Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: spooks
Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 24th August 2015 I was still on a family holiday in Mid Wales in a very remote cottage in the countryside…
I was rather tired tonight so shortly after Kim had gone to bed I said goodnight to Sally and walked along the corridor to the bedrooms. Part way along someone called out “Grandad, Grandad, Grandad” three times and assuming it was one of the three children I went to their bedrooms and asked who was calling me – all three were fast asleep, very fast asleep.
On the night of the 8th of February 1855 heavy snow fell on the countryside of south west England and small villages in the remote county of Devon. The last is thought to have fallen around midnight, and between this time and around six o’clock the following morning, something (or some things) left a trail of tracks in the snow, stretching for a hundred miles or more, from the River Exe, to Totnes on the River Dart.
The mysterious footprints have never been adequately explained. According to contemporary reports, they went through solid walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side as though there was no barrier. The extent of the footprints may have been exaggerated at the time, or they may have been the result of freak atmospheric conditions but in truth the ‘footprints’, if that is what they were, still remain a complete mystery.
Some clergymen suggested that the footprints belonged to the Devil, who was roaming the countryside in search of sinners (a great advertising stunt to fill the churches I imagine), while others rejected the idea as reckless superstition. It is true that a feeling of unease had spread through some of the population, who watched carefully to see if the strange footprints would return. They didn’t and after a couple of days the news spread out of Devon and made the national press and sparked correspondence in some of the leading papers including the Times.
I mention this piece of nonsense because just over forty years ago when I was about fifteen I was bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’ and the story of the Devil’s Footprints was included and quickly became one of my favourite articles.
The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.” There were photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.
I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christlike wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed. There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.
I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls. You can’t dispute evidence like that. There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors
I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
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!