Tricia Robertson is a paranormal investigator in Glasgow, a recent president of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research. She has been involved in a number of investigations and some years ago co-authored a much-praised research study into mediums.
I met Tricia a year or so ago when she invited me to talk to the SSPR in Glasgow. It was a pleasant trip, and she had some interesting tales to tell. Now she has published a book titled Things You Can Do When You’re Dead! A cool title - although not, as I first thought, about what dead people do in their new existence but rather about them communicating with the living (as the subtitle actually makes clear). It’s a good read by someone who really knows her stuff.
She starts with a startling case of the crisis apparition type. A retired Navy pilot named Bob is returning from a foreign trip and arrives at Glasgow airport expecting a friend to pick him up. There’s no sign of the friend, but he catches sight of another pilot, a man 20 years younger named Jack whom he used to know well when they flew on the same airline. Jack is coming towards him, grinning; they exchange pleasantries, and then he rushes off to catch a plane. The following day Bob sees an obituary in a newspaper about Jack, who it appears died after an illness in an Edinburgh hospital – two days before the meeting.
It fell to Tricia to investigate the case and she contacted the head of security at Glasgow airport. The security videotape had already been wiped and reused, but there was some interesting information in the flight schedule.
Upon checking aeroplane timetables for that day we discovered that there was a flight to Jack’s small hometown at 3.00pm on the day in question and the checkout desk for that flight was the end desk which Bob saw his friend running towards. (It is worth noting again that Bob checked his watch at 2.45pm). The chief of security also established, subsequently, that the coffin of an airline pilot was transported through Glasgow Airport about that time and certainly on that day, having been already transferred from Edinburgh. Although we cannot pinpoint the exact time of this coffin transfer we know for certain that it was loaded on to an aircraft bound for Jack’s hometown destination on that day. One possible answer to this mystery would have been if Jack had a twin brother or a brother who looked exactly like him, and who also knew Bob, but he did not. No other person with even the same surname was on board that 3 o’clock flight.
The pilot, an atheist with no interest or belief in such matters, was deeply shaken by the incident.
There are other cases of ghosts and apparitions, followed by cases of the poltergeist type that Tricia investigated. A professional couple build a conservatory in which weird things start happening: a pungent and pervasive smell of tobacco, doors and windows repeatedly found open, anomalous movements of objects. While showing a friend round, the house owner points out a heavy straw model of a Viking ship on a shelf.
As they looked up, one of the straw paddles very slowly detached itself from the vessel, rose up about two inches and travelled half way across the room horizontally before it gently floated to the floor in a deliberate zig zag manner. Even a feather would have travelled faster.
Investigating the case Tricia learned that the couple had a friend who used to visit often but who they made to smoke his pipe outside. They promised that when the new conservatory was built he could smoke in it, but he got ill and died before that happened. The tobacco smoke is a giveaway: it’s natural to suppose, assuming survival to be a reality, that the friend had dropped in to say hello and to convey the fact of his still being around, so to speak. That seems dimly to have occurred to the couple as a possibility – but they found it very hard to accept; Tricia says the idea of it made the woman hysterical.
Tricia describes a number of other cases that are anyone familiar with the poltergeist literature will recognise – mostly seeming to be caused by discarnates, friendly or otherwise. One that was investigated by her colleague Archie Roy in the 1970s involved very disruptive activity over an extended period. At one point it seemed as if someone
with an enormous sledgehammer was taking it and hammering it against the side of the house to such an extent that the whole house shook, a blow coming every 5 seconds or so, hour after hour, till in desperation one would say, ‘Oh stop it.’ And it would stop. For a while . . . on one occasion after a long interval of blessed silence Max said, I believe we will get to the bottom of this. Immediately there was a sustained banging as if to say, ‘oh, no you won’t’.
There’s quite a bit on mediums, including a drop-in type case of a company director who died in a car accident, but was able to communicate to a colleague in a dream the presence of important papers in the wrecked car; these were eventually found sandwiched between the crushed metal. The material is filled out here and there with classic cases from the archives, such as the famous R101 episode involving Eileen Garrett. There is also a chapter about healers named Gary Mannion and Nina Knowlan, with some striking examples; and one on past-life memory cases – this includes the young Glaswegian boy named Cameron who talked about a previous life on the island of Barra.
Cameron used to speak to his brother about Barra constantly, so much so that the brother would yell in despair, “Gonnie shut up about Barra” He used to say to Norma [his mother] “You’ve only got one toilet in this house, in Barra we had three.” He never changed his story. He said to Norma “You would like my Barra Mum, she’s nice, and we could go and see her” He said it with such affection. He spoke about living in a white house and being able to see the beach from his bedroom window as it looked on to the beach and that the sheep used to come up to the front door of the house. He said that there were boxes outside the house, where he thought that fish was kept.
He gave details of the family group. He had three brothers and three sisters. “They were allowed to go and play on the beach on their own but I had to have someone with me.” He spoke about playing with a black and white dog and often referred to a big black car and the fact that there were always plenty of children around to play with. He never referred to his own name, but said that his father was called Shane, and said that his father had stepped out onto a road and was knocked down by a car. He also said that he was with him when this happened. (We have no information if this happened in Barra, Glasgow or elsewhere).
When Norma asked him about his mother’s name he replied “She was called Mummy” a response delivered with a kind of scathing look. He enthusiastically told Norma that his Barra Mum has long hair down to “there” as he pointed to below his waist and then he added, “but she got it cut shorter”. He kept saying “You’ll like her Mum when you see her, when we go to Barra. Please can we go? You’ll like her.”
The family did nothing for some time, but eventually responded to a press advert appealing for parents in this situation to come forward. The outcome was a TV documentary film in which the family were flown to Barra: the house that Cameron claimed to have lived in was identified, and many of the details verified.
Reading the book I was struck yet again by the gulf that exists between, on the one hand, the science that tells us such things do not happen, and, on the other, the findings of investigators that suggests they actually happen rather often, and more than most of us probably realise. It’s a world away from laboratories equipped with complex and expensive gadgetry, supported by massive funding to create exciting new technologies; that science is uncertain when it comes to peering into homes, families and human relations, where such things typically occur. As we know, if what emerges does not chime with what science understands about the accessible world of matter it’s dismissed as anecdote and fancy.
But this is not anecdote in the usual pejorative sense. What we know about it – that part which we can consider at all reliable – comes from investigators like Tricia Robertson, who must travel to the locality – often at some distance - win the trust of the people involved and corroborate the events as far as is possible. If we continue to regard them as anecdotes, it’s only in the sense that they are reports of human experience, stories with characters and incidents, accounts that must first be narrated in order to be accessed at all.
From her experiences and research Tricia has become a robust believer in the survival of consciousness after death. But as a practical investigator her interest is more in the events themselves than in their spiritual and metaphysical implications. It’s natural for readers unfamiliar with such things to wonder whether the people at the centre of them may be attention-seekers, or unbalanced, or following some concealed agenda; in her experience they are ordinary folk to whom something rather disturbing has occurred. They seem mostly confused, as any of us would be, often also anxious and desperate for the problem to be go away. Much of her work involves developing trust with people in these situations, and providing reassurance. She comments:
One thing that we have come to accept is that there is always a reason behind the production of phenomena; once you have pinpointed a possible reason, whether it is on-going or historical, incarnate or discarnate in source, then you can begin to look towards a possible resolution, or at least some kind of understanding.
Science may not formally recognise the existence of such things, but we’re reminded that they happen just the same and that we have to learn how to deal with them.