One Night In Electric Ladyland
Welcome to Electric Lady land. What a curious place this is.
And sitting there, over by the roaring log fire, is Mavis Price, the Electric Lady herself. She prides herself on being able to cause electrical goods to explode simply by touching them; kettles, irons, toasters all have fallen victim to her kinetic powers.
Once she had to abandon a computer training course after blowing up an Apple Mac.
With her is Terry, a tortured little slip of a man who is staking his future on a liver transplant. He’s an ebullient character though and says he shares his rented flat with a man who died from liver failure decades ago. They communicate through a second-hand television set.
Mavis is middle-aged and full of raucous laughter. Periodically she wafts her walking cane at a ghost cat muling around her ankles. Terry might look ill but he is regaling Mavis with his camp and witty tales. His hands tremble as he warms them against the flames of the fire.
I wonder if he knows that those flames may be roaring up from the conflagration in Satan’s hearth? Mythology in this small rugged enclave of rural Shropshire has it that the fireplace Mavis and Terry are sharing is one of the county’s Gateway to Hell.
Nothing is what it seems here at the Alerston Inn, on the outskirts of Telford. Even the Gateway to Hell is, in reality, an ancient well capped after the tragic death of a young girl one hundred and fifty years ago.
And the inn? Well, that isn’t what it purports to be either. It looks like a bucolic 19th century coaching house, and boasts an ingle nook, crannies and corridors, a wealth of oak beams, uneven walls and a steep and narrow stairwell. The central heating rattles incessantly but makes the building hum with an almost oppressive heat. The floorboards creak and doors groan.
But the Alerston Inn is a modern folly, a house-that-John-built in 1985 on the site of an ancient piggery.
Local builder John Clarke wanted to construct a property that looked as if it had been there for centuries. And he succeeded. It’s an eccentric, charming and incomprehensible pile.
The motley crew of paranormal investigators, have taken up their posts around the pub and guest rooms, and they are quiet with anticipation. This could be a good investigation, some very strange things happened two weeks ago when MPI did their baseline tests.
Two happened to me. I really do not have a desire to be numbered amongst the haunted, but like Mavis has an effect on electrical goods, I seem to have an effect on things beyond the grave. That’s why I’m here with MPI, for a greater understanding of the fundaments of life after death.
The first incident happened at about 4pm as I photographed the outside of the £60-a-night inn.
The shutter captured two curious balls of light flitting across the roof. They are particularly curious because they have tails like comets, short and stubby, but tails all the same. And they are moving in different directions. Initial tests on the photograph show that these ’comets’ do not seem to be made up of the natural constituents of light, the red and blue of the rainbow appear to be missing.
Later that evening I was talking to Mark Cave, co-ordinator of MPI and other team members on the corridor outside Room 7, the room landlady Merle Cotterill says is her most haunted.
Suddenly the ceiling light above my head began to spin impossibly. Mark and I watched in astonishment as the lamp made a dozen circumnavigations of my head. Then it stopped dead. Not even a sway.
There were no draughts along the corridor, no open windows and the lamp was too high for me to have knocked.
And the movement it made could only be recreated by holding the flex and spinning the lamp vigorously.
This all added grist to the mill for the investigators. Merle had already told us of a chanting she heard on this same corridor: “It was almost like a red Indian chant, very disturbing. It just went on and on. I get very nervous up here and don’t like being by myself. And it’s not just me … the girl who cleans the rooms for us has told about things being moved from room to room. She describes it as a playful poltergeist.
“Then a guest in Room 7 became very uncomfortable after he saw a shadow walking around the bed.”
Mavis too has seen things: “I was sitting in the bar when a cat started brushing up against my leg, I kept shoo-ing it with my cane - but there was nothing there. Nothing, yet I could feel it brushing up against me. Another time, I had my credit card in my hand when something snatched it off me and flung it across the room.”
Terry claims to have seen two old men sitting in the bar area. The pub was closed. He described them as Victorian workmen, coats pulled tight against the cold, thick cavalry twirl pants, boots worn, soles still thick. Their hands were cracked and dry and looked like clay in the moonlight. Fingers tapped on the arms of the chair.
The investigation began late. It was almost 1am when the tills were cashed and staff had gone home. Mark, Merion, Paul and myself settled in the dark in Room 7 armed with recording equipment and monitors. Other investigators based themselves in the corridor at the top of the stairs with infra-red cameras and Tim set up camp in the bar near the entrance.
And so we waited in the dark in sweltering heat on a moonless night. The Alerston Inn yawed and groaned around us like an ancient sailing ship.
It was as hot as hell in Room 7, despite the fact the heating had gone off a couple of hours earlier. It was so hot that Merion lay down on the floor to find cooler air. Room 7 is very small, barely enough space for the double bed, hand wash basin and the wall mounted TV. It was airless and uncomfortable for four men.
Then something happened. Mark inexplicably began to complain of feeling cold down his right-hand side. He sounded spooked and shined a lamp onto his arm to show the goose-bumps spreading like a rash.
Paul pointed a directional thermometer at him and we watched as Mark’s temperature dropped by four degrees in as many seconds.
It was obviously bothering him despite his protests that he was fine. He kept muttering: “This is weird … this is weird … this is really weird.”
I felt the air around him, but there was no discernable change in the temperature. Paul started to get concerned and asked Mark if he wanted to take a break.
Mark’s reply was terse: “No - this is what we’re here for - note it down.”
Interestingly, the night’s log showed that Tim had experienced the thing at the same time downstairs in the bar.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully amidst the creaking of the inn, the hushed whispers of the investigators and the submarine-like bleeps of their equipment.
At 4.30am Mark called off the hunt and the team began packing up. But Mark had one last trick up his sleeve and the Alerston Inn was about to respond gamely.
He used a technique I’ve witnessed him use once before and it had an equally dramatic result then. Mark calls it Electronic Voice Phenomena, or, in laymen’s terms, Calling Out.
The simplest thing to do is give you a transcript of the three minutes ten second recording he made at dawn as embers died in the fireplace. There are long silences:
Mark: The beginning of EVP experiment … can you give us your name? (silence) Can you tell us if you live here? (silence) Can you tell us if you died in here? (silence) Can you tell us if you are a man? (silence) Can you tell us if you are a woman? (silence) Can you tell us if you are looking for somebody? (silence) If you are looking for somebody, is that somebody a girl? (silence) (Inaudible) … any messages you’d like to leave (inaudible) on this table? Leave any message you want. (Silence) I have one final question for you … are you a little girl who fell down the well?
(Silence) Are you looking for somebody who fell down the well which is situated under the fireplace?
Tape: (Muffled sound) ‘No’.
Mark: Did you say ‘No’? (silence) Was that you talking? Did you just say ‘No’ to my question? (silence) Did you say ‘No’ to your (sic) little girl? Or did you say ’No’ to the well?
The tape ends.
So, there we have it, one fascinating night in the land of the Electric Lady. Of course there is nothing conclusive, at best it’s a hotchpotch of unusual tales and mythologies, unexplained happenings and an indistinct voice on a bad recording.
None of it adds up and for a very good reason. Whereas the equation of life is calculable, written as it is across the face of the world, the equation of death is written in the recesses of the mind. Parts are hidden in dark places of fear, prejudice and ridicule and parts of it are undoubtedly written in places we have not yet discovered.
But the equation of death is the sum total of life itself, so we must keep on looking.