Tag Archives: ghosts

Black & White

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Black and White make Grey

The writer of those tedious erotic novels was correct: there are lots of shades of grey. The number, however, I disagree with: there are not just fifty, but infinite shades of grey; a limitless pallet of sludge. There are shades that are a fraction darker than white, an imperceptible shadow on an otherwise pure hue. There are shades that seem as deep and bottomless as the blackest night, but when examined closely show the smallest glimmer of light. Scratch below the surface of any reactive philosophy and you realise that black and white, as simple and appealing as they may be, just don’t exist. There are only shades of grey.

Thinking is hard work. And I don’t mean visualising what you’re going to have for tea or imagining Lindsey Lohan’s tits and Kate Middleton’s arse at the same time; I mean real thinking. The sort of thinking that involves delving deep into your psyche, questioning your own beliefs, giving yourself a hard time about what you believe, why you believe it, why anyone else would be swayed by your argument, what makes your opinion valid. Philosophical musing can lead to considering the vastness of the universe and our own insignificance, the wonder that is nature from birth to cancer cells, our disinclination to consider the “soul” as a collection of electric impulses in the brain, despite the scientific evidence. It can lead you to places you would never have dreamed of going.

It’s emotionally draining to think so hard and acknowledge just how insignificant we and our ideals are; a lot of the time, people don’t bother to question their own life philosophies. Anyone that has, however, will know how rewarding it can be and, equally, how taxing: knowledge and understanding can be as disappointing as it can be enlightening, and once you realise something about the world or your inner consciousness you cannot unrealise it, as it were.

People generally seem happy to wade in the black and white paddling pool, rather than make their way into the murky deep end. Are they happier people? Probably – ignorance is bliss, after all. Why, then, should anyone attempt to leave the chequerboard mentality behind? Because ignorance can also lead to cruel and excessive behaviour towards others.

Baroness Thatcher, Twitter and I

Unfortunately, the people who are of the black and white persuasion also appear to apply the same logic to others. One of the things that really irritate me, when I find myself in debate, is people arguing on the “opposition” who take a point I’ve disagreed with and automatically assume that I mean the absolute reverse of what they’ve said. Recently, I was involved in a heated argument with a woman on twitter who really did not see that what she’d said in the first place was a) Inflammatory, and b) One dimensional. Of course, everyone is entitled to tweet pretty much whatever they want to; however, the woman’s original comment was excruciatingly black and white and exceptionally offensive.

“Some people begrudge the cost of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. Most likely the same people who smashed up London.”

Which is basically the same as saying: “None of the people who disagree with the amount of money spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral vote Tory, all non-Tories are in the lower classes and all of the lower classes are violent yobs. Ergo, the people who disagree with the funeral costs must be the same people who smashed up London.”

Flawed logic based on sweeping generalisations.

Now, if that tweet had said: “Most likely some of those people are the same people who smashed up London,” then I would have had to agree, although it seems like a bizarre correlation to me. You could also say that it is most likely that some of the people involved in the smashing up of London are also involved with UKip, or dislike Justine Bieber, or eat Subway sandwiches.

Even if I hadn’t been opposed to the sheer amount of money that is to be spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I would have taken offence to that statement. The implication being that everyone who doesn’t vote Tory and everyone who was negatively affected, directly or indirectly, by Margaret Thatcher’s policies is the sort of person who resorts to the harmful and violent behaviour displayed in the riots in 2010. If she’d really thought about it, the woman in question could have come full circle and realised that, if what she was saying were true, she would be insinuating that Margaret Thatcher was circuitously responsible for the London riots.

Anyway, the tweeting lady, however ill informed, was entitled to say what she thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way, or this country wouldn’t be so great or free. And I was entitled to disagree with her views, not least for being one of the people she was talking about. What I’ve come to realise is that this woman has probably now stuck me in the box with the people who have engendered the current musical status of the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, which is as inequitable as being put in the box with the disillusioned youths who were involved with the riots. I have been judged harshly merely for not agreeing with the funeral costs of a woman who ruined the livelihoods and communities of many members of the working classes. I was also referred to as “hard left*” by this woman, because my disagreeing with Margaret Thatcher’s luxury funeral clearly indicated that I wasn’t a conservative and that meant that I must be totally and utterly against anything conservative ever. Which is also not true. I will probably never vote conservative, and a lot of what the conservative party does and/or says p1sses me off, but I don’t consider myself to be “hard left,” and even if I were “hard left,” that still doesn’t make the conservatives “hard right.” But then again, the boundaries of left and right change with the context in which they’re referred to. Within the moderate margins of our largest parties, I guess I would be “hard left”; yet take into account all other parties and political stances, nationally and internationally, and suddenly, our three major players seem to be just stalking around the middle ground. Which is, incidentally, most definitely where they should be if we are ever to combat terrorism.

Returning to the crux of my Margaret Thatcher tweets: I didn’t agree with all of the Baroness’ policies, and she did a lot of harm. Her funeral will cost a huge amount of money and, while I would never deny anyone a decent burial, I do not think that she was so worthy of so much of the tax payers’ cash when it is the tax payers who were affected by her leadership, and when there are people starving in the world, and when our economy is in such disarray. I’m not here solely to discuss my thoughts on Margaret Thatcher; but what I am trying to get at is that, just because I didn’t feel particularly enamoured with the woman, I don’t immediately head for the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think that she was an evil witch and I don’t think the stupid ditty, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” should be at number one in her dishonour (and not just because it is an infantile mindset that has prompted that to happen), because I understand that she was also a human being trying to do what she thought was best, as most of us are. She was a strong leader, I’ll give her that. Some of her policies were unjust, some weren’t. As a woman, she is someone to aspire to in a sense, although she was no feminist – she didn’t hire women, instead choosing to surround herself with men. She was a strong woman, but she didn’t do anything for the feminist cause. She was neither good nor evil. She was a person and, as such, far too complicated to place on a single black or white square.

Most things are too complex to label, although society does its level best to try in pretty much every regard. Case in point: it has come to light that there are not merely three classes of people in the UK anymore, but seven. I guess this shows some progress in terms of diversity, but it’s still utterly pointless; it’s still a way of marginalising the masses. All this study has shown is that our “classes” and their corresponding stereotypes are far more disparate than the government first anticipated; and instead of doing away with the class system entirely when the government made this shocking discovery, it was decided that we desperately had to add more categories.

One Word to Bind them All

At the arse end of last year, a judge, Peter Bowers, made a comment about burglars being brave for choosing their “professions.” He wasn’t saying that burglars were good people**, he wasn’t saying that burglary is something we should all partake in; he simply meant that to break into someone’s house, risking imprisonment and injury from animals or the residents of said properties, is a courageous thing to do. Some may replace the word “brave” with the word “desperate,” but nonetheless, David Cameron’s reaction was disproportionate. He immediately came out with the counterargument that burglars are cowards.

We associate courage with good things. King Arthur was brave, our lads on the front line are brave, firemen are brave, Batman is brave, Jesus was brave. All these people are connected with “good” things – they’re part of the universal belief that good will triumph over evil. So to call someone that our society considers to be bad “brave” really confused everyone. In those simplistic terms, if brave is good and burglars are bad, then for the judge to call burglars brave must mean that a) He believes burglars to be good people, and b) He is, in fact, bad himself. Boo hiss, let’s all go on a witch hunt. David Cameron either knee jerked to the antonym, or he understood the psyche of the general public enough to know that he had to react to it accordingly to avoid association with the “bad” man himself. I like to think it was the latter; much as I hope I’m never driven to vote for the conservatives, I would still like to think that the man who runs this country is intelligent enough to understand the greys and savvy enough to know how to calm the public response.

The Concept of “Good and Evil” is Fallacy

Recently, I’ve managed to get myself into some debates on religion, in particular the Muslim faith (you may have noticed). My argument, in a nutshell, is that everyone has as much right to be on this planet as everyone else, and has the right to believe what they believe. Since Pakistanis (or English, American, French &c. Muslims with Pakistani ties) are the ones under the cosh at the moment, that is who I find myself arguing on behalf of, which isn’t to say that they aren’t capable of doing it themselves, just that there never happens to be a Muslim around when you need one.

The problem here, is that, because of the black and the white misnomer, I am now to be seen as pro-Islam and, therefore, an enemy of anyone who isn’t Muslim. Except that I’m not pro-Islam at all. I’m no Islamophobe, but I don’t like any religion, really. Grappling with my feminist side to argue on behalf of a religion that oppresses its women so v.badly isn’t easy for me – far from it. My argument isn’t in favour of the religion, but in favour of the people – I have no faith, but I v.much believe in humanitarianism, and as human beings, we must accept that not everyone is the same and that this difference is perfectly sufficient so long as all are in favour of humanity; and with the application of a humanitarian philosophy, we are able to see our similarities with seemingly dissimilar people after all. Unfortunately, the Muslim faith seems to spawn some pretty extreme actions from the radical few, I get this and I get that it could put me in danger. But then again, I am equally as scared of the fascists as I am of the Islamic extremists; more so, in fact. Anyone in a disillusioned enough to position to take a concept and run with it to such an extent has to be, on some level, slightly unhinged.

A lady on twitter tweeted almost exactly the same words I have said time and again:

@Yasira Jaan: Muslims view “Islamic” terrorists the same way most Christians view the Westboro Baptist Church.

The problem we have is that some people will automatically associate Muslims with terrorism, whether that’s through general ignorance or a naïve and blind belief in the propaganda that they are exposed to. These people believe that I could not possibly stick up for a group of people without entirely believing in everything they believe, which is preposterous. I would argue wholeheartedly for Catholics, for example, should someone start mouthing off about how they should all go back to Ireland, but I am not Catholic and don’t support the actions of the terrorist group, the IRA. It also doesn’t mean that I agree with Catholicism as a lifestyle, with its inability to grasp the import of pro-abortion laws, or that no sex before marriage jive, or its confessional cleansing.

Funnily enough, one of the many things that I dislike about religion is the way it perpetuates this “good and evil” nonsense. That does not mean that I dislike everyone who has a religion, or anyone who believes in black and white – it just means that I am able to recognise the fact that the black and white doesn’t exist; however dark or light a shade may be. However obvious a solution or the crux of an issue is, I can always see where the lines blur, even if it takes me a while to think about it. And I take solace in knowing that I’m not the only one. The black and white mentality is way too crude a way to view the world, and knowledge and understanding stem from acknowledging the grey roots.

A few months ago, a squash player said to me that some Muslim guys wanted to use the squash club to host a Muslim only squash team. The club refused and the Muslim guys took the matter elsewhere. On hearing this, I said, unthinkingly: “Well, you can’t do that, can you? You can’t expect people to treat you with respect and then refuse to play with people of a different faith.” The man I was talking to then said: “Well, when I asked them why they wanted a Muslim only squash team, they said that it was because squash is a social thing, a hobby that brings people together and they wouldn’t want to all go out to the pub afterwards – they’d want to go for coffee and shisha. It’s as much about the bit after the game as the game itself.” Didn’t I just feel a bit foolish?

Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White (but you can’t be a bit of both)

Another issue that arises, when only considering black and white pieces, is that people are typecast. A person does something “bad” and the bad thing immediately eradicates everything else they’ve ever been.

Harold Shipman will only ever be that bad man who killed old people; the moment he is found out, he is stripped of his lifelong achievements as a doctor; immediately, everyone forgets that his patients absolutely adored him. People start saying things like: “Oh, he seemed like such a nice man. And such a good doctor – we never knew” and they shake their heads as if all that time he was pretending to be a polite GP who was good at his job. Suddenly, he is the devil incarnate. Pure evil. But it’s not true, is it? People don’t like to think of one of the most prolific murderers as anything other than malevolent, but the fact remains that he was actually quite a nice chappy in life. Unfortunately, he also had a side to him that was disturbed enough to create in him relish at the thought of bumping off old ladies merely because he could. He was a murderer, but that’s not all he was.

A single act or belief does not define someone. And acts performed by someone of a particular faith or belief system do not define every member of that faith or belief system.

In 2001, Islamic extremists flew aeroplanes into the twin towers in New York, killing people of various faiths and ethnicities. A terrible act of inhumanity, a dreadful indifference to the sanctity of life – this I am not denying. When people discuss the 9/11 attacks, we refer to the terrorists as “bad” and the victims as “good.” We say things like: “Those poor people” when referring to the victims And, yes, I absolutely believe that nobody should ever die in such a way. But what we never consider is this: of the thousands of people who died that day, how many were paedophiles? How many had stolen something that wasn’t theirs? How many were having affairs? The people who died in the 9/11 attacks were killed unjustly, granted, but just for having been so aren’t necessarily guiltless; in fact you probably couldn’t say that about any of them. Their deaths have become all that they were to the people who didn’t know them.

The acts of the terrorists had wider implications: I’m sure that those people had interests other than blowing up “infidels,” but what they did that day created a butterfly effect. Several crazy Muslims have attacked the western world and in the minds of a lot of people in the western world, that meant that allllll Muslims would at some point want to attack. Fear sees all of us reverting to the basic instincts we try to quell because we know them to be irrational a lot of the time.

But then, it’s hard to not be swept away in the fear when the media uses emotive language (like “terrorism”) and justifies the actions of certain governing bodies. The media has a lot to answer for. Recently I came across a bestselling book on US Amazon – a non-fictional account of Pakistan. Apparently, the Americans loved it – there were five stars flying all round that review page. I checked out the same book on UK Amazon – oh dear. Bad reviews. Suspicious, I dug a little deeper and discovered that the writer of this scathing book had never actually set foot in Pakistan.

When we were at war with Germany, we considered all Germans to be the baddies and when there’s a wall of people advancing on you with heavy artillery and menace driven by a dictator, it’s probably sensible to protect yourself. But that doesn’t stop each individual, soldier of civilian, from also having other characteristics, qualities that we admire. Penelope Lively injected the German soldier in The Darkness Out There with enough individuality to invoke pity in the reader, but not in the character of the WWII survivor.

Nothing but Grey Skies

To say that I believe that a black and white mentality is bad is, in itself, black and white, is it not? Yes, it most certainly is, and if you think, having read the above, that I would ever consider something to be inherently good or bad***, then you have clearly misunderstood my key point. I believe in the greys and I find the greys enlightening. I would defend a black-and-whiter should one be subject to abuse because of their beliefs, but this does not mean that I agree with everything they’re saying. Do you see what I’m saying? I find the inability to find the middle ground, and the inability to gauge the facets of human nature restrictive and one dimensional; I also find it worrying that people could blithely attack others on the premise of good versus evil, which is why I take issue. To believe something is one thing; to act upon it, or allow yourself to be used as a pawn against others in its name is quite another. It’s easier to act on a belief than to question it, but we are, supposedly, an intelligent species. Don’t let the genus down with your inhumanity because you were too lazy to think deeply about your actions.

FOOTNOTES:

*bearing in mind that I absolutely hate extremism, I really don’t think I could ever be “hard” anything

** Although, I am a bit hazy on his reasoning for letting the burglar off.

*** Unless we’re talking wine. Wine = good. Lambrusco = bad. If you ask my tastebuds, that is.

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3am Girl

LAST NIGHT

I’m awake. It’s night time. Merely seconds ago I was in a deep, healthy sleep. And bang! My eyes are suddenly open and I’m wide awake. My eyelids aren’t even gritty and groggy – I test by lowering them. I lie still for a few minutes with eyes closed and heart pounding slightly; a sure sign that I have awakened before I am meant to. But even with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, there is no denying that I have been thrown from the land of nod with a great force. I listen for sounds of an intruder. I hear the ticking of my clock and the sighing wind outside, ruffling the leaves in the graveyard. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet and still – but my hackles are on edge, if not fully raised. Holding my breath, I feel gently under the pillow for my mobile with one hand and close the other around the steel bar I sleep with; it’s warm from being next to my legs under the quilt. Both located, I open one eye and peer into the eerie half light, cast by the white streetlamp outside. I see my kitchen door, still closed. I cautiously raise my head and scan the room until I reach the hallway; the door is fastened and the keys are still in the lock. They aren’t even swinging. It feels too still. There seems to be a deliberateness to the inertia. I carefully work the bar out from under the covers and, once it’s free, I sit up. I jolt and a pain shoots through my chest – there is a large, dark figure in a cloak standing next to my wardrobe, which had been obscured from my sweep of the room by the door to my cupboard*. I inhale sharply and clasp my steel bar.

Slowly, I let out my breath and shake my head as a silent laugh bubbles up. It is a sheet, hung over the wardrobe door to dry the night before. If there is someone here, they are in the kitchen or the bathroom. I press the button to light up my ‘phone and wince at the brightness of the screen. It is merely habit – I already know that it is 3:02am and that my eyes snapped open at exactly 3 o’clock. I blink back into semi-darkness with splodges of light marring my vision, slide soundlessly out of bed and pad towards the kitchen, trying not to trip over anything. Turning the handle I kick the door open and brandish the steel bar with both hands… nothing. Kitchen is empty save for a startled spider. We eye each other, momentarily frozen. I turn towards the hallway and make my way into the dark shadows there, where the door key glints securely in its lock. I turn and flick the light switch to the bathroom with the end of my weapon, enter and squint gingerly into the bath and behind the door.

There is nobody there. A part of me knew it too. This happens every night I sleep alone. 3am – on the dot. Sometimes I’m not quite so jumpy and just lie in my warm bed dozing for a couple of hours before my alarm sounds.

TODAY

I am shattered. I have tried to be in bed for a reasonable time for the last couple of nights, because I like to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and run. I’m a tad out of shape at the moment what with sciatica and a mild chest infection and a house move getting in the way of training, but the Hell Runner Challenge is fast approaching and I really want to get a good time this year. So, last night, I went to bed at 9:45, which wasn’t as early as I was hoping. I was particularly tired yesterday on account of not sleeping v.much at all the night before (including the usual awakening at 3 o’clock) and was aiming to be in bed reading at 8:30pm in an effort to fall asleep naturally and catch up, but I’m one of those people for whom time organisation is not a strong point. Still, I figured going to bed a bit later than planned, despite being dead beat, might mean that I didn’t wake up too often in the night** and it was at least earlier than usual. Now, I do wake up at least once in the night anyway. A few years ago, I ended up with MRSA in my kidneys, which began as a kidney infection, brought about by my not peeing as often as someone with a bladder the size of a pea needs to. I doubt v.much that my kidneys have been damaged by this, but nonetheless, I now can’t sleep the night through without tramping off to the toilet at some point. This generally happens between midnight and 1am and I go, take a sip of water and then crash back into sleep. When I awaken at 3am, I don’t need to go to the loo. I tend to attempt it anyway, but not a right lot happens. I have no idea why I wake up again at this exact time and I have no idea why this only happens when I’m alone. I am not scared of living by myself – the steel bar is present merely on the off chance that some poor, unknowing burglar tries to burgle my bomb site of a flat, in which there is nothing of any value, and instead encounters me. Bring it on, bitch! Besides, my neighbour’s walls are paper thin and his door is right next to mine – he could be woken with a stifled whimper and be in my flat within a second.

Currently, I am not particularly worried or stressed out. The office job is dull, but nowhere near as fraught as it once was; I am slightly behind with commissions, but have nothing with a particularly strict deadline; my finances are the best they’ve looked in years; as far as I’m aware, the people in my life are happy and healthy and treating themselves (and me) well.

As I climbed back into bed, I decided I was going to have a quick look on the internet to see if anyone else suffered from this irritating malady. They do. Lots of them do. Now, I’m used to typing symptoms into Google and being informed that they’re probably a sign that my death is imminent, but I was surprised to discover that after typing in “I wake up…” Google completed “…at 3am” for me. Interesting. So other people did suffer from it. Yes, indeed they did. It turns out that 3am is “dead time” which is when you are most likely to be contacted by a supernatural being. And not a ghost, oh no – an evil demon. You see, Jesus Christ was killed for the sins of man at exactly 3pm and 3am is considered the time directly opposed to this. So just the twelve hours they’re bothered about then… not the thousands of years in between then and now.

I don’t believe in Jesus***. I don’t believe in Satan. I don’t believe in an external God. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in demons and I don’t believe that 3am has any religious significance whatsoever. So I did what any normal 28 year old woman would do… with a terrified squeal I pulled the duvet over my head, tucked it around my feet so that nothing could grab my ankles and pressed my eyes tight shut before the witching hour hit which, contrary to previous information of midnight, happens at 3:33am… this forum told me so:

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080207102824AAmoriZ

RELIGION

I was Christened Methodist (which is why I don’t drink… ahem…), my mother is Church of England, my Dad’s Catholic, I briefly attended a Pentecostal youth group before I realised they were all insane, and I was sent to a C. of E. school. Although my parents never enforced religion on me, my primary school and other exposures to religious propaganda have managed to affect me somewhat. I am flooded with misplaced spiritual feeling when I enter a church, I hate films about possession, the thought of stigmata terrifies me, I still want to apologise to an imaginary deity whenever I say “I don’t believe in God” and, until recently, I thought something dreadful would happen if I had a go on a Ouija board. And then there was that bloody haunted stone circle I jumped into the middle of eighteen months ago in Edinburg, which freaked me out for a good couple of weeks. Religion is part of a person’s culture because it is everywhere and, although I am a non-believer, part of my hard-coding has its basis in religion and it’s v.difficult to break a pattern like that.

The other thing I have riding against me is my imagination. If I wasn’t such a wimp, I’d write horror novels, I think. But I have tried and after a couple of chapters, I’m seeing things that aren’t there and jumping at any little noise and sleeping with the light on. Having such an imagination can be quite useful – I am able to imagine many possible outcomes from any given situation in a matter of seconds, no matter how ludicrous it may seem. But it can also bring the ludicrous to life when, in fact, there is nothing but the mundane. The fact that I can look at my current insomniacal problem logically and pick apart the silly obsession with numbers seems to make little difference to how my mind works overtime when something appeals to some deeply-ingrained religion-saturated self I didn’t know existed.

THE NUMBERS

Why is 3am the time for demons? Because it is exactly “opposite” 3pm on a twenty four hour clock and Jesus was said to have died in the name of humanity at 3pm, apparently. Um… even if I did believe in Jesus, I would struggle to understand the logic behind this. Why do demons come out at that time? Are we, then, supposed to get “good” spirits at 3pm? Do they wane as the day goes on to be taken over by demons as their shift comes to an end?

According to the internet, Jesus’ number was 333 – but isn’t that the witching hour? And is he 333 because 666 is the number of The Beast, and beast is man and that’s half?

“Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666”

We are infatuated with numbers. The number 13 is bad luck in western society. So, in blocks of flats and in new office buildings, flat 13 or floor 13 is omitted. This seems bizarre to me – surely the number is purely an indicator of the actual number of the flat or floor. If the floor is the 13th from the ground, it is still floor 13; whether you choose to call it “14” or “Shirley” it is still the 13th floor. It would be denial of the highest order to suggest that you live in house number 15 on and that the house next door to you is number 11. You are still in the 13th house as we count houses on a street. Then there are magpies: 1 magpie is bad luck – 2 is good luck and so on.

NO SUCH THING AS SILICON HEAVEN? BUT WHERE DO ALL THE CALCULATORS GO?

We are all, it seems, fantasists. Even non-religious people believe in ghosts, which strikes me as completely bizarre. In order to believe in spirits, we must first believe in a soul which uses the body as a vessel, rather than a soul that is created by electronic impulses in the body. This soul is the part that the religious believe leaves this earth as we know it and enters the world of the dead where they will either be allowed access to heaven^ or be banished to hell. A ghost is, supposedly, the spirit of a person who has not yet “crossed over” to the world of the dead. I mean what utter hogwash. No, I don’t purport to know what happens when we die, but I’m pretty sure that, once the body is no longer working and the electrical impulses in our brains fizzle out, we return to the state we were in before we were alive, which is, basically, a nothing. Yes, there are things we don’t understand and possibly there are things we will never understand, but we found the God Particle, did we not, which was incredibly exciting and a great breakthrough? Higgs Boson is real! Little by little, we answer the questions previously unanswerable and ascribed to God.

I don’t particularly want to cover too much old ground here – I’m sure anyone who’s read my early posts will be getting irritated with my repetitiveness on the subject of the supernatural. What I want to know is, bearing in mind that I am not religious, have no obsession with numbers and do not believe that a demon is loitering around in my flat just to poke me awake at 3am and watch as I stalk around with a steel bar (although, that is possibly rather an amusing sight, I grant you), why do I keep waking up at 3am on the dot? I’m not sure how long this has been going on for, but could it be the fear that nothing seems to be wrong at the minute that’s panicking me? I am always most suspicious of something that seems to be going too swimmingly… right up until I systematically destroy it in case I find out that it’s not real after all.

Does anyone else suffer with this waking at bang on 3am thing? Has anyone else diagnosed a problem or found a cure? Help would be much appreciated or the Hell Run will be a no go this year.

FOOTNOTES:

* I have a studio flat and the bed pulls out of a cupboard

** Every cloud, ey?

*** Or, at least, if I do believe in Jesus, it’s in the sense that there was some terrorist 2012 years ago who managed to convince everyone that he was magic, but really was just a rather egotistical show off.

^ I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go there – full of straight-laced, self-righteous, judgemental God botherers who only do “good” in the name of the lord… phew, no thank you.

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Things that go Bump in My Mind – Part IV: From Our Own Correspondents

Since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought I’d complete my trilogy in four parts with a few stories that I’ve heard during my whirlwind affair with the spirit world. They’re personal stories, not fictional prose, so I’ve written them as they were told to me. Apologies if I’ve missed or changed anything – I was trying to remember as accurately as I could.

I’ll be updating this sporadically until Halloween so keep your eyes peeled.

 

 

Mysterious Nan in the Picture

“I don’t believe in ghosts. I think it’s all a load of bullshit, really,” a few of us are sitting around after work discussing my recent obsession with the supernatural. Stew, a big, burly, rugby-player with a strong Essex accent is speaking, still tapping away at his keyboard. He stops. “Although, my Mum has a picture that was taken at my cousin’s wedding and standing next to my Granddad, clear as day, clear as day, right… is my Nan… I don’t believe in ghosts, though.” The tapping of the keys resumes. We all frown at him for several moments. Then the tapping stops. “Well, she’d been dead three years by then. Honestly, it’s just weird.”

 

 

The Death Watch Beetle

My Mum, a few years ago, when I was a kiddie-wink, whilst standing at the bottom of the stairs in the ancient, tumble down terrace I was brought up in, heard footsteps on the landing; little, fast-paced kiddies’ footsteps. Where the landing met the top of the stairs, it was faced by the bathroom on the other side and when she looked up into the gloom at the top step, she saw a faint white shape pass into the bathroom from the landing. A flicker of something. Thinking it could only be me, she called my name, but I emerged from the room next to her. She was more than a little perturbed. As it turns out, there is a large type of beetle that lives in the floorboards of old houses, the unfortunately named Death-Watch Beetle – these beetles headbutt the floorboards as part of their evening ritual and each bump is answered with a bump from the nearest neighbour, creating a series of thumps in quick succession. Footsteps explained… but the white shape? Have you ever taken a sip of something, expecting something else? Momentarily, you taste the thing you were expecting before your nerves catch up. The white shape? My guess is that it was an expectation that I would appear and when I didn’t, there was a moment where the eyes fought to keep up with the anticipation. My Mum, even as a non-believer isn’t convinced it was beetles, though. And I could be mistaken, of course…

 

 

And the Clock Stopped Never to Go Again…

“I think there are plenty of things that we don’t understand. But, no, I don’t believe in ghosts… although there are a lot of unexplained things that have happened in the family,” I’m in the pub with one of my bosses, nursing a pint of Sam’s 3.8*. The wind’s getting up and it’s twilight. Sitting in this traditional style bar with its warm yellow glow, looking out at the people walking past with their coats pulled tight around them, I could just do with a spooky yarn to give a nice polish to a brisk and brooding autumnal evening.

“Like what?” I press.

“Oh, you know, just weird things…” he looks at my hopeful face and sighs. “Well, like the clock next door to my Mom’s. It’s an old grandfather clock that stopped when the old lady next door died. When the new neighbour moved in, she kept the clock, even though it didn’t work. And then, one New Year’s Day, she came round and perfectly described the old woman who had lived there previously.”

“The one who’d died? Had she found a photo’?”

“No, never seen her before in her life. But she said that she’d been sitting there, in the armchair, this white figure, clear as day and that when it turned midnight, the clock struck once. It strikes once every single New Year’s Eve at midnight. I’ve heard it!”

FOOTNOTES:

* Or Leeds Pale, as it’s more commonly known

 

 

 

The Long Bad Migraine

My first year at Uni’ saw me living in a ground floor room in a converted Travel Lodge. Just as the weather turned cold, the radiator in my room broke. As the snow started falling, my quarters became almost unbearable; it got to the point where I could see my breath. This was just my room; everyone else’s was fine. Various workmen came out to see to the stone cold radiator and bled it and did fancy things to it, but to no avail. Then it started banging in the night and if it the knob was turned to “off”, I had to turn it to “on” (and vice versa) in order to stop the racket. This happened once every fifteen minutes for a few weeks. And then one day I saw something out of the corner of my eye. If I hadn’t known myself better, I’d have sworn it was a little girl in a red dress. That night, I opened my eyes as the banging started and, vision clouded with gunk, saw, fleetingly, the faint, blurry* figure of a little girl in a red dress with long straggly black hair and, horror of horrors, a terribly burned face. I did the most sensible thing I could think of and immediately shut my eyes**. Now I’d been feeling odd for a few days anyway and had put it down to being incredibly tired on account of the noisy radiator. But I was petrified. I’m not sure how long I let the banging go on for before I finally, with my eyes still shut – I kid you not – groped along the length of the mattress to where the radiator lived at the end of the bed, reached down and turned it on (or off – which ever one it wasn’t to begin with) and crawled back to my safe warm space at the pillow. I lay awake all night, with my eyes closed, of course, every so often feeling my way to the end of the bed to stop the damn clanging radiator, which I was now convinced had something to do with the frightening apparition I’d just become acquainted with.

Of course, in the cold light of day, sitting in the common room with everyone else, I felt like a total wanker trying to relate my story. Until I got to the part about this child’s burns, at which point, someone piped up: “Well, there was a fire here a while back, Em’”. After that I saw her everywhere. Flashing out of sight when I looked in the mirror; dashing into the bathroom when I tried to look directly at her. I never saw her full on. I was convinced, for a while, that I was losing my mind.

To cut a long story short, three days later I started with the worst paraplegic migraine I’ve ever had. It was so bad, I couldn’t count to ten and when I attempted to go to the theatre, I vommed all over the floor of the toilets and then fell into a sleep so deep no-one could rouse me. Knee High Theatre carried on regardless of my slumber and the second half of The Wooden Frock, which I managed to watch with one eye closed*** , was fabulous! The colours that had made up the little girl – red, black and mottled white – were the colours of the flashing lights in my interrupted vision and when the migraine went, so did she. Relief all round. To top it off, a week later, a rather fat man with a terrifically hairy cleavage managed to figure out what was wrong with my radiator and all was well in the world. So that’s the scariest of my “supernatural” experiences and even that was a false alarm.

FOOTNOTES:

* And I mean really blurry, so in hindsight, my imagination had probably gone into overdrive by this stage!

** When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table!

*** This was in the days of 20:20 vision

 

 

The Light at the Centre of the Tunnel

Longdendale in the High Peak is renowned for being the most haunted valley in Britain. There are plenty of stories of monsters, beasts, ghosts, aliens… a fighter jet crashed on the moors during the war and pieces of it can still be found to this day, if you know where to look. People have reported sightings of aeroplanes crashing around the area and subsequently rung the mountain rescue team who have diligently gone out and found no evidence of an accident. Similarly, people often say they’ve heard low flying light aircraft when there were none due to fly and some report explosions that never happened. The regularity of v.similar reports over the years leaves a question mark hanging. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Longdendale itself is criss-crossed by powerful ley-lines… or so they say.

Amongst these bizarre reports is a phenomenon known as the Longdendale Lights, which are usually spotted floating above the Longdendale Trail. The trail is a disused train track that runs from the top end of Hadfield to Woodhead Tunnel and runs parallel with Woodhead Road. It is now used by walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders and makes up part of the Trans Pennine Trail. Being a local, I’ve used the trail myself a few times and can honestly say that Woodhead Tunnel is a bizarre place. In the good old days, you could wander right up to the mouth of the tunnel and, if you were brave enough, slip between the metal bars. These days, despite being forced to stay well back by additional gates, you can still feel the clammy, chill air that hangs in the tunnel; even in the middle of a heatwave, you can find yourself shivering in this spot and it takes a while to get the chill from your bones when you move away.

I’m given to understand that my stepfather’s grandfather worked as a navvy when the trail was a working railway line. It was a dangerous profession that involved working in pitch black tunnels, through which heavy freight trains would whoosh, leaving you with not much time to find a hidey-hole. Woodhead Tunnel is 3 miles long and originally made up the train line from Sheffield to Manchester. One day, Steve’s grandfather was walking through the tunnel from Woodhead – there was a problem on the tracks and he and his colleague had been drafted in. They were shining their torches ahead and must have been half way through the tunnel when they saw another of their colleagues walking towards them, down the centre, between the tracks. So they shouted:

“Hello Bill. What’s happened?” Or some such.

But Bill just kept on walking, staring straight ahead with an expression of fear on his face. When the two men had found and rectified the problem on the track, they carried on walking and came out the other end of the tunnel to collect their pay. At the office, they mentioned to the man in the payroll department that they’d seen Bill and he’d been acting v.strangely. The man stopped what he was doing and stared for a moment before he said: “Bill died last night.”

 

 

Feeling a Touch of Pressure

My sleeping pattern has never been amazing. Well, not as far as I remember. I used to suffer terribly from insomnia, I have recurring nightmares about being up high* and I worry about anything and everything all the time, which means that I just can’t turn my brain off. I also suffer from a mild sleep apnoea… ok, just a general apnoea; I forget to breathe when I’m awake sometimes… yep, really. And on top of that, I get up to run at 5am most days, which means that my pasty face generally has black circles beneath the eyes and my life is tinged with a vague surreal sensation. I like to think it makes me a better artist, when in actual fact it makes me grumpy, weepy, headachey and look like shit.

Last night, I crawled into bed under two thick quilts and lay drifting as I tried to turn my mind off. As well as my usual barrage of rather disturbing thoughts and images, I managed to have two identical disconcerting waking dreams that there was a figure in the room wearing a long black cape with a pointy hood, which freaked me out slightly. I managed to fall asleep after that, but I awoke, petrified out of my wits, around 3am. I was apparently mistaken in my assumption that sleep paralysis only happens to people who lie on their backs. Lying on my right in the foetal position, I couldn’t move. There was an enormous pressure on my left side. If felt exactly like someone was sitting on me and then the pressure moved slightly so it was on my back and shoulder too, as if someone was sliding round to get a better purchase. Naturally, as per week long migraine, I kept my eyes shut**. But my heart was pounding and I was convinced I wasn’t alone. My skin crawled and all I could think was: “I am in danger!” The only time I’ve ever felt anything remotely like it, was when I was awoken by an electrical storm in Devon with my hair standing on end and the air crackling.

After a while, although the pressure remained, my heart rate slowed and I decided that, actually, this was not dissimilar to a nocturnal, sleepy embrace from the boy, which is also like having the air slowly squeezed from your lungs… in a good way of course… and I managed to coax myself back to sleep.

It was bound to happen; I was sort of expecting it, so in that sense was an invocation. Amongst other pressing concerns like how I’m going to pay off my maxed credit cards and what I’m going to wear to the Rocky Horror Show, sleep paralysis has been playing on my mind somewhat. I do feel, however, that I pooh-poohed*** the subject in my previous blog and wanted to say that it was terrifying and really, truly did feel like being sat on… in a bad way, of course…

I still can’t shake the feeling of that terrific force on my side and when I got up this morning, my artist’s mannequin was facing the wall when it usually faces into the room. I guess I knocked it at some point, but it gave me a start. And heading to the bathroom I suddenly jumped backwards and cowered before I realised that the assailant with the red face was actually a red helium balloon that I’d nicked from El Kitten’s wedding.

Once again – the power of the mind!

FOOTNOTES:

* Massive massive fear of heights. I mean, ridiculously scared. People don’t believe how scared I am of heights. Alan once made me go up the Sagrada Familia: after nearly shoving all the tourists over the side of the first connecting bridge between two of the fabulous towers, I pressed myself to a wall with legs of jelly and numb hands and announced that I was going down immediately. My fear is so bad that I don’t even like being picked up!

** I’m actually a hero with the eyes of a coward

*** You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from being in the Army, it’s never ignore a pooh-pooh. I knew a Major, who got pooh-poohed, made the mistake of ignoring the pooh-pooh. He pooh-poohed it! Fatal error! ‘Cause it turned out all along that the soldier who pooh-poohed him had been pooh-poohing a lot of other officers who pooh-poohed their pooh-poohs. In the end, we had to disband the regiment. Morale totally destroyed… by pooh-pooh ~ General Melchett

 

 

Rosemary & Time

“Jane’s got all this stuff hanging in her house, you know,” El Kitten gazes into space for a moment. “It’s like a herb. For keeping the ghosts out.”

“It’s rosemary,” says Jane. “It wards off spirits. When I exorcised my house, I was told to hang it in every room.”

“You exorcised your house? How did you do that? What happened? Did you have to get someone in?”

“My mate’s into all that sort of stuff so I just asked him and he told me what I needed to do.” Jane seems blissfully blasé about the whole thing.

“Which meant asking the ghost to leave?” I say, incredulous. I feel quite pleased with myself for knowing that much. I got the titbit from Samantha on Sex and the City, but I fail to mention that little detail.

“Well, pretty much. You have to tell the ghost, firmly, that it’s time for it to move on!” says Jane.

“What made you think you had a ghost in the first place?”

“I knew I had a ghost. There was no way it could have been anything else. Things just kept happening like I’d put my keys in the door and they’d fly out again. Or all the lights in a room would suddenly come on all at once. Or I’d leave a room and go in seconds later to find all the cupboard doors were open. It went on for ages. And then the final straw was one night, after Archie had gone to bed – Archie used to have all these toys like Buzz Lightyear things with cords at the back that you pulled to make them talk – and this one night they all just set off.”

“Did Archie wake up?”

“No, you know what kids are like. Once they’re out, they’re out. But I just thought enough was enough,” she shakes her head. “There was never anything malicious about it. I didn’t feel like it meant us any harm. It was quite playful, really. I just thought that we’d lived with it for too long. Then I performed this exorcism when Archie was at school and it all stopped.”

 

As you probably know, I’m a real sceptic when it comes to the supernatural. Still, I love a good spooky story and I’ve been typing this with all the hairs on my arms standing on end in delicious quivering fear. Think I might have to reach the Edgar Allen Poe out!

Thanks to everyone who sent me their spooky tales. Keep them coming.

 

 

APOLOGY: I have to apologise profusely for my use of a Daily Hate article in my link on the haunted valley. It just happened to be quite apt, but I swear, I’ve always been a good little Guardian reader.

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Things that go Bump in My Mind – Part III: Any Answers

I was arrogantly opinionated in my younger days. I would hear something and immediately form a series of judgmental convictions without finding out the finer details, which often meant I came a cropper and ended up looking pretty daft. In a debate, I tie myself in knots because it takes me a while to process my thoughts into a string of sentences that voice exactly what I mean. I’d be a crap politician and these days would rather just keep schtum and listen to a discussion on a subject on which my knowledge is sketchy than make a tit of myself by being bolshy and annoying. But I’m about to spout some opinions, yes yes! On a subject I’m not such an authority on, nope nope!

There are things in this world that cannot be explained even by, like, proper scientists and that. In fact, it was in the news recently that scientists believe we are coming towards the limit of what the human brain can comprehend and that further mysteries will remain as such. Sounds like laziness to me, but then I have been known to be wrong*.

It’s one of my bugbears of the religious debate that when an atheist begins talking about science, the inevitable answer from the believer is: “Yes, but scientists have been wrong in the past” or “Science hasn’t been able to explain [insert bizarre phenomenon of choice here].” I always feel like saying: “Give it chance; we’re getting there.” And, if the case for believing in something is the mere fact that it has never, to our knowledge, been disproved, I could quite happily believe that David Cameron’s balls are as bright blue as his political views, on the grounds that I have never been told otherwise.

I feel much the same about ghosts and I would go so far as to say that one cannot believe in ghosts if one does not have a religion. The v.idea of a soul in itself has religious connotations – this notion that your emotional being is separate from your physical body is presumably where the idea that something leaves your body when you die (which, thanks to that rather mediocre, over-sentimental film, shall forever be known as the “21 Grams”). Something other than bodily fluids and body heat; this “something” is, presumably, your soul, which passes into heaven or hell depending on whether you’ve been good or bad. Or, should I say, depending on whether you believe in God and have repented any sins you may have committed**.

Which leads me neatly onto the point about good and evil; neither of which exists outside of society and both of which change from culture to culture, however marginal these changes may be. As a non-believer in God, I am also a non-believer in good and evil… at least, not in the black and white sense in which religion presents them. That people do misguided things – terribly, awfully misguided things – I believe, be it through sheer desperation, physical or psychological damage, but I don’t believe in inherent evil, nor do I believe in inherent good. Which means that I can believe in neither good nor evil spirits. Coupled with my cynicism of the mythical 21 grams, I can honestly say, with only the merest wibbling of doubt, that I do not believe in ghosts as we are given to understand them – I do not believe in the rogue spirit, so to speak.

What I do believe, however, is rather vaguer than what I don’t believe. I believe in energy. At the risk of sounding like a true dippy hippy, I believe in a sixth sense. Although, maybe in a slightly less exciting way than its namesake film. I believe that one can walk into a room and sense that much unhappiness and suffering has been caused there. I believe that there is a possibility that people and animals leave some sort of imprint in space or time or some such, rather more like a whiff of a recording than an actual part of themselves. Maybe it’s a dimensional thing, of which I have no information whatsoever. How this fits in with modern science, I really don’t know. I profess myself to be an utter philistine in that department… mainly because I spent every GCSE science lesson flirting with Ste Horsfield rather than actually listening, which made it impossible for me to take science further***. I guess biology was my bag back then.

It’s a truth universally known that people are curious by nature. We hate not knowing how things work and explanation kills the mystery, as Derren Brown has proven time and again. It’s true that he does some disturbing things himself, but the explanation for these displays are incredibly dull. He is not magic or psychic and he goes to great lengths to make this v.clear. I’m using him purely as an example of that which we understand automatically becoming mundane. And as far as I can see, the thing that makes the thought of ghosts scary is misunderstanding or lack of knowledge. Many people have reported that, whilst in bed, they have been pinned down, unable to move, by an unseen force on their chest. The explanation for this is simply sleep paralysis; a hugely frightening experience, but one that has been explained away by science. It’s a powerful tool, the mind.

If you think about the stories you hear or the experiences you’ve had yourself with ghostly forms (and I’ve had my fair share) they’re never clear. They’re generally something you see out of the corner of your eye or in a mirror. We are v.visual creatures. You often hear people say: “I’ll believe that when I see it.” You don’t ever hear people saying: “I’ll believe that when all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.” But the fact that you can wake up in the night, heart pounding for no apparent reason can lead us to believe that we are not alone. We don’t see so well in the dark and the dark is infinitely scarier**** than daylight – you never hear of people seeing ghosts strolling down a sunny beach. With our peripherals being what they are, we always have our backs to something – ghosts appear in mirrors; ghosts stories where mirrors cloud over are equally as creepy because the thought of not being able to see behind ourselves is as frightening as the thought of seeing something in the mirror that shouldn’t be there. Similarly, ghosts who can walk through walls – backs to the wall means that something can still creep up and catch you unawares. It’s all so logical when you lay it down and dissect it. We jump at shadows and unexpected bangs. There is something of the natural fight or flight instinct in it.

It is also a rather human trait to need to believe in something more following the death of a loved one. It’s a stressful and upsetting time. And I often hear stories of people who have woken up and seen the effigy of a person, dead within the hour, at the end of their bed. For some reason, this strikes a chord with me in the same way that, for example, often if I’m upset or in trouble, my mother will ring and ask if something’s wrong without my saying a word. Or the same way you can pick up a mobile ‘phone seconds before it starts ringing. Something in the subconscious powers of deduction, perhaps. Or maybe it’s just the power of coincidence.

There is also a strong propensity for play. Even as adults, we like a good story. In fact, mythologies and old wives tales are the heart of our ghost stories. Like osmosis, we absorb tales over time and they linger in the back of our psyche. The delicious fear of the unknown envelops us in a tingly web and then works its magic as our imaginations go into overdrive. In times past, this would manifest itself in the form of witch hunts. Fear of the unknown causes panic, but witch hunts were equally a gruesome form of recreation. Could the exorcism of a house, i.e.: telling a ghost to leave, actually be our own way of cleansing our psyches of a story that’s created a suitably spooky experience that’s gone too far? A metaphorical witch-burning, perhaps.

I’ve got to admit, it’s all fascinating. Like Richard Dawkins, I haven’t so much proved or disproved a thing other than spew forth my opinions to the ether and I could continue to do so, but I’m not so sure my musings are particularly important in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, basically what I’m getting at is, since I don’t believe in souls, I’m starting the bidding on mine for a fiver (free P&P).

 

FOOTNOTES

* But rarely, you understand. V.rarely. Don’t let on, ey?

** I’m going to stop with this train of thought as I could start ranting about religion and that’s a subject I could rant on about for some time.

*** I doubt it would have been my forte, given my artistic leanings

**** I have a huge respect for the blind: they spend their entire lives on their other senses and live every day in the dark.

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Things that go Bump in My Mind – Part II: Any Questions

As usual, running cleared my head somewhat. And it got me thinking and now I have questions, damnit, with nowhere to direct them.

How, exactly, is there any way that ghosts exist? I mean, surely, with all the people there have ever been, the world would be rife with them. So rife we’d all go mad with the ghostiness. I asked this of one of the girlies on the hen do who was telling a story about the time she’d had to exorcise her flat. Her answer was less than satisfactory – she said: “It’s only some people who become ghosts when they die and you have to help them to cross over.” Cross over to where? I mean, it’s religious, isn’t it? You’d have to believe in a life after death, wouldn’t you, for a start? And, the ongoing debate about religion aside, why haven’t they made it across to wherever they’re heading? Are there no instructions? I mean, if there’s limbo and purgatory for people who aren’t in either heaven or hell, then where are the souls of these people who haven’t “crossed over”? Earth, I guess, but how does that make sense? I’m glad I’m an atheist, because this life after death lark sounds pretty complicated; I’m not good under pressure and I’m pretty sure that death would be stressful. I get lost in Morrisons at least once a week as it is.

Let’s put disbelief to one side for a moment and suppose that there are such things as ghosts; then surely the actual ghost of a person is representative of their spirit only. And if that’s the case, surely they wouldn’t manifest themselves in a form at all, especially not clothed, but rather as floating minds in some respect. Once the physical has gone, then it would leave just a soul that would certainly be incapable of recreating itself as the body it inhabited prior to death, let alone dress itself. Is this where possession comes in? And if a soul has possessed a body, what right has it to be exorcised, since possession is nine tenths of the law…?* My first thought, if I was a lost spirit that had just found myself inside a body for a change, when confronted with a priest would be to a) act as normally as possible to avoid losing my new body or b) say something along the lines of: “Excuse me – I don’t suppose you could give me directions to… um… where I’m supposed to be going, could you?” I definitely wouldn’t roar at him and then projectile vomit. When you’re lost as a living being, you ask a policeman, so it makes sense that when you’re lost as a ghost, you should ask a priest. Politely!

And, again, just supposing that people have souls that sometimes get confused en route to the afterlife, and just supposing a ghost somehow managed to mold itself into its former state and wrap a sheet around itself and stay on earth instead of “crossing over”… why would it want to throw things around and make spooky noises and generally scare the living daylights out of people? Surely it would actually be thinking: “I am pretty sure I’m in the wrong place. Maybe I should have gone left at the statuesque man with the skull for a face wielding the large gardening implement…”

… Although, I’m positive that emotions are caused by hormones and pheromones and gin, which are all physical things. Why, then, are ghosts so angry? What causes that? Why would they come back and haunt a random house** / person / bathroom / toaster***? And thought is caused by electrical impulses in the brain… and if the brain has died with the person, how can a ghost have any thoughts at all?

And why are ghosts always of a type? You don’t ever hear of people seeing rappers standing at the end of their bed, eerie light glinting off their bling, do you? Or of cavemen with a club in one hand, scratching their balls in uncouth fash’ with the other?  And surely, a ghost of days gone by would be most confused by a lot of the things that happen in this day and age. I can’t imagine that there’s, say, a Victorian ghost watching me doing yoga and thinking (with the brain it’s somehow managed to find, even though it couldn’t manage to find the stairway to heaven): “Yes yes, I’m going to throw some stuff around and scare the shit out of this one.” Any Victorian ghost capable of thought would most likely be thinking: “What on earth is this all about? I’m not going near her – she’s mental!”

And, do animals turn into ghosts when they die? Because I know Christianity at least states that animals have no immortal soul, in which case they couldn’t possibly turn into ghosts. But human beings are animals, which, of course, means that they have no immortal soul either.

And why, I mean just why, am I freaked out by all this stuff when I’m not religious and I’ve just proven to myself that in order to actually believe it, I’d have to be of the faith? Is it just that my C of E / Methodist upbringing has been so far indoctrinated into my system that there’s a latent religious quality to my thoughts? Could this dormant Christian brainwashing be so ingrained in me that I can’t quite live without looking over my shoulder for imaginary ghosts, holy or otherwise?

I mean, it all just sounds like bollocks, if you ask me! Answers, I demand! Really good answers, please!

 

ASK THE EXPERT:

A friend of mine is not religious, yet apparently believes that he once had to exorcise a house. I don’t doubt his story for a second; I’m not saying that I don’t believe that he genuinely believes that he had to. How could this be? Come on, Wesley, explanations, if you please! What made you think / realise you had a ghost? Who performed the exorcism? Jon Bon Jovi? If a priest, surely this goes against your beliefs, or lack of; but if you performed the exorcism yourself, how did you find out how to do it? The internet? Did you need equipment? Because, and I know this sounds like I’m taking the piss (and I guess I am a little bit – in the most good-humoured way, I assure you), but I genuinely am curious – I just can’t imagine you wandering round a house talking to something that, presumably, can’t hear you, what with it having no ears!

 

 

JACKANORY:

Tell me a story! I love a good spooky yarn. In fact, I’d love to hear all spooky stories of real life… or death experiences. So if anyone fancies telling me theirs, go ahead! I’m not trying to belittle people’s beliefs; I’m cynical, but I’m not a dick†. So, please, tell away – you might just change my mind.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

* Boom boom

** I excuse Beetlejuice because they explain that one in the storyline and it is just a film after all

*** But that’s not right – it wouldn’t haunt a toaster because that’s not scary enough. It would haunt a castle or a freaky doll. They not so dumb, these spirits****

**** Spirits… now that’s something I can believe in. Lovely see-through spirits that make you act in bizarre ways…

† Well, not all the time

 

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Things that go Bump in My Mind – Part I: The Auld Reekie Tour

It’s something that’s always fascinated me: the supernatural. As a child, when asked to draw a picture, my subject matter would almost certainly be a graveyard or a spooky house in the woods or a vampire (a beautiful lady vamp’ – with flowing red hair, of course… and generally a mass of curls*). And my patient mother, ever one to let me find my own way in life, would dutifully display these macabre pictures in prominent places in the house, never letting on that she was remotely concerned about my mental state.

Edinburgh is the perfect place to visit around autumn time. It’s a gothic city full of dark corners and pokey ginnels and underground snickets and wide cobbled streets with wild wind whipping up a storm all around. And there are ghost walks galore! Ghost walks with gimmicks or without, underground, overground wandering hither and thither, including into the depths of the city dungeons.

The Auld Reekie Ghost and Torture Tour begins at the Tron Kirk and takes you around and into the South Bridge Vaults. The last time I did the dungeon tour, I was with a boy, which for some reason turned me into a pathetic little creature who kept hiding in his coat like a startled guinea pig at all the scary parts… which in retrospect is rather embarrassing and quite out of character. I guess it proves the skill with which the ghostly guides whip up the crowd and create a really quite edgy atmosphere. This time, however, I was with a group of girlies. A group of squealing girlies. It was hilarious. Feeling particularly smug that I already knew what to expect, I waited for the moment when we were taken to the dungeon with the mad beastie spirit who’s trapped in the Wiccan ring of rocks. And then I stepped into it with side-(and ear-)splitting results from my accompanying hens.

Half an hour later, we were safely ensconced in a reputedly haunted pub with comforting pints of ale, discussing who was going to share a room with me now I’d picked up this evil spirit and what the hell was I thinking, mad woman?! I just sat there grinning as I sent the following text:

“I shall be returning to Leeds w/an evil ghost in tow! I only went & did it, didn’t I. I only fucking stepped in the ring!”

You see, even the boy hadn’t had the nerve, so dark and creepy are the vaults, and so convincing the tour guides.

After it was decided that Sam would remain the unlucky room-mate, conversation turned to chilling stories of our sinister past experiences and stories we’d heard as scuttlebutt. All of which, including my own, I proceeded to knock down with fairly logical explanations in my present superior fash’.

It was only when I found myself in the toilets of said haunted pub, which were at the top of a winding set of stairs, rather dark and devoid of other pub-dwellers, that my already overactive imagination began to churn. Ever since I saw one particular episode of Round the Twist as a youngster, I have had an inane fear of toilets**; they’re creepy places full of hidey holes. What started as a grain of doubt in my mind had swelled by the time I was pulling my kecks up. Toilet doors squeaked, chill drafts blew; for all my bravado, I was still that self same shaking little guinea pig. I fairly threw the soap on my hands and dashed out of the door, without looking in the mirror in case I saw something nasty in a cubicle behind me. At the top of the stairs, still fleeing from my imaginary phantom, I caught a stiletto on a step and somehow managed to slide ungracefully to the bottom of the stairs bellowing: “It pushed me, it pushed me!” at the bewildered El Kitten, our beloved queen hen, who just happened to be preparing for ascent. She said, wrinkling her nose:

“Yeah, I fell down them earlier…”

I’ve been a tad jumpy since then.

Classic FM eases me into my day, as a general rule, so when my alarm went off this morning, I lay coaxing myself awake to Airs Espagnols Opus 18 by Pablo de Sarasate***, while half-waking terrifying thoughts flickered across my mind. When the piece finished, nothing happened; just an unexpected silence – no presenter, no music, nothing. I sat up in bed and looked fearfully at my alarm clock. Nothing. And then there was loud white noise with voices babbling in the background. I shot out of bed, turned the radio off and stood, panting and desperately clutching my left arm, down which a pain had just shot.

Shit! I thought****. Shit shit shit! It’s trying to communicate with me!

I tentatively turned the radio back on and was more than a little relieved to hear the comforting tones of Nick Bailey. I jumped into my running gear and ran, scared and unstretched, into the dark morning chill†. For once, I felt safer running around Leeds in the dark than being cozy at home with my yoga mat.

So far, further strange happenings involve getting an electric shock from a tap (I was shuffling my feet), something small and hard rattling around in my kitchen (am pretty sure the mice are back), a wasp at the window with a face like a skull (think wasps’ faces are like that anyway), the kettle turning itself off mid-boil (wouldn’t have noticed anything weird about that under normal circs) and some canisters exploding in the building site in which I work, which set the building on fire (far less dramatic than it sounds).

I realise that as a grown woman… yes, this is as tall as I’m going to get, folks… this is all v.silly, but my head is a v.v.strange place indeed and it may be some time before I’m back to normal. Or as normal as it’s possible for me to be.

However, despite my subsequent madness, I highly recommend that you a) visit Edinburgh if you’ve never been and b) take a tour.

Auld Reekie Tours can be found on the Royal Mile and run at various intervals throughout the day most days. Tours are £9.50 for adults and £7.50 for concessions and are conducted by young acting scots in gothic clothing, ending with a complimentary shot of scotch and a piece of shortbread.

Please be aware that some tours are for over 18s only.

FOOTNOTES

* Wishful thinking

** This should not be confused with the toilet phobia that renders me incapable of peeing when within 100 yards of another individual

*** I had to look this up, but it’s such a beautiful piece of music, I would have had to look it up anyway.

**** Normally I just talk to myself out loud, but I didn’t want my beastie to know I was on to it.

† Part of me just wants to turn this into a fictional ghost story now, but I’m trying to prove to myself that I’m being ridiculous with this blog post, not scare myself silly.

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