The 5 Worst Ghosts of 2014

MARLEY AND MARLEY

Since 2010 I have been writing an end-of-year summary of the five ghost stories that made me grumpy or angry because of their rubbish nature and 2014 is in no way different. Technically there are still eleven days left in the year at the time of writing this but I think (read ‘hope‘) it’s safe to assume that Christmas and New Year will keep rubbish ghosts out of the news until 2015.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to…

THE FIVE WORST GHOSTS OF 2014

#5 The Coventry Medieval Guildhall Ghost

coventry guildhall original photo

In April, the Coventry Telegraph were convinced that their photographer had captured a ghost on camera while taking pictures of the Irish President, Michael D Higgins during his visit to the town.

They reported that ‘in those images he found a ghoulish green ‘ghost’ hanging out behind Michael D Higgins when the leader was addressing the city’s Medieval Guildhall.‘ Apparently ‘the emerald ethereal apparition seemingly goes unnoticed by the gathered great and the good – who are all listening intently to the President’s speech.’

Yeah, probably because it is the light from a projector or some other such light source and they had no reason to pay it any attention. You see, the Telegraph showed everyone the photo above first which does indeed show an odd green light behind Higgins…

coventry guildhall annotated

…but when you look at the bigger picture (above) you can quite clearly see the light is reflected elsewhere in the picture (see fig. 2) and that the shape of the chair in front of the alleged ghost is mimicked in the shape of the ghost (fig. 1). This is because the chair is blocking whatever the light source is.

#4 The Dover Castle Ghost

This footage was filmed at Dover Castle by a security camera in 2009, uploaded to Youtube in 2011 and recently made the headlines because people were convinced that it shows a real ghost and, I presume, it was a slow news day. The first red flag is raised by the fact that this is bad quality footage being filmed by a secondary source which makes it near impossible to investigate.

Personally I think this is an insect moving across the lens of the CCTV camera which is why it has hardly any distinguishable shape or colouring (and it wouldn’t be the first time an insect on a camera lens has been mistaken for a ghost), but part of my thinks that this could also be a hoax (though I’ve no evidence of this.) The behaviour of the security guard in the footage is a bit too convenient and looks staged. Would he really have reacted so quickly to a weird thing appearing on CCTV? Hmm….

Either way, naff…

#3 Samuel Kent’s ghost

Samuel Kent comparison

Trowbridge resident Michelle Midwinter thought that she had captured something a bit odd on camera when taking a photo of her house. You can see the original photo here. She felt that something resembling a face could be seen in one of the windows when there was nothing in the window or nearby that could cause that effect. A self-confessed non-believer of ghosts she still claims that the photo shows what could be the face of an old man and sold it to the first News Agency that came sniffing.

Now, this is where it gets weird because the caretaker of my old school, Andrew Jones, who has an interest in local history says that the photo bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Kent, the father of Constance Kent, who brutally murdered her three-year-old brother when she was 16 in the nearby village of Rode in 1860. I’m not seeing it…

…but I do see He Who Must Not Be Named…

voldermort comparison of trowbridge ghost
Where’s Potter?

Or, worst yet…

You stop that, Vladimir. You stop that right now!
You stop that, Vladimir. You stop that right now!

#2 Ye Olde Man Ghost

The above video of a strange apparition in the Ye Olde Man & Sythe public house in Bolton started to gain a lot of attention in February this year. I initially thought that what we were seeing in this video was created by using a Peppers Ghost illusion but I was wrong and Bryan and Baxter managed to make a perfect recreation of this video using Adobe After Effects as seen below.

When the video initially made the news I was curious and had a quick dig around and discovered that the account that uploaded the video to Youtube belongs to Richard Greenwood, the current manager of the pub who took over in 2012 after it closed down briefly. In a 2012 article about the reopening, The Bolton News quoted Greenwood as saying he wanted to capitalise on the history of the pub which dates back to 1251 and is thought to be one of the four oldest public houses in the country. Richard Greenwood is also Managing Director for Consult Greenwood Ltd, a consultancy firm supplying creative routes to market for new products and technologies…

…B-B-B-BUSTED!

#1 The Black Eyed Kids of Cannock’s Chase

black eyed kids

Black Eyed Kids (BEKs) are dangerous apparently, and a sighting of one could be a bad omen. If you let one into your home bad things will happen, but what these bad things are nobody knows. This is quite possibly because BEKs are just urban legends that do not exist. Don’t let that get in the way of a real life ghost story though! Gosh no.

The Black Eyed Kid of Cannock’s Chase is a case that is shrouded with poor taste and not a jot of mystery. Easily impressed Lee Brickley, the so-called investigator at the centre of this story received one eye-witness report from a member of the public who sighted what has been described as a BEK in 2013. He waited until October of 2014 to go public with this in what can only be described as a publicity seeking campaign.

This resulted in front page news stories in The Daily Star and the word-of-mouth account of the odd sighting being tastelessly linked to the murder of young girls decades ago in an attempt to make the story seem more interesting. It has since made the front page of the latest Fortean Times issue.

It’s a non-story and the attention it has gained is quite baffling. The fact that most of the coverage has been uncritical is just frustrating. I just want to put the story in context:

One woman says she saw a Black Eyed Kid. There is nothing to support her story other than her word. That’s it.

"Hi, I'm Lee Brickley and I'm hiding behind my book because I'm scared because I believe in, like, everything."
“Hi, I’m Lee Brickley and I’m hiding behind my mediocre book because I’m scared of everything because I have a low threshold for evidence. I believe, like, pretty much anything you tell me. “

Brickley has form for taking eye-witness accounts and using them as evidence that supernatural entities are real in the Cannock’s Chase area but (to my knowledge) he has never done it in such a tasteless fashion before. For that reason alone Brickley and his Black-Eyed-Kid-That-Wasn’t has made the Number One spot on my Worst Ghosts of 2014 list.

I predict that in 2015 Slenderman will be seen in Cannock’s Chase and will have a baby with the so-called PigMan hybrid monster. You heard it here first.

Recommended Reading:
The Worst Ghosts of 2013
The Worst Ghosts of 2012
The Worst Ghosts of 2011
The Worst Ghosts of 2010

The “Explain That” Game

SMALL FACEPALM

Earlier this month I found myself in the unfortunate position of having no choice but to suffer as a radio presenter fired ghost anecdote after ghost anecdote at me. He’d collected them from his listeners and then demanded that I solve them right there on the other end of the telephone while live in air with no prior warning. It was unfair, dull and after the third time that I politely reminded him I couldn’t answer the cases being presented to me because that’s not how this works I’d had enough and regretted agreeing to go on the show in the first place.

 

This is often done in an attempt to undermine the arguments being put forth by skeptics or non-believers, to make them look like they do not know what they’re talking about and to weaken their position against the existence of ghosts as a result.

Sadly it’s not an uncommon experience.

I have found that being honest about the fact that I do not believe in ghosts sometimes makes me somewhat of a target for those who once saw something out the corner of their eye and believe this is evidence of the paranormal. How do you explain that? they’ll cry, smugly satisfied that they’ve stumped the skeptic and have won the argument.

I dislike it when this happens because it puts me in a tricky position. When presented with that sort of challenge I could pull some potential explanations out of the air and try to make them fit the case, or I can tell the truth and say that I can’t approach a case in the way because I don’t have all the facts, yet either way the person issuing the challenge will be reassured that they are right and I am wrong because, oh look, the skeptic can’t explain it.

…but then neither can they, and that’s the real kicker here.

When you turn that question on the person asking it of you they often crumble because a lot of people who are confident that they’ve experienced a ghost in one way or another are unable to explain how or why they think what they experienced was a ghost. They just know. A woman once told me ‘sometimes you’ve got to trust your gut and make a leap of logic with these things’, which is completely untrue. It’s perfectly acceptable to just say “I don’t know what happened”.

Remember, just because you can’t explain it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an explanation. A lot of people forget this and assume that because they cannot explain something that happened to them means that the explanation must be ghosts or aliens or bigfoot. These conclusions tend to be baseless and lacking in supporting evidence – but the very people who would use such sloppy reasoning are happy to issue challenges to those who don’t agree with their conclusions – explain that then!

No. You.

The Shirt That Matt Wore

placard photo

censorshipI started blogging about seven or eight years ago and in that time many people have found the things I write about to be offensive, usually because I criticise or disagree with ideas they believe are true. Some people have written to people I was employed by to demand I be fired from my previous jobs, others have threatened to harm me if I didn’t take down what I had written and I’ve had more fake legal threats sent my way than I can remember… all because they found what I had said to be offensive.

For the last few years I have been angered at the news that students in British universities who identify as atheist have been censored because the materials they were using or distributing on campus had offended religious students. The religious students do not have a right to not be offended and yet the university staff were catering to their offence by censoring the expression and speech of the atheist students. Not cool.

A shirt recently worn by Dr Matt Taylor during a press briefing on the progress of the Rosetta mission has offended many people because it had a custom made design on it depicting semi-naked women. Many pointed out that such articles of clothing can make the science industry seem even less welcoming to women that it already is. This resulted in Taylor apologising for any offence caused.

There have been some really weird reactions to this in my social media timelines.

Some people who don’t find the shirt offensive have said that “feminists” (and yes, quotation marks have often been used because No True Feminist amirite?) who do find it offensive should get over themselves. On the other hand I have seen people who found the shirt offensive accusing those who say they don’t agree of contributing to the patriarchy.

Hmm.

It’s easy to polarise a topic like this and to label people that you do not know and will never meet as being good or bad people who are right or wrong, clever or stupid. Personally, I think that some people need to reflect on why they think they have the right to insist that others hold the same position as they do or are the enemy or need to get over themselves. I think that is a really selfish world view.

You might not find something offensive but that doesn’t mean it isn’t offensive to others who may or may not have had different experiences than you. On the other hand, just because you find something offensive doesn’t entitle you to special treatment. It’s good when people apologise for being offensive, it’s good to debate these things but, for fuck sake, can people stop acting as though they’re authorities on what others should and shouldn’t do and how others should and shouldn’t feel?

As harsh as it seems, nobody has an obligation to cater to a persons offence or lack-of offence and yet despite this many people act as though the opposite is true and as though they are entitled to that sort of treatment. Just as many people react angrily when someone blocks them on social media websites – as though they have a right to a platform (you don’t), or react angrily when someone criticises them as though they’ve the right to not be criticised (um no.)

placard photo

In a lot of cases where people find something offensive, an apology or the removal of said-offensive thing can be a justified and reasonable response, but even so, it isn’t the only option yet many people act as though it is (unless the offensive item is a hate crime.) I am glad that Dr Matt Taylor apologised for causing offence when he didn’t intend to because it’s possible to be discriminatory even when you don’t mean to be. Often the oppression of minorities is so ingrained that it becomes normal and you don’t even realise that throwaway comments, gestures or actions are discriminatory or hateful in nautre.

I do find it very concerning that many of my friends and many of the people I follow who identify as skeptics, atheists or free-thinkers are happy to censor people but criticise when the shoe is on the other foot. I’m not suggesting that Taylor was censored but this is just one case in a large collection of internet-based outrages of late that have all prompted similar reactions ad it has really provided some food for thought. It really is a slippery slope and some people are standing dangerously close to the edge.

Have You Seen A Fairy? Share Your Experience!

fairy-investigation-society
seeing fairies
Reports from the lost FIS archives

When I saw that ‘Seeing Fairies – From the Lost Archives of the Fairy Investigation Society by Marjorie T Johnson had been published I bought a copy and read it immediately. My first love will always be ghosts, and monsters come in at a close second (I love you, Nessie!), but there is something about fairies that has always interested me.

I found the book fascinating even though I don’t quite believe that these people were seeing fairies. Do I believe in fairies? No. Do I want to see a fairy? It depends… I don’t want to be chased by a small angry man with a stick, but a lot of the eye-witness testimonies sound so lovely and calming, so I think I’d quite like to see a gnome wandering around my garden. In reality though I don’t think that’s very likely.

That didn’t stop me from contacting the Fairy Investigation Society and asking if I could become involved in their research and activities.

Yes, that’s right. A skeptic who wants to investigate fairies.

It’s important, I think, to acknowledge human experiences and I find the experiences that people report fascinating to study and it is possibly my favourite part about being a paranormal researcher. Sometimes I am able to provide rational explanations for these experiences and other times I am not, but I still love the stories either way. I love listening to people tell these stories too, safe in the knowledge that I don’t think they’re stupid.

The FIS have just launched the Fairy Census which is a two-year project to chart fairy beliefs and fairy sightings in Britain and Ireland. I had some minor input on this that I hope will help gain an understanding of a modern societies take on fairy phenomena.

The Census is going to be the biggest folklore survey of its kind ever undertaken which is really exciting. The census is launched this week in Fortean Times magazine and includes an online form for those who have had fairy experiences, and another questionnaire to measure how fairy belief has changed in recent years among the general public.

There have already had some responses with some pretty interesting experiences being shared. Project coordinator, historian Dr Simon Young, says that: “We are not interested just in what people see, but why they see it. For example, fairy sightings are often associated with sleep deprivation or unusual moods. We are also interested in how fairy sightings change. So, fairies seem to have, generally speaking, gotten smaller through the centuries. Will this trend continue? With the census we will have the means of measuring changing beliefs.”

If you’ve seen something that you think was a fairy please consider filling out the survey. Or, if you’ve got an aunt or a friend who says they’ve seen a fairy perhaps you could pass it onto them, or fill it out on their behalf? I think the result of this will be extremely interesting and it would be great for this to be shared far and wide.

The surveys can be found here.

Ghosts Attracted To Flooded Surrey: Water Load Of Nonsense

water

Ross Hodgson offers his paranormal investigation services for free to those who live in the Surrey area. He told Get Surrey:

“People contact us through the website if they think something paranormal is going on. They call us in and we get evidence for them.”

Apparently, Hodgson and his team have recently been getting calls from the Egham Hythe and Thorpe Lea areas of Surrey, which were effected by bad flooding around Christmas 2013. Flooding has been a huge problem for the area this year and the lives of residents has been changed due to property damaged and their livelihoods being effected. It cannot have been easy to deal with this situation and I can only offer my sympathy to anyone recovering from that experience.

The Environment Agency describes damage to a property from flooding in two ways:

Primary damage includes damage to the structure, expansion or shrinkage and staining. It will largely depend upon the severity and velocity of the flood waters, how long the materials remain saturated and their absorbency. Cleaning out and drying procedures can also cause damage.

Secondary damage is caused by moisture travelling to other areas than those originally affected. Water vapour rising through a building can cause mould growth. Hygroscopic materials, which absorb moisture, will support mould growth because they maintain a high relative humidity at their surface.

Strange then, don’t you think, that Hodgson is claiming that this flooding has somehow “charged” spiritual energy in the area, causing people to experience weird things in their homes?

“They all seem to have been flooded either up to the doorstep or into the house. Anything to do with a stream or water seems to be a battery charger to charge up paranormal activity,”

His claims are complete nonsense. The only way in which the recent flooding could cause the weird experiences of those living in the area that had been flooded would be through damage to their properites that results in strange noises, smells and even perhaps damp and cold spots.

Not only could structural damage cause strange experience, but I’d imagine that having to deal with extensive flooding of your home and the area you live in can be extremely stressful for those involved and it wouldn’t surprise me if the state of mind of those in this situation contributed to some of the experiences reported.

The idea that ghosts are drawn to water is an old one and yet it still has life in it. Some claim that water has memory and, like building fabrics in the Stone Tape Theory, can somehow record what it has come into contact with or what has happened around it. This is an idea also used by homeopaths as proof that their nonsense remedies actually work, but water has no memory and just as with the Stone Tape Theory there is no evidence that events that take place at a location can be recorded in the fabric of that building to later be replayed.

Others claim that water can somehow charge ghosts and make them stronger and more able to do things that us humans can see, hear or experience. This theory tends to be favoured by those who believe that ghosts are actually energies (often described as life energies of once-living humans), but there is also no evidence to support this. I also can’t help but think that if this was true there would be a huge amount of paranormal activity being experienced around lakes, rivers, ponds and puddles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This is similar to the claim that ghosts drain the batteries in ghost hunting equipment when really the cause tends to be that the equipment is being used in very cold environments which batteries don’t operate well in.

Whether people think ghosts being drawn to water is nonsense or not, I am sure most people would agree that getting reports from homes that have been effected by an environmental disaster of this nature is a tricky case for any paranormal researcher to deal with, and that getting involved in such a case is ethically questionable considering the methodology that these investigators claim to have used; looking for evidence of ghosts with “specialist recording equipment”, holy water and rosary beads – all hugely biased methods that, ultimately, would have added little value to the situation.

What a shame.