The Montague and Veronica Keen Foundation
Dedicated to love, truth and simplicity

The detached garage by my house in Totteridge, north London, into which my wife and I had moved some five months earlier, had a metal wine rack fixed by four screws to a side wall at a height of some three feet near the double door entrance. On it I had placed about l6 wine bottles. My neighbour, Mr Jeffrey Lipman, with whom I had been playing table tennis in the garage in the afternoon of December 18th 2001, drew attention to the fact that the bottles were sloping slightly downwards, towards the corks, to keep them moist. He concluded that I had fixed the rack incorrectly — a view supported by the fact that the feet of the rack were at the top — and that the bottles should slope the other way, so that sediment would accumulate at the base. I agreed. So there and then we removed the bottles, unscrewed the four retaining screws, reversed the rack to alter the lie of the contents so that their bases sloped towards the wall, ensured that the rack was firm, and replaced the bottles.

When I unlocked the garage door next morning I was astonished to discover a pool of wine on the concrete floor some five or six feet from the rack, together with the scattered fragments of three or four bottles. All but two or three had fallen on the concrete floor. Despite the drop of between three and four feet, the rest were lying intact in various positions within two or three feet of the rack. One or two appeared to have had their fall broken by a cardboard package containing tins. The winerack itself was still firmly fixed to the wall. Mr Lipman chanced to be with his wife in the road outside my house at the time, and I promptly invited them, and my wife, to view the scene. Since our efforts of the previous afternoon the wine rack had again been reversed, because the short right-angled feet of the rack were again at the top. Something had interfered with the rack during my absence.

Nothing during the previous for three or four months had disturbed any of the bottles when they were stacked with their heads facing slightly downwards. They could be moved only if handled. When the bottles had been replaced the previous day after the rack-reversal operation, dislodgement by any other than normal manual means became still less likely, because of the wall-sloping lie of the bottles. Even had a heavy object fallen on the topmost row, it could not have precipitated a collapse of those on the lower rungs. There was no sign of entry, and nothing else in the garage, which is double the normal length, appeared to have been disturbed.

This event put into perspective, and appeared to confer retrospective validation on a series of mainly inexplicable occurrences which I had tended to dismiss or disregard. They included the following:

1. On several occasions the radio in our bedroom would come on at unexpected times during the night, and at a volume greater than that normally set by my wife, Veronica. There was no obvious cause, but I argued, with diminishing conviction, that radios like all electrical appliances were subject to eccentric behaviour, and too much should not be read into every or any anomaly.

2. Veronica's electric iron, which had previously behaved impeccably, would sometimes trip the fuse-box switch after irregular periods of use; but sometimes it would not. This caused considerable annoyance and inconvenience. We would have to go round re-setting answering machines, time clocks on radios and cookers, and the like. Again, there was no apparent electrical fault, but again I regarded it as an inexplicable teething trouble of what was a recently re-wired house. Much more recently, I was told by an international authority on the monitoring of seismic and electro-magnetic energy that this might conceivably be associated with inadequate earthing.

3. Then, the kitchen smoke alarm would be set off with very little apparent incentive. There seemed to be no way to stop the wail, even when the offending hob was switched off and the vent extraction fan set at maximum.

4. More serious were a number of leaks. Two of these we blamed on the plumber, who discovered in one case an inadequately tightened nut in a pipe behind a bathroom bidet; and in another case a defective washer in a bath outlet, pipe, accessible (it may be worth noting) only by removing a sealed panel in the side of the bath surround. This leak caused considerable damage to lower walls and ceilings.

5. One of the water alarms deserves special attention, however, because we could discover no normal explanation. It occurred when my wife used the bathroom in the newly created loft-conversion to wash her hair by kneeling over the bath and using the shower for three or four minutes, something she had done for decades without more than the odd splash of water reaching the floor. On this occasion, however, when she had completed this operation, she found the tiled bathroom floor swimming in water. The entire floor and rug coverings were thoroughly soaked. Water was pouring down through the floor orifices to the walls and ceilings to the ground floor. The plumber responsible for the installation was summoned. There was no sign of any leakage or defect. He was adamant that there was no way in which the water could have reached the floor in that quantity other than by prolonged misdirection of the shower head. But in order to account for the quantity which was seeping down the walls below, and that which remained on the floor, my wife would have had to have directed the full flow of water on to the floor for at least quarter of an hour.

6. In early December a large splodge of white substance suddenly appeared on the lid of my plastic wheelie-bin while I was working in and around the area where it is placed, in the garage drive. Again, there seemed to me to be no normal explanation. The white substance had not fallen from above, because none of it was on the ground, and there was nowhere from which it could have fallen. No individual could have created the mess without having been observed by me. It proved fairly easy to wipe off, and was powdery in composition, rather than paint-like. By this stage I began to feel that my wife's psychic propensities may not have been misleading her.

7. We had also been disturbed by noticing a heavy scratch in the floor tiles in the bathroom adjoining the spare loft-conversion bedroom. No-one save an eight year old granddaughter and the youthful son of a close friend had ever occupied the room since it was constructed, and the bathroom was virtually pristine. Yet the scoring along the tiles was irregular, disfiguring, clearly visible, and unlikely to have been created save by something like a chisel and hammer operation. We checked with the carpenter who had worked on the conversion. He confirmed that the new floor on which the tiles had been laid a few months earlier was solid, and no sagging or subsidence was possible.

My wife's younger daughter who way staying with us for some weeks following the birth of her baby in early December last year reported several items missing from her room, including Christmas gifts for her nieces. They have never turned up.

It was not until the episode of the broken bottles, however, that I reluctantly acknowledged that Veronica may have been right. We knew little of our predecessor except that she was a charming lady of advanced years who was dedicated to her garden, and very proud of it. On her death about a year before we occupied it, the house was bought by building developers who considerably extended and altered it, and dug into the rear garden to create a patio. We speculated that the deceased Mrs Joyce might well have viewed these outrages with discarnate distaste, which she may have felt inclined to display in various unpleasant ways to those who were now usurping her rightful place.

A few days after the bottle-breaking incident we were visited on December 22nd 2001 by two friends, both mediums. Jenny Eales and Mchael Ayres, now Mr. and Mrs. Ayres.. Knowing of our concern, and suspicions, they promptly sought guidance from their spiritual mentors via whom they appeared to have established contact with Mrs Joyce's seemingly Earth-bound spirit, and gently coaxed her to recognise that it was time for her to move into the light where her loved ones awaited her. Whether Mrs Joyce's spirit did so, I have no means of discovering, but the two mediums were satisfied that this gentle form of spirit release had worked, and that the trouble would end.

However, in the course of their (tape-recorded) session, they both made a number of statements of about or on behalf of Mrs. Joyce of whose validity both they and my wife and I were at that time unaware. We subsequently checked with our next door neighbour who had known Mrs. Joyce and her late husband very well. It transpired that Mrs. Joyce did not approve of alcoholic refreshment, and preferred her guests to join her in a nice cup of tea. She strongly objected to a wheelbarrow in her garden (I have an old wheelbarrow by the shed at the end of the garden, half-hidden). She had a favourite "nook" which we had appropriated for other uses, which was accurate. She was also very proud of an old single rose — and this may be connected with a rare triple coloured rose we found this year by the garden boundary fence.

Much of the rest of the evidence purporting to derive from her was either incorrect or unprovable, however. Her husband did not die young and did not go away: in fact they had celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary shortly before his death two years before she herself died in her late eighties. Nor was she reclusive. Her reported concern over a constantly leaking overflow pipe at the rear of the house, with a bucket to catch the drips, was certainly not something she would have put up with for a moment, our neighbour assured us. It was, however, precisely what subsequently troubled us: a defective overflow and a slight leak discharging to the rear of the house.

Despite the difficulty of squaring all of these audio-visual impressions of Mrs. Joyce with the evidence of her friend and neighbour, there were certainly some aspects which cannot be readily written off. Foremost among them is the cessation of disturbances that had become seriously worrying, especially to my wife. More alarming was her unprecedentedly hostile conduct towards me shortly before the mediums' arrival, when she felt overshadowed, indeed almost possessed, by a resentful personality which caused her temporarily to behave in a totally uncharacteristic fashion and to complain, as the spirit of Mrs. Joyce did a few hours' later, of being trapped in a prison.

For some days thereafter all was quiet. No sooner were we congratulating ourselves, or our friends, on having cured the complaint, than ominous signs appeared that all was still not well. On February 16th, while I had been absent, Veronica reported that she had vainly attempted to play a music tape in her portable music centre in the kitchen. The tape stopped abruptly. She reversed it, but the same thing happened. That evening, when showing Professor Archie Roy to his room, he noted that the lights fluctuated oddly. "Spooky", he called it. In a room above, Trish Robertson, who normally goes to sleep with the radio playing, was astonished to find the bedside radio had been switched off at the wall plug.

The following morning, Archie Roy and Veronica were breakfasting in the dining room as Archie was discussing the various ways in which poltergeists sometimes made their presence felt when challenged or simply mischievous. I was in another room when I heard a loud commotion and shrieks of laughter. They reported that a bunch of grapes, which had rested for the past day or two undisturbed on the summit of a bowl of fruit on the sideboard, which Veronica was facing, had lifted itself off and was then dashed to the floor. I arrived in time to help retrieve the scattered grapes.

On February 18, soon after the departure of Mrs. Robertson, who had been occupying the adjoining bedroom for four days – we were shocked to observe a very visible crack in one of the wall tiles of the adjoining bathroom. The crack, albeit less visibly, continued for some seven feet right across the wall above the bath. The tiles had been fixed to a newly-created non-loading-bearing interior stud wall, the outside of which showed no sign of cracks. The tiles were large (30cmx20cm), and previously in perfect condition. The lower part of the first tile, where the crack appeared to start, visibly protruded beyond the surface of the upper part. A close inspection showed that the crack was not continuous: between several of the tiles, there was a vertical gap of a few millimetres along the grouting which showed no sign of cracks. The chairman of the company responsible for the redevelopment of the property, an old friend and an experienced builder, confessed himself baffled by the wall cracks, but eventually concluded, contrary to his initial assessment, that there must have been some critical pressure on the tiles.

Veronica then reported that one of her spray-bottles of perfume had been interfered with, and was leaking. Inspection showed that the top had been removed, and the plastic nozzle twisted so that the spray could no longer direct itself through the orifice in the head. That, clearly, could not have happened accidentally.

Rather more costly were the consequences of the sudden failure of two television sets. That in our bedroom suddenly displayed no sign of life, although it later proved not too difficult to mend. The fairly new set in the living room continued to produce sound without pictures, and it turned out to be a major problem — and four visits — for the repair technician who had never experienced anything like it.

We received a further visit from Jenny Eales and Michael Ayres on February 21st. Throughout the day Veronica, who had become convinced that a male entity was now responsible, had felt a strong sense of oppression, chest pains and the sort of sensation in her legs characteristic of the over-rapid application of heat to freezing hands. The two mediums inspected all the rooms in the house to sense the presence of whatever entity was thought responsible, assuring us that it was not Mrs Joyce but some other Earth-bound spirit who had seen an opportunity to make a nuisance of himself. Although they appeared to have been invited by their spirit counsellors to prepare for a spirit release session in the living room, where Michael had set up his video-camera, the unexpected ceremony took place in the kitchen. Armed with a microphone enabling a complete record to be made, Jenny began receiving messages from her usual guide while Michael appeared to enter an altered state of consciousness in which he was aware of what he was saying, but his body and part of his mind was overshadowed or possessed by the troublesome entity.

Before the entity took over Michael's body and answered Jenny's questions, which he did in a mildly cockney voice, Jenny was conveying information that the spirit intruder acknowledged his responsibility for some of the recent troubles, including hiding children's toys from the top bedroom. He had tried smelling a scent bottle in Veronica's bedroom, and then volunteered the admission that he had also tampered with a square shaped bottle of perfume with yellow liquid. [Veronica confirmed that this accorded with the description of a bottle of Poème, also on her dressing table]. He also confessed to 'doing' the tile damage. Jenny, who was still conveying the spirit's confessional, continued: "he has been bashing walls, like with a hammer or something, or like a pot — with a saucepan bashing on the wall." Among his other admissions, or claims, were responsibility for the two defective television sets, but he appeared to deny tampering with the water supply. Although there was confusion over the relevant days, he said he had interfered with the lights.

The entity appeared slowly to take over Michael's body. In response to questions from Jenny, supplemented by a few from Veronica, he spoke directly through Michael, with a mildly cockney accent. He was uncertain when he died, but thought it might be perhaps two years ago. He knew he was dead. He had not known or been aware of "the old lady" before visiting the Keens' house, and really wanted to help people, but it was very difficult to communicate, and the only way of drawing attention to himself was, in his words, to "make a bloody nuisance of yourself." He gave his name as Alf or Alfie House, and had lived in Whetstone — certainly a W was associated with it, and something to do with "wet". [This district adjoins Totteridge.] Alf said he had met his end by falling into weed-infested water by a boat moored fairly close to the water's edge on a river. He indicated that he had been some sort of engineer and that his mother was his only near relative, but he had been afraid to frighten her, so had not attempted to make his presence felt directly. Since the object of the séance was to identify the errant spirit and encourage him to move on into the light, and stop making a nuisance of himself, rather than conduct a psychical research investigation, the interrogatory session was conducted between the two mediums, and the sort of information required for research purposes was a secondary consideration.

Since that date there have been no untoward incidents. Whatever was creating the disturbances appears to have gone. But there has been one significant postscript. During the course of a private séance on March 3rd at the country cottage in Oxfordshire owned by Michael Ayres, a trance medium, Kathy, previously unknown to us, told us during her trance state that Albert had a message he wished her to convey to Veronica, Albert being Veronica's spirit mentor, a fact unknown to the medium. The message was that 'Alfie' wanted to thank us and tell us he was very happy. According to Jenny and Michael, Kathy had not been informed of the poltergeist experience or Alfie's identity.

I then embarked on local inquiries to track down Mr House. The local police and coroners' records had no trace of anyone of that name having died by drowning in the last three years, but since there are no rivers with barges and weeds locally, this was hardly surprising. The Public Records office does not have information about deaths since 2000. These have yet to be collated from individual births deaths and marriages offices; and since the place of death was unknown, the avenue could hardly merit exploration.

Discussion. It is rare, and on the whole hazardous, for the subject of an apparent haunting, or poltergeist intrusion, to be the principal assessor of its merits from an evidential viewpoint. The identification and conscious discarding of prejudice becomes that much more difficult. However, it is not impossible to detach oneself from the phenomena sufficiently to categorize them by the extent to which they provide weak or strong evidence of a paranormal phenomenon. The weak evidence must apply to two categories: those events which are both purely subjective and personal. These must affect, for example, sensations of apprehension, coldness, head pressure and suchlike. It is prudent, although it may well be mistaken, to describe such features as psycho-somatic. They acquire evidential status only when there is sufficient objective evidence of a haunting or poltergeist activity. Then, but only then, can it become a valuable indicator of the mechanism, physiological consequences and psychological effects of a haunting. During the second spirit release session, Jenny, Michael and Veronica all reported strong sensations of cold: Michael's was particularly strong. Likewise, the fact that the troubles ceased after the second mediumistic counselling/spirit release session may be may be regarded as a happy chance coincidence until such time as the accumulation of more direct, substantial, evidence strengthens the probability, if it does not actually prove the existence, of paranormal activity. I am also relegating to the category of weak evidence all the phenomena for which a feasible, normal explanation might be considered possible or even likely. We may more safely place the two plumbing leaks, the erratic behaviour of the electric iron; the kitchen smoke alarm; the failure of two television sets, the fluctuating lights in Professor Roy's bedroom and perhaps even the nocturnal radio emissions in the 'weak' class. The more phenomena there are in this weaker class, however, the greater their claim to be collectively upgraded.

The stronger evidence would include the following:
The bunch of grapes phenomenon: the only one to have been witnessed as it occurred;
The wine-bottle breakage;
The white paint-like substance on top of the wheelie-bin;
The bathroom flooding during Veronica's hair-wash;
The defacing of floor tiles;
The perfume bottle episode;
The extensive fracturing of the wall tiles above the bath.

If, as I would contend, these betoken a paranormal phenomenon, or a series of phenomena that are clearly linked, the issue is between some form of psychokinetic emanation from one or more persons connected to the house, or the activities of one or more discarnate intruders. It could certainly be contended that for a variety of family and health reasons Veronica was under stress, and that she displays psychic faculties likely to qualify her as the traditional focal point for poltergeist manifestations. There appears to be no logical connection between the occurrence and (in particular) the disappearance of the phenomena and the state of mind of either Veronica or myself. Only if some form of dissociated or secondary personality, working in conflict with the conscious self, is postulated can one admit a psychological explanation of phenomena so opposed to the wishes and interests of both the occupants. Even this as a postulate would involve some formidable and irrational acts of psychokinetic prowess.


The Strange Case of the Broken Bottles and the late Mrs Joyce by Montague Keen
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