sjhstrangetales

Following on from the Q&A I posted on here recently, I thought I’d try and find one that dealt more with people’s beliefs and opinions about the paranormal/unexplained. The one below, from the Psychology Today website, is one of the more interesting ones I found. The only problem is that each question was simply done on a 1-5 rating scale, and I feel many questions (on any kind of subject really) are too complex for that. I think they can’t always be answered with a straightforward “yes” or “no”. So, as a total self-indulgence, I thought I’d repeat the questionnaire on here, but give more rounded, fuller answers, where I could.

If you don’t want to read my interminable wafflings (and I don’t blame you, I largely did it for my own amusement when all’s said and done) but would like to do the questionnaire yourself, then just simply Google “paranormal beliefs test psychology today”, and it should come up first. Now I suppose I should assert up front THESE ARE ONLY MY OPINIONS. I don’t claim for one minute to have all the answers, and I expect there will be times when I completely contradict myself too, as I am neither a total Skeptic, nor a total Believer. It was useful for me personally to focus on the different questions, and finally see what I really felt about them, as all too often I can feel like a bit of a fence-sitter with some topics. If you violently disagree with me, or take exception to what I’ve written, don’t email me with abuse or long-winded, finger-wagging lectures telling me I’m a complete clot and I don’t know everything (I already know that), just go and do the questionnaire yourself!!! There are 67 questions in all, and I repeat, the answers below are JUST MY OWN HONEST OPINION, OK? Good, let’s get started.

(1) Number 7 is a lucky number. Not particularly. My childhood home was a No.7, and like all houses, it had its share of good and bad luck over the years.

(2) I believe in soul mates. Yes I do, I think there are some people whom you connect with at a much deeper level than others.

(3) I believe that voodoo dolls work. Yes, but I believe this is largely down to psychology. If you produce a frightening-looking doll, possibly with pins stuck in it, and tell someone the doll will curse them, it can take quite a tough-minded person who is able to completely shrug it off, so the curse works via psychology. See my piece about Haunted Dolls On eBay for more on this kind of thing.

(4) I believe that some crop circles were actually created by aliens. Gawd knows. The whole crop circle phenomenon is fascinating, but aliens?? The problem I have with that is if it’s aliens communicating with us, you’d think they’d find a simpler way to do it! The patterns are often very beautiful, and certainly have become a fun feature of the Summer here in Blighty, so I enjoy them for that reason, but I’m not really sold on the whole Alien Involvement aspect.  And in some places it has become a bit of a money-making racket.

(5) I believe in the existence of a supernatural power. Yes, there is something at work in the Universe, although I personally prefer the title “Original Source” to “God”.

(6) Breaking a mirror brings 7 years of bad luck. No it doesn’t. It’s a bit like the voodoo doll, if you tell yourself it will bring you bad luck then it probably will.

(7) The Loch Ness Monster is a real phenomenon. I believe there is something very odd and unique about that whole area, but I don’t believe Nessie is a real flesh-and-blood creature. If she is, where does the Big Momma get her food supply? Why have no carcasses/remains ever been found? I believe it’s more a supernatural/occult-related phenomenon. To be honest, I find the whole cryptozoological approach to the subject very boring indeed.

(8) If two people are meant to be together, they will be. Yes, it’s as simple as that.

(9) Love and luck spells work. Although there is a strong Pagan element to me, I never do spells. I think things should happen organically. It’s either meant to be or it’s not. Do the spells work? I’m not convinced on that one at all, it feels like a lot of effort and pointless fiddling around for nothing to me. You might as well just work on the issue on a practical level.

(10) I believe in palm reading. No, not really, and in the wrong hands (ho! ho!) it can be dangerous, “ooh I see a massive break in your Life Line coming up”. Cue traumatised customer. One guy was told he would “die at the end of the month”, although it wasn’t terribly clear which month she was referring to, and I think it’s highly unethical for ANYONE to go telling you things like that. No, leave it alone, it’s a silly profession over-run by charlatans, and if you’re at a vulnerable point in your life it’s not a good idea. I did go to palm-readers on a couple of occasions when I was much younger. Looking back, they didn’t tell me anything that couldn’t have been got at by simple guess-work or questioning. One asked me what my next birthday would be. I told her “21” (it was a very long time ago), and she replied “you will have a party for your 21st”. No shit Sherlock? I mean, 21st birthday parties are so unusual aren’t they! Don’t forget, these people study how to “read” you. And often, they’re not terribly good at it. Just one example, when my Mum was pregnant with me, she went to see one, who told her she would give birth to male triplets!! It has to be said, I do do Tarot readings (entirely on a private level, and not for money). That is about helping people, and giving them guidance as to what they may need to focus on in their lives, it’s not about making wild guesses about a person, or scaring the bejaysus out of them with silly predictions.

(11) Some people are really able to levitate. Genuine question: has this ever been proved on camera? Has it? Have you ever seen someone floating about, entirely unaided? Sorry to sound cynical, but I remember those big magic shows from the 1980s, where some buffoon would levitate over the Grand Canyon. What nonsense.

(12) I believe there is life on other planets. Just going by law of averages, there surely must be, when you considering how vast the Universe is, and how many planets there are. I actually think it would be much more implausible if there WASN’T life elsewhere. In fact, I find the idea that we are the ONLY life form in the Universe to be deeply disturbing. The more pertinent question is … what form does the other life take.  I quizzed my old man, the scientist, about this, and his reply was “Yes there is, it may even be in the Solar System, particularly Europa [one of Jupiter’s moons]”.  Well as I said, it’s more of a question as to what form that life takes.   Also, we always assume other life-forms are more advanced than us, and are able to space-travel much easier, (there’s always someone bleating “why haven’t they contacted us then?”), perhaps they might be even more primitive than we are though.  Just a thought.  And then of course there’s the whole other question of multi-verses and parallel universes … I think this subject is potentially endless. 

(13) In the end, you get what you deserve. Far too simplistic. I DO think that you have a lot of control over your own Fate, but not always. Some things are out of your control. I don’t believe it’s a case of “deserve”. I’ve seen too many monumental shits go completely unpunished, and too many good people go through endless trauma, to believe in this one.

(14) I believe in reincarnation. I think there might be some truth to this one, unfortunately it’s a subject that has been over-run by complete fantasists over the years. You know the sort: “I was Cleopatra/Napoleon in a previous life!” It’s never “I was the poor wretch who swept up the horse-manure in the streets”. I remember one guy telling me, in all seriousness, that he was one of the Knights Templar centuries ago. Course he was. But, having said all that, I do accept we may have lived lives before. It might explain things like “karmic connections” (and/or the feeling that you’ve met someone before when you meet them for the first time), or why people get illogical fears and phobias about things. I once worked with a woman who had a morbid fear of large bodies of water, whether it be the sea, lakes or even just swimming-pools. She said she had no idea where this fear came from, and there was nothing in her life to explain it. I also once read a piece on reincarnation, which mentioned General Patton, the great American military leader, who believed he was a reincarnation of a Roman general. On arriving at a battle site in France during WW2 he said “I have been here before”. On a personal level, it’s the only thing for me which explains my life-long (and completely illogical) fascination with both religious orders and prisons. I have no wish whatsoever to be in either, but I’m still endlessly fascinated by them. I also have an lifelong obsession with being “free” and detesting the feeling of being caged in any way.

(15) I believe that some people can reshape or bend an object using the power of the mind. No I don’t. I was a kid when Uri Geller became a huge star in the 1970s, bending forks on British TV. It was great entertainment, and led to a craze for mangled cutlery, but no I don’t believe it was a genuine phenomenon.

(16) There is life after death. People have had too many odd experiences to rule this one out. I fully accept this might be wishful thinking on my part, but I find it very hard to believe that there is nothing … or perhaps that thought is a concept simply too frightening for me to accept. I don’t know. But as I said, too many people have had NDEs (Near Death Experiences) or even contacts with the Other Side to dismiss it out of hand. The most oddest thing to happen to me occurred after my Mum died. I was only 8 years old at the time, and I was running about with friends in the school playground. We were pretending to be racehorses (the sort of thing kids do, or did anyway). I was suddenly pulled up short when I heard her voice calling my name, as clear as day. To this day I can still remember it vividly. It was very clear. I also had a vivid dream about searching for her in a forest (oddly the forest was in black-and-white). This may well have just been a bereavement dream, but there was something Different about that one. I can’t explain it any more than that.

(17) We all have past lives. I really answered this one in Question 14.

(18) I believe in ghosts, spirits and poltergeists. Yes I do, although exactly what they are is open to many theories.

(19) I believe in the existence of Heaven. From everything I’ve read on the subject in recent years, if there is an After-Life then it is one huge, amorphous place, and “heaven” probably is the best way to describe it. I really hope there isn’t too much sitting around twanging on harps going on though.

(20) Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck. Absolute tosh, I’ve done it numerous times.

(21) I believe in the lost city of Atlantis. I believe there may well have been an ancient civilisation once a very long time ago, which got destroyed in some terrible cataclysm, and it may well have been situated in what is now the Atlantic Ocean. We know enough about huge natural disasters these days to make it a distinct possibility.

(22) There’s no such thing as coincidence. I honestly don’t know. Some “coincidences” are so extraordinary that it’s hard to believe they were a random accident, but at the same time I don’t believe every tiny little incident in life is preordained. That way madness lies.

(23) Black Magic can be effective. I believe there are people who practise this dreadful thing, but it’s like the voodoo dolls again, they probably rely on their victims to react to it emotionally for it to work. After all, if you want to traumatise someone, you have to make sure they know about it, otherwise it’s just not going to work (think of the runic parchment being passed in ‘Casting The Runes’/’Night Of The Demon’, it wouldn’t work if the victim never knew about it). I don’t actually believe it can be effective as a thing in its own right. I’m with James Randi on this one, Black Magic has never achieved anything productive or worthwhile in its entire history. It’s something people do who want to delude themselves they are powerful, or to make themselves feel exciting. Egomaniac stuff.

(24) Horoscopes can be remarkably accurate. Depends what you mean by horoscopes. I think the daily ones you get in newspapers and magazines are just cheap entertainment, and nothing more. I did use to regularly read a couple of astrologers Onine, until I increasingly found them both to be a couple of wet blankets all the time, constantly issuing warnings, and droning on with things like “you may think this is going to be a good week, but it’s strewn with pitfalls”. Oh shove off. Tedious old bores. Think how many millions of people share your birth sign. Are you all going to have a similar kind of day to each other? BUT astrology is a very complex subject, and I think personal horoscopes, which go into your birth chart in-depth, do often explain an awful lot about a person. When someone says something like “but I’m a Gemini, and I’m nothing like Donald Trump!” it helps to understand that so much depends on where each sign is in each planet at the exact moment when we are born, and where we were born too, so no, not all Gemini’s are going to be like Donald Trump (I don’t think the Earth could take more than one, let alone millions). If you want to find out more about yourself or people close to you, it’s worth studying in-depth, as it can be absolutely fascinating. Use it for psychology, and not prediction.

(25) Some people have taken photo’s of UFOs. Well yes, there are numerous photo’s of UFOs, but exactly what they are is another matter.

(26) I believe in the existence of angels. I have no idea. Some people swear they have a guardian angel, and I would never be so crass as to pour scorn on it. There are also some fascinating parallels with Biblical angels and aliens. But on the whole, this isn’t a subject I feel terribly strongly about.

(27) I believe that the Yeti/Bigfoot really exists. Yes I do, funnily enough, but it’s a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, I think it may not be a flesh-and-blood creature, but something supernatural/occult in flavour. Then again, these creatures are said to reside in some very remote parts of the world, so they may well be real entities.

(28) Some people can really see into the future. The simple fact is that the future hasn’t happened yet, so how can you see something that hasn’t happened? And the whole Everything Is Preordained idea is repulsive. I think Fate can turn on the most trivial of incidences. After all, if Franz Ferdinand hadn’t gone out in his car that day, then WW1 wouldn’t have happened, although I suppose you can argue that something else might have sparked it instead, as countries seemed determined to make it happen back in 1914.

(29) I believe that what goes around comes around. To a certain extent. You reap what you sow. For instance, if someone goes around abusing their power and pissing people off all over the place, they may well get their comeuppance at some point. It’s not a hard and fast rule though. Shits do get away with things (Jimmy Savile died peacefully in his bed), although a harsh truth can be that they only manage this become some people are natural Enablers, who unwittingly help them to do so. They’re usually too gormless to see the harm they are doing.

(30) There are real witches out there. Yes, of all sorts of varieties. And most are even quite harmless. I’ve encountered enough White Witches, who are genuinely well-meaning, and who want to heal the world. They are often very lovely people. There is the dark side to witchcraft too, but as I said in an earlier question, they are only effective if you let them be.  As one White Witch said to me once “they are very silly, and they shouldn’t be doing it”. 

(31) I believe that some beings can appear to give messages to individuals about the future. No not really.

(32) I believe you can be punished for something you’ve done in a past life. Oh blimey, the old “karma is a bitch” mob. I have a problem with these people, in that they’re often deeply unpleasant. No I don’t believe you can be punished for a past life sin. There is an interesting theory that we might come back to try and work out something we felt we did wrong in a previous existence, but I don’t think that’s the same, because it’s not all about punishment, it’s about understanding. For instance, a man who was a bastard to women in a previous life, might choose to come back as a woman, to see what it was like to be a woman, that sort of thing. But I’m not comfortable with the Karma Is A Bitch stuff. It’s too often a bullying tactic, used by some very miserable people who have faces like slapped arses.

(33) Aliens have abducted people and inserted implants into their bodies. Thought long and hard about this one, but no, in all honesty, I do not believe this. I DO think alien abduction is a very curious phenomenon of modern times, and worthy of research for that reason alone, if only on a psychological level, but do I believe extraterrestrials are actually abducting people and harvesting their organs, or having sex with them and creating alien babies? No I do not. It falls down on the question “why?” What would be the point? There has never been a single, solid shred of proof for this, plus a lot of alien abductees I’ve seen have been either troubled people, (for instance, it is a sad fact that some abductees who claim to have been impregnated have a history of miscarriages), or to be brutally honest, attention-seeking narcissists, and it’s getting worse. It really doesn’t help that one woman whom I’ve seen interviewed a lot in recent years (I’m not naming any names) gets extremely belligerent and aggressive, to the point of actually THREATENING people, whenever anyone dares to question her. She is far, FAR too quick with issuing threats for my liking. There is far too much ranting and raving, and stuff along the lines of the “you don’t mess with me, I’m telling you now”, “I shall come for you” [eye-roll], and “the aliens are my people, I’m very special, they’re my army, and they’re coming for you” for comfort.  BUT, having said all that, in fairness I do think she has some very pertinent things to say about some of the thoroughly disreputable characters mixed up in this subject. There are some very shady characters investigating this – I really can’t stress that enough – who seem to use it for dodgy sexual and/or financial ends.  They are like modern-day dodgy religious guru’s, conning gullible believers.  One (also nameless) actually claimed that the space science research laboratory where my husband works – and where I worked myself for over 6 years – are creating artificial aliens in the basement. THIS IS ABSOLUTE POPPYCOCK. WHAT TOTAL CODSWALLOP!  THIS MAN IS  A TOTAL LIAR!!  How the blue blazes they are managing this when, like many organisations these days, they are currently constantly battling Austerity and government cuts I do not know!! I would find it laughable, if I didn’t see that so many people seem to believe this sad, angry, ranting old man and his absolutely outrageous falsehoods* [see below, in The Liar section, for more ranting from me about this silly, irresponsible man] . I’ve been following this lot for the past few months, and I think a good sitcom could be made about them, called ‘The Ufologists’. It would be very dark comedy though.   They are not interested in having rational discussions about this subject, they want to berate you until you submit and tell them how wonderful they are.  I accept that what I’ve written here is controversial, and I will probably now get death threats from this lot. I had bettego into hiding I suppose.

Meanwhile, next question

(34) I believe in the ability to visit the After Life during a period of unconsciousness. Interesting question. I do actually think we might be able to access other periods of consciousness when we are asleep, although, it has to be said, some dreams are just memories embedded in our brains. But the whole Astral Plain idea is very interesting and exciting, and I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

(35) Spilling salt is bad luck, and can be reversed by if salt is thrown over the left shoulder. No, although I have done it myself.

(36) I believe someone can put curses on others. We seem to have already covered this one. I’m pretty sure some people will TRY to put curses on others, but I believe it only works if you fall for their baloney.

(37) I believe in telepathic communication. I believe that people who are very close to one another, or who have known one another a long time, can think the same thoughts, or are able to sense what the other is thinking. Married couples, or close-knit siblings, for instance can often come out with the same things ahead of what the other is about to say. You can become very in-tune. There are also numerous cases of animals and pets able to sense things about their owners or about each other.

(38) The dead can get in touch with the living through a medium or during sleep. Quite possibly, although I think it requires a great deal of energy on their part and is not easy. I thought I sensed my late father trying to communicate with me when I was talking to a psychic medium once, soon after he died, but I simply can’t rule out the possibility that that might have been wishful thinking on my part.

(39) I believe in the existence of Hell. Only in the sense that we can create it for ourselves. Many mediums these days deny that there is such a place, and religion seems to have also disowned it. I don’t believe there is a place of Eternal Punishment. How on earth would it work? Forevermore?? For all eternity?? After a certain length of time you would adapt, you may even get used to it in fact. And the old eternal burning pit of fire stuff? How does that work? Once you’re burnt to a crisp, you’re burnt, how do you keep burning forever?? Someone once argued that in Hell, Hitler would be a cockroach being constantly stamped on by Jews. What on earth would that achieve? It would scarcely reform Hitler, change history for the better, or ensure it never happened again, or give him time to learn the error of his ways. And for the Jews, it would be at best be only a momentary satisfaction, and wouldn’t help them in any significant way. Frankly, it was a silly, puerile argument. I think a very troubled character may well take their problems with them when they pass over, and it may well take them time to work them out of their system. Which I assume is why so many priests over the centuries have urged people to “make peace” with themselves before passing over. But Hell as a place of eternal punishment? Where does the benevolent, forgiving God fit into that? No, I think Hell is a man-made artifice, and something we entirely create for ourselves. I once wrote a short story about Hell, called ‘The Other Place’ (you can find it in my ‘B-Road Incident’ collection), where the central character finally leaves Hell by simply walking out of it.

(40) I believe in miracles. No. Sometimes it’s just that things work out in a way that we can’t immediately see HOW it worked.

(41) I believe that the Bermuda Triangle is a source of danger for planes and ships. It’s a fascinating area, but probably no more dangerous than many other areas on Planet Earth.

(42) Naming a baby before it is born can bring it harm. This is a new one for me, and I think it’s absolute hogwash. This kind of superstitious rubbish belongs in the dustbin of history.

(43) I believe in destiny. To a certain extent, but not entirely.

(44) I believe in the existence of the Devil. Oh crikey, this is the sort of stuff that has fuelled endless debates over the centuries. It’s tempting to say “no”, but the trouble is, if you believe in a good, positive force in the Universe, then the trip-side is that there is a bad, negative force. Someone once argued that if the Devil doesn’t exist, then it means God is responsible for all the bad stuff too, and so is not the all-round good guy that we think he is, OR if the Devil does exist, then God isn’t as all-powerful as He claims. This is the sort of stuff that can do you head in. But it’s the old Ying and Yang thing. Positive and negative go together. Two sides of the same coin.

(45) By casting a spell, some people can influence another person’s destiny. No, Fate isn’t that bloody easy to manipulate! Dream on.

(46) Some people really have psychokinetic powers, and are able to move objects. No they can’t, although they’ll try their damndest to fool you that they can.

(47) Some fortune-tellers can see into the future. See my answer to Question 46.

(48) I believe in the conspiracy theory that world governments are hiding proof that aliens exist. No I don’t. I believe governments may be hiding some things that are top secret, but it’s usually to do with secret technology, the military trying out new aircraft/weapons, and governments may well even have been complicit in mass psychology tests against the populace, but hiding stuff about aliens? No, I think they’re as much in the dark as we are. With this kind of thing we really do credit our world governments with far too much efficiency and intelligence. I keep thinking these days that, if there is an Illuminati, they don’t know their arse from their elbow, and you wouldn’t trust them to do the washing-up competently, let alone organise anything.

(49) A black cat crossing your path brings bad luck. Rubbish. How on earth do owners of black cats cope then? There is a black cat knocking around our neighbourhood who I sometimes see wandering about. Can’t say he’s ever had a detrimental effect on me.

(50) When I want something, I take care not to jinx it. Only in the sense that I don’t believe in counting my chickens before they’re hatched, but that’s because I never take anything for granted. Probably a side-effect of losing my parents when I was young, I know Life can pull the rug out from under you. I’m always astonished when someone says “I never thought that would happen”.

(51) If something is meant to be it will happen. To a certain extent, some things do have a Fated feel to them. Likewise, if you try and actively force something to happen, then it can go awry, or Not Feel Right.  “It plainly wasn’t meant to be”, is a saying you often hear people use. 

(52) Some people are destined for greatness. Yes, I think some people do have a little something extra about them that probably marks them out in some way. Although likewise, some great people often had very unspectacular starts to life. Sir Winston Churchill, for instance, didn’t exactly shine at school.

(53) Some people are able to read other’s minds. I don’t know about reading minds, although I think if you pay close attention to people, or have a high empathy quality, you can get a shrewd idea of how they really feel about something.

(54) When a person is between life and death, their soul can leave the body and look down on themselves. Well this is a classic start to many NDE cases. How much truth in it though I absolutely have no idea.

(55) Faith can heal physical wounds and illnesses. Again, I think this is psychology. If you have an ailment, and a caring person does a sort of “laying on of hands”, then it can only help. (Likewise I find getting into a traditional prayer position can be incredibly relaxing, to the extent that it can feel as if some kind soul is straightening out my limbs out for me). I would never suggest substituting it for proper treatment though, but as a little extra it can do no harm. Positive thought can also help enormously, but it won’t cure entirely on its own.

(56) Thinking negative thoughts of someone or something can cause a tragedy to happen. No I don’t believe this. For instance, I’ve had some very dark thoughts about Tony Blair and Boris Johnson over the years (and I can’t believe I’m alone in that one), and yet the little buggers are still roaming about, being a gobby menace. I’ve also known some quite spectacularly annoying people whom I would have loved to make disappear, but nope, they are still around, being annoying.

(57) Those who disturb an ancient Egyptian tomb will be cursed. Well it makes a great story! But no, when you analyse these cases in detail, then the alleged curse seems to take a heck of a long time (like decades, in some cases) to work its magic. The Pharoahs should ask for their money back.

(58) There are certain people who are born with special powers. Is this any different to people who have a natural talent for some things? Astrology might come into play here, as I mentioned in an earlier answer.

(59) I believe aliens have landed on Earth before / will do in the future. Quite possibly. If they had landed far into our past, we probably will never know about it. And as for the vast canvas of the future, who knows? Never say never. Let’s just hope they’re friendly.

(60) In one way or another, you will be punished for your wrongdoing. Not in any Biblical sense, no. Although if you consistently make mistakes or piss people off, then you are probably piling up trouble for yourself. I knew someone once who was consistently rotten to everybody in her life, even to the extent of driving her own husband to suicide. It was nothing but a relief when she herself departed this mortal coil. She wasn’t technically punished for anything she did, but she never really knew happiness of any kind, and as far as I know people’s lives improved when she went. She left a horrid memory in people’s minds (even her own father said he had no happy memories of her), and I wouldn’t wish that legacy on anyone.

(61) Some people experience real pre-cognition, prophecies or premonitions. Prophecies can be a bit of fun, but I think they have a spectacular failure rate. I do not believe the future is set in concrete, as I’ve said before Fate can be changed on the turn of a sixpence (to use an old phrase). The dire prophets of doom are probably just people who will see darkness round every corner, or have a political axe to grind. I have lost track now of how many times I’ve heard the world is ending, and these days it seems to be an obsession, particularly in the United States. And take a prophet like Nostradamus, his verses are often so obscure, that you can read just about any meaning into them that you choose. According to him, wasn’t the world supposed to end in July 1999 anyway? Old Mother Shipton went back even further, the world was supposed to end in 1981 or some such year. There is a very dangerous tendency these days to see the End Times in everything. I even watched someone on YouTube recently, talking about the current heatwave here in Blighty, and saying that the Sun is the wrong colour, and This Is A Sign. Normally if we get a heatwave here it is in August, when the Sun has lost some of its power, but right now (end June/beginning July) the Sun is at its strongest, so you’re getting more of a white heat than we’re normally used to here. But then what do I know? I only took a scientist’s word for that after all, and we all know they’re in the pay of the Illuminati (!) … gimme strength.

(62) We are meant to cross paths with certain people. Yes sometimes, it can feel like that. I do believe there is such a thing as a “karmic connection”.

(63) I believe in the Apocalypse or that the world will end, as predicted by some people. I really answered much of this in Question 61. The Apocalypse makes a great story. I have a weakness for reading apocalyptic fiction myself, but at the same time, I have great faith that this old World will keep on turning. Some things do disturb me, such as Donald Trump threatening War all over the place in the past year. I think we are going through a period of great change, and transitions can often be painful. Old systems are breaking down all over the place, and there is some fear as to what will take their place. But I don’t believe this is The End, in fact we may even at some point move forward into a better time, although it may not always be easy to see that at the moment.

(64) I believe some souls can’t rest until unfinished business is settled. That one is the staple of so many old ghost stories isn’t it! I do think if someone passes over before they are ready, or if they are concerned about someone or something they left behind, then their spirit can perhaps be restless. But I hope that, on the other side, souls are helped to come to terms with things.

(65) I avoid stepping on cracks in pavements. No. Silly question.

(66) I would be concerned about bad luck if my hotel room were on the 13th floor. Many hotels don’t have a 13th floor! I don’t think it would bother me unduly, nor would living in a house 13, although I once chatted with an estate-agent, who said a No.13 had bought a lot of bad luck for the people who lived there, which led him to wonder if there was something in it after all. Alternatively, the great Fanny Cradock had 13 as her lucky number! Back in 2013 I remember somebody intoning that it was probably going to be unlucky. It didn’t stand out as any more troublesome than other years. I would argue that 2011 and 2016 were more unlucky for many people. Personally, I hate the number ’73’ far more than 13. I really just don’t like it at all, to the point where, if I’m reading a print book, I will actually skim over that page. But having said that, I was once allocated a Room 73 in a hotel, and nothing awful or stressful happened to me. So there you go.

(67) People are in charge of their own Fate. I think ultimately much of your Life is down to you, although we are all of us at the mercy of random events, such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time when something terrible happens, like a terrorist attack for instance. That is out of our hands. But there is a lot you do have sway over, such as you DON’T have to put up with people who are causing you harm or misery, that sort of thing. Likewise, if you suddenly came into a significant sum of money, but blew it all on the horses, and lost it, then clearly that’s all down to you, not Fate taking a hand.

*THE LIAR

I don’t think I have ever been so angry with someone in the alternative culture community before, and I guess it’s because it’s got personal, and this is one case where I know for certain he is fibbing out of his backside.   The laboratory he rants about is a place I know well, let alone the people who work there.  It has been a part of my life since 1984 (the year, nothing to do with George Orwell).  This creepy, deluded man is spreading outright lies, but unfortunately he seems to have a significant following, otherwise I would just ignore him.  How the heck they are supposed to be building artificial aliens in the basement, when, because of Austerity, they’re currently battling broken lifts, fire doors sticking, and the loos flooding, I really don’t know!!

To add insult to injury, I found a YouTube video, made by one of his adoring chums (a sacked hospital porter, who still has the uniform hanging up behind him when he films his vids, even though, from what I can gather, he hasn’t done that job for several years now), where he got onto the lab’s campus, and tried to claim all sorts of secret skullduggery was afoot there, as if it was Britain’s answer to Area 51 or some such nonsense.   For crying out loud, man!   They build satellites to investigate planetary atmospheres, global temperatures, and space weather, such as CMEs.   In all my years of both working at that place, and being married to one of the scientists there, I have NEVER before come across even the vaguest whisker of a rumour about bloody aliens being built in the basement!  Never!!  FFS.

[And don’t get me started on the whole Super Soldiers nonsense, which dominates the Ufology/Truther movement these days to a quite ridiculous degree.  Frankly, if some of the sad, pathetic characters I’ve seen Online are really MKUltra-created Terminator-style Super Soldiers, as they claim, the rest of us have got absolutely nothing to worry about.  Fantasists, the lot of them].

Incidentally, the sacked hospital porter also once made a big song and dance about buying the Jordan Peterson book, even secretly filming himself going into bookshops in Oxford, to see if they would throw him out for asking for it.  He seemed to have an almost masochistic desire for this to happen.  Jeez, what world do guys like him live in!  I’ve even seen this book for sale in our local Sainsbury’s, so oh yeah, REALLY difficult to get hold of!  In total exasperation, I contacted him to say he could have saved himself a lot of time and money by simply downloading it to his Kindle from Amazon, where it is a bestseller.   In fairness, he did respond to me courteously, but I also got yet another member of the Daft Silly Men Club then joining in with some bizarre nudge-nudge wink-wink joke as a response.  I’m too old for this kind of school playground stuff, and if they really want to be taken seriously, then this isn’t the way to go about it.  But all too often, all this feels like an overgrown Boys Club, so it doesn’t surprise me.

Another member of this Boys Club has his own Online radio show, broadcasting any old conspiracy cobblers he can desperately glean from the days news, and interviewing all the other Conspiracy Lads in a sort of group therapy The End Of The World Is Nigh session, complete with man-hugs.  I’ve often said that the day he actually has a woman on there as a guest, I’ll probably fall off my chair in shock.

Please use your judgement when listening to these sort of guys.  They are absolutely obsessed with spreading Fear.   They should be pounding the pavements wearing sandwich boards with “Prepare To Meet Thy Doom” on. I don’t think they’ll ever be truly satisfied until the World does finally end!  They also seem to have a fixation that the entire World is united against them, and is involved in a conspiracy to hinder them.  They are convinced everyone is trying to silence them.  I’m almost tempted to say “if only that were true” …. But seriously, one ironic thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that all those constantly shouting that they are being Silenced, seem to be extremely noisy all the time.

I really don’t like generalising about people, but it is a startling fact that so many of this sort (although not outright exclusively) seem to be middle-aged men, pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, pro-Putin**.  It would be an interesting one for a psychologist as to why so many of them are so obsessed with conspiracy theories.   I would be genuinely interested in any serious analysis as to why this is.  It might help me understand them better.

**Their adoration of Russia seems to go beyond all reason, and is becoming increasingly puerile.  With all the recent events here in the UK regarding the terrifying nerve agent attacks in Wiltshire, these guys seem more obsessed with defending their great hero Putin, than in showing any concern for their fellow Brits.   And that is where I have finally lost it with them once and for all.

AND FINALLY …

If you’ve managed to read this far, then my heartiest congratulations, you have enormous staying-power! As I progressed with this questionnaire, it began to feel a bit like what some Ufologists grandly call their “mission statement”. As I said at the beginning, it was useful for me to focus on some subjects, and figure out how I really felt about them, and where I was coming from. I now feel like I want to give the Paranormal a rest for a little while, and focus on other things. I do believe that too much of this stuff simply is NOT healthy, and I think some of the current attitudes in the Paranormal/Truther community are pretty abhorrent. There is too much aggression and bullying going on, let alone, as I just said, some people are spreading Fear with hysterical, and irresponsible, abandon.   There are some very strange and disturbed people in this field, and none of it is healthy.  Frankly, it is all doing my head in.

SO I shall take a little break from it for the foreseeable future. If you have been reading my books and this blog, then I thank you wholeheartedly, and I hope you found it of interest. And I’m also blowing a big kiss to anyone who has ever taken the trouble to give me a positive review on Amazon. It’s much appreciated. Always keep questioning, but don’t let the fear-mongers grind you down. Kind regards, Sarah.  Over and out.

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Quite a few this month, so I shall try and make it as concise as I can … well that was the plan anyway.

The Marilyn Diaries by Charles Casillo

A fictionalised version of Marilyn Monroe’s secret diary, covering the last couple of years of her life, leading up to her untimely death in August 1962.

Musical Truths by Mark Devlin

The author is a DJ of many years standing, and here he presents a Conspiracy Theorists guide to the inside of the pop music industry over the past 50-60 years.   There were a number of problems with this book for me.  One is that it is written from a wholly Believer viewpoint.  Now that’s fair enough, it is his book after all, but it does mean some completely far-fetched conspiracies  – such as the one where Paul McCartney was allegedly bumped off in 1966 and replaced with a body double – are presented with very little sceptical insight.   The other is that very few of the cases presented here are anything new.  Some are hoary old Urban Legends that go back donkey’s years (the Sgt Pepper album cover for instance!), and I’ve already seen the more recent ones thoroughly covered by YouTubers like Mary40, so no great surprises.   Ultimately, I found it all a bit depressing.  I don’t rule out dark machinations behind the scenes in the music industry at all, we know it goes on, but if every element and development of pop culture over recent decades has been some kind of “Illuminati” plot, then we might as well all throw in the towel now.   He does make some interesting points, such as that hip hop has become much more dark and aggressive in the past 20 years, but how much of that could that be down to the state of the world?   Being an old fogey, I don’t know as much about that particular genre as the author, so I’ll leave it there.   There is a follow up, Musical Truths 2, which seems to cover the Acid House boom in the 1980s.

Conspiracies Declassified: The Skeptoid Guide To The Truth Behind The Theories by Brian Dunning

I was looking forward to this one.  I spend (probably far too much) time in Conspiracy Theory World, and I was interested to read a more balanced, debunking approach than we often get.   Unfortunately, I found it all a bit dull!  In order to cram as many conspiracies in as possible, each one is allocated one short chapter, which doesn’t give the author much room to really take apart each theory.   The problem with all this is that it won’t really change anybody’s thinking.  The skeptics will just nod their heads and go “yeah, that’s what I thought, load of old hooey”, and the Conspiracists will jump and down, and yell “but you haven’t mentioned such-and-such!”   I think the book would be useful as a starting-point to anyone very new to Conspiracy Theories, but I guess I was hoping for a more stimulating, and witty, read.   Also, some of it felt a bit naive.

Theda Bara: A Biography Of The Silent Screen Vamp by Ronald Ginini

Always good to find another study of Theda, Hollywood’s first sex symbol, who had almost her entire identity and history created for her by the studio.  She was publicised as some exotic woman of mystery, born in the shadow of the Sphinx, and her name was an anagram of “Arab Death”.  The truth was she was a simple Jewish girl from Cincinnati, called Theodosia Goodman. The era when she was at the height of her fame, which almost exactly coincided with the years of the First World War, is a particularly fascinating part of cinema history.   Any biographer though is hamstrung by the fact that very little of Theda’s prolific output remains, and so you’re reliant on plot synopses, and stills photographs.  I would love to have known a bit more about Theda’s personality.  For 5 years she enjoyed (endured?) a HUGE amount of fame and public adoration, but then it faded from her again with incredible speed.   The harsh, fickle world of show business I guess.  Partly that was down to changing tastes.  By 1919, the sultry, mysterious “Vamp” had had her day, and had no place in the emerging era of the bob-haired, short-skirted Jazz Baby flapper.   Theda was unable to adapt, largely down to the fact that by then she had become thoroughly stereotyped.   She was also well into her thirties, which would have been seen as positively aged in those days.  There are fleeting references that she had also become difficult to work with, and over-rated her importance, but to slightly misquote Sunset Boulevard, that level of public adoration was probably bound to do that.   A recommended read for anyone interested in the cinema of 100 years ago, and I do think it’s high time somebody made a biopic of Theda’s life.  As far as I know there’s never been one.

Whatever Happened To Mommie Dearest?  by John William Law

This little memoir of movie star Joan Crawford focuses on the part of Joan’s life which is often skimmed over by biographers, namely, her final films, from the late 1950s to the lamentable Trog in 1970.   I agree with the author that whilst Joan’s final movies weren’t exactly her best, they are fascinating, and I am particularly intrigued by the making of Trog in the summer of 1969.   I would love to set a story around this, but someone seems to have already done it (Peter Joseph Swanson: The Joan Crawford Monsters).

Fasten Your Seatbelts – The Passionate Life Of Bette Davis by Lawrence J Quirk

This seems to be a reissue, on Kindle, of a book which was published shortly after Bette’s death in 1989.  The author was a film critic of many years standing, and he interviewed some of the people who had worked with Bette.  As such, the book heavily focuses on Bette’s movies.  It was interesting, but I feel for a more fully-rounded study of Bette, you might be better off with James Spada’s More Than A Woman, or Ed Sikov’s biography of Bette, Dark Victory, which I am currently reading.

The Black Diary by Nick Redfern

This book covers 3 years, from 2014 to late summer 2017 in the life of Mr Redfern, chronicling all the strange events that happened to him after he published his books on the MIB, the Men In Black, and their lesser-known colleagues, the Women In Black.   To those who are not sure who these mysterious people are, they are black-clad sinister people who are reputed to turn up and harass anyone investigating the UFO phenomenon.   They are a particularly strange offshoot of the whole subject.  For me this was a book of two halves.  The first half was fascinating, and I did find myself getting genuinely spooked out by parts of it, probably not helped by the fact that I was often reading it late at night!  But then, in the second half, I found myself getting bored, as it all began to get a bit repetitive.   Also it’s hard in some instances not to feel that the author was making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill.  There is a problem that, when you start looking into these subjects, just about anything can start looking sinister, but you can’t really go around thinking every odd-looking person who walks near your house is something to do with the MIB, or that a picture falling off your wall, or a problem with your computer, is somehow connected as well.  That way madness lies.   But I do have a weakness for books written in a diary format, so I liked it for that reason, and – more importantly – I find the whole subject of MIBs/WIBs endlessly interesting.   It has to be said though I can do without reading about more of Mr Redfern’s Oldest Swinger In Town lifestyle.  The whole beers & punk rock, and visiting strip joints thing, got old a long time ago.  I get the impression he’s about my age, so it can all come across as a bit geriatric student and pathetic.   It also reinforces my current impression that the world of ufology has become nothing more than an ageing Boys Club.  Sorry and all that.

Death In Devon by Ian Sansom

The second instalment in the County Guides series.   Each book is a whodunnit, set in the late 1930s, and focusing on a different English county.   I suppose the writing was on the wall for me with the first one, set in Norfolk, when I actually gave up on it just as we were reaching the denouement, which is not exactly a good sign with a whodunnit!  And the same thing happened again with this one.  I steamed through about 150 pages, and then came to a shuddering stop, and found I couldn’t be bothered anymore.   I’m not sure what is the problem really.  Perhaps the characters are all a bit too arch and clever-dick for my tastes, and it becomes very hard to care about any of them.  Plus it all feels a bit gimmicky, with old photographs inserted which are meant to be of the people and places in the story.   I didn’t mind that to start with, but it started to annoy me.  That sort of thing is fine in a children’s book, but I prefer to envisage in my own mind what a character or a place looks like.  I don’t need help with it.  This one is set in a posh boys’ school in Devon, where all sorts of nefarious things are going on.  The problem is that there really isn’t much mystery here.  We are informed on the front cover, for crying out loud, that Satanism is involved, so it’s a bit hard to be puzzled by spooky teachers and mutilated animals!  Perhaps I should have finished it.  But I don’t think I will.   To coin an old cliche, Dame Agatha Christie would have done all this sort of thing so much better.

The Hopkins Manuscript by R C Sherriff

I did a separate blog piece about this classic 1939 sci-fi.  I enjoyed it very much, and it will stay with me for a long time to come.

The Priory by Dorothy Whipple

Another in the elegant Bloomsbury Books reissues.  The Priory weighs in at over 500 pages, and concerns the eccentric inhabitants of the beautiful, but crumbling Saunby Priory, which is situated somewhere in the Midlands.   There was a lot about this book I really liked, although it’s not a quick read by any means.  Dorothy Whipple’s strength is that you really grow to care about her characters.  In one scene someone goes for a showdown with another, and I found myself thinking “You go for it, girl!”  I felt the slap-bang And They All Lived Happily Ever After ending was a bit of a letdown though, but to be fair, at the time this was written, in the late 1930s, the author might have been under pressure to provide that.   The story ends in 1938 (it was published in 1939), so the Happy Ending leaves you with reservations anyway, knowing that the cosy future all the characters are looking forward to is simply not going to happen.   It was a book begging for a sequel I guess.

Sea Sick by Iain Rob Wright

This is the first in a zombie apocalypse trilogy called Ravaged World.  A police officer, Jack, is packed off on a Mediterranean cruise after suffering a nervous breakdown in the line of the duty.  Unfortunately he doesn’t exactly get the relaxing holiday he needs.  I thought at first that Sea Sick was just going to be about a zombie outbreak on a cruise ship – and that too would’ve been fine by me – but it becomes much more complicated than that, with Jack finding himself living the same day over and over again, in the style of Groundhog Day.   This is quite a difficult one to pull off, without it getting totally tedious, but the author manages it.   There are enough unexpected plot twists to keep you engrossed, although some of the secondary characters are a bit wafer-thin.   I think this would make a great film.

Happy reading.

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  • Comments Off on 100 QUESTIONS TO ASK ANYONE YOU WANT TO KNOW BETTER

Occasionally I’ve come across these little Online questionnaires, and they’re quite interesting. Although often they seemed to be aimed at American high school students, which can be a bit baffling if you’re (a) not American, or (b) far too old to be a high school student. They can be quite fun to do even if you know someone very well, as you might get some unexpected surprises in their answers, so worth trying out on someone! This is one of the better, more varied ones I’ve found. Anyway, here goes nothing, I’ll try and answer them as honestly as I can:

(1) Where do you consider home to be? Where I’m sitting right now.

(2) Do you believe in ghosts? Yes.

(3) Are you religious? I’m quite spiritual, and a Believer in that sense. I don’t have much time for Organised Religion though, or people who use their religion to bully others.

(4) If you could have dinner with any of the Presidents, who would you choose? Why? I’m not American, but I guess I would pick John F Kennedy. He seems the most extraordinary of them, and I could ask him what happened on that fateful November day.

(5) What’s your dream food? Anything with a tonne of whipped cream and fruit in it.

(6) Who is your role model? Why? I don’t have a role model to be honest, I feel too old for all that. Some people can be a positive influence, but ultimately you have to plough your own furrow in life.

(7) Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? Coke.

(8) Do you prefer Cheetos or Doritos? Cheesy Wotsits.

(9) Do you eat breakfast in the morning? Have a banana.

(10) When you go to the beach, do you swim or sunbathe more? Probably swim, I can get quite bored with sunbathing.

(11) Have you ever ridden a city bus before? Astonishingly, yes.

(12) Have you ever travelled out of the country? If so, where? Blimey, these questions really are aimed at Americans aren’t they. Yes. Ireland, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Italy, Greece, Ibiza, Switzerland, USA.

(13) If you got arrested, what do you think it would be for? The way things are going at the moment, probably protesting over something.

(14) What’s your favourite childhood memory? Summer holidays.

(15) What was your favourite song 2 years ago? What is it now? Cannot remember what I was listening to 2 years ago. These days I’m reliving my long-lost youth on YouTube, so a toss-up between Adam & the Ants: Place In The Country/Picasso, Slade: We’ll Bring The House Down (gets me right fired up that one), the Alessi Brothers: Oh Lori (very summery), and the Toy Dolls: Nellie The Elephant.

(16) What teacher have you had that’s made the biggest impact on your life? No one. I don’t have fond memories of teachers on the whole.

(17) Are you a cat person or a dog person? Dogs.

(18) What is a quote from any movie that you know off the top of your head? “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got in for me!” Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo.

(19) What are you most afraid of? Any kind of really debilitating illness.

(20) If superheroes were real, who would you want to protect your city? No idea.

(21) What’s the silliest reason you’ve ever cried? Probably over a song.

(22) If you could to be a character on any show what show would you choose? A female Sherlock Holmes, vintage version.

(23) You’re stuck on an island with no way of getting off and no one knows you’re there, what 3 items do you have with you? A comfy duvet, a sharp knife, a large box of matches.

(24) What’s the name of a song you know all the words to? Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

(25) Are you a sore loser? No I don’t think so, I hope not anyway.

(26) Do you sleep with your closet doors open or closed? Closed.

(27) Would you rather be attacked by a big bear or a swarm of bees? Not much of a choice is it, I’ll have the bear.

(28) What’s your biggest pet peeve? THOUGHTLESS BASTARDS WHO PARK ON PAVEMENTS! Don’t get me started on that one, I’m well triggered now.

(29) Where would you bury hidden treasure if you had some? Well I’m not telling you am I.

(30) Would you ever strip or pose nude for a photo or a movie? It’s about 30 years too late for that one! If some poor deluded soul was mad enough to offer me A LOT of money for it, then yes I might. They’d better invest in plenty of potted plants and cuddly toys to act as screening though.

(31) What has been your best Halloween costume this far? I had a vampire costume once. It must have been quite effective, as I was told I looked “really frightening” in it.

(32) Are you stubborn? Not generally, although if I think someone’s trying to emotionally blackmail me or coerce me into doing something I don’t want to do, I’ll dig my heels in.

(33) Do you sing in the car? It has been known.

(34) Do you take vitamins daily? Ssh, I take hemp-oil capsules …

(35) Have you ever cried because you were so happy? Yes.

(36) Can you swim without plugging your nose? I think so.

(37) Have you ever won a contest? Not that I can remember. Came runner-up in a fancy dress contest once, but that’s it.

(38) Do you want kids? How many? No.

(39) Are you missing anyone right now? No.

(40) Do you smile at strangers as you walk by them? Depends on the stranger! If someone smiles at me, I generally try to return the compliment.

(41) Do you think your life will change drastically before 2020? I really don’t like the sound of that word “drastically”! I hope any big changes are positive ones.

(42) How do you react when people talk badly about you? Depends what they’re saying. If I thought they were being unfair, or even downright lying, then I would find that hard to deal with.

(43) Where did you get the shirt you are currently wearing? I’m not wearing a shirt.

(44) What has been your favourite gift you’ve been given? It might sound boring, but my little Chrome laptop. It saved me from the absolute daily misery of having to use Microsoft bloody Windows. Being given my very first MP3 player was a godsend too.

(45) If you had to delete one year out of your life completely, which would you choose? 2016 is not a year I would ever choose to live again, but even that one had its good moments, so I wouldn’t delete it completely. Life is all experience, good and bad.

(46) What is your favourite thing about school? The fact that I left it back in 1981.

(47) Is there something that happened to you in your past that you hate talking about? Yes.

(48) Who was the last person you were on the phone with? Probably my husband.

(49) Do you get jealous easily? Not of other people’s achievements, unless I think they got it through dodgy means, or had it too easy. If someone tried to take my o/h away from me, I suspect my claws would come out.

(50) Is there anyone you have ever given up on? Do you regret it? Yes, and no I didn’t regret it, in fact I wish I had done it a lot earlier.

(51) What is something on your to-do list currently? Various plans for work.

(52) Are you over your past? As much as you can be COMPLETELY over it, yes.

(53) Are you afraid of dying? Only of it happening too soon. I don’t think anyone of us wants to go before we are ready.

(54) Are you afraid of change? Sudden change is always a bit disconcerting, but on the whole I hope I would rise to the challenge.

(55) Does commitment scare you? No.

(56) Were you picked on as a kid? Sometimes.

(57) What is one meal you know how to cook? Omelettes of various persuasions.

(58) How many pillows do you sleep with on your bed? One.

(59) What is one thing you love about yourself? I’m pretty tolerant and broad-minded on the whole.

(60) What is your biggest insecurity? Lack of formal education. It means I can’t shout “I have a degree y’know!” – like just about everyone else seems to do these days – when anyone tries to pick an argument with me.

(61) What is the title of your favourite book? I would find it very hard to pick one book out above all the rest, so I won’t bother. Patrick Hamilton’s ‘Hangover Square’ though really got under my skin when I first read it.

(62) When was the last time you felt lost? Do you mean emotionally or literally? I’ve found the last couple of years pretty bewildering on the whole, as though someone’s torn the map out of my hands, but I suspect a lot of people have felt like that.

(63) Do you cry when you are angry? I used to when I was younger, now I just get WILD.

(64) Are you excited about anything right now? There’s a lot of things planned in the next few months I’m quite excited about.

(65) Nike or Adidas? Oh bog off.

(66) What’s your comfort food? Chocolate.

(67) Where do you go when you want to be alone? My little office.

(68) Who do you call when you need a little pick-me-up? My husband.

(69) Do you cry during sad movies? Yes sometimes.

(70) What’s your guilty pleasure? See Question 66.

(71) You’re arranged in front of the TV, what are you watching? Either a job lot of ‘Plebs’, ‘Star Trek Voyager’ or ‘Coach Trip’.

(72) Do you have a nickname? Probably “old cloth-ears”, it seems to get said to me a lot.

(73) What would you eat every day if you could? A tender rare steak with blue cheese sauce. Wouldn’t be good for me though.

(74) Do you collect anything? Tempted to say books.

(75) If you could kiss someone right now, who would it be? The o/h.

(76) Are you a spender or a saver? A spender at heart, but I’ve got more careful as I’ve got older.

(77) Are you named after anyone? Rumour has it I was named after a character in a TV drama, but that TV drama must have long since vanished into the mists of time.

(78) If you could choose any person in the world to be president, who would you choose? Why? Sigh, another sodding American question. Dunno.

(79) Do you daydream? Yes, I call it Writing Planning.

(80) Do you know how to change a tyre? Sadly, no.

(81) Do you have a hidden talent? I don’t know about hidden, but I can knock up a pretty good sponge cake.

(82) Do you consider yourself artistic? Well I’m creative.

(83) What’s something you can’t live without? Air.

(84) Can you name all 50 states? Go away.

(85) Do you eat soup with a fork or a spoon? Are you being serious??!! A spoon, you div!

(86) Do you remember your dreams? Not always, but yes, sometimes. Even wrote a whole book about them.

(87) Are you superstitious? Not overly, but I am about some things. I won’t walk under ladders, and I really hate the number “73”, I really don’t like it at all.

(88) What’s one thing you would most like to change about the world? Where do you start! To have world leaders who weren’t completely consumed with their own ego’s would be a good beginning.

(89) What piece of advice would you give to the 10-year-old you? Don’t let anyone try to push you into a corner and silence you, and believe me, they will try.

(90) Have you ever broken the law? Yes.

(91) If you won the Lottery, what would you spend the money on? Depends what size of win it was, if it was a big amount, then a new house I expect.

(92) What was your favourite book as a child? Why? Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’. About characters living in a big tree, where different lands stopped at the top, and they got granted their wishes. What’s not to like?

(93) Do you snort when you laugh? It has been known.

(94) Are you a good dancer? It pains me to say it, but no I’m not.

(95) If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Invisibility.

(96) Do you believe in the death penalty? No.

(97) Are you happy, genuinely, consistently, happy? For someone who suffers from Anxiety, I think I do pretty damn well on the whole. Yes, mustn’t grumble, as the saying goes.

Um … I seem to have miscalculated there. Anyway, have a go at the questions yourself. It’s fun, and you might surprise yourself with your answers at times.

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This sci-fi tale, originally published on the eve of WW2, deserves to be much better known.  In fact, in my opinion it should be up there with the Greats.   It concerns an unassuming middle-aged ex-schoolmaster called Edgar Hopkins, who lives quietly in the Hampshire countryside, keeping poultry.  On a visit to his astronomical society in London he is informed of some very grave news.  The Moon has veered off course, and is heading on a collision path with Earth.

Yes, it has dated in some parts, particularly with the characterisation, but as it’s nearly 80 years old, that’s only to be expected.  His younger characters can be a bit bland and jolly hockey-sticks, but Edgar’s concerns for them would have been very relevant at the time it was written in 1939.  The portrayal of Edgar’s elderly aunt and uncle, who live entirely for pleasure, and don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation they’re in, was well-drawn.  Edgar himself is lovable, even if he can veer towards fussy pomposity sometimes.  It makes such a refreshing change to read an apocalyptic novel with such a down-to-earth character at the centre of it.  Frankly, these days if I read another modern day one featuring some boring American Rambo-esque know-it-all super-hero, armed to the teeth with guns, and wittering on about Saving His People, I shall scream.

I did find myself losing interest a bit in the second half of the novel, when it looked as though Civilisation was getting rebuilt, and everything was going to be hunky-dory again … but then I remembered the dark beginning, and knew all was not what it seemed.  Clearly something was going to go drastically wrong.   And it does.  I won’t give away any more spoilers, suffice it to say that it will stay with me for a long time.   There are moments of pure poetry in this story, particularly the scene in Trafalgar Square, when people look upwards and first notice something very odd about the Moon.  Likewise with the Eve Of Apocalypse moonlit village cricket match.   There is a moralistic vein to the story, but it’s certainly one we can all relate to these days, in that human greed and in-fighting amongst nations can wreck any chances of civilisation getting off its backside and focusing instead on what really needs to be done.

A sad, surreal and deeply profound story, with a very unsettling prophetic feel to it.

A curious phenomenon of modern times is the current craze for buying allegedly haunted objects Online. It’s only something I’ve become aware of in recent months, but it seems to have become quite a thing in the paranormal world, and I can’t help feeling it’s not very healthy.

Some people buy Haunted Mystery Boxes. I’ve watched a couple of unboxing videos on YouTube like this, and find it hard not to come to the conclusion that it is a total scam. All someone has to do is collect together a load of old tat – the sort of thing that your local bric-a-bac sale might reject for being rubbish – and then concoct a few dark stories around them, such as “an old lady vowed to curse anyone else who drank out of this, her favourite teacup”. Even if it’s not a scam, and there is some truth to it, then why on earth would you want such an object, riddled with negative vibes, in your home?

One object that often makes an appearance in these kind of videos is the Haunted Doll. I know some people really, really do not like dolls at all. In fact, they don’t even like being in the same room as one. Personally, they’ve never bothered me at all. I’ve always put the spooky effect they can have down to the glassy, staring eyes. It’s curious that it’s usually porcelain dolls that have this effect. I’ve never come across people freaking out at Barbie or Sindy dolls for instance, and there might well be cursed Barbie dolls out there, but I’ve never heard of one.

I have a vintage porcelain doll myself. She’s called Nina, and she’s been standing on the bookcase in my office for years. I can honestly say I have never felt any freaky vibes from her at all, although I have sometimes wondered why she’s dressed as a Victorian sex-worker (Nina will probably now take umbrage, and cause poltergeist activity to break out). Most of the time I forget she’s there, but I know some people would react to her presence quite badly.

Having seen a Haunted Doll video, I decided to have a look at the ones on eBay myself, and it was then that I finally understood why some people really don’t like dolls. Page after page of sinister, close-up shots of dolls faces can leave you feeling a bit “ooh crikey”, and that was even before I read the descriptions that came with them. It was like looking at glassy-eyed police mug-shots. The dolls were a mixed-bag. Some were reputed to come with positive vibes, but they seemed to be outnumbered by the cursed, demonic ones. It was impossible to tell from the faces alone which were the bad ones and which were the good ones. One that looked like a sweet Victorian doll with wavy blonde hair was reputed to be possessed of “demonic” energy. A Spanish flamenco doll with scary eyes (the eyes were blank, and had no orbs), was said to have “playful” energy. So, like books and their covers, you clearly shouldn’t judge a doll by its looks.

One seller, who specialised in haunted dolls, had a huge collection. Here is a small selection of some of the descriptions:

  • One doll, called Kelsey, used to live at a Scottish castle. She was kept in the dungeons there with the express purpose of frightening visitors. It seems she did this too well, as they wanted to get rid of her. Whilst she was in-situ, paranormal phenomena broke out. A ghostly woman was caught on CCTV at night. A security guard had nightmares about spiders and was also subjected to sleep paralysis (have had this myself, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone). An area manager was pushed down two flights of stairs. Although this was caught on CCTV, no one was seen standing behind him. Whilst waiting to be sold, Kelsey is kept inside a salt circle, which is probably just as well.
  • Another doll, with black plaits, was fine with women, but seemed to hate men. The husband of the doll owner reported seeing a ghostly old hag in a doorway, and dreamt about banshees.
  • A black doll, dressed in what seems to be some kind of African tribal costume with a grass skirt, is reputed to have a “nasty” vibe to her. She was presented to the seller with her arms and legs bound. When the seller asked why this was so, the person presenting it to her said “untie them and you will see”. I remember hearing a few years ago that vintage black dolls are hugely sought after by collectors, as they are quite rare, so perhaps a brave collector would like to snap this one up.
  • Poltergeist activity seems to be par for the course with many of the dolls. Owners have reported having plates broken, a washing-machine flooded, doors slamming, lights flickering at 3 AM, and one owner’s son was drawing strange, shadowy figures on his sketch-pad.
  • Another seller had an extremely menacing-looking doll listed called “Veronica”. With her ghostly, pale white skin, huge dark eyes and slightly predatory expression, Veronica looks the stuff of nightmares. The seller added the comment “you will not be disappointed”. Why, is Veronica going to approach you in the night with her arms outstretched and a demoniacal leer on her face? Or crawl out of the TV like the girl in Ring?

Frankly, after looking at this lot I doubt I will ever tolerate having another doll in the house! But what about the positive energy ones, you may well ask? They are usually advertised as “needing a loving home”, and the description of one of them credited the doll with bringing you good fortune. “She likes to sit in the sunlight, so put her on the windowsill ….” STOP!! Now look, I find living human beings quite demanding enough these days, without having to pander to the wishes of a porcelain doll!

Haunted dolls have also become tabloid fodder, with stories of such objects wrecking havoc in homes across the country. One woman though said she loved collecting them, and was now dedicating her life to helping the souls of spirits trapped inside the dolls. I feel the same about them as I do the Haunted Mystery Boxes I mentioned earlier. If it’s all fake, then it’s a scam, pure and simple. If you buy one of these boxes you will just be left with a load of worthless, dust-collecting trash cluttering up your house, of no sentimental, aesthetic or monetary value. If there is truth in it, then God knows what vibes and energies you will be recklessly attracting. I think this is one craze I will be glad to see the back of.

Lately I’ve enjoyed the way some BookTubers on YouTube do a monthly round-up of what they’ve been reading, so I thought I’d have a go at doing the same in blog form.  I’ve not done an Amazon-style star rating, as I think books aren’t always easy to categorise in that way.  A bad book for instance may well have enough about it to keep you reading to the end, so in that sense it has succeeded.  So here is my books round-up for May 2018, a bit of a mixed-bag really (nothing new there):

The Curse Of Ah-Qal’s Tomb by Amy Cross

Amy Cross is an extraordinarily prolific author, and this month she added to her output by reissuing some books from a few years ago which were new to me, including this one.  The problem with an author as busy as Ms Cross is that she can be a bit uneven.  When she is good, she is one of the most imaginative authors around, but on a bad day her attention to detail can slip drastically, and she also descends into cartoon-ish violence, such as characters having limbs hacked off, or being disembowelled, and yet somehow still managing to fully function!   Ah-Qual’s Tomb is one I thoroughly enjoyed, simply because it was different to her usual locales, which tend to focus around hospitals, grim London streets, or vampires.  A small party of archaeologists are in the South American jungle, looking for an ancient pyramid, which comes complete with a curse.   I found this both creepy and a page-turner, and it was like harking back to the Golden Age of pulp fiction, such as the stories of Seabury Quinn (which I hope to review soon).   It is unpretentious adventure horror.  Some modern authors would make a right meal out of this scenario, but Cross just gets on with it.   Soon after this I tried reading The Haunting Of Hardstone Jail, another Cross re-issue.  I managed about 50% of it, but I was starting to find it too depressing and repetitive, so I gave up.   Also the ghostly little girl at the centre of the story, far from being frightening, just became intensely tedious.   I got fed up to to the back teeth with her constantly appearing in the corners of rooms, like the 2001 monolith, and staring at people.   And some of it was just too far-fetched.  OK, you expect that with an Amy Cross book, but are we really meant to believe that a little girl managed to single-handedly slaughter the entire occupants of a women’s prison??  Perhaps I’ll go back to it at some point.  The Dead Souls series – 12 books in all – has also been reissued in its entirety.  I love reading about the island of Thaxos, although these stories can also bring out the pedant in me.   I picked up the series again in Book 7, Cursed Across Time, where Kate has been thrown back to 1918.  This is an interesting idea, but I found myself having to rein back my pedantic urges (a bit like Dr Strangelove’s arm really), when she refers to duvets on the bed, and a Greek shop-owner a hundred years ago using expressions like “goddamn”.   And that’s one thing that bugs me about Thaxos beyond all reason, is why there are so many on this island who all seem to have British names, and talk in modern Americanisms.  BUT, if you like gothic horror complete with vampires and werewolves, then these should be up your street.  I’ve already asked on my Amazon review page if she can release the final part in the Broken trilogy, but I’ll repeat it here.  You never know.

My Fifteen Lost Years by Florence Maybrick

I actually read this in April, but let’s not be too pedantic here.  Florence Maybrick was the wife of James Maybrick (and a possible, if somewhat far-fetched, contender for Jack The Ripper), a prosperous Liverpool businessman at the end of the 19th century.  She was convicted of poisoning him with arsenic, and sentenced to death.  Only a few hours before her execution, she was reprieved and given a life sentence instead.   She served 15 years before being released.  This is an economical account of her time in jail, much of it spent in solitary confinement.   It is a fascinating insight into life in a women’s prison at the turn of the 20th century.  Grim stuff, and you do end up marvelling at how the human spirit can survive even the most soul-destroying of environments.

Everything To Lose Diaries 1945-1960 by Frances Partridge

Frances Partridge was one of the bohemian Bloomsbury set in the first half of the 20th century.   This volume of diaries starts in May 1945, soon after VE Day.  This is an era of British history which fascinates me, so I was keen to read another diary set in it.  At first I enjoyed it, but then, as the years rolled on, I found it increasingly gloomy, self-indulgent, and lacking in much light relief.   I found it very hard to relate to these comfortably-off chattering classes and their constant dour attitude, and I abandoned it around the 1953 mark.  This is a great pity, as I was expecting to enjoy it more than I did.

The Slenderman Mysteries: An Internet Urban Legend Comes To Life by Nick Redfern

I’ve read several of Mr Redfern’s books over the years.  Some of them work for me, and I find them fascinating, such as FINAL EVENTS and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife, (which was very satisfyingly weird) and others … not so much.   This one falls into the second category.  To be fair though, the Slenderman is not a subject that interests me terribly much, I mainly bought it because it was by Redfern and I wanted to see what he had to say about it.  But in all honesty, I think this topic was a struggle to build an entire book around.   I was intrigued by the idea of a tulpa, a thought-form, being generated via the Internet, but I keep coming back to the fact that this sort of hysteria is nothing new and predates the Internet by quite a bit (as he writes, to be fair).  One example is the Gorbals Vampire of the 1950s, which I’ve written about on this blog.  That one was group hysteria whipped up by kids reading horror comics.   The CreepyPasta stories of cyberspace are just the modern-day version.   He  does also cover stories from other eras, such as the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, and there is some interesting stuff on the Parker and Hulme murder case in New Zealand (which was the subject of the Heavenly Creatures film), but frankly I am absolutely bored to death with tales of the Mothman, and I would be happy never to hear about it again.  So all in all, it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed, but it certainly won’t stop me buying his books in the future.

Marilyn Revealed: The Ambitious Life Of An American Icon by Ted Schwarz

This book has had a bit of a drubbing on Amazon, and it’s easy to see why.  Mr Schwarz is clearly not a fan of the lovely Marilyn Monroe, and at times is extremely hard on her, calling her a “slut” for instance.  I’ve been a fan of Marilyn for as long as I can remember, but I found it interesting to get a critical analysis of her.  Frankly, I think her legend can survive it.  I do take issue with him when he dismisses her as just another dumb blonde.  This isn’t true.  Even directors who had a traumatic time working with her, acknowledge that she was a gifted comedienne.   Watch the Running Wild clip from Some Like It Hot, that wasn’t just some pouting sex-bomb at work.  She had a real sense of the mischievous scamp about her.  I did actually welcome getting a different viewpoint on her.  Too many recent authors have had a tendency to go down the plaster saint route.  (The same goes for ones who write about Princess Diana).  I don’t think we do anyone any favours – living or dead – by trying to turn them into saints.   The negatives make them human, along with the positives.  I think Schwarz is absolutely right to point out how much harm Marilyn had done to her own body towards the end, although I’m more inclined to think her death was more a tragic accident (that troublesome enema possibly carried out by Marilyn’s eerie housekeeper, Eunice Murray) than suicide or murder.   I recently saw a photo taken of her a few months before she died, where she is posing wearing only a large necklace.  She had lost a considerable amount of weight for Something’s Got To Give, and her face has a distinctly ghostly aura to it.   Sadly, this was someone who simply wasn’t well.  She still exerts a strong fascination for many of us, more than 50 years since her death.  It would be nice in future to either get a biography of her that didn’t take out a hatchet on her, OR try and canonise her.

Who Is Meghan Markle by Christopher D Spivey

I have no idea why I keep buying Chris Spivey’s books as he never seems to make any sense to me, but something about him keeps drawing me back.  Spivey is an extreme conspiracy theorist.  He writes in a ranting, stream-of-consciousness way, which veers off into wild tangents, and splatters his writing with sweary abuse at anyone who can’t see his point of view.   I’m never entirely sure what point he is trying to make sometimes, other than that possibly Nobody Famous Is Real.  Yes you read that right.  They are all masquerading as each other, or made up personalities.   I thought his book about Theresa May – Walk Like A Man – was an absolute hoot, but some of his others, such as his lengthy analysis of the Westminster Bridge attack, left me feeling “you what? meh”.   I must have downloaded this one as a desperate antidote to all the tiresome and hugely oppressive Royal Wedding guff.  Seeing it was over 700 pages long, I thought I would at least be getting value for money, but huge parts of the book are padded out with low-quality photographs, which seem to usually consist of  two people’s faces splurged together to try and prove how None Of What They Are Telling You Is Real, interspersed with the odd paragraph from Mr Spivey, often saying “you want more?  Course you fucking do”.  By the end of it I was still at a loss as to what point he was trying to make about Meghan, other than that, like everybody else it seems, she isn’t who we’re told she is.  This is a shame, as I actually think he might have some interesting points to make, particularly regarding the whole Fake News phenomenon … if only he would stop ranting long enough to tell us clearly what they are.

Lady Killers – Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer

An enjoyable tour of some of the most notorious women to emerge over the centuries.   I’m more interested in the ones from centuries back than more recent ones, and I liked her chapter on Darya Saltykova, whom I’ve written about myself on here, and she gives some fascinating looks at the unreal world of the 18th century Russian nobility and their serfs.  There is also a chapter on Erzsebet Bathory, the Blood Countess, including some information which was new to me, such as that when the Countess’s final resting-place was investigated, centuries later, no remains were found!  Mm, now that’s intriguing.

Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple

It took me a couple of goes to get into this, as I initially found the characters a bit too prim and 1950s middle-class, but perseverance paid off.   The comfy existence of the North family is threatened by the arrival of Louise, a narcissistic young French woman, who is hired to work as a companion to Amery North’s elderly mother.   It’s safe to say that nothing is ever the same again, and the painful break-up of Amery and Ellen’s marriage is done superbly well.  There are also intriguing insights into the austere, ration book life of early 1950s England, such as Ellen’s joy when a local grocer lets her have a box of Custard Creams!  Dorothy Whipple has a new fan in me.  This is one from the Persephone Books collection.  They are a small publishing-house who specialise in 20th century books by female authors (and some male) who have now largely vanished into obscurity.   The books are distinguished by their elegant pearl grey covers, and are very collectable.

Happy reading.  See you in June.

 

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Mary Blandy has the dubious honour of being Henley-on-Thames’s most famous ghost.   She was a well-to-do woman in the 18th century who was hanged for poisoning her father with arsenic.   Since then her ghost seems to have incurred a number of spectral legends in and around the affluent Oxfordshire town.

Mary was born in 1720, the daughter of Francis Blandy, a wealthy lawyer.  She was his only child, and the apple of his eye.  Mary was well-educated, and respected in her neighbourhood.   Unfortunately, due to having been left scarred by an attack of smallpox, Mary was no beauty, but Francis let it be known that he had settled a dowry of £10,000 on her (a huge sum in those days).    Not surprisingly, the wolves soon came sniffing around, and Francis had unwittingly sealed his doom.

It is said that, on a trip to the fashionable spa town of Bath with her parents in 1746, Mary made the acquaintance of one Captain William Henry Cranstoun, the son of a Scottish nobleman.   The two hit it off, and for about a year, Captain Cranstoun even moved in with the Blandys, but things soon proved to be complicated.  It turned out that William already had a wife, Anne Murray, up in Scotland, who had had a son by him.  William kept making return trips to Scotland, stressing to Mary’s father  that he was making great efforts to get his marriage annulled.   Francis though was sceptical about this, and looked as if he was getting cold feet about the whole arrangement.

What happened next is a matter of some conjecture, but Mary claimed that William sent her a powder, saying it was a “love philtre”, and that if she slipped it into Francis’s food he would soon come round and be amenable to them.   Whether Mary really believed this fanciful tale is still open to debate, but she put the powder into her father’s tea and gruel.   Francis became ill, and so did some of the servants, who tasted it too.   When it became clear that Francis was dying he called for Mary, and gave her his forgiveness.   It was unlikely everyone else was going to be quite so forgiving though.

Wen Francis died on 14 August 1751, a local doctor advised Mary that she could be held responsible.  Mary immediately burnt all Cranstoun’s letters, and tried to dispose of the incriminating powder by chucking it on the fire.  Unfortunately (for Mary that is), a housemaid, Susan Gunnell, was quick off the mark, and snatched some of the powder from the embers.  It was sent to a chemist for analysis.   Perhaps, to no surprise to anyone, the powder turned out to be arsenic.

Mary was put under house arrest and confined in her room.  Somehow though she managed to get out and brazenly went for a saunter around Henley, where she was greeted with some considerable hostility by the locals.  So much so that they chased her across Henley Bridge and into Berkshire, where Mary took refuge with her friend, Mrs Davis, who was landlady of the Little Angel Inn at Remenham.

Meanwhile Captain Cranstoun was doing some fleeing of his own.  He managed to escape to France, and eventually wound up in Belgium, where he died, penniless, and suffering from an intestinal ailment, several months later.

Mary was carted off to Oxford Castle Gaol to await trial.   Her story had become a considerable ’cause celebre’, and her trial was to become famous for being the first time that forensic examination of arsenic – by Dr Anthony Addington – was to be used.   The trial opened at 8 AM on 3 March 1752, and lasted one whole day.   The audience was mainly made up of excitable students from the university, and Mary reportedly defended herself with intelligence, saying she had put the powder in her father’s food, but she had had no idea it was arsenic.   She tried to paint herself as the innocent wronged woman, issuing the rallying-cry “what woman can withstand the arguments and persuasions men will make for us?”  But the Court was having none of it.  By 9 o’clock that night Mary had been granted a date with the hangman.

On her return to Oxford Castle Gaol, Mary was greeted by the jailer’s family, who were upset on her behalf, as they had become charmed by their now famous inmate.  Mary though seemed unperturbed by her fate, and brusquely told them “don’t mind it”, and then announced she was hungry and wanted a speedy supper.  She dined heartily off mutton chops and apple pie.   Whilst in jail Mary had been informed that her father had left only £4000 in his Will, so the infamous £10,000 dowry – the cause of all the trouble – wouldn’t have materialised anyway.

There is some speculation as to exactly where Mary met her death.  Some say she was hanged in the courtyard of Oxford Castle (which to me seems the most logical place), or in what is now the site of the Westgate Shopping Centre.   Wherever it was, Mary walked out to her doom on the morning of Easter Monday, 6 April 1752.   She was wearing “a black crepe sack”, and her arms and hands were bound with black ribbons.   As she ascended the ladder to the noose, Mary noticed that some spectators in the crowd were trying to look up her skirts.  She uttered the legendary phrase “for the sake of decency gentlemen, don’t hang me high”.

It is said that throughout the execution had blackbird had perched on the crossbar of the gallows, and that no blackbird ever perched there afterwards.

If the people of Henley-on-Thames thought that was to be the last of Mary though, they were to be mistaken.  Reports of her spectral presence in the area have lasted down the years.  On one occasion it is thought that she objected to a play about her, which was being put on at the local Kenton Theatre, and indulged in some petulant glass-smashing.   She is also thought to have haunted the Little Angel Inn, as well as the Catherine Wheel pub, and ghost walks have been held in her honour in the area.   She has also been reputed to haunt Oxford Castle and the Westgate Shopping Centre (goodness knows what she makes of that).

Mary has been in the news as recently as 2011, when her former home, Park Place, was bought for a staggering £140 million by a Russian oligarch.   It was the highest sum ever paid for a house in Britain.   I wonder if Mary came as part of the package …

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