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A Ryder (London UK)

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This House Is Haunted
This House Is Haunted
by Guy Lyon Playfair
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.69

5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Investigation, 6 Sep 2013
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This review is from: This House Is Haunted (Paperback)
I should start by saying that I'm not a seasoned 'true hauntings' reader. As a long-time fan of M.R. James and similar classic fiction, I wanted to write a few creepy stories of my own and tentatively picked up some 'true' tales for research. Tentatively because the genre seems to be marketed for a sensation-seeking audience with very Hollywood-style evil demons etc. I steered clear of well-known cases initially, such as Borley Rectory, because of the controversy over possible fraud. Instead I read 'Who's There?' about a Leeds haunting and was struck by its low-key tone and how understated and erratic the incidents were, and no less frightening for that. It emboldened me to read Mr. Playfair's book about the so-called Enfield Poltergeist from the late 1970s and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the phenomena, whether they are sceptical or utterly convinced that inexplicable things can happen.

As an account of events rather than a story, readers shouldn't expect a racy nor a tidy read. As Mr. Playfair makes clear, the activities were repetitive and tiresome after a while and there is no satisfying conclusion. As he also says about the 'Harper' girls: if he is a fraud, he's a very convincing one. The book is set out as a chronological investigation of the happenings at the suburban home, and occasionally beyond it, and the author includes admissions of things he can't be sure happened and tricks played by the girls that he and his co-investigators found out about. He presents as objective a case as possible, and I was intrigued enough to see what I could find on the internet of the evidence he and his colleagues collected. Some of the audio recordings of the 'Voice' are available and interestingly a daytime TV clip from around 2012 with Philip Schofield chairing a discussion with Playfair, Janet - arguably the focus for the activity as a child - and a sceptic. The discussion itself is as unsatisfying as any five-minute chat about such a troublesome subject would be, but the interest is in Janet, who comes across as still slightly bewildered by the whole episode, and also Playfair, who stands by his assertion that the case is an important one. Certainly it is extraordinary, with virtually the whole gamut of known activities occurring, and the sceptic seemed to have no detailed alternative theory as to what may have happened.

Some of the coincidences mentioned in the book seem doubtful, for instance the link between the case and the death of Janet Grosse, or the link between poltergeists and Tourettes, but Playfair doesn't argue these as veritable truths, only possibilities, and his more recent update to the 1980 text adds some context. Overall it's an intelligent and probing documentation of the case, and his conjectures about the confluence between physical, psychological and neurological factors are hard to refute when the 33 years since the book was published have given us things unimaginable a generation ago: I am typing something here and now that at the touch of a button will be there for anyone in the world with a mobile phone to read; my sister can hear again thanks to a tiny chip implant; animals are cloned (for better or worse); teeth and even a small brain can be grown in a petri dish.

I don't want to believe, I want to understand. I hope the SPR are more supportive of Playfair and those like him these days, since all we have, even now, were we to find ourselves in a house like this one, are those with open minds, willing to help.


London's Strangest Tales
London's Strangest Tales
by Tom Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun introduction to London's quirks, but..., 22 Aug 2013
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As a city with a couple of thousand years or so of history, there's no shortage of strange tales to tell about London. This is a fun book, with each tale presented in roughly chronological order and in easily digestible chunks of between half a page and three pages. A good read, then, for anyone wanting a light diversion, or who likes to spout arcane information at parties, and a source of inspiration for the reader's imagination.

What lets it down are the inaccuracies. Charles II's wife was Portuguese, not French (Charles's mother - Charles I's wife - was French) and there's an assertion that Tess of the d'Urbervilles was fooled into thinking that her ancestors were noble. In the version I read, her ancestors WERE noble, it was Alec who had usurped the title. I assume there is only the one book with this title, by one Thomas Hardy? This may be pedantic, but these are not little-known facts or hard to research, so it's inexcusable that the mistakes made it into print. Having read the above two errors in the first fifty pages I had to take the rest of the book with an unhealthily large pinch of salt, and I suggest other readers do the same to avoid egg on the face at those parties....


Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police
Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police
by Paul Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sobering if unsurprising, 19 Aug 2013
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I haven't read other books about the SDS and wanted to read this one in the wake of the news coverage of Mark Kennedy's exposure as an undercover policeman. Since so little is known about the SDS compared to organisations such as MI5, for instance, with various books and general public exposure of the organisation in the last twenty years, it is hard to judge the accuracy of this book. An awful lot of the material is allegations, and the messiness of several of the deployments along the lines of Kennedy mean that reports from those involved are often highly emotional.

I take another reviewer's point about the authors taking aim at one particular officer - Bob Lambert - and talking about him less than dispassionately, and that same reviewer also mentions a lack of analysis beyond and behind the events, which I also noticed as I was reading. For all the relaying of information, there is no discussion of any real advantages of the SDS or similar security services and there seems to be an implicit assumption that any covert activities by the state are inherently bad.

That said, as an outsider's chronicle of the SDS from its early days onwards it seems fairly comprehensive and is quick to pose what the authors see as the problems of this unit's operations: the morality of deceiving people on an intimate level because they happen to belong to a movement; the wisdom of spending taxpayers' money on infiltrating groups which are transparently peaceful; the decreasing accountability of covert work generally and the lengths allowed these officers in terms of violent action in order to prove their activist credentials. Conversely, the authors also bring up the long-term effects on the officers in the field, some of whom have had mental health issues as a result of their work. Rogue officers, of-course, are in a position to pose a distinct threat to their former colleagues and bosses, leading, it appears, to much macho jockeying and, if all else fails, more taxpayers' money in settlements. There is also mention of the somewhat strange attitude to selection, training and support of these spies. The men (and it is mostly men) may have physical and mental toughness, but they are essentially under sustained pressure in a potentially hostile environment with, perhaps, a lack of emotional maturity.

A great deal is also made of the psychological and emotional trauma suffered by the activists who have had (failed) relationships with undercover officers, and I am not disputing the injustice of their situation, but nothing is mentioned of the officers' original families. Were the partners willingly colluding in their other halves' double lives? It seems unlikely where children are involved, although if the person you share your life with is absent around the clock for five or six days per week you might wonder whether they were sharing elsewhere.

Ultimately the existence of the SDS brings to the fore serious questions about our society, and about the conflicting priorities of security and freedom, which have never been far from the world's consciousness, especially after 9/11. What is justifiable to protect the social fabric? What is the social fabric? And what are the threats? Terrorism and war aside, there is once again escalating public concern about the environment, animal welfare and big business, from the so-called McLibel case to energy companies' fracking activity. Should the state be undermining protest? This book makes those questions explicit, but it would be too much to expect it to have any of the answers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2013 4:26 PM BST


Who's There: A True Story of a Leeds Haunting: The True Story of a Leeds Haunting
Who's There: A True Story of a Leeds Haunting: The True Story of a Leeds Haunting
by Colette Shires
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.49

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't read alone at night!, 18 Aug 2013
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This is my second recent foray into genres I usually avoid, and I was pleasantly surprised (although maybe 'pleasantly' is the wrong word, since I began reading at night during a thunderstorm and had to switch to something less alarming).

There are endless 'true haunting' books available but most seem sensationalised and overwrought. Maybe it was the understated, colloquial style of Colette Shires's writing, or the fact that the setting is Leeds, with which I am familiar, but this is one of the creepiest, most chilling accounts of unexplained activity that I have ever come across. Like most factual accounts, as opposed to fiction, there are no handy explanations: the house is not found to have been the site of some strange previous activity and the uninvited guests are not discovered to have been previous owners or victims/perpetrators of tragedy. The range of experiences that the Slater family undergo is wide and inexplicable, from sightings to sounds to invisible weights and missing objects that reappear having seemingly defied the laws of physics.

What is truly unusual, and I had not come across this before, is that whatever inhabited the house in Grant Place seemed to follow the family outside the house, then arguably caused the house to collapse and followed them to their next home and beyond. Was the haunting in fact of belongings, or of the family themselves? I will definitely think twice before buying that attractive table or cabinet from an antiques fair next time....

The author doesn't come across as someone who spends her life watching for shadows or listening out for things that go bump in the night, and she also gives a plausible answer to what everyone wonders while watching horror films, namely "Why don't they just leave?!" Not everyone in the house(s) is as affected, while some are genuinely intrigued, and the practicalities and expense of moving house when nothing scary has happened in a long time preclude the move. That's another difference between real and fictional accounts of odd activity: in the former, it's sporadic rather than relentless. I'm interested to know whether the house in Potternewton still has inexplicable happenings, and whether the possessions that were sold on have introduced some extra members to other families. Most of all I hope the Slaters have found some peace, whether that is by accommodating their unusual experiences, or having finally outpaced their retinue of strange followers!

Highly readable, and recommended for anyone who feels or has felt haunted, or just wants to know more about hauntings generally from the point of view of a believer or a non-believer.


The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
by Elaine N. Aron
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the usual self-help title, 18 Aug 2013
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There are lots of helpful reviews of this book already, but I feel strongly that anyone who thinks they may be sensitive, or have been made to feel that they are thin-skinned, shy, easily overwhelmed etc. (and find the world can be a brash place a lot of the time) should read this.

I am not a fan of the 'self-help' genre, finding the few books I have leafed through either generalised to the point of nonsense, unrealistic or mere common sense. Although this is written by an American aiming at an American market, with some 'new-age' hippyish phrases, if you can ignore those or skim them, then this book is a worthwhile read. Aron has made a study of a neglected area and presents some interesting findings and wise advice.

In common with many readers, I suspect, I came to this having experienced much of the bewilderment and feelings of inferiority that she describes. It was only when reading about an 18th Century lady who "was so sensitive that she couldn't even bear anyone rustling a newspaper nearby" that I searched under 'sensitive' in Amazon and came up with this book. Why didn't I think of it before? It has genuinely changed my perception of myself and made sense of things that have happened in my past. Aron uses apposite metaphors to explain her theories, not least the 'warrior class' vs. 'scholar/advisor class' one. She also makes clear that while HSPs share many aspects of the trait, we are all individuals (hallelujah) and can't be lumped together. In short, this book is about learning to trust what your mind and body are telling you about when and how you feel comfortable in the world, and letting go of the need to strive to be like a perceived majority who pursue - even require - constant external stimulation.


The Changeling [DVD]
The Changeling [DVD]
Dvd ~ George C. Scott
Price: 6.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned ghost story, 16 Aug 2013
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I remember this as scaring me when I originally saw it years ago and it is still haunting (pardon the pun). If you like gore and violence, don't bother, but those who prefer an old-fashioned, little-to-be-seen ghostly tale should enjoy this. Some of the effects are a little outdated but that just adds to its charm. What knocked off the fifth star for me was the unlikelihood of a bereaved husband and father, suddenly alone in the world, opting to live in a huge, empty mansion, and a few consistency issues with the backstory of the doomed boy.


BiOrb First Aid Kit
BiOrb First Aid Kit
Offered by Pet-Bliss - Delivering WORLDWIDE
Price: 6.45

3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to gauge efficacy, 16 Aug 2013
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I bought this for a fish who seemed to be stressed and the fish subsequently died. That is in no way to say that the death was caused by this product, any more than to say that the remaining fishes are healthy because of it: I have no idea! All in all, I'd say worth a try if you have sickly or distressed-looking fish, just because you may well lose them otherwise anyway, but as to whether it works, who knows? An aqua biologist? If only fish could talk....


Session 9 [DVD]
Session 9 [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Caruso
Price: 5.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror inside meets horror outside, 16 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Session 9 [DVD] (DVD)
Without giving too much away, this film has a lot in common with 'The Shining', not least the creepy setting of endless empty corridors. A small group of men are working in a long-abandoned asylum to remove the asbestos, but tensions between them are high thanks to personal issues and financial woes. Then three of the men make eerie discoveries: one hears a voice in his head; another finds a stash of old coins and personal effects, and the third comes across tape recordings of a deceased patient with multiple personalities. The tension builds slowly as we come to know the characters and then there's the inevitable explosion of bloody violence.

Certainly watchable, and an entertaining take on the old mental breakdown versus external forces of evil debate. There may be a direct parallel with "Heeeeeere's Johnnniieeee!" but it also brings to mind the 'motiveless' killings of places such as Columbine and Hungerford. I found myself wondering if the co-writer and director hadn't been inspired by similarly abandoned lunatic asylums in England, since they dot the landscape here after NHS reforms in the 1980s. The one in the film, although shabby and strange, is remarkably clean for a building that had been empty for 15 years! I would have given the film 3 stars rather than 4, since it covers old ground and the voice sounds too much like Hal from '2001', plus it suffers from the old difficulty of characters behaving against all common sense by exploring terrifying places alone/at night etc. However, Peter Mullan raises every project he's in by a star.


The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead
The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead
by Carl Watkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read for a morbid subject, 1 Aug 2013
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This is a rather odd book, in that it's hard to categorise. Author Carl Watkins takes the reader on a journey of English (almost exclusively) people's attitudes to death from the end of the Dark Ages through to the aftermath of WWI. It's roughly chronological, and takes existing objects and relics of the past to examine our changing society. Watkins makes elegant surmises without cramming either his knowledge or his conjecture down the reader's throat, and he has an expressive, sometimes wry tone and style of writing. There are copious notes to explain sources etc.

It may in fact be unfair of me to deny the book the fifth star that other reviewers have given it, but I felt I had to do so because I wasn't sure how much of the 'country' I had discovered after reading. I am not a particular fan of the macabre, but I knew most of the nuggets Watkins offers up, and there seems no real narrative thrust to the read. It is not and doesn't claim to be comprehensive, so this is simply a collection of the author's favourite anecdotes on death that he feels illustrate his theories. This may well be my shortcoming and not his, of-course. I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought the book and perhaps my vague disappointment is undeserved. Perhaps it's just that we don't actually journey among the dead at all, but remain frustratingly as we always do, until the final moment, firmly among the living!


HHhH
HHhH
by Laurent Binet
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Humane telling of a gripping history, 20 July 2013
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There are so many reviews already here that this is undoubtedly superfluous, but I felt I had to add my praise for this book. I was initially dismayed at thinking it was a kind of post-modernist text, because usually anything self-conscious annoys me, but (a) this is well-written and (b) there is a purpose for the reflective self-doubt of the author, namely that he is questioning history, subjectivity, human strength and weakness, the crafting of fiction, the place of the author and ultimately what truth is and how it can - or can't - be established. If that sounds pretentious, it doesn't come across that way in 'HHhH'. And if you're thinking you know what happened to Heydrich so there's no tension, and anyway you don't ever want to read more tales of derring-do from WWII, pick this up. It's a searching, moving, engrossing and sincere read.

I haven't read the French and this is the only English translation on offer, so I can't comment on the loyalty to the original text, but it reads extremely well, with a strong 'voice' and no glaringly awkward phrases. England has been twice blessed - to escape the horrors of occupation and to be offered riches from literary Europe in our own language.


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