The Impossible Deal

The Impossible Deal

British politics appears to have reached a new nadir and an insurmountable impasse. Recent votes in Westminster have firstly successfully opposed the government’s plans and secondly failed to oppose the government. We are left with the situation that the government remains in power but its plans have been rejected.

Much of this arises from the problems of two-party tribal politics which rather than address a problem itself but instead  promotes a party’s programme. This is compounded by the present leaders of the two  parties. Both leaders have parties seriously split on the issue of Brexit. The Tories have a leader, who is at heart a remainer, trying to manage a programme of leave to please the staunch ‘leavers’ in her party. Labour has a leader, who at heart is a leaver, trying to offer a programme that will please the remainers who largely control his party. The Liberals, the only party who have a party, programme and leader backing remain, are so inconsequential in British politics at present that the only debate in town is between the two major parties with their discordant leaders.

No-one has a plan to get out of this impasse. There is nothing which can suit all the needs of the two political parties. Neither party is single-minded in its desire to either support the decision of the referendum to leave the European Union or to propose something else.  The only thing uniting them is that both of them are terrified of a ‘no deal’ scenario. This despite Theresa May recognising (one of the few things she grasped correctly) that “no deal is better than a bad deal“. All our parliamentarians, of any hue, are unable to countenance ‘no deal’ scenario, even though it may be unavoidable and may also be preferred.

A deal, or a ‘managed’ withdrawal, may well be the best way to proceed. However, sometimes it is not. Think of a “managed economy”, these never function as efficiently as free market economies. In complex situations allowing individual actors to work out the best way to proceed, and chop and change as necessary, is better than an agreed centrally-‘managed’ plan. Centrally managed agriculture lead to famines. Centrally managed healthcare in Europe provides poorer healthcare than the mixed market healthcare alternatives. Situations can be managed when all the data is known but in complex situations there are many things which can not be known in advance. Rather than a committee of bureaucrats trying to plan fishing, healthcare, automotive industries, IT services, financial services, mining, agriculture, food processing,  forestry, electrical engineering standards, inter-university cooperation, medical devices, medication and aircraft standard, and so on and so on. It would be better to allow all the agents involved to work this out for themselves. It will probably prove quicker and will, almost certainly, find better solutions. Even is there is a managed deal,  we  will still need to see individuals and organisations modifying and adapting  it to make it work, as the likelihood of a centrally decided plan fitting all eventualities is negligible.

But, even if you want a managed separation and a deal, then there is still a need to consider a “no deal” scenario. In every negotiation the two agents have their bottom lines, the point at which they think the available deals are not worth having, and the points at which they need to walk away from the negotiations. Imagine the scenario of going into a car showroom and announcing “Right I want a car. I am going to buy it here and I want it today. I don’t care how difficult it is but I warn you now that I am not leaving here without having bought a car. I will not consider the idea of you not selling at least one car to  me. Right what have you got ?” How likely is it that you will obtain a great deal ? You will be relying on the benevolence of  car salesmen, not a wise move. Every negotiator has a line in the sand, the line at which they decide to go for the no deal option, not to consider this is extremely foolhardy.

No deal will be followed by disruption and change, but so will any deal.  At present the EU, and UK leaders,  wish to minimise the disruption to global capital and large corporations and to cause as little disruption to governing organisations which manage many governmental agencies. Unfortunately they are forgetting that the reason people voted for Brexit, and the reason many European people are also upset, was because of the power of global capital, large corporations and remote undemocratic government. They wanted to weaken the powers of corporations and force them to pay national taxes and listen to local governments. They wanted to stop changes in culture which central governments held valuable for the needs of capital. They opposed the ability of capital to bus in cheap labour to undercut local workers; something bad both for the local workers and the home economies of the migrant workers.

Companies may complain that without a deal they fear their profits will be hurt. Populations may reply  “That is tough but that is precisely why we voted as we did. We are fed up with your greed“. Governmental bodies may worry that without a deal their authority may be diminished, but that was the point. No deal allows a blank slate and the opportunity of all to create the future arrangements they want. I recall every election, when I was a youth, the warnings of dire economic calamity if the nation even considered voting for labour. It is no different now to then, those in power and those with the wealth, will try everything to keep it including trying to scare us into accepting a good deal for them and a bad deal for us.

There are many problems with capitalism at present. Crony capitalism is now gathering the increased wealth, that only a market economy can create, into increasingly few pockets. Institutions like the EU are the mechanisms to promote this and they, and the crony capitalists, need to be weakened. This will not be without pain. But if it is done well then hopefully most of the pain will be felt by the rich and powerful who can best deal with it, and may even be thought to deserve it. An unmanaged Brexit may well be the best way to do this.

The Wizard Trump

It is sometimes odd how we stumble into knowledge of matters. I was listening to a podcast which was discussing President Trumps’ potential legacy when the contributors began to make reference to “The Wizard of Oz”. They argued that many of the aspect of populist politics in today’s America echoed those of a hundred years ago and the satire about the Wizard of Oz could equally be applied to Donald Trump. I had not been aware of the political analysis of L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and it was fascinating to hear these.

When the book was written American politics and economy were in turmoil. There had been major changes in monetary standards and the Fourth Coinage Act had devalued silver. There were major financial difficulties and one of the movements aiming to address these was a move for bimetallism – money backed by both gold and silver. This was taken up in 1896 by the William Jennings Bryan , leader of the Democratic Party, as well as some populist groups and Republicans from silver mining areas (“Silver Republicans“). Bryan won the leadership by his ‘Cross of Gold convention speech where he stated “The gold standard has slain tens of thousands.” and urged the convention “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” It was felt that gold helped the rich get richer while ‘free silver’ would create cheaper money with a wider base and provide help for the poorer sectors of society.

It was against this backdrop that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written.  It may be no coincidence that gold and silver are measured in ounces which are abbreviated to “Oz.” Similarly a “yellow brick road” to the “emerald city” might well signify the power of the gold standard (yellow) to lead wealth to the wealthy (green signifying fraudulent greenback money). In the book, but not the film, the way to sort problems, and get out of trouble and back home, is by the “silver slippers” – the film used the more photogenic ruby red instead. It is quite easy to imagine Dorothy as the common man assisted by a ‘cowardly lion’ (William Jennings Bryan) on their way to find solutions for the Scarecrow (farmers and agricultural workers) and the Tin-man (Steel and other industry workers). Certainly when Baum wrote a stage version of the book in 1902 he made many political references, mainly as jokes against the current luminaries.

At the end of their trek they meet the wizard who is revealed to be a pompous humbug who uses all sorts of tricks to hide his nature from the people. He actually has no ideas and no power and admits to Dorothy that “I am a very bad wizard. And, thinking of Trump, this seems to be where we came in.

ww-denslow-illustration-4

 

 

Chip Shop Blues

I was quite unsettled during my recent visit to the chip shop. I was perhaps already feeling unsettled as I went in, as I was breaking all of my good New Year’s intentions. I had intended not to eat take-aways, I’d intended to prepare our meals from scratch and to maintain a healthier balanced diet. But we’d had a difficult cold and wet day in the fields and the chip shop’s warm smells and bright lights were irresistible. I had done my usual trick of thinking of excuses : I had always said I should eat more fish and I guessed potatoes in chips are, in fact, a vegetable. I’d also worked out my escape strategies; eating less the next day and doing a but more exercise to compensate. I am a master of self-deception and despite the guilt I was initially quite content standing in the queue, in the warmth, smelling the chips and vinegar, while I waited for them to deep fry my order.

My disquiet started as I watched the television high up on the wall behind the deep-fat friers. It was tea-time and the television was tuned to a music video station, MTV or something similar, and I started to watch the performances. I didn’t know any of the bands or songs and, to be honest, I couldn’t see myself rushing out to a record store to rectify my ignorance. Though not my taste, the music was unremarkable pop music. What was remarkable were the videos that accompanied the songs.

The themes of the songs, as far as I could judge, were as paeans to the singer’s virility, if male, or pulchritude, if female. I guess so many songs are, but these seemed less subtle, less sublimated than I recall songs from my youth. The men all described their unbounded stamina while the womenrihanna-small_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqeo_i_u9apj8ruoebjoaht0k9u7hhrjvuo-zlengruma invited you to compare them with other less-fortunate women. Both suggested you’d be better to drop your current partner and choose them if you wanted any chance at future happiness. But is was not the shallow lyrics, nor such a carnal view of love,  that made me feel out of time, it was the accompanying videos.

The videos were comprised of very attractive men and women dressed in very little at all. The dancing, as far as it went, comprised thrusting the genitals, buttocks or breasts towards the camera so as to make their pulchritude fill the frame. Sometimes, lest the viewer had missed the point, it was necessary to jiggle the body parts to catch the attention of anyone who was not paying heed. These movements were coordinated into dance scenes when the dancers skilfully simulated sexual acts with each other just in case the viewer had not got the point of the endeavour. The crassness of the videos unnerved me and set me to thinking about the changes that have occurred in my life and set me to worrying about the future my grandchildren will have.

When I was an adolescent, and my life focussed on sex and all matters sexual, we would sometimes sneak into cinemas showing adult films. At sixteen we could sometimes fool a lackadaisical adult on the desk at the cinema that we were of age to enter. When successful I was able to see films, in technicolour, and with sound, of women with few clothes and some brief nudity. At times I and my friends would see actors simulate sexual acts which were less explicitth than the video in the chip shop. The films I was watching in a public space, at tea time, were stronger than I had seen illicitly in cinemas where the wearing of a raincoat was almost compulsory. Times have certainly changed. Early evening music entertainment in my childhood was a man, with a variety of colourful jumpers, singing while in a rocking chair. To spice it up some dancers may have bounced demurely in the background to the beat of the music. (Val Doonican won all the NME awards in 1965 !).

I worry about these changes not because I fear the effects of nudity nor erotica. These are pleasurable. I fear these changes,  as I feel pleasure, like many things, is relative.  Much of the pain and pleasure we experience in life comes from the change from state to another. If you lived on a very plain diet of beans and rice then the excitement of a meal in a middle-price restaurant would be major. The epicure or gourmand, however, will not be able to enjoy ‘bangers and mash’ after a life of ‘larks tongues in aspic’. The baseline setting of our lives determines what it takes to excite us, to please us or to upset us. I think that there is a danger than this turning up of the background noise of erotica is dangerous.

When we are young we are driven to seek pleasures and focus easily on the erotic. The background setting in the 1950’s and 60′ was quite low. Modesty was considered important and as a consequence it was quite easy to be exciting and sexy – raising hemlines in to 60’s caused a stir as did the wearing of a bikini. Young boys could be excited by an underwear catalogue as it revealed the bra under the blouse. However, the excitement caused by these glimpses of nethergarments had exactly the same frisson as the excitement that boys and girls experience today when they see something risqué. But they start much nearer the top of the scale. My scale started with the excitement of seeing a ‘bra’ or a ‘leg’ and rose from there. When you start with simulated sex and crotch shots there is not a lot further to go. Therefore I fear that the total amount of pleasure that can be experienced will ultimately be smaller.

We know forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest and it is important that we keep some pleasures in reserve. By withholding gratification we allow the potential pleasure to build. If we try and enjoy everything at once we  rob it of its value and end up less pleasure than we could have enjoyed. As in the warning of “Brave New World” we could end up with a world of frequent sexual activity but little enjoyment from it. Standing in the chip shop I felt I was almost there already. I felt as if  in a scene from Blade-runner, in a brash, noisy, gaudy future with images and video all around, all senses stimulated and all pleasures offered but with little prospect of happiness. Next time I’ll peel some potatoes and put some carrots on to boil, it will be safer.

 

 

 

 

We made our own presents.

We made some of our own presents this year. This was possibly unwise as neither of us could be described as artistic or skilled at craft. Rudimentary knitting is as far as we get, and the results of our endeavours with wool and needles would scarcely bring a smile to someone’s face over the festive season. However, as part of our endeavour to be self-sufficient, and due to our abomination of waste, we wanted to use the sheep skins of our lambs after slaughter. So we thought learning to tan hides would be a way to kill two birds with one stone.We would use the skins and have no need to buy Christmas presents as we could give rugs and jackets to our friends and family. This plan only half-worked. Therefore, if you decide to follow the instructions which follow, then stop half-way through.

The first stage of tanning is to salt the skins.

salting
Salted skin

This means covering the whole area of the skin in a layer of salt about 0.5cm thick. Don’ try and do this with a salt cellar you are going to need about 1kg of salt per skin. Table salt or, if it is cheaper to buy, then dishwasher salt will suffice. This stage starts the preservation by drawing the moisture out of the skins as it drops on the floor. It is best to leave the skins for up to a week under the salt. Check them daily and renew the salt at any areas where pools of water have formed. The area you are working in will become wet and damp as the salt draws out all the water from the skin.

The following stage is scraping. You need sharp knives and any metal implements which

scraping
Tools and a wet floor

will allow you to scrape off any bits of meat of fat which are adhering to the skin. There are fleshing knives available at a cost, but kitchens knives, paint scrapers and a bee-hive tool work jus as well. This is very slow work but you have to persevere until a smooth, thin, white skin is all you have left. It should be about 1-2mm thick. Your hands will probably dry out during this process as the salt and the work will pull out all the natural oils in your skin. I found that, when I was doing this, if I went out in the rain, my hands looked as if they had been in a long hot bath as my finger tips went white and wrinkly very quickly.

The following stage is the actual tanning stage. You need to soak the skins in acid for a few days. There are many traditional

chemicals
Chemistry

 

ways of getting an acid for this procedure. Originally the brains of the animal would be smeared on the skins for the syringomyelic acid they contained, and in the middle ages there was some poor unfortunate whose job was to collect dog poo (as dog poo and urine are slightly acidic) for the tanning process. We decided against these strategies and went for oxalic acid which is quite easy to obtain as it is a common cleaning preparation (often used as a decking cleaner). We sent up three bins and the skins went through these over the next weeks. The first 4 days in the acid solution, then a day in

mixing
Mixing

 

a bicarbonate of soda wash (to neutralize the acid and start the cleaning) then a few days in a solution of soap flakes for simple cleaning. During each of these steps it is important to stir the mixture once or twice a day with a wooden stick.

Once you have completed these stages you are into the home run. The next stage is to dry the skins by hanging them on a line somewhere. Then daily pull and stretch the skins to make them pliable. This must be done multiple times and which considerable force and vigour as it breaks down the fibres in the leather and makes the leather supple.

drying
Drying

This, I have to confess is where we

dry
Cadi thinks we’ve skipped a step

made our fatal mistake. While we dried the fleeces well and did try and bend and pull them, we did not do this adequately and when the skins finally dried the leather was too hard and rigid. It was tanned but not, by any stretch of the imagination, supple. This part of the job can’t be skimped unless you are going to be happy with wall hangings or rugs, where flexibility is less important.

This unfortunately did not deter us. We had set our mind on Christmas presents and were not going to be so flexible as to let some stiff leather put us off. After some deft work with leather thongs and a needle we constructed a jacket.

rpt
Merry Christmas

Now the leather outside is indeed waterproof, and the inner wool lining is very warm,  but is does lack a little in finesse and fashion. It looks a little too Neolithic, or Game of Thrones, for day to day wear. I fear if we both wore matching jacked to the supermarket we might even be viewed as a little eccentric. But as proof of purpose it has shown it is possible to tan the skins and next year, after much more diligent work at the drying stage, we hope to have flexible, supple leather. Version 2 might even be wearable in public.

 

Gaeaf Glas wna Fynwent Fras.

We had a cold start to the day this morning and we have more promised to come. Though I was not too keen on this first thing today, when I had to break all the ice from the animals’ water troughs, I am generally glad to see the season behaving more like a normal winter. The cold snap reminded me that, while I had cut and collected enough timber for fuel, I have not split enough logs nor prepared enough kindling. So now I have my weekend planned.

I saw in the agricultural diary, when I was writing our log, that the Welsh proverb of the week is “Gaeaf Glas wna Fynwent Fras“.  This can be translated as a harsh or cold winter will lead to full cemeteries. It reflects early awareness, of now scientific knowledge, that winter is the most dangerous season. Indeed the 7th of January is the day of the year on which  more people die than any other. Possibly reflecting two factors : the first is the winter season itself,  and the second may be the ability of people to hold on or persevere until after the Christmas period – slipping off the mortal coil at a more timely point.

Gaeaf Glas literally means a blue or green winter. Although now ‘glas’ is used to mean ‘blue’, earlier the celtic languages didn’t distinguish in words between blue and green and used ‘glas’ for both colours.  This is why the “dear green place is called “Glasgow”.  Now, in  Cymraeg (welsh) we use glas for blue and gwyrdd for green and I am not sure that this is a step forward. Sometimes I think the prior situation may have been better.

At the moment we are trying to renovate our holiday let’s kitchen and this entails choosing the colour of the doors of the cabinets. You might imagine that this is an easy task. Think of a colour you like, blue, or green, or red, and decide on that colour. But unfortunately this does not work. I have now discovered that there are bluey-greens and greeny-blues, as well as greens that are too greeny. I have been asked to look at  cards and select between sage green, pale verdigris green (which is gray), soft pastel mint green or soft duck egg green (which is blue). Once we have selected an apt green for the cabinets we can then open the big book of paint colours for the splash back. I think there are over 20 blues and greens in here.

I really have no hope of contributingcolor_differences to this debate. Indeed I don’t know why I bother, my wife will make the decision anyway. Not only can I not distinguish between these imperceptible shade differences (Imagine being asked which you prefer “magnolia” or “almond white” or “cream” ! They are all the same). But also there is the mystery of matching to come – “Do you think this brown picks up the brown in the carpet ? Or is it too reddy brown ? I have no hope of playing this game. I don’t know the rules and I am also wired wrongly. Studies have shown that men and women differ in what colour differences they can perceive and as a consequence men and women have different colour categories and nouns.

In this area I think expansion of categories is a hindrance rather than a boon and we should start a campaign for real colours. We would permit red, blue, green, yellow, purple and orange but suggest that all the other colours are simple figments of the home-decorating and furnishing industry and banned as fraudulent advertising. Although of a libertarian inclination this is one area in which I could support some increased legislation. Think of the marital disharmony it would prevent and the number of divorces that would be avoided. Think of the errors that could be avoided day-to-day – no longer could somebody be asked to get the taupe cardigan and make a mistake and get the gray one. Bliss.

 

 

Human Music

Human Music

It is the tradition in Wales, as I am sure in many other places, to welcome in the New Year with a concert or other musical event. So I found myself last night in the village hall listening to two local bands playing. Now I do not have a musical bone in my body, I can play no musical instruments and totally lack any sense of rhythm. But I still enjoy music and have fairly catholic tastes, I can usually find something in all forms of music that appeals to me. When I was young I used to be adamant that I didn’t like Opera but that was before I took my daughter to Die Valkyrie and I discovered I was a Wagner fan. Similarly my disdain for Country music evaporated when I worked for a period in Columbia S.C. and subsequently discovered Hootie and the Blowfish. I am pretty confident that there will be something in all types of music that I will be able to find enjoyable.

I presume this is because music is such a basic form of communication between us. We may not share the same language as someone else and we may not be able to exchange many facts with them. But through music we are able to convey feelings and emotions with others though we do not share any tongue in common. It is very likely that in our species the  development of language and that of music are closely intertwined. It is hard to think of a human celebration that doesn’t use music – not only the pleasures of the Wedding March” or the songs of praise at worship, but also the sad or fearful times of our lives with the funeral marches, The Last Post or even the skirl of the pipes as armies are lead into battle. Even those of us, like myself, who can play no instruments nor compose any songs still have music in our lives. As Neitzsche that ardent atheist and nihilist said “Without music, life would be a mistake”.  This may have revealed the chink in his theories; as when we sing to ourselves, through happiness, fear or sadness, we are showing that there are always two of us present. The singer, that associated with our bodies and the present, and the listener, that spark inside, which is our permanent core.

It is that ability to communicate that makes music enjoyable to me and is why I always prefer real, live, human music to reproduced music no matter how good it is. I enjoyed my evening listening to two local bands (who were, incidentally, excellent) in the company of my friends and neighbours. Hearing music made ‘up close and personal’, with all the content (the coughs, the mistakes, the breathing, the fluffed notes) carries much more emotion than simply the song or tune itself. You understand the emotion or concentration far better when you can see the facial expressions or sweat of the performers. No matter how good the recording on my CD may be, the effect of being so close to he performers and the audience makes live music superior every time.

I have been to live music events in arenas and stadia. But I much prefer small scale, local musical events – music on a human scale. When I attend other concerts I was part of a much greater crowd, for example when hearing “Yes” or “Andre Rieu” but this was not as part of a real community. In these events we were all either old or young, classical or jazz lovers, fans of a band or genre. We were a tribe. We were not a living breathing community with the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the academic and the farmer, all coming together to share enjoyment and welcome the start of another year. In these large events you can loose your indivduality to become part of the mass and you make no links to others in that mob. In small events you keep your individuality and start to recognise other individuals and create links with them. Not only sharing the music but communicating about it as well. Last night created the links that are the glue that will hold our community together over the coming year.

When I think back to my own childhood and recall Hogmanay’s of years ago. While I can remember the drinking and the carousing, the strongest memories I have are of the singing. I remember us, as children, singing to the adults. I remember my Mum and Dad singing to the gathered people and I remember my parents singing with their neighbours. I remember when older, and a student in the city, walking the streets on Hogmany looking for parties and knowing where to go by hearing the signing from the windows. If there was no singing there was no point in knocking on the door! Despite the pleasure that can be had from mass produced commercial music it would be a great shame is we lost the home grown, local, small scale musical events. We should be careful that we don’t allow increased personal access to music to reduce our shared communal appreciation of music as the latter is by far the more important.

 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Happy New year

 

 

 

 

 

The night I was a ghost.

The night I was a ghost.

The New Year and spirits have long been closely associated in my life. As a Scotsman I have usually spent my Hogmanays in close proximity to an excessive amounts of spirits and usually paid the penalty on Ne’er Day with an awful hangover.  As I have aged and moved, and as the tradition of first footing is waning, I have been looking for alternative ways to celebrating the end of the old year and the start of the new. An evening of watching fireworks or music shows on the television didn’t appeal nor did the idea of staid dinner parties. Nothing seemed to be available to capture that feeling of melancholy mourning for the year just gone and that blind hope that the next year would be better. I really searched.

Then I thought I found it. An evening of psychic investigations, or ghost hunting, in a local derelict castle. I imagined an evening of walking the ramparts mulling over the past as we were frightened by a crew who would try and spook us. Any spirits unsettling my nerves would be simply phantoms evoking transient distress rather than the day long misery that whisky was able to bequeath you in the morning after.  If nothing else, I reasoned, it would be very different, a bit of fun.

My mistake became apparent very early on in the proceedings. As we all gathered and made chit chat in the dark of the castle’s keep it became clear that people were not there, like myself, for fun. They were there for the deadly serious task of finding ghosts, making contact with the spirit world and discussing psychic experiences. Other than my wife there were no doubters.

After a ‘lecture’ on how our equipment would work, we were supplied with EMF meters, ionic readers, and a myriad of gadgets which crackled static and blinked coloured lights, we went into the chapel for our supper and psychic readings. I now knew I had gauged this wrongly. This was in earnest not in fun.

We all had our tarot cards read and crystal balls and dangling pendants helped us know our futures and natures. I noted that everyone at my table, and in my vicinity, no matter who their psychic had a very similar reading. It ran “You are a kind and intelligent person, perhaps too giving and modest, you tend to be put upon by others because you are too quiet to ask for help yourself. You have faced adversity and are dealing with an important decision but I can see that the future is looking very bright for you and you will manage many of your heart’s goals.” It was like listening to every horoscope ever written and it was perhaps no surprise that no-one said “You are and irritable and greedy person, self-obsessed and unable to see things from another’s viewpoint. You have had it easy so far and the future is going to throw some difficulties your way“. Perhaps few people wish to pay for this, possibly more accurate but more negative, reading or perhaps (even less likely) there was nobody on this crowd of 50 who were going to have difficulties in their future.

After our readings and meal our real ghost hunting started. This entailed standing in the dark and cold in rooms of the castle calling our to the spirits to let themselves be known. “Is there anyone there ? Can you hear us ? Let us know. Rustle the leaves if you are there. Make a sound. Light up the light on the meters .. .. .. ” . The desperation in the calls was clear, my fellow guests were eager, beyond belief, to believe that spirits lurked around them and any event was going to be evidence of their presence. Fortunately I was able to help.

I first noticed that when I was allowed to use the laser grid I could help things on their way. This was a laser pen that shone a grid of lights on the wall. If the spirits passed across the beam they would be revealed by their shadows! I noticed that if I squeezed the pen the connection to the battery was impaired and the lights dimmed. When this dimming happened in response to “Are you there ?”  the response was appropriately electric to all participants. Thereafter through a series of “yes/no” questions and my squeezing we were able to have a rudimentary conversation with a 7 year old stable boy who had been most grievously treated in the castle. It was interesting that all the questions supposed the existence of only stereotyped characters from romantic fiction.

It was then on to the séance and Ouija board. With only a modicum of imperceptible effort the glass scuttered across the board. I knew at this point I was not the only ghost in the room; a fact that my wife’s white knuckles confirmed. Here we were talking to the lady of the castle. She spelled out her first name (approximately) and then the call went out “What is you surname ?” I could hardly shout out “I don’t know” so after some taciturn spells we went back to “yes/no” questions while we confirmed that she had been a beautiful and graceful lady wed to a fearful domestic tyrant. I could almost see his top hat and twirled, pointed mustachios.

We then ended with a bonfire, a drink and watching the fireworks over the town and sea. Listening to my fellow guests they were very happy with their night; they had met ladies and stable boys and made contact, through the curtan, with the other side. I had intended to argue and rebut their beliefs but I could not bring myself to do this. They were a nice group of people. Friendly, normal people, holding down jobs and caring for families who wanted to believe that there is more to life than the mundane world we all live in. Had they wished to debate I would have been happy to participate but I had wish to spoil their evening or reduce their happiness.

Their open-mindedness did verge on gullibility and I feared that some of the professional psychics and mediums were more driven by the fees than the search for spiritual enlightenment. As we live in an increasingly secular world many people, who have a need for some more spiritual understanding of their existence, are being left adrift. When faced with moral or personal dilemmas, which simple utilitarian decision making  can’t answer, people would often, in the past, have asked their religious advisers for counsel. This is open to fewer and fewer now. But such counsel is still often wanted and probably underpins the growth of new-age fads and the return of old practices such as mediums and spiritualists. Though I am happy if it provides comfort or respite from troubles I fear it may sometimes place people in contact with charlatans and frauds when they are at their most vulnerable.