I’m always wary of things such as claims of paranormal activities. There is a part of the mind that persuades you to believe what you want to believe, whilst bypassing logic and reason. This is one reason why conspiracy theories can be so popular. We all want to believe that there are things such as extraterrestrial life and a life beyond our own natural passing, and given an opportunity to convince ourselves with a new evidence or theory, if we want to believe it badly enough, we’ll walk blinkered, and deeper into our convictions and wishful thoughts. But I’m not one for blind faith, and it takes an awful lot to convince me of things that have not been proved. Much of what people believe about paranormal activities is based upon events or occurrences which have, in fact, more to do with coincidence and misunderstanding than upon basis in fact. The likelihood of coincidences to occur on a regular basis during our lifetimes is 100%. Everybody will experience bad luck on Friday 13th. Everybody will also experience good luck on Friday 13th. It is impossible to live in a world with no coincidences. If, for every coincidence, however unlikely it may seem, we believed that there was a deeper, underlying meaning, then we’d be talking ourselves into all kinds of nonsense. Such stuff is the basis of superstition and religion, and where has any of that got us?
With this is mind, I reflect upon a recurring experience that I had as a child with as open a mind as I possibly can. My first recollection of it was when I was six years old. I know this to be the case, as I was awake with excitement for most of the night before going away on a family holiday in 1966. My bedroom was an 8 ft square “box room” as we used to call them. My single bed was in a corner with a wall behind my head and to my left. In the corner to my right, almost within touching distance was an old dressing table with a large three-way mirror built into it. It had been given to us secondhand by a family friend. A sound came from the area of the dressing table. Slow, deep breathing, as if a man were right next to me, sleeping. Imagine a slow inhalation of about five seconds, followed by an exhalation of the same length. It would continue for an indeterminate period of time, terrifying me. I used to keep a little red torch under my pillow – I liked the excitement of being able to flash it around my room when I should really have been sleeping.
When I heard this noise, I can remember, on occasions, getting out of bed to investigate with my torch. Why on earth I didn’t get up and switch the light on, I don’t know. I think I used to open the drawers to check what it might be, but I can’t really remember. We lived in a terraced house on a council estate. The wall directly behind my head was next door’s bathroom, and to my left was my two older sisters’ shared bedroom. There was no place from outside the room that could have caused the impression of deep breathing so close to my bed. My parents’ room was across the landing and out of earshot. The noise was in my room.
It happened on a regular basis, but I don’t know how often. I kept it a secret but I don’t know why. I would dread going to bed and hearing it. Sometimes, my mum would change the furniture around and the dressing table would be to my left. I would still hear the breathing from the direction of the dressing table.
When I went to high school, aged 11 or perhaps when I was a year or two older, my parents bought me new, modern furniture with a proper desk for studying. Although I have no recollection of exactly when it stopped, I never experienced it after the old dressing table was gone. As the years passed and I eventually grew up, I gradually began to think that maybe my child’s mind had created this experience, even though I was certainly never convinced. It had been so real and clear.
When I was in my twenties, I was discussing childhood experiences with my eldest sister. It transpired that she, too, had heard the same sounds when she used to sleep there before I did. But until then, neither of us had ever discussed it with anyone.
I will offer no explanation as to what it could have been. I know little about paranormal activity. What I do believe is that the paranormal is merely undiscovered science, with a physics that we do not yet (or possibly never could) understand. If there is a spiritual world, it is simply something with its own physics that we (or, at least, most of us) cannot touch or perceive. When people see a ghost, they automatically assume that it is the spirit of someone deceased, because we all want to believe that there is a life after. Maybe it is just the result of an image of an event being stored like a tape recording, and circumstances beyond our understanding could trigger its replay. Maybe, in my experience when I was a child, the old dressing table had some event stored within it. Maybe it actually was my imagination. Maybe it was real. I’ll never know.
I have, on occasions, experienced all kinds of ghostly hallucinations during that semi-sleep while waking. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis which is usually accompanied by some terrifying, seemingly supernatural experience. I can rationalise this and not convince myself, as some would, that they have been haunted by some ghost or spirit. I have been close to death in a coma, but had no out-of-body experience and I saw no tunnel of white light. I have never had an utterly convincing supernatural experience. However, I cannot rationalise the breathing noises that I used to hear as a child right next to my bed. All I know is my own recollection of my experiences. I don’t seek to prove anything one way or another as that would be impossible now.
My wife, Sarah, and I have a more extraordinary story which really did happen. In 2009 I survived a brain haemorrhage. Four years later she beat breast cancer. To celebrate our lives, we have become US road trippers and 1950s-style dancers. If you want to read about our story, please visit our website: