Last night was my second Hundon men's group meetings at the Rose and Crown. It was smaller than previously, with only four of us sitting outside in the warm evening. It grew more and more chilly as darkness fell, and someone asked if anyone wanted to go inside? But we each said no, we were fine: a bunch of old men, none wanting to admit to weakness before the others. Finally, Derek's wife Jean turned up to drive him home, they having moved to Clare a while ago. "You're still outside?" she asked, "Aren't you cold?" Waking home with a neighbour from the group, he said "it did get cold sitting out."
Derek had mentioned that Jean had been to see Ronnie Buckingham, a famous medium who had visited a packed Hundon Hall earlier in the week. This immediately drew the skepticism of the group, all engineers or practical men, who wanted to know what he said, or if he could tell anything of Jean's past that was genuinely unknown to anyone else. Jean was reluctant to say too much, but admitted she went for the entertainment value, which is fair comment. His method is to announce he has a message coming through, perhaps from someone's parent, or partner, brother or sister or a child, and ask if anyone has lost such a relation? Inevitably someone will admit to having some close loss, and he then sounds them out with a series of half-formed questions, gradually teasing the story from the emotionally vulnerable subject and making it sound as though he, Ronnie, is presenting these hidden facts from the beyond. But I kept my views to myself, for Jean was understandably abashed by the doubters and reluctant to say too much.
In my GP days, one of my patients was known as the Billingham witch. Velma had a flat hidden above the shops, reached by stairs and a common walk-way. So many people visited her, a neighbour had painted in large white letters, "The witch is at 10a, not 10", with an arrow to guide people away from his door. She looked the part with long, midnight-black hair, decks of cards and a crystal ball on the green baize table, mystic symbols pinned round the walls lit by candles, and the curtains half shut against the sun. She always offered to tell my fortune, and wanted to know my birth sign, but I used to tease her and say she ought to be able to tell me. She also offered to put a curse on anyone who upset me. She never gave me my fortune or pronounced her curse, but she did make a good cup of tea and bacon butties and provided a welcome break in a busy day.
I know, though the Hundon men's group don't, that Ann does Tarot readings, but that is not hocus-pocus. She uses the cards to explore the hidden conscious and help people express emotions, fears or memories they may have suppressed. Ann never claims to "read the cards", but uses them to express ideas within the subject in a form of Jungian analysis. Like an analyst or a doctor, she keeps her confidences and doesn't reveal what people have told her, but all who go to her appear to be greatly helped, so – as a great believer in deep or primitive motivations in our lives – unlike a medium or simple witchcraft, this is something I do agree with.