Monday, February 28, 2005

Here is a picture of a German, on a train. But is he really a 'German', or is his 'race' merely a 'social construct'? Read on to be enlightened! Posted by Hello

Here's a second picture of a 'German', in a deckchair, enjoying some down time with his 'dog'.  Posted by Hello

Here's another picture of a German, on the beach. But is he really a 'German'? etc etc Posted by Hello

Does Race Exist?

I don't always blog about bollocks. Here's something a little more serious, indeed controversial. Liberal-left firebombs to the usual address, please...

Does Race Exist?

A few weeks ago the Metropolitan Police of London announced that it could soon be seeking a change in the UK's Race Relations Act, to enable it to ‘positively discriminate’ in favour of ethnic minority recruits. Such a move would, the Met claimed, help it to speed its progress towards a workforce closer in ethnic balance to that of London’s wider population.

Just another unremarkable moment in multicultural Britain? Dig a little deeper and the picture is more curious. Given that the Met proposes to favour black and Asian people - and therefore necessarily disfavour white people - you’d imagine they would have a close and handy grasp of what constitutes ‘black’ and ‘white’. Careers, after all, are going to depend on this - how to define someone’s ‘race’. But does the Met have such a grasp?

Last week I rang up the Met and asked them how they intended to classify people by ‘race.’ The human resources officer at the Met replied: ‘We use the term “visibly ethnic minorities”’. You mean they have to be noticeably ethnic, to have brown or black skin, say? ‘That’s right.’ But what if it’s just a darker white person? ‘Well... then we go on other indications. Maybe hair. Or perhaps, you know, lips.’ They need frizzy hair to be classed as black? ‘Erm.... can I come back to you?’

A few days later a different Met Police spokesperson rang back with a different tack. ‘We go by self-declaration. It’s what people feel they are, what ethnic minority they think and feel they belong to.’ So all someone has to do is say “I feel black” - and you will treat them as black? ‘I guess so.’ Then what about a white person who falsely claims he’s black, hoping to get some positive discrimination? ‘Hm. Good question. I suppose if they were blatantly white, blatantly lying, then we would reject them.’ But what constitutes being blatantly white? Freckles? A taste for Morris Dancing? ‘Uhm, er, ’ll call you back?’

A few days later a more circumspect Met Police spokesman had another new line. ‘It’s a difficult question. We haven’t really got an answer, and we don’t want to hypothesise. In the end we go by what the Home Office tells us. Goodbye.’

To be fair to the Metropolitan Police, they are not the only interested party to have a rather flaky grasp of what ‘race’ actually means. When I rang the Institute of Race Relations, they refused to answer the question; likewise the guys at racial think-tank The Runnymede Trust. Only the Commission for Racial Equality gave a straight answer. Which was: ‘We go by what the Home Office says.’

So what does the Home Office say? These days Britain’s race laws are configured in Brussels. And in the latest EU directive concerning race (EU directive 2000/43/EC, since enshrined in the UK’s Race Relations Amendments Act of 2003) one finds this bold statement: ‘The European Union rejects theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.’

So that’s that. According to the Home Office - or at least to their superiors in Brussels - race does not exist. But hold on, if race does not exist, how come we all get in such a tizz about race all the time? Here we come to the nub of the argument. And it is a mighty argument.

On the one side of this debate is a wide swathe of sociologists, philosophers, and scientists, who truly believe that race ‘does not exist’ - scientifically speaking. These people instead believe that the concept of race is merely a social construct: something built in our own innately prejudiced minds around minor differences in human appearance. In this view, race is a biologically valueless notion.

It may sound a fairly extreme position, but at the moment the social constructionists are in the ideological ascendant - hence the EU directive. Yet they do not have the field entirely to themselves. Set against the dominant philosophy is a smaller bunch called the ‘race-realists’; this group of scientists and thinkers asserts that, though we may wish it otherwise, race is still a concept with biological meaning. They consequently reject the ideas of the constructionists.

At this point an obvious question is begged. Given that there is such a vigorous scientific argument going on, why does the EU make its tendentious remark? After all we don’t find in other EU directives any lines like: ‘The European Union does not believe in a tenth planet’, or ‘The European Union rejects the idea that tomatoes give you cancer’. So why should the EU come down so emphatically on one side of this particular scientific argument?

The answer is: because it feels it has to. Although the ‘social constructionists’ are dominant at the moment, they also know they have a fight on their hands. This fight results from the fact that most people in their daily lives still use a ‘common sense’ definition of race, a definition that could be construed as giving race serious biological significance. Indeed it’s this conflict - between our own indididual common sense view of race (race exists), and the politically dominant view of the social constructionists (race is a sinister figment) - that makes for the confused positions on race of well-meaning institutions like the Met.

So who’s right? Does race exist, biologically? Before we enter into this envenomed row, we need to define the concept ‘race’. This in itself is hard enough: over time, people have classed race as, inter alia, ‘breeding groups with fuzzy boundaries’, or ‘a population of organisms differing from others of the same species in the frequency of hereditary traits’. One of the simplest definitions is arguably the best: ‘very extended families’. But no definition is entirely satisfactory.

In any event, lack of an agreed definition has not stopped the argument. One of the main battlegrounds between the race-realists and the constructionists is human history. Ever since Nazism, the constructionists have understandably opted to attack the idea of ‘race’ through its soft underbelly of ‘racism’. What the constructionists have precisely tried to do is show that the classificatory concept of race is modern, and was invented and refined by Western thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries simply to justify the West’s slave trade. The constructionists know that if they can prove that racism is a purely modern phenomenon they are halfway to proving that ‘race’ is itself a recent invention.

Social constructionists such as Joseph Graves, an evolutionary scientist from the US, have particularly favoured this attack. In his recent book The Emperor’s New Clothes, Graves adroitly demonstrates how ‘race’ and racism were largely absent from the Hellenic and Roman worlds - which were apparently more partial to a citizen/barbarian dichotomy; Graves goes on to do the same for other ancient cultures, Iike Old Testament Israel.

Undaunted, the race realists have come back. Vincent Sarich is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley (and a world-renowned scientist). In his new book Race: The Reality of Human Differences he refutes the ‘unracist pre-modern humans’ thesis by pointing to the anti-black writings of medieval Islam. Sarich and co-writer Frank Miele quote people like the medieval Muslim geographer Idrisi: ‘Many have observed that the ape is more teachable and more intelligent than the Zanj [Africans]’.

Seen from any perspective such remarks are certainly racist - and repulsive. But their existence does not disprove the argument of the social constructionists that ‘race’ is cultural: in fact this Islamic racism arguably reinforces that argument. Medieval Islam, like the West of the 17th to 19th centuries, was a slave-trading culture. Perhaps the thinkers of Islam needed a rationale for their anti-Koranic practise of slavery; racism provided it, if so. In that light, the social constructionists are on the right track: race only achieves salience as a cultural concept in societies that need an excuse for immorally racist behaviour. But of course that does not prove that race is biologically meaningless, merely that it is socially constructed in some way.

Another big battleground is medicine. In recent years scientists have started to notice significant differences in the rates of disease, susceptibility to infection, and success of certain medical treatments, between the ‘races’. The congenital disease sickle cell anaemia is famously restricted to certain ethnic groups, for instance. Likewise, lactase intolerance (the milk-o-phobia that kicks in after weaning) is unevenly distributed across the globe. Most intriguingly, certain vital hypertension drugs seem to be more efficacious with whites than with blacks. Race-realists say with some force that this shows that race is definitely biologically significant: how much more significant can you get than the performance of life-saving drugs?

The response of the social constructionists to this argument is a big ‘so what?’ They argue that the environment is a crucial factor. How can you absent disease from its context? Moreover, some constructionists (like US writer Jared Diamond) go further, and make a philosophical point: they say that sickle cell, for instance, may well be common in Sub-Saharan Africans, but it is also common in Norwegians: are Nordics and Africans therefore to be united in one ‘race’ on this criterion? If they are, that fatally undermines the traditional concept of race.

Game, sex and match to the constructionists, you might think. But not quite. It’s at this point that we enter the troubled area where genes and behaviour interact, and its here the weight of evidence starts to favour the race-realists. Neonatal development is one intriguing area of research. Scientists have shown that oriental babies differ from black and white babies in being more passive and supine when ‘provoked’ (by having their bedclothes twitched). It is very difficult to see how environment could be a factor in this racial difference.

Sport is another interesting, even infamous area. Over the period 1985-1997 one tribe of Kenyans, the Kalenjin, won eighteen of the thirty-six medals available in the World Cross Country Championships. How could this happen if racial factors are not in some way involved?

Constructionists try to argue an environmental case for Kenyan running supremacy, but it’s difficult, because there are non-black or non-Kenyan peoples who lead similarly high-altitude lives, who don't exhibit the same athletic skills. And the constructionists face the same difficulty explaining away all the other problematic evidence for racial differences: things like skull size, facial morphology, desire for reproduction, hormone levels, even those notorious differences in IQ between blacks and whites (about 15 points, by some estimates, though some scientists fiercely abjure this data). Taken individually all these areas can be argued over; seen globally there does seem to be a fairly convincing case: race exists, biologically speaking. Albeit ambiguously.

At this point it is tempting at this point to throw up our hands - and wilfully ignore the whole area. Because, if we do ignore it, there’s no chance we’ll add any more disastrous fuel to the racist fire. However science is progressing at such a rate we simply cannot ignore it. What makes this entire debate so pressing is that one day soon we will probably have conclusive answers to all the race questions. With the mapping of the human genome we will shortly and probably be able to pinpoint someone’s ‘racial origin’, going by telltale signs in their DNA. And if the race-realists are right on the wider significance of race, as it seems they may be, that means we will be able to predict, on racial grounds, things like a person's tendency to heart disease, their probability of having certain personality types, and so on.

How dangerous is that? OK, it means the Met Police will be freed from their conundrum - a simple anatomical test will establish someone’s race, once and for all - but is that really what we want to do? Do we really want to follow the bitter logic of race-realism and end up favouring and disfavouring whole peoples because of their genes? Because of a blood test?

Put it another way, even if race does exist biologically, nobody is forcing us to obsess about race; nobody is obliging us to get even more neurotic. Instead we could try, now, before it is too late, to construct a race-blind society rather than a race-supersensitive one. We could try and judge individuals by their personal worth rather than their DNA. But of course, to do that we will have to dispense with dangerous experiments of wholesale racial differentiation. Experiments like ‘positive discrimination’ in the Metropolitan Police.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Who The Fuck Is Daniel Davies?

Apparently I'm being read. There's a blog called which expressed some opinions on my latest blogposts.

To wit.

'Sean Thomas is moderately amusing, but also a twat. Experiencing his blog is rather like reading a Martin Amis novel while being lovelessly buggered by your fat, elderly landlord because it's the only way you can pay the rent... I recommend you read Sean Thomas's site until Mr Thomas's overwhelming desire to please, impress and disturb (but not too much, because that might undermine the 'please' and 'impress') leaves you wishing you'd never encountered him in the first place.'

You can read the entire text and ancillary comments here

I find I rather agree with these remarks. I probably do have an 'overwhelming desire to please, impress and disturb'. Fair comment.

But there's a reason for my 'overwhelming desire to please, impress and disturb'. And that reason is this. I'm a writer, an artist, a NOVELIST. 'Please, impress and disturb' is what novelists strive to DO. It's our metier. Our thing. A way of life. A calling. My 'overwhelming desire to please, impress and disturb' is precisely what marks me out as a NOVELIST, an ARTIST, a WRITER, a FUCKING PUBLISHED NOVELIST, as compared to, say, a 'drinks industry analyst'. Or a git.

Nah, only joking. Thanks for the link, mate. I'm happy to return the compliment - is an interesting blog, if you like that kinda thing.

That said, though, I really DO take issue with one of the comments appended to this blog-reaction. Someone called Daniel Davies claims he once threatened to 'chin me in a Bloomsbury pub'. Oh yeah? You and whose army, penis head? Funny I don't remember this incident. You drivelling spaz.

Er, I have a hangover this morning.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Here is a pic of me actually with Mick Jagger. Just in case you cynics don't believe the post below. As you can see, Jagger looks very excited to be so close to the famous author of 'The Cheek Perforation Dance'. Posted by Hello

Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1979-1990. In the mid 90s, this woman was lucky enough to meet me. Read on for details. Posted by Hello

David Gilmour, the genius guitarist from Pink Floyd. Another one of the lucky famous people to have met me. Not so fat in this photo as when he met me. Posted by Hello

Famous People Who Have Met Me

Here is a list of all the famous people I have met. When I say 'met' I mean - stood within a few feet of, in the same room. And talked to. Or something.

Mick Jagger (gave me my prize at the Bad Sex Awards, we chatted for three minutes)

W H Auden (the great English poet, stayed at my folks' house in the 60s; left gin bottles under the bed)

David Gilmour (Pink Floyd guitarist; sat doing coke at a party. He had a bag of powder as big as your fist and refused to share it, despite being a billionaire and quite fat. Still, responsible for divine guitar solos on Dark Side of the Moon, so maybe forgivable)

Cameron Diaz (at post Oscars party in LA; moved out of the way so I could get a beer from the fridge)

Ben Affleck (looked right through me at same party)

J Lo (see above)

Adrian Brody (same party as the above, but he let me touch his Oscar, that he'd won that night. Later I saw girls actually queueing to talk to him. I was told this was a 'fuck queue')

Quentin Tarantino (interviewed him for magazine; he was off his face on coke)

Baroness Margaret Thatcher (at political gig; I just stared at the woman. God bless her)

Lady Helen Windsor (the Queen's cousin; she and I were linked romantically. This is a long story, and a bizarre one, that I shall post about later maybe)

Robbie Williams (spent weekend in Zurich with him; he put his hand on my knee. See post below for details)

Anna-Frid from Abba (the dark one. She came in to Robbie's dressing room when we were doing a 'group hug'; wanted to sleep with Robbie)

Terry Jones from Monty Python (at dinner party, very drunk and coming on to my ex girlfriend Mariella Frostrup)

Mariella Frostrup (sometime TV presenter and girlfriend of Iggy Pop and George Clooney; I shagged her over an altar in France, at the Cannes Film Festival. Is this too much information?)

Ted Hughes (Poet Laureate and husband of Sylvia Plath. Tousled my hair when I was
five; twenty years later remembered me and said I was 'very noisy')

Ricky Gervais (see post about two months ago. Still nods vaguely to me on the streets of London, bless)

Andrew Motion (the present Poet Laureate. OK not very famous, but fits in nicely with Ted Hughes. Motion turned me down for a place at the UEA School of Creative Writing. Think he saw me as a threat; nice taste in boots)

Joseph Brodksy (obscure but really quite significant - won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 80s. I met him at a party and he was actually WEARING the Nobel Prize, it was like a big medallion. Unexpected)

Salman Rushdie (was accompanying Mariella at a party. I went up to him and was personally abusive on the grounds that his book, Midnight's Children, won out over my dad's book for the Booker Prize twenty years ago; Rushdie actually fled the building I was so boorish. Maybe he thought I was an Islamic Terrorist)

Steve Zalian (OK not very famous, he's the Oscar-winning scriptwriter of Schindler's List; I only include him because I once chased him out of a building too, shouting drunkenly - as I did with Rushdie. Maybe I should retitle this post 'Famous People I Have Chased Out Of Buildings Shouting Drunkenly')

Arnold Schwarzeneggar (totally ignored me at the Red Bull World Stunt Awards in LA)

Dennis Hopper (surprisingly sane judge at LA Stunt Awards. Was very civil to me)

Helena Bonham Carter (met her twice; first when she was 19 and very pretty and shy and slumped in a corner in a trendy Hampstead party; second when she was about 25 and I interviewed her. This is a bit boring, I think I'm running out of good stories)

Rachel Weisz (no I'm not. I snogged this girl, now Hollywood star of The Mummy etc, when she was 19 and exceptionally lovely. She is the cousin of the girl who claimed I raped her)

N****** H**** (the girlfriend who claimed I raped her. Now best-selling authoress of The S***** T******* and global TV pundit. Hm)

Gavin Rossdale (married to Gwen Stefani; lead singer of Bush. Used to do E with him at parties. Went out with girl who claimed I raped her before I went out with her and allegedly raped her. Was prepared to testify at party that girl who claimed I raped her was into very rough sex. Again, too much information?)

Er, I think I'll stop there. But I may come back with some names I have forgotten.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Yes, the Japanese are weird. Yes, their cartoons are even weirder. But they do give good 'onomatopoeia'. Read on to find out more... Posted by Hello

Ker-splatt! Krunch! Ba-doingggg!!!


I've been thinking recently about onomatopoeia: the sound words we use to describe actions. Words like Splat! KruuuuunNCH! Ker-bang! My thoughts were triggered by a German friend of mine, when I overheared him describing a rooster making a characteristic noise. My friend enunciated the noise as 'kikeriki', rather than the English 'cock-a-doodle-do'.

Thinking about this German word, it occurred to me that the various languages of the world might have their own intriguing sound-words. A bit of research told me I was right; more intriguingly, my Googling told me that these sound-words might be dying out, because global English is, apparently, duffing up the less muscular languages of the world.

First, let's analyze the world's onomatopoeias. It's a splendidly varied and very tasty stew.

Some sound-words are different in different lingos, simply because of the different pronunciation of letters. For instance hee hee hee in English is ji ji ji in Spanish; the Swedish for a car's toot is tut. And Russian cows say muu.

Other differences are more subtle, and traditional. The orthodox cat's miaow in English is always nyao in Japanese. Someone drinking wine in french makes a glou-glou sound, rather like our glug-glug; French steam trains go tchou-tchou; the Swedish for splash! is plaska!; Korean cuckoos go ppu-kookk ppu-kookk.

But a number of onamotopeoias vary strongly, or simply do not have foreign equivalents. French guns go papop! Danish ambulance sirens go barbu barbu. Chinese bees don't buzz they say weng; Swedish cockroaches make a cackerlacka noise; and Burmese saxophones go eBa. Meanwhile, in Japan, the first raindrops in a storm go potsun-potsun; a rich head of hair makes a fusa-fusa noise; and poka-poka is the 'sound' something makes when it is nice and warm (these last examples may seem outlandish, but think of the bling bling of our garish jewellery).

It other words, as I mentioned above, it's a wonderful world of variation. So how and why is English taking over?

The first reason is comic books. That's where many onomatopoeias are invented and perpetuated - and the most internationally successful comic books are largely English-speaking. Just think of Peanuts, Garfield or the Marvel superheroes, or the new British strips like Tank Girl and Judge Dredd.

This result of this domination has been a mass penetration, by Anglo-American kid-lit, into foreign markets. Recent figures show that Germany alone translates some 40,000 pages of comic books every year: mostly from English. Countries with stronger, native comic book traditions - like France - have been a little more resistant to the takeover; they are the exception.

But, given that these comics are being translated, what's the problem? The difficulty is that many of the onomatopoeias within the comic books are usually left un-translated. Viktor Janis translates British graphic novels into Czech. He explains one difficulty: 'When you are translating comics, you have got to be very careful. You have got to almost count the letters in your sentences because everything has got to fit in the bubble, in this space.'

And there's the rub. In comic books, translations of the characters' words have to fit in the speech bubbles, which makes comic book translation expensive and time-consuming. Consequently there is often little time and no money to do the less necessary tasks: like translating any Ker-plunks! or Creeeeeks! printed outside the vital speech bubble.

Janis explains what then happens. 'Words like boom and bang are now common in German comics translated from English, even though, when pronounced in German, they do not correspond to the sounds they represent; the German equivalents would be bum and pang. But the prevalance of boom and bang means that German readers have now become accustomed to reading the English onomatopoeias.'

A second problem is that the equivalent onomatopoeias in the native tongue may not fit the overall cartoon frame. Put it another way: if Judge Dredd drives his Lawmaster Bike into Judge Death with a triumphant Ker-rash!, the foreign translator of this Ker-rash! may look for the best equivalent in his own language and find that it is nine letters long. These letters may not squeeze in the frame. Result: the poor time-pressed hack opts for the original sound-word, unchanged. And so the Lawmaster Bike of global English rides roughshod over the local lingo, again.

But tere are further difficulties still. There may not even be a local sound-word equivalent, especially if you are translating from a flexible and fecund language like English, which is rather rich in onomatopoeias. Eva Martina Fuentes is a Spanish linguist. She says: 'Research has proved the comparative wealth of English sound-words compared to some other languages: a 1979 Spanish survey, El Lenguaje de los Comics, showed that English sound-words outnumbered Spanish, for example, by about two to one.'

And the result of all this? 'Many sounds that should seem strange to non-English speakers have been adopted and even naturalized in different countries, Spain among them. Today we can see English words in any Spanish comic, even if the comic is not a translation but a Spanish original. And this internationalisation of English onomatopoeia has occurred to varying degrees throughout the West.'

All this may seem trivial. So what if cowboy-playing kids in Vienna are saying bang! instead of pang! So what if money-making teens in Malaysia say a gleeful ker-ching! rather than their own equivalent? The problem is that some of the world's languages are just as rich in their own sound-words as English: and it would consequently be a terrible shame if this treasure of sound-words is lost.

A good case in point is the group of East Asian languages, most particularly Japanese. This language has a wealth of onomatopoeias, which are the bane of English translators trying to turn all those manga comics into English. From the ­doki-doki of Japanese lovers' heartbeats, to the heta! of the exhausted Japanese housewife, from the gwahaha of a Japanese villain's cackle to the iku-iku of someone nearing orgasm to the gocha-gocha of nagging in nearby Tokyo apartments, the Japanese tongue outpaces even the most caffeinated Marvel comics writer with its onomatopoeic inventiveness. Interestingly enough, Japanese is also one of the few languages so far largely uncolonised by Anglo-American sound-words. In which case, maybe Spiderman will one day meet his match in Godzilla.

And there ends my linguistic sermon, as my erudite and articulate blog kicks the smaller, stupider blogs into the dust. Ker-powww! Thwack!! Dohhh!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Kynance Cove

This beautiful picture, shown below, was taken by Kat Boijer, the very charming, very funny, very Finnish girlfriend of my good chum Loic 'Joachim' Rich. Hi Loic.

The pic actually shows me and Loic. He's the one in the coat. I'm the one swinging my arms. In the middle is... Unknown Dude.

But maybe it isn't an unknown dude, maybe it is my guardian angel. I have reason to believe such a person may hang out on these beaches; at the very least I have unusually warm spiritual memories of Kynance Cove.

Let me explain. Kynance Cove is a beautiful little complex of beaches and caverns in the southwest of Cornwall, England. In 1987, three days before my rape trial (it's a long story - check out my novel The Cheek Perforation Dance) I came here to try and de-stress. But that's difficult when you are about to be tried for rape. Whatever my feelings, something happened here that I cannot quite explain.

My family was faffing about, having tea in the Kynance Cove tea-shop. Feeling less than relaxed, I decided to wander off - and go sit in a cave. And.. while I was in this cave... something happened. It felt like God spoke to me. Or maybe I had a migraine. Or too much coffee an hour previous. Anyway the voice, such as it was, told me that everything was gonna be OK. I would be acquitted. I left the cave calmer than I had been for months. A week later I was acquitted.

Weird, huh? Or maybe not. Who knows. Last year I went back to Kynance with my beloved fiancee, and we thanked my guardian angel by having a delightful bonk on a cliff. I think God would approve.

Here we are: me, Loic and... the other guy. Aaahhh... Posted by Hello

Friday, February 04, 2005

What's this? It may look like a crap mobile phone snap of a very ordinary house, but it ain't. Thirty years ago, something deeply odd happened in this little suburban semi...
Read on to find out, you lucky people... Posted by Hello

Satan in the Suburbs

At the moment I am writing a novel about people who are haunted by images from their own past. The novel is entitled London Cries; one of the main characters is a young photography student called Nina. In the book Nina is doing a photographic project on 'spooky' and 'mystical' places in London.

By way of research for Nina's character, yesterday afternoon I visited the house pictured above. At first I was surprised by the averageness of the building and its surroundings. But then I thought better of it. In fact I rather warmed to the idea of such an ordinary place having such an extraordinary and disturbing claim to fame.

The house you see above was once the most haunted house in England. Taken together, the events that happened here, thirty years ago, constitute the most remarkable and best-documented haunting in modern history.

The events started in August 1977, when the mother of the house, Mrs Harper, heard a commotion in the upstairs bedroom. She went to investigate, and found her daughter Janet (11 years old), and son Pete (ten years old), agitated but unharmed. Nothing else seemed amiss. However, over the following weeks the commotions intensified: the children regularly reported shaken beds, unexplained furniture movements, and loud raps on the wall. At first the mother remained skeptical: until she saw a heavy dresser move eighteen inches across the carpet by itself.

One night things got so bad, the Harper Family, dressed in their nightclothes, fled next door for help. The police were then called, and carefully searched the Harper home. During the search, one police officer saw a chair skitter across the floor, apparently without any human intervention.

The following months saw many manifestations, some of them witnessed by the various journalists and psychic researchers who visited the house. Chairs were thrown, objects hurled, electrical disturbances came and went. Special equipment set up for monitoring and recording the strange happenings malfunctioned. Tapes used by the news media to document the events were damaged or even erased. One of the journalists managed to take a photo of the daughter, Janet, apparently levitating.

Most sinister of all, this same girl, Janet, started speaking in a rough male voice. The voice claimed its name was ‘Bill’; Bill told the astonished journalists that he had lived and died in the Harper house.

Two years laters, the supposed hauntings came to an end when Janet was spotted faking 'evidence'. For some people, this was reason enough to dismiss the whole flap as a hoax. Others, however, asserted that these latter-day shenanigans meant nothing. So the attention of the world's media had seduced the kids into fakery? Quelle surprise. That didn't mean the earlier, weirder manifestations were bogus.

Who's right? Search me. Whatever the answer, the Enfield case remains an enigma, and a potentially disturbing one at that. The voice produced by the girl, in particular, is deeply chilling to this day. You can listen to it


Remarkably, the Harpers still live in Green Street, Enfield. In the same house. Indeed I am pretty sure it was the mother, Mrs Harper, who tweaked her net curtain to check me out yesterday afternoon, as I loitered in her drive. I was tempted to tell her that I was writing a novel about people sent mad by ghosts. But then I thought better of it.