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Try to battle my boys? That's not legal!  Morgan Davie
 Oct 04, 2004 15:56 PDT 

There's this TV show. It's called 'Most Haunted'. Its great fun - a bunch
of paranormal investigators check out haunted spots in the UK. The stars of
the show are, however, the Dodgy Mediumman and the Hysterical Presenterlady.
A typical episode:

HP: "Well here we are at Muckhole Castle, reputed to be the most haunted
castle in all of South Grubbing."

Spooky music, dramatic time-lapse photography, darkness.

HP: "We're in the master bedroom, currently used as a storage room."

DM: "Oh... there are spirits here... I'm sensing a woman... she's saying she
died, it was tragic..."

Nightvision camera, the crew creep around, clutching each others' arms.

HP: "Now we'll proceed down to the basement."

Sound of someone dropping something.


Sound guy: "Um, that was me, I dropped something."

DM: "Oh, yes, there are spirits here... I'm sensing a woman..." etc.

HP: "Well, we didn't capture anything on camera. But I've never been more
scared and I'm quite confident that Muckhole Castle is one of Britain's Most

It's bloody marvellous.


I hang out on an online community called RPGnet. It is, as the name
suggests, built around role-playing games. It also plays host to a
marvellous sub-community known as Tangency, which is a hotbed of discussion
of odd news items, kyoot keetooms and kyoot doggums, fierce arguments about
religion and gay issues and media spin and US/global politics, and random
nonsense of the highest calibre.

Through RPGnet I met a circle of spiffing chaps who go under the collective
moniker of the Britpack. The Britpack chats about cricket, British
television, cups of tea and hobnobs, and most importantly engages in the
important business of skewering the pretensions of anyone who starts taking
anything too seriously.


On the 20th of August, the Britpack (and friends) assembled in the flesh for
the first time. The venue for this auspicious meeting? The Derby Gaol -
one of the most haunted places in Britain. Our hosts? Richard Felix, Most
Haunted resident historian, and CJ, ex-crew on MH and an RPGnet denizen.

We hired a car for the weekend and drove down from Edinburgh, wending our
way as we went through numerous B-roads and seeing the North of England up
close, if usually at the speed limit. Our B-road explorations slowed us
rather more than expected, with the upshot of our arrival at the pub of
meeting not two or three hours in advance, as had been hoped, but precisely
to the minute of our arrival time - 7.00pm. We wandered into the pub over
the road from the Gaol and quickly made contact with some of the group.
There were introductions and general names-to-faces, and then we crossed
over to the Gaol itself.

The Gaol is actually slightly below ground level. It forms the basement of
a more recent building that was erected over the top of it, and it can be
accessed through a garden area at the back (the way we came) or down a set
of stairs from the street around the front. We made our way as a group down
the dark corridor to the Gaol door proper, and were let inside by a quite
frankly rather worrying figure with a shock of grey hair, period clothing
and a ham-sinister accent. The Gaol was a creepy corridor with low stone
ceilings, lit by candles and wreathed in smoke, full of unnerving shadows
and ominous recesses. Quite the splendid introduction.

After about thirty seconds of heavy-accented welcome, the grey hair slipped
off to reveal Richard Felix, owner of the Gaol, and he reverted to his
normal persona that we would come to know much better over the evening -
that of someone who is passionately interested in history and ghosts and who
has a remarkably engaging way of spinning story after story after story at
you, all of them great fun. We stood in the candlelight as his welcome
turned into a story which turned into another story, and his colleagues
pitched in with their own, and it was all very evocative.

Eventually we set out on a ghost walk around Derby, which was great fun
although I remember the swarms of teenage nightclubbers rather more clearly
than the spooky stories. When we got back to the Gaol we gathered around
tables in the Gaol and ate some splendid nosh. Somehow it was already past
midnight. Then the paranormal fun proper began.

Actually, then we mostly sat around talking for hours and hours.

The centrepiece of the Gaol's creepy reputation is the condemned man's cell,
where criminals were locked to spend their final night before execution.
Those who have spent time in there have reported encounters with a burly,
greasy thug - the executioner, who clearly savoured his job and whose
malevolent presence lingers.

The cell has also been the scene of numerous odd occurences. One of Most
Haunted's triumphant moments was when a wooden cross, laid on a carefully
marked piece of paper in the cell and kept in camera view, abruptly moved a
few millimetres. (Of course, the camera placement didn't show the entire
cross, so someone off-camera could have bumped it. D'oh! Convincing
evidence of the supernatural continues to elude us!)

Another good story: one night a woman decided she would sleep, alone, in the
cell. She was woken in the night by a tugging on her sleeping bag. She
waited, and it didn't continue while she was fully awake, so she dismissed
it as imagination and returned to sleep. Then she was woken fully as
something ripped her sleeping bag off of her. She leapt up and ran
screaming from the cell...

When Cal heard this tale, after seeing Hysterical Presenterlady freak out in
the cell on TV, she was quite unsettled and not sure about this whole
spend-the-night-in-the-Gaol thing. Well, not only did she spend the night
in the Gaol, she ended up skiving off to the only quiet room to catch some
sleep. That's right - she actually slept in the condemned man's cell. And,
it should be said, quite soundly. Blimey.

Anyway. The morning came rather quickly, and suddenly I'd stayed up all
night in a haunted prison. As the group slowly roused themselves, a few of
us sat quietly playing Debbie'n'Matt's delightful Cow card game
(http://www.matador.co.nz/cow.html). Then we said our farewells, shook
hands, and set off into the sunlight.

Cal and I didn't realise that the true horror was still ahead of us...


One other note. Early in the evening, we had a shot at something called
table tipping. A group of people sit around a table, put their fingertips
on it, and wait to see if it moves. It didn't work, and if it had, I would
have been the first to check it against things like nonconscious feedback
reinforcement processes etc etc. We gave it a shot though, because Richard
Felix had recently done some table tipping on Most Haunted and it had made
an impression on him.

I happened to see that episode. A bunch of folk sitting around a table with
their fingertips on the edge. It took a long time, but that table started
to move. Lift a little at the edges. Then it started to rock a bit. Then
it suddenly slid about three inches sideways. Then it jumped about an inch
off the floor. Then it did it again.

All this happened under two roving cameras that went all around the table,
under it, above it, on everything. I can't see any room for it to have been
faked, unless all the participants were in on the hoax - and having met
Richard, well, shall we just say I really don't think he's capable of
keeping his mouth shut about much of anything. Not an ideal conspirator,
you might say. For Richard, it was absolutely real. So - if not a hoax, it
was genuinely something beyond my understanding of science. Now it ain't
ghosts, it's just a bumping table, but man. It made an impression. That
table *hopped*.

There's some weird stuff happening in this world.

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