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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…

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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.