As ghosts go, you’d place Herbert firmly in the mischievous class. He moves chairs about, knocks things off shelves, opens and closes doors, and tightens up gas taps that need a wrench to free ‘em up again… oh yes, and he tampers with cameras and things: he set my flash-gun off for no good reason when I was down the cellar of the Swan in Barbourne on Thursday to witness something that’s altogether alien territory for me – a séance. He’s also befriended landlady Claire Bull (pictured above) who’s been a bit wary of him and his playful pranks since taking over the pub last year, but now they’ve been properly introduced via mystic Julie Dyde, they’ve become grand pals: better still, he’s going to stick around and he’s predicting rosier times for the pub. Herbert showed his hand, if not his face, on Thursday and I and six others were there to witness it… actually, seven because Herbert’s new girlfriend Betty made a ghostly showing too.Think I’m losing me marbles? As I said to Julie before the session, I don’t go along with all this nonsense. I’m a journalist, I deal in facts and you won’t fool me. Besides, ‘when in doubt invent a ghost’ is a tactic most of us hacks abide by. To which, Julie just smiled and said ‘cynicism is good’. She also warned me that when I look at the photographs I’d be taking, I’d probably see a few orbs floating around. Don’t bloody think so, I reckoned. I’m meticulous about my cameras and there’ll be no blobs on my lenses I can assure you of that! It was just then that a measuring cup fell off the bar and rolled across the floor, swiftly followed by my flash-gun going off with no assistance from me, promise! There was a distinct gurgling in my left ear’ole too, but I put that down to the central heating. It took Herbert a few minutes to come out of his shell, via the makeshift ouija board on a wobbly table, but when he did there was no shutting him up. Yes, he’s the one that does the shifting in the Swan. Yes, he turns gas taps on and off just to remind folk that he’s there. Yes, he opens and closes doors too. Yes, he’d love a pint of Banks’s please (Claire doesn’t have Banks’s for the present). Okay then, a pint of lager will do at a pinch. Yes, he’s taken quite a shine to Claire. Yes, he’s going to look after her. Yes, the Swan will do OK. And no, Claire’s son Dan won’t win the pools. Like, ever. Herbie even pointed out someone with the initials RF that drew a blank with the séancers, although a quick look at the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ book will reveal that the last-but-one tenant here was Rebecca Fahy, so I’m inclined to skip that one.
Claire was pleased with the result. So was Julie who’s been calling up spirits for thirty years with some stunning results – especially around some of the City’s oldest pubs: she’s come across resident ghosts at the Hand in Glove (formerly White Hart where a misogynistic poltergeist has been known to vent his spleen on unsuspecting females, even with fatal consequences), the Eagle Vaults, Cardinal’s Hat, and what had once been Bottles Wine Bar – though she said she’d love to have a crack at Greyfriars, formerly the Old Oak in Friar Street. Nor does she do it for any commercial gain: she’s happy to share her gifts simply because she has this uncanny knack and because she wants to. More than a tidge unsettled I have to confess, I went for a wander through Gheluvelt park to get me ‘ead together as they say, and later mentioned the afternoon’s goings-on to Jim McKeever in the Winning Post who’s probably about as cynical and hard-nosed as I am: he just went white and he told me that Julie had done the same thing there ten years ago and that she told him things about him, his pub and his family that she couldn’t possibly – like, never in a million years – have guessed.
Oh yes, and when I looked at the images that I took – using two cameras, just in case, both having been meticulously cleaned only a few hours before and both used earlier on in the day with not a trace of a smear or blemish – there, quite clearly, were two orbs floating around. Herbert and Betty foolin’ around. Again. Ooo-er!