In the late 1960s with imagination fuelled by Dennis Wheatley books like ‘To The Devil a Daughter’, the Rolling Stones and ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ album and Christopher Lee in Hammer Horror films like ‘Dracula’ there was a short time when a group of us used to dabble with the occult which might have been considered reckless.
At this time it was possible to buy a Parker Brothers Ouija Board which supposedly helped people to make contact with spirits on the other side. This turned out to be completely irresponsible and a number of people were permanently psychologically affected by the experience of speaking to a dead grandparent or the Goat of Mendes and eventually it was removed from sale.
This didn’t matter because it wasn’t at all necessary to have a merchandised version because it was relatively easy to arrange a séance for ourselves without it because all that was needed were the letters of the alphabet on some scraps of paper together with the words ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ and the numbers 0 to 10 arranged in a circle on a smooth table top and an upturned glass and with that speaking to the spirits turned out to be rather straightforward.
These days you can probably do it on a Smartphone!
To get the mood exactly right this had to be done in the dark and preferably with a spooky candle flickering on the sideboard and of course parents had to have gone out for the evening. When everything was arranged and everybody had got a glass of Woodpecker cider then the fun began.
Sitting around the table everyone would put a forefinger on the top of the glass and someone would assume the role of Medium and in a Vincent Price sort of voice ask the question ‘Is there anybody there?’ This usually had to be repeated a couple of times because I don’t suppose spooks are just hanging around people’s front rooms on the off chance of someone looking them up for a chat but after a minute or so you could reliably expect the glass to start to wobble and then then move towards the letters and spell out ‘Y, E, S’.
No one really knew who they wanted to call up but generally speaking we didn’t really want a poltergeist unless we were in someone else’s house.
Once a spirit had made contact then the Medium would try and establish a name, if the spirit had a special message for someone in the room and whether they were good or bad. If they had a message then the glass would move towards that person and when that happened believe you me the hairs really stood up on the back of the neck.
It was most likely of course that someone was playing a prank and was pushing the glass around to try and scare the shit out of everyone else but I have to say it did seem to glide rather effortlessly and had sufficient self momentum to be convincing. If it slowed down the Medium would ask ‘Do you need more power?’and then the glass would speed up and dash around the table in a circular movement until the spirit had supposedly built up sufficient energy to continue. The equivalent really of taking a high energy glucose drink mid way through a football match.
Anyway, that’s the background so I will move on to the point of my story. On one occasion a spirit in the glass claimed to be Donald Campbell who had died on 4thJanuary 1967 in an accident whilst trying to set a new water speed record on Lake Coniston in Cumbria in the Lake District. I think we asked the question about more power but as it was this that had killed him in the first place Donald was understandably a bit reticent on this point.
We asked him some questions that anyone around the table could have answered, such as did it hurt when you crashed? and how fast were you going? but then a really spooky thing happened. Because of the impact of the crash Campbell’s boat disintegrated and his body could not be found so we asked where he was and the glass replied with some map co-ordinates, 54°21′N 3°04′W, which, when we checked the school atlas just happened to be right in the middle of Lake Coniston! What the ….
Now, it is quite possible of course that someone could have planned all of this in advance but I’m not certain that any of my pals around that table was capable of organising such an elaborate deception and I am sure that we collectively panicked at this stage and brought the séance to an abrupt end just in case this really was happening. Perhaps one of my friends went home that night smirking all over his face but that is something I shall never know.
Anyway, the fascination with séances and devil worship quickly passed and I thought no more about it until one night in 1977 when I was spending an evening with next door neighbours Neil and Nettie and the conversation turned to the subject of the Ouija board. I told the Donald Campbell story and Neil laughed it off as nonsense and just to prove it set up a séance table.
Sure enough we managed to make contact and Neil was dismissive of everything that happened. Then I suggested that I should take my finger from the glass and ask a question only I could know the answer to. We all agreed and I asked the spirit if he could tell us my middle name. Without hesitation the visitor spelled out ‘J.A.C.K.’ and I had to admit that this was wrong so we wound the session up.
While we poured more drinks Neil looked up the name Jack in a dictionary of names and read out its foreign language equivalents and when he got to Russia he read out IVAN and I had to stop him right there because Ivan is my middle name. Perhaps Donald Campbell was talking to us that night after all?
I haven’t ever bothered with spooks again but one night in 2004 something strange happened in the middle of the night. For some reason I used to keep my driver (golf club) in my bedroom and this particular night it fell over and woke me up with a bang. It didn’t slide down the wall or slipped, it had turned over on itself and fell over. The odd thing was that it was propped up in a corner and if you are familiar with the design and shape of a driver then it is physically impossible for it to fall over in this way!
I have often wondered since if it was Donald Campbell getting his own back on me for disturbing him in the underworld that night!