What's New, Sugarpuff?
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
How might you ask, is it possible for a body to dash hither and thither out and about on location with their recorder clasped in their sweaty grasp, talking apparently 'to themselves' and not feel like a total and utter weirdo? There are times naturally that one will come across other people, normal people if you will, not those necessarily traipsing around looking to commune with the dead (or with entities of our non-physical, let's get that right!) and when you happen upon them, or them upon you, chit-chatting away to thin air, I'll admit it can be flipping embarrassing. And even when people who catch you are aware of what you're up to, if they're not 'in-the-know' it's equally humiliating. At Athelhampton House recently my friend Rebecca justified my sudden bursting forth from the priest-hole doorway by proclaiming to the owner, "Oh this is Ann, she listens to ghosts." You could see them virtually swatting me away with a pitchfork.
Only last week I was nattering away to whoever in the old entrance of Shepton prison, quite confident that I was in fact the only mortal present, when suddenly a rather tall man proffering a camera peeks out from the 1610 crawl cell room, probably wondering to whom this bonkers female was talking. I grinned and nodded, as did he, rather too politely as if he was scared I may run up to him and bite him, and he left rather quickly. It wasn't even as if I could pretend I was on my phone, because I was sort of looking around loudly barking,
"'Bye all, take care and see you soon!". See my problem? Red-cheeked humiliation!
Being happened-upon does not occur often thankfully, for I take great measures to ensure as far as possible that I am nowhere near anyone else when recording. If I come across people (god forbid) I cease recording and scuttle away like a grumpy spider to find seclusion once more. If this is not possible I call it a day and go home, muttering beneath my breath about the wholly inconsiderate nature of day trippers! Only joking. I am not a totally anti-social freak. People have paid good money to experience the prison (and other places like it) and we're all allowed our time on site, and long may this opportunity continue. With the horrific threat of development looming over The Mallet, every day that it exists in its current state is a bonus. Feet through the door = reasons NOT to turn the place into flats. Yes, you heard right. FLATS. So come on over everyone, let's keep this historic marvel alive! (www.sheptonmalletprison.com)
Last week, just before my visit where I inadvertently made a nonce of myself in front of Cameraman, I met up with Jayne from our stables. Jayne has never been to the prison before, and knowing that she has an interest and is incredibly sensitive to things that everyday folk are not, I thought that it was high time that she was introduced to the magnificence of this brooding beauty. Stepping through those almighty gates and seeing those looming and brutal grey stone buildings for the first time is quite something, and I always without fail, feel as if I'm introducing people to a person not just a place. It is to my mind a She, not an it, for I sense that The Mallet is a wiley cunning old girl, toothless and grinning, her wrinkled skin portraying her ancient years yet belying her infinite wisdom, deep vitality, and eternal longevity. She is wise, she has seen it all, she houses the souls of people past and present, and she draws them back time and time again. I am just one of many people who find themselves drawn repeatedly to this place, and I shall continue to return as long as I am able. She stirs her cauldron, and I am a mere helpless parsnip in her soup!
So, there I was with Jayne, and we did a rough tour so that she could see the layout and get a good feel for the bits we could get into, which aside from the workshops and gov's house, is most of it. My only bugbear currently is that we can no longer have access to the modern gym/old chapel, for in years past this was one of my hotspots and was quite a horrible place to be. My skin crawls knowing that now it is used by the Shepton Mallet Gymnastics group, for some of the comments I got in the rooms especially on that first floor where the girls leave their gear and probably get changed, was horrendous. Pervert alert, but what can I say? Oh Mums, by the way the girls probably shouldn't prance about in leotards in there... Why? It's the ghosts you see. Dirty old men... I'd be marched off to the loony-bin by said mothers, and they'd throw away the key. Mr Rubber Duck lives there. I call him this because he said it to me twice. And we all know that rubber duck means something entirely different in prison slang, don't we?
I loaned Jayne one of my recorders, and gaily announced that she could take some solo recording time, which she bravely did. Afterwards she admitted that she felt a bit silly and nervous, which is only fair. Looking back over some of my first recordings from the prison I was so tentative, whispering delicately into the recorder in case normal people could hear me. I was afraid to speak. Now I do a running commentary, keeping it light, keeping it polite. Introduce yourself, ask how they're doing. Now I find that, providing that you can pretty much guarantee that you are alone, speaking loud and clear is not an issue. Don't whisper! It's so gargantuanly difficult on review to work out a whipser from an entity. If you must speak, SPEAK. Particularly in the wings! What greater joy than booming "HELLO???!!" down B-Wing on a crisp and clear morning, to hear your words echoing on and on! And, on occasion, being answered. This has happened twice.
As it turned out, the 9m 34s that Jayne recorded for in total (being spread over several different locations within the prison) the spirits clearly took a liking to her, and she succeeded in accumulating a lovely quota of 9 EVPs. My favourite was from the old gate lodge, in which a gent' called her "Sugarpuff"!
There were several other captures, mainly from females. They all seemed to be of the opinion that Jayne was a goodun, and that they all liked her. The collective. She was 'in'!
I played back my own recordings from the visit, and again, they went on about how they "...like this woman." and "We like Jayne". I think it's safe to say that she is a hit with the dead of the Mallet!
Jayne is not the first person I've introduced to the Mallet. Indeed, Mary from the stables (also very sensitive ) was entranced by her time there, and picked up some nice captures. My friend Michele whom I met in Greece many years ago, she's been a few times and attended one sleepover. My Father John, last year after Covid and shortly after his horrendous leg break, came to Somerset to get away from the depressing misery of his Kent bungalow, and not knowing quite where to take him as most places were still all a bit Covidy in their restrictions, I naturally goaded him though the gates and within, if only on the first level, as he was still on crutches and unable to bend his leg at all. Poor Daddy, he did enjoy it though, even if he looked ill and older than he should. What with his cancers and the break, time had take its toll on him the last two years. I'm pleased to say that now he's perking right up - and talks about the prison quite a bit! One of the best captures we had as I showed him round was in the old entrance (again), in which a man says, "That's her father." Spot on sir!
My Jack took his two Brummie friends Nick and Phil, and they thought it was nothing shy of fabulous. There's just something about the place, even if you're not there for the weird side of things, it just gets to you. We all find ourselves a-slinking within the walls, wondering why we like it so much. Very odd. Even paranormally intrigued folk whom I've known for five years because of the prison, have shown interest in coming around with me to see what I get up to. Tina, Lorraine, Becky. My Mother. My Mother-in law. Nobody in my circle escapes this most vital of introductions!
Back briefly to getting caught talking to yourself though, yes, it has happened and caused much bum-squirming. I was caught chatting away in total darkness in the hanging shed by two ladies who didn't quite know what to make of the situation, but the best came when I was in B Wing, hiding from two parents and a young boy.
I heard people coming and naturally hid in a cell on the 3s, closed the door, and crouched behind the screen by the toilet. Of course the boy felt the need to open the door, that particular nothing door, and come in and find me crouched red-faced in the dark. When Mum and Dad peeped in, I had to pretend to be on the phone to hide what I'd truly been up to. Such times! Again, the parents couldn't get their small charge away from me fast enough.
And this year, in 2021, my friend Michele's Father sadly died, and due to restrictions, his funeral was held on a live link from the crem'. I was at the prison on A Wing at the allocated time, and found myself a lovely sunny room set back off of the wing. There was nothing special about it to tempt anyone else to enter, and I had to go through two doors and to the left. Nice and quiet, and anyway, there was nobody else on site anyway! Or so I thought. No sooner had the service got underway when I heard footsteps. Really? I thought, oh yes, getting closer. And closer. And... the door opened, and a man stepped in. It took a second for it to sink in that I was sat in front of him on the sill, and he shrieked and leapt backward. We both howled with laughter, and I explained that I was "just watching my friend's Dad's funeral.." which to me seemed an adequate reason for my sitting in a back room of a 400 year old prison staring at my phone. Maybe not to a normal person though, for the man speedily extracated himself from my presence, and got the hell out of there.
Oh yes and I almost forgot. Last month I was talking to 'them' in segregation and was suddenly aware that someone was talking not far down the corridor. I shut up, and eased myself out of the cell, only to find said person, a lovely nervous lady, also talking to herself! Not to a recorder, but to herself. We chatted and estabished that she was spiritual also, which would explain the situation. I think we were both pretty relieved to discover that we were both Weirdos, and that no phoney pseudo-excuses of pretending to be on the phone were necessary.
Thank goodness I'm not alone! I look forward to introducing many more friends to this very special place very soon. If you can make it, I highly recommend that you do as soon as possible. Go out on location like you own it - be calm, confident, and don't be afraid of the dark.... Be like the predator not the prey. Be the jailor not the convict. Be the ghost, not the haunted.
But most of all, enjoy.