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  • Writer's pictureAnn

A Whirlwind Summer

Not that anyone reads my blogs, but I must apologise at least to myself, for not having written anything here since June! I must admit, that Normandy was just so flipping great that coming back to normality and so-so EVPs afterwards was a bit of a downer. Even so, there have been some fantastic moments over the past four months that are worth writing about.

Actually I have been writing. A lot. And this is partly why I've been so lax in putting in my un-missed appearances on Lost Voices. I've finished, yes, actually completed my book on all this weird stuff I get up-to, and am now in the tweaking stage; whereby I mean I look glumly at the rules and regs for publication and wonder if my rough edges are indented enough, too much, or if my spacing is gargantuan or too teensy, or if my font will put readers off and make them vomit? Never mind what the actual content is about, I have a regular readership of precisely one friend (gawd bless you, Michele) who will be just about the sole reader of my blessed tome when it finally gets its printy ar*e into gear and onto some sort of shelf! Albeit (in all likelihood) a self-published one.

So, what has been going on?! Besides the shock news that the prison was closing to the general public during the week, a fair bit actually. This news felled me like the Sycamore Gap tree (don't get me started on that or the vile underhand thugs responsible), and my little world became much darker and a whole lot smaller overnight. I moped and actually sobbed like one bereft, for quite a few days. This is because that HMP Shepton Mallet has changed my life, and I genuinely love the place. According to the powers that be, the CEO was more than happy with the revenue generated by the filming and private hire/educational tours/paranormal hire that keeps the place buoyantly afloat. The guided tours and walk-in customers were loose change in comparison, and what with short staffing, it was sensibly decided to cut the hours. However, yesterday (10th October 2023) came the news that the prison is back open again weekdays! Hurrah! Aren't I a selfish creature?

So what's new? In June, I was contacted by the BBC documentary department, who, thanks to my bombarding of poor Danny Robins of Uncanny fame, saw fit to perhaps include me in the forthcoming TV series of the same name as the smash hit podcast that began a whole three years ago. What a fabulous production Uncanny turned out to be! It is a one-stop-shop for all things 'paranormal', featuring real people with their real stories on the half an hour podcast each week for the run of the series. It's been so successful that Danny has done several live shows that were broadcast on the series earlier this year. There has also been UncannyCon, and the book. As we speak Danny is producing yet more live shows around the UK, then tomorrow (take a breath!) the Uncanny TV series begins! Without me.

This is actually not the disaster that I initially felt, mainly because I'm not a slim twenty-something any more and I don't even like myself in photos. God knows how I'd feel with my 3D chin in motion and fresh neck lines waggling about on the box. No, actually there is great relief. What happened was this...

Eloise from the Beeb emailed, and asked if I'd like to be on the show. I jumped at the chance, what an opportunity! She asked if she could schedule me for a Zoom interview, and so I agreed of course. On the morning, I primped and preened. Rather foolishly I opted for that day to use a new pre-moisturiser oil sort of calming balm thing, and then slathered my moisturiser on top. The result, as I peered incredulously at myself in the screen just before the meeting started, was a shiny glowing ball of light. I was like the sun. I looked as if I'd smeared myself in olive oil! Oh dear, but it was too late to do anything but draw the curtains a bit, and hope for the best.

Eloise was a star, and put me totally at my ease. We talked for about an hour, and I was left absolutely buzzing. She said that I had a 'more than average chance of being included in the show'. I was told that they (the BBC) would be in touch in a few days to update me, but I heard nothing. Each day that ticked by I felt more and more sick, uneasy and on edge. I was restless and narky. They'd said that filming had to be done by the end of the month, and that was fast approaching, plus I had a holiday in Greece with my Mum coming up. Would I be jilted because of this? I messaged to tell them, and they said that it was fine, thanks for letting them know, sorry for the delay, but things were manic in production.

Then all went silent once more. My holiday came and went, and... nothing. I just wanted to know what was happening! I opted to message Danny on social media asking to be put out of my misery, and sure enough, within ten minutes, I had a very apologetic email from Eloise. She said that they'd run out of budget for the location hire, and that the prison was far too expensive. It is, I know this, and understood. But it didn't mean that it didn't hurt me, I had been SO revved up! The disappointment was immense, but on the plus side, they were incredibly lovely to me. Eloise said that, I was their number one EVP person (if there is such a thing) and that they'd talked long and hard about me in the production office. That is a comfort. I'm out there - even if I didn't make the cut. And that's ok. EVP is a difficult thing to film for TV, especially if nothing comes out on the recordings. I had planned to take Danny around the prison and leave him in various places to record alone. Who knows, perhaps if there's a second series, I'll be in.

In a few weeks myself and a handful of friends are hiring the prison for a night. It is ironic that I'm now paying more than I was paid for eight hours , to hire the place for the same amount of time. But such is life! The need to be in the dark and alone (I intend to be solo as much as possible, of course) in my special place, is a gnawing hunger. I actually invited Danny, but although he was very thankful, he's on tour with Uncanny Live. Not to worry. Here's hoping it's a goodun...

Another new 'thing' in my life is Muchelney Abbey not far from where we live. There has been a building on the site since 693AD, and has housed a small number of monks up until the dissolution of the monasteries by good old Henry VIII. The abbot's house and the original latrine building are all that remain, but oh what a beauty of a site! Jack and I visited five years ago, and in the past fortnight I've been back twice; this time with my recorder in hand. The first crop of EVPs were whispery, but the second a little better. I've actually expressed interest in working there, but they're now closed until May, so it's very much a case of Watch This Space. But can you imagine?!

The preserved building is plain and clean inside, no fancy mannequins or unnecessary audio buttons to press, no video displays or volunteers talking at you from corners. There are no artefacts laid out 'in the style of', for which places owned by the National Trust are famed. This is English Heritage owned, and is an absolute delight. No cafe, no playground. No crowd pleasers here, just honest history laid bare. I love it.

And so to round off and bore you to tears, I just want to add a really truly and utterly dull paragraph. I know I've whittered on before about working out averages of captures per visit, per month, per year blah blah blah, but now, I firmly believe I have hit upon something worthy! I've begun filtering and analysing my notes and data to produce Performance Ratings (PR) for each location within the prison. A summing up for each place to see how it's working for me. Does that make sense?

So for each and every nook and cranny that I give a name, in essence, I open a file. This is how it works:

1) Calculate the total length of time I recorded in each location on one date. (Eg. 4.m12s in C-Wing).

2) Calculate how many EVPs were recorded, the quota if you like (3 were recorded).

3) Then I take the quota & divide it by the time of recording, & X it by 60. (3 / 4.12, X 60)

4) In this instance the result = 0.43.

5) The PR for C-Wing on the 1st October 2023, is therefore 43.

So I list each place. These currently stand at 31 different rooms, corridors or stairways. The results vary, but some are pretty consistent in their readings! It's genuinely intriguing to look at the visit laid bare, and see that for some reason, most PRs are in the 50s, or on other days way down in the low teens or 10-12. There are particular locations that are always sailing fair, and others that always scrape the barrel. It's worth noting here that, this has nothing to do with certain areas being my 'favourite places' and therefore I spend more time there. Yes, some I do - but this method safeguards against favouritism! This is because I calculate the average per hour, not the actual. So, whilst A-Wing on January X may have given a corker of a PR with 92, this does NOT mean that this was the actual quota for the day. It was simply that IF the EVPs had kept coming in at that rate without diminishing for a whole hour, that would be the score. However, as I've said before in previous blogs (I think it was the 12hr sleepover where I should by rights have been churning them out, was in fact disappointing that they seemed to dip after midnight), it seems very much to be a sliding scale. What may start strong cannot be maintained, and therefore an optimum recording time must be determined. At this stage I'd say around 5 minutes per location, probably not much more. And no less than a minute. Things, spirits, whatever we're dealing with here, often need time to 'warm up'. Sometimes they don't and they're at me in under two seconds, but just for common-or-garden rules, stick to to the mantra of no less than a minute, no more than five! They wax, they wane.

And, for some reason the number 9 seems to be very, very common - as are other components of the 9 times table. Interesting, and warrants investigation. But all in good time.

After I've completed the process for an entire visit, I move onto the next. Currently I have seven years to go through, with up-to fifty visits per year, and up-to 31 locations each visit. That's a heck of a lot of numbers, and I am not a natural mathematician so you can only wonder at my cross-eyed madness at the moment! But I will say this; it's paying off...

After I finish an entire year's worth of PRs, I then add up each location's total and divide it by the number of times I recorded in there that year. So for example, A-Wing, with an added total of 495 PRs, divided by 12 sessions = 41.25. (Bare in mind that I don't necessarily record everywhere each visit). This figure now becomes the Final Performance Rating. The FPR. Then, to round off for easy understanding, I list the highest performers like the finishers in a race: 1st, A Wing. 2nd, Old entrance. 3rd, Execution, and 4th, Gate Lodge.

Trust me, it might seem like a lot of work and bluster, but I truly think that this is leading somewhere. Reading those patterns, asking questions about the how and why, will become hopefully easier to answer or at least have a crack at theorising - who knows, but time will tell. And I'm on something of a roll.

Bring it on!

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