Cold Reading in June – Part 3 (Perth)

PERTH (FRIDAY 7th OF JUNE)

My next night of mediumship on Saturday night in Stirling had been cancelled at short notice so I had to scramble for another within the next week. Luckily, there was small show at the Salutation Hotel in Perth which is only half an hour down the road from my hometown. I called up the Hotel and found that you could pay at the door so drove down after work.

Tonight’s medium is called Andrew Lindsay. I recognise him from his website when I enter the small events room. He looks about 30-35 and is small, thin and wiry with a curly mop of ginger hair. He’s wearing a smart suit and polished shoes and cheerily welcomes everybody into the room, calling the majority by their first name. There is another raffle tonight but at a pound for five tickets it’s not as shameless a ruse as Docherty’s draw in Dundee. The prizes: a bottle of pink gin, a bottle of wine, a bag of chocolates and an envelope marked ‘from Andrew’ are displayed on a table that doubles as a reception desk. I buy 10 tickets, pay admittance and take a seat in an empty row at the back of the room. There would be better view of the medium and audience interaction at the front but as I’m a 6’4’ lump, I’m always paranoid about obscuring people’s view.

The small events room is clean, tidy and mundane with around 30 chairs lined in several rows. Again, the audience mostly consists of middle-aged housewives, some with their daughters. Everyone is relaxed and chatty with around half slurping long vodkas or gin and tonics.  There’s a few splendid hairstyles on show, the best of which is a distinctive mullet style like an 80’s Austrian footballer: curly on top but straight down the back and sides, a bit like Elvira’s but blonde. I also recognise a couple of other psychic/mediums as they walk into the room, they embrace and chat with each other before taking their seat. There seems to be a lot of cross pollination between different mediums and their audiences. I remove my jacket and settle into my chair instantly feeling like an outsider in this small but dedicated gathering.

The woman who was selling raffle tickets doubles as compere and steps up to address the audience, there’s no need for a microphone in such a small space. She gives the normal warnings about mobile phones, asks permission to take some photos then welcomes the medium to the front. Lindsay reintroduces himself then asks the audience of this is anybody’s first time at this type of event. A middle aged, bald man two rows directly in front of me tentatively raises his hand. Lindsay jokes at the newcomer’s expense then with the audience, easing them into his performance. He stresses the importance of the people responding with a clear and loud voice and not mumbling or simply nodding affirmation then adds that he is conscious of his rapid talking style explaining that he has just returned from a tour of America and had to slow his speech down as a result.

Unlike Docherty or Francis, this medium first picks a member of the audience, then designates a waiting spirit to them. It’s a daring approach with a greater chance of failing however I soon get the impression that the first woman chosen is well known to Lindsay and his unusual method. She is middle-aged, tubby and has long white hair and cheerily welcomes Lindsay’s invitation like a Granny cooperating with a child’s magic trick. He explains that he is in contact with a father figure then immediately changes this to a grandfather named John to which the woman replies with a single yes. He then describes John as a private man who loved his large family and lived in a small tenement building, to which the woman also replies yes. Lindsay then jumps spirits to the woman’s sister who he feels is very concerned about her, he then claims to be seeing a birthday in November, to which the woman also replies yes. Lindsay informs the woman that both her sister and grandfather like to visit her house regularly then says that her sister was alone when she died, and that her family was not around at the point she crossed unto the spirit world. The woman recoils at this statement replying ‘not really’ while shaking her head, clearly upset. I’m confused why he would risk offending an eager audience member with such a loaded comment, condemning his opening connection to a premature and awkward conclusion.

Lindsay then moves around the room, picking several more eager participants and questioning them in his strong Perthshire brogue. Each time he follows his method and uses the same awkward technique: assign a spirit to a person, bombard them with questions or general statements, demand immediate answers, then question again. There’s guesses of months, dates and Birthdays, some statements about photographs, ornaments on a mantlepiece, a motorbike accident and a vision of a ‘medic or nurse’. Nearly all these speculations fail to hit a direct bullseye of recognition but are vague enough to have some resonance to the chosen person. Any complete misses are quickly ignored by the pace of interrogation and whenever he appears to be faltering, Lindsay interjects a little joke or daft comment to recoup the rapport and trigger uproarious laughter from the audience. At times I feel like I’m lugging into private conversation between people waiting at a bus stop or to a blathering hairdresser entertaining a customer. There’s no substance in his statements, holding no more resonance than idle chit chat. He reminds me of a gobshite school friend you knew talked absolute nonsense, but you tolerated him because of his entertaining, storytelling style.

Then Lindsay suddenly points to a woman in the row in front of me and tells her ‘I know you are here to get in touch with your son who’s passed to the other side, but he is here beside me tonight’. The woman nods her head but doesn’t answer. She is part of a trio of women who have been giggling with each other laughing along with all tonight’s proceedings. Lindsay tells her that her son was with them during their journey to tonight’s event and had been listening to them ‘carrying on’ in the car. He communicates that her son is ‘’always watching over her and she should not stress and worry about things so much’. On the face of it’s an impressive hit but her quiet response makes me feel that this isn’t the first time both have conversed on this subject, as if she has been preheated or prepared.

His method of interrogation starts to bother me, and I begin to feel uncomfortable, dreading the possibility that he may choose me next. There have been some wild opportunist casts of which the majority caught nothing. Each miss contributes to an awkward aura in the room which is only punctured with a whimsical joke or remark. His devotees however are quick to pick up on these remarks and respond with roaring laughter and overenthusiastic applause like parents watching their kids in a school play. Inevitably, Lindsay gets around to the bald man in front of me who is attending his first event. The man answers quietly in an English accent and appears confused and uneasy at being put on the spot. He half acknowledges some of the guesses and accepts the diagnosis of a gum ailment but is generally manoeuvred around the conversation by Lindsay. The medium ends the connection by assuring the man that he will be going on a journey ‘down south’ very soon which given the man’s obvious accent it’s not as much of marvel of prognostication as others in the room believe. Half time comes as a relief and I’ve had enough. Tired and unimpressed I decide to leave before I am picked out, interrogated then manipulated into Lindsay’s act. On the way out I give my raffle tickets to the trio of women who were sitting in front of me then exit the hotel into a bright, summer evening.

Overall, I found Andrew Lindsay’s performance to be underwhelming and amateurish, closer in style to David Francis’s unrefined and scattergun approach. Both chuck out random but commonly shared information into the audience, receive an enthusiastic response then run with it until they hit a brick wall and destroy the connection. There’s been no convincing evidence of spirits and even less proof that the mediums can contact these spirits. I can remember being similarly disappointed when I first watched a full baseball match as a kid. Before live TV coverage I’d only seen baseball during its greatest moments via highlights and the movies, and each time those clips made you feel that home runs were a regular occurrence. However, in general you’d be lucky to see one homerun per match as they are all short taps and runs between bases with lots of swings and misses in between.  Similarly, the two medium shows have been the same: lots of swings and misses and precious few homeruns.

FOLKLORE

I work with my brother which can range from hilarious to dreadful on any single day. On the Wednesday afternoon following the Perth event, as we drove to a customer’s garden, a black crow clipped the top of our works van. We stopped the van to see if the bird was okay but there was no sign of it anywhere. It must have flown on, bruised no doubt, but uninjured. It was strange as neither of us had ever hit a crow before them being smart and agile birds. Pheasants are usually hit as they seem to be heavier and unable to dodge in time. The next morning while in a different garden a large black raven suddenly fell from the sky and crashed into a wall beside me. The poor beast seemed stunned and crawled under a parked car to recover. After finishing my job, I looked under the car then searched the garden, but the bird had disappeared. Again, hopefully it gathered its senses and flew away unharmed. When I told my younger brother about the second crow, he was shocked.

‘What does it all mean?’ he asked.

He then explained the importance of crows in Norse mythology and Celtic folklore. For him these events had to have some sort of mystical resonance, perhaps a forewarning or even a portent of doom. I put it down to coincidence. Some people who look for connections will eventually find them or invent something to that ends. The sceptics however look at the supernatural from a less imaginative an unromantic viewpoint, preferring to use cold logic, evidence and facts to find an explanation. I’m not sure if I’m convinced by either side.

HOT READING

Hot Reading is simply prior research by the psychic or medium, but it can take many forms and is evolving with new technology. Previously Hot Reading could be attained by mediums scouring local newspapers in the Library, by covertly listening into pre-show conversations or by the audience filling in pre-show Spirit cards which indicated who you were trying to connect with and why (what other information does a medium need?). In the most callous of example several mediums were caught writing down local gravestone details especially those of young children, expectant of grieving mothers to be attending their events. Nowadays, the internet has rendered these archaic methods as pointless, superseded by tools such as google search and social media archaeology. The internet-especially Facebook- provides all the details needed to provide a convincing report of every aspect of an audience member’s life. Your past trauma and existing grief lie open for everyone to peruse. Everything is widely accessible and thus susceptible to opportunists, lying exposed like an open wound.  A psychic or medium need only your name and address, both of which you usually provide when buying tickets over the net. The creation of false social media accounts called sock puppet accounts by sceptics regularly entrap mediums as fictional information is repeated verbatim during their shows. Added to this, it would be fair to assume that many of the event audience also elect for private readings from mediums. Private readings are a ‘one on one’ form of mediumship like a psychiatrist’s treatment of patient, with the same exposure of personal information. So, when a medium faces his or her quarry they will be loaded with a wealth of previous information on a healthy percentage of their audience.

Cold Reading in June – Part 2 (Dundee)

DUNDEE (FRIDAY 31ST of MAY 2019)

I arrive at the Queens Hotel around 6.30 pm with an hour to spare so I park up around the back. It’s a balmy night and the concrete buildings and tar of the road are drying in the evening sun. Pedestrians and commuters file up down the streets making their way home or into the few bars.  I leave my car and check its locked three times then I turn to recognise tonight’s main medium, Karen Docherty, step out of the back of a five-year-old Toyota Yaris (a small, boxy run-around favoured by old people and city dwellers). I’m surprised by the unostentatious choice of transport, I expected her to be transported in a new, BMW or top of the range 4×4. Her basic website and social media channels detail frequent tours of the United States and UK while fans leave gushing testimonials giving the impression of accomplishment in her trade.

The hotel lobby is clean and spacious with an art deco design. A plaque on the wall tells you that ‘Winston S Churchill stayed in this hotel on many occasions between 1908- 1922’, an historical piece of trivia which probably means nothing to most of its clientele. I order a pint of coke, take a seat in the bar and scan the room for an indication on possible show attendees. Strangely, there’s no music playing and the TV’S are off so I can easily lug into the surrounding conversations. A pair of Irish women are cheerily discussing their coming travel plans in the corner and there’s groups of office workers gossiping over their drinks near the bar. A couple of single men stare into their phones and sip at pints while an older couple pick at their fish teas. I try to interpret if the bar patrons are attending tonight’s show but every time I decide they are, they rise, leave the bar and pour into the street. At 7.15 I decide to go up to the events room upstairs. I stop in the toilet and click on my audio recorder and slot it into my chest pocket of my jacket. On every step up the wide, carpeted stairway the nerves jangle in my stomach, I’m not sure what to expect, or if I’ll be welcome as an outsider. I’d heard that some mediums and their devotees can be overly protective of their faith in Spiritualism. There’s a long queue for the foyer bar so I walk straight into an adjacent room that’s buzzing with chatting people. I realise that by switching my phone off I’ve hidden my e-ticket from use so have to hang around the reception table until a seated man ushers me into ‘any seat’ which means any seat up at the back, as the room is already three quarters full. The room’s walls are covered by plain, cream wallpaper and a trio of large chandeliers hang from the white ceiling. On two sides of the room are large Victorian windows which invite the evening sun into the room. It’s a big room, elegant and well-maintained, perfect for a large meeting but not grand enough for a wedding. There are six rows of around twenty comfortable chairs which are facing two further chairs and a table that form a makeshift stage. The first five rows are already crammed full of middle aged, round women who natter like birds and sip on their drinks. I feel like I’ve walked into an aviary. The remaining chairs are quickly filled so extra chairs are pulled from next door and positioned in any available space. I count around 200 people sitting with me tonight, of around ten are men and half of them seem to have been brought against their will.

A pair of excited women sit beside me and chatter like chipmunks. I overhear mentions of previous visits to Docherty’s shows. When one of the women leaves, I turn to her friend.

‘Excuse me, do you go to many of these things?’ I ask.

‘Oh aye, I’ve been to see Karen 5 or 6 times, she’s very good, has a good way with the audience,’ she answers.

‘This is my first time to any psychic event, I’m not sure what to expect’.

The woman mistakes my inquisitive question for apprehension and says ‘Ach, it’s not that bad’.

She then turns to her pal who’s returned.

‘This is this guy’s first time,’ she says with a chuckle.

Before I can ask another question, Karen Docherty rises from her chair and addresses the audience through a microphone which hushes the many nattering conversations to silence. Docherty is around 45, small and chunky. She has should length dirty blonde hair and is wearing a simple black blouse and pair of plain black trousers. She doesn’t look like a psychic, more like your typical Scottish Mum or Aunty. I immediately consider that she must be confident to stand up in front of 200 people and hold court. She welcomes everybody with a simple ‘Hello,’ pauses to let all the stragglers return from the bar then says:

‘We were supposed to be welcoming another medium from Denmark tonight but unfortunately, we just found out she has an illness which means she couldn’t fly, so instead we have David Francis, a fantastic medium from Ireland who’s based in Glasgow.’

Her local accent intrigues me as I’ve only ever heard the American or English accents of TV psychics. Foreigners would likely categorise her accent as broad while Scots would instantly recognise the Dundonian drawl. Docherty asks everybody to switch off their phones which ignites a chain reaction of rustling, murmuring and many beeps of handsets powering off. She then asks if this is anybody’s first time to a medium show. I reply by raising my hand and scan the room to see very few doing the same.

‘What you’re here for …’ she stops to acknowledge the noise of a busker well below who’s rendition of Wonderwall is seeping through the gap of an open window. She jokes that the wailing isn’t the sound of the spirits, but she would be delighted if it was. The audience laughs as she silences the intrusion by closing the window.

 ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time, doesn’t matter if you’re not sure, it doesn’t really matter if you decide this is not for you. Whatever happens, the spirits are her because they love you,’ she says.

‘Obviously, by the time you leave we have given you something to think about, if you’re on the fence about it, enjoy the experience, the spirits don’t want to come in and make us sad or upset. They don’t want to embarrass you. Don’t be sacred to talk back. Don’t be like a rabbit in the headlights. Nothing you don’t want mentioned in public will be said. As a medium I speak from the spirit world to you. They know you’re coming before you know you’re coming. It’s them that have brought you here. Keep an open mind no matter what. Some people are dragged long and get frightened, don’t be. If any chairs start floating about, if people start levitating don’t be jealous.’

I’m comforted by her local accent. It’s like listening to a local nurse or primary school teacher. She holds the microphone with her right hand but is very expressive with the left and she seems to be aware of the importance of hand and body gestures.

‘I’m going to get started now. I can feel the spirit world building up. When I come and talk to you please talk back and take the microphone. Don’t just hold the microphone like an ice cream, it’s important that you answer back in loud, clear voice. The spirits know your mind and your thoughts,’ she says.

Then she jumps right in.

‘Okay, I have an older lady and feel this lady had a bleed on the brain, or injury to the head or a brain tumour. I feel the symptoms. She was not elderly. 50, too young to pass into the spirit world, maybe a bit younger than that. Over this side, not entirely sure, I’m getting a three of a family connected to her or a three. Anyone up the back?’ she says.

An older woman sitting five seats along from me raises her hand.

‘Does that mean someone to you?’ asks Docherty.

 ‘My sister, and her mother’ answers the older woman while motioning to a younger woman sitting next to her.

‘So, brain tumour and three?’ She had symptoms, not instantaneous? Did I get the age correct?’ asks the psychic.

The woman next to me also puts her hand and identifies a brain tumour and mother but she is ignored in favour of the pair of women.

‘Okay, can we get the microphone along,’ orders Docherty to the man from reception table. The microphone is passed hand to hand like an athlete’s baton along our row.

‘Sometimes we get people with similar stories. Now, you would understand she wasn’t worrying about things, but she kept somethings to herself. Not make a big fuss or deal, does that make sense? asks Docherty.

The woman now holding the microphone nods.

‘She was quiet, private lady. With a great personality?’ asks Docherty.

‘Yes’ answers the woman.

I’m torn between watching Docherty and the reactions of the woman.

‘I feel that’s she’s very strong and she wants to boost you up. Very strong, confident. It’s okay if you disagree,’ says Docherty.

‘She was, but she was also quite shy at times,’ answers the older woman.

‘I am getting that she is confident, very strong but whether she’s giving you that to give you piece of mind. I mentioned there’s three of a family but there’s a boy she was really close to, one boy?’ asks Docherty.

‘No’ answers the woman.

‘But your saying there’s no three or there’s no boys? There are no boys, no grandchildren?’ presses the medium.

‘No. Oh yes, there’s a boy, a grandson,’ answers the woman.

‘I just feel she has to talk about a boy and there’s three of a family? She wants to be around her family, but she feels she hadn’t done everything she could of while she was alive. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, yes’ answers the woman.

Docherty then directs her attention to the nervy looking woman next to the older woman, so the microphone is passed on.  I quickly evaluate the situation: the spirit that Docherty is channelling is both the older woman’s sister and this younger woman’s mother, so these two women are aunty and niece. Before I can bathe in my outstanding method of deduction, I’m back into the spirit world.

‘Now she definitely wants to acknowledge you’re here. She didn’t say things or do things that she should’ve. I’m not saying that because she’s ashamed but feels she should say that just. Do you understand this?’ asks the medium.

‘Yes’ croaks the younger woman.

I also understand there’s alcohol connected to her. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, yes.’

‘I can smell the alcohol now. Now she’s saying she is comfortable to talk about the alcohol now as a part of healing. She’s bringing an apology. She’s well aware that you’ve been very strong, and that you’ve been keeping the family together?’

The daughter nods her head in reply.

‘I know you have a couple bits of her jewellery. She’s also mentioning a butterfly and Christmas, or some birthday around Christmas?’

The daughter acknowledges the remarks although she is not assured.

‘She wishes things could’ve been better or she had been better. Don’t worry if I’m wrong, I’m getting a Christmas that was not good and she wishes things hadn’t gone so wrong?’

The daughter converses with her aunty then says, ‘Could’ve been just before she passed.’

‘She has really come through tonight to provide healing. She sees her child name linked. She sees that child?’

‘Yes.’

‘This isn’t about what she brought in. She is in peace where she is now. Did you miss her passing? Don’t worry about that. That last 5 minutes means nothing.’

Suddenly Docherty rises her intonation and calls out ‘I’m getting Jemma or Jenna or Jem or Jen. Does that mean anything?’

‘No, nothing’ replies the daughter.

‘Okay, let me hold it. Okay, I think the ladies gone but I leave you with her love,’ says Docherty.

The daughter squeaks ‘thank you,’ while snivelling back some tears. The audience sense an ending to the spirit connection and enthusiastic applause fills the room.

The massive ‘Jemma or Jenna or Jem or Jen’ guess has just fallen flat, like a boxer’s haymaker that misses completely and leaves the puncher clawing the air before tumbling to the ring canvas. Docherty, however, has expertly, dodged any embarrassment by ignoring the miss and continuing forward. I’m also struck by the amount of questions that come from the medium. It’s not so much inquisitorial as cross-examination by relentless bombardment of questions. After each enquiry there’s an acknowledgement of a positive or negative answer then a related question straight after. The audience member doesn’t have much time to think and must answer on the spot. This pressure must be multiplied tenfold when in front of a crowded room of 200 people that are watching intently and hanging on every word.

Docherty intimates that a new spirit is attempting to connect then crosses over to the other side of the room to involve that side of the audience.

‘I have a new man, a road traffic accident. A motorbike. And I still have John or Jem. He seems like quite a cheeky chap and impatient. He’s a younger man that has passed to the spirit world. Not a car but feels more like a bike but if you don’t recognise a John or Jem don’t worry about that part?’ asks Docherty to the room.

A woman at the at the far part of the room puts up her hand and acknowledges all the details. The microphone is passed along.

‘Has there been an anniversary or birthday recently? He feels people have been talking about him recently. He is bringing in a lady related to you. Its wasn’t a sudden passing. Somebody maternal but not necessarily your mother. Do you understand this sweetheart? The lady is well missed. She is talking about two children or two grandchildren. Problems in the abdomen? If it’s no I’m fine with that.’

‘No’ answers the new audience member.

‘I’m sensing a link down south. She is listening to this conversation. I think that there is a link to a man with body problems?’ asks Docherty.

‘No, not really,’ answers the woman.

The conversation peters out with a selection of missed queries until Docherty offers:

‘Okay, I’ll leave you with this lady’s love,’ which is the trigger for applause and the end of the connection.

I’m baffled by this last conversation and scan the room to gauge other people’s reactions. Everybody is transfixed by the medium’s display and staring at her captivated. Before I can properly process the scene Docherty quickly moves on to another spirit and possible connection with a waiting audience member. There are several of these types of conversations: questions to the room, which are answered by the flimsiest of associations. Any weak linkage is seized upon by the medium, relayed back to the audience member until the conversation pitters out to nothing.

‘I don’t know I’m getting a Grandad or Dad. I feel a strong sense of using hands. A mechanic or fixing engines or cars. John or James?’ asks Docherty to the audience.

I think to myself that my Grandad and was a mechanic, loved his cars and my Dad’s middle name is John although he is alive.

‘Anybody?’ asks Docherty to the room.

About twenty people put their hands up which brings a ripple of laughter around the audience. It’s not surprising that many recognise this plea as many people’s male relatives work with their hands and more specifically cars.  Psychologists call this ‘The Barnum effect’ which ‘is a common psychological phenomenon whereby individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.’ (Wikipedia, 2019). Docherty picks a young man at the back of the room. He seems overdressed for tonight with grey suit and purple tie and is sporting a black cockatiel style quiff. There’s a tattoo crawling up his neck and many studs and rings in his facial features. He looks like a pirate going to an office job interview. Docherty waits until the microphone is passed along the room like a church collection bag.

‘You were close to you Grandad, weren’t you? He was like a father?’ she asks.

‘Yes.’ replies the man.

‘Your Grandad didn’t like being in hospital but had a great sense of humour. He says he knew what he had but it kept coming back, is that right?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Who was James?’

The young man pauses to think then answers, ‘He was my Grandad’s best friend.’

‘And has he passed onto the spirit world?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Oh, okay well we won’t send him there.’ (A joke is made to cover a big miss and the audience respond with a choral chortle) ‘He says he left some sort of writing. Also, I feel like he was the man that has shown you through life?’

‘Yes.’

‘He wants you to do the all the things you want and to do the things he didn’t get to do. He was worldly wise. Are you married? Are you getting married?’

‘No.’

‘He is talking about someone getting married.’

‘My sister was going to get married.’

‘Not anymore?’

‘I hope not,’ answers the man sparking another burst of collective laughter.

‘Now, I can sense someone in the family is having a baby?’ asks Docherty.

‘I don’t think so,’ answers the man.

‘Anne?’

‘Ehhm, Oh yes. My friend’s wife.’

‘I don’t know, I think it’s somebody closer.’

‘I was trying for a baby.’

The audience let out a collective ‘Awww,’ as if a big, furry kitten has entered the room.

‘Your Grandad knows all this. He is a funny man and a good man, and he is right by your side.’ With that Docherty accepts the rooms applause and hands her microphone to the next medium.

David Francis is a small man of about 30 and is nattily dressed in three-piece suit with tweed waistcoat. He’s been sitting on a chair out front, cross legged watching the audience intently until being introduced.

‘Good evening everybody,’ says Francis in a thick Irish accent which he jokes about.

‘I’ve got a lot of images tonight. In my mind’s eye, I’m getting an older lady maybe 60 or 70?’

There’s little response to this initial spirit connection so he jumps ages and gender.

‘And also, I’m feeling a connection to a young man. A man overwhelmed by life. He was brought down the wrong path by others. He is fully responsibly for his actions bringing his death. He damaged his physical body but had a beautiful soul. Taking his life by his own hand. Does anybody understand this?’

A middle-aged woman with long, blonde hair woman in the front row raises her hand and claims recognition.

 ‘He was in his low 20’s when he passed, and an older woman has brought this young man tonight. A lost child?’ asks the Irishman.

‘Yes,’ replies the woman while accepting the microphone.

‘I’m getting a patchwork blanket. He is a very loving guy who is sorry for the last years of his life. He wasn’t connected to his family in these last years?’

‘Yes, yeah’ replies the woman.

‘Now, he had a temper and would lose the rag easier than others?’

‘Sometimes, but not very often,’ replies the woman.

‘I’m also a getting dark haired man, not a track suited lad but wearing jeans and t-shirt. I’m getting problems with depression and anxiety. I don’t mean to be personal but he’s showing me these memories, mirroring them. Would you understand? I see a connection to divorce. Lifestyle habits led him to be the way he was. Interaction with the Police. Do understand this?’ asks the medium.

The medium seems to confuse the woman with his bizarre statements and relentless questioning. The conversation stumbles into an awkward finish but before anyone in the room can digest the strangeness of this connection, he immediately jumps on to another dead person in the spirit world. There’s no applause from audience. I trace the room and see many bemused and unimpressed faces. Francis is beginning to take the form of a man that’s walked into a swamp and while he may only be waist height in the mire, he’s sinking, fast with every awry pronouncement. He’s less skilled in judging the audience and lures audience members in before destroying the connection with needlessly, personal and negative statements. I also get the feeling that he doesn’t appreciate that many of his negative, personal assertions reflect badly not only upon the dead person but also relatives. The audience has become more hesitant and distrustful as a result.

‘Now I’ll open up the room,’ says Francis while making a screwed-up face of concentration. ‘I’m starting to see a hospital or red cross. Normally this means a nurse or carer. Also, a problem in the torso?’

 Francis seems to identify the ailments of the spirits by physically feeling them himself. This psychosomatic diagnosis is referred to as clairsentinence or clear feeling and is as scientifically verifiable as the tooth fairy. He rubs his chest and stomach in circular motion to highlight the area of pain, pinpointing every single vital human organ in the process.

‘It could be a nurse or a carer or somebody who was in hospital? I don’t want to say cancer outright. Margaret or Mary. Anybody? Asks the medium to the crowd.

There’s no response at all. It’s a big miss and quite startling considering he’s targeted a massive chunk of Scotland’s population in one singular sentence. People start exchanging bewildered looks and shakes of the head. A woman volunteers that her mother was a nurse, but the linkage soon dissolves into the wallpaper. He continues in this same way, criss-crossing the audience with general statements that everyone in the room can possibly identify with. However, there’s a no rapport, no humour and when a connection is made Francis gives little opportunity for audience members to interact properly. Unlike Docherty, he has no information to work on. He is saying too much. Sensing that he is struggling Docherty jumps in to give a half time break. She informs us that there is raffle at the desk at £5 a ticket which wins a personal reading from herself as the sole prize. It seems like an extortionate piece of business yet there is long queue to buy the tickets within seconds.

Everybody rises from their chairs and either begin to file out to the toilets, slope to the bar or crawl downstairs for a smoke.

‘What do you think, so far?’ asks the woman sitting next to me.

‘Yeah, it’s quite interesting, not as weird as I’d thought.  I think she was better than the Irish guy,’ I answer.

‘Oh, yeah, he’s terrible isn’t he. We’re not impressed by him at all.’

After twenty minutes and when everyone has settled back into their seats with fresh drinks, the second half of tonight’s show begins with Francis again who wastes no time in working the room.

‘Now, I’m drawn to a lady over here,’ says Francis while pointing towards a group of four women sitting in the middle of the second row.

‘Now, I’m getting a strong person, authoritative. In the forces, may I say the RAF?’

‘Yes, yes, that was my brother’ answers a woman in a thick, Texan accent. She is quite large, in her 60s and has a streak of dark purple running through a short, grey haircut.

 ‘I’m getting an aeroplane and maybe an ejector seat. He’s a very strong person, an energetic person but very stern. Do you understand being mean or stern?’

‘Well, not really’ answers the woman.

‘Okay, but he was in the RAF and he gives me the impression that he saw action, he wasn’t just flying over mountains?’

‘Yes, he was a rear gunner.’

‘Well, he’s very concerned about you and he knows you will be going on a long journey very soon’. (If she had turned around and asked me, I could have also predicted this and probably even the airport she was flying into).

The medium then scours the room for his next target until an older woman in front of me claims recognition of her mother.

‘I feel like this lady was lonely before she passed over. Had she recently lost someone close and felt alone, very alone?’ asks Francis.

The woman is offended by his guess and immediately cuts him off with a terse ‘No, nope, not her.’ Francis tries to rescue the faltering connection, but to her credit this woman is having none of it and waves off the conversation off with outstretched palm and shake of her head. It takes all my willpower not to roar in laughter. The Irishman has pushed his luck and annoyed someone with his brash, unrefined style and is now floundering. 

‘Now, I’m going to the back of the room and somebody in line with where I’m standing’ says Francis.

Francis stands directly in front of me only 5 rows down. I like to think as myself as unremarkable but at 6’4 and 19 stone, in this crowd I’m about as inconspicuous as Tony the Tiger at a panda party

 ‘I’m getting an old man with facial hair and I’m trying to be polite, but he has a receding hair line, not completely bald but short, short hair. I’m seeing a figure like this in my mind’s eye. A father or grandfather figure. I’m drawn to somebody that looks likes this man. A big man who’s a bit overweight?’ says the medium.

He is describing me: a big lump who’s long lost a battle to retain his once curly locks. Naturally, he’s assumed that I look like my long dead Grandad or my very much alive Father and tried his luck. I refuse to make eye contact or respond to his advances as I do not want to be badgered in front of a room full of strangers. Luckily, there’s one of the few men of the audience sitting directly in front of me and he accepts the connection as his father.

‘Now, do you recognise the description of this man?’ asks Francis.

‘Yes, although my father was always clean shaven,’ answers the man.

‘Ok, now did he have heart problems near the end?’

‘Well, not really. He died of an aneurism.’

‘Well, maybe I’m getting mixed messages from the spirits.’

The swamp water is now up to the medium’s nostrils, so he grasps for help and returns to the quartet of eager participants in the second row, he’s on safe ground with one of this crew.

‘Now, I’m getting drawn back to this part of the room and I’m getting an older woman coming through,’ says the medium while motioning to the four women in the second row. Every time either of tonight’s mediums have linked with a spirit at least one of this quartet has shot up their hand like a teacher’s pet. The woman who accepts the microphone is smaller than her chunkier pals, with greying black hair and appears timid and mousey. She squeaks an affirmative answer back to the Irish medium’s relentless questioning. The audience watch with a mix of deep, fascination and creeping, embarrassment as the medium goes about emotionally, dismantling the woman.

‘Yes’, replies the woman whimpering.

‘She is trying to highlight the things that are bothering you. Your mind is at a million miles per hour and you have hundreds of thoughts. Take a step back and stop worrying about others. You have no idea how you are affecting others. The lady is reiterating that. Be selfish,’ says the Irishman.

‘I cannot be selfish,’ squeals the woman.

‘Take time for you’

Her final humiliation is complete with the wail, ‘Why didn’t she tell me that she loved me when she was alive?’

‘That’s unfortunately something I can’t answer’ replies Francis.  ‘However, I do believe this lady has seen the ripple effect of her actions. I assure you of that. We have a beautiful journey to take in crossing over, but she realises how she acted. She has a hell of a lot of love in her heart’ continues the Irishman.

The wailing woman appears broken and is weeping into her hands. The audience however bursts into a round of applause in joyful appreciation of the medium’s public evisceration of the woman. This is what they’ve come to see. Francis has just dragged himself out of the quagmire at the very point of drowning and now takes his leave amid rapturous applause. I half expect him to take a bow before he takes his seat. Karen Docherty meanwhile has been sitting stony faced throughout Francis’s performance, and probably feeling upstaged by his finale, decides to jump back in and round up the night.

‘Now, I’m still getting the names or Jem, Jen or Jemma coming through but also Ellen or Helen, I’d like to offer this up to the whole room?’ says Docherty.

Another middle-aged woman at the far end of the room raises her hand and the microphone is passed along again.

‘Do these names mean anything to you?’ asks Docherty.

‘My best friend’s Aunty was called Helen, but she was like a grandmother to me,’ replies the woman with yet another tenuous link.

Probably sensing that she cannot top Francis’s performance ending she rounds up the night with advice on how to book her personal readings then thanks everybody for attending.

As I get up to the leave the room, the woman beside me asks me, ‘Well, what did you think?’

‘Aye, it was quite good, and he pulled it out of the bag in the end,’ I answer while trying to hide my disappointment.

It always takes me a day or two to process an event and I’m never able to properly evaluate something as it happens. Fortunately, as a gardener I’m afforded the opportunity of deep reflection especially during June when I’m trawling up and down lush lawns every day. Overall, I was underwhelmed by my first medium show. The mediums appear little more than comperes who coax and cajole their audience into believing that their general suppositions have more profound meaning. I was prepared to be astounded and expected much more than the disappointing exhibition of fluky conjecture combined with an audiences’ eager desire to link details and please the medium. I hoped to witness some sort of compelling evidence for spiritualism or mediumship but saw nothing. Despite this, apart from Francis’s cruel exposure of the emotionally vulnerable woman the event is also not as malign or malevolent as I’d previously assumed. By and large, the audience are enthusiastic participants and willing to be used as part of the performance. Also given they are only spending £20 on each ticket there doesn’t seem to be much greedy deception on display (apart from the raffle).  I hoped to witness some devious examples of underhand tactics or audience subterfuge, but the reality is far more banal and unsupernatural. However, with a bit of research I was able to untangle some of the methods and sly tricks used by mediums to deceive the impressionable.

COLD READING

Cold Reading is the ability to gather information from an audience member without that individual realizing that they are providing the information themselves. It is referred to as ‘cold’ as the medium needs no previous knowledge of the audience member. By carefully observing an audience member’s characteristics and behaviour through a series of deductive or general guesses together with the general ‘Barnum statements’ a medium can give the impression of having supernatural abilities. Everybody uses cold reading in their daily life, sometimes to build understanding, often to create prejudice. We judge people by their choice of clothing, the newspapers they read, cars they drive and even their race, sex or age. Mediums finetune this ability to a science, enabling them to identify characteristics and psychological hang ups from a few choice questions and reactions.

James Underdown from Centre for Inquiry and Independent Investigations Group says, ‘In the context of a studio audience full of people, cold reading is not very impressive.’ and explains cold reading from a mathematical perspective. ‘A typical audience (alike the Docherty event) consists of about 200 people and a conservative estimate assumes each attendee knows around 150 people’ (Wikipedia,2019). So, when Karen Docherty suddenly asks, ‘Who’s Jenna or Jemma?’ she is hoping there is a Jenna or Jemma related to the chosen audience member. However, when she reoffers this to the room the chances are multiplied by the 200 people in the audience and the 150 people known to them, creating a pool of 30,000. Would it be surprising for there to be a dozen Jenna’s or Jemma’s in such a large sample, especially both being a common name? The only surprise to me was, nobody took the bait.

One of the most crucial elements of a convincing cold reading is a subject eager to make connections or reinterpret vague statements in any way that will help the reader appear to make specific predictions or intuitions. While the reader will do most of the talking, it is the subject who provides the meaning.

SHOTGUNNING

Shotgunning is one of most used cold reading techniques and is named after the way a shotgun fires a wide spread of small missiles so that there is a better chance of finding a target. Docherty and Francis both depended on this ploy in choosing the general subject of health. Health can be expanded to mean hospitals or pharmacies and all the professions therein (the NHS for example is Scotland’s and the UK’s biggest workforce at over 1,500,000 people). Everybody has either worked for the NHS or is related or knows someone who is or has worked in the NHS or health industry. Also, this subject could also be expanded to a hospital or doctor visit, treatment received in a hospital or even an illness someone has suffered or even perished as a result of. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody that does not connect in some way to the universal subject of health. It’s neither supernatural nor scientific more common sense and simple maths.

PIGGYBACKING

When a psychic makes a pronouncement to an audience member and it’s a miss, they will sometimes claim the information was meant for someone else in the crowd and that the spirit messages are being muddled. This technique allows the medium/ psychic to fish the rest of the audience for a match. So, when Docherty insisted that she was still receiving messages from or about a ‘Jenna or Jemma’ near the end of show she is not only saving face from the previous miss but reinstating her apparent psychic abilities to the audience. You could say that she is feeling her way to the truth, even hedging her bets but in truth it’s straightforward cheating and about as supernatural as predicting the football pools two hours after the games have finished.

Cold Reading in June (Part 1)

 ‘The lady spent a lot of time alone before passing?’ asks the Irishman.

‘Yes’ squeaks the woman.

‘Can I reiterate that she wore pink, I know I’m right. And there’s a gentleman beside her who was in the spirit world prior to her passing. Do you understand me?’ he asks.

The woman squeals a little then says, ‘Yes, my father, he died in 1961’.

The woman’s mental collapse is swelling to an inevitable explosion of emotion. Like observing an unopened tin of beans boil in a campfire, you know what’s going to happen, but you can’t stop watching. The hushed audience share my captivation, nobody dares squeak nor sniffle.

‘Ok, I get a feeling that the lady is trying to connect with me. She’s not trying to upset you. I’m not trying to upset you but she’s trying to convey the love that she had for this man,’ says the Irishman.

‘Uh, huh,’ squeaks the woman in reply.

‘And she seems to have a lot of girls or female relations?’

‘Yes, she had a sister.’

‘I’m also getting some military connection. Also, with the gentleman. Was he in the Navy? I’m getting a regimental, proud man? The woman says you have a very, busy mind just now?’

‘Yes’, replies the woman whimpering.

‘She is trying to highlight the things that are bothering you. Your mind is at a million miles per hour and you have hundreds of thoughts. Take a step back and stop worrying about others. You have no idea how you are affecting others. The lady is reiterating that. Be selfish.’

‘I cannot be selfish’ squeals the woman.

‘Take time for you.’

‘Why didn’t she tell me she loved me when she was alive?’ bawls the woman.

I lean back in my chair and scan the audience for some sort of reaction, but everybody is staring with intense concentration upon the medium and his targeted prey.

 ‘That’s unfortunately something I can’t answer but I do believe this lady has seen the ripple effect of her actions. I assure you of that. We have a beautiful journey to take in crossing over, but she realises how she acted. She has a hell of a lot of love in her heart,’ continues the Irishman.

I feel mortified for the woman. I’ve never seen somebody so completely fall apart in front of an audience of strangers. In a few short minutes the she disintegrated from an enthusiastic devotee into a trembling wreck. And all because she had just apparently conversed with a long dead Aunty. She’s too upset to answer the medium properly instead managing an affirmative, long snort into the microphone. I can’t help raising a smile at the piggy reply, which doesn’t go down well with the surrounding audience who glower at me during their bout of wild applause.

The woman believes she has just conversed with her long dead Aunty. This supposed supernatural feat can only be achieved via mediumship which is the psychic channelling of the spirits of the dead through mediums such as the Irishman. If this miraculous phenomenon is genuine then I’ve finally witnessed the conclusive evidence of not only spirits but also the afterlife, the supernatural and even ghosts, subjects that have fascinated me for most of my life. A fascination that I can pinpoint to a specific time, place and story.

GLASGOW, 1980s

Although I am a country boy my mother is Glaswegian so my small family and I would regularly troop down from Highland Perthshire to visit my Granny in her high rise flat in the Gorbals (an inner-city district lying on the south side of the Clyde). After initial warm greetings, and while the adults were talking, my wee brother would sprawl on the carpet to draw pictures while I would either gaze out at the magnificent view of the city or read football books and magazines. Aunties and Uncles would gradually gather to trade gossip and share stories with our parents, all laughing hard into the wee small hours. As the night wore on our Aunties would always set about terrifying my brother and I with dreadful tales about ghostly visitations from long dead relatives or horrid experiences with clairvoyants and local weirdos. One night after we had both been sent to bed with a headful of these dreadful tales, my Uncle Alec popped his head into our room and handed me a paperback book with the advice ‘If you like ghosts, get a load of this lot’. The book was already beat up and the pages yellowing but on the cover was an eerie, old castle with the title ‘Scottish Ghost Stories’. Inside the stories were arranged alphabetically from Aberdeen to Whitburn with each tale no more than three pages long. There were grey and green ethereal ladies, headless monks, howling banshees, spectral hounds and wailing widows, the full gamut of Scottish, supernatural tales. I devoured half the stories that night and read the remainder the next day.  Of all the stories, one dubious tale ensnared my attention and buried deep into my blossoming imagination.

The story took place in 1930’s Glasgow and more specifically an elaborate lecture hall of Glasgow University. Every month the Society of Parapsychology would meet to discuss and debate all things paranormal, and at one of these meetings they decided to hold a séance and attempt to summon some spirits from the other side. They gathered in a darkened room, sat around a table, held hands then invited any spirit to give them a sign. Expecting the usual table knocks and flickering lights they were instead horrified to witness one of the attendees start to shake, tremble, then growl in a strange, disembodied voice. The growling voice identified herself as a Spanish woman who after years of abuse by her husband had been deliberately buried alive in the local necropolis. The woman begged the group to investigate her claims and bring her awful husband to account for her murder. Such was the detail of the description the society immediately set about researching the spirit’s claims eventually finding her death certificate then burial plot in the massive Victorian necropolis in the east of the city. A decree of exhumation was obtained, and her coffin unearthed and removed to the University. When the coffin lid was removed on the underside there were scratch marks and tears at the inner fabric. The woman was lying on her side with her knees pressed hard against the coffin walls and her fingers were pushed deep into her mouth as if she was trying to expand her throat to the disappearing oxygen. The husband was duly arrested, convicted then hung from his neck providing the woman with righteous retribution. The vengeful spirit is a well-used trope in ghost stories, but more interesting to me was that this tale provided irrefutable proof of the ability of the living to speak to spirits of the dead as in this case only the dead woman could provide the vital evidence that delivered her husband to the gallows.

Thirty years later and I still have this story is still tattooed on my mind. Unfortunately, the book has long since collapsed into ruin and another copy has never been found despite a huge amount of searching. So, I decided to try to witness the conversing with spirits of the dead first-hand. Previously, I’d found Halloween séances to be farcical shows of amateur dramatics more suited to the superstitious Victorian age or bad horror movies. Similarly, Ouija board demonstrations were open to the manipulation and control of the performance creators. My only alternative was to attend a medium show where supposed psychic mediums communicate with spirits then relay their message to relatives or loved ones in a gathered audience. Luckily for me there seemed to be renaissance for this type of entertainment and a renewed popularity in Spiritualism that hasn’t been seen since the post-World War One years. Through a bit of careful planning and with little good fortune I managed to book four separate medium events, all in Scotland and all around the month of June.