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Having subjected you to some pretty tedious stuff for the past few months, I felt I owed it to you to post something worthwhile. Well, technically I don’t owe you anything but you know what I mean.

I’ll admit that I lost some of my enthusiasm for the paranormal and perhaps my cynicism had turned to exasperation, but I’m keen to get things back to how they used to be. You remember the good times, don’t you?  Please don’t leave me for another ghost blog. You belong here, with me.

So, in order to prove to you that I’m still serious about Looking For Ghosts, I decided to pack my bags and head off to Pluckley with an (unwilling) accomplice.

If you have even the slightest interest in ghosts, the chances are that you’ve already heard of Pluckley. Nestled deep in the Kent countryside, it is often said to be Britain’s most haunted village and even has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records to cement this dubious claim. This is totally absurd when you consider that hauntings are an entirely unquantifiable concept, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of eager ghost hunters flocking to Pluckley every year to try and get their spook on.

And if you’re thinking of doing the same, I seriously wouldn’t bother.

Arriving in the glorious sunshine one Saturday lunchtime, Pluckley seemed to us just like any other village; quiet, picturesque and, frankly, a little bit dull. There were a couple of pubs and some houses, but not much else. What do people do here?  Doesn’t even have a Pret A Manger. It’s practically barbaric.

Having tried and failed to book a Bed and Breakfast for the evening thanks to a wedding party occupying all available rooms, Dering Woods (or The Screaming Woods as they are commonly known) would have be our home for the evening. After lugging our bags for what felt like an eternity along winding country roads, the unrelenting heat rendering our journey only marginally more pleasant than diving headlong into a burning mound of faeces, we finally arrived.

On first impression the woods were fairly underwhelming, but then it’s difficult to know exactly what we were expecting during the middle of the day. Ghouls flying about between the branches? Piercing screams echoing through the trees? Obviously not, but I couldn’t help but feel that Pluckley’s reputation was letting it down slightly. It actually seemed quite pretty.

Living in London and therefore knowing nothing about camping or the countryside, this trip was never likely to be a smooth operation but nevertheless we exuded the inexplicable complacency befitting hardened city dwellers when faced with a seemingly easy task. Camping? Isn’t that something children do? Piece of piss.

Several arguments later, and with our tempers almost as frayed as the material on flimsy groundsheet, we finally managed to pitch our tent in a small clearing and dump our equipment before heading back into the village to explore. When I say equipment, I mean toilet roll, sleeping bags and a tube of Pringles. And when I say explore, I mean just briefly look at stuff.

Worrying that we wouldn’t be able to find our tent again in the dark, we left a small packet of Bombay Mix on a tree near the entrance to act as a marker. Note to future campers: This does not work.

The Black Horse pub was our first stop, where I was able to purchase a ghost book that was being advertised on a poster on the door. Asking the barmaid for that book was probably the single most shameful experience of my life; it would have been far less embarrassing to ask for haemorrhoid cream, or some violent pornography. I tried to make out that I was only buying it for the map inside, but I could tell she wasn’t convinced. My eyes must have given me away. My companion actually refused to be seen with me whilst I was holding it, such is the repelling nature of the paranormal enthusiast.

The pub itself was alright. It had a nice beer garden where two dogs had a fight and everyone watched intently. We reflected that this was potentially the highlight of the trip.

We also looked around the church and graveyard, where a red lady is supposed to wander mournfully looking for her buried baby. We didn’t see her. We had a bit more a poke around the village, consulting the book intermittently when we were sure we were out of view of other people.

When that became tedious (after 45 minutes or so) we headed to The Dering Arms which was to be our base for the evening. A charming, rustic gastro pub with some excellent local ales on tap, it was a stark reminder of the luxury and comfort we would soon be giving up to sleep in the woods.

As a former hunting lodge, deer heads and antlers hung ominously from pretty much every wall in the Dering Arms and my companion’s request for a vegetarian option was met with blind panic by our waitress. However, after consulting with the chef, she did kindly offer to whip up an omelette for £14 which was good of her.

After a few more ales, we stumbled back to the woods and somehow managed to find our tent, forgetting all about the Bombay Mix which we suspected had probably choked some poor badger to death some hours ago.

Granted, the woods were much more eerie at night but then that’s hardly surprising. It was very dark, very quiet and very isolated; anywhere in those circumstances are going to make you feel uneasy. Somewhere overhead a bird would make a noise, or an animal would rustle some branches, but certainly nothing that couldn’t be easily explained.

Also, annoyingly, we could hear other people in the woods. Whether it was local kids bored out of their minds or other ghost hunters on the prowl, the distant sound of shouting and whooping didn’t exactly add to the spooky atmosphere we were so looking forward to. Suddenly the fear was not of ghosts but of the possibility of having to interact with other people, or of our tent being kicked to pieces by the cast of Skins.

Exhausted from the day’s excursions and full of beer and food, we felt very little during the night except for sleepy, bloated and, to be honest, a little bit bored. Here are some edited highlights:

  • 11:08pm: An owl made a noise.
  • 11:15pm: Tried to name 100 Beatles songs from memory. Managed 86.
  • 12:13am: Some wind made a noise (outside the tent, thankfully).
  • 01:27am: Sick into a hedge.
  • 01:43am: Ticket to Ride! 87.
  • 01:56am: Sleep.

The following morning we packed everything away and headed to the station, just as it started to rain which seemed a fitting end to a pretty uneventful trip.

I don’t want to be too down on Pluckley; others may have had horrifying ghostly encounters here, and there are many videos on  YouTube of people getting themselves worked up into a frenzy in the Screaming Woods, but I can’t say I’m convinced. The simple fact is that any wood anywhere in the world is going to be full of things that make noise: animals, birds, people, wind. When you’re scared and your senses are on high alert it’s easy to see how these sounds could be mistaken for something else but, in reality, there is nothing in these woods except wildlife and the only screaming came from bored teenagers.

Besides, on the same night we were in Pluckley, Bob Dylan was playing at the Hop Farm Festival in nearby Paddock Wood. So, even if we had heard a terrifying ghoul making horrible wailing sounds I think we all know where it would have been coming from.

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Have you ever read a local newspaper? I wouldn’t bother. Nothing exciting ever happens locally. I know that technically everything that happens in the world has to happen somewhere and will therefore obviously be local to someone, but you know what I mean. Not in your town. Not where you live.

As a student, I once did a work placement on a local newspaper in a nondescript town somewhere in the UK. It was rubbish. I regularly had to check my pulse to make sure I hadn’t slipped into a coma. The highlight of my time there was conducting a phone “interview” with someone who worked in a petrol station about a new road that was being built around the town. He told me to “fuck off” and then hung up. I took his advice and have never looked back. I probably owe more to that man than any careers advisor I have ever spoken to.

Well, now I’m running a paranormal blog and living the dream. Who’s laughing now, petrol station man? Still you? Oh. Well, fair enough.

Local news stories of any public interest whatsoever are extremely thin on the ground, and none more so than at the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review (snappy title, guys!) where the barrel has clearly been scraped dry.

Their headline report on The Haunted Bus Stop is nothing short of absurd; an extraordinary attempt to fill their pages with something other than advertising space, classified ads and “Hands Off Our Forest” campaigns. They do love their forests in Gloucestershire. They just can’t get enough of bloody forests.

Anyway, the report claims that a bus driver, who wisely wishes to remain anonymous in case his employers think he’s mentally ill and his family disown him, has seen a ghostly figure waiting at a bus stop en route to the town of Cinderford. Twice.

The first encounter happened at the end of a shift when he noticed a solitary man waiting at the side of the road. As it was past midnight and no bus was due, the driver thought he would be helpful and offer him a lift. However, once he had pulled over and had a look around, there was nobody in sight. “I wondered if it had just been a reflection in one of the glass panels,” he mused.

After thinking nothing of it and putting it out of his mind, it has happened again at the very same bus stop. A mere 18 MONTH LATER.

The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review claims that the driver “remembered the figure had looked exactly the same and was even looking in the same direction on both occasions.”  Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he remember something totally insignificant that he had all but forgotten from a year and a half previous? I’m sure we all would.

Hilariously, the paper are appealing for information on any tragedy which might have taken place at this spot which would cause such frequent (well, two) paranormal sightings. There is a telephone number provided so why not give them a call? Go nuts. I’m definitely not encouraging anyone to make stuff up for a laugh. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility, that’s all. At least think about it.

Evidently not afraid to tackle the big issues, the paper is even running a poll asking the pertinent question: Do you believe a bus shelter can be haunted? Alarmingly, 73% have answered Yes.

Read that back, take your time. 73% of the people who have read this article are convinced that, yes, a bus shelter can be haunted. Surely that’s enough evidence to get the entire population of the Forest of Dean sectioned?

Other unrelated headlines in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley recently include ‘Dogs Blamed For Attack On Llama’, ‘The Little Girl Who Moved Men To Tears’, ‘Pigs With A Point’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Animal Armageddon’.

I’m not making any of this up.

Proving once again that the internet is an ocean of stupidity, never short of willing participants eager to dive in and drown, Looking For Ghosts stumbled across this photo which has apparently gone “viral”.

For those of you who might have actually lived a worthwhile existence during the last couple of years and don’t understand the language of smug, media bores, the term “going viral” is used to describe something gaining inexplicable popularity on the internet. The opposite of this blog, essentially.  

According to the Daily Mail, who took time out from their usual routine of castigating immigrants and casual homophobia to cover this extremely important story, the picture has “divided the internet between the people who can see it, and those who cannot.”

Really? Not meaning to question the infinite wisdom of the Daily Mail, but what about the conveniently-ignored third group of people who can clearly see the face but have concluded that it’s an obvious hoax? Without presuming to know every reader of this blog personally (although we suspect it wouldn’t take too long), we’d like to think that most of us fall into this category.

If you don’t fall into this category, ask yourself why a “demon” would be squashed under a sofa cushion. Then ask yourself why anyone would be taking a photo of a sofa in the first place.

In fact, it doesn’t even look like a demon: it’s just a normal face. There’s nothing remotely sinister about it. It’s not even making a scary expression or anything. The whole thing is absurd.

In order to try and disguise an obvious lack of material (something we would NEVER do), the article is padded out with some reactionary fluff from the world of Twitter, which is what Journalists do nowadays in lieu of actually having to do any work themselves. “It genuinely made me Jump when I saw it, be warned!” wrote Ryan Evans, sounding like a genuine moron.

Clearly struggling for content, the article lumps another unrelated “scary face” picture at the bottom of the article in a hilarious attempt to tie it all together. But this one’s even more farcical; it’s just one of the girl’s friends standing behind them.

If this is the kind of nonsense the internet is being used for, it should be taken away and replaced with a book.

We may spend a disproportionate amount of our time in pursuit of ghosts, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fingers firmly on the pulse of popular culture. In an effort to keep this blog as topical as we can, this post is dedicated to Glastonbury Festival, which takes place later this week.

For those of you lucky enough to have avoided the obligatory hype, Glastonbury is a festival of “music and performing arts” which takes place on a farm in Somerset every year. And, contrary to what people may tell you, it’s totally, unequivocally rubbish.

We hate Glastonbury Festival. We hate Glastonbury Festival without even having been to Glastonbury Festival. Anyone who goes to Glastonbury Festival, or even thinks about going to Glastonbury Festival, or who even says the words Glastobury Festival, or who writes a blog entry in which the words Glastonbury Festival are repeated ad nauseum, is an imbecile of towering proportions.

Just remember, you've PAID MONEY to do this...

What started many years ago as a laid back, hippie-influenced love-fest has now evolved into a corporate, money-grabbing business empire with all the soul and atmosphere of a three-day marketing conference, where a man in a grey suit talks endlessly about sales targets and quarterly reviews.

Whereas many years ago pleasure-seeking locals could simply hop over the fence (or burrow beneath it) to avoid paying the extortionate entry fee, “Glasto” (as it’s affectionately called by utter morons) now has a multi-million pound security system which makes Alcatraz look positively welcoming. The parameters are patrolled by stormtroopers, who are programmed to shoot any revellers who try to gain unlawful access squarely in the back of the head without a hint of remorse. Even if they were probably just walking past.

Things aren’t much better even if you manage to successfully negotiate the Kafka-esque ticketing process and get in, where you’ll be charged roughly £4,800 for a pint of diluted lager whilst a group of insufferable public-school types (probably called Josh, or Toby, or Izzy) will try and hug you and inform you of what a “spiritual” time you’re all having. Anyone with a shred of intelligence or human empathy will have killed themselves by the end of the first day.

As we said, we know all of this without even having been to Glastonbury Festival.

Considering that spending three days in a muddy field listening to Coldplay seems about as enjoyable as spending three days repeatedly smashing your own forehead against a rusty nail, we don’t know why all the security is necessary.  Most of the bands on this year’s line-up are so terrible that they should, to our minds, act as a deterrent to anyone who was planning on heading to Somerset during that period.

And if you’re thinking that this blog entry is just an excuse to spout anti-Glastonbury propaganda, you’re wrong. There is a ghost link, albeit it a very tenuous one:

The town of Glastonbury, according to reports which are definitely true and in no way made up by the pot-smoking, aromatherapy-admiring locals, is haunted. However, rather than a spectre that has been seen, this ghost takes the form of a smell which moves freely around the town centre.

Two words, people: Bob. Geldof.

We’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to Ghost Hunting, our approach is casual at best. For a start, we’ve not left the UK. We’ve barely even left London. We haven’t invested in any equipment. Our “research” largely consists of half-baked internet searches and our expeditions involve sitting in supposedly haunted pubs. And we haven’t seen a single ghost in the year this blog has been live. Readers, we stand before you today as FRAUDS.

As the laughing stock of the paranormal community (an impressive feat in itself given the shear abundance of horseshit out there) it isn’t hard to make us look languid and lazy. But this week we stumbled upon something that made us look so humiliatingly incompetent that we might as well pack up our belongings and shuffle off into the abyss. If we could be bothered.

Whilst our work ethic will barely allow us to walk to the end of our road for a spooky fix, a team of researchers from the US are planning to travel 960 miles off the coast of New York to find evidence of the paranormal. Under the sea. Yes, they’re going to look for ghosts on the Titanic.

RMS Titanic in happier times

The unit, ominously titled Society of DEAD (Direct Evidence After Death), includes Matthew “Sandman” Kelley, a retired truck driver, and William Brower, a self-taught (ie self-proclaimed) Titanic expert whose preparation for this trip is apparently limited to watching films about the famous wreck. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from absolutely everything, obviously.

The team hopes to find evidence of Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP, to prove that people who died on that night in 1912 left a psychic impression in the area. And how do they intend to do this?

“We will re-create the atmosphere by eating the exact meal that was served the night the ship crashed, and we will play the same music heard that night,” Kelley explains.

Let us be the first to go on record and say that this WILL DEFINITELY WORK.

Matthew Kelley, the brains of the operation...

However, not everyone is as convinced as we are. Paranormal writer Terra King believes that carrying out research at places of extreme disaster is “disrespectful and unethical”.

“Too many groups who are searching for the voices of those who have died are downright ghoulish,” King explains, possibly chuckling at her own amusing pun. “This expedition falls within this category. Trolling the North Atlantic for EVPs is ridiculous.”

Ridiculous it may be, but you can’t fault their blind optimism in the face of such ill preparation. Good luck, guys. You’re almost certainly going to need it.

It has been a difficult few months for England Manager Fabio Capello.

Aside from England’s dreadful performance and subsequent early exit from the World Cup, the Italian was also left with egg on his face when his involvement with the controversial Capello Index was exposed. Both events prompted a fierce media backlash, with the press openly questioning his selection policy, tactics and more crucially, his integrity. After such a promising start, the cracks have started to appear.

Add to this the number of off-field issues he has been forced to address with his philandering players and he could be forgiven for simply giving up. John Terry’s unwillingness to keep “Terry Jnr” in his trousers, Ashley Cole’s abject refusal to honour his wedding vows (culminating in a very public divorce) and most recently Wayne Rooney’s penchant for visiting prostitutes must have tested Capello’s resolve to breaking point. Who was he coaching here, the England football team or the cast of Fatal Attraction? Things couldn’t get much worse for the under-pressure manager.

And then someone releases a story that you believe in ghosts. Great.

Yes, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has claimed in his autobiography that compatriot Capello used to be spooked by a presence in the coach’s room at Milanello, AC Milan’s training complex, during his time with the Italian club.

Ancelotti revealed: “The first time I walked into that room, I had a distinct impression. I could see an array of presences. I was sleeping in the bed that had belonged to Nereo Rocco, Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.

“In the old days, Capello – under the influence, I believe, of the director of the sports centre, Antore Peloso – used to claim that there was a ghost, wandering freely down the hallway, especially after sunset.”

Wow. Fabio is undoubtedly delighted that this story has surfaced. It’s probably just what he needs; an already-critical nation questioning his mental health.  But Ancelotti isn’t done yet:

“I never understood which was crazier, Don Fabio or that ghost, who had decided to pick on him of all people. It really got to be a problem.”

Quite a problem indeed; an improbable presence occasionally wafting up a corridor at night. Sounds inconvenient to say the least. However did they cope? Carlo tells us:

“I can still see Capello, shoulders thrown back, chest swelling with righteous indignation: ‘Be gone, go **** yourself, evil spirit. This is not a team of dead men’.”

Fabio Capello, seen here talking to a ghost

So say what you will about Capello’s ability to manage a football team, but may his powers of exorcism never be called into question.

Searching through some online audio clips recently, which is nowhere near as much fun as it probably sounds, Looking For Ghosts discovered an interesting debate on an American radio show from a few years ago. It featured Most Haunted’s Yvette Fielding, who had agreed to take part in a phone interview with the guys from US TV programme Ghost Hunters.

Fielding was, presumably, entering into what she thought would be an amicable discussion about the paranormal, a mutual interest of both parties. However, despite the two shows having an almost identical format, what followed was an astonishing attack on Fielding and the credibility of her beloved Most Haunted. You can hear it in all its punishing glory here.

Who finds the best ghosts?

Not wishing to take sides, or start an Anglo-American slanging match (after all, both shows are ostensibly bullshit), we couldn’t help but find this exchange a little unfair. As Fielding herself was keen to point out, when she wasn’t busy trying to defend herself from a verbal mauling, both shows share the same problem: they both address a subject matter that most people don’t take seriously. Transatlantic rivals they may be, but rather than squabbling, she reasoned, they should show some solidarity and work together to bring ghost hunting to “the masses”.

Despite making some salient points, Fielding didn’t come out of the debate very well. Clearly frustrated by the hostility shown towards her, she eventually lost her cool and resorted to personal attacks, hilariously retaliating that some of the Ghost Hunters team used to be plumbers. They gave her enough rope and, by rising to the bait, she duly hung herself.

Granted, she was outnumbered by two to one and she evidently came unprepared for such an argument (perhaps highlighting her own naivety), but the result was clear.  In the end, she was a broken woman being mercilessly picked apart by her American counterparts.

But who is the real winner? And, more importantly, is there any value whatsoever in ghost hunting shows like these?

Disrepute

Most Haunted has more than its fair share of critics, with people seemingly queuing up to bring it into disrepute. This won’t have been helped by numerous tabloid reports that some aspects of the show are faked, including revelations by one of the show’s former stars, Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe, that viewers are being misled by “showmanship and dramatics.” He also makes the epoch-shattering claim that the show’s resident medium, Derek Acorah, can’t really talk to dead people. Hold the front page!

Derek Acorah is easily the least convincing medium on the planet. His thick Liverpudlian accent makes any spirits he’s supposed to be “channelling” sound like a deranged Ringo Starr, so he was never fooling anyone anyway. His only real purpose was to act as a comic interlude to break up the monotony of the rest of the show, which consists of some people standing in dark rooms listening very hard. He might as well have dressed up as a hotdog for all of the integrity he added to proceedings.

Derek Acorah, seen here talking to the ghost of his career.

But all of this is irrelevant. No one watches Most Haunted because they believe what they are being shown is real, unless they are criminally stupid. You would have to have had several lobotomies to give any credence at all to the notion that any of the knocks or bangs captured on tape are caused by anything more than shuffling cameramen or warping floorboards.

What Most Haunted is, primarily, is entertainment. The “showmanship and dramatics” that O’Keefe is so eager to lament is actually what draws viewers in. And it obviously works: you don’t get to series number 14 without doing something right.

No Clean Hands

The tabloid negativity that Most Haunted has faced is evidently what fuelled the Ghost Hunters team when launching their assault on Fielding, but they too have been accused of exactly the same thing. Search for “Ghost Hunters fake” on YouTube and you will be shown hours of footage highlighting details of their own embellishments. There are no clean hands here.

They claim to approach the paranormal from a “scientific” angle, even though a ghost hunt is about as far away from a scientific experiment as it’s possible to get without actually living in a different galaxy from one altogether. Watching their team pratting about with scarcely-believable electrical gizmos is almost painfully embarrassing at times and only serves to make them look far too worthy and righteous for their own good. At least Most Haunted doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Ghost Hunters apply one of their many "scientific" techniques to push a wall on a ghost.

But Ghost Hunters also pulls in a big audience, so who cares? The common ground Fielding was alluding to is that both shows are in the business of making good television; whether you choose to use pseudo-science or theatrics in order to achieve this is surely immaterial.

By laying into Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters look like they’ve missed the point entirely. The point being that they are both peddlers of absolute garbage and they should just sit back and enjoy the spoils.

What do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, or even want to leave us some abuse we can masturbate to, we encourage you to leave your comments.

In fact we insist.

Looking For Ghosts

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