The 5 Weirdest Things People Have Said To Me

Gossip

I recently read a Cracked feature called ‘5 things I learned as a Ghost Hunter’ and, although I don’t agree with everything (e.g. EVP are not evidence of ghosts) I was filled with relief to discover that I am not the only ghost researcher to have had the “I’ve got bugs crawling out of my vagina” phone call. When I told a friend this in an IM they were shocked and, when they recovered, asked what other weird calls I’ve had. So, without further ado…

The 5  Weirdest Things People Have Said To Me As a Ghost Researcher

#5 – ‘I was viewing a house I wanted to buy and my son said he was speaking to a man when there was nobody there. Will you come to Manchester to see if there is a ghost in this house for me before I buy it?’

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#4 – “Hold this crystal. Feel it?”
Me: “er…”
“-feel the earth, feel the heavens *sueezes my hands really hard* FEEL THE DEAD! TRY HARDER!”

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#3 – “There is a ghost dog that is trying to communicate. If I go into a trance will you ask it questions?”

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#2 – “Aliens implanted a tracker device in my tooth, they also gave me the ability to teach children how to be telepathic.”

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#1 “Giant spider ghosts materialise in my house and try to crawl inside of my vagina”

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I Bought My Psychic Powers Online

Psychic Readings Sign

Magicians can spot tricks a mile off which means that for decades they have been the rationalists right hand man when it comes to exposing phoney psychics for the tricksters they are. 

Using simple-yet-effective tricks to make people think you have psychic abilities when you don’t without disclosing the fact that you are using these tricks and not a paranormal ability isn’t new. The most common trick used is a technique called cold reading where vague statements are made that seem personal to the sitter, convincing them that the message from the psychic is unique to them. In reality it would seem unique to a whole host of people. To see this in action you just need to look at the amount of hands that go up at a psychic stage show every time the psychic is looking for a new person in the audience to read.

At QEDcon in April, a science and skepticism conference held annually in Manchester, US based mentalist Mark Edward spoke out against psychic tricksters. For decades Edward had worked as a professional psychic but he revealed all the tricks used by modern mediums and psychics in his book ‘psychic blues’ in 2012. During his talk he told the audience that they should “get up on [their] feet and take out the garbage!” Garbage meaning fake psychics who prey on those who are vulnerable and desperate.

Yet, despite this, he still occasionally works as a medium or psychic without disclosing to his audience that he is using trickery to achieve his results, preferring to allow them to “make up their own minds”.

“There is wiggle room” he claimed in defence of this during the ‘Skepticism and Magic’ panel session at QEDcon while fellow panellists, Professor Richard Wiseman and Paul Zenon looked on unamused. If he used a disclaimer, he explained, the effect would be ruined, but the others didn’t agree. Edward met a similar reaction at another skeptic conference, The Amazing Meeting, held in Las Vegas in 2013 by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

So, why does Edward afford himself the privilege of using this so-called “wiggle room” to not reveal his trickery to his audience yet get angry when other people do the same? Is he alone in this approach? 

I wondered, does this so-called “wiggle room” actually exist at all? I wanted to find out if it was a common held view with magical communities and so I signed up to online magic websites and began asking other members how I could convince people that I was using paranormal abilities to read their future and communicate with the dead.

‘I am not a shut-eye’ I wrote on a forum, assuring the other members that I haven’t fooled myself into believing I am actually psychic (which is what a shut-eye does), ‘I want real work. How can I learn to do this convincingly?’

I expected to be called out as a fraud and as unethical but this never happened. Instead the other members of these magic communities sent me suggestions and tips despite the clear indication that my intentions were not completely honest.

When I used to think of magicians and psychics I would think of Harry Houdini, James Randi or Derren Brown cleverly revealing the tricks you should be wary of while well known psychics got angry in response. Now, following my brief introduction to magic communities I think of people like Paul Voodini instead. I was linked to Voodini’s website several times by magicians who assured me I could convince anyone of my non-existent abilities if I were to buy the pre-packaged tricks I found there.

One particular trick on Voodini’s website called Reader of Minds boasts ‘having worked for many years alongside the UK’s most popular “shut eye” mediums and clairvoyants, he has studied their performance techniques and is now able to present to you the subtle art of ungimmicked mind-reading’ all for the sum of just £18. Bargain.  

He isn’t the only one who sells tricks like this. Elsewhere I was offered routines that would teach me how to deliver convincing tarot card readings, zener card readings, gemstone readings, fortune telling, palmistry and more. Services that are regularly on offer at psychic fairs up and down the country every weekend.

These out-of-the-box tricks make fooling people an easy task for those with no imagination and creativity of their own and, although in a lot of cases they’re purchased by people who just want to be the next Derren Brown or Dynamo, there’s no knowing how many people who claim to have genuine paranormal abilities are actually customers on these sites. I don’t think you have to be psychic to predict that it’s probably quite a few…

It is difficult, then, to imagine how anyone can defend the idea that “wiggle room” should exist when it comes to disclosing or not disclosing the use of trickery and illusion to read minds and more. I wish I could say that Mark Edward and his fellow tricksters were just fooling themselves when they claim it exists for them, but sadly they’re probably fooling countless other people too.

Beware the Wiggle room…

My activism isn’t led by battle cry

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For years now I have submitted complaints to Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority about dodgy health claims I see people making to advertise their products.

I’d personally rather make sure that people and companies advertise their products or services in a way that complies with CAP codes (advertising codes). Even if it’s something a bit silly like Reiki, as long as they’re not making false claims in their adverts then I think that’s fine… but for some that just isn’t enough. There exists, it seems, a sort of mob mentality where “quacks” getting silenced is the ultimate goal for skeptic activists. A sort of ‘who can shut up the most woo-pedallers?’ contest, if you will.

When I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the Healing on the Streets group in Bath were making potentially harmful claims that had no supporting evidence, the goal was to make sure those false claims were no longer made. It didn’t bother me too much if the group carried on praying for people or believing that god could heal, as long as they weren’t misleading people or using it as a front for recruitment. So when the outcome was a change to the literature used by the group I was satisfied, but others weren’t because the group had not been shut down completely. It was baffling.

Over time I’ve grown more and more concerned and dismayed with prominent skeptic activists regarding the way in which they engage with those they do not agree with, especially on Social Media websites like Twitter. Every night my twitter feed is full of the sarcastic, dismissive and rude tweets of skeptics with a passive aggressive full stop in front of the username of the intended recipient.

Messages formed out of 140 characters or less that dismiss people as stupid or as wicked con artists are thrown into an echo-chamber where good debate goes to die. It’s pointless chest beating and it has driven a feeling of deep disconnect between me and those I used to consider skeptic activism allies. The very people who used to inspire me to do what I do.

As a consumer and as a member of society I am aware that I have the ability to try and instigate change where I think it is needed most, but I have no desire to use that ability – that consumer power – to shut people down or to silence them. I don’t want to belittle people for thinking differently than I do, especially when research has shown that it often does nothing at all to change minds.

Instead I want to empower other consumers and make sure that we all have the ability to make properly informed choices when it comes to what we purchase or subscribe to. When I trained as a constituency campaigner with Oxfam UK it was so that I could gain the skills that would enable me to use the political power I have as a citizen to make a positive change, no matter how small it might be. I see using the Advertising Standards Authority, Trading Standards, OFCOM and other regulatory bodies similarly – they should be used as tools for positive change, rather than as weapons used for enforcement.

It is the latter approach that creates a ‘Them vs. Us’ mentality that I feel “rational people” could do so much more to combat, but ultimately I guess that sneering at silly people, mocking them on Twitter, and waving the ASA complaints form above your head like a sword proves more appealing for those who know they’re right.

Gail Parminter on Gender & Advertising

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Gail Parminter gave a talk at TEDx Bradford on Avon in 2012 about gender and advertising. I was present for this event but re-visited this talk recently after finding this article about a patronising advert selling bourbon.

They patronise both women and the majority of men as dumb sissies.

I drink bourbon… I also build my own furniture… who are these people trying to sell their products to, the small number of people they’ve managed not to patronise?

Anyway, Gail Parminter’s talk was really insightful so I’m sharing here as part of my ‘Interesting Things’ feature.

View other Interesting Things I’ve shared by clicking here. Or don’t. Your choice.

Boris bikes for BoA? Donelan is cycling up the wrong track

boris bike

On May 13th Mayor of London, Boris Johnson visited the local area and spent some time chatting to Michelle Donelan (who is standing to be the next Member of Parliament for the Chippenham constituency which covers Chippenham, Corsham, Bradford on Avon, Melksham and the surrounding villages) who, on her blog, states how she asked Johnson for his thoughts about investing in a local bike hire scheme in Bradford on Avon to ease the congestion problems faced in the town.

Donelan writes: 

Traffic congestion is a serious concern for residents and businesses Bradford on Avon. I have been listening to their frustrations and I share their concerns about it and the impact on air pollution in our town. One idea could be a cycle scheme similar to the London Boris Bikes. This won’t be suitable for everyone and there will costs, although in London that is heavily subsidised by sponsorship. We also have the hills to contend with so we might have to look at ideas around electric bikes.

Bradford on Avon Town Council have spent a lot of time studying a Traffic Survey that they hope will identify for them where the traffic is moving to and from when it causes congestion in the centre of town. In April a post to ‘Bradford on Avon Matters’ suggested that we would soon find out what action needs to be taken to help reduce the traffic and its impact on the town. 

Chair of the Bradford on Avon Air Quality Alliance, Cllr Rosemary Brown, said: “We have been waiting for a long time to get a better understanding of the facts about the town’s traffic issues. The traffic study will provide the detail we need. And the valuable work undertaken by volunteers and groups during the extensive Priority for People consultations will then help us put some detailed proposals together that may finally enable us to deliver improvements.”

On May 16th Peter Duford posted to Bradfordonavon.com that the Bradford on Avon Area Board had agreed its priorities for 2014-2016 at its meeting on 14 May based on the evidence from the Joint Strategic Assessment for Bradford on Avon and voting outcomes from the “What Matters To You in Bradford on Avon” event held across the town in February.

Included in these priorities was:

-To respond to the findings of the Traffic Study, including developing new traffic management and signage strategies across the community area and beyond

I very much doubt that Boris Bikes would have been considered as a strategy considering that it’s likely that most traffic causing congestion in the town is coming from outside the town and travelling to a destination outside of the town as although early numbers from the traffic study show that 16% of traffic starts and ends its journey outside of the town boundaries and the rest either starts here, ends here, or is totally within the town boundaries, a bike hiring scheme would not have an impact on traffic that travels outside of the town. Only traffic that goes from A to B within the town limits.*

How exactly Boris Bikes would act as an alternative for out of town traffic is beyond me. Especially considering that common destinations like Bath and nearby Wiltshire towns are at least 5 miles away in most cases.

Would drivers really want to cycle that far through areas where there are often no cycle paths and just fields full of cows for miles? Where would they leave their cars in Bradford on Avon, a town that has a shortage of parking for residents, let alone out of town visitors? There are more questions that answers with this frankly bizarre suggestion from Donelan. 

It should be obvious to anyone that Bradford on Avon isn’t like London when it comes to commuting or travelling. Providing Boris Bikes here is not the solution so badly sought by residents who are starting to run out of the patience they have so long maintained.

This is a town with poor air quality and poor pedestrian access throughout.  A town where local businesses are struggling while the town council work as fast as they can to find a solution. What we don’t need is a potential member of parliament for our constituency making ill-informed decisions about what’s best in an attempt to show that she really cares. Michelle Donelan has demonstrated here that she might not have her finger on the pulse of a town she so badly wants to represent. 

*Thank you to Shay Parsons for bringing my attention to early stats from the study I wasn’t aware of at the time of writing.