Thursday, 23 March 2017

The SPR’s photography competition

I’m honoured to have been asked to act as a judge in a photography competition being run by the Society for Psychical Research, details of which appear in the Winter issue of the Society’s magazine Paranormal Review, edited by Dr Leo Ruickbie, and on its website.

The idea is to submit a maximum of three digital images that ‘represent the idea of the paranormal’; the focus is on a strong depiction of the ‘spirit’ of the paranormal – however the entrant chooses to interpret it – rather than on evidentiality.  The photograph need not be offered as evidence of an anomalous event, hence manipulation using photo-editing software is allowed.  Entries can be in any genre and can address any aspect of the subject.  First prize is a rather handsome Olympus Tough TG-Tracker, plus the winning photograph on the magazine’s cover.  Two runners-up will be featured inside.  The competition is open to members and non-members of the SPR.  There is no entry fee and the winners retain copyright (unlike in some competitions).  Entrants will not receive individual assessments.

Apart from me, the judges are Dr Andreas Fischer, one of the authors of The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, the best book on spirit photography ever produced; Dr Michael Pritchard, photographic historian, Director General of the Royal Photographic Society, and owner of the British Photographic History website; Dr Ruickbie, who in addition to editing Paranormal Review and having a number of books to his name is a professional photographer; Shannon Taggart, New York-based photographer whose book Séance: Spiritualist Ritual And The Search For Ectoplasm will be published shortly; and Dr Melvyn Willin, SPR Council member and author of several books on photography and the paranormal.

The competition closes at midnight GMT, Wednesday 31 May.  Anyone contemplating entering should read the terms and conditions carefully.  I hope as many people as possible have a go, to which end please help to spread the word.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Change to SPR social media presence

SPR Facebook page, 17 March 2017

I have been responsible for the social media presence of the Society for Psychical Research since their inception – Facebook in February 2010 and Twitter in July 2013.  My aim when selecting items has been threefold: provide a general source of information on the field; promote the SPR’s activities to reach as wide an audience as possible in order to stimulate interest; and encourage visits to the website, with the aim of demonstrating the Society’s value and hopefully turning casual visitors into members.  Together, the Society’s Facebook and Twitter presence helps to assist the educational remit which is part of its charitable function.

I have tried to post a steady stream of material, and do so as a volunteer activity.  My sources are various – google alerts; an extensive blog reading list; YouTube subscriptions; Facebook and Twitter themselves; messages sent through those mechanisms or to the website; and of course personal contacts.  Scanning these is time-consuming, but something I was happy to do if it translated into increased membership.  Unfortunately it has become clear that my efforts have failed to make a substantial difference to the membership figures.  This is surprising as, at the time of writing, the Facebook page has 11,233 ‘likes’ and the Twitter feed 3,086 followers.  Clearly many people are interested enough in the subject to look at posts, comment, like, and recirculate them, but are not motivated to pay a membership subscription.

Therefore I have decided to scale back those broader efforts and concentrate on aspects of the subject related specifically to the SPR, rather than post links of a general nature.  This is not to say I shall ignore completely psychical research information not directly relevant to the Society, but I shall no longer seek it out.  In addition to Facebook and Twitter I shall continue to put significant news on the website (

I am always happy to receive news, and book suggestions (another function I perform is reviews editor of the Society’s Journal), and these can be sent through any of the mechanisms I have mentioned, plus  I have enjoyed finding items of interest, and seeing the debate they generate on Facebook and Twitter, but looked at in terms of costs and benefits it is not a productive use of my time.

Despite this reduction in effort I shall continue using Facebook and Twitter to urge those interested in psychical research to visit the SPR’s website, and to become members if at all possible.  If they do they will have access to a far greater body of knowledge than is to be found on social media.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Cerys Matthews’ Succulent Sunday Roast

A weekly pleasure is listening to Cerys Matthews’ eclectic Sunday morning show on BBC Radio 6 Music while I potter round the kitchen.  A regular feature is the ‘Sunday Roast’ slot just after 12.00 pm, featuring three tracks chosen by a listener.  The idea is that they are analogous to the three parts of a Sunday dinner: starter, main and dessert – not necessarily related to food but enjoyable songs the person submitting can say something about.   On 23 February I wrote in to the programme:

‘Having read that on 1 March 1966, Gene Clark of The Byrds announced he was leaving the group, due to his fear of flying, I thought 3 tracks related by having fly/flying in the title might be appropriate.  Thus:

‘Starter: Flying Home, Harry James
Main course: Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly), Caravan
Dessert: Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss, Rufus Crisp.’

‘Sadly Gong's Flying Teapot is slightly too long.’

Flying Teapot is nearly 12 minutes, and perhaps a little esoteric for the Sunday Roast (tending possibly to indigestion in some listeners) though it has its charms.  Caravan is a group for whom I have a particular fondness as they have Canterbury roots, where I studied in the late 1970s; the 1971 album In the Land of Grey and Pink on which Love to Love You appears was a favourite, though I only saw them perform later in London.  I was prompted to write because of the irony of a member of The Byrds, co-author of Eight Miles High to boot, being afraid to fly.

Anyway, there I was in the kitchen today dicing carrots or something when Cerys announced she was going to play the tracks I had sent in (adding ‘what a great name’)!  I was surprised as I hadn’t been able to listen to the last two shows; I was away on both weekends and had assumed that if they were played I had missed them.  I suspect there is a lot of competition for this slot and really didn’t expect to be picked.  This was in fact my third attempt.  In September 2014 I submitted the following trio, again thematic:

‘Starter: Rambling Man, The Carter Family
Main: I Got Rambling on My Mind, Otis Spann
Dessert: Rambling Sailor, Bellowhead’,

commenting: ‘they may make you forget about lunch and start checking your passport!’

And in March 2015 I chose a rather peculiar set that stood little chance of being selected:

‘Starter: High on a Hilltop, Nick Lowe
OR if that is thought to be a bit too gentle, an alternative choice:
Totensamba, Santana V. (on Ho! Roady Music from Vietnam, 2000)
Main: The Ghosts of Cable Street, The Men They Couldn't Hang
Dessert: The Ballad of Robert Moore & Betty Coltrane, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.’

So it was third time lucky, and I was chuffed to bits.  Cerys gave some information about the performers and played the songs.  It was lovely to hear her say at the end that I had spoiled the listeners with my choices.

At the time of writing the show is available here, the Sunday Roast segment beginning at 2:10:32.