IT'S NOT ALL POPPYCOCK

 

One reason why I’ve kept schtum about mediumship is that sceptics can be, at best, cautiously open-minded, but at worst, how can I put it, they can be hostile and bellicose bigots.

 

Up until now, I haven’t talked about it publicly because the response from non-friends can sometimes feel like being punched in the face. Whilst some of my best friends are non-believers, I’m still able to talk to them, even if it does make for a hearty row after a few alcoholic beverages.

 

Driving up to the first camp of sceptics, there’s a neon sign over the no-expense-spared gate that reads, “This is it, folks”.

 

Their manifesto is short and oh, so sweet. There is only one life. This life. Inside the camp, there are swimming pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, fast cars and beautiful people eating oysters. I quite like their theory. It compels you to squeeze the max from everything. No time to waste. In many ways, it means you can’t sit on your arse and think, “Oh I’ll deal with that problem in the next life,” as I’ve found myself doing in the past. Making the most of every second is a noble way to live except when it turns to greed and irresponsibility. But why should they reject life after death? They’re not at odds with each other.  

 

The "Best Not" group is perhaps the biggest of sceptics. They are the decent men and women up and down the country, cooking dinner, watching Celebrity, Get me out of Here, chatting on the phone, who have a sneaking suspicion there is life after death. After all, didn’t Aunty Jean say her kitchen lights always flickered when someone mentioned her dear, departed husband Alfred? But that’s as far as it goes. Only a nut-job thinks you can communicate with the dead. Or a witch. Or someone on the devil’s payroll. Best not think about it.

 

The "Nervously Curious" ask lots of questions.

 

What’s it like?”

 

“Can you get my mum?”

 

“Can you do it now?”

 

“Am I psychic?”

 

Despite all the earnest interrogation, they’re not keen on actually visiting a medium. Maybe they’re afraid that someone they want to come through, won’t. Maybe it’s more of a relief to just hope that the person is out there somewhere, happy and well, rather than to risk renewed grief if they don’t come through.

 

Over at the hospitals, there are the Near Death Experience naysayers. Doctors refute accounts of their patients who claim to have hovered above surgery beds and travelled through white tunnels lined with waving, dead family members. “It was all just anaesthetic induced hallucination,” they’ll say. It might be. I don’t know.

 

There are some peeps who’ve just plain misunderstood what us mediums are saying. They’re the ones who’ll cradle their pint of ale, jabbing at you with their forefinger, “It’s all poppycock”. THEY think YOU think that a Bob in this life, will carry on as exactly the same Bob in the afterlife. If that’s the case then somewhere in the universe my dad is alive, wearing a checked shirt and tweed jacket, filling his Saab Turbo with petrol. Even I find that far-fetched, a cause for much scoffing and even fear. I do not want to, nor do I believe, that Polly Evelegh, will continue to live in some other dimension, yet again never quite getting round to reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom. If they think that’s your rif, no wonder they’re dialling Mental Health Services when your back is turned.

 

Of all the sceptics, the biggest pain (in. the. arse.) are the "Prove-Its". 

 

“Prove it, go on, prove it. Prove it now. You can’t prove it.” 

 

Nor can I prove climate change but I’m fairly sure it’s happening. Nor can I prove any of the deep sea creatures that flobbed around in the murk in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. For all I know every single one of them was computer generated. Why not? He’s getting on a bit so isn’t it easier just to knock them up on a Mac? We wouldn’t know.

 

Talking of planets, nor can I prove that our planet is round but because I’ve been taught it’s round, I believe it. I can’t prove the colour blue is blue. Or that the number two is two. I know what a Number Two is, but I can’t prove that two is two. If you tell me to go fishing and I don’t catch anything does that mean that fish aren’t there? It means I can’t fish. Even Einstein said he got to the point where there was no explanation for what held the world together. At least that’s what my dad told me. Yet the "Prove-Its" insist that a medium proves it to them, right there, right then, right away, in ways far beyond evidence of other things they accept as fact. Why is that?

 

I suggest fear may be at play. Fear of what happens next. If you’ve been told that once you’re through the Pearly Gates Border Control, there are only two destinations, heaven or hell, it’s not surprising life after death is a worry. I challenge anyone with an iota of self-awareness to say, “I’ve been so good M’ Lord, I’ve got my Speedy Bird ticket for the timeshare in Heaven.”

 

Come on. Who thinks they’re good enough for heaven? If you believe there are two options, nearly all of us have got hell as our last stop on life’s bus. It’s far more palatable to refute the entire notion of life after death as pure rubbish.

 

But that’s not the only fear. If you are to believe in life after death, there’s the unpleasant fear of being watched by those that are dead. It’s not nice to think Granpa can see you puffing on a joint. Or that Gran can see you cheating on your wife. Or, passion-killer, your dead dad can see you having sex. Only the other day I heard of someone who’d lost both their parents. He visited a medium to be told that once across the pearly gates, his parents had discovered he wasn’t a lonely bachelor after all but rather he’d been in a decades-long affair with a married woman. Awkward.

 

Or you’re just terrified a psychic or medium might have dirt on you. When you say you're psychic you can see a barely-there pause, as the brain turns a notch, “What can you see about me?” Your lying, your deceit, your plans to lay off 20% of the department? What if that medium knows you fiddled the books? What if they know you lied to Head Office? What if they know you’re lying to their face right this minute? Better shut down that whole nonsense good and proper. No one wants one of them seers around. “If you believe in life after death you’re a weirdo freak. Mediums are witches and frauds. Burn, burn, burn”. I don’t know about other mediums but I’m not drawn to get the skinny on someone. As I’ve said, the point of mediums is to prove life after death, not to know what colour knickers you’re wearing.

 

Enough chatteroo from me. Here are the stats that may give sceptics pause for thought.

 

50% of the world’s population believe in some form of afterlife [1]. 

 

That’s more believers than households that refresh themselves with the world's leading brown fizzy drink, which if you’re interested was 43.9% [2] at the last count.   

 

 27% of Americans believe the living and the dead can communicate with each other [3].

 

That’s more than the global household penetration of a very well known dandruff shampoo, at 26.2% [4]. It’s an interesting stat because it holds two beliefs: life after death and communicating with the dead. And that’s all without an advertising budget, unlike the well known branded dandruff shampoo.

 

Here’s one for an eyebrow-raising pause.

 

Taking into account the world's religions that include the concept of reincarnation, we’re talking 1.4 billion people, that’s 19% of the world’s population [7] who believe in reincarnation.

 

Meanwhile, 25% of Americans [5], 24% of American Christians and 27% of the UK [6] believe in reincarnation. Shut the front door.

 

And it’s not just the knit-your-own-sandals brigade; Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato also believed in some form of rebirth [8]. Yes, the world’s brightest brainboxes, lauded for razor-sharp logic also believed in flakey old reincarnation.

 

Whilst I’m beating my drum, it’s a smidge ironic that more people believe in life after death and reincarnation than who believe in astrology or horoscopes, (a measly 22%), or in fortune telling or Tarot (an even more lowly 15% [9]), yet nigh on every newspaper and mag carries a page of “stars”.

 

Somewhat bored one weekend, a friend’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Chrissie, and I decided to test some of these stats, by interviewing residents in a place unlikely to harbour airy-fairy thoughts. Minden, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada. Population: 5,655.  

 

Bang in Canada’s old logging country. A place where hard work, straight talk and a Ram Truck will earn you a, “Have a good evening,” from the cashiers at the local supermarket.

 

A place where a neighbour will ride over in the wind and rain, on their Arctic Cat quad bike, chainsaw balanced across the handlebars, to chunk up the tree that’s just come down taking out your electricity pylon. All for a handshake … and a beer or two.  

 

Chrissie also had a school project so some solid research into an unusual subject could earn a few top grades.

 

We tooled into Minden for the Saturday farmer’s market held in the carpark. Chrissie has a gift for starting conversations so took the lead approaching locals as they bought farmhouse bread, manned the knitwear stall and sipped coffees. I followed, helping to prompt questions.

 

For reasons I won’t go into, she wore a scarlet beret. I wore a red plastic sou’wester. She was the producer. I was the director. We were Red Hat Productions. Why not? Something had to keep our mood upbeat when hanging about in a freezing carpark looking for takers. 

 

Within just 7 interviews, 5 people said they believed in unexplained, psychic phenomena. 

 

Tut, tut, go my strategic planning brethren, hardly statistically significant. My come back is, this wasn’t a robust quant study but it was a very public inquiry into very personal views. I was worried that we’d be shooed away or even mob lynched by even asking such questions but instead, the responses were forthcoming.

 

The lady at one stall experienced things disappearing, the work of “devious spirits” she said, charmingly. As a young girl, her family had an old farmhouse where lights went on and locked doors opened even when they were away and the electricity was turned off. Neighbours would ring and ask if someone was staying in their house. There was never any sign of entry. She said it wasn’t threatening but rather nice knowing, “They’re around,” and it meant that when we die we just change from this world to another.

 

The Ukrainian lady at the jewellery stall had experienced phenomena all her life. Back in her mother country, whenever the family sat around the kitchen table and mentioned her deceased father, the kitchen light lost power. They moved to Canada and it continued to happen.

 

The hip lady and her partner at the knitwear stall, Nyx, talked more about nature spirits. I thought to myself, they're in just the right place round these parts for a bit of nature. I also thought, "I'll get myself one of those Huntress tops." I've hardly taken it off since.

 

Ellie, the owner of the Dominion Pub, built in the 1850's, told us that one snowy night her son stayed in a room rather than drive back to his cottage. He heard music playing in the next door room, old-time music. He assumed a guest had checked in. But in the morning he saw from the register that no one had done so. Maybe the radio alarm had come on automatically? He got the master key to go into the unused room to turn it off. The radio wasn’t plugged in.

 

“Apparently she’s very friendly,” Ellie smiled. Presumably, an unpleasant ghost wouldn’t do much for business.

 

She went on tell us that people had felt someone lightly patting their shoulder and workmen felt someone was watching them.

 

Ellie was hazy about who the ghost was but it was a woman and the whole sorry tale involved a boyfriend who was a logger, a taboo pregnancy and the poor love committing suicide.

 

She finished by saying people had seen someone looking out from the third floor. Ellie kept that floor for storage. Back in the day, the loggers stayed there, putting straw down for bedding.

 

Ellie finished with, “There’s a lot of presences in the town,” and just like everyone else we spoke to, pointed us to Doug Pugh.

 

As we left the Dominion, both Chrissie and I turned back to look at the third floor. “Eugggh, I just got a shiver,” she said. But maybe that was a nasty gust of wind. 

 

Doug Pugh is something of a celebrity in Minden. “He wears an eye patch and works at Canadian Tyre. Does the ghost walk,” said more or less everybody we spoke to. Too good to miss, I met with Doug a few days later. He revealed that Minden and nearby Haliburton were awash with the supernatural.

 

There’s the lady who drowned herself by loading her underpants with rocks and then jumping off the town’s bridge after her logger boyfriend hanged himself. It may or may not be the same lady ghost that’s at the Dominion.

 

Drop Dead Ned slipped and broke his neck after one too many at the Dominion the night before he was due to leave for the Klondike to make his fortune. He lingers between the lawyer’s office, which used to be the town stables, and the Thai restaurant, which used to be the General Store. The store, Doug told me, also sold coffins. Handy.

 

The Rockcliffe Tavern has its own logger ghost, who also hanged himself after the girl at the bar spurned his spit and sawdust advances. Hanging was a big thing in Minden. With all the buildings made of wood and not having fire escapes, rooms were supplied with ropes to help you make your escape.   

 

But I don’t want to muscle in on Doug's patch so I’ll leave it there.

 

Suffice to say that Red Hat Productions was astonished to find Minden chock full of people who were so matter-of-fact, even laid back, about their supernatural stories.

 

Even die-hard cynic friends of friends, who'd be the last people on earth to vouch for any supernatural goings-on, had their own experiences. They'd bought a house in Prince Edward County. Locked doors opened. Locked windows opened. Clothes were taken from wardrobes and strewn about. Lights came on when the owners were tucked up in their city beds, 4-hour’s drive away in Toronto. 

 

Either we’re all liars, nutters or there’s something in it. It’s most likely that we simply haven’t invented the instruments to prove it to the "Prove-Its". Of course, I’m going to say that at one point the world was flat. With better science, it became obvious that it’s not. Until we have that equipment, I say to the "Prove-Its", a good place to start is to try it for yourself.  Doubters, cynics and stake-burners, give it a shot and then make a judgement. There’s nothing to lose but a lot to gain.

 

Until then I leave you with a story someone once told me. It involved a couple overhearing their eight-year-old, who was leaning over his new baby brother’s cot, The child said to the newborn, “Tell me about heaven. I’ve forgotten.”

 

 

[1] PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2009 

[2] Kantar

[3] PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2009 

[4] Kantar

[5] PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2009 and Kantar

[6] THEOS, 2008

[7] PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2009

[8] PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2009

[9] THEOS

 

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