Archive for June 2011
My name is ‘Torn’* and I am Hayley’s imaginary friend. I have been forced to surface and make myself useful for once as Hayley has gone missing. It all started when a mysterious trunk arrived in the hallway, Hayley had purchased it a few days before in a shop the next town over where people drop off old furniture they no longer want or need, so that others can buy it with the profits going to a charity. Cut price furniture raising much needed cash. It was right up her street.
She’s always been a fan of Charity shops and happened to just be wandering around this one when she bumped into the chest – well, she described it more as ‘it seemed as though it jumped out and banged into my legs with such a force that I nearly toppled over. When I looked down, there it was, sitting in the centre of the aisle that I had thought to be clear of obstruction just seconds before.”
Hayley bought it because she has been getting fed up with the clutter in her room, and she also claimed that it reminded her slightly of one of her favourite characters from the Discworld novels written by her favourite Author, Sir Terry Pratchett – The Luggage.
That reason sealed the deal for her and she happily handed over the £20 asking price before leaving the store – not before giving the trunk a gentle tap on the head on the way out. She said she could have sworn it trembled beneath her hand as she did so, but then theorised that it was more reasonable that there had been a very precise, short earthquake instead. “Trunks don’t tremble” she told us, “However, earthquakes can be rude bastards, so that’s probably what it was. Blood earthquakes”.
Anyway, to cut a long story short – the trunk arrived, Hayley got all happy and excited and declared “I’m going to check it for teeth”. She left the living room where the rest of us were sitting to check the trunk for teeth, and she hasn’t returned since.
So if you see her can you let us know? It might be worth checking at your local charity shop – do good, feel good, get goods. Only… not goods that might eat you…
*Torn is an inside joke… some of you will know, some wont. Teehee…
Yesterday I awoke from a dream in which I was attending my own funeral and for the rest of the day I couldn’t shake the idea that I was going to die as I went about my normal routine. I took extra care as I walked to work, I eyed people suspiciously for weapons as they passed me on the street… I avoided a black cat when it crossed my path.
It was an irrational thing to think, and yet I was still convinced my dream was somehow a premonition – which is daft because I don’t believe in premonitions or dream interpretation. Yet it unsettled me so much that I carried the notion around with me for the rest of the day and, unless I’m actually a ghost as I type this, I didn’t die.
It did set me thinking about what other irrational things I do that I don’t mean to, and I’ve decided to make a list because it’s quite funny and shows how it’s easy to be irrational without meaning to.
– I say ‘bless you’ when people sneeze, despite there being no plague right now, and despite not being religious.
– I “touch wood” for luck
– I cross my fingers for luck
– If I spill salt, I throw some over my shoulder and “into the devils eye”
– When I eat boiled eggs in the shell, I break the bottom of the shell so that a witch can’t use it as a boat to escape*
– When I walk through a graveyard, if I stray from the path I apologise to the deceased…
– I wish people luck.
– I say “jesus christ!” “Holy moses!” “for gods sake!” “go to hell!” “What in the name of God!” “for my sins” when I’m not religious
I feel like a bad skeptic/atheist when I do the above and realise what I’m doing. It feels like I’m somehow cheating even though it’s just a habit I’ve grown up with.
I’m curious, dear reader, what quirky yet irrational habits do you have that you can’t quite break?
*I blame my mother for that one, I don’t even know what it means! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?! A WITCH IN AN EGG?! FROM WHERE IS SHE ESCAPING?
*edited to remove a ‘third party’ name who wasn’t involved and may have been made to look so*
I was scheduled to speak at the ‘GhostFest South West’ Paranormal conference being held as St Braviels castle to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy on June 18th/19th. I had been asked by the organiser, Wendy last June when I spoke at Bristol Skeptics in the Pub.
I had to pull out of the conference at the last-minute because I had no way of getting to the conference because the organisers didn’t tell me I had to organise my own travel and, if I wanted, accommodation.
Every event I have spoken at in the past has automatically done this for me, I thought it was common procedure so didn’t think to question it. Perhaps I was wrong not to do so, I don’t know – I’m not a professional speaker. Paranormal research, the podcast, my talks etc. are not my professional job. I have a career aside from all of this in my life that pays my wage.
I realised, a week before the event, that I didn’t know what time I was going to be speaking, what equipment I would need to take (laptop etc.), or how I was getting to the venue. I knew there were no train stations anywhere near the castle and I would have to get a taxi quite a distance from the nearest station to the actual venue and, as the organisers hadn’t been in touch with me, I dropped a message to Wendy via facebook asking her what was going on.
This morning it was brought to my attention that a post had been made on facebook by Wendy that made certain accusations about me that I was to address here.
Petrol money and accommodation was offered after I had backed out of the event. By the time it was offered it would have been too late to organise anything, plus, as I stated to Wendy in a message when I pulled out, I had no money available to pay for train tickets to the event because I was short of money due to starting a new job and having a month without any money going into my account.
Had I known in advance I would have needed to pay for my own travel I would have put money aside in advance, a year ago, when I was first asked to speak. I would have been happy to do that had I been told I needed to. That wasn’t communicated to me.
Offering, at the last-minute, to reimburse travel costs was kind, but there were no funds I could have put towards train tickets and a taxi to have gotten there, that could have then been paid back to me. So it was a pointless offer.
As for the unprofessional comment… I did call Wendy unprofessional in a message because of the sarcastic tone she used in numerous messages to me after the event. It was the way in which Wendy handled the situation and communicated with me that I called unprofessional. Messages I cannot share due to other people being mentioned in them that were not aware their conversation had been shared with Wendy had been shared.
Rather than just accepting that maybe there had been a communication breakdown between us, and moving on, Wendy saw fit to compare my situation with that of another speaker who is high-profile, who apparently told her he’d never had expenses paid for him.
Not only that, but I’m sure the speaker in question would agree that they would benefit even if they didn’t get thier travel costs reimbursed to then through book sales etc.
I felt I had to write this because I did not like the idea that I was being accused of being unreasonable and uncharitable and rude without being able to defend myself especially as I was extremely sad that I couldn’t get to the charity event to speak for them. Pulling out of the event wasn’t a decision I made lightly and I even asked my own family if they could lend me the money to get to the event that I would then pay them back once I got paid but this wasn’t an option.
I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed anybody, and I genuinely am sorry I couldn’t make it to the event. I’m also sorry that Wendy sees it fit to make such silly comments on her private facebook page where I cannot respond. Perhaps if she hosts another event in the future she’ll be sure to communicate with her speakers much clearer…
I’ve been musing over why people who believe in ghosts might resent me or dislike me because recently my blog and facebook wall havebeen inundated with negative, angry comments from people who don’t like the way I think. Essentially I think that the reason people don’t like the way in which I blog is because I openly doubt the things that consider to be true or possible.
It dawned on me though that a majority of the people who criticise me for the way in which I think overlook one very big difference between me and them, and it isn’t that I don’t believe in ghosts/aliens/monsters and they do because that’s an obvious one.
The difference that I am talking about is the fact that I once used to believe in the things that I write about today from a skeptical angle, and I became more skeptical of the things I believed.
Yet, if the right information was presented to me I would be more than happy to change the way in which I think, yet the very people who criticise me for being closed minded, or for being skeptical, wouldn’t be as willing to change their opinions when information that contrasts with their current opinions is presented to them. How do I know this? Because they refuse to do so right now when evidence that shows their ideas are wrong is made available to them.
I’ve always believed that you cannot force someone to change their mind, and neither should you try to do so. I think it’s important to make information available so that when people become curious they can find it. I know this happens because I often check the google search terms that found my blog and the questions asked are usually quite revealing.
“Are orbs ghosts?”
“Can ghosts talk to you via a baby monitor?”
“Is it true that an EMF shows a ghost?”
“What does it mean when I feel a cold spot?”
It’s cool that people are finding my blog by searching such questions and I truly hope they found the answers they’re looking for, but it demonstrates something that is fundementally wrong with the way in which some of my most vocal critics think. Until you are willing to doubt yourself and the things that you believe to be true, you aren’t as open minded as you like to think.
1 – When I am right, I am right. Just because someone doesn’t agree with me because they have clear biases doesn’t mean it is okay for them to be rude and abusive.
2 – When people are rude to me on my blog, on my twitter or on my facebook account, I will not take it laying down.
3 – I will not allow people to abuse me online simply because I am female. Comments like ‘she’s a worthy receptacle of any mans porridge’ will not be tolerated.
4 – I have a right to write about my opinions and will not let anyone force me out of doing so.
5 – When people threaten me with legal action because they do not like what I am saying, I will not let that silence me until I am standing in a court.
6 – I will accept constructive criticism from anybody, the rest can fuck off.
7 – I know that I am open minded, those who think otherwise are the ones in the wrong.
8 – I do not have to apologise for being who I am, or for thinking what I do.
9 – From now on, I will ignore the annoying assholes who visit my blog and leave nasty and inflamatory comments. I will block those who are abusive on facebook and twitter and I will kick those who see fit to heckle me in real life. Kick them with my Dr Martens. In the shins.
10 – I will shoot Trolls on the god damn spot. With my pretend gun.
You may have noticed that ‘The Rather Friendly Skeptic’ no longer exists. She is “deceased” and instead I am Hayley Stevens, a woman who hides behind no labels. I don’t need to portray myself as friendly, I do not need to apologise for who I am or how I speak. It’s not me that has the problem, it’s those who I’ve mentioned above who have the problem and try to make it my problem.
I am a skeptical blogger, podcaster, writer and public speaker. I talk about my experiences as a paranormal researcher who has become skeptical as the years have gone by. I have made friends and I have made enemies. I have made more friends than enemies. I do not claim to be an expert – I do all of the aforementioned in my free time, as an aside from my professional career.
Today I let a bad situation get the better of me and I acted irrationally and let online bullies and trolls upset me, but I am Hayley Stevens and I wont let idiots get the better of me again.
I don’t care if you don’t like me.
You have been warned.
In my initial article considering the case of the “Bownessie” lake monster in detail, I concluded that I felt that the most likely cause for the various sightings of the monster was simple misidentification of fish, objects and other animals in the lake.
After I published my article online I received feedback from one of the eyewitnesses, Linden Adams, who took the first photo that allegedly shows the monster in the lake. His feedback stated:
Firstly my photographs were exstensivley [sic] studied by professional forensic photographers including Canon UK. The size and distance of the object was calulated [sic] by forensic’s [sic] and in the presence of Dr Winfield so you have been mislead yourself. Please read statement signed by Dr Ian Winfield clearly stated he was happy with the size and distance. As for large Pike or Otter then may I suggest a trip to the sumit [sic] of Gummer’s Howe with a copy of my images to give you scale. You have failed to mention that Deer are known to swim the lake to find a richer feeding area, like so many publications on this subject it’s incomplete. It is however one of the better articles but can’t understand why you spoke to a strange man from CFZ and didn’t speak to Mark Carr forensic photographer.
I should point out that the reason I spoke to Jon Downes from the CFZ (the strange man who Adams mentions) and not Mark Carr was because I didn’t know Mark Carr was involved in the case at all. I am, after all, not psychic and unless people are completely transparent about their research or involvement in a case like this, it would be impossible to know all the facts. Especially as Dean Maynard refused to share his research with me, that may have brought up Mark Carr’s involvement.
I was interested to find out more about the statement from Ian Winfield, whom I had spoken to before, and so I contacted Ian and he agreed that he had indeed made a statement, as had Jon Downes it appeared. The statements were later forwarded onto me by Linden Adams and are as follows:
“I have viewed a series of photographs taken by Mr Linden Adams on the 5th February 2007. Having spoken at length to Mr Marc Carr of IE PHOTOGRAPHY of Hawlshead, I am satisfied that:
1. The images have not been tampered with in any way. The images in the photographs are exactly what Mr Adams saw.
2. Although the fact that the camera was not fixed to a tripod makes it impossible to be sure, the empirical evidence suggests that the object is moving fast enough to cause a bow wave.
3. There appears to be a solid object 12-15 feet in length that is leaving a wake of about thirty feet.
Having compared these images with well known images purporting to be those of cryptids, these images, especially – according to Mark Carr – when one considers the forensic evidence contained within the images in terms of time codes etc., these images provide better evidence for the existence of a large animal in the lake than – say – the famous 1963 Tim Dinsdale film taken at Loch Ness.
Logic suggests that the object in the picture is animate. It appears to be far too large to be any known mammal or bird, and therefore I would suggest that it is a huge fish of indeterminate species. This is in line with other evidence collected by the CFZ in recent years, and we are very excited with this latest piece of evidence” – Jonathan Downes
It was good to meet you in person this morning and to examine, in the presence of forensic photographer Mark Carr, your photographs taken at the south basin of Windermere on the morning of Monday 5 February 2007.
It is my understanding that Mark’s judgement is that the source of the observed disturbance of the water surface is a moving object, with several of the photographs showing both a part of the object itself (with the remainder being underwater) and a generated wake or other disturbance on the water surface.
As I have mentioned in earlier discussions, in my opinion identification of the object hinges on its size. This morning, Mark clarified this issue by informing me that his current best conservative estimate of the minimum length of the visible part of the object is approximately12 feet, which I convert to approximately 3.5 m.
On the basis of my 27 years experience as a professional freshwater fish ecologist, including leading research programmes on Windermere for the last 17 years and intermittent research on waterfowl, this size estimate means that I cannot explain the photographs by reference to any fish or other vertebrate species previously demonstrated to inhabit Windermere.
Best wishes, Ian J Winfield – BSc PhD MIFM CEnv
I also got in touch with Mark Carr, the forensic photographer in question because I’m always willing to consider all possibilities and I like to gather all the information I can about a case and the research conducted into it prior to my involvement.
Mark got back in touch to tell me that after examining the photos and explained:
I was asked to illicit if the image had been altered digitally and what it may be in terms of size etc. The series of images were not conclusive as to what the object was BUT based on my research and analysis I would say the photographs had not been altered electronically, the object appeared to be solid and in respect of length was at least 12-14 feet ( c4 m) though could possibly be longer. I have no expertise or ability from the quality of the images to determine what the object was.
I was also sent these two images by Linden Adams that were apparently used by Mark Carr to determine the size of the anomaly that Adams photographed.
Linden Adams promised to send me the full report from Mark Carr but this has yet to appear over a month later. However, in an extract from his photography blog:
As the photographs were taken on a professional Canon camera and shot in camera Raw format as appose to Jpeg it would be easy to get the images validated so I sent them off to Canon UK. A letter came back supporting the validation and future equipment support, next was a forensic report to uncover other information like size and location. Mark Carr an independent forensic photographer spent three days analysing the memory card and was ultimately satisfied that I had genuine images.
Here are a few extracts from his report,
ON a number of the images (particularly 48) there was a darker patch of pixels contained in the anomaly. It was not possible to resolve this any further (in part due to camera shake and in part due to the distance the anomaly was away from the camera). This effect could be due to their being a solid object. I would estimate this darker patch to be as much as 4m in length on shot 48.
In conclusion, based on the information I have been given and the checks I have so far been able to carry out I am satisfied of the following:
- The images I have seen have not been digitally modified or are the result of a camera or lens error.
- The position of the anomaly was around 2.8 to3 km away from the camera.
- The anomaly was approximately 150-200m off shore from the northern most boat house.
- The overall anomaly is at least 15m in length.
- The darker area observed is at least 4m
This is all very interesting and it’s good to see that such thorough investigation of the photos has been carried out, however without the originals, and without the full report from Mark Carr it is impossible to verify any of this information, which members of BARsoc are very keen to do.
The sharing of this research has also not swayed me away from my original conclusion that what has been reported on numerous occasions by eyewitnesses is most likely to be misidentification of fish, animals or other objects around the lake area.
The anomaly captured by Adams, for example, could easily be a bird coming in to land on the water and creating a wake behind it – thus causing such a large anomaly. Or perhaps even a log or stone emerging from beneath the water, causing the same effect – an effect that Ian Winfield told me on the phone could be the cause of many odd sightings in the lake.
I accept that there is a large oddity in a photograph taken by Linden Adams, and I accept that this has been verified as true and not tampered with. However, this does nothing to prove that the “Bownessie” sightings are some sort of strange creature living in the lake, which is unlikely for reasons pointed out in my initial article examining the case.
To suggest that this photo is proof of a lake monster in the lake is a leap of logic. It would be as easy to suggest that the oddity in the photograph taken by Linden Adams is an alien, but unless I have the proof to back up that statement I would be making wild speculations based on no evidence. The burden of proof, as always, lays with those making such claims, and no evidence has been provided.
I am, by all means, willing to accept that there could be some sort of creature in the lake, but all research I have done into this, suggests a much more mundane conclusion for what is being seen by people. If someone, such as Dean Maynard or Linden Adams can provide evidence that suggests otherwise – without making logical fallacies in the process of doing so, then I’m all ears.
A monster, an odd photo does not make…
With thanks to Mark Carr and Ian Winfield for their help.