Messages from the Other Side

I hadn’t seen Alison for quite a while but we had stayed in touch over the years. In was 1982 and she was back from Tokyo or Beirut or Damascus, or wherever. For someone who had to resit her A levels, she was heading for a distinguished academic career, which was more than I was. Her parents had acquired a place in Blighty for when they would eventually leave Bahrain and she invited me over for a few days. It was a big terraced house in Preston Drove, a little bit out of Brighton. She had swapped the octagonal pebble glasses for contact lenses and you could see her pretty face and big brown eyes.

Next door lived a gent in his 60s called James Hay-Kellie, who invited us round for a drink. Aly seemed a bit wary but we went anyway. It was one of the most bizarre evenings of my life. Kellie liked to talk, particularly to me; Aly had probably heard it all before. He claimed to have known “The King”, as he referred to him (Edward VIII /David/Duke of Windsor, not Elvis), and “that little tart Wallis Simpson”. Kellie was a yogi and medium whose powers, as Alison noted, seemed to increase as he got stuck into his homemade pear wine. But those powers were unsettling.

“I can see a street sign. Plaza del Sol, in Madrid,” he said, sipping from his murky glass.
“Puerta del Sol?”
“You are standing outside a church. Your name is… Estrada. You are going to the New World but… you will drown on the way. But next time you will go by air because it is the Age of Aquarius not the Age of Pisces and all will be well because you are an Aquarian. But beware of the South American girls because they all have syphilis.”

I’d always fancied being a conquistador, though Estrada is a common enough name. He then asked me a few questions, such as did I speak Spanish or Portuguese? (Both, and pretty well too, because I’d studied them for my degree.) Could Aly have mentioned it by accident and not remembered? In retrospect that seems possible. And my “Aquarian” birthday? (I was born on 14 February.) How the hell could he have known that? I did go to the New World: to Cuba in the 1990s, and to Mexico more recently. And I travelled by aeroplane, of course, and made it home safely.

I wouldn’t say you were a womaniser but…

“There are three women in your life. The truest has brown hair and blue eyes.” He was right to guess that brown-eyed Alison and I were never going to be an item again. There was one lass who fitted his description, such as it was, though that relationship seemed to have run its course. Anyway, it was small beer after the Estrada revelation.

You are a deep thinker, too deep for your own good

He showed me a crucifix he claimed to have found on the Drove, on which Christ was shown crucified upside-down. It had been dropped by a band of satanists on the run, hundreds of years ago. Then he moved into his Indian mode and gave me a mantra to meditate upon. Then he explained how I could clear the phlegm from my nasal passages by inhaling saltwater. I think that would be called bathos in Europe… but maybe not in India. He seemed to be running through his repertoire. It was entertaining, not to say exhausting for all of us.

It’s important to bear in mind that Kellie was not a professional medium (at least not in my case). He claimed he was getting his information from an Indian spirit he called Sadhu. Was he showing off to me? He clearly had always been an exhibitionist, as this photograph shows. Perhaps he could just not help himself?

* * *

I turned round and saw an old man behind me talking but the sound was very muffled. Then I realised I was going deaf. Instead of leaving I followed the woman to the front of the class. Suddenly I knew only she could help me, although I didn’t know if it was her fault that I couldn’t hear in the first place. I heard myself (horrid sound, I knew I was shouting in a desperate voice) say “what’s wrong with me?” She drew on a piece of paper. “Is it like a high whine? A distant motor-bike,” she wrote. I nodded. “Will it go away?” She wrote “blood circulation motor noise” on the paper, then suddenly I could hear again. I turned round and everyone had left. I said “So it will come and go like that?” She said “No. The next time it happens it will be for good”. I said, “But I love music!”

It was late 1983. I was keeping a diary, and now and again I scribbled down a description of my dreams as soon as I woke up. This is, word for word, what I wrote at the time. I was inclined to see it as a metaphor for some emotional turmoil I was going through – which I usually was.

Maybe it was a premonition instead. In those far-off days I didn’t have tinnitus, but I do now. It disappeared for a short time but soon returned, and every day I wish I could be rid of it.

Does any of this make me believe in the paranormal and suchlike? Frankly, no. But I thought I’d get it off my chest.

Thor’s Stone

Thor’s Stone is known to everyone who lives, or has lived, on the Wirral.

thors stone

It is a big lump of sandstone on Thurstaston Common, from where there are superb views of the Dee and across the Mersey. You are very aware that you are standing on a peninsula: in one direction is Point of Ayr and Holywell (an ancient pilgrimage site) in North Wales; when you turn to the north you can easily make out Blackpool Tower (also a pilgrimage site but never holy), 40-odd miles away.

Probably the association with Thor is a myth and of ingenious Victorian etymology. Probably it has nothing do so with “Torstein’s homestead”, or whatever the real derivation of Thurstaston may be. But it is still a special place within the very special frontier zone of the Wirral. As a child I climbed it, as you simply had to do. At primary school we tried to measure its height by trigonometry and came up with a ludicrous result. In my childhood memory it was high and intimidating.

I had not been there for over 50 years, though my parents still live just a few miles away. Returning this summer I was surprised to find that it still looked high and intimidating. There is no easy route up. You could easily slip and hurt yourself. Parents and older children showed little children where to put their feet. But you could still slip and hurt yourself. In the end I couldn’t quite bring myself to climb up to the top. I excused myself – wrong shoes, I wasn’t dressed for it – but it still felt a bit pathetic. It is hardly the North Face of the Eiger.

* * *

In southern Mexico there is a well-known and well-visited ruined Mayan city called Palenque. It has one of the few tall pyramids which you are still allowed to climb, despite the pile of bleeding and broken tourists at its base. You may already know, or deduce, that the sensible way to climb the high steps is sideways, zigzagging your way to the summit. It’s easier on the knees, and it is very hot out there.

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You eventually get to the platform at the top, catch your breath, and look out over the site. You are in a jungle clearing. You self-congratulate, swig from your water bottle and take your photos, which are, of course, just the same as everyone else’s. From the platform you can’t see your sweaty co-tourists making your way to the summit – until you walk right to the edge and peer straight down.

The views are wonderful – much better than you would think. It would be easy to say, “You go up on your own. I’ll just stay here. I can’t be bothered”.