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‘Gunning’ for Trouble

June 19, 2015

Introduction

Urban Myths are like the undead. No matter how hard you try to kill them off, they have an uncanny knack of resurrecting themselves in order to ‘infect’ new victims with dubious tales of false danger or absurd situations; stories that fall apart like a cheap watch when you apply even the smallest amount of critical thinking to them. The following is an article that I have published many times before, in various on-line journals and social media sites, in the vain hope that this particular urban myth will eventually receive the ultimate ‘headshot’ and finally rest in eternal peace.  So, once again, let’s take aim and fire…


urban_myth_radarLast week, whilst spending time with work colleagues at a local watering hole of the beer variety, I was amused and saddened in equal measure to hear an oft-repeated tale, concerning two Scottish traffic patrol officers, a hand-held radar gun and a Tornado jet fighter, relayed to me as though it had only happened a few days before. The story goes like this:
Whilst checking for speeding motorists on the A1 road between Oldhamstocks and Grantshouse (in Scotland), a North Berwick traffic patrol officer aimed his hand held radar gun at an approaching vehicle. Naturally, he was a bit surprised to find that the oncoming car was registering a speed of more than 300 miles per hour. He was about to attempt a second reading when the gun suddenly seized up and refused all attempts to be reset.

Instead of clocking the speed of a passing car, the officer had unwittingly latched on to a NATO Tornado aircraft over the North Sea, which was taking part in a low-flying exercise over the area. His colleague quickly realised what had happened and pointed out the high-speed aircraft, which was now making an impressive banking manoeuvre out to sea.

Tornado Jet Fighter

Tornado Jet Fighter

Declaring the radar gun to be totalled, the officers headed back to base to report what had happened. As the gun cost over £5000, the Chief Constable of the Lothian & Borders Police force sent a letter of complaint to the RAF. It was only when they received a reply that the officers realised they had had a very lucky escape indeed.

The RAF revealed that the tactical computer on board the aircraft had not only detected and jammed the “hostile” radar source, but had also automatically armed an air-to-ground missile in order to ‘knock out’ the source of the radar signal. Luckily for the police officers, the pilot spotted that a missile had just armed itself and managed to override the automatic system just in time before the missile launched itself. Phew!

As stories go, this is an interesting one, but on this occasion it is one that I personally consigned to the Urban Myth bin the first time I heard, it back in 1999, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, police hand-held radar devices are relatively weak. If they were high powered then the police would be in serious danger of frying themselves, and any passing motorists, with high-frequency radiation. In addition, police radar guns do not have much of a range, about a mile or so at the most. This is because the police officer needs to be able to see the vehicle (s)he is pointing the gun at in order to obtain a speed reading.

Every Radar device has its own unique characteristics, which fighter aircraft onboard systems have been programmed to recognise, ie the difference between the ‘lock on’ signatures from various air to air missiles etc, so that the pilot has some idea of what has been detected. It would be very unfortunate to have a police radar signature programmed in there as well, under the aircraft’s ‘threat list’.

Also, radar is in extensive use all around the world. For instance, there are ground based weather radar installations and Airport ground approach units dotted all over the UK, each of which pump out far more power than several thousand hand-held radar guns put together, so it would be extremely unlikely that the signal from a police radar gun would even register on an aircraft’s systems in the first place, as the feeble signal would be utterly swamped.

Finally, the automatic systems on modern fighter aircraft would not allow a weapon to automatically arm and fire itself. Human intervention is required at all times, especially in peacetime, as any pilot would have to have express permission from their superiors before firing at an ‘enemy position’. If not, then imagine how many conflicts would have been started by trigger happy pilots.

So, once again, the gist of all of this is: don’t believe all you hear, especially just after last orders in a pub. However, if you ever pass a burning squad car on a Scottish coastal road, please let me know.

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Dark Lines & Black Beams in the Sky

June 18, 2015
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Dark Lines in the Sky over Liverpool 15/06/2015. Photo © Planet Preternatural

A few days ago I spotted some unusual dark lines criss-crossing the sky over my home town in Liverpool. Since I have never personally seen this particular phenomenon before, I took a few pictures.

I say, never personally seen, which is correct, but I have seen plenty of examples of this very phenomenon on numerous websites around the World.  On a few of those sites, it is stated that these dark lines are part of a sinister government plot to either modify the weather or reduce the human population –  AKA the conspiracy theory of ‘Chemtrails’. This brief article is not a discussion about whether or not there is any truth to Chemtrails. It is about unpicking elements of the known and removing them from the mystery altogether.

Dark Lines

When sufficiently high in the sky, the light from the Sun or the full Moon can cause shadows from aircraft trails to be cast upon low level thin cloud cover, which can then be seen by observers on the ground as dark lines that appear to be ‘painted’ onto the clouds. Sometimes shadow aircraft can also be seen scurrying across low-level cloud banks, which on rare occasions have been reported as UFOs.

On some occasions it will appear that a dark line is casting itself onto a clear blue sky, like in this photo here:

Taken by Mike Weight from Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida,August 2013

Taken by Mike Weight from Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida, August 2013

but on closer inspection you will be able to see low-level haze in the atmosphere that is fairly translucent but still coherent enough to cast a shadow upon. Which brings us to…

Black Beams

High altitude jet following a 'black beam' in the sky, London 03/06/2013. Photo © Planet preternatural

High altitude jet following a ‘black beam’ in the sky, London 03/06/2013. Photo © Planet preternatural

On rare occasions, when a series of factors coincide, the shadows are cast in front of the aircraft which, when observed from the ground, makes it seem like the aircraft is following a ‘black beam’ that has mysteriously been projected across the sky. Chemtrail conspiracy theorists claim that this ‘Black Beam’ is some kind of covert particle weapon technology and is conclusive proof that something sinister is going on. But what is actually being seen is something completely natural that has a very simple explanation.

Sometimes factors combine to project aircraft trail shadows in front of the path of the Aircraft. Diagram © Planet Preternatural.

Sometimes factors combine to project aircraft trail shadows in front of the path of the aircraft. Diagram © Planet Preternatural.

When the sun is low in the sky, the trail from a high altitude aircraft flying away from the sun will cast a shadow in its direction of travel. An observer who is in the right place on the ground will see a dark line seemingly projected out in front of the path of the aircraft. Although the sky appears to be cloud free, low-level haze is present allowing the shadow to be visible. As the aircraft flies, the trail it leaves in the sky appears to replace the black line exactly, but in reality the aircraft is much higher than the black line shadow. The illusion that the black line and the aircraft trail are at the same height is caused by the position on the ground the observer is in relation to the trail and also the translucence of the haze.  Because the aircraft trail is much denser and reflective than the flimsy haze (and remembering that a shadow is only as solid as the surface it is cast upon), the brighter trail effectively makes the shadow ‘disappear’ as it travels across the sky.

And that, in a nutshell, is the truth behind ‘Black Beams’ and ‘Dark Lines’ in the sky. So whatever the truth is about ‘Chemtrails’, at least we can now safely say that some of the ‘weird effects’ that are associated with them are not as sinister as first thought.

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Ghost Photo Apps – Good or Bad for Paranormal Investigation?

May 18, 2014

In all walks of life, technology is changing the way that we do things. This is especially true within the field of paranormal investigation. However, technology can be a bit of a double edged sword, particularly when considering the recent technological advances made in the development of the camera. On the plus side, digital cameras have allowed us to have more or less instant access to our photographs (long gone are the days/weeks of waiting to have your shots developed and printed). Thanks to digital camera technology, we are now able to view our shots almost immediately.  However, because of the way that digital cameras capture and store images, and how they can subsequently be altered, it has made the art of creating fake photographs much easier to achieve. With advances in the power/abilities of photo manipulation software, almost anyone can now make passable fakes with very little technical know how required. With the arrival of Smart Phones, and more importantly Ghost Photo Apps, making fake ‘ghostly’ images has become far simpler than ever before. There are now literally dozens of Ghost Photo Apps ‘out there’ that can insert ‘ghosts’ into your images literally by the touch of a button.

I was fortunate enough to try out one of the first Ghost Photo Apps (if not the first ever!) called ‘Ghost Capture’ (Created by: GDE Film, LLC) shortly after it had been launched in 2010. It contained around 40 different ‘ghost’ images that you were able to insert into your own photos. It allowed you to rotate/orient the ‘ghosts’, adjust their size and transparency in order to make them look more convincing.  I remember thinking at the time that this was going to generate  a whole heap of trouble for serious investigators, and it wasn’t too long before I began to see ‘Ghost Capture’ photos being passed off as the ‘real deal’.  In fact, less than a month after I had seen a demo of the app, the following photo appeared in both the Sun and Daily Mail.

Hull School Ghost Hoax Picture

Hull School Ghost Hoax Picture

The 'Ghost' in question, provided by the iPhone App ‘Ghost Capture’, created by: GDE Film, LLC

The ‘Ghost’ in question, provided by the iPhone App ‘Ghost Capture’, created by: GDE Film, LLC

The back story that accompanied the picture sounded quite convincing. Hull based construction worker, John Fores, was demolishing an old school when he hastily took a picture of the work in progress. According to the newspapers, it was not until John got back home that he spotted the spooky apparition of a translucent boy dressed in old fashioned clothing on the photo. Instantly I recognised the ‘spook’ as one of the ‘ghosts’ available in the app I had seen demonstrated. I, along with dozens of other investigators it seems, contacted the newspapers to let them know that they had been duped, but they never ran a follow up to correct the story. The old adage, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ seemed to be very much in force with the tabloids that week.

Over the subsequent months I saw hundreds of ‘Ghost Capture’ photos being posted all over the internet (in particular on social media), with most being passed off as pictures taken by a ‘friend of a friend’. Initially, these pictures were accepted at face value by many, and detractors like myself were given a rough ride for daring to say that these pictures were fakes. However, more Ghost apps soon flooded the market and paranormal enthusiasts eventually began to get wise to the situation.

With each new release of a Ghost Photo App, there tends to be an initial rash of ‘spooky images’ being posted everywhere, usually accompanied by at least one image appearing in a national newspaper. The most recent publication to fall foul of a Ghost Photo App hoax picture was the Daily Mirror who last April (2014) ran a picture taken at York Castle which contained the image of a Victorian Girl. The image had been generated by a fairly new app called ‘Ghost Prank’ produced by Softonic.eu

At first, I admit that I was seriously pissed off with these hoaxes, as I was being sent dozens every month to assess, which was becoming very time consuming to check out and reply to the senders. But after a while I realised that hoax detection was a good thing. It was keeping investigators more alert and necessitated that we kept our knowledge up to date. In addition, I have developed many new techniques in analysis /scrutiny that I probably wouldn’t have done if these apps had not existed. So in the end, fakes are good for investigators.

In fact, the more Ghost App fakes that we see, the easier it gets to spot them.  Each app has a limited palate of ghost images, so after a while, especially if you spend a little time dipping into on-line ghost enthusiast groups pages, you will get to recognise most of the repeat offenders.

But fake detection is only part of the task for a paranormal investigator. We also have a responsibility to educate and to treat others with respect. It is very easy to denounce a fake and call the individual who posted the picture a fraudster, but it is important to remember that due to the viral nature of some postings, a fake image can be spread far and wide very quickly. Therefore, the person who posted it for your attention might have seriously believed that it was genuine. Instead of shouting ‘hoax’ and calling the poster a fraud, try to act more professionally and give the person the benefit of the doubt. Firstly, if it is a hoax, it is your responsibility to clearly demonstrate this to the person who posted the pic.  This can be done by either finding out which app is responsible for the picture and posting a screen dump of the bogus ‘ghost’, or alternatively, searching for other examples of the same ‘ghost’ appearing on other photos. If you have been sent the picture direct (ie not via social media sites), chances are that the EXIF information in the picture will still be intact and the name of the app used to insert the ‘ghost’ will be present. For more information on EXIF data see here:
http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/38/what-is-exif/

By demonstrating categorically that the image is clearly a fake and also telling the person that they are not the first, nor will they be the last, to fall for this sort of trick, you are treating the person with respect and also helping to raise the bar where the quality of submitted evidence is concerned.  It’s a bit like letting someone into the secret of doing a magic trick. Once they know how it was done, you are empowering them to look a little closer the next time, and also to be more discerning in future.

‘Ghost Capture’ Screen Grab, created by: GDE Film, LLC

‘Ghost Capture’ Screen Grab, created by: GDE Film, LLC

Our job as paranormal investigators is not only to look for evidence of the paranormal, but also to solve the odd mystery as we go along. Therefore, paranormal investigation is essentially a series of problem solving exercises. If you grasp this idea firmly, not only will you become a better investigator, you will also be less likely to become disenchanted with the multitude of dross out there obscuring the true nuggets of evidence that lie waiting to be discovered.

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The Phantom Mersey ‘Water Walker’?

February 16, 2014
Crosby Beach Figure

Mysterious figure just off Crosby beach? Photo © Philip McKeown. Reproduced with permission.

Back in 2010 during our annual ‘Paranormal Week’ (PW) at Halton Lea Library in Runcorn, a gentleman called Philip McKeown showed the PW team a photograph he had taken sometime around 1983. The picture (see below) was a shot of the shoreline around Crosby taken during a stormy day. At first glance, everything in the picture appeared to be perfectly normal but, as Philip soon pointed out, on closer inspection there appeared to be a figure walking towards the shore – not through the waves, but right on top of them. He told us that where the figure was positioned, the water would have been around 5 foot deep. Philip went on to assure us that the photo had not been manipulated in any way, nor was it a double exposure. He also told us that at the time the photo was taken, he did not see a figure on the beach.

Michael Hadfield, a photographic expert from the Eximius Paranormal Research & Investigation team, made a copy of the picture and also made an enlargement of the portion of the picture which contained the figure in order to conduct a more detailed examination of the photo.

Michael noted a few intriguing things about the picture:

“There appears to be camera movement due to hand-holding with a slow shutter speed, yet the figure shows no evidence of this movement.”

“The scale of the figure appears to be ‘wrong’ for its location in the picture – though I admit there is little in its vicinity to accurately judge size.”

Michael concluded that it was one of the most intriguing photographs he had seen in a long time. I agreed.

Although fascinating, a fuller analysis of the photo was impossible due to the fact that we did not have access to the photo’s negative to scrutinise. In addition, because we did not have an accurate date and time for when it was taken, cross checking for things such as weather conditions, water levels and light levels was also impossible. Reluctantly we concluded that, although intriguing, the picture on its own did not constitute definitive proof of paranormal activity at work. Such is the frustrating lot of the serious paranormal investigator.

I did a basic background check on the Crosby area to see if A, anyone else had reported a similar sighting; and B, to see if the area had a paranormal ‘pedigree’, ie reports of other types of alleged paranormal activity.  Apart from a few ‘friend of a friend’ tales of a phantom horse seen/heard clip-clopping through the back streets and one very dubious story of a person who allegedly saw one of the statues that form Anthony Gormley’s art installation, ‘Another Place’, come to life and run down the beach into the water, Crosby appears to be a rather ‘quiet’ place in paranormal terms. So the photo remained in our ‘Intriguing but frustrating’ pile for several years.

A few weeks ago, whilst doing research for something completely different, I came across a story written by author Tom Slemen, printed in the Liverpool Echo in October 2008. It told the story of a woman called Rita Johnson who, in July 1971, whilst taking an early morning stroll along Seacombe Promenade (on the Wirral), saw a figure walking towards her across the river Mersey from the direction of the old Pier Head landing stage.  She described the figure as being dressed in a “long royal blue coat with white socks pulled up to his knees”. She could even hear the sounds of the figure’s feet splashing in the waves as it neared the Seacombe shoreline. Luckily, she wasn’t the only witness to see this, as another gentleman called Billy was also present at the time. As the pair watched in utter astonishment, the figure began to fade and eventually disappeared right in front of their eyes. Completely perplexed by what they had just seen, Rita and Billy scanned the waters in the hope of seeing the ‘water walker’ again, but alas it was the last they ever saw of him.

In his article, Tom Slemen suggested that the apparition could have been an example of what paranormal investigators call a Timeslip; the occurrence of a rift or flaw in the fabric of time that allows people in the present to momentarily interact with or (more usually) observe events from a past or future time. For Tom’s research had uncovered a curious event that had occurred in the area in July 1821 which seems to mirror what Rita and Billy had claimed to witness.

Mr Kent with his amazing Water Velocipede, Illustration taken from The Kaleidoscope,  lssue. 65 -  July 17th 1821.

Mr Kent with his amazing Water Velocipede, Illustration taken from The Kaleidoscope, lssue. 65 – July 17th 1821.

In July 1821 an Inventor called Mr Kent visited Liverpool in order to give demonstrations of his invention, the ‘Aquatic Velocipede’, a device which allowed him to ‘walk on water’. The device consisted of three tin floats connected with iron rods to a central seat which the operator sat on in an upright position. His feet were then strapped onto a pair of paddles that propelled the device forward at a speed of around 5 Miles per hour across the surface of the water. Immediately upon his arrival in Liverpool on the 11th July 1821 on the Steamship Majestic, Mr Kent mounted his ‘Aquatic Velocipede’, and foot-paddled his way across the river from George’s Dock to Seacombe Ferry-House where he came ashore, witnessed by hundreds of astonished bystanders who flocked onto the beach to greet him. Was the spectacle witnessed by Rita and Billy in 1971 a ‘replay’ of this event that had occurred 150 years earlier?

The clothes worn by the figure, as described by Rita, accurately match the reports from the newspapers of the day which describe Mr Kent’s attire as consisting of a Blue Coat and white pantaloons. In addition, when the newspapers described Mr Kent’s Aquatic Velocipede in action, they reported that from a distance Mr Kent appeared to be striding or skating upon the surface of the water completely unaided, with no part of his apparatus being visible to the onlookers. This would explain why Rita made no mention of seeing any kind of apparatus during her sighting.

Close up of the mysterious Crosby Beach figure. Photo © Philip McKeown. Used with Permission.

Close up of the mysterious Crosby Beach figure. Photo © Philip McKeown. Reproduced with Permission.

Looking again at Philip McKeown’s photo, is there a connection between Rita’s sighting and the figure Philip photographed walking just off the Crosby shoreline? The Crosby figure looks to be dressed in more modern looking clothing, say somewhere between the 1940s and present day rather than clothing typically worn by a character from the 1820s. So, although both figures were seen apparently walking on water, the resemblance between the two, in my humble opinion, ends there. But it is still very intriguing to hear of two reports, located less than two miles apart, of sightings of upright figures walking over the waters of the Mersey.

Perhaps whenever we find ourselves near the Mersey shoreline, we should take a few moments to look more closely at the waters, just in case history really can/does repeat itself.

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The Cuerdley Dragon

December 10, 2013

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Nestled inconspicuously on the North Cheshire plains, near the banks of the river Mersey, lies the borough of Halton. At first glance its two principal towns, Runcorn and Widnes, which sit on either side of the river, seem very ordinary and uninteresting.  However, hidden beneath the sprawling mass of chemical industries and urban development is an area rich in myth, magic and legend.

One persistent legend from before the Dark Ages which has been passed down via oral tradition from generation to generation, tells of the exploits of Robert Byrch, a blacksmith who lived and worked in Cuerdley marsh, situated by the banks of the river Mersey in Widnes.

Ancient Halton, unlike today, was mostly covered in dense leafy forest which gave way to waterlogged marshland nearer the river. The forests were home to myriad wild beasts, ranging from wolves to deer and the occasional wild hog. Nearby, the village of Farnworth, where Robert Byrch retired to in the evenings, was situated on the crest of a small promontory on the edge of the trees, but still deep enough inside the trees to be ‘off the beaten track’, away from the regular travelers who plied the main highways through the borough.

Robert Byrch’s smithy was located at Cuerdley, a marshy area between Farnworth and the river.  Here the local villagers, including Robert, let their livestock roam to graze on the lush marsh grasses.

Robert gained a reputation for the quality of his work, and he was sought out by Nobel men and farmers from across the land.  His craftsmanship and ingenuity was legendary and the strength of his metals was second to none.

By day the village and the marsh were tranquil and idyllic, a peaceful haven away from the feudal wars which ravaged most of England at that time. The peace would only be disturbed by the occasional party of hunters in search of wild deer or boar. However, as night fell, it was a different story altogether.

According to the pagan traditions, passed down through the centuries, it was believed that the forests were also the home of many fantastic creatures, spirits and phantoms who inhabited the nearby caves, ancient trees and the inky depths of the deepest lakes. It was generally believed that when darkness fell, all the strange beasts would emerge from the heart of the forest to wander around and terrorise the inhabitants of the region. The most formidable of all these beasts was the Dragon, a carnivorous monster, half eagle and half lion, which regularly visited, swooping low over the marsh, preying upon the villager’s cattle.

The Dragon was a huge beast, at least fifty foot long from head to tail, with an even greater wingspan. Its scales glistened like fiery coals in the dying rays of the sun as it flew over the marsh in search of its next victim. The sight of this winged beast struck terror into the hearts of the villagers, who could do nothing to stop its torments.

Robert was lucky at first, as his forge fire seemed to keep the beast away from his livestock. But his neighbours were not so lucky. Night after night, the terrifying beast slowly picked off the villager’s cattle, one by one. At first Robert ignored the plight of his fellow villagers – until one fateful evening when the Dragon eventually overcame its fear of Robert’s raging fire, swooped down from the heavens and snatched his prize ox. That night, Robert Byrch decided that ‘enough was enough’ and hatched a plot to put an end to the torment.

He fashioned a stout iron cage, large enough to hold him and a few basic supplies, and covered it with a cow hide. He also made a light, shortened double edged sword, which could easily be wielded against his foe through the cage bars.

Many days passed before the Dragon was seen again, spiralling high in the sky above the marsh.  Robert climbed inside his special cage and waited. By his instruction, all the other livestock had been removed to the safety of the trees, making Robert’s ‘cow’ cage an irresistible target for the ravenous beast.

The Dragon swooped and its talons sank into the cow hide, gripping the cage in the process.  With one beat of its enormous wings the scaled monstrosity was airborne, and with it, Robert in his cage.

With all his might Robert plunged his sword into the Dragons leathery underbelly. The beast screamed and writhed in agony as blood spurted out from the gaping wound. Robert prepared to stab the beast again when suddenly he felt the beast momentarily loosen its grip on the cage. Realising his mistake, Robert looked down in panic, seeing for the first time exactly how high up the beast had climbed in mere seconds. Far below him, the meandering river and lush forest sped past at a dizzying speed.Suddenly, the beast faltered and began spiralling down towards the ground.

In desperation Robert attempted to cover the beast’s wound in order to stem the flow of blood. With all his might, he pulled together the beasts leathery scales and held them together to prevent the beast from bleeding out. Slowly but surely, the Dragon limped home to it’s lair on the Runcorn side of the Mersey, near the promontory that was destined to be called Rock Savage.

The Dragon landed safely and Robert lashed out again, delivering a fatal blow in the beasts crimson underbelly. When he felt it safe to do so, he climbed out of the cage and finished the beast off, turning the banks and the river red with the slaughter.

He returned home, triumphant, with the beasts head as a trophy. He was received by his fellow villagers as a hero and a saviour, and news quickly spread throughout the land of his heroic deed. The news soon reached the Kings ears, who issued a decree stating that Robert should now be called ‘Robert the Bold’. As a reward, the king granted him a tract of land near Cuerdley, where Robert founded the Bold family. This, as legend will have it, is how the township of Bold gained its name. The Bold family remained in the area for many centuries and became one of the wealthiest families in the area.

Although the story is a legend, there are some curious clues which appear to support its authenticity.

The Bold family are one of the oldest families in the country. Although it isn’t possible to find direct evidence to link anyone named Robert Byrch to the family, the lineage can be traced back to just before the Dark ages.

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Seal of the Barons of Halton

The Bold family’s crest depicted a dragon, an image which was also used by the feudal Welsh, who were mortal enemies of the English. If there was nothing at all to the story, then why would the family use a crest which would appear to offer allegiance to their sworn enemies?  In support of the Bold family crest, a Griffin or Dragon symbol was also used on the seals of the Barons of Halton, again a strong connection between the Dragon legend and the area.

There is, however, one final twist in the saga.  In the church at Farnworth, a ‘skin’ which had hung over the Bold family pew for centuries fell to the ground in 1870. This dusty relic was examined and found to be the untanned hide of a cow, which bore strange claw like marks over its surface. Could this have been the same hide that legend says Robert used to conceal his Dragon slaying cage?

Sources

Old Widnes and its Neighbourhood – Charles Poole
Traditions and Customs of Cheshire – Christina Hole
A History of Widnes – G.E.Diggle

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Carry On Haunting…

June 25, 2013

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Between 1958 & 1978 the cinema screens of Britain played host to arguably the most successful comedy film franchise of all time – the ‘Carry On’ movies. In all, 30 films were produced in that 20 year span, with a further installment released in 1992. The comedy was a mix of slapstick and seaside ‘naughty postcard’ style double entendres that became as iconically British as the Bulldog and the Mini Cooper.

The films made household names of the stars that appeared in them, most of whom went on to become comedy legends in their own right. However, as everyone knows, behind almost every comic genius lies personal sadness and pain, and, as almost every paranormal researcher will tell you, where there is deep seated tragedy, psychic unrest often follows. So is it any real surprise that some of the stars of the Carry On series appear to have ‘carried on’ after death, haunting former theatres, homes and hotels where they met their untimely end?

ImageSid James was one of the best known and best loved of the Carry On regulars. His trademark dirty laugh and his perfect delivery of innuendo-filled one-liners were very popular with fans. Sid had already established himself as a star from his partnership with Tony Hancock in the popular Radio and TV series ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’. However, Hancock became paranoid about Sid’s rising popularity and feared being eclipsed by his talent, and so he ended the partnership abruptly. This was a big blow for Sid – one that he never really forgave Tony for. However, with the success of the Carry On films, Sid became more and more in demand on TV, screen and stage. It was in 1976, towards the end of the run of the Carry On franchise, that Sid returned to the stage at the Sunderland Empire to play a part in ‘The Mating Game’, a saucy theatrical romp that was a perfect showcase for his talent to deliver comic innuendo. With the pressure of work, the strain on his second marriage (caused by his not-so-secret affair with Carry On co-star Barbara Windsor) and a hopeless addiction to gambling (exasperated by a long term losing streak), the pressures of Sid’s personal life culminated in him having a massive heart attack.

On that fateful day, Sid walked on stage, introduced himself, then slumped down onto the sofa and became eerily still. At first, the cast thought that Sid had either forgotten his lines or was ad-libbing for laughs, but seconds later the mid-stage curtains closed and the Stage manager appeared, calling out to the audience to see if there was a doctor in the house. The audience howled with laughter, thinking that this was part of the play, but eventually they realised that something was wrong and a doctor came forward. An ambulance was called, but it was too late for Sid.

Shortly after Sid had been declared dead, the Theatre Manager called Sid’s agent to let him know what had happened. In one of those moments where life imitates art, the dialogue between the manager and Sid’s agent played out like a script from a Carry On movie:

Stage Manager: ‘Sid James has just died on stage in Sunderland’

Sid’s Agent: ‘Don’t worry, everybody dies in Sunderland!’

One of his fellow cast remarked that ‘this would have been the way that Sid would have wanted to go, doing what he does best, making people laugh’.

Not long after Sid’s tragic death, unusual things started to occur in the theatre. At first, some of the stars complained of feeling ‘a presence’ in the dressing room that Sid had occupied on that fateful production. Crew complained of cold spots, disappearing equipment and odd noises whist fitting up the stage for shows. As the years progressed, a few of the stars of subsequent shows claimed to have seen the apparition of Sid in either the wings or dressing rooms, but mostly people claimed to have heard his distinctive laugh echoing around the theatre after the audience had left.

The most notorious encounter happened to fellow comedian Les Dawson who, in the late 1980’s, encountered something so frightening in Sid’s old dressing room at the end of his show that he vowed never to return. He never spoke publicly about exactly what had happened, but those close to him are convinced that it was Sid that had spooked him.  Fellow co-star Barbara Windsor refuses to even set foot in the theatre despite being offered large amounts of money to appear there, but whether this is out of fear of encountering the spirit of Sid, or whether purely out of respect for his memory is unclear.

However, not everyone is convinced that the spirit of Sid prowls the back stage areas and dressing rooms.  A former technical manager went on record in 2006 to say that he had never heard of anyone experiencing anything spooky going on in the theatre. However, he did not rule it out completely, saying that he had never personally experienced anything unusual. ‘Things may be happening, but not to me’.

ImageCharles Hawtrey, the bespectacled cheeky character from the Carry On movies led a very tortured private life. Early on in his career he worked with the likes of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Vivian Leigh and been directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell and had expected to one day earn as much acclaim and respect as they commanded. However, because of his stature and boyish looks/voice, he became typecast as an overgrown schoolboy type, and therefore was passed over for the roles that he really wanted to perform. He had considerable acting talent, but the lack of progress in his career made him very bitter. As his career continued, he became more dependent on alcohol, which made him difficult to work with. His hatred of the Carry on Movies was well known amongst cast and crew, and often he would pass out on set due to alcohol consumption. He was dropped from the cast in 1972 and the only work he could subsequently get was in Panto and summer seasons. He retired to the seaside town of Deal in Kent where he purchased a cottage near the seafront. In Deal, he got the reputation as being a mean, anti-social character who, when asked for an autograph, would fly off the handle and tell people to ‘eff off’ before ripping up the items that people had asked him to sign.

In 1988, after breaking his leg falling outside his local pub during an alcohol fueled evening, he was administered to hospital where it was discovered that he was suffering from peripheral vascular disease – hardening of the arteries brought on from a lifetime of heavy smoking. He was advised that if he didn’t have his legs removed then he would die. He bluntly refused saying that he ‘would rather die with his boots on’. A month later he passed away in his bed. His last reported action was to throw a vase at an attending nurse who had asked him for his autograph.

The cottage where he lived out his bitter retirement now appears to have a ghost… according to the current owners. On one occasion the couple went to France on holiday, and upon returning found wine that they had left boxed in the cellar now laid out in neat rows on the cellar floor. On another occasion, the husband found himself inexplicably locked in a cupboard when there was no one else present in the house. Since this required the physical turning of a key on the outside, the couple were completely perplexed as to how it could have occurred on its own. They have also heard footsteps in empty rooms and generally felt that a mischievous ‘presence’ is in attendance at the property. If this is the ghost of the late Charles Hawtrey, he appears to be still typecast into the impish role he so loathed. The fixation on alcohol in the house seems to point to him being the culprit.

ImagePeter Butterworth, notably famous for playing the character of Mr Fiddler, the aptly named con merchant in Carry On Camping, was possibly one of the most contented of the Carry On stars in his private life. Peter came to the Carry On franchise via one of its writers, Talbot Rothwell, who recommended him to Director Peter Rogers. Talbot and Peter had both been prisoners of war in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the camp made famous by both the ‘Great Escape’ and ‘The Wooden Horse’ escape attempts. Peter and Talbot formed a comedy duo whose act drew much booing and shouting from the POW audience, which covered the sounds of escape parties tunneling  Peter actually took part in the Wooden Horse escape, as one of the vaulters covering the escape attempt. After the war, Peter auditioned for a part in the 1949 movie ‘The Wooden Horse’ but was ironically turned down on the grounds of ‘not looking convincingly heroic or athletic’.

Peter died in January 1979 shortly before he was due to appear on stage as the Widow Twanky in the Panto Aladdin at Coventry Theatre. He was found dead in his room at the Britannia hotel when he did not turn up for his curtain call. He had suffered a massive heart attack.

Several reports of ghostly apparitions followed shortly after in the hotel, where guests described a gaudily dressed old lady who would be seen one minute and disappear into thin air the next. Could they be describing the ghost of Peter in his Widow Twanky costume? In recent years, one of my colleagues spent the night there, where she was kept up all night by what she could only describe as ‘pantomime wailing’ coming from the room adjacent to hers. When she went to complain the next morning, staff on reception went white and informed her that there had been no other guests on the floor she was staying at.

The activity in the hotel appears to now reside in one particular room, No. 332, where a few on-line comments on various trip advisory websites speak of people experiencing unusual activity, such as feelings of unease or of being watched, sounds of sobbing and objects that mysteriously disappear only to reappear in the unlikeliest of places.  However, it is not clear in which room Peter died, or whether the hotel has suffered further deaths in the intervening years. One thing is for sure though, that something slightly mischievous is going on there and it would certainly fit in with Peter’s comic persona.

So there you have it, Carry On stars that have allegedly ‘Carried On’ from beyond the grave to, if you will pardon the double entendre, ‘put the willies up people’ in the finest Carry On tradition.

***UPDATE***

05/04/2014

I have been reliably informed by an ex Coventry theatre employee, Eddie, that Peter did not in fact die in the Britannia Hotel, but in the Smithfield Public house/Hotel just across from the theatre. Firstly, this highlights the dangers of not using primary source information (first hand) when researching. I try to do this whenever possible, but sometimes primary source is absent or you sometimes make an incorrect assumption that the person supplying the secondary source information has done their homework correctly. On this occasion, they did not, and I am not afraid to say I have made an error and correct or update findings when new information emerges. One of the sacred tenets of paranormal investigation is that we should all be truth seekers, no matter how that truth sits with one’s beliefs. In an investigation, or when conducting research, the evidence should lead us to a correct conclusion, without us leading the evidence to fit our established beliefs.

In this case, the fact that Peter did not die in the Britannia, and therefore is now an unlikely candidate for the cause of the activity reported there, actually sits better with what I have learned and experienced in all my years of active paranormal investigation, ie that, more often than not, paranormal activity seems to be mostly connected with people who were troubled in life. As I stated in the article, Peter was a very contented person. So, the mystery deepens…..if not Peter, who has caused the activity in the Britannia?.

Please see Eddie’s comment below for further details.

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Technology Vs Intuition

April 3, 2013

sThe mobile phone is 40 years old today! (03/04/2013). In order to mark it’s anniversary,  here is an article I wrote about two years ago looking at communications technology and what constant use of that technology could cost us in terms of loss of intuition…

mobile copy

For as long as we have been around, we, as species have always maintained that we possess natural psychic abilities, such as telepathy (the ability to send messages or emotional impressions to one another via mind to mind communication), clairvoyance (the ability of seeing or feeling events happening many miles away by mind power alone) and mediumship (the ability to feel the presence of, and communicate with, the dead).  No-one is sure how or why these notions first came about, but they are still heavily ingrained into our collective psyche, despite there being a lack of concrete scientific evidence to support their reality with any certainty.

Our alleged abilities all boil down to one central concept: The desire for communication – be it by having the ability to mentally communicate with the dead (mediumship), or with the living (telepathy), or being able to pick up impressions of people, places or events regardless of their physical distance to us (clairvoyance).

Writer & researcher Dr David Luke (who lectures on Parapsychology in several London Universities) recently posited the idea that our deeply ingrained psychic beliefs, and our desire to make them a reality, were the driving force behind the need to invent communications technology, to ultimately make the job of ‘psychic’ communication easier for us to achieve.

David’s research unearthed an interesting fact: that the invention of the Radio, the Telephone and the TV all came about because their inventors, Guglielmo Marconi, Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird:

“had all shared a serious interest in the spirit mediumship movement – Spiritualism – and had expected to develop technologies for improved psychic communication with the deceased”

On the back of their pioneering work, communications technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, especially in recent years with the advent of mobile phones and mobile Internet. We are now more ‘connected’ than at any other time in history.

Think about that for a second.

Mobile phones give us the ability to communicate remotely with each other, anywhere, 24/7, irrespective of the distance between us (signal strength permitting!), which is precisely what telepathy is all about. The Internet allows us to gather information, news and impressions about anywhere on the Earth (both past and present) with just a few clicks. Instant Clairvoyance in your pocket!

Think also about how dependent we have become on that technology. Could you even contemplate leaving the house without it nowadays? How many times have you headed off to work, then turned back when you realised that you have left your mobile in the house or, for that matter, feel completely isolated if either your battery becomes flat or, heaven forbid,  you lose your phone?

So the big question is: Is our increasing reliance on communication technology ‘dumbing down’ our supposed natural psychic abilities? And will our continued use of it eventually lead us to lose our natural abilities altogether?

Last year I, along with a few friends, decided to visit Blackpool. We spent a mostly pleasant, but slightly frustrating, afternoon wandering around the shops and the arcades. I say ‘frustrating ‘ because we managed to lose one another on at least five occasions, all within the space of about two hours, mostly through getting distracted in shops etc. Luckily, our mobile phones helped us all to re-group every time it occurred. I then began to wonder how we had ever managed before the advent of mobile technology – and this led me to reminisce about the crowd I used to hang around with as a teenager back in the early ‘80s.

Back then, we all used to have the uncanny knack of just turning up in the same place at the same time. We never planned to do so, but we simply ‘knew’ where to go to meet one another. If this had happened at the same location every time, then it would have been a very easy thing to explain, but these occurrences (as dutifully logged in my diaries) happened all over the place, including one occasion when twelve of us unexpectedly met one another in a neighbouring town centre completely by chance. We had no mobiles, internet, pagers, GPS, SatNav or anything else more sophisticated than basic digital watches, yet we managed to find each other very easily, time after time.

Would teenagers today be capable of the same feat sans their mobiles?

My guess is that they probably wouldn’t.

So perhaps it may be time for us to switch off our mobiles, for a while at least, and start to see where our intuition takes us, before we lose it all forever.

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Turning UFOs into IFOs: Part 1: Fireball Meteors

February 16, 2013

Since Meteors are currently a hot topic around the World after yesterdays (15/02/2013) Meteorite Strike in Russia and the very near miss of Asteroid 2012 DA14, I thought I would re-post one of my old articles to clear up and highlight some of the mysteries surrounding fireball meteors. The fact that some observers seem to think that a streaking ball of flame crossing the sky can only be a UFO shows that there are STILL a few people  out there that need to learn a thing or two about our night sky and the things that you can see in it.

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Fireball_1

Image © Larouse Encyclopedia of Astronomy

On a pleasant April evening in 1969, professional photographer Frank Laird was packing away equipment into the boot of his car. Weary after a long day of photographic assignments, he paused briefly, casually gazing into the darkening sky overhead. It was fairly clear that evening, the half moon clearly visible in the South West along with a scattering of bright stars which were slowly growing in brilliance in the twilight. Suddenly, Frank’s attention was drawn overhead to an intensely bright blue/green light, complete with a flaming tail, which was travelling at tremendous speed across the sky. Instinctively he grabbed his camera and managed to take two shots of the object before it disappeared from view behind a bank of clouds.

It was all over in ten seconds flat. Unable to relocate the object, and not seeing anyone else in the area who could confirm his sighting, Frank jotted down some details into his notebook and continued to pack away his gear, totally perplexed by what he had just seen.

The time was 9:21 pm on April 25th 1969. The location: the town of Amlwch, situated about a mile from the north coast of Anglesey in Wales. Unbeknown to Frank at the time, he was not alone in this sighting, for thousands of people up and down the country had also witnessed the fireball as it passed over southern England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This was to be the start of a night of wonder, fear and confusion.

Fireball_2

Image © Frank Laird

Immediately after the sighting, the BUFORA (British UFO Research Association) hotline was jammed with calls from people up and down the country reporting what they had just seen. Callers descriptions ranged from: “A green fireball with a yellow tail”, or “A violet/red light” to “A shining flying saucer”. A few witnesses even thought that it was an aeroplane on fire, but most of the callers agreed that what they had seen was some sort of fireball.

Descriptions of it’s fiery transit across the sky also differed slightly in some reports. One witness said that “When it moved, the head pulsated”, while another said “(It was) falling to the ground and leaving a white beam behind it”. Yet another said “It started from about ground level, then went higher and disappeared behind a bank of cloud”.

There were also differences of opinion about the height of the object. Some people perceived it as being at a high altitude, others thought it to be incredibly low indeed. (1)

Dr Henry Palmer, an astronomer who was based at Jodrell Bank Radio Astronomy Observatory at the time, was quick to offer an explanation for the sightings. He said that it was almost certainly a fireball meteor, possibly a late-comer from the recent Lyrid meteor shower which occurs between April 20-22 every year.

However, in the subsequent days after the encounter, several people began to question the fireball meteorite explanation.

Author and UFOlogist Gavin Gibbons saw the object over Shrewsbury and said, “It could not have been a meteorite because it was travelling parallel with the horizon and suddenly disappeared from sight…It is possible it was a scout ship from a large mother ship higher in the atmosphere and it could have been in trouble”

Another witness, Roger Houghton, who observed the fireball from Preston, was also convinced that it was not a meteorite. “It was travelling at only a moderate speed and appeared almost to hesitate as it passed directly in front of me”

Even ‘experts’ were divided as to the true nature of the fireball. Mr Kenneth W Gatland, then vice president of the British Interplanetary Society, claimed that the fireball was “a Russian satellite, Cosmos 265, burning out and fragmenting in the atmosphere”. (2)

What Frank Laird, and thousands of other witnesses, had been fortunate enough to see was, in fact, the blazing descent of a fireball meteor as it fell to earth. (3)

The event made the front pages of both local and national newspapers. Merseyside’s Daily Post proclaimed ‘Thousands startled as fireball sears over Britain’. The article then went on to explain a night of mayhem as emergency services in the region were inundated by phone calls from startled members of the general public. In North Wales, the fire brigade reported that a large chunk of the object had dropped off over Conway valley, causing a gorse fire on Llechwedd Mountain (4). The passage of the fireball also caused panic across the water in Northern Ireland as the meteorite, which was travelling faster than the speed of sound, produced a sonic boom which many thought to be an exploding terrorist bomb.

Although all the above events occurred over 40 years ago, UFO researchers can still learn important lessons from incidents such as these, especially when the actual event is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be identified.

For instance, sifting through witness reports and comparing them with what actually transpired gives researchers an insight into the reliability of sighting details given by ‘untrained’ observers. In the case of the 1969 fireball, the majority of reports given by ordinary people accurately described what was seen, ie a fireball, and a majority of these reports also tallied with regards to the time of sighting, duration, direction, speed, size and colour. Only a handfull of the reports appeared to be biased by witnesses preconceptions (5), which is a ‘shot in the foot’ for advocates of the ‘witness testimony is very unreliable’ school of thought. The remainder of claims of odd behavior which is ‘uncharacteristic of meteors’ can be put down to the observers’ lack of knowledge about the capability of meteors to exhibit many different effects as they enter the atmosphere.

In order to counter some of the confusion, and to help UFO researchers to determine when an ‘anomolous’ sighting is clearly a meteor, here are some facts about meteors which you may not have previously been aware of.

What is a Meteor? 

Normal meteors are no more than specks of dust which burn up as they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. Meteors are usually seen as fast moving streaks of light which only last for a fraction of a second before being totally vaporised. If you look out on any dark (and cloud free) night, the chances are that you will get to see at least one meteor whizzing across the night sky.

Size and duration of sightings

Fireball meteors are much larger. Weighing in at around 10lb (4.5 Kg) and upwards, fireball meteors survive for considerable lengths of time as they hurtle through the sky, giving rise to observations of around 8 seconds or more. Unlike normal meteors, fireballs have much greater angular size, usually equal to the (apparent) size of the full moon! However, sightings of fireballs are far rarer than normal meteors.

Colours 

The light emitted by a fireball meteor (and it’s fiery tail) can be any of the following colours: white, red, yellow, green or blue. Sometimes the head is a different colour to the tail, and on occasions can change colour several times throughout the flight. Different colours are produced by the different compositions of material which meteors are made of. For instance, Iron-Nickel meteors usually give off blue or green light whereas stony-iron meteors are more red/white in colour. Meteors which change colour are thought to be composed of a collection of differing material forming a loose amalgam, which possibly burns off in layers, hence the changes in colour throughout the flight. An important point to note is that meteors do notdiminish (fade out) in brightness but go out instantly.

Another characteristic of meteors (fireballs in particular) is that they can leave visible trails behind them. These are caused by a meteor’s rapid passage through the air, which excites atmospheric particles into phosphorescence, leaving a visible trail in it’s wake. Meteor trails take a long time to fade, usually over several minutes, gradually drifting and changing their shape just as clouds do. Meteor trails can also exhibit another peculiarity; a curious sparking effect, which has been described as being like the sparks that fly off an angle grinder, that can remain for several minutes along the whole trail.

Speed

Meteors travel incredibly fast, usually around 7 to 45 miles a second (11 – 72 Kilometers per second) and have average ‘flight’ path lengths of between 50 to 100 miles (80 – 160 Km) before being completely vaporised. Of course, in some rare instances fragments survive to reach the ground, where they become known as meteorites.

Height & Brightness

Another hallmark of fireball meteor sightings is that there are usually lots of witnesses. There are two reasons why fireball meteor events are spotted by many observers simultaneously: Firstly, fireballs begin to heat up and glow at around 100 miles (160Km) up, making them visible to a wider area on the ground, and secondly, they are exceptionally bright, usually as bright as the full moon and have been known to turn night into day on some occasions! In fact some have even been seen in broad daylight!

Formations

More often than not, large fireball meteors break up into smaller fragments during their descent, giving rise to sightings of whole formations of fast moving lights. One such sighting over Cornwall in July 1998 had hundreds of people ringing the emergency services to report that they had seen the letters ‘Z’ and ‘Q’ shoot through the sky! Some people thought it was a message from alien beings! (6)

Fireball_3

Read all about it! Meteor showers, as depicted in the press.

Occurences

Fireballs usually occur in connection with meteor showers. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a swarm of interplanetary dust or debris left behind from the passage of comets. As these debris clouds are in fixed positions along the Earth’s orbit around the sun, the showers occur at the same time each year.  Usually lasting several days, each shower has a peak time, where meteor activity is at it’s highest. The two most productive meteor showers in the northern hemisphere occur on 12th August (called the Perseids) and 17th – 18th November (called the Leonids).

In addition to knowing when meteor showers will occur, we also know precisely which part of the sky to look to get the best chance of seeing meteors. Each shower has a fixed point in the sky from where all the meteors appear to radiate from. This is called the shower’s radiant. The names given to the regular showers are derived from the constellations in which these radiants are located. Hence Perseids appear to come out of a point somewhere in the constellation Perseus and Leonids from a point somewhere in the constellation of Leo. Familiarisation with the locations of the constellations, the times of the year when these showers occur (See list at end) and the use of astronomy software are very useful when chasing up suspected meteor sightings.

Movement

Fireballs can appear to be stationary for short durations! This illusion is created when a meteor is observed coming straight over the horizon towards the observer (See fig.1) giving the appearance of a bright object hovering in the sky, which then suddenly picks up momentum. This might explain the peculiarity witnessed by Roger Houghton in 1969.

In the case of the two conflicting reports of the direction of movement of the 1969 fireball, the location of the observers and the direction they were looking in helped to iron out the apparent inconsistencies. One observer was looking South East and therefore saw the object rising up over the horizon. The other was looking North West and saw it descending towards his horizon. Of course, the meteor was travelling in a straight line, but the apparent rise and fall of the meteor was an illusion caused by the direction of observation, likewise the apparent movement described as ‘travelling horizontal to the horizon’. In this case the duration of the sighting may have been too short to see a rise or fall in the trajectory.

Fireball_4

In the above diagram, all four meteor paths are identical in size, however the more overhead they occur, the shorter the path appears to be for the observer. This also has another interesting effect on the observer’s perception of the event, as the overhead meteors can appear motionless for a moment before appearing to pick up momentum!

Fireballs can, on occasions, alter their courses in odd ways. Normally a meteor’s path will be a straight line, caused by it moving at very high speeds. However, they have also been reported as having curved, kinked, spiral or wavy paths. Curved meteors are by far the most common deviant reported. This can be caused by the meteor entering the atmosphere at a shallow angle causing it to skip in and out of the atmosphere in much the same way a pebble can be made to skip across the surface of a pond. Footage of such an occurrence was taken in 1972 by James M. Baker, who managed to capture a bright daylight fireball on cine film as it skipped across the skies over Great Jackson Lake in Wyoming, USA.

Kinked or spiral movement is a bit more difficult to explain, but one possibility is that some meteors may have a more aerodynamic shape than others producing ‘lift’ which makes the object deviate slightly from it’s straight path. This effect could also be enhanced by changes in the shape of the rock as it is blasted apart by friction and shock waves.

Space Oddities

Although meteors have been observed and studied for centuries, some scientific mysteries still remain.

Sounds

It is a well established fact that large meteors can create extremely loud noises. These are caused when the meteor, travelling at tremendous speeds, causes a powerful compression wave to build up ahead of itself, producing a supersonic boom. Such booms are heard some time after the passage of the meteor as sound travels considerably slower than light. In fact the lag between sighting and sound can be quite long. For instance, the light from a meteor burning up at an altitude of 50 miles (80 Km) would take only 0.0003 seconds to reach an observer on the ground, whereas the accompanying sonic boom would take in excess of four minutes!

But there have been many reliable reports of instantaneous sound associated with meteors. These sounds have been described as ‘rattles’, ‘low booms’ and ‘hisses’. In many cases it has been the sound that has caused the observer to look up! So how is it possible to see a meteor and hear it’s sound at the same time? Some scientists believe that the plasma trail of the meteor could generate Extra Low and Very Low Frequency (ELF/VLF) radio emissions which would travel at the speed of light and then be converted into sound at ground level by sharp objects acting like receivers, such as aerials, wires and even blades of grass. This idea is not as Kooky as it might first appear, as it is possible to hear bursts of static on a carefully tuned radio when a meteor falls.

Nebulous Meteors

Nebulous meteors do not have the sharp, well defined features of common meteors. Instead, they appear to be fuzzy, often containing more than one bright point of light in the nucleus. The puzzling thing about these objects is that, although they appear to be breaking up, the components never diverge. Nebulous meteors last for only a couple of seconds, but it is an important point to bear, that fuzzy meteors do exist.

Dark Meteors

There have been many reliable reports of large dark objects crossing the sky which obscure the background stars as they pass. These are called Dark meteors. They move at comparable speeds to meteors yet do not glow as they fall to earth. According to meteor theory this is not possible, which leads some scientists to say that observations of dark meteors are caused by fatigue. Yet the reports still come flooding in!

Conclusion

So now we know what to look out for. Although not overly unidentified, knowledge of meteors can help to turn some ‘unidentified’ reports into ‘identifieds’. So, If the next bright, short duration streak of light seen in the sky is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be a visiting alien spaceship, I’ll eat my binoculars!

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Frank Laird for permission to tell his story and use his remarkable photographs, and also to Gerard Gilligan, chairman of the Liverpool Astronomical Society for detailed information about the 1969 event.

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Information Sources

The Skywatcher’s Handbook by Colin A. Ronan & Storm Dunlop – PRC Books, 1993.

Collins Encyclopedia of Astronomy – Hatchworth Press, 1993

Mysteries of the Skies By Gordon I.R. Lore & Harold H. Deneault – Scientific Book Club edition, 1969

International Meteor Organisation (IMO) website – www.IMO.org.de

‘Recent Fall of the Bovedy Meteorite, Northern Ireland’ By Ian G. Meighan & Philip S. Doughty – Nature, Vol. 223. July 5, 1969

‘Great Fireballs – some recent sightings’ by Janet Gregory – Spacelink, Vol. 6  No. 1 July 1969

‘Thousands startled as fireball sears over Britain’ – Liverpool Daily Post, Saturday, April 26th 1969

‘UFO? It’s just a passing shower‘ Sunday Express – 12th July 1998

Getting Started in Astronomy: Meteor Observing by Alastair McBeath – Liverpool Astronomical Society booklet 1995

 

Notes:

(1) A common misperception made by many people when observing objects in the dark or where there are few visual clues to gauge size and distance.

(2) Although Mr Gatland was correct in saying that

Cosmos 265’s orbit had decayed that evening, it was later pointed out that it would have fallen in a completely different direction.

(3) Three days later, meteorite fragments from this fall were recovered from an impact crater found in a field in Bovedy, Northern Ireland.

(4) This was later proven to be incorrect as the fires had broken out at least 15 minutes before the passage of the fireball.

(5) A factor I have playfully called WYSIWYBI (pronounced whizzy-whibby – What You See Is What You Believe In).

(6) Possibly the same part of the British population who have sightings of Elvis! In other words a very small percentage.

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Disasteroids

January 20, 2013
impact_asteroid_header

(image from vestic.ro)

It’s been exactly a month since all the Mayan Calendar ‘End of the World’ Hoo-Ha; and happily we are still here. Since the apocalyptic event of the decade turned out to be yet another ‘end of days’ damp squib that passed without the merest hint of a final trump, should we now relax and breathe easy, or does further trepidation threaten us in the near future?

Of all the disaster scenarios that were postulated for the end of the Mayan Calendar, one scenario is not only a real possibility, it is (pardon the pun) a  dead cert. The only problem is, there is no definite date upon which to pin your worst fears and find a sturdy table to cower beneath. This particular event could happen at any time – tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or even next century. We are, of course, talking about a collision between the Earth and an asteroid or comet.

Earth has been hit on many occasions in the past. By studying the fossil record, palaeontologists have found that there have been regular mass extinctions of life on Earth occurring on average around every 100 Million years. These mass extinctions have been attributed to huge rocks or comets slamming into the Earth causing planet wide upheaval. The last such collision occurred around 65.5 million years ago, which wiped out 75% of life on Earth, both on land and in the sea. This event brought about the end of the dinosaurs, making way for the emergence of mammals such as horses, whales, bats and primates.

Extensive research and detective work revealed that the culprit for the last mass extinction was an asteroid measuring 10 Km (6 miles) in diameter that smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula leaving a 180 Km (110 Miles) diameter crater, which currently stands as the largest confirmed impact crater yet discovered on Earth. The explosion on impact released an estimated energy output equivalent of 100 Tetratons of TNT, which is almost two million times the destructive power of the biggest man made bomb (known as the’ Tsar bomb’) which has a yield of around 50 Megatons. That such a relatively small chunk of rock can release so much energy and cause the extinction of 75% of all life on the planet is a very sobering thought indeed.

All around the solar system, on planets and moons that do not have much in the way of active geological processes or erosion caused by having a substantial atmosphere, evidence of planetary bombardment is all around. From the craters on the Moon to those found on Mercury and Mars, all bear witness to huge collisions at some time in their existence. In short, the solar system is a hazardous place in which to live. Earth does not bear as many scars as the aforementioned worlds due to it being a living planet with active processes which have obscured most of the signs of past bombardment. However, if you look closely, the evidence is there. We have not been spared impacts in the past.

It is only in the last thirty or so years that our attention has been seriously drawn to this very real hazard from space, and to that end studies have been mounted to assess how just much of a threat we are under.  Collectively these studies and projects are known as Spaceguard, a term coined by Arthur C Clarke in his 1973 novel ‘Rendezvous with Rama’.

Shoemaker-Levy-9_illustration

Artists Impression of Comet Shoemakker-Levy 9 approaching Jupiter
(Image from: http://astronomy.wikia.com/wiki/Shoemaker-Levy_Project)

In 1994, Comet Shoemakker-Levy 9 broke up into a series of fragments which impacted on Jupiter over a period of seven days. To everyone’s surprise, a single fragment of the comet created a dark spot in the Jovian atmosphere over 12,000 Km across (7,456 Miles).  The energy released by this collision alone was estimated to be 600 times the yield of the World’s entire nuclear arsenal. Shoemakker-Levy 9 was a wake up call for those who thought that asteroid/comet detection programmes were a waste of time and money.

It has been estimated that there are around 4,700 (plus or minus 1,500) potentially hazardous asteroids with a diameter greater than 100 metres which cross Earths orbit. Of these, only 20-30% have been discovered and tracked to date. Although a 100 metre object colliding with us is not classed as an Extinction Level Event, such an impact would cause much loss of life and worldwide upheaval should it ever strike a major population center.

Spaceguard projects have two important objectives: The first, as we have already discussed, is to track any potentially hazardous objects; and the second is to give us as much warning as possible in the event of discovering an object  on a collision course with the Earth.

If we have enough notice, there are a number of strategies available to avoid a collision, ranging from crashing spacecraft onto the hazardous objects or using spacecraft to tow them out of harm’s way; to painting them white so that they absorb more sunlight and receive a bit of a solar push which hopefully will divert them off their course sufficiently to avoid collision. However, there is only one sure-fire way of guaranteeing the survival of our species from the threat of collision, and that is to colonise other places in the solar system and elsewhere. At the moment we have all our eggs in one fragile basket, and as previously stated, that basket is in a very precarious environment.

tow away asteroid

Using a Spaceship’s mass to tow an asteroid off a deadly collision course
(Image from impactlab.net)

The next object due to make a close pass of the Earth  will be Asteroid 2012 DA14, a 40 metre (131 Ft) object which will be making a record breaking close pass to Earth on Feb 15th this year. The asteroid will miss us by a mere 27.000 Km (17,200 Miles). I know this doesn’t sound very close, but considering that this object will pass closer to us  than the distance we have placed artificial satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth (42,160 Km or 26,200 Miles), you begin to get an appreciation of how close this object will pass.

Don’t worry, this one is not going to hit us, and even if it did, this particular object is not a planet killer. So for those of you who decided not to buy Christmas presents with the excuse that there was a chance that the world would end last December, I recommend that you DO go out and buy Valentines cards and gifts as planned for our loved ones on the 14th, otherwise you may experience an  ‘end of the world’ of a very personal nature.

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As the asteroid makes its closest pass, it should be visible using a good pair of binoculars (weather permitting) from Europe. For more details on how to observe this unique event, go here

*UPDATE*

Here’s a handy diagram from the lovely People at Jodrell Bank showing UK based Skywatchers where to look to get the best chance of seeing tonight’s (15/02/2013) record breaking flyby.

2012_da14_track_15022013

 

For more info go here

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The Devil Rides Out

July 19, 2012

Paranormal Investigation is an unusual business, and after almost a quarter century of active study, I can safely say that I have encountered some very odd things along the way. As all Investigators will tell you, there is one question that always pops into the conversation once people find out what you do for a living……

‘What is the scariest thing that you have ever experienced?’

Usually, I tell people that the scariest thing that has ever happened to me occurred when I unwittingly attended a ‘Grab a Granny’* dance night at the Grafton Nightclub in Liverpool (I still get flashbacks!). But after the joke (?) subsides, I then describe the strangest paranormal experience that I have so far encountered. The story goes thus…

The Devil Rides Out

In the late eighties and early nineties, I earned a living as a freelance lighting and sound engineer. This job took me all over the country from as far North as Aberdeen to as far South as Cornwall (and all points in between), where I worked on a wide variety of shows and touring productions.

Whenever I visited a theatre for the first time, I always made a beeline for the resident staff to ask them if they considered their venue to be haunted – to which the answer was always ‘yes’. Each theatre, it seemed, had its own resident ghosts and a plethora of ghostly tales to go with them.

One theatre in particular, the Neptune (now renamed The Epstein), located in Hanover Street in Liverpool, really did deserve its spooky status, as many resident technicians would happily testify. Odd things happened there with alarming regularity and, as I will relate in more detail, it was a place where I experienced something that I could not explain – something that left me chilled to the core.

Built in 1913 above the famous Crane brothers music shop, the venue was originally designed as a music hall, but over the years, amateur drama groups started using the venue in increasing numbers, leading to its status being changed from ‘music hall’ to ‘theatre’. The Crane brothers took a very active role in running their beloved venue until tragedy struck the family in the early twenties. In a fit of depression, one of the brothers committed suicide by hanging himself from the theatre’s upper circle.

The theatre continued under Crane family ownership until the late sixties when it was bought by the Liverpool Corporation and raised to the status of a civic theatre – a move made in order to preserve its wonderful Victorianesque interior styling and its ornate proscenium arched stage.

In February 1993 I received a frantic phone-call from an old college friend called Collette who had a huge problem. Collette had landed the job of Stage Manager on a brand new show which was due to open at The Neptune – a musical version of Dennis Wheatley’s classic novel ‘The Devil Rides Out’. Unfortunately, things were going badly wrong and the production schedule had slipped alarmingly.

With only one week before the show was due to start, construction of stage set, props and costumes were well behind schedule; the music master-tapes and sound-effects had yet to be made, cast and crew morale was at an all time low and the cast had threatened to walk out unless the director was fired and a replacement found. Collette was a very able Stage Manager and I realised that for her to be in such despair, the situation must be very dire indeed. Collette explained that if the show were to be saved, she needed people around her that she could rely on to get things back on track. The next day, I became Assistant Sound Technician on The Devil Rides Out.

The Front Entrance to the Neptune Theatre, Liverpool

As previously stated, the Neptune was a theatre that I was very familiar with, having served most of my college apprenticeship there. I knew, therefore, all the stories told by backstage staff of the ghostly goings-on that allegedly occurred there on a regular basis. In particular, there was the much witnessed apparition of a ghostly suited figure, which people attributed to the ghost of the suicidal Crane brother, seen walking around the upper circle, usually on the first night of a new production. Although unnerving, its appearance was not regarded as sinister by the staff.  It was almost as if Mr Crane was still looking after the productions in his beloved theatre.

However, there are distinct parts of the Neptune that do feel particularly unnerving. For instance, the dressing rooms on either side of the stage and the under-stage corridors all feel very sinister, especially if you happen to be in them alone.

Technicians often spoke about the times when, late at night, they would be working on their own; sorting out stage set, checking lanterns, sound equipment, communications etc, when they would suddenly feel like they were being watched or hear voices and/or the sound of footsteps from parts of the theatre that they knew were empty. Sometimes they would, for a fraction of a second, catch sight of someone walking backstage when they knew they were the only person in auditorium. On one occasion, during a rehearsal, a stage manager saw a small child enter the lighting control room at the back of the theatre, but when a stagehand went up to investigate, no-one could be found. With only one door to the room, there was no way that anyone could have exited unnoticed.

While I travelled to the theatre I mused over the subject matter of the musical. The Devil Rides Out started off as a novel by Dennis Wheatley. Published in 1934, it is a classic tale of good versus evil. It contains all the (now) classic ingredients of a horror story, setting the benchmark for the modern horror genre.

In the book, the main character, Duke de Richleau, attempts to thwart the plans of the evil black magician, Moccata, by preventing him from using his friends, Simon and Tanith, as sacrificial offerings in a bid to help the Devil cross over into our world.

The book was turned into a very successful Hammer Horror film in 1967, starring Christopher Lee as The Duke and Charles Grey as the evil Moccata. Now in 1993, it had been given the musical treatment by writer/film-maker Colin McCourt.

When I arrived at the theatre my principle job was to create the sound-effects that were needed for the production.  They wanted some scary stuff: screams, creaks, eerie wind, animal howls, satanic laughter and the sound of a devil-horse for the climactic fight between good and evil. Whilst being introduced to the rest of the team, I quickly realised that Collette had not been exaggerating when she said that tensions were running high and nerves were frayed. Even as we gathered on stage, the new director – one of the stars of the show called Brett – was screaming for the technical work to be finished so that full dress rehearsals could take place.  I took a copy of the script and found a quiet room under the stage so that I could study it and work out exactly what sound-effects they required.

Over the next few days, I got more and more involved in other aspects of the technical work, wading in to help out as much as I could; by day helping in the theatre and by night in the recording studio working on the sound-effects. I worked round the clock with no sleep for three days and nights. In no time I had pushed myself beyond the point of exhaustion.

On the third night I finished the sound-effects and went over to the theatre, only to find that technicians were still frantically working away on stage. I retired to the quiet dressing room under the stage in order to check the newly-made sound-effects tapes and label them up in preparation for the up-and-coming dress-rehearsal.

Whilst sitting there, I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was being watched – which I initially put down to fatigue – but then again, maybe fatigue and the need to stay awake had heightened my senses, enabling me to sense things that I normally could not. After an hour of this intensely creepy feeling, I couldn’t take any more and got out of the room. Feeling the need to be with people, I went up to the stage to see what was going on. I looked at my watch and discovered that it was 2:15 am.

On stage, three technicians were marking out the stage floor. They were as exhausted as me and appeared to be in some difficulty.  I wandered over to Stuart, another old friend from college, and asked him what they were up to.

“We are trying to draw a pentagram on stage,” he said, “but we can’t get it quite right. This is attempt number 5.”

The story required that a Pentagram be put on stage as the centrepiece of the musical. All three of them were trying to mark off five points, 72 degrees apart on a large circle which, once joined up, would form the points of the pentagram. Because they were so tired, this basic task was proving to be beyond them. They began to laugh hysterically as they got it wrong yet again.

“How can something so simple be so hard?” questioned one of the techies as he erased the chalk marks of the previous effort.

“It’s because we are all knackered,” replied Stuart, rubbing his eyes.

After a further four attempts, they got it right. The basic shape was taped in and painted over with white paint to make it more permanent.

They stood back and admired their handiwork. Stuart looked at the stage-plan and back to the circle and then cursed under his breath.

“We’ve drawn it upside-down……will it matter?” he said.

I replied “I’m sure no-one will even notice. Come on, let’s get a coffee and then see what else still needs to be done.”

An eerie silence fell upon the stage. The four of us stood there completely still for what appeared to be an eternity before a loud crash from backstage broke the spell.

“What the hell’s that?” exclaimed Stuart.

“Sounded like someone banging on the rear shutters. Are we expecting anyone else here at this time?” I asked.

Nervously, we headed backstage to investigate.

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The Inverted Pentagram – A ‘Gateway’ to Hell?

The symbol of the pentagram has a long history stretching back to at least 3500 BC.  It is often associated with magic and mysticism and more recently it has been used in Wiccan ceremony, but for a while it was also used by the Christian faith as a symbol of protection.

The first graphical illustration associating the pentagram with evil appeared in the nineteenth century, where Alphonse Louis Constant, a defrocked French Catholic Abbot, illustrated the upright pentagram of microcosmic man beside an inverted pentagram. It is this illustration and juxtaposition that has led to the concept of different orientations of the pentagram representing good and evil. According to some, if a pentagram is cast upside-down, the symbol of protection becomes the symbol of evil.

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The banging on the shutters only turned out to be a pizza delivery for the technical crew, thoughtfully ordered by the Theatre Manager who was also helping out as much as he could. We ate our food and then decided to head off home to get some sleep. In seven hours time we would be running a dress-rehearsal and would need to be focussed.

As we headed off down the long backstage corridor in the direction of the stage door, the huge fire door behind us swung open and then firmly slammed shut on its own. Turning round sharply, I expected to see Jackie, the resident lighting engineer and last technician in the theatre that night, following behind us. But there was no-one there.  ‘Odd’, I thought.

“Must be the wind,” said Stuart.

“Nah, those doors weigh a ton,” replied the Theatre Manager, “wind couldn’t budge them.”

As we stood there, a cold chill crept down the corridor from the direction of the fire door.  I suddenly felt very uneasy.  The door began to open again.

“Oh, it’s you Jackie,” said Stuart, as Jackie came through the door very fast, her face pale and drawn.

“What’s up Jackie?” asked the Theatre Manager. Jackie looked as though she had just seen a ghost.

“Something really f**king weird just happened up there,” she said, pointing overhead to the stage.  “The smoke machine just went off for about a minute. It wasn’t switched on at all.  Besides, the power to the stage was switched off too.  Don’t ask me why, but as soon as I had checked the machine and found that it was stone cold, I just had to get out of there. The stage was giving me the f**king creeps.”

For the smoke machine to work whilst switched off was a complete impossibility. As technicians, we all knew how they operated. Smoke or mist is produced by spraying liquid vegetable dye over a heated coil of wire, which then vaporises the dye to produces thick smog. If the machine was switched off it would be impossible to do anything other than to spray a pool of dye all over the floor.

We headed off for the stage door, completely puzzled and shivering in the unnatural cold that had suddenly enveloped us.

“You know,” said Stuart, “all hell’s going to break loose here in a few hours.”

We all nodded in agreement as, in a few short hours, the first and last dress-rehearsals were going to take place, and there was still a lot to be done.

Little did we realise how true Stuarts words would be, but not for the reasons that he meant.

———————————-

After six hours’ sleep we returned to the theatre. Brett, the new Director was already there by the time we arrived, and he was not amused by the state of things on stage. Although the stage set was completed, Jackie still had a few more lights to rig and focus, meaning that the stage was out-of-bounds for at least another hour.

The atmosphere in the theatre was horrible and oppressive.  Everyone was feeling uneasy or agitated. The actors chatted nervously in the green room as they waited for the final adjustments of the stage lighting to be completed.

Just then, the principal star of the show, Bernadette, came in and told us of an odd thing that had just happened to her. She had been alone in a bar in the old Royal Institute on Colquitt Street, waiting to be interviewed by a journalist. She had heard noises coming from the bar area and assumed that someone must be working in the back. When the journalist arrived, Bernadette suggested that they get a coffee.  The journalist looked puzzled and said, “But the bar isn’t open until tonight.”  She told the journalist that she had just heard someone working behind the bar and that possibly, if they asked nicely, they could be served with a coffee or tea.  The journalist walked over to the bar and called to the back for assistance, but there was no-one there.

In the theatre, the actors and technicians began to complain of feeling completely drained, yet the atmosphere seemed to be charged with nervous tension. Brett, the Director, walked around like a man possessed, acting remarkably in character with his part, the evil devil-worshipping black magician Mocata, a character that Denis Wheatley had based on real-life occultist, Alistair Crowley.

Jackie eventually informed us that she had finished focusing the lights and had made the stage available for the actors. She then went upstairs to the lighting control room and turned on most of the stage lighting. The stage soon filled with actors.

Another resident theatre technician complained to me about how cold the theatre was, and this was echoed by the cast on stage, who were now standing under at least 50,000 watts of lighting, and therefore should have been feeling very warm indeed. Crossing the stage myself, I also got to feel how unnaturally cold it was up there.

As the dress-rehearsal progressed, cast members were beginning to feel spooked backstage as they waited for their curtain-calls, especially the actors situated in the dressing room directly below the stage. It was later described by one of the cast as ‘low level panic’, something that felt uneasy, but nothing you could put your finger on.

After two complete run-throughs of the show, the actors went off for a few hours to prepare for the first performance, while the technicians sorted out some last-minute problems.

At 6 p.m. a theatre usherette called Analesha walked into the auditorium and, upon seeing the pentagram, started to get very agitated. She wanted to who had ‘cast’ it, and why.  It wasn’t long before she revealed to us that she was a White Witch, and was very concerned about the pentagram, especially since it had been ‘cast’ upside down.

Stuart told her about the problems he had had drawing the thing on stage in the small hours of the morning. Analesha insisted that the circle needed to be cleansed; otherwise we would all be in ‘big trouble’. She said that, in effect, we had opened up a gateway to Hell, through which all manner of evil could break through. She insisted that the pentagram be blessed with salt water, but Brett, the director, refused point blank and told her it would be a slipping hazard on stage.

Just as he said this, the right-hand stage door flew open, and a blast of ice cold air shot across the stage. Analesha looked Brett in the eye and said “On your own head be it,” and walked off stage looking very disturbed.

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Just before curtain-up, as the audience found their seats, Jackie, who was alone in the lighting box, suddenly began to feel uneasy. She had the distinct feeling that something was in the box with her. She later described it as a ‘sinister, invisible something’ that she felt was out to ‘harm her’. Plugging herself into the comms link, she told everyone that she felt uneasy, and asked for any techies also on the comms to talk to her in order to take her mind off things. After a few minutes of chit-chat between the lighting box, sound desk and backstage technicians, Jackie called out to say that she could see a light that shouldn’t be there, bleeding around the top of the stage curtain.

She scanned the lighting desk and checked that all the on-stage lighting behind the curtain was switched off. She then asked the backstage people if there was anything that they could see that could be causing the illumination. Were any of the backstage striplights on?

“No”, came the reply from the technician in charge of the props.

Was there anyone in the rigging with torches?

“No” came the reply from the fly tower (the place, high in the ceiling, where technicians raise and lower backdrops and scenery to/from the stage).

We were perplexed. I was in the auditorium, seated behind the sound desk, listening to the commotion on the comms as the techies tried to find the source of the stray light. Eventually, the Stage Manager cut through the chatter and gave us our ready cues. The show was about to start.

As the curtain went up and the overture began, the mysterious light faded out. Now that the stage curtains were apart, Jackie could clearly see the spot where the mystery light had appeared. However, there were no lights positioned anywhere near where it had been.

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The first performance was a disaster. Later on, during debriefing, the actors complained that they felt completely drained of all energy – which was very unusual, especially for a first night’s performance. First nights are usually fuelled with adrenalin, but this had been a very flat performance, despite the show being a sell-out.  On the technical side, Jackie and I both missed a few cues, and Jackie told us all of her complete unease whilst sitting alone in the dark in the lighting box, despite having sat in there over 200 times previously without the slightest worry.

That night all the technicians and some of the cast went to the local pub for a wind-down drink and an informal post-mortem of the show. We were all in complete agreement that it was the oddest first night we had ever experienced.

The next day, when the actors turned up at the theatre, many complained of having difficulty sleeping while others revealed that they had suffered terrible nightmares.

Everyone who entered the theatre by the stage door also complained that the long corridor under the stage was unbearably cold despite the heating being full on, and some of the supporting actresses were feeling incredibly spooked in the dressing-rooms under the stage.  One actress felt so uneasy that that she changed into her costume in the backstage toilet.

Analesha, the usherette and White Witch, begged us to let her purify the circle with salt water, and also requested that we drop the scene where a copy of the Bible gets torn apart and spat upon. She pleaded with the Director, but he refused both requests.

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The Circle of Protection, as seen in the movie. (c) Hammer 1967

In the original book and the film, the most powerful part of the story is where the hero, the Duke de Richelieu and friends have to protect themselves from Moccata and the forces of evil by forming a protective chalk circle. In the film version, the circle was not a pentagram, but a plain circle ringed with salt and holy water. The climatic part of the scene comes when Death appears on horseback and attempts to break the circle but, by the power of prayer, the entity is thwarted and sent back to Hell.

It was during this scene, on the second night, that things started to go badly wrong with the lighting. Lights began turning themselves on and off, despite having no power to them, making the effect of the scene even more sinister. Jackie was cursing over the comms telling us that the lighting desk appeared to have a mind of its own. In addition, I was having problems with the sound desk I was operating. One of my sound-effects, an eerie wind sound, rose in volume even though my hand was away from the desk controls. I began to curse too.

As weird things were happening to the sound and the lights, the energy from the actors on stage was amazing. The scene was generating so much more drama than we had previously seen. It was as if the actors were possessed, more so than the stage equipment appeared to be. As Jackie and I fought to get control over our respective desks, the Stage Manager was shouting praise to us over the comms. “This is fantastic, keep it coming!”

After the show, Brett the Director asked us to include the ‘impromptu tech’ in the next night’s show, telling us that we were ‘naughty for not sticking to what we were supposed to be doing’ but praised us for our inspiration. No-one really listened to us as we spoke about our multiple technical problems. As soon as the meeting was over, Jackie and I compared notes on what had happened. Could it have been a power surge? We were completely perplexed. The only thing we were sure about was that something very weird had happened, and for us to ‘repeat’ it in the next show would be impossible.

That night Jackie didn’t join us for the usual post-show drink. Instead, she and her boyfriend, also a technician at the theatre, went home feeling incredibly drained. As they approached their front door, they heard a loud crash come from inside their flat.  Fearing that they were being burgled, Jackie’s boyfriend put his ear to the door, only to recoil in shock as he heard someone or something scratching down the inside of the door! He regained his wits and shouted at the top of his voice, announcing that he was going to open the door. He waited a few more minutes, still convinced that they had disturbed a burglar, and then unlocked the door, flinging it wide open. Gingerly, he went into the flat and checked every room.  Nothing. No burglar, no open windows, no sign of anything untoward. Both he and Jackie, feeling more drained than ever, decided to go straight to bed. Throughout the night, they both had a fitful night’s sleep and experienced very scary dreams.

The next morning Jackie awoke, complaining of having a sore throat. When she visited the bathroom and looked in the mirror, she was horrified to discover dark bruising all around her neck, almost as if someone or something had attempted to strangle her in the night. She feared that whatever was in the theatre had followed her home.

When she came back to the theatre for the next show, she was a nervous wreck.

Analesha got to hear about Jackie’s bad night, and also about the constantly slamming stage and fire doors, which practically everyone in the cast and crew had now experienced. Determinedly, she persuaded two of the technicians to let her bless the pentagram with salt water. She did this without letting Brett or anyone in the cast know.

During that night’s performance Jackie, alone in the lighting box and feeling extremely spooked, requested that someone sit with her during the second half. Her boyfriend dutifully went up and kept her company.

During the pentagram scene, Jackie and I tried to replicate what had happened the night before, but despite pushing everything up to the limit, we couldn’t match the previous night’s atmosphere. Jackie, in particular, had problems as she discovered that some of the lights that had fired off erroneously the night before hadn’t even been plugged in!

As performances went, it was a good show, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred.

The next day Bernadette was in most of the national newspapers.  The story had leaked out that there was something odd going on in the theatre.  Headlines such as ‘Devil Show Spooks Cast’ were everywhere.

Read all about it. Press coverage of the spooky goings on in ‘The Devil Rides Out’ show

This prompted paranormal investigator, Mark Glover, to turn up the next day.  He spent most of the afternoon in the theatre taking photos, measurements and making audio recordings at various locations.

As well as interviewing the cast and some of the crew, Mark made a few Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) recordings. On one of his tapes he picked up a number of anomalous voices that weren’t present at the time of the recording – and in one of his photographs, featuring the pentagram on stage, he captured a strange eerie mist hovering just above the circle that he swore was not present when he took the picture.

Analesha, with the aid of the technicians, performed her ‘purification’ ritual on the pentagram again, and things began to settle down in the theatre. Each night before performances, she secretly blessed the circle with salt water. Save for the odd door slamming, the sinister atmosphere in the theatre died down.

 On the last night Analesha didn’t get a chance to ‘bless’ the circle.

As she fretted in the aisles, the unknowing cast went on stage for the final performance …

As soon as we were into the full swing of the show, Jackie started to curse and swear as she once again lost control of the lighting desk. Lights began turning themselves on and off of their own accord. Seconds later, Collette the Stage Manager completely freaked out, shouting down the comms that she had just been pulled into the wings backstage by something invisible that had grabbed her tee-shirt. Then my sound desk went crazy, and sounds began to rise sharply in volume even though I was nowhere near the controls.

While all this was occurring, Brett and other actors on stage spied a sinister third figure in the lighting box that just fizzled out right in front of their eyes. They were so freaked out that they began missing lines. Then, during the final scene, the smoke machine went off during the finale, flooding the stage with dense fog. Technicians had to drag it off stage as they couldn’t stop it. Again, the device had operated whilst unplugged and being stone cold.

At the end of the final performance the actors and non-essential theatre staff went off to the end-of-show party, leaving a handful of technicians in the theatre to tidy up and strip down the set and equipment. The strip-down was the fastest I have ever experienced as we all wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as we could. Finally, we ripped up the tape that marked the pentagram and didn’t feel happy until we had repainted the stage to remove all trace of it completely.

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Many years after the strange events experienced during that production, I often wonder about what really went on in the Neptune Theatre during that fateful February in 1993. Was the whole series of events caused by group hysteria, fuelled by White Witch Analesha’s fear of the pentagram? Or was it, as Analesha thought, the careless ‘casting’ of a pentagram that allowed sinister forces to escape from ‘Hell’ to wreak havoc in our world?

One thing is for certain, the events really did occur, as I can willingly testify, but some critics have suggested that the ‘stories’ were merely an attempt at gaining publicity for the show. For this I have one simple counter-argument. The show was a sell-out long before the articles appeared in the newspapers.

Dennis Wheatley

At the end of the novel, The Devil Rides Out, Dennis Wheatley wrote:

I feel it is only right to urge my readers, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into the practice of the Secret Art. My own observations have led me to an absolute conviction that to do so would bring them into dangers of a very real and concrete nature.

If, as Dennis Wheatley believes, the secret arts can conjure up the sinister forces of evil, and the careless ‘casting’ of a pentagram can produce a gateway to Hell, is the Devil still riding out somewhere in Liverpool?

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*Being accosted by Women old enough to have known my Great Grandmother when she was a child.