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By Ricky Tomlinson
I first met David Drew Many years ago. I had at that time, a bistro/bar in Liverpool called ‘The Limelight’, which faced the iconic Adelphi Hotel. It had previously been a ‘gentleman’s club’, but had been empty for many years and required quite a lot of renovation. All sorts of people came there, some to perform, others for a drink or a game of pool. We even opened early in the morning during the postman’s strike to serve tea and breakfast to the striking workers.
At first, small things would happen there. Strange noises would be heard at night, but not much notice was taken as the lads would be too busy laughing or playing pool. This was soon to change.
One of our regular customers was known as ‘The Garstang Butterfly’ because of two butterflies tattooed on her ankles. She had been a lady of the night in her younger years, and she fascinated me with tales of her exploits, such as being thrown overboard into the Mersey after being abused by foreign seamen docked in Liverpool. It was because of this lady, who I prefer to call Chloe, that I met David Drew.
One evening in The Limelight, Chloe said, “Rick, I’ve had a really bad night, I need to go home.” Usually I would drive her or ask one of my regulars to take her home in my car, but there was no-one there who could drive her, and I couldn’t leave the bar, so I told her to go upstairs to my flat for a few hours’ sleep and I would run her home after I shut up for the night. She took my keys for the flat and went upstairs. For an hour or two things went on as normal in the bar, lads playing pool or cards and chatting away as usual, but then a scream rang out from the rooms above. I dashed up the stairs to the flat, followed by two or three customers. Chloe had smashed the window and climbed out onto the parapet. We coaxed her in and asked what was wrong. She told us she had woken and moved to come downstairs, when a tall man in a cap and long overcoat wouldn’t let her pass. He said, “I’m waiting for Nelly”, then disappeared just before we arrived. A day or two after the story was printed in the newspaper, David came to the Limelight and had a look around. For three days he trawled through the building. He was living in Llandudno so he stayed in a hotel next to the bar for three days and nights at his own expense. Finally he said to me, “Rick, the place is alive with ghosts.” How right he was proven to be! This was only the first of many experiences in the club.
He went about his work, sometimes not even stopping for a cup of tea. I left it to him until the end of the third day when he said to me, “I have to sort this last one out, then everything should be okay.” I didn’t understand what he meant, but he went into the upstairs bathroom and was there for what seemed like an age. When he finally came out I thought he had been fighting a world champion! He was red in the face and his hair was dishevelled. “It’s all clear now,” he said, “you won’t be bothered again.” I asked him what had happened and he explained that a spirit had shot his mate, then committed suicide, but was refusing to ‘go over’.
David left after three days, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes I even introduced him onto stage. He obviously has a special gift. This may sound like a load of nonsense to people who don’t believe, but since then I have never had a single doubt in the existence of the spirit world. It is not something we should be afraid of. Perhaps this book will let us in on some of David’s secrets, of which there must be many.
Poor health has compelled me to retire, and I find myself with time on my hands and no plausible excuse not to write the autobiography I was asked to deliver ten years ago.
Lacking any fear of death, I have spent a lifetime smoking to excess, completely overlooking the possibility that dying was not the only potential consequence of my actions. As my physical condition deteriorates, I regularly reflect on my life as David Drew, and hope and pray daily that I have done enough. Each earthly life passes in the blink of an eye and I long to make this final mark on a world I must surely leave behind.
Brain and pen willing, I have all that I need to at last share with you a treasure chest of memories and mysteries. An echo of this life if you will, before I move on to the next.
We are all here for a purpose, some to learn, some to teach and most of us do a little of both. As a child, I didn’t know the reason for my having this life. How could I? As a rule, we don’t discover our purpose until long after we pass over, and by then of course, it’s too late to undo all the mistakes that lured us off our intended path. In short, the not knowing was nothing unusual. What is unusual is that in a quite unique turn of events I did subsequently come to learn the reason for my life whilst I was still living it.
I was born with a variety of psychic abilities rarely found stuffed into one person. It is my belief that most people have one or more of these gifts dormant within them, but with me, they came ready to rumble as part of the package. A free gift, whether I liked it or not. No substitutions, exchanges or refunds.
In this aspect you and I differ perhaps, but in most respects you will find we are just the same. I enjoy fish and chips and football, I loathe and detest telesales calls and how I long for that beer at the end of a busy day to help me unwind.
And you? You have had that feeling of being somewhere before. You occasionally know who is calling before you pick up the phone and didn’t you, just for a second, catch sight of a shadowy figure in the corner of your eye? You see, we are more alike than you might think.
Everyone has the potential to nurture their dormant psychic senses. If you and I were to take piano lessons, I am sure with a bit of practice I could learn to bash out ‘Three Blind Mice’. Maybe you would excel and go on to play the Albert Hall, but we would both have the potential to develop this talent to some degree or other. Similarly, everyone can use their psychic ability if they put their mind to it. For me it was not a choice. As a little boy who could see dead people, I would quite possibly have chosen differently.
Faces in the Dark
When I was a small boy, I had no idea that my memories of curling up cosy and cramped in the womb, or indeed of the wonders that came before that, were in any way unusual. I was oblivious to the reality that other people didn’t see spirit on a daily basis the way I did. My family humoured me regarding my ‘imaginary friends’, and it came as a shock to all concerned when we realised that I was the one who had been telling the truth all these years and that their acknowledgements and interactions with these people had just been a kindly pretence for my benefit.
As the long shadow of my childhood fades, I am surprised to feel an ache for those days I had almost forgotten. Although hailing from South Wales, I spent much of my youth among the brick and tile of the West Midlands, where my parents travelled to find work before my father’s early demise. I don’t remember my dad and have never seen him since he passed. I realise now that this is not so strange. It is usual for a medium to see little or nothing for their own benefit.
Mum struggled to feed her brood at the expense of what would today be termed ‘quality time’ with the kids. Life was hard for a single mother with four children in the 1950’s. It was not much easier before my dad died. A large chunk of his wages would find it’s way into the pub or the bookies before reaching the kitchen table, and on the night I was born, my mother staggered, cold and alone, to the telephone box to call the midwife, while dad drank himself into a stupor down the road.
My childhood world was one of cold lino flooring, hand me down clothes and skipping the free school meals for which I was too proud to queue. Mum was a serious, God fearing woman with a strong Welsh accent, tiny in stature but strict as they come. She was not by nature a demonstrative mother. Ladies of her generation often suppressed their emotions, exchanging them for the strength of character they needed to show if they were to survive.
My teenage sisters, Annette and Helen, were like second mothers to both myself and my big brother Tim, just two years my senior. They helped out all they could as our mum struggled to rear her children on thinned down soup and a prayer. They would step in when she was working, or perhaps asleep after a long night shift, changing our nappies or taking us to school.
One bitterly cold morning Helen took me to the shops in my hand-me-down, squeaky blue pushchair. A woman from the neighbouring street stopped us at the kerb and scolded her without reserve for taking me out without any socks on such a freezing day. My stroppy teenage sister told her to mind her own business, but the remark cut her to the core. It hurt all the more because she knew it was true, but she had no choice. I didn’t have any socks. In the weeks that followed Helen saved what pennies she could and one day proudly returned from a trip to Woolworths with a pair of Perlustra socks especially for me – the best in the shop! She was barely more than a child herself, but she doted on her little brothers. When she became a mother many years on, she boasted that babies were nothing new to her. She had done it all before with us.
Although there was no silver spoon for us, no ice creams when the van came around, no bottle of pop to take to the park, when I think back to those days I can appreciate the value of some small acts of kindness from a few big-hearted people.
I could not have been more than three when Helen took me on an errand to pay the coal man who lived a few streets away. Mrs Corkran, his chubby wife, opened the shiny red door, which matched her cheeks perfectly. The terraced house was soot-blackened but the step and doorknocker were immaculate. She and my sister exchanged niceties as I craned my neck to see past her to the bowl of fruit which was displayed on her sideboard, as stately as the crown jewels. I was awestruck. The cut glass sparkled from pride of place on a white lace doily, and the bright colours and simple shapes within it captured my imagination. This lady must be very rich! As Helen said her goodbyes, the generous coal man’s wife noticed my wide eyes and open mouth and asked us to wait. She returned a moment later with an orange so huge that I needed two hands to hold it. I ran my tiny fingers over the little bumps on the waxy skin and held it to my nose to inhale the exotic smell. She smiled down at my happy little face and waited for me to thank her.
“What do you say?” Helen prompted
“I’ve got a brother at home!”
My sister was mortified and apologised through pink cheeks for my bad manners, but Mrs Corkran just laughed and returned to the bowl to fetch another for Tim. I will always remember that walk home, proudly cradling two precious oranges in my jumper.
In my nursery days we had free school milk. A small, tepid bottle with a straw though the cap. For those who had sixpence, there was the added delight of a chocolate covered digestive biscuit in silvery blue foil. The other children would collect their milk and then queue for a biscuit. I never had sixpence so I became accustomed to sitting alone with my drink, gazing at the other children as they licked their chocolatey fingers. One day after everyone was served, the kind teacher lady shouted me to the front.
“There’s a biscuit left David. Would you like it?”
My eyes lit up! I still recall how I savoured that biscuit and how for that one day I was like the other kids. I was without doubt the luckiest boy alive. Not until I was an adult did I realise that the teacher must have paid the sixpence herself. I can’t remember her name, but God bless her for that. I doubt she realised the little boy would remember her small act of kindness for more than fifty years.
There are some wonderful people in this world. My final Good Samaritan story is about a heroic milkman. It was just before Christmas when Tim and I were still small. My mum was distraught because she had nothing at all to give us. As a single mum, it was hard enough to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. She sat up to the kitchen table and wept. Her boys were excited that Santa was coming, and she was defeated and demoralised. A knock at the door caused her to rise and quickly dry her eyes. It was the milkman to collect his money. He was a down to earth but friendly local chap who spoke with a Birmingham twang. She paid her dues through forced smiles, but as he moved to leave the doorstep the man hesitated. Turning on his heels, he asked her if something was wrong. He must have seen the sadness behind her greeting. She was reluctant and embarrassed to begin with, but after a little pressure she was soon pouring her heart out, relieved for the moment to get her worries out in the open. He was visibly moved by her predicament and encouraged her to dry her tears, explaining it would only upset the family more to see her this way. Having shared her burden, he wished her well and they parted.
Christmas Eve came, and Mum deliberated on what she would say to us in the morning. She went to bed that night with a heavy heart and woke early to light the fire. Opening the front door to lift the milk from the step, she was greeted with a sight that made her cry again, but this time for joy. Next to the pint bottle was a stack of presents wrapped in red Santa paper and addressed to ‘The Boys’. There was a cowboy outfit and a tricycle, chocolate and other treats. We had a wonderful Christmas with no idea about our mystery benefactor. In this world of self and greed, it comforts me to realise there is a hidden seam of goodness running through it.
My first recollection of the ‘supernatural’, although please understand it was nothing if not natural to me, was when I was around five years old.
The night was bitter, and as I huddled under a musty mountain of overcoat blankets, I watched my brother’s misty breath flurry and disappear as he slept. Turning to the window my heavy eyes sought out boats and trees and other such little boy’s fancies in the icy condensation of the hopscotch panes.
Mum was working. She cleaned hospital floors in the night, to creep up on the germs when they least expected it. Helen had put us to bed, and would look in on us soon. I screwed my eyes up tight and hoped for sleep so that she wouldn’t betray me to Mum.
I caught my breath, startled wide awake as a familiar swish of dark hair in the half-light revealed the identity of my bedtime playmate. I waited, open-eyed now, anticipating the butterflies in my tummy when she did it again. I could hear stifled giggles under the bed.
Wait for it!
This time, Mary’s shiny, pink face popped up in front of mine. We both laughed, and Tim stirred.
“Shhh!” I hissed, oblivious to the fact it was my laughter that had disturbed him, not hers.
I must have been one of the very few children that looked forward to bedtime. Mary was one of several friends who came to play when I was tucked up and the house was still. She had big brown eyes and lashes like the cows I saw at my granny’s cottage in Wales. Her hair was cut short in a thick bob, and I judged her to be around the same age as myself. It didn’t occur to my childish mind to ask how she got into my room, or where she hid when we were disturbed. I didn’t know that she was dead. I didn’t know what ‘dead’ was. We were friends and the details were irrelevant.
I had other friends like Mary. We played together in my den at the bottom of our council house garden on Eva Road. I had almost forgotten those days. Plimsolled feet striking parched earth, dirty cheeks burning hot, and stinging palms disturbing the cool willow curtain where my companions hid in leafy shadows.
“Can I have a plaster?”
Mum eyed me suspiciously from the washing line. “What for?”
“I hurt my Knee.” I lied.
She spat on her hanky and scrubbed the first layer of dirt from the indicated area.
“It’s not bleeding. You’ll live.” A pat on the bum and I was on my way, head hanging.
I just wanted to fit in with my friends. Kevin had a bandage on his head, and Derek wore leg irons. Kevin said he had a brown pony called Chancer, but he never brought it to show me so I wasn’t convinced. Helen said ponies weren’t for little boys because they cost lots and poo loads. Sally told me how she used to have a really bad tummy ache but then it went. I had decided to pretend that I banged my knee, not wanting to be the odd one out. Sally had long blonde plaits tied with big blue bows. Her gingham dress was always clean no matter how long we played on the dusty floor. Her eyes were the palest blue and her eyebrows almost white. She said I was lucky to see my mum every day. Her grandma took her to see hers sometimes, but when she got there, she didn’t think her mum could see her, although her baby brother would sometimes smile in her direction. She just wanted her mother to know that the tummy ache was all better now. She didn’t want her to be sad. I told her my mummy got sad sometimes too.
Strange to recall now that I so yearned to be like my spirit friends, when before long I would be trying to ignore them all in a bid to fit in with my peers at school.
Back then there was a comic-book character called Casper. He was a friendly white lump with a wispy tail who floated along and got into all kinds of mischief. I liked the cartoon but made absolutely no correlation between this ‘ghost’ and the people I saw. I knew they were not quite the same as my mother and my siblings, not so solid, but they were just people and not spooky at all.
When children pass over they are looked after in the spirit world by adoptive guardians, often a relative. Whether they have tragically died young, been miscarried or aborted, they will learn, develop and have a childhood as they would have on Earth if their lives had not been cut short. They play with other children on either side of the veil and from time to time they are brought to visit their parents and family on Earth. So it was with Sally and my other childhood friends.
Children born of any era, any culture are only a breath away from the spirit world they so recently left behind. Like a dream they can’t quite remember, their subconscious knows there is something more and is fearless to embrace it. This is why there are so many instances of children seeing family members long gone or having ‘imaginary’ friends. A new-born baby will look and smile over your shoulder at invisible faces come to say hello. These little ones are as close to pure spirit as you will see in this world. Up to the age of two they are naturally psychic, but between two and five years old it begins to fade. As the years roll on our senses are corrupted by earthly boundaries and expectations, and a mist descends between worlds. Not so with me. I was wired differently somehow, and that veil never fell.
There came a time before too long when the weird things I saw and the strange facts I knew became a source of concern to my family. I was not growing out of it as expected, and they began to worry and wonder what was wrong with me long before I realised that I was different.
One hazy summer afternoon Mum was washing dishes after dinner as Tim and I played with our cars, the linoleum flooring hard beneath our bony knees. A spotlight of sunshine streamed down on us from the window, showing dust in the air from the newly beaten rug.
“When Uncle Bill comes on Sunday can I wear a different shirt?” I asked without looking up. I was wearing one of Tim’s cast offs which was still a little big and scratched me at the neck.
Mum turned, drying her hands on her apron. When she didn’t reply, I glanced up at her. She was staring at me with a puzzled expression. Tim crashed his car into mine as I turned away and the question was lost to a brotherly scrap and a telling off.
Uncle Bill was a relative I had never met who had not visited with us since I had been born. When Sunday came and so did he, my mother’s smiles of welcome were peppered with worried glances in my direction.
“How did you know he was coming?” she asked that night after our Bible story. I couldn’t explain. The truth is I didn’t know. I hadn’t seen or heard anything, I just knew.
As events like this became more common, my mum wasn’t sure if it was my sanity or hers she should fear for. The things I said repeatedly came true, and she could no longer ignore my strange behaviour. The last straw came when I ran in from the garden one afternoon that same summer. Washing my hands I asked mum if Aunt Bessie was staying for tea. She was a homely old lady who had been pushing me on the rope swing and telling funny stories. At this Mum suddenly dropped the trifle (incidentally I was devastated at the loss). Apparently this sweet little lady had died many years before I was born.
By the time I was nine or ten the shock which my odd revelations had initially generated was petering out. Mum was still worried, I could sense it, but talk of my latest spirit pal was no longer the talk of the two up, two down Drew house. Helen married and went on to have three children. Motherhood didn’t daunt her. As she always said, she had done it all before with me and Tim. After her first little boy she longed for a girl, and despite my advice that she would never have one, bought pink in preparation for each of the next two babies. She had three boys.
When my eldest sister Annette moved away to be a nurse, I proudly occupied the box room she vacated. No more sharing with Tim. I was quite the grown up!
It was in this bedroom one freezing November night that I saw what I thought was an angel. Mum always left the landing light on, and the bedroom door open just a crack so that it shone in, but I loved the dark. There is something of the spirit in the still, velvet blackness. Now that I didn’t have to share with my brother I was free to shut the door tight, lie back and just enjoy the peace. I was beginning to relax one night, my icy feet thawing beneath the covers, when a silent flash bathed the tiny room in a golden light. At the centre of the light, just in front of my wardrobe was a beautiful young woman with blonde, shoulder length hair and clothes that twinkled silver. I could look right at her without being dazzled. No wings. Maybe not an angel after all? (The ones on the Christmas cards always had wings). Her face was kind. She smiled at me in silence for some time before she spoke.
“I’m your sister.” She paused, then added, “Patricia”.
This was a lovely lady, but she was obviously mistaken. Perhaps in the wrong house. I ventured to correct her in my Sunday best voice.
“I am very sorry, but I haven’t got a sister called Patricia. I have got two sisters, Helen and Annette and a brother. My name is David.”
Her knowing smile widened, and suddenly the room was dark again.
The next morning I dawdled downstairs, following the steam and chatter, to find Tim at the breakfast table, already writing his name in golden syrup on porridge, and mum warming my shirt by the oven. I had just begun my own signature when I remembered my night time visitor. Mum stood behind me, busy at the cooker.
“Last night when I was going to sleep I saw a lady who said she was my sister.” I took a mouthful. “She wasn’t like the others.” I mused. “She looked like an angel. Her name was Patricia.”
Tim, who had been disinterested in my story up to now, was suddenly looking over my shoulder, spoon poised, at the back of our mother’s head. I turned in my seat. Her shoulders were shaking. What was happening? Surely she wasn’t crying? Mum was a strong woman. She had to be. Life had not been easy for her. The death of her mother found her running the family home, looking after her dad and siblings at the age of fourteen. My father had led her a dance, spending more time and money in the pub than on the family. She was rock solid no matter what, but now I had upset her. I had shaken the unshakable and our foundations were unexpectedly crumbling around us. She took a tea towel from the counter, sank into her chair by the fire and sobbed like her heart would break.
Tears began to well in me too. What had I done? We finished our breakfast in silence. Tim was wide eyed as he passed my balaclava. We shouted awkward goodbyes and began the walk to school. My steps were heavy and my mind elsewhere. I didn’t realise how much my seeing people upset Mum. Was she really so worried? Something I said had made her sad. I couldn’t bear it. Why was I like this? I decided to turn my back on my spirit friends from now on and be normal. I did try, and for a while and almost succeeded, but ignoring every third person you encounter is not as easy as it sounds, and in the end I couldn’t maintain it.
I suppose you would call us latchkey kids. When we let ourselves in that night after school Tim took the task of peeling the potatoes while I consulted the note on the table to receive my directions.
‘Peel the potatoes and put them on to boil. Put the sausages in the oven – Gas 5. Will be home around 6. Mam.’
I lit the oven before collaborating with my big brother. I was hoping for some theories as to what was wrong with Mum, but he was as confused as I was by her reaction. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reception I would get when she got home. Would she still be sad? Angry? Maybe she had forgotten all about it. We decided to lay the table and hope for the latter.
Just after six she came home looking shattered. Throwing off her headscarf and coat, she checked the cooker before calling us to the kitchen table.
“I need to tell you something boys.” She spoke slowly without interruption. “Before you were born I had a baby girl. My first born, but she was born dead. They call it ‘stillborn’.” There was a pause as we took it in. “She was beautiful!” Now the tears came, but this time with some control. I guessed she had probably been crying all day.
“I held her for half an hour before they took her away. We had a little ceremony in the hospital.” She looked me square in the eye. “We named her Patricia.”
The beautiful lady was my sister after all. She had been telling the truth. Patricia had died as a baby and grown in the spirit world. No wonder she looked so angelic. She never spent a day on Earth. Babies who are still born, miscarried or aborted pass over without committing any sin. When we are born, we all begin with a clean slate. In time, we are presented with worldly situations that stir emotions in us such as jealousy, greed and anger. Life presents us with test after test, but not so for Patricia.
As I grew older, the spirit children appeared less often, but unexpected visitors still took me by surprise from time to time. A hooded monk would periodically appear in the corner by my wardrobe. I never saw the face beneath his hood and he never spoke to me, but he brought an air of serenity so that I soon realised there was nothing to fear. When I woke the next morning I found I had absorbed knowledge from him while I slept. It was quite amazing. Night time in my box room sanctuary became home to the strange and wonderful, and I fell asleep each evening wondering if there would be a mystery guest before morning. When I anticipated them there seldom was, as though they preferred to arrive unannounced.
One such evening whilst sound asleep, I was startled back to consciousness by a loud crack and an explosion of light. It filled the whole room and shimmered from floor to ceiling. Assembling my wits, I dragged into focus an enormous shape at the foot of my bed and for a moment or two I was unsure if I was still dreaming. As the figure spoke my eyes adjusted to the light and my jaw dropped.
“Good Evening,” the voice boomed, “I am Blue Cloud.”
Is that even a name? I decided not to ask. I have never seen such an imposing man in all my life. Alive or dead here was a man to be reckoned with. His face bore deep furrows and was almost grey in colour. A magnificent feather headdress of coloured light trailed around him, down from the ceiling, past his bare chest and suede trousers, stopping just short of my bedside rug. I peered out from the blankets and as I thought back to cowboy and Indian games, hoped the big chief had come in peace! I could not begin to imagine why such a character would want to visit a ten-year old boy in the West Midlands, but I was not prepared to question such a commanding presence. As he spoke, I realised that this was certainly no dream.
“I am here to help and guide you in your life’s work.” His arms were folded and his expression stern, but he radiated such a feeling of love that although I felt a little daunted, I was not afraid.
“Thank you,” I managed, with absolutely no idea what he meant. “Everyone’s asleep!” I hoped he might take the hint and keep his voice down. I was sure the family would hear and burst in at any moment.
He bowed his head. There was an awkward silence, and I felt that since he had taken the trouble to come, I should say something.
“H-Has it been a long time s-since you were on Earth?” I stammered. I wasn’t sure of the proper way to word this and tried not to say ‘dead’ in case he took it as an insult. Here was a person I didn’t want to upset! The big man raised his chin, eyes cast down and turned his head to profile. Expanding his chest he drew himself up to what seemed like ten feet.
“I passed in 1647. Age one hundred and twenty-four.” His expression remained serious.
I eyed him suspiciously. He looked about sixty to me.
“I have been with you for a very long time – many, many years. I am only ever a thought away.”
There was a blast of cold air and the room returned to darkness. He was gone, like a genie disappearing back into the lamp. I lay there for some time, holding my breath, unable to move as I tried to digest what just happened. How could he have known me for many years when I had only been alive for ten? The atmosphere seemed electrified even after he left, like the energy that hangs in the air after a storm. I stared into the blackness, exhilarated and hoping he would reappear until my eyes grew weary and sleep came to take me.
In the months and years that followed Blue Cloud and I became close companions. Despite his commanding presence, when I looked beyond the facade he was warm and sensitive as well as powerful and wise. Only his sense of humour needed work. I found that if I thought about him, he would appear beside me or I would hear him at my shoulder. I discovered I could speak to him telepathically, which avoided the inevitable strange looks from conversing with a Native American chief on the walk to school. He would stand beside me silently as I sat in the park at lunchtime, hungry but too ashamed to queue for the leftovers that were allocated to the kids who had free school meals. I realised then that I never had to be alone. I could call on him any time for help and support. As a schoolboy it seemed to me I had my very own genie.
Down to Earth
During the year that followed, Mum decided the appropriate thing to do would be to have me medically checked. Although there was no logical explanation for the things I said coming true, she needed to confirm for her peace of mind that all my screws were intact.
Our first visit to the family doctor in Smethwick was somewhat pointless. She explained to him that I saw and heard things, and we were humoured, fobbed off then shown the door. My mother’s Welsh tenacity however, was not to be underestimated. As her anxiety grew, she took me back to Dr Watt time and time again, until at last he agreed to investigate further, and referred me to a child psychiatrist in Birmingham. I could see she was relieved by this, but for my part I was unimpressed. At first I was mildly irritated by the looming appointment. It was a minor nuisance having to catch two buses then hang around for hours on a cold, hard chair surrounded by pot plants. Mum seemed to think it was a positive development and when the day came I was happy to view the situation as a welcome opportunity of an afternoon off school.
My mother was called into the large wooden panelled room first, and the stick thin receptionist assured me that I would not be waiting long. She was wrong. Time crept on and I became increasingly bored, swinging my legs and counting the floor tiles. On the window sill, a starling fluffed up his trembling gullet as he bip-bipped, then warbled to the sleek hen bird who came and went on the ledge. It sounded like he was tuning in Mum’s old radio. Eventually, the door opened, and Mum beckoned me in.
Behind a massive mahogany desk sat a tweed-suited, badger-like gentleman peering over half-moon spectacles. He smelled of TCP and Old Spice. His hair was a wispy grey, and his matching goatee swayed as he sucked his tongue. Mum settled me into a leather chair, smiled at us both in turn, then left me to my fate. Somewhere a loud clock ticked and as I waited for him to speak I began to fidget nervously.
“Now then young man! Let’s have a chat. Tell me what it is you imagine seeing.”
With that one sentence, my opinion of the good doctor was rubber stamped. I realised now for the first time that he suspected I was loopy! Managing to refrain from commenting that one of us certainly was crackers, and it wasn’t me, I answered him politely, although with hindsight I am sure my suppressed vexation was evident.
I told him firmly that I didn’t ‘imagine’ seeing anything, and that these people were very real.
He tapped the pen on his chin and mumbled, “I see, I see…”
“No, you don’t see. But I do!” My response took him by surprise.
His forehead made wavy lines like a toddler’s drawing of the sea, then a courteous and heavily disguised interrogation ensued, accompanied by lots of peering, scribbling and a little humming. When at last he had presented me with all his stupid questions, I peeled my legs from the leather seat and called my mother in so that she could hear his conclusion. As the doctor spoke, he leant back in his chair, and I caught a glint from the gold watch chain festooned across his waistcoat. I couldn’t help wondering if I was about to be hypnotised. That might be fun.
The reality was less entertaining. It was clear that he was unsure what to make of me. He sieved various unfamiliar words such as ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘psychological’ through his beetling moustache, before explaining I would need several consultations if he were to reach a diagnosis.
On the bus journey home I thought about what badger man had said, and for the first time in my life it occurred to me that I might be not only different but abnormal. I certainly didn’t conform to what people considered ‘the norm’. Might I actually have something mentally wrong with me? I tried to read Mum’s face for clues. She was watching the shops drift by through the rainy window with a faraway expression as she fiddled with her gloves. I couldn’t read her. I wondered if she was annoyed with me for some reason. She seemed upset or perhaps afraid.
That night as I lay awake, Blue Cloud appeared by the door. I eyed him in silence.
“What do you see?” He asked.
“You.” I snapped, puzzled by the question.
“Am I real or imaginary?” He stumbled over the last word but I knew what he meant.
I hesitated. “Real.”
“And are you awake or asleep?”
“Awake.” I answered.
He gave a nod. “It is good!”
He emphasised these three departing words with clarity and deliberation. In the years to follow he would repeat this phrase many times. My friend had come to reassure me. I turned over and went to sleep.
There were to be two more appointments with the nutty professor. On my last visit, he leant against the bookcase and, observing my eyes drifting to his left, asked me to tell him exactly what I was seeing. A kindly looking lady beside him nodded and smiled as I described her in my childish vocabulary. I waited for the next question, but it didn’t come. She spoke softly, a few sentences which I cannot recall but which I relayed to him verbatim. The colour in his face began to fade until it matched his beard. He fell silent, took three shaky steps toward his desk then took a seat, eventually asking me to fetch my mother.
His demeanour seemed different somehow. The air of certainty was gone, and his voice was low. The good doctor ventured that perhaps this was not a medical matter after all. He would not need to see me again.
I thought about his words on the way home, relieved to have been discharged.
“I don’t understand it, and quite frankly I don’t think I want to.”
Putting this short period of self-doubt and concern behind me, I focused in the days ahead on discovering why I was different. There must be a reason for my being this way. I searched for answers where I could, waiting for the one that just felt right. At first, nothing did. I spoke to God daily. Even at this young age I knew He had the answer. I had been weaned on nightly Bible stories and attended Sunday school from the age of eight. When I thought of Jesus, the disciples and apostles it was like coming home. I was sure that God had a purpose for my life. There had to be a reason for this.
In school my R.E. teacher, Mr Spafford recognised in me an enthusiasm for the subject rarely found in a thirteen-year-old boy. He discussed ethics and religion with me, although we did not always agree. He encouraged me to take morning assembly in the school hall, which I did several times, standing proudly on stage in my hand me down uniform. There would be hymns then I would read a passage from the New Testament followed by a short spiritually motivated talk which I had prepared for in class.
I delighted in studying the Bible, reading and re-reading the time honoured stories, and while I accepted the gist, I was sure that the different versions and translations must have been open to a degree of personal interpretation. It was like a beautiful garden that had become overgrown with the weeds of human error. I desperately longed to chop away at those weeds, and then the realisation hit me like a thunderbolt, I felt a calling to become a vicar or priest. I wanted to help people, reassure them about death and teach them about God.
Mother took the news with a raised eyebrow but without rebuke. Her father had been a lay preacher in the Pentecostal Chapel so the idea was not entirely alien, although I doubt she ever expected such designs from either of her rough and tumble sons.
A little research revealed that Christian religions wore many hats, and it became apparent that I needed to find the one that fitted me. I had attended the Baptist Church on Londonderry Lane from the age of twelve, mainly because one had to be a member of the congregation to join the Boy’s Brigade, which opened magical portals to such delights as the youth club and five a side football matches. Having already ticked this box I decided to try the Catholic Church next. The building was newly built in brick with a large white cross on the outer wall. I enjoyed several Sunday services there and a few weeks later attended a Methodist Church followed by the Church of England. I was very confused by the similarity. One God, as far as I could tell one Bible, one set of values. What was the purpose of so many different Christian religions? I would sit on the back pew or kneel on the hassock listening to vicars, and from time to time it would be clear to me that their heart wasn’t in it. It seemed to me that they were reciting and chanting but not feeling. Once or twice I would just know that the lesson they were preaching was missing the point. I don’t know how I knew, and after all, who was I to sit there silently challenging age-old religious teachings? Nonetheless, in my heart I couldn’t help it. On the streets of Birmingham I had seen the homeless huddled in doorways, and could not comprehend why the churches didn’t open their doors to them. Perhaps they feared their golden candlesticks might be stolen. If so I mused that God would probably prefer them to sell their expensive fixtures, use the money to help these people and thereby eliminate the problem. It made sense to me if no one else.
When members of the congregation chatted at fundraising coffee mornings and the like, they mostly told me that I must believe every word of the Bible. They didn’t seem to accept it was written by men who had their personal views and perspectives, or that it had been open to several quite possibly questionable translations. I was puzzled by this. If they actually believed that the Bible in its entirety was the infallible word of God, then why did they shave or cut the hair on the sides of their head, eat pork and shellfish, wear clothes made of more than one cloth and summon the people to prayer with bells? As I read the Bible I discovered all these things were forbidden, yet the people who preached it overlooked this.
In the book of Luke 18:38 it states, ‘But the disciples did not understand any of these things. The meaning of the words was hidden from them, and they did not know what Jesus was talking about.’ If the people who knew Jesus did not understand, then surely as the word was passed down there is a strong possibility that there could have been mistakes.
There were many other anomalies. Nowhere in the New Testament could I find reference to there being a stable where Jesus was born or any reference to three ‘kings’. I still believed in Jesus and the framework of the stories, but would frequently come across something I could not accept. For example; Genesis 3:8 God not being able to find Adam, or Genesis 32, God wrestling with Jacob and pleading for him to let Him go.
Nonetheless, I was happy to accept that there could be another explanation for these strange writings rather than turn my back on the Christian religion with an all or nothing kind of attitude.
It soon became apparent, once I had tested the water, that there was a good chance that religion would be the one to turn its back on me. It seemed that anyone who spoke to the dead was considered to be the spawn of the devil! All of the churches I visited, even though they believed in spirit, did not think that people should communicate with them after death. Since spirit made contact with me whether I liked it or not, I concluded I would quickly be blackballed if I tried to join the clergy. I could never quite grasp the logic that they believed in life after death, but not that you should find out about it. Death is a journey that everyone must make, and as with any journey, it is natural to want to prepare. If they were travelling to a foreign country, I am sure they would first find out about it, what the climate was like, what would be needed there, perhaps even talk to someone who had already been. Why was the subject so taboo? Crestfallen I did try to change their attitude by quoting the scripture. In Mathew 17:1 Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah, who were both long dead, but apparently this is one situation where it is frowned upon to follow His example.
The Nicine Creed begins, ‘I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible.’ I could not understand that the Christian faith acknowledges the unseen as being Godly, then condemns in practice what they declare in words.
I realised that there was a further obstacle. If I were a priest I would probably have to abide by precisely what the church wanted me to preach. I had a problem with many of their interpretations so it became obvious I would have to re-think my vocation.
One weekend during the long summer holidays I noticed a turbaned gentleman putting flowers outside a Sikh temple. The fascia reminded me of the wooden building blocks I played with as a boy. Pillars with a triangle balanced on top and semi-circle arches over the doorways. All that was missing were the bright colours. I paused in thought, and as I did so, the man glanced across at me and smiled. This friendly gesture encouraged me to cross the road and ask if anyone could worship there. I explained that I was not Sikh. He made me welcome and explained a few traditions. Intrigued, I removed my shoes and went inside. The service was pleasant and informative, and the people were very kind. Maybe there were more avenues to explore than I realised.
My horizons broadened, I went the following week to a Synagogue and then a Mosque. I learned that Islam is a peaceful religion, and I am saddened now to think how extreme ideology is poisoning it. I soon realised that each of these religions were well meaning and held a lot of truth, but for me, none had got it just right. People were sorting themselves into boxes labelled by religion, and then fighting each other. I was sure this was not what God intended. Religion is manmade. Men have taken a snippet of truth, manipulated it, adapted it and added an idea or two of their own in order to gain power. But that does not detract from God. It is man who is flawed.
Still I felt a yearning inside. I was frustrated and unsure in my direction. I knew I was here for some reason, and I knew I wanted to help people, but finding the pathway which allowed me to do it was not so easy. I felt sure there was one God and that it didn’t matter what you called Him or which road you took to reach Him. If you love Him and love each other, then surely the other teachings take care of themselves? If all religions could open their minds and hearts to each other, I was convinced that the world would take a step in the right direction. A quotation by Rumi summed up just how I felt.
‘I looked in Temples, Churches and Mosques, But I found the Divine within my heart.’
We do not go to church to find God. We take Him with us.
Despite my career plans being thwarted, life went on. School work, football, completing my Duke of Edinburgh Award and ignoring the invisible people who tried to get my attention in public places made up my week’s itinerary. Mum was more intrigued than worried now regarding what I saw, and she began to open up and tell neighbours and relatives all about it. Some of them were so fascinated that it became commonplace for me to return home from school only to find some stranger sitting in the parlour wanting me to tell them what I saw. When my Auntie Ella visited, she would hand me her empty cup and ask me to read the tea leaves. I would hold it to humour her and just tell her what I saw. Sometimes I would see people in spirit, but not necessarily hear them. At other times, I would hear a voice but not see anyone. New experiences began to evolve as people came to sit before me. The glow that I had always seen around people, not unlike the one on that hot cereal advert, began to change colour and sometimes I would be shown pictures within it as those in spirit tried to convey some message to my guest. I didn’t always understand what these pictures meant, but as I experienced them more and more, I began to work out what the signs and symbols represented. A tree branching in two directions was a parting of some kind, the passing of a partner or possibly a divorce, a building that moved was a house move, the offering of a plate represented an opportunity and so on. I also noticed a pattern in the changing colours. Troubled people had a cloudy grey mist; an aggressive person was cloaked in dark red and a considerate, unselfish person in orange.
One ordinary day there was an interesting development. I have learned that very little in this world happens by accident. What my mother described as a chance meeting at a bus stop one November afternoon, with hindsight was quite obviously no coincidence.
She was standing in the shelter one Friday afternoon on the way to collect her wages from the Town Hall, when an elderly lady, who at five feet two inches was still considerably taller than she was, engaged her in conversation. As they chatted, the woman’s warm and engaging demeanour encouraged my mum to open up about her concerns regarding her youngest son and his strange visions. The lady lit up, explaining that she understood all about this kind of thing and she introduced herself as Nelly Woolley, President of Smethwick Spiritualist Church. She offered to help, assuring my mother that there was nothing to worry about. That evening mum came home with a spring in her step and an appointment for us to meet with this fascinating lady the following Tuesday after school.
Jumping down from the bus that evening, I caught up with my mum who was consulting a scrap of paper as she walked. Her heels clip-clopped on the uneven paving slabs and came to rest outside the tiny terraced house. Mum looked me up and down and once satisfied with my appearance she straightened her hat and knocked twice on the bright blue door. A slight lady with silver hair, fair skin and blue rimmed glasses welcomed us in. I followed the women, wondering how much grown up talk I would be made to endure. The house was larger than it appeared from the outside. We entered the hall, passing an immaculately kept lounge on the left before entering the cosy living room situated at the end of a shadowy corridor. A kettle rattled on the kitchen stove beyond, and I settled into a faded wing back chair to await biscuits and the approaching chink of china cups on melamine tray.
Mrs Woolley perched on the floral patterned chair opposite mine and as the nattering commenced my eyes wandered to the heavy red drapes, alabaster figurines and wall full of old books. I breathed in their fusty smell and wondered if she had read them all. The atmosphere was warm and friendly. As the adults spoke, I began to sense spirit all around us. I felt comfortable and safe.
Suddenly she turned from my mother and smiled directly at me.
“I can see a giant of a man behind you David. He is dressed like a North American Indian.”
I froze, cup in hand. My eyes must have been as large as the saucer I held, but I couldn’t speak. Now she had my attention.
“His name is…… something Blue.”
I swallowed the tea. “Blue Cloud,” I said.
“Yes! That’s him.” She leant forward and smiled. “He’s your spirit guide, and he will always be with you.”
I had never met a living soul who could see what I saw, and had come to believe, in my naivety, that I never would.
I listened awestruck as she went on to explain that she had seen spirit all of her life, then she asked me if I saw anyone with her. Thus began an exciting ping pong match of who saw what with who, going back and forth between us until I noticed my mother’s expression. Her eyes were glossy with a mixture of relief and amazement. She must have felt very out of place. There was no history of psychics in our family, no hint of anyone else with these gifts, so this was very much unchartered territory for her. In this house, she was the odd one out, and I knew that feeling well. I had found someone else who could see and hear the things I did, and more importantly, I felt reassured that she had verified my sanity.
This day marked the beginning of a very unlikely friendship between a fourteen-year-old boy and a seventy-five-year-old woman. Mrs Woolley was an inspirational lady and over the years that followed, I came to love her dearly. I called at her house most days after school, and we talked for hours. She would have a cup of tea, an ashtray and a strawberry flan waiting for me, and I would sit enthralled as she explained the names of the psychic gifts, and how they could be a blessing or a curse.
She told me that we each have a spirit guide who is with us whenever needed, but steps behind a curtain in more private moments. In addition we have many helpers who may come and go as required.
I was unfamiliar with the word ‘psychic’ and was relieved when she told me that it only meant that I was perceptive concerning spiritual influences. All natural mediums are very sensitive by nature. When I saw people in spirit, it was apparently called clairvoyance, meaning ‘clear seeing’. What is more, there are two types of clairvoyance, objective when I saw spirit with my eyes, and subjective where people may see pictures in their head.
When I heard them speak to me, it was called clairaudience. Mrs Woolley told me how many mediums were only clairsentient, meaning they neither see nor hear, but merely sense the spirit world.
I learned that the glow I saw around people was called the Aura. It is the life force of all living things, which is the reason I also see it around animals and growing plants, and why it fades from the flower in the vase as it dies. In humans, it is considered the clothing of the spirit. When we die, it deserts the corpse and goes with our spirit to the next world. There are many layers to the aura, rather like a rainbow, and it can stretch outwards from the body for up to three feet or even further, although clarity does diminish towards the edge. By studying the aura, which is constantly changing with mood and circumstances, one can learn about a person’s emotions, personality, the conditions around them and any health problems they may have. Mrs Woolley explained to me that although most people do not see the aura, many are aware of it. They will instinctively know for example when someone is standing behind them as they feel their auras touch.
In the playground I tried it with my ‘normal’ friends. They held out their arms, with hands about two feet apart, then they slowly moved their palms together. When they were still inches away, the boys reported feeling a force, like repelling magnets, which grew stronger as their hands moved closer together. I explained that they were feeling the aura. In another playground game, a selected child faces the wall and tries to catch playmates who sneak up behind them. You can feel when someone is behind you, auras touching, without seeing or hearing anything. You may have noticed this yourself when standing in queues.
On the advice of my new mentor, I attend my first Sunday service at the Spiritualist Church on Thimblemill Road in Smethwick. Despite all my searching I had never heard of this religion, so I set about learning what I could. Spiritualism has its roots in the belief in survival after death. There are various spiritualist groups around the world which differ in the detail of their faith. In 1848 in Hydesville New York, modern spiritualism was born when the Fox sisters first documented spirit communication in the form of knockings in their house. The girls would ask questions and were answered in a code of raps. In 1862 President Lincoln visited medium Nettie Maynard, whose guide told him that war would not end until slavery was abolished. It was just days afterwards that he declared all slaves in the United States were to be set free. Our own Queen Victoria frequently visited a medium after the death of her husband, and Prime Minister William Gladstone was quoted as saying. ‘Psychic research is the most important work which is being done in the world today.’
By the 1870s, many spiritualist groups were calling themselves churches. The movement began to grow, reaching a peak between the world wars. In 1931 The Greater World Christian Spiritualist League was formed with the aim of uniting churches and individuals. They were inspired by Christian teachings but added the truth of survival after death.
Like any other place of worship, the reason to attend a Spiritualist Church should be to praise God. If you receive a message from a loved one, that is a bonus, but it should not be the reason for your visit.
The brick built building on Thimblemill Road had been sold to Spiritualists by the Catholic Church when they moved to their lovely new location. Although they utterly abhorred the practice of contacting the spirit world, it seems they were not averse to selling their church to Spiritualists, whose meetings were historically hidden in back rooms for fear of reproach. No group of people have been more misunderstood than mediums. At one time they were worshipped, then they were burned as witches. In modern days, they figure as mystics or cranks. Little wonder then that many psychics hide their experiences from the world rather than be laughed at or condemned. Modern spiritualism was now out of the closet however, and the Smethwick church was fantastic. The heart of a church is not bricks and mortar but the harmony created by the people who meet there to pray, however it was nice somehow to be able to meet in a purpose-built church.
I ventured inside and sat on the back row, trying to be inconspicuous. Around fifty people sat in the pews which stretched out before me to the rostrum, where Mrs Woolley sat next to an elderly lady which the posters named as ‘Sally Fergusson’. The atmosphere was pleasant and sociable. After a couple of hymns, Mrs Fergusson was introduced as the guest medium and slowly stood up to speak. She was a wiry lady with grey hair and a cheerful disposition. After giving a short talk on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man she began to point to members of the congregation, telling them who was with them in the spirit world and what advice they had to offer. Here was a place where a person who sees dead people was not only accepted but welcomed. As I pondered on this, thinking myself safely hidden in the crowd, I heard these words,
“I want to come to the young man at the back.”
Everyone turned to look at my crimson face. I felt exposed.
“You are very psychic my dear, and one day you will be doing what I am doing now. I can see from the colours in your aura, purple, blue and green that you should be healing.”
With that, she moved on, and I was left to recover my composure. In theory I knew that I was capable of passing messages on, but could not in a million years envisage myself doing it in front of such a huge crowd of people. As for healing, I was confused as to what this meant so I asked Mrs. Woolley about it the following day after school.
Spiritual Healing is a very real power. It is a sacred gift that is as old as the world itself. It is not to be confused with faith healing which implies that faith is required, as babies, animals and people who do not believe are also cured. The healing energy comes from God and is channelled through angels, then those in the spirit world, (often doctors), and it is then administered through the healer’s hands, the last link in the chain. The healer is a passive instrument. The benefits are genuine and results vary from pain relief to a complete and lasting cure. The underlying principle of spiritual healing is that we are all intended to live our lives in good health until it is time to pass over. Any deviation from perfect health is contrary to nature’s intent. Illness is a state of imbalance which needs to be corrected, whether it be physical, emotional or mental. She explained that the healer should never promise a cure, but offer it up to God and yield to His will, then she stressed that we must never discourage anyone from seeing their doctor. Spiritual healers should work hand in hand with the medical profession, not in competition with it.
Mrs Woolley invited me to sit in her circle where I could meet with a dozen or so like-minded people and develop my healing ability. They met every Friday night at her home to hold what you might call a séance. She explained that all circles are simply psychic experiments, and the results are not guaranteed. Sitters would share their experiences and develop their own psychic gifts. She described me as a natural medium and said she was sure that despite my age (it was usually unheard of for a minor to sit) I would be at home with the experience, and it would be of benefit to me.
Friday came, and as I entered the house which was by now a home from home, it was apparent that I was the last to arrive. Every chair and standing space in the living room was occupied, and ten unfamiliar smiles welcomed me like an old friend. They were evidently expecting me. There were only two men, and all the sitters were aged between fifty and eighty. Mrs Woolley introduced me to the group as they sipped their tea, but I was too overawed for the names to stick. One lady, Mrs Delaney reminded me of Ena Sharples of ‘Coronation Street’ fame, complete with hairnet and dowdy full length overcoat, which she seemed reluctant to remove.
Everyone exchanged mundane chit-chat until the mantle clock struck seven and the group arranged their chairs into a circle. There were bentwood dining chairs, wing back arm chairs and a couple of stools brought in from the kitchen. I sat next to Mrs Woolley, who told me to relax and breathe deeply. The man in a blue pullover lit the candle on the small mahogany table in the centre of the group, and a lady called Margaret simultaneously reached to switch off the lights. Mrs Woolley began with a prayer, asking for guidance and protection. Some soft instrumental music played in the background and as I began to unwind a cold breeze rippled around my feet, despite the fact that my face was burning hot. Temperature anomalies were apparently a common occurrence within the circle.
The candle flickered, throwing giant dancing shadows on the walls, and as my eyes relaxed into the monochrome surroundings, I began to see spirit all around. The shapes of relatives and friends faded in around the other sitters, but there were other characters who seemed more out of place. These multi-cultural and old fashioned people were the guides and helpers of the group members. One of the gentlemen whispered that he could see a small clown beside me with a bowler hat and a big flower. Mrs Woolley explained that this was a spirit helper of mine. We have one guide who stays with us from birth she told me, and several helpers who may come and go as required. I looked to my left and was perplexed that I couldn’t see him. I learned that there are many different dimensions, like channels on a radio, and it depends on which wavelength you are tuned in to as to who you can see. Stranger still, you may see two people in spirit who are from different dimensions and can therefore not see each other. The spirit world was not as straightforward as I had assumed.
After the closing prayer, the lights were switched on, and the candle extinguished with a wish. Everyone took a moment to come back to earth before restoring the room to its former glory. I had never felt so peaceful, relaxed and invigorated all at the same time, as though I had experienced a kind of spiritual shower.
It was not long before the little clown made himself known to me in person. He began to crop up in the most unlikely situations, often making me laugh at the most inconvenient moment. I noticed that he tended to appear when I was stressed or feeling down. He had an incredibly infectious laugh, and I soon found myself developing an unexpected affection for my little helper. His clothes reminded me of Charlie Chaplain but his face was painted white, and he wore the traditional red nose. In quieter moments when he stopped playing the fool, he told me that his name was Pepe and that he came from Italy. When I asked how he passed to spirit, he looked sad, and I saw for the first time a glimpse of the real man. In softer tones he explained that an acrobat had fallen from the trapeze during the circus performance and the clowns were sent in to distract the distressed crowd. Children were crying as she was carried off and Pepe was desperate to cheer them up. He climbed up to the high wire, fooling around all the time. He had walked the tightrope many times, but before reaching safety of the platform, his foot slipped and he fell to his death before the eyes of the audience. His remorse was visible even after all these years.
“It was my job to cheer people up. Sometimes there were mums, dads and kids and I had to make them all laugh. I had to make them happy. The dads were always the ones – they sat with long faces. Mums were OK, and it was easy to make the kids laugh, but it wasn’t easy to make the dads happy. You know how I made the dads happy? I made the kids happy first. If the son is happy the father is happy.”
He confessed sadly that he made everyone unhappy that day. He wanted to make them laugh, but instead he made them cry.
Each Friday I returned to the circle, learning and experiencing new things in the company of people who thought like I did. Some of them had been patiently sitting for years even though they hardly saw anything themselves. Their dedication was not lost on me.
On one occasion, just before the circle, Mrs Delaney remarked that she had a headache, and I was encouraged by Mrs Woolley to place my hands on her head and ‘tune in’, as she put it, to the spirit world. In the instant she sat before me, a nauseating stabbing pain struck my temples. As I stood and prayed, I was aware of a Chinese man building up to my left. His demeanour suggested a placid and unassuming soul. He wore a traditional, conical hat and beneath his gentle smile dangled a thin grey beard. Words came softly as he explained he was here to help me with the healing, and would remain with me for as long as he was needed. He added I should call him Yeung.
Mrs Delaney was the first to tell me she felt a force, a warmth and vibration coming from my hands as the headache melted away.
From time to time, Tim would ask if he could accompany me to circle. He and I spent most of our free time playing football or wrestling in the house, to the despair of our mother and the detriment of the china cabinet we smashed. He was intrigued by my new pastime and wanted to share in it. Mrs Woolley kindly welcomed him, but he would sit like a statue, gripping my hand and sweating profusely, unable to relax at all. Afterwards, Margaret would offer us a lift home with her husband in their Reliant Robin. Tim would spend the journey vowing never to go back, but a few weeks later, like a moth to the flame, he would develop the urge to repeat the performance all over again. To this day, he is torn between fear and a fascination for the afterlife and the unusual abilities of his little brother.
After suffering a nasty knee injury while playing football one winter, Tim was told that he needed an operation. There was a lengthy waiting list and as time went on the pain began to wear him down. I decided to see if I could help. Knowing he would be far too nervous to receive contact healing, I decided to administer absent healing, which I had learned about in the Spiritualist Church. With the power of thought, which is a very real force, healing is directed to the person in need. Spirit doctors can travel in an instant to the patient’s side, no-matter where in the world they are. This would be the perfect way to ease Tim’s pain without frightening him, so one evening while he was in bed I meditated, directing my thoughts and prayers towards his injured knee before falling asleep. The next morning, far from being oblivious to the healing he had received, Tim was bursting to tell me about the terrifying experience he had during the night. My plan not to alarm him had apparently failed. He had felt himself lifting out of his body, hanging suspended above the bed while invisible hands manipulated his knee. I had to confess what I had done and explained that many people are not even aware of it when they receive absent healing. Forgiveness for the experience didn’t come until he realised his pain had almost gone, and the doctors told him he no longer needed an operation.
One Friday evening after a particularly tiring day, I was so exhausted that I almost didn’t go to circle. I toyed with the idea of an early night but at the last minute decided to make the effort. As I relaxed under the protection of the circle, my eyes began to feel heavy. Suddenly my chin dropped to my chest, and I jolted awake, heart pounding and mortified to realise that I had fallen asleep! The other circle members were staring at me. My cheeks reddened, and I began to mutter an apology, but Mrs Woolley held up her hand to stop me. She told me I had been in trance for around twenty minutes. I felt bewildered as she explained that a little girl called Rose had been using my body to speak and apparently made everyone laugh as I squirmed around on my chair. At first, I could not process this information. I was disorientated and confused, not fully understanding what had happened.
When the evening was over, and all the sitters had gone, I stayed with Mrs Woolley for a while. I was trembling inside and felt shaken and somehow out of sync with the world. We sipped sweet tea from willow patterned cups as she explained what had happened. With trance mediumship, physical phenomenon is experienced. There are varying levels of trance, and it seems I had been in deep trance and was therefore totally unaware of what was occurring. The spirit (or soul) is joined to the body by a cord which shines with a silvery light. Mine had left my body, still attached by this silver cord, and had been held in a hypnotic type state. Whilst in what I took to be a natural sleep, the spirit of Rose entered my body to communicate directly with the group. She described it as slipping a hand into a glove. I learned that the degree of control the person has over the body is variable. Some may only be able to speak whilst others have full and accurate control over the body, which is achieved by the use of psychic energy, usually drawn from the other sitters like a battery. In some instances, this energy can be used to build the facial features of the person in spirit rather than to speak. This phenomenon is called transfiguration. She stressed what a rare and precious gift this is, and although she was a trance medium herself I was surprised to learn that there are only a handful in the world.
As we parted, Mrs Wooley put her arm around my shoulder and softly told me that trance mediumship opens a door to new fields of knowledge and experience and that I should not be afraid. My guide, Blue Cloud would decide who to allow to come through, and I would be perfectly safe. She told me that spirit control can stimulate unused areas of the brain and improve psychic development.
As a regular sitter in Mrs Woolley’s circle, many people came to speak through me in trance or showed themselves by means of transfiguration. As spirit honed me as an instrument, they were eventually able to slip in and out with ease, although afterwards I was always left exhausted and disorientated. My guides and helpers regularly spoke to the group, and Rose, who in life had spina bifida, became a frequent visitor to the circle. Several other personalities would often speak through me, at the discretion of Blue Cloud, who acted as my doorkeeper. He would stand between worlds, only allowing those he deemed appropriate to occupy my body, and ensuring they didn’t stay too long. One character was a young man who would make an appearance from time to time in a highly distressed state. He would weep and cry out, unable to answer the circle members when they asked him questions. Weeks went by before he eventually offered his name as Tim. When the sitters asked what was wrong, he just said he didn’t understand, and it wasn’t fair. After several months, he became calmer and began to open up a little more, until at last one of the older members of the group realised who he was. His name was Timothy Evans, a Welshman who had been wrongfully hanged for the murder of his wife and baby daughter in 1950. His neighbour John Christie had strangled them and hidden their bodies in an outhouse. The murderer concealed his guilt by offering incriminating testimony at Timothy Evan’s trial. Three years after Evan’s execution, Christie was exposed as a serial killer when more bodies were found at his property. He had been free to murder six other women, including his wife, as a result of this miscarriage of justice. No wonder Timothy was so distraught. He had passed to spirit in the most horrific and unjust way.
When people sit in circle their guides stand behind them, creating a protective ring of highly spiritual beings. The circle itself then emits a light, which shines like a beacon throughout the spirit world. There are certain circumstances under which people pass to spirit and find themselves lost for a while in a very dark and lonely place. This may be because they have committed suicide and are very confused, or perhaps they had no belief in an afterlife and cannot comprehend that they still exist. They may find themselves in a dark environment with no physical body, and it often takes some time for them to realise that the fact that they are thinking means that they must, in some form, still be alive. In the case of Timothy Evans, his turmoil was due to his life being prematurely snatched away, leaving him feeling cheated and confused. If you were lost in the night in the middle of nowhere and you saw a light in the distance you would quite naturally gravitate toward it. Rescue circles are formed with the sole purpose of benefiting those who have died and lost their way. These people are attracted by the light and come to the circle, where people are waiting to assist them reach their destination. So it was with Timothy Evans. He felt the need to make contact with the earth and get his story and all his emotions out. Speaking to the sitters helped him come to terms with the reality of what had happened, and then he was ready to be rescued by those in spirit. Blue Cloud and the other guides were able to assist him in crossing over to where he was supposed to be, a place where he could learn and progress. His visits to our circle then came to an end, and we did not hear from him again until around two years later, when he came back to thank us all for our help.
It was not too long before Mrs Fergusson’s prediction came true and I was coaxed into taking my place on the rostrum of the Spiritualist Church. Mum was incredibly excited. She made a special visit to the hairdressers and even bought a new hat to be sure she looked her best for the Sunday evening service. (She considered it sacrilege to be seen in church without a hat!)
As the hour approached, I began to regret my decision. My juddering nerves were only steadied by the confidence that my friends in spirit would be there for me. As I entered the church with my mother on my arm, I stopped short at the door and caught my breath. The pews were crammed, well over a hundred people had come to see me. I was not prepared for this. I had never seen such a sizeable crowd there. Mum chose a seat at the back of the room as I took my place on the rostrum, heart pounding.
As the congregation warbled the last refrain of the first hymn, I rose to my feet. The room was spinning and my legs wavered beneath me, but I gathered my senses and put one metaphorical foot firmly in the spirit world as I was introduced as the youngest medium to take a service. Here we go!
The congregation settled into their seats, and I breathed deeply, waiting for a sign. The room hushed and time seemed to slow. Come on! The silence was tangible.
Then I saw her. A girl of around twelve was standing in the aisle next to a nervous looking couple. Someone whispered “Sarah” in my ear, and I knew it would be ok. Around the room, a scattering of new arrivals formed beside their seated loved ones. An old man with a cap rested his hand gently on one lady’s shoulder, and there was even a small white dog running along the front row.
I relayed what I was seeing to the people concerned. I refused to be one of those mediums who say, “Does anyone know a George.” If I couldn’t be more specific, I moved on to the next message. I noticed that when someone in the congregation spoke back to me, the link seemed to strengthen. A ‘hello’ from the right person was all that I needed to make the message clearer. Quietly at first, but then with more confidence, I lost myself in the stories of strangers. Suddenly it seemed my allocated time was up, and I took my seat next to Mrs Wooley, who announced the final hymn. When I stepped back into this world, I was a little dazed but also extremely exhilarated. I swelled with the most satisfying sense of achievement and at last I could see a possible explanation of why I was born this way. Tearful parents, husbands and daughters gathered around me as the room began to empty. They had been comforted by the things I told them and they lingered to thank me one by one, some hoping to hear one last word from their loved one. Smiling through their tears, it seemed as though a weight had been lifted from them.
Things began to slot into place. This must surely be my purpose. I had not considered that talking to those in the spirit world could help anyone, after all, I could not bring anyone back, yet these people seemed content just to have some personal confirmation that their loved ones were living on somewhere.
Exhausted now my eyes sought out my mother. Her seat was empty, and I was tired and eager to make headway homeward. A crowd gathered at the door as they filed out onto the street and there was Mum, peacock proud at the entrance, greeting everyone as they left with the words, “That’s my son! That was my son.” All the years of worry and stress I had put her through welled in my eyes. My mum was proud of me. All was well with the world.
School, circle, football, church was perhaps not a typical adolescence. Only a few of my closest friends knew of my strange lifestyle. When playing in the football team I would glance up to see Pepe running along the side-line, his little arms and legs flailing to make me laugh. Despite such occurrences, I tried to live an otherwise normal life, with the consolation now that at least I knew I was not the only one with a foot in each world.
I was by no means squeaky clean, however. When I was fifteen, there was an incident in my geography class which resulted in my being expelled. The class was arranged in double rows of wooden, ink-welled desks, and my class mate Kevin sat to my left by the window. Our teacher, Mr Wilson, commonly known as ‘Popeye’ by his students, was droning away, erasing the last assignment from the board as he spoke through a fog of chalk dust. Turning to the class, he spotted Kevin on the front row, staring through the window in a world all his own. White mist turned to red, and Popeye lunged toward Kevin before either of us could react. He leant over me, textbook flapping, and proceeded to clout him repeatedly about the head. I ducked down but was unable to dodge the occasional incidental blow. I admit I was irritated.
“Hey, hey!” I stood up to step out of my seat. “If you are going to hit him at least let me get out of the way!”
“You have one too Drew, for your cheek!”
The thick volume landed hard on my ear.
Without stopping to think I grabbed him by the lapels and pinned him up against the blackboard, fist poised. I could taste the chalk in the air as I stared into his startled face and just about managed to stop myself from making the blow. My school days were over.
That night there was no visit from Blue Cloud, although I could feel spirit all around me. I had behaved badly. I knew I had let them down, and I was ashamed.
The next day I began to look for work. I had held a paper round for two years, which funded my secret smoking habit, but now I found myself in a position to bring a much-needed wage into the home. That Saturday afternoon on a shopping errand to nearby Bearwood, I noticed a sign in George Mason’s grocery store which indicated they were in need of staff. I went inside and expressed my interest to the serious gentleman stacking tins inside, hoping to perhaps be invited for an interview. He was tall and immaculately dressed, with glasses and a tuft of dark hair over each ear. He introduced himself as shop manager Sid Whittington, and to my surprise he gave me the job there and then. I left school that week and entered the world of work.
I was deployed to the provisions counter slicing bacon, cheese and cooked meats. My impressive weekly wage was five pounds and ten shillings, which I was proud to turn over to my mum. She duly returned one pound ten shillings to me for bus fares and lunch money.
I was happy in my work and spirit friends would pop up in the shop from time to time. Rose began to show herself to me while I was working and would rejoice in playing little tricks like poking her finger into the butter. Mr Whittington was a kindly gentleman who I soon came to look up to and respect.
One Saturday afternoon I was busy slicing ham for a lady, when I glanced up to see Mrs Woolley looking in through the shop window. She smiled hello and came inside. When I next looked up from my task, I was puzzled to see her deep in conversation with Mr Whittington. They were laughing and joking like old friends. When I was free she seized the opportunity and came across for a quick chat. It appeared that Sid Whittington was treasurer of the Spiritualist Church and a spiritual healer himself. We had each been keeping our unusual gifts to ourselves, unaware that we had shared interests.
When I look back at this period in my life, there were far too many coincidences. Mum meeting Mrs Woolley and my applying for a job with Mr Whittington were obviously opportunities presented by those in spirit to help me understand my gifts and ultimately use them to help people. Our guides and helpers put the wheels in motion every day, trying to steer us in the right direction. Unfortunately, the devil’s workers do the same in an attempt to throw us off course. The trick is to recognise which is which – not always as easy as you might think.
The Other Side: A Psychic’s Story by David Drew is available in paperback or ebook from
Or in full colour hardback by contacting David at
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