Hallowe'en is galloping towards us like a headless horseman. Paranormal Activity 2 is in the cinemas. Peter Ackroyd's new book The English Ghost is in the bestseller lists. The petrifying stage play Ghost Stories is transferring to the Duke of York's. We're in one of our periodic fits of frightophilia, the love of being bowel-voidingly scared.
Along with our perverse delight in having Mummy go "Boo!" when we're two years old – and all subsequent sought-out frights are merely spin-offs from that moment – we like to scientificise what scares us, and pretend it's a search for an afterlife. We've done it for centuries. The Victorians were fans of ghost-hunting, but had to admit they had no hard evidence for The Otherlife, bar a few faked photos and some ectoplasmic muslin spilling from the mouth of compliant girls. Check out spook-hunting online today, however, and you'll be surprised how popular it's become. I didn't realise how many British ghostbusters there are, roaming the countryside, with electromagnetic frequency detectors, dreaming of the moment when they can, like Dan Ackroyd and Co in Ghostbusters, lock up one of the buggers in a box – and thinking that, at last, it's possible.
The Holy Grail is the capture of an EVP – an electronic voice phenomenon, defined as "a disembodied voice that cannot be heard by the human voice at the time of recording, only on playback of recording equipment."
You can imagine the appeal. You prowl round the spooky Hell Fire caves of West Wycombe or the Devil Stone Inn in Exeter with your ghost-hunter pals and your equipment, minutely noting every whiff of decay (yeech,) every fugitive sound (whooooo,) every breeze on your neck (heh heh heh) and every sensation of being watched (aaarrgghh) – then, back home, you spend hours listening to your tape, convincing yourself there's a tiny crying voice, deep in the mix of hiss and crackle, whispering, This is Princess Alice who died in 1749, executed by the king, doomed to haunt the earth...
Existing EVPs are of mixed quality. I've spent hours listening to dozens on the Ghostfinder Paranormal Society website, the most polished of ghost-hunting organisations, playing them again and again, never quite sure what I just heard. They're given titles ("Mocking Laugh," "Deep Voice,") or are named after the words used by the supposed wraith ("Closer," "Who's There?"). Some are just-intelligible murmurs, some resemble hisses of static, others are modern-sounding voices that could be one of the investigating team. Some sound like intruders on a phone party-line.
But all, I grudgingly admit, are strangely blood-chilling, because of what we want them to be. Maybe it's significant that the one voice I heard coming across loud and clear was saying "Shut up!" to the investigators. It's rather cool of the dead to lie there, across the Styx, wishing to God we'd leave them alone.
La Campbellina and I: two peas out of the same pod
I never felt I had much in common with Naomi Campbell. It's true we both grew up in south London, we share vital statistics (both her bust and hip measurements are spookily the same as my waist) and we've both been given presents of large uncut blood diamonds by African dictators in the middle of the night (just kidding), but I never thought we'd think alike.
Here she is, though, telling a German magazine, "I need a break every six weeks." If she doesn't get eight holidays a year, she explains, she tends to "lose control." Gosh, Naomi – me too! Because of an unspecified, possibly thyroidal, condition, I also need eight, in fact more like ten, holidays a year, or I become listless, whingeing, argumentative, irritable, unable to string a sentence together, and given to falling asleep after lunch.
I've explained my condition to the Independent's editors who, while sympathetic about my affliction, tend to respond with the words, "Get back to work this minute, you lead-swinging oaf." Turning to Ms Campbell for help, I see she told the German magazine there are three things that make her feel at home: "I always have crystals, a Bible and a shawl." Again, we're in almost total agreement. In my case it's 12-year-old Lagavulin , a rib-eye steak and a Paul Smith overcoat. But I'm happy we're singing from the same hymn-sheet, La Campbellina and me.
Bargain hunter Cherie and the ethics of selling old tat
Hearing that Cherie Blair sold a £300 watch, given to her husband by Silvio Berlusconi, on eBay for £98, it's easy to feel she has better things to do than flog the family bric-a-brac. But then one reads about the visit of the Emir of Qatar and his lovely wife, Sheika Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned. (It's a shame about the "bint" isn't it? A touch of Cockney demotic amid the eastern grandeur.) Among the ritual exchange of gifts, the Emir gave HMQ "a gold casket decorated with diamonds" while the Duke was given "a statue of a horse on a clock base."
You feel for the Duke, don't you? You can hear him making his characteristic whinnying noise at the splendour and imagination of the gift. A horse clock. They used to make them in the 1920s. Novelty statues were all the rage. I remember a family who owned a brass horse which dispensed a cigarette from the rear end, and played "Boots, Saddles, to Horse and Away," when you lifted the tail. So would we criticise the Duke, if he got rid of the repellent gift as soon as possible?
Of course not. We'd only object if he tried to make a few quid out of it. Dispensing with unwanted tat is admirable. Dispensing with unwanted tat for a small sum is, as Cherie Booth should know, like demanding £10 per stuffed binliner at an Oxfam shop.