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 1-Prologue)

 ‘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.