Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The mad monk of Stocksbridge (by Andrew Wooding)

My mate, Mike, and I now have definite proof of ghost activity in Sheffield. It’s true! And the proof comes in three forms:

1. Boney M
2. Mike’s mileometer
3. Crinkle cut crisps

Mike and I both live in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. We’ve been talking a long time about checking out various alleged haunted spots round town to find definite proof of things that go bump in the night. But last month, we finally plucked up the courage to embark on our first excursion. Mike had treated himself to a snazzy ghost hunting hat for this auspicious occasion – (I don’t know what ‘auspicious’ means, but it sounds good) - and I came armed with knowledge gleaned from half-an-hour’s research on such reputable websites as YouTube and Wikipedia.

It could have been a mammoth failure. A wasted evening with nothing to show for it but bleary eyes from the late-night drive and half a tank less of petrol. But our adventure was such a rip-roaring success that it is now going be the first of many, many more. We hope you will follow us as we blog about our various ghost-hunting exploits in and around the Sheffield area. Definite proof will present itself to us in droves, I’m sure of it. (I don’t know what ‘droves’ means, either. I promise to invest in a dictionary before the next blog post.)

The object of our first peek into the paranormal was an infamous character known as the mad monk of Stocksbridge. The legend goes that a monk from the distant past was refused burial in consecrated ground by his fellow monks for some shady, nefarious reason (in other words, I don’t know). In recent years, said monk has been sighted either roaming the roads, or interfering with the inner workings of passing cars. What he has against cars, I’ve no idea. But if some local council decided to build a ruddy great bypass over my deconsecrated burial ground – bringing with it tons of pollution and traffic each year – well, I might go mental as well.

Onto my first proof. I had agreed to meet Mike at the car park of Meadowhall shopping centre, on Friday night at 7.30pm. As usual when I drive, I had my iPod nano on full blast in shuffle mode. After a soothing ditty from The Carpenters, quite by chance none other than the seminal seventies pop classic ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M pounded through my speakers. The significance? Rasputin is the only chart hit ever to deal with the thorny issue of monks who are mad … or rather, one in particular: ‘Ra-ra-rasputin’. Coincidence, or what? I don’t know for sure if our Mad Monk of Stocksbridge was ever the lover of a Russian queen, but it does make you think … doesn’t it?

Now in the mood for our ghostly adventure, I traversed the car park and soon found Mike sat waiting in his own car. We exchanged excited greetings, I dutifully strapped myself into the passenger seat while he adjusted his natty hat in the rear view mirror, and before you could say ‘ectoplasm’, it was: key in the ignition, and Stocksbridge bypass, off we go! But the strangest thing happened as we drove.

‘Blimey, Andrew!’ said Mike on the motorway.

‘What?’ I said peering through his windows as we drove into the drizzly night, wondering if he’d sighted an apparition or something. ‘What is it? What’ve you seen?’

‘The mileometer. It’s stuck – it won’t budge. The mileometer’s jammed at zero!’

Mike was right. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened, but somewhere between Meadowhall and the bypass, Mike’s mileometer went on the blink … in other words: as soon as we started heading for our possible meeting with the mad monk, someone who is infamous for fiddling with cars. The mileometer remained stubbornly broken for the bulk of the evening, amazingly only springing into action again when we decided to call it a day and head back for Meadowhall shopping centre. Coincidence, or what? It makes you think … doesn’t it? Add to this the fact that Mike's engine failed at a roundabout, and for the rest of the evening the car would only work in second gear.

I’m afraid we didn’t spy any hooded, cloaked figures on our travels, but it didn’t take long for ominous rumbling sounds to invade our consciousness. I wish I could tell you these were echoes from the great beyond as we encroached on the mad monk’s territory, but – rather boringly – it was just our tummies. We were famished!

Mike parked as soon as he could and we tucked into a feast of Rice Krispies Squares (chewy marshmallow flavour – yum!) and salt and vinegar flavour crinkle cut crisps. The rumbling disappeared as our appetites were sated, but soon there was a yelp from Mike.

‘Blimey, Mike, what is it now?’ I asked, reaching for another helping of Rice Krispies Squares.

‘My crisp packet,’ said Mike, his face as white as a chewy marshmallow. ‘I swear I opened it the right side up … but look!’

I did look. And my face turned white as well. For, chillingly, the logo and writing on the crisp packet was now the wrong way up! It makes you think … doesn’t it? It certainly made me think, especially when I heard a barely concealed giggle from the driver’s seat as we pulled away from the side of the road to continue on our adventure. Could it have been that Mike, in his haste, had ripped open the wrong end of the packet, realised his error, then tried to blame it on a supernatural occurrence? How often do we take our mundane mistakes, or everyday coincidences, and try to explain them away in a romantic made-up worldview of otherworldly affairs, rather than own up to a sobering recognition that life is sometimes just drab and ordinary? I certainly don’t!

So anyway, back to this mad monk ghost thingy…

Scrub that third proof off my list, then. That was Mike and no one else. And, in hindsight, I don’t think somehow that a spectre crept into my iPod nano and selected the most played mp3 in the genre of ‘Cheesy Europop Singles From the Late 1970s’.

Which just leaves the mileometer incident. That’s something I can’t explain. It seems far too much of a coincidence that the mileometer packed in just as we set out for haunted Stocksbrige, and only began working again when we headed away. Maybe something did happen that night. Something from beyond our five senses, something from above our dimensional plane, reaching into our mechanistic cause-and-effect world and making a difference in our physical reality.

But why would a monk from centuries past want to make it his life’s work … correction: his undead’s work … to sabotage people’s cars? It’s not something any sane person would want to do. Maybe this is proof that he really is mad. And why not? He wanted to be left in peace and now his world has been invaded by concrete, carbon monoxide, rusty hot dog vans, mounds of litter, and endless dirty great metal structures known as electricity pylons dominating the previously peaceful horizon.

So, does this monk really exist? And if he does, what is his state of mind? I can do no better than leave you with the words of Boney M as they eloquently sum up the mental state of a similar monk from the past:

‘There was a cat that really was gone!’