Let’s Get Spiritual, Spiritual: Spirits in the material world

At about 6 PM on a cold January Sunday, I hastened past the remains of the recently collapsed Brighton Pier, and wound my way past the Pavilion. On past the D.K. Rosen clothes shop (where, as legend has it, one can find the real ‘Suits you’ shopkeeper), and towards the bohemian Kemp Town section of Brighton, where I had an appointment to commune with the dead…
The ‘Brighton National Spiritual Church’ is located on Edward Street, near the American Express building (a sure contender for the vilest structure in south England) and opposite Devonshire Place. An unimposing building, it didn’t prove too difficult to find, even in the foggy haze that blanketed this seaside town. I had managed to strong-arm a friend of mine (we’ll call him Injun Bob) into accompanying me.

‘Why do you want me to go?’ he had asked an hour beforehand in the pub.
‘Well, you know, in case they all turn out to be vampires or something’.
‘Oh, well naturally…’
Smelly t-shirts
I had never attended a spiritualist service before and didn’t quite know what to expect. My mind was filled with images of moribund Goths, insufferable Cure fans, and smelly ‘Fields of the Nephilim’ t-shirts. I anticipated a pervasive air of doom and tomb-like silence. In fact, the service was held in a small and inviting oval shaped room, which created quite a close sound and atmosphere.
Sitting at the top, were two impossibly cheerful people; both middle-aged, one male and one female. There was an overwhelming normality about everything, which in itself, I found a bit odd.
The audience for the service was comprised of about thirty people. The vast majority were sporting grey hair: not quite the blue rinse brigade but certainly not the type of Brightonians that you would find taking part in the weekly spastic fit in the Concorde night-club. All in all, I counted three people (other than myself and Injun Bob) who looked like they were under 35 years of age.
The service commenced with a Hymn (something about communicating with the Spirits) and then the small middle-aged man with the slightly manic smile stood up to give something called ‘the invocation’. This seemed, to my heathen Irish ears, to be a long list of wishes which, the longer that it went on, sounded more and more like a prayer.
Oh, and all delivered in the most super-camp of Home Counties accents. The priest (who we will call David), it turned out, was not a priest at all, but this weeks visiting medium. He gave what could loosely be described as a sermon. In reality, this was a rambling 10-minute monologue made up of various tenuously linked points.
Some of the subjects he covered were Iraq, despair in the modern world, war, money, spirits and proof of their existence and what he called ‘throwing off the shackles of the material world’. What made this all the more absurd was the manic and disjointed David Brent-like patter.

Linking up

After another hymn, it was time for what I can only describe as ‘the performance’. Camp David explained how he would attempt to channel various spirits who were present in the room and that he would then ‘link’ with various people in the gathering who might benefit from this. He told us not to be disappointed if he did not link to us. I have no idea why, but I knew almost instantaneously that I would not be linked to.
The room fell quiet whilst David paced up and down and began to take a series of deep breaths. A grave look clouded his face. Each breath was followed by a prolonged sigh. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he suddenly pivoted on his heel and stabbed a finger at a large lady sitting near the front.
David proceeded to ask the lady if she had had a grandmother who had passed away, because he was ‘sensing, rather than feeling’ that it was a woman from the mothers side of the family that was ‘trying to come through’. The lady confirmed that she had. ‘Was she a small lady?’ he asked. The lady confirmed that she had been.
Commiting to specifics
This was followed by a series of statements and suppositions regarding this lady and her physical appearance. At first I couldn’t see why David would discuss such trivial details at such length. As time passed, I was to discover that this was the staple of what Camp David actually did. He would ask a broad and general question regarding age, hair colour, etc without committing himself to any real specifics. Just enough to be correct and not enough to be glaringly wrong.
‘Was she married to a big man? Did she like a clean house? (at which Injun Bob remarked ­ ‘Do you know a woman that doesn’t?’). ‘Did she have an illness before she passed?’ asked David of another lady. As he worked his way around the room, he would have a higher success rate of hits with certain people.
For example a man sitting to my left seemed to be quite impressed with what David had to say. David described this young man’s grandparents (again from the mothers side) with what seemed to be a reasonable degree of accuracy. However, I found the method of David’s questioning to be quite leading, guiding the person that he had linked with to answer in the affirmative to just about all of his questions.
When David was firing wildly over the head of someone, as he did with a middle- aged man to my right, he had a neat get-out clause. I’ll give you an example. ‘Does an image of a man on a horse mean anything to you?’ he asked. The gentleman replied that it didn’t. ‘No matter’ said David,’ ask your mother. It may mean something to her’.
It seemed to me that whenever David had a major miss like this one, he could deflect the issue quite well by stating that the cryptic and seemingly random image did mean something important to a member of the congregation, but just that they weren’t aware of what that significance was yet. It was a piece of obfuscation worthy of an Irish government spokesperson trying to defend cuts in the budget.
This incessant dodging and weaving became quite irritating. Every time that David got himself into a difficult position he seemed to change the subject with great haste. For example at one point he leapt from questions about chest illnesses (there was a lot of that) to observations about the significance of Australia. If he failed to placate the congregation member that he had linked with, he would just crack an inane joke and launch into his shrieking laugh and then swiftly move on to someone else.
After about twenty-five minutes of this meandering buffoonery, the channelling came to an end. A donation plate did a quick whip around (average donation of one British pound, so we can’t claim that they are in it for the money) and then the lady at the top wished us all well and invited us in for a cup of tea.
Neither Bob nor myself were linked to, leaving us to muse over what could have been as we sat over a pint in a nearby pub afterwards.
‘I need to go back’ I said. ‘Yeah. Well, it could have been worse. ‘
‘Oh yeah. How?’ I asked.
‘Well they could have turned into vampires’
Services are weekly on Sundays. I intend to go back next week and consult with Bill Hicks for advice on what to do about George Bush and Iraq. Watch this space for updates…

Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.