2 March 2011

Spirit Saturday

The Saturday before last, I behaved like many people suppose a twenty-five year old should. I spent two hours getting ready; painting my nails a metallic grey, choosing some wet-look leggings, picked a black vest top, ironed my luminous yellow cardigan and lined up my black patent shoes (with a luminous yellow heel, nonetheless) by the back door. It was Liam's birthday night out, and we were heading for Brixton. We popped open the champagne I'd been given from work for Christmas, and I thought about changing my outfit about three times before he finally dragged me out the door, the bottle left empty on the coffee table amongst the entire contents of my make-up bag. I started with a pint of lager, thinking 'beer before wine is fine - wine after beer is queer...' and all that. I was hoping the champagne didn't count.
Well, it did. And so I ended up at 3am in MacDonald's in Brixton, threatened to be kicked out by the security guard, for possession of a bottle of wine (which wasn't even mine). Really.

This Saturday night just gone, I didn't behave remotely how people suppose a twenty-five year old might. I pulled on my thick woolly socks and my comfy brown leather boots. I turned off the heating in my flat, and switched all the lights off (except one, which I left on for the cat), and locked the door behind me. It was really blowy outside, and colder than I'd expected, so I buttoned my coat up and walked quicker to keep warm. Two buses, and one missed bus later, I reached the brick alley way which turned right off the main road. The first time I'd come, I hadn't noticed the painted sign above the alleyway, which read Spiritualist Church in faded italic lettering. I looked at my phone, and realised I was half an hour early. Well, I suppose it made up for the last time. I'd got lost, and frustrated with walking up and down the road counting door numbers without my glasses on, I was ready at this point to turn around and come home. By the time I'd realised my destination was through the painted arched blue door down the alley, I was ten minutes late and spend another five hovered at the entrance, unsure whether I was just that little too late to walk in and sit down.
This time, I thought, I was so early, they may not even be open yet. But I took hold of the large hooped metal door handle, pushed, and the door creaked open slowly.

"Hello?" I called out.

"Yes, 'ello. Come in." Came the voice from inside.

I'd walked into a make-shift porch, which was really a part of the room sectioned off with a heavy navy curtain.
Blimey, who'd said that?
But I'd never heard a spirit talk in a Jamaican accent before, so I thought I would be safe to pull aside the curtain. A little old lady, in her coat, hat, scarf and a blanket on her knees was sitting in the far corner of the room, doing a crossword from the paper.

"Come in, lovey - take a seat." She said, lifting her newspaper my way in a gesture of acknowledgement.

I smiled and nodded, making my way past the rows of plastic chairs (the kind you see in doctor's waiting rooms), choosing one with a pink cushion, and sitting down.
Being early, it gave me good time to take in my surroundings. It was a large room, with windows set up high all around the four walls. I took my coat off, and immediately wished I hadn't - it was obviously hard to heat a room this size. It had high ceilings which made the room look bigger, which was lucky, since much of the floor was occupied with furniture of some kind, spread higglety-piggelty all around the room. A coffee table which looked like it hadn't been moved since the 1960's, a mahogany bookcase with different coloured leaflets scattered among it's shelves and a beautiful Victorian arm chair next to a fairly modern desk - which would have looked at home more in an office.
In the centre of the room, to which all the chairs faced, was a platform. Now, I guess that's where the Medium will stand to demonstrate. It was cluttered, but cared for, bursting with baskets of flowers, and bowls of fruit. It took me a few minutes, even with my glasses on, to realise that they weren't actually real. In fact, looking around the room, I suddenly noticed many more vases of artificial flowers - irises, lilies, poppies, carnations - and even though they weren't real, I felt someone had thought about them, the sentiment was there.
As the clock on the wall made it's way to a quarter past the hour, more people walked in from behind the navy blue curtain. There was a room to the left, which I'd decided was probably the kitchen. As if to prove me right, I suddenly heard the clink of glasses and a lady strode through the door carrying a tray of small glass tumblers and a jug of water, placing it carefully on the table which was to the front of the platform.

You'll always spot the Medium in a Spiritualist Church. They're the one dressed up in a suit, or in similar smart attire, looking unlike anyone else in the room. I was told once it was so they looked presentable; dressed suitably for public speaking. 'Gives a professional image', my teacher had said. And there he was, his expensive looking suit contrasting spectacularly to the room he was demonstrating in.
If you've never been to see a demonstration of mediumship, or indeed, a Spiritualist church, I could completely understand you feeling the way I first felt, sat nervously at nineteen, right at the back of the room about to see my first demonstration of mediumship and wondering what on earth I might be about to witness.
I remember thinking at the time:

So, this bloke thinks he can talk to dead people.
And he thinks he can prove it.
Oh, come on...
Why is he wearing a suit?
Actually, please don't make me see any actually dead people...
Well, at least I'm sat near the door - just in case I need to run. 

But I didn't need to run. There were no spinning heads, apparitions or ectoplasm floating through the air towards me from the platform where the medium that night stood. I wanted him to be a fake. I would have left, satisfied, with my inquisitive mind put to rest that it was all a load of rubbish. But he seemed just like a normal bloke standing on a sort-of stage in front of a group of strangers. He had no crystal balls or tricks of the light as far as I could see. It was as if invisible information was being streamed into his ear, and out through his mouth.
He described events in great detail, spoke of memorable dates and brought to life images of people who he claimed had passed away. The descriptions he used weren't the ones you'd expect, there was less of the; "Hm. I've got an old lady with grey hair, here. She liked cooking..." And more of the real-life random specifics you might expect if you'd spoken to each different member of the audience in depth, and found out about their personal family history. Such as; "The car accident in Australia involving that red truck." Or perhaps, "There's a gold pocket watch of your grandfather's, kept in the top right-hand draw of that dark, wooden desk."
He chose people in the audience to talk to, and promptly made them nod, gasp, then whisper to their neighbour about the finer details - and a lot of the time they would cry. It seemed as if everything he said, really meant something to those people. But to me, it seemed ever so subjective. So my mind remained still just that little bit wondering, but quite rightly, skeptical.
After about half an hour of sitting on those plastic chairs in Clapham, my bum had started to go numb. I was chilly, so placed my coat over my lap and tucked my hands between my knees. My mind started wandering. The Medium was spending quite a while on each message, and, I'd noted, was rather good at reeling off the names of the apparent deceased. All very well, I thought, but who doesn't know a James, Shirley, Mary or William? I wasn't hugely convinced. I had started focusing on the way his eyes darted about, and the way he expressed himself with his hands - the things you notice, when you're drifting. When I heard him speak somewhere distantly from the back of my mind:

"She was the kind of woman who'd never give up, she was really determined, and even though she was sick, she didn't want anyone to think she was weak..."

I looked up. He was talking openly, and to no one in particular. He carried on.

"She would have had problems with walking. I see her using a stick, then feel later on she would have used a wheelchair. But where her body deteriorated, her mind was very sharp - right up until the end - which would have made her feel very frustrated..."

By now, I was listening carefully. The description resonated with me. Grandma was just like that before she passed.

"Can anyone understand this description?" He asked out.

Where I had begun to slouch in the chair, I shuffled up a bit so I could see him properly. I looked behind me and all around the room before finally accepting that no one else could take what he was saying, then I very slowly raised my hand. His eyes flicked in my direction and he smiled, but his poise remained still. Focused, it seemed, upon the invisible information being streamed into his ear.

"I'm getting the impression..."

He paused.
His hand went to his throat, and he clutched it, as though in pain for a moment.

"...That this woman couldn't swallow - or she couldn't speak. There was a problem with her throat."

I nearly fell off my chair completely.

"Yes - both. She couldn't swallow or speak towards the end." I whispered, my voice unusually quiet.

I didn't tell him, or anyone else just how accurate this invisible information he had received, was. You see my Grandma died of Motor-Neurone disease at seventy one. A disease which left her with an increased loss of mobility in her limbs, stopped her speech, and left her unable to swallow or really breathe. She was a sharp woman, who was proactive in life and to describe her as determined hardly hits it... but it seemed that this man might just have. It was subjective information, that was for sure. No other person in the room other than myself could understand what he'd said. The description fit my Grandma perfectly. But could what he'd said be a coincidence or a lucky guess? I would be left wondering as usual. But deep down, instinctively, I believed it to be true.

The demonstration came to a close and teas and coffees were offered, and I was finally relieved of those uncomfortable plastic chairs, which had started to dig into my back, only to be placed upon a wobbly wooden one in the kitchen.
The chatter got louder in the little tiled kitchen which contrasted from the one voice that had spoken aloud all evening. Strangers huddled around the table helping themselves to bourbon biscuits from a Christmas tin, beginning to get to know each other better. I knew I'd have to leave soon. It was a friendly atmosphere and I could well have stayed for another mug of coffee, but it was already 9:30pm and the prospect of taking two buses home on a Saturday evening loomed over me. I just knew I'd end up sharing a seat with a rowdy drunk on a boozy night out in Clapham, if I didn't leave now. The Medium was propped up in the corner, in his suit, sipping his tea. I walked over to the sink and tipped the dregs of my coffee away then rinsed the mug in the bowl of soapy water. I took one of the faded flowery tea towels which hung on three tiny hooks, dried off the mug and placed it on the full-to-the-brim draining board, hoping I hadn't overstepped the mark by washing up my own mug in someone else's kitchen.

There were plenty of you-must-come-again's and lovely-to-meet-you's and I assured them I'd had a lovely time, and thanked the quiet lady in the corner for my coffee. As I pushed the heavy wooden front door hard, and stepped out into the dark cobbled alleyway, I could still hear the babble coming from the kitchen, but much fainter now, and the light shone onto the cobbles from the mottled glass windows of the church, making me feel safer as I made my way back to the main road.
I stood by the bus stop and carefully rolled up a cigarette before lighting it, all the time keeping one eye on the red lights on the screen to see how long the 219 bus to Clapham Junction would be.

No, it definitely wasn't a normal Saturday night out. But I wouldn't say I was a completely normal twenty-five year old, either.


  1. Nice work. You write beautifully. I liked the description of washing the cup at the end. Washing your own cup is a nice way of (a)being polite, and (b)staying just a little longer. I look forward to hearing more, I find this fascinating.

  2. What a great story. I've been to see John Edward and Suzane Northrup several times. So great. My father let me know he was with me loud and clear too. Amazing.

  3. This is a great post...and somehow, it reminded me of my Grandmother...I've been thinking about her a lot these days...

  4. Bth- the detail here is wonderful. And not being "a completely normal twenty-five year old" can lead you to some great experiences and discoveries. It's all the oddities that make life so interesting. When you are long past twenty-five, you won't remember much about the barroom scenes (I shudder to think how I guzzled my way through my twenties), but you sure will remember the Medium. ;)

  5. This is one of my favourite posts of yours. So many beautiful details. I'm glad you are not a completely normal 25 year old, you are far more interesting then that.

  6. Philip - Thanks! I'll be following up with more posts on the subject, I should imagine!

    Barb - It is amazing, I think so too! Yes, there are those great mediums, that are always so facinating to watch...

    caterpillar - Thank you. :)

    Jayne - I certainly hope so! Thank you, I'm enjoying building up my oddities...

    Happy Frog - What a lovely thing to say - you are so kind. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Sal - It made me think a lot about the memories. I didn't have a close relationship with this Grandma (unlike my other one!) so I don't miss her, but it is nice to be reminded.

  7. You had me at "dreamer in London"...I don't have time to read through the whole post at the moment, but I'll be back.