loving chap for all I know, though clearly the situation was distressing at some level. Secondly, while the family were poor, from the pictures and accounts they do not sound markedly more so than my own family when I was that age. Thirdly, while Maurice struck me as a kind fellow – he bought me dinner at an Italian restaurant a few times as I recall after SPR meetings – so did many other people – he was far from daft. I’m not convinced he was buying the kids presents on a regular basis, or helping out ot the degree where fraud was motivated by cash. I’ve never seen any hard evidence to suggest it anyway.

The second critique of Grosse is the “Bereaved” notion – like many people Grosse came to the SPR after an odd experience made him question if life after death was real, following the loss of his daughter Janet.

At the very end of This House is Haunted Playfair discusses how Grosse had come to wonder if Janet was somehow attempting to communicate through the case to him, but this may have been a slightly whimsical suggestion: I never came to know Maurice intimately, or even well – we were acquaintances at best, and I probably had just a handful of conversations with him after SPR meetings over dinner – but I do not recall him ever suggesting such a thing to me. He was however extremely critical of critics of the case, and he was overly defensive enough to put backs up I feel.

One such critic was Tony Cornell, that charming, and at time belligerent cynical old curmudgeon I came to admire greatly (and who did not speak to me for his last decade; the admiration was one way!). Tony was pretty direct in his critiques – he felt the girls played games, and played Maurice at times for a fool as I recall. Memory could be misleading me; but even Tony admitted there was a real case underlying what he was as tomfoolery and nonsense later on. Now I can’t be certain – more than twenty years have elapsed since Tony and I used to chain smoke outside SPR meetings and he delivered his marvelously well informed and often scathing critiques on all aspects of psychical research.

I thought Tony planned to write a book on Enfield – unless Investigating the Paranormal (2002) was the book in question, which doubtless gives his opinions on the case ( I have lent my copy to a friend so can’t check), I don’t know exactly what he was critical of.

This brings me back to where I started this section: the SPR could have supported Playfair and Grosse better than they did it; but the organisation was riven by internal politics. Lab based psi research was “in”, and about this time we see the beginnings of the renaissance in British Parapsychology that flowered at Edinburgh with the KPU under Bob Morris. Spontaneous cases were out of favour, and physical phenomena doubly so – poltergeists were plain unfashionable.

While Playfair and Grosse stayed with the SPR, by 1981 a sizeable number of members left to found ASSAP, an organisation with far more emphasis on spontaneous cases. Now of course Cornell and Gauld certainly had a strong interest in poltergeist cases, as did Mary Rose Barrington – so that was not the sole problem with Enfield – but generally the SPR were moving in a more “respectable” and scientific direction, and observational fieldwork may have been unwelcome in some quarters 🙂 Playfair’s Spiritist beliefs may have also caused some raised eyebows.

To me, well I think the case was a triumph. Almost every avenue was explored, it was well documented, and from the beginning Playfair and Grosse put the families welfare slap bang at the centre of their agenda. They went above and beyond what could be expected in bringing in expert help, going to considerable efforts to help the family get Janet examined at the Mausdley Hospital by Dr Peter Fenwick and liaising with schools and social workers. There is an odd dynamic there – but that probably is best discussed elsewhere. Overall I think they did better as investigators than I could ever hope to, and their persistence diligence and courage did not harm in the long run, and may have helped the family greatly. I guess it depends partly on what you see the key responsibility of the investigator is: to me it is to help the family make sense of their experience, move on and get through it. `

Was there evidence that activity was faked?

Yes. Margaret Hodgson is on record as saying about 2% of the phenomena was the girls playing around, and Janet has admitted they cheated at times, but were always caught. One incident where fakery was detected is reported in This House Is Haunted – it involves them hiding a tape recorder, and discussing what they were doing while it continued to play. No teenager is that daft: they wanted to be caught there. There is another incident, where the girls were persuaded a journalist to confess – and immediately afterwards retracted their confession. I believe a newspaper story ran at the time with reference t the alleged confession – if so it would be interesting to see it. It certainly proves the girls were pliable and eager to please, but today, nearly forty years on, both insist the phenomena was genuine.

I was 12 in 1981, a couple of years later. Looking back on that period when some major changes in my life occurred, and I moved home and changed schools and lost most of my friends, well I have only the most fragmentary memories of it all. These were huge changes in my life, that massively effected me – but I can’t recall more than a few tiny snippets of that traumatic summer. I’m guessing the Hodgson girls struggle to recall 1977 the same way, and remember more odd bits, and what they have read and been told since. Does anyone really know what happened at this remove? Only the press coverage, radio interviews and recordings can bring it back; that and This House Is Haunted. Maybe even the sisters don’t know exactly what the truth is after forty years?

People say that although some of the activity may have been faked a lot was genuine? Do you believe that this is true? Why do you think people make this distinction?

There is no doubt some of the activity was faked – absolutely everyone involved with the case, from the sisters to the journalists to Grosse and Playfair accept that. The girls were 11 and 13 when it all kicked off; and they acted like teenagers anywhere. At first they were terrified, but soon they began to enjoy it all, and if I recall correctly Tony Cornell was particularly put off by the way he though Janet was loving every moment and endlessly amused by the investigators failure to get to grips with it.

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; but of he get's the voice right I'm happy!

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; but of he gets the voice right I’m happy!

The more conservative SPR faction tended to think the later part of the case was faked: they accept some original simple poltergeist phenomena in most cases (though at least one SPR member who visited the house once would not allow even that, calling hoax). Maurice Grosse was perhaps the most open to all the phenomena – the journalists seems to suggest he was at times a little credulous, though actually I suspect Maurice may have been being kind, and giving the family the benefit of the doubt.

Once again forces are at work which are possibly not immediately obvious to those who have not spent some of their youth kicking around with the SPR. It might be partly political, but also there is a well establish SPR tradition dating back to the 19th century that once a medium or psychic claimant is caught in fraud, that is it, game over, they are totally discredited. If they cheat once, then nothing they do afterwards, no matter how spectacular, can be taken seriously. Eusapia Palladino fell victim to this – perhaps uniquely she was given a second chance, but it was well known she would crudely cheat as a psychical medium if not carefully controlled.

So when the SPR felt there was strong evidence the girls were playing around, that was it. The case was tainted – by the normal rules of play of almost a century it was time to pack up and go home. Except Grosse and Playfair didn’t – they persisted. In doing so so they went against the culture of the SPR, which was traditionally dismissive of those who practice “mixed mediumship”, that is sometimes cheated to “help along the phenomena”. I can’t also help wonder if there was a bit of a class divide here: this was 1977, and while Playfair had been in Brazil, and Grosse was a self-made man, most of the SPR probably inhabited a very different world to that of the council estate dwelling Hodgsons. However to be fair to the SPR, when I joined the Society just over a decade later the council estate dwelling CJ was welcomed and never encountered any class prejudice at all, indeed quite the contrary – I was embraced with enthusiasm for a few years before my being caught up in the fall out of an SPR intrigue led to my fall from grace and exile from the SPR for 15 years.

Anyway the question is not was anything faked; the question is how much? I could look at the phenomena and critically assess them, but at this remove it would be wasted words. I was not there!

What do you think might have been happening if there was activity that wasn’t faked?

I actually don’t know. I’m not at all sure. I suspect the phenomena were playing along with Playfair’s and Grosses expectations; they appear to be intelligent, elusive and quite unpleasant, but with art times a sense of humour – albeit a malicious one. I’d say it was a poltergeist, as it acted just like poltergeists have from China to Brazil for over a thousand years, and probably far longer. I don’t think the Hodgson’s would have known a lot about poltergeists, but Enfield had a case before I think, and certainly the Battersea poltergeist and other cases used to occasionally show up in the papers. I don’t know what was going on – I really don’t. I’ve read a lot, talked to everyone I could at the SPR at some point or another, and you know – I’m still little clearer. I believe the family were upset, had no strong motive for fraud, but yes I think fraud occurred at times. Still, you know what I’m going to say – I wasn’t there…

There are ways we could make an assessment. Grosse recorded 180 hours of reel to reel tape of Janet. That could be digitised and made available to researchers. The photographs could me made available in an archive not the handful published, any. The Radio 4 broadcast should be readily available. Someone should collect the recordings, clippings, and oral testimony from Playfair, Janet, Margaret and others. What about the scientific readings taken by Prof Hasted? The recordings by the guys from Pye? The testimony of sceptics like Christopher Milbourne and celebrity ventriloquist & sceptic Ray Allen? The SPR report. All of this could be published now, maybe with a few small redactions to grant the family some privacy. It is one such redaction that puzzles me the most – we hear time and again about the two daughters, but little about the sons. Yet while one son was away from the house apparently at boarding school, the other Johnny appears to have been present throughout. Yet he does not seem to ever appear, and like his brother has not chosen to speak as far as I know yet? Maybe he was too young to recall,and I have no desire to pry in to the familiy’s privacy further, but the boys seem curiously absent from the narrative…

Anyway I am puzzled as to why the materials gathered during the case are not preserved in the British Museum or some scientific institute, or even a university. They really should be, for posterity.

Would you have conducted the investigation in the same manner?

No. I would have done far worse 😉

Do you have any other comments?

It’s taken me so long to write this I had best call it a night

So That’s was my response to Hayley. I don’t know if it was any use, or of any interest, but hey I tried. Feel free to comment, or email me at the usual address chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com

CJ x

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Poltergeist Breakthrough? JSPR publishes Dr Barrie Colvin’s research


Firstly, what can one say but sorry it has been so long. Becky was made redundant, and is now shuttling between Cheltenham and Derby, and I am ridiculously busy — something which should ease up about mid to late August.  I will of course be trying to catch up on what has been happening in the world of spooks in the meantime, and hope to keep the blog interesting.

However, readers will recall that in my previous comments on this or my personal blog I referenced the fascinating work of Dr. Barrie Colvin. At that time the work was unpublished — and even in my Paranormal Review review of the SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists: Then and Now I refused to reveal any details of the hypothesis  until the journal article was out. Well now it is, in the April 2010 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and I want to briefly discuss it here.

I’m involved in an internet debate on a Dawkins successor forum, http://www.rationalskepticism.org (Richard Dawkins closed his own forum back in February, and this is one of the communities set up by emigres from there) where I had briefly mentioned Dr Colvin’s work in passing. Once the JSPR piece was published i wanted to discuss it more fully — and owing to tiredness and time pressures I may have made a hash of it, but I wrote a brief precis of key themes, which I thought may interest readers of this blog. However really you should read the original article, because it may be the single most important thing written on the poltergeist phenomena so far this century, in fact it probably is.  It is ‘ The Acoustic Properties of Unexplained Rapping Sounds’ in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research [2010] Vol 73.2 Number 899 pp 65-93.”

At the time I last brought up Dr.Colvin’s research it was unpublished: now fortuitously it is in print, and we can discuss it in a little more depth.
Remember, this is not a lab experiment. Even if it was, we would want a plethora of different microphones to rule out the possibility that the equipment, not the sound itself, was causing the unusual acoustic characteristics. Instead we are looking at ten recordings from ‘the field’, from cases in which Dr Colvin was for the most part not involved – Andover (1981) being the exception. The other cases which provided recordings were

Sauchie, Scotland (1960) – from Broadcasting House, from the BBC recordings taken at the time.

http://www.p-e-g.co.uk/Web/Articles/ART … icle23.htm

has more on the case for those not familiar with it – Owen, A.R.G. Can We Explain the Poltergeist? New York: Helix Press / Garrett Publications, 1964 gives a full account by the principle investigator.

Thun, near Bern, Switzerland (1967) The recordings were taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Schleswig , Switzerland, (1967) taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Pursruck, Germany (1971) – from a recording by Prof. Hans Bender (16-bit stereo, 44100Hz)

Ipiranga, Brazil (1973) – recording by Guy Lyon Playfair taken during the IBPP investigation. More on the case can be found in Playfair’s 1975 book The Flying Cow.

La Machine, France (1973) – recording by Dr Alfred Krantz.

Enfield, England (1977) – from original reel to reel tapes, which was running “at the rather slow speed of 15/16 of inch per second” (Colvin 2010); recording taken by SPR investigator Maurice Grosse. A recent Channel 4 documentary on the case well worth watching can be seen here —

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/inte … oltergeist

– you can see the equipment used and context.

Andover, England (1981) – investigated by Dr Colvin.

Santa Rosa, Brazil (1988) – taken from a recording made of a television broadcast (by TV Globo) on the case.

Euston Square, England (2000) This case has recordings by both Maurice Grosse and Mary Rose Barrington available.

Ten cases, none recent, because recordings of acoustic phenomena associated with poltergeists are by their nature difficult to collect: one need a poltergeist after all! The two Swiss cases are from a digital CD recording commercially available of recordings of parapsychological phenomena – it is impossible to say to what extent they have been edited and processed, so I would say they were VERY weak evidence. The Brazilian cases rely on recordings taken by Guy Lyon Playfair at the time, and by him off the TV, and he was present at Enfield – yet fraud seems unthinkable, given the dates, unless he somehow had access to very high end studio equipment and knowledge of acoustics in a pre-digital sound age. Therefore, I think that so long as we trust Dr Colvin’s acoustic analysis, the sound signatures he claims to detect in his varied collection of poltergeist sounds are authentic. Colvin’s claims are checkable — at least some of these recordings – the Enfield sounds and the two from the CD, and possibly if you are willing to approach the BBC Sauchie – are available in their original form to interested independent parties wishing to check the results. I suspect someone with appropriate acoustics knowledge could acquire copies of all the recordings by request to the SPR. (http://www.spr.ac.uk)

Adobe Audition http://www.adobe.com/products/audition/ was used for the analysis, in case anyone fancies trying a replication. I do favour a hands on approach as you all know by now!

So what does Colvin claim to have found? Well let’s start with a normal waveform. It follows a characteristic pattern – a wave form showing a sharp rise in amplitude or immediately to maximum amplitude, followed by a gradual decrease to zero. Adobe Audition has a free trial, but there is plenty of freeware on the web you can download which allows you to experiment with banging various substances yourself. I did so, analysing some sounds submitted by Wayne Morris from his paranormal investigation at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe last year, and found that the banging noises there followed the same type of acoustic signature I could get by kicking the wall or banging my desk – the above pattern, suggesting a normal explanation for those (non-poltergeist) sounds. Simple experimentation with a large number of substances demonstrated that the pattern is consistent, and that Colvin’s comment on this is completely correct. I encourage everyone reading to try this for themselves, to familiarise themselves with the standard way the amplitude and frequency can be analysed and the common pattern one sees.

Colvin gives a couple examples of frequency ranges in mundane sounds – a hammer hitting an oak desk gives a frequency band of mainly 50Hz to 300Hz – a teaspoon on a crystal glass 300Hz to 3000Hz, with a decay of amplitude lasting three seconds. What one might expect in short. However, once again I strongly suggest a few minutes experimentation at home, and posting the results??? Really, do try!

So how do the acoustic properties of the raps in the ten cases in question vary? They show a consistently odd rise in amplitude, a waveform that slowly rises rather building to a sudden peak and then falling away. One can test this on the knocks from the Channel 4 shows recordings from Enfield I guess, or armed with some money, order the CD Colvin took the Swiss cases from: I have too date done neither. Given the fact the JSPR article is clearly copyright, I shall simply reproduce just two of the figures here, showing a knock deliberately made by Grosse at Enfield as he tried to replicate the noises,and one of the anomalous raps…

Image

So why do the waveforms show these unusual characteristics? Colvin thought of a possibility, which shows his critical thinking and thoroughness —

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR[/i] 73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
One of the possible normal explanations put forward to explain the results is that certain types of microphones may give rise to the anomalous results because of their inherent qualities and mode of operation. A microphone is simply a sensor that converts sound in to an electrical signal. The most common types consist of a thin membrane that vibrates in response to sound pressure.

I actually did not know much about how microphones work. This was helpful!

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR [/i]73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
This movement is subsequently translated in to an electrical signal using one of several techniques. Most examples use electromagnetic induction, capacitance change, piezoelectric generation or light modulation to convert the mechanical vibration of the signal to an electrical signal. The question that arises is relation to a short impulse such as a rap is whether or not there could a be a delay between production of the sound and vibration of the membrane. Could the inertia of the membrane, particularly with microphones dating back to the 1970’s, lead to a relatively slow increase to maximum amplitude when subjected to a short burst of acoustic energy?

This is why I suggested in a lab set up we would require several microphones, of different makes, models and manufacture. Colvin experimented making raps with a number of microphones dating from 1959 (including the Phillips EL3549A & the EL3782 with impedance 583 ohms) to present day microphones, looking at the waveforms, to falsify this hypothesis. Again, with old microphones common in attics if my house is anything to go by, I suggest interested parties can do at home…

However there is another reason to believe the results are not an artefact of the microphones. Three of the recordings include the investigators making their own raps. These investigator produced raps possess the normal waveform, not the slow rise in amplitude associated with the “poltergeist knockings”. As such, we have an inadvertent control, which demonstrates the microphone was NOT the source of the unusual waveforms.

Colvin has managed to find similar acoustic waveforms to those recorded in these ten cases – in recordings of seismic activity. His paper gives two examples – a recording of an earthquake at Ascension Island in 2007, and a British Geological Survey recording of a seismic event at Folkestone in 2009, described as being “like an explosion”. Colvin theorises that the sound signatures associated with the poltergeist events imply they are caused by a sudden release of tension or alteration in the substance of an object, not with as one would assume a rapping of one thing on another. An intriguing suggestion, but clearly one that requires further high quality recordings to test adequately.

It’s a fascinating article, one of the best I have read in a long while. I want to experiment now, and above all to try and collect more recordings from cases to give to Dr Colvin. I strongly suggest all reader of this blog try to lay their hands upon the latest JSPR to read the article as soon as possible…

cj x

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South Yorkshire Tyre Depot Poltergeist – part 3


OK, back to the ‘ Doncaster Poltergeist’ — and the Daily Mail coverage this time

The ghost in my garage: Riddle of the tyre depot phantom whose calling card is a pre-war penny

Gothic castles, deserted mansions, ivy-covered old houses  –  all of them perfect haunts for a ghost.

But how about something as modern and mundane as a tyre depot in sensible South Yorkshire?

According to owner Nick White, a supernatural visitor has been running riot at his garage, which was originally a chapel and also served as a makeshift mortuary during the Second World War.

So reads the Daily Mail’s opening paragraph on the current case we are looking at.  We learn one new fact — the location was also a chapel in the past.  I was able to locate the name, address (Central Doncaster) and a few positive reviews – it’s a good garage, I doubt they need to advertise – for the company – interestingly neither the Express or the Mail chose to directly reveal this information.

The uninvited guest has thrown stones and coins at staff, and stacked up piles of tyres and moved them around the building while it was locked up overnight.

Hey, we are back on very familair territory – good old fashioned stone throwing, reported throughout history. One wonders if a polt whatever that may be can differentiate between a stone and a coin? It’s interesting that the Express piece did not mention this classic phenomena in their write up…

The ghostly figure, which materialised from time to time dressed in the style of the 1940s, is said to have first made its presence felt in 2003 but vanished (so to speak) after Mr White took over the business three years ago.

OK, so now we have new and interesting information. The ghost was seen before – nothing here suggests that the apparition has been seen since the 2003 outbreak — and after Nick White takes over, he seemingly a sensible kind of bloke, it all stops. Did that earlier phase which appears to be associated with apparitions – well one apparition of a chap in “1940’s” clothing — feature similar physical phenomena of objects moving and being thrown? Actually, yes it did.Yet the new phase seems fairly low key in comparison…

The obvious thing to do is to link the two episodes as one “haunting” — but anyone who has read my JSPR piece The Poverty of Theory: Some Notes On Investigation of Spontaneous Cases will understand why I hesitate to do so.  In this case I think they may well be linked – but not as directly as may at first appear. I will explain my thinking on this in a later piece…

Now, however, the odd goings on have started again, with pre-war coins turning up mysteriously on the garage floor in two strange incidents a month apart. Mr White found the first of the old penny pieces, dated 1936 and bearing the image of George VI, when he arrived for work one day in February. The second copper coin, dated 1938, was lying in almost the same spot when Mr White, 35, and one of his mechanics turned up at the depot in Doncaster last week.

OK, I think I had best try to talk to Mr White. Perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick: from this it sounds like the coin incidents are the only things that have happened, and these are interpreted as spooky because of the 2003 episode. Clearly I need to find out more about the earlier incident – in case you have not gathered by now my modus operandi is to read each news story and comment in succession, trying to get as much information as possible, then work out a theory based on the reported facts and follow it up with phone calls and emails. Reading the stories one at a time produces an odd effect of me misinterpreting – I had assumed the tyres moving and coins pelting staff were recent events, clearly not – but I find it useful as I develop an analysis methodologically, without trying to piece it all together too quickly…

Mr White said: ‘I took all the strange stories with a big pinch of salt when I bought the place. But I wouldn’t like to say it’s not true any more. There’s no logical explanation for the two old pennies turning up like they did. I wish there was. ‘It’s a little bit scary knowing that there’s something happening while the place is locked up at night.’ Previous owner Nigel Lee once called in a clergyman to perform an exorcism.

We get a picture of a sensible straight forward bloke here. I wonder who the other mechanic was, and whether he worked for Nigel Lee, the previous owner? I doubt there was an “exorcism” as such: a blessing seems more likely. AGain all these events will be reported in the press of the time, I just need to find the stories.

Mr White added: ‘Nigel told me all about the tyres being moved around when the place was locked up at night and customers witnessing small change and stones coming out of nowhere and flying here and there.

Interesting. Well I will comment fully tonight!

‘It’s all right being sceptical about these things, but I’m the owner of two very old pennies now, and I’d love to know where they came from.’

The story is from : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1263755/The-ghost-garage-Riddle-tyre-depot-phantom-calling-card-pre-war-penny.html#ixzz0kKZ1Kh0c

Part four to follow!

cj x

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Cheshire Poltergeist in Picture Pose?


Poltergeists are like buses — You wait ages for them, then they all turn up at once; or so it would seem. Well of course I have not been waiting ages — this blog is only a couple of weeks old, and already we have looked at Cork (last week) and York (earlier today). I am slightly annoyed with the paranormal-powers-that-be that they have no provided another case, published just two hours ago in a Cheshire newspaper.  Any of my readers in the Stockport area?

OK, I will try and give this one the love and attention it deserves, but a chap can only comment on so many cases in once day! It seems ironic I signed off my last piece on the York poltergeist just an hour or two ago saying people ask “where are the poltergeists today?” and stating that the answer was no one was looking — well I think this proves my point. I shall certainly send a message to the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee drawing attention to this blog, and then they can proceed as they see fit with each of these cases. Becky and I would love to follow them up — but I simply do not have the money to do so (Indeed I  simply do not have any money at all, as readers of my personal blog will appreciate!).

Ghostbusters called in to pub after party pic terror

March 31, 2010

A landlady has called in a team of ghostbusters after things went bump in the night at her pub.

The ghostly happenings came to a head when Janice Wright held her 45th birthday party at the Stock Dove in Romiley.

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Now she has called in paranormal researchers Club Zero Ghost Group to investigate.

Mrs Wright said: “I could not believe it when I saw the pictures – it is really freaky. We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

So immediately this one is different: the emphasis is very clearly on a traditional “ghost” interpretation, and the landlady has chosen to call in a local group (never heard of Club Zero Ghost Group but nice website,  but will have to get in touch with them, I’m friends with a bewildering number of paranormal groups!), but in this case the ghost appears to have been photographed. Best take this  bit at a time…

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Sadly the photo is not reproduced anywhere in the article, which is a puzzling oversight. One wonders if the mystery guest might just be a gatecrasher? I’d be curious to see it, but obviously with photos with extra people in them like this the usual explanation is that someone else was present, and simply not identifiable by the photographer afterwards. I must say I have seen photos of me in which I am unrecognisable to me! I will make some enquiries, but I am really unsure what to say about this until I have actually seen the images.  However Mrs Wright is unnerved by the photo – but could that be because of the other phenomena?

We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

There is an awful lot of phenomena packed in to that short sentence. What is interesting is the differences to what we saw reported at York and Cork.  “Whistling, screaming, crying”… The whistling sets an icy tingle down my spine, not least because the motif is used in William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural fiction,  but because whistling has been a feature of a number of cases. Screaming and crying? One wonders when this will resolve in to voices — and if a voice does emerge, I really want to know more. I am not going to speculate further here on this simply because I am making predictions about what would happen and the nature of the voice if that did occur — I’m hoping for something more like the Rougham Poltergeist in Suffolk in the 1980’s than the questionable voices of Enfield.

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

I’m Always Touched by Your Presence, Dear…

Now Becky is about to do a major study (well she has started) for her Ph.D on apparitional experiences, funded by the SPR and supervised by Dr Ian Hume at Coventry University. Before she began Becky and I conducted a piece of research we call the Accidental Census of Hallucinations, which we hope to publish an article based upon in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.  Drawing on the work of the SPR in the 1880’s and 1890’s and Dr Donald West’s fascinating studies later, the details are not important here but we closely analysed (using a methodology called Grounded Theory) sixty accounts of unusual experiences. (I’m sure we will write much more on this topic in the future, so I’m passing quickly over it here.)

In that sample 21.3% reported a tactile hallucination, that is a  feeling of being touched, as Ian did. 53.8% of those who did reported other phenomena: in 46.2% it was the sole experience reported.  In 69.2% of those who claimed tactile hallucinations it only happened once: the remainder had multiple experiences of this sort.  In only one case  it is  an ongoing experience, that happens semi-regularly. There was nothing unusual about the gender or age of the people having the experience compared with other anomalous experiences (such as say seeing apparitions) – two thirds of those reporting the experience were female. 32% of the reports mention specifically being touched on the shoulder.

So what does this tell us? Actually, not much, apart from the fact one can have the distinct impression of being touched with out any other “ghostly” experiences. I therefore make the following suggestion: the sense of being touched may be a relatively common physiological or neurological phenomenon – a somatosensory hallucination. In fact it may be about as common as hearing someone call your name, but there not being anyone there. Now the account is not clear how many times this has happened, or to whom, but if it has only happened once or twice then it may just be a coincidence of a trivial but not uncommon experience, and maybe then suggestion.

The problem with my hypothesis is that in about half the cases Becky and I found the experience of being touched was linked to other phenomena. While my idea is that these cases are recalled precisely BECAUSE of the other phenomena, I am not convinced that can necessarily account for such a high correlation. I have tried a little experiment on Facebook, and asked

If you read this can you answer yes or NO (and I do want negative replies) as a comment, please! I’m trying to do a really quick rough and ready straw poll. The question is “have you in the last month had the feeling of being touched by an invisible person?” Don’t worry it does not mean you are mad or ill – I’m just …curious about this fairly common experience…

I received over a day 37 responses: 12 positive.  I think this strongly supports my hypothesis the experience is extremely common, but under normal circumstances simply ignored and forgotten?

The Usual…

Moving on we get to the really interesting (to me) bit —

“My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

Bedrooms again, furniture moving again (these poltergeists should get in to the Removals business: might need someone to drive the truck though!) Are we seeing a pattern yet folks? Now of course it could just be that everyone from York to Stockport to Cork reports similar experiences because actually they are all drawing on the same films, TV, or popular culture motifs. Yet somehow, I find this unlikely — the experiences seem (to me anyway) rather trivial compared with the ones you see on the TV.

The Stock Dove

The Stock Dove - cliick for the pub website

Wayne from the Bury St Edmund’s research group messaged me earlier and said he was wondering when we would see another Enfield poltergeist but you know what? I suspect that any of these cases could be as big, if the SPR got hold of them and sent Guy Lyon Playfair and Mary Rose Barrington  or Tom Ruffles or whoever over.  Enfield just got a blaze of press attention (did the story break in the August “silly season” when news is slow  by any chance?), and has had much discussion, writing and books on it. Most of these little cases I am chronicling here strike me as having very bit as much interest — but I doubt in 20 years time people will be referencing them…

There is another curious parallel with the Cork case – the timings —

Janice reopened the pub with her business partner last August after it had been closed for 11 months.

Now thinking back to Cork, the family moved in last August, after the house had been empty for a while. I can not see any reason to think this is more than coincidence, but I think we should watch out just in case any patterns emerge, and we can find hypotheses we can test.  As I said in the Cork case, one would expect people to mistake ordinary noises and house settling, pipes etc,  for something weird in the first weeks after moving in. Here as in Cork the family had settled in for maybe eight months.

Janice Wright seems to take a very level headed view of the phenomena —

She said: “I think we must have disturbed the ghost. I have been told stories by some of the customers about how a girl came for a stay here when it was a coach house and was murdered, and it is thought she is moving things in my son’s room as that is where it happened. I can’t wait for Club Zero to come in to see what they can find out.”

So once again a dead guy – or in this case a dead gal – is to blame? Was the Stock Dove ever a coaching inn? I have no idea, but if I saw the building I could probably make a good guess. No for the story to make sense the murder must have been discovered, and most murders leave written records, so perhaps some local historian will be able to confirm the truth of this one.  It sounds like folklore to me, or people inventing explanations, but I wonder — I have been wrong on this before, most notably on the Old Bell, Dursley Case. I will keep an open mind for now.

The rest of the article simply deals with the impending visit of Club Zero –

Club Zero Ghost Group was founded in Stockport by Chris Andrews in 2003. It will visit the pub in April. Carole Webster, 56, the club’s events manager, said: “We are looking forward to going in to do an investigation. We will take along our equipment including EMS, an infrared system and a video camera. We will then put together a report and a DVD. There will also be a medium present.” For more information see clubzero.co.uk .

I assume EMF meter is intended by EMS, but I could be wrong – this look like a journalistic typo, and I wonder if a DVD is standard for ghost groups now. Seems sensible to keep a record fo the investigation anyway. Well I will do some digging and see what I find out, but for now I’ll call it a day.

cj x

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Disturbances in York


Well no news from Cork, and indeed no replies from any of the individuals I emailed trying to follow up the story. Visits to this blog have tailed off to almost nothing, and I am tempted to abandon the project, owing to almost complete lack of interest. I’ll give it a month though and see if things pick up?  Still from Cork, Eire, let us turn our attention to York, England, and a much more low key story from The Press, a local York paper…

“York family plagued by ghostly goings-on

10:01am Saturday 27th March 2010

A MOTHER has called in a vicar to bless her York home after she and her daughter were spooked by what they say are ghostly noises and apparitions.

Tracey Glen and her daughter Tasha Kennedy, 14, told yesterday how their home in [road name removed for usual reasons], Clifton, had been hit by a series of bizarre incidents over the past four years. They have been told by a local resident that there was a death in the house many years ago.”

Again, purported ghostly goings on are immediately linked with a death of a former resident. Something I don’t think I ever mentioned in my previous commentary on the Cork case was that one intelligent commentator on an Irish web forum answered one of my questions about the clairvoyants information there. You may recall that in my commentary on that case I pondered if the alleged suicide of a young man said to be responsible for the hauntings necessarily took place in the house? Well the answer is apparently no: presumably in the radio coverage, the clairvoyant said he died elsewhere. This renders the claim pretty much unfalsifiable: if one can die anywhere and go haunting, then I guess most girls college dorms are haunted by randy teenage male spooks who travel there from the site of their demise – guess that explains Phantom hitch-hikers? 🙂

Now in this case we have a local resident saying there was a death in the house years ago. That would not really surprise me: I guess most old houses have seen at least one death, and probably many, though I expect post-1948 a lot more people die in or on their way to hospital. A quick search reveals that only 20% of Americans die at home, and 50% die in hospital, and if anything I think the figures will be much higher for hospital/care home deaths here in the UK, though that is pure guesswork. (We have a National Health Service, and a high rate of the elderly entering care homes, so that is my underlying thinking, not that the NHS kills people off!)

Still one other interesting fact emerges from the opening of Mike Laycock’s story — the disturbances have been going on for four years. My received wisdom on the matter suggests that poltergeists are short and sharp, lasting normally no more than a few months, and usually only a few weeks. However I do wonder: it could be the period when disturbances are regular and violent, the climax of the activity might meet that description – from my own and Becky’s work we are seeing a pattern emerge of low key activity that seems to last for decades in many instances. This particularly fascinates me: the time scale of the so-called poltergeist needs real work, and hey if no one else is going to gather the data and try, I guess I will…

Let’s move on with the story —

Tracey said the incidents included twice being woken in the middle of the night by a loud bang downstairs. On the first occasion, they rushed downstairs and found a mug tree lying on its side on a work surface, with mugs scattered all around it.

“There was no animal in the house or any draught that could have caused that to happen,” she said.

Interesting that she rules out animals. I frequently hear loud bands in the middle of the night: the cat knocking something over. Feline grace seems to be missing in every mog I share my home with. Still loud bangs in themselves seem to be a VERY weak evidence for alleged paranormal activity, there being probably hundreds of better explanations than “the ghost did it”.  Still, all too easy to be cynical – I spot a possible pattern, well little more than a hunch. Remember in the Cork case there was movement of furniture upstairs? So the loud bangs always emanate from somewhere where the witnesses aren’t. Logic suggests

i) it could well be that if the witnesses were present when the door slammed, or the car backfired, or whatever, they would identify the cause. Therefore alleged paranormal noises will follow this pattern

or

ii) poltergeists are shy, and prefer to bang on stuff out of sight. If the bangs really are paranormal then this seems to argue against a living agent (Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis – RSPK) – as following  Roll and others one would expect objects to move in the vicinity of the poltergeist agent. It would however be possible with Colin Wilson’s battery theory I guess.

Still, in the incidents we have an actual cause – the mug tree laying on its side, mugs scattered around. We need to know far more though to know if their could be down to some normal cause (was it top heavy somehow, or badly designed so having mugs on one side made it fall? How far had it moved? Was the surface it stood on wet?, etc) – but I would not have thought it would make a very loud band if it just toppled over. So this does interest me – readers of the Cork analysis will recall that I suspect that the noise made by these “movements” does not reflect the usual acoustic properties one would associate with an object of this weight and size falling, but instead slight movements can generate much louder noises? Perhaps that happened in this case?

Last year Becky and I attended SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists, where Dr. Barrie Colvin talked on the acoustic properties of anomalous percussive rapping in this kind of case.   I know some of the details now of the purported “signature” of a poltergeist related noise — I would dearly love a recording of the sound events to send to Dr. Colvin for analysis, and I would  myself be able to check it with fairly simple software. Unfortunately I only know half of Dr Colvin’s research ( I don’t know the associated frequencies and I am not going to share what I do now on a public forum, as that would simply make it too easy for people to manufacture fake “paranormal” noises with these attributes. Anyone who really wants to know can buy a recording of the Poltergeist Study Day from the SPR for a very reasonable price!

The second bang again appears to emanate from the haunted mug tree (one wonders where they acquired it from?)

The next time they ran downstairs to find the mug tree still upright, but one of the mugs on the kitchen floor, standing upright.

OK,  that’s pretty much classic polt type activity.  Again it’s frustrating to not know how far the mug had moved, etc, etc.  Again, I don’t know if a mug landing on the floor unbroken can really be expected to cause a “loud bang” likely to make someone run down stairs to investigate, so logically

i) I am right and the noise is not proportionate to the likely forces involved if the mug moved naturally

or

ii) the noise and the mugs are unrelated. I think this entirely possible. Imagine a tired CJ drinks his coffee, and in a typical CJ manner knocks over the mug tree. He goes to bed, not noticing he has toppled it over. In the night there is a loud bang – maybe a neighbour slamming a garage door. Being of  nervous disposition I run downstairs, find the mug tree, and put two and two together. We can not necessarily assume that the movement of the objects and the noise are related. I keep trying to teach people this on investigations, because it is a dangerous, but perfectly natural assumption…

So is there any strong evidence for paranormality? So far the case s very suggestive, but now things get a bit more interesting…

She said other strange happenings included:

*A drawer in a bedroom cupboard flying open for no reason, when people were in the room

A drawer? Interesting. I would bounce like a heffalump all over the floorboards seeing if I could cause this to happen somehow, and with a wardrobe door might expect to succeed, but a drawer sounds unlikely. The mention of other witnesses – people present – is interesting – who were they? Who was present when it happened? What was going on? The psychological background may well be key, whether a poltergeist is involved or not, but journalist can’t really pry in to these things I guess. Still I’d like to see actual witness testimony. Again bedroom furniture is involved – one case I researched many years ago involved a toilet seat slamming up and down and a bed head board smashing in to a wall –poltergeists are very prosaic and domestic in their choice of objects to play with it seems. (Interesting that in the Cork case we had “holy pictures” and strong religious overtones – this polt seems to lack any religious or anti-religious enthusiasm, maybe reflecting the religious indifferentism of much of England compared to Eire?)

*The entry hatch to the loft mysteriously opening up, with the board left cracked and a strange piece of pipe left on the floor below

I know events are supposed to have been going on for four years, but I really wish we had some kind of timetable, and especially a date  for this  incident.  I wonder if it happened towards the end of 2009? I also wonder if Tasha, maybe with her friend Sammy, went to see the film Paranormal Activity? ( I review the film from my own unusual perspective here  on my blog.)  One atmospheric sequence in that film involves the couple plagued by the beastie having to explore the loft, which proves an important plot development; an old photograph is found within, which links back to an earlier outbreak in this (fictional) narrative.  Of course lofts feature in plenty of real cases – they are classic “occulted spaces”, an idea I developed in an essay entitled Corridors: their role in purported hauntings – back in the early 90’s, and in the Roman Road case of  1995 I crawled in to a loft (and as Matt will doubtless comment came shooting out again pretty quick!) I seem to recall that Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell spent a lot of time in aloft in the Abbey House (I think) case, and Mary Rose Barrington related a loft related incident at the aforementioned SPR Study Day, from the strangely titled Case of the Flying Thermometer. Just because a popular film happens to include a loft sequence should not really raise any eyebrows, but I note it, just in case relevant.

A strange piece of pipe? Well maybe it is a paranormally delivered object (an apport) but it might just as well have fallen. I am now thinking of Peter Underwood’s explanation of the Morton Case (The Cheltenham Ghost) – could a real person have been concealed in the house, or have hidden in the attic? A real physical person present on the property, with or without the connivance of some of the residents, but unknown to others,  could have easily caused the mug incidents, the loud bangs (and could the loud bangs have been someone dropping the attic trapdoor in to place as they slipped back in to their hidey hole?), but does not explain the drawer incident – unless that claim was invented to cover up the presence of a real person? Again it would seem vital to know exactly who saw what and when.

Now if the people involved are reading this they are doubtless cursing me and calling me every name and the sun, and thinking I am some dire sceptic who would rather come up with far fetched and insulting silly ideas than accept the beastie and their story at face value. Far from it: I actually do believe them, I just like to logically explore every single possibility I can think of. If the incidents took place over four years the idea of someone hiding in the attic (I assume the attic does not directly open up in to the neighbours attics as in a few British terraced houses) becomes utterly ludicrous. Still I try to look at all possible explanations.

Either way, assuming the “mysterious” pipe was household plumbing or similar, rather than a piece of a pipe one puts tobacco in, the most likely scenario appears that it came from the attic, and like the not replaced board this strongly suggests some perfectly physical person entered the attic, perhaps to fetch something. (Burglars do not to the best of my knowledge ransack attics generally, so we would have to look for a more mundane explanation, like someone in the family or a relative going up to look for something?)

One more word of caution though – I have lived in this house for a couple of years now, and the other day I noticed that the attic trapdoor in my bedroom was no longer on straight, as if someone had entered the loft. They haven’t – you would need a step ladder at least, and no one has been in or out of their since I moved in.  I found it spooky and unsettling at the time, but the most likely explanation is that it has been exactly like that since the day I moved in. I wonder if likewise the attic board had been like this for  long while in this case, but the discovery of the piece of pipe on the floor simply attracted attention to it? All odd, I admit, but not necessarily spooky! Before I end the discussion of the loft incident I have to remind readers of the children’s show Rentaghost, whose full theme included the lyrics —

Heavy footsteps in your attic means a spectre telepathic
 is descending just to spirit you away (Yay!). :)

(you can click here to hear the Phantom of the Opera sing a haunting melody!)

OK, back to the phenomena…

*Knocking noises on a wall between the bathroom and bedroom.

Obviously one immediately thinks of the water pipes, though this is classic poltergeist activity. Still without some degree of investigation or further information it’s hard to judge how sound that hypothesis is.

And then it all gets really interesting! Tasha reports seeing an apparition. Now classic modern poltergeist theory tends to separate apparitional experiences and poltergeists; poltergeists and hauntings are seen as two conceptually different categories. From personal investigative experience (Offchurch, Coates and Gloucester cases) I know that poltergeists can actually quite often include apparitional encounters — a category I call “polterghosts”. These cases, the third category with features of both hauntings and poltergeists discussed in Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 classic Poltergeists are often cited as evidence for the “poltergeist as the dead” hypothesis, as opposed to RSPK (  a living  agent causes the events by uncontrolled psychic energy). I often a mixed model in my JSPR article The Poverty of Theory: Some Notes on the investigation of Spontaneous Cases (1996), where I suggest that believing a house to be haunted could in theory generate psi-de effects : the belief enables RSPK by allowing the ghost to be blamed for the disturbance, overcoming psi-inhibition.

Anyway, back to the article —

*Tasha seeing the apparition of a woman with long straggly hair and a limp

The obvious thing here is the apparition is grotesque, like a traditional picture of a witch (not the wiccan goth chick type, the old crone of stereotype). Straggly hair? That might mean “scary” today; a limp is a physical imperfection that somehow is supposed to be sinister I think — yes I know this is horrible stigmatising of the afflicted, and I certainly don’t mean it’s right – but have you ever noticed how ghosts in folklore are often either described as “stunningly beautiful” or in some way stereotypically deformed or grotesque? I am interested in this — but it is just as possible this is actually a description of a (once) real person, physical imperfections being normal in real people after all?

I will wrap up with a description of how ye olde ghost was laid. From The Press article

Tracey said: “It’s really been spooking Tasha out so we decided to ask the vicar to help.

“We like living here, but would like all this to stop.”

Understandable, and that is in itself interesting. One wonders what the mothers attitude to it all was? She does not admit to being personally worried at all. I would love to interview her. The Church were called upon, probably the Church of England –

She said the Reverend David Casswell, the vicar of Clifton, went to the house on Wednesday and said a prayer, and then blessed the bedroom and also the garden. Since then, they had not seen or heard any more strange happenings.

Mr Casswell said vicars and priests were sometimes asked to go and pray in houses where there had been “disturbances” to bring peace to the home.

“We don’t make a great song and dance about it, but say quiet, gentle prayers for the houses to be blessed.”

The Rev. Casswell’s comments reflect my understanding of the deliverance ministry of the CofE. Interestingly in this case all sees well, unlike Cork where the Church intervention did not help,  though this leads to another question. If the blessing was on the Wednesday, and this article appeared on the Saturday, then presumably barring some other factor events must have increased in frequency to the extent that the absence of activity from Wednesday to Saturday is marked enough to note? This just goes to highlight the desperate need we have here for a detailed timeline of events to understand the case. There are certainly academics active in parapsychology at York Uni: if any of them are interested in doing some follow up enquiries, as York is a very long way from me (and actually quite a distance from Becky, surprisingly enough) I would be happy to talk them through what I think might be useful.

Still, one question one often hears nowadays is “where have all the poltergeist cases gone?” Unless March 2010 was somehow anomalous, they haven’t gone anywhere. The press have reported on two this month, Cork and York,and I am sure many more are being dealt with by local ghost groups, mediums, the churches, or the family just move, and no one gets to hear of them. I think this highlights the importance of my little blog project — someone needs to be looking at this, as it is just not reaching the ears of the parapsychological establishment. Becky, Balders, and we will do our best to find cases and provide some kind of comment…

cj x

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