Author Archive

The almost lost art of washing dishes by hand

I feel embarassed posting this, and accept that people will think I’m a pedantic, boring old fart with no lfe to speak of. But so many people, young and middle aged, who’ve grown up with automatic dishwashing machines have absolutely no fucking idea how to wash dishes properly. Anyway, here ’tis.

How to wash dishes by hand.

Some advantages:

  • Uses less hot water and electricity – a cost saving and environmental benefit
  • If you do this properly, your dishes will last longer and be hygienically clean
  • Detergent is less harmful to the environment than dishwasher chemicals
  • Not owning a dishwasher – or getting a longer life from the one you already have – is also of benefit to the environment.


  1. Pre-wash everything first
  2. Use hot water – hot as you can stand. Don’t dilute with cold
  3. Don’t overfill the sink. Half full is plenty. Top up later if needed
  4. Put the right amount of detergent in – not too little, not too much
  5. Leave the dishes in the water long enough for them to get hot. Wafting them through lukewarm water won’t kill germs
  6. Be careful of the sharp knives – keep individual track of them
  7. Order of washing: cutlery & small stuff, glasses, plates, pots & pans, other big dirty stuff
  8. Do not rinse dishes with fresh water
  9. Place the dishes in the drying rack so that they’ll drain well. Leave for at least 10 minutes. The detergent and water will run off.
  10. Or leave them a while longer and they’ll be 90% dry. Just a quick wipe with a clean tea towel & put them away. Easy.

Is Experience Dying?

There seems to be an incredible apathy in many facets of life at present. Worn down by four years of recession, people appear to be suffering what could be called Social Media Fatigue. It’s not just in the visual arts either. Rugby, for instance, is suffering because people prefer to stay home and watch it on the telly. Every band gig I’ve been to, or played at, has been under-attended. Theatre – likewise.
There is no problem getting people to Like something on Facebook, engage in discussion about it, and even SAY they’ll attend it. Getting people off their arses to actually go out and see or do something in the physical world is another matter entirely. (Unless of course it’s queuing up for the latest i-phone, giant TV or other resource-depleting electronic gadget.)
Is experience dying?

Vacuum cleaner contents analysis, 7/10/2012

7/10/2012, Vacuum cleaner bag analysis (by volume):
– miscellaneous/unidentifiable: 2%
– food waste: 11% (mainly cheese – could be anomalous)
– human organic matter (hair, skin cells): 13%
– fabric dust: 19%
– cat hair: 55%

Lawn Maintenance for Beginners, Part I – The First Cut of Spring

This will be a complete bastard of a job, which can only really be done if it stops bloody pissing down and the wind blows like a motherf%&@#r for a couple of days to dry things out a bit. Even then, allow extra time to unclog the arse end of your mower every couple of f%&king minutes. Turn the mower off or lose a few fingers – whichever.
If you normally cut at (say) level 3 on the blade, try it at level 5 for a longer cut. Otherwise you’ll be mowing all f&%$ing night as well. (Use a head torch.) Taking the main length off the grass in this way will allow light and air down to the level of the weeds, so as they can catch up and overtake the grass growth.

You will probably also have noticed vast areas of grass grub activity. The remedy for this is “soil insect killer” – a powder that costs a mere $20 per tube and covers and kills a square metre or two of the little bastards (at least for a few months). Best to apply just before the f&#%ing rain starts again.
Once complete, you will have effected the transition from rice paddy to something vaguely resembling a lawn. Congratulations. A six pack of beer will aid your recovery from the exertion

Cautionary Tales

A few little cautionary tales here – from overseas, yes; but we don’t want to be adding any NZ cases to the list.
The site promotes the axiom, “Do no harm.” All paranormal investigators need to have this tattooed on their minds.
We are dealing sometimes with vulnerable people (some of whom may be suffering from depression, bipolar, or be potenially suicidal), situtations of recent death where the grieving process is still being gone through, situations in which people may have to leave their home or workplace because they believe something malevolent is occurring.
We have to think carefully before we wade into these situations. We are not trained health professionals or full-time social workers, and the paranormal investigation thing, at the end of the day, is a hobby interest. We must always maintain that perspective.
We can act professionally, but we are not trained professionals in this field, and we are altogether unqualified to deal with some of the human situations and conditions we may encounter.

Approaching a paranormal team in New Zealand

There are plenty of active paranormal groups in NZ these days, any or all of all which would really like to hear from you if you have a current worry or concern in the field of the paranormal. This may be an active haunting in your home or workplace, or perhaps a photo or video that shows something you can’t explain.

Also, if the site is available to access, the groups listed here are always on the lookout for places with interesting historic events that may give rise to paranormal events or contact.
Each group is slightly different but we’re all actively talking to each other these days, and we all have our own specialties and slightly different approaches to things. Some groups are a little more skeptical and scientific (but – importantly – open minded!) while others have a more spiritual focus and stronger beliefs in that area. And within each group are individuals with different views, to provide a balance.
The most important thing is that each and every team listed here is dedicated and ready to listen to what you have to say. If you’ve been hesitant to talk to anyone outside your family and closest friends about something that’s been bugging you, perhaps now is a good time to contact one of these groups and start a dialogue.
The list linked below has all of the websites, and also Facebook links for the groups that don’t currently operate websites. We are all happy to refer you, if necessary, to other teams better placed location-wise or with more of a speciality in your field of concern.
And there’s no need to worry about your details ending up all over the internet and other media. We all conduct fully private investigations where no details are disclosed except to you, as the client. Where you see TV and video documentaries, etc, those are all done with full permission, making sure that no one is hurt by the information going out publicly. All your information is treated as 100% private.

Review: Ghosts …

Review: Ghosts Caught on Film – Photographs of the Paranormal

Author: Dr Melvyn Willin

Publisher: David & Charles Ltd, Cincinnati, 2007

Hardback, 156 pages, colour illustrations, 21×17.5cm


It’s still much more fun to curl up comfy with a book than to gaze at a computer screen or play with a small handheld device, and this experience is enhanced if the book has a pleasant weight, size and feel to it, as Ghosts Caught on Film does. It just sits nicely. It’s been lurking on the coffee table a couple of months, and I’ve been reading and studying it bit by bit. It seems more suited to that than a cover-to-cover read.

The book is well structured, with the mysterious photographs catergorised in chapters, each chapter having an introduction. The chapter titles are: The earliest Images; Photographs of the Invisible; Lookalikes – Beyond Coincidence?; Everyday Anomalies; Most Famous Mysteries. The photos date from the nineteenth century to this century (just), and were mainly shot on film, (as the title suggests) not digital cameras. I haven’t seen the later books in this series (see below) but it would be good to have a companion volume of digital photographs.

The first book I stumbled on – by accident, actually, in 2005 – that set me off buying books on the paranormal was Photographs of the Unknown by Richard Kelly (New English Library Ltd, 1980), a medium sized volume packed to the gunwales with every photo of the paranormal you ever saw, including Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and a bunch of UFOs, and some photos you hadn’t seen. The text accompanying each photo is secondary, yet informative and well researched. I would still recommend this book, which you should be able to find in a used book shop or on TradeMe.

I would like Ghosts Caught on Film to be as good as Kelly’s book, and it almost is. You would expect, given advances in digital publishing and printing technology, that the photos would be clearer than the 1980 book, which was produced entirely using analogue technology, but they are generally not. Also, because of the format of the book, the photos are sometimes too small. The designer has eschewed full bleed for the photos, preferring to place them (smaller) on textured backgrounds. In some cases this is annoying, as you really want a decent look at the photo in order to make up your own mind about it.

Making up your own mind is very much how the text is pitched. Dr Willin provides some useful historical and contextual background on each photograph, as well as an opinion on its likelihood of portraying the paranormal. We are then left to draw our own conclusions. I guess that’s fine, especially in the case of the historical examples, most of which will probably remain as mysteries for eternity.

But the main beef I have with this book is the (deliberate?) lameness of the analyses of the photographs. A Baffling presence on Calvary Hill (pgs 80-81), for example, is obviously a case of a person walking through the photograph during the long exposure. (I say this as a person who has taken and seen a lot of similar photographs: the effect is totally recognisable.) The Spirit of Old Nanna (pgs 120-121) is (sorry, but) a camera strap catching the flash. The Haunted Doorway (pgs 146-147) is obviously a hoax photograph. I could go on.

But half the fun of this book is in trying to work out what actually has gone on in the photographs, and the author has deliberately avoided debunking the photos for this reason. I imagine the publisher would’ve also had a hand in this. They want to sell the book, after all, and a cut and dried explanation for each and every photo would work against that, for most people anyway. Perhaps some middle ground could be found; that is, somewhat more credible analyses of the photos by named experts, but still leaving room for the interaction of reader opinion.

My personal favourite candidate for a photograph that genuinely captures a ghost on film would be the image shown as The Girl who Returned (pgs 134-135). It shows the burning of the Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England, in 1995. The figure of a girl amid the flames can be clearly seen, and it is thought this is the girl who allegedly burned down the old Town Hall on the same site in 1677. The photo has been published elsewhere, and I have not yet researched it, but if it’s not an outright fake then the situation would seem to have all the right sort of psychological ingredients for a manifestation to appear on film.

There are other titles in this series of books: Ghosts Caught on Film 2; GCOF 3; The Paranormal Caught on Film (2008) and Monsters Caught on Film (2010). All up, they would make a valuable collection and provide a useful reference source of paranormal photographs.


Dead Haunted – book review

Review: Dead Haunted – Paranormal Encounters and Investigations

Author: Phil Whyman

Publisher: New Holland, London, 2007

Dead Haunted is an attractive book. At first glance, anyway. Then you begin reading it. Immediately, Whyman’s chatty, meandering tone irritates. Here’s a sample:

2. Partial Manifestations

            These are similar to full bodied manifestations, though I tend to think this type has a rather more frightening appearance. Why? Well imagine the following scenes…

            You walk into a room and as you do you are met with the floating torso of a man! Or, you walk into a room and you meet a pair of legs slowly walking towards you, with no torso in sight!

            Get the idea? Well, I’ll tell you one thing – I’d probably be out of that room quicker than a rat wearing running shoes. Don’t you think it would be scarier seeing part of a person than the whole thin? I thought so!

If the lame attempt at humour and the liberal scattering of exclamation marks do not irritate you intensely, you may be able to enjoy this book.

That is if you can get over the design. Pages 22-23 are probably the worst. We’re talking light, sans-serif over a bluey-green, blown up, grainy photograph. Even with my new reading glasses and a good supply of light, this spread on poltergeists is almost impossible to read, and this is not an isolated case. Later on, there are many pages of cursive text reversed out on black.

The photographs and their treatment by the designer are appealing, but as soon as you study the content of the photos you will notice that a high proportion of them are gratuitous – merely there to decorate and add flavour. Plus, they all have irritating artificial, fuzzy borders, as do the pages. The book is totally over-designed.

However, from Chapter 5 (Investigation Equipment) onwards, the content picks up. Chapter 7, on how to conduct a paranormal investigation, is pretty useful. The chapter profiling the medium Dave Wharmby is also a good read. Much of the rest of the book comprises reports of investigations the author has taken part in (Whyman is part of the Most Haunted team) and these are all somewhat interesting, but perhaps too numerous. There are also some personal accounts of ghostly encounters, by various people, and a list of Whyman’s top ten most haunted locations. This is excellent if you happen to live in the UK, but if you reside in other parts of the world (except perhaps the East Coast and the South of the US) you may find yourself feeling extremely jealous.

From the pitch of the text and the design of the book, it is clearly aimed at younger readers. For us adults, it’s too damned hard to read, and the content is too lightweight to be of much use. I would suggest this book would make an ideal gift for a teenager who’s interested in the paranormal (ghosts, primarily) and in learning how to conduct investigations. A less graphically beautiful but far more practical volume (and one that will encourage a higher level of critical thinking in your teenage ghost hunter) is ‘The Paranormal Investigator’s Handbook’, edited by Valerie Hope & Maurice Townsend (Collins & Brown, 1999).

Hello world!

This blog is about the paranormal/supernatural/ anomalous/whatever, with a leaning towards strange occurrences in New Zealand. There will also be reviews of books on the paranormal, from NZ but mainly elsewhere.

I am the leader and co-founder of the paranormal investigation team Strange Occurrences. We are nine-strong, including team members of scientific persuasion as well as from a range of other professions. Strange Occurrences was established in 2005 in Wellington, New Zealand, and is the longest standing active paranormalinvestigation team in the country. Our website has plenty more info, as well as links to the other fine paranormal teams currently active in New Zealand. We also have a pretty lively Facebook group, which you are welcome to join (permission will be granted). We hope to promote a sense of community and cooperation among paranormal interest groups in this country and abroad.

The Strange Occurrences team, 2012: Denise, Jo, Rob, Scott, James, Patrick, Helen, Mark, Karen – photographed at Photospace Gallery

Since publicly declaring my interest in the paranormal, I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject. One of the purposes of this blog is to review and generally wade through the plethora of books on the topic, from those aimed at believers to the more skeptical and scientific texts.I believe this is important, because the subject is so widely covered in TV and the net, as well as in movies, that a lot of rather shallow information has got out there, resulting in many misconceptions about the paranormal. Books are generally more reliable sources of information (not always, and I’ll be pointing out some that are utter rubbish) and this blog will hopefully be of assistance in covering the field.

With Strange Occurrences team member Jo Davy (a Ph.D. who also has a masters in fiction writing) I co-authored our own book: Spooked – Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand (Random House NZ, 2011). The whole experience from first contact by the publisher to seeing Spooked in the bookshops was a total buzz.

Cover of “Spooked – Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand” by Jo Davy & James Gilberd, Random House NZ, 2011

I am a member of New Zealand Skeptics, and the position of Strange Occurrences is a little different to some other paranormal groups you may have encountered on TV or elsewhere. Although there is a healthy range of opinions in the team, we are not necessarily ‘believers’ in ghosts or other paranormal phenomena. We are agnostic, perhaps somewhat skeptical, but I hope in a good way. I believe this is the best position from which to evaluate instances of possibly paranormal activity or phenomena. We’re not about trying to convince people that ghosts exist, because we’re very much still asking that question to ourselves, and on a pretty regular basis.

The phrase, which is a quote from the film “Dean Spanley” – Only the closed mind is certain – best sums up our approach and position on the paranormal.

I hope you enjoy this blog, and will post comments and suggestions about books and other media concerning the paranormal.

Contact Strange Occurrences for all of your paranormal issues


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