Saturday, 13 September 2014

Pargetting and the Supernatural


Haven't been much in London at all. We were visiting friends in Wessex last week (where I spotted this pretty blue butterfly, above) and we somehow got chatting about ghosts and the supernatural. I was very surprised at how many perfectly normal people reported ghosts and hauntings from their own experience.  We all agreed that the the "ghostly" manifestations seemed a bit inconsequential and really quite varied, although rather scary at the time.   

My feeling about ghosts etc. is that I don't believe in them,  even though I once worked for the vicar of this church (photographed 100 years ago or so - these days you can hardly see it for trees)


By the time I was there, they'd built a church hall where my daughter went to playschool every weekday morning.  We were hard-up at the time, I needed work and I was pleased to be getting a handy part time job in the vicarage right next door to playschool. But the vicar turned out to be a well known exorcist and my work was mainly dealing with deeply troubled people who thought they were possessed.    My experiences there were enough to convince me that I did not wish to meddle in this subject and I was not sorry that my daughter grew out of that playschool soon after and I didn't need to work there any more.    

I have no doubt that many of us (including me) have scary and unexplained experiences, but I prefer to keep an open mind about what these experiences actually mean.  It's so easy to sleep and dream very briefly, misinterpret sounds or sights, or become quite suggestible. Also, there are strange folk around who like to threaten and frighten others and are not above taking a lot of trouble to do it.  

And chatting with my Wessex friends,  I learned that a vicar I had met a few weeks ago has to keep clearing up "cursed" hub caps and unreeled VHS tape draped over hedges outside his vicarage - it's a form of attack by weird individuals who are into witchcraft, and worse.  At first it seemed ridiculous to think of some idiot cursing VHS tapes, of all things, and then spreading them around.  But I quickly realised that it is deeply threatening and upsetting to be on the receiving end of this weirdness.  I ended up feeling  sorry for this vicar, and surprised that apparently other vicars have to deal with similar deranged behaviour that is more appropriate to 1614 than 2014.

I'll leave the topic here, as I know it upsets some people - but it's on my mind so hope you don't mind me sharing.  When I got back to London, I went to see the choir of Kings College Cambridge singing sacred music at King's Place - what a contrast to the cursers!  The programme included the extraordinary "Spem in Alium" motet by Thomas Tallis.   This work has forty separate parts, so is very hard to sing and conduct.  When Queen Elizabeth I heard it, she's said to have given 40 pounds to Tallis - enough to buy him a country estate in those days.   When forty people are singing it just in front of you, it's so loud and intense that the air seem to jump about and the music completely fills your mind.  This YouTube video can't replicate that experience but it's a good performance.  


And now I'd better finish the post I was writing before I went to Wessex.  My post was about Essex. Essex and Wessex are on opposite sides of the country ("Essex" = East Saxons, "Wessex" - West Saxons, I'm told),  In many parts of the East of England, you'll see houses decorated with pargetting, a form of plasterwork. It can be in a plain little pattern


 free form 



or quite descriptive. The one below, in Saffron Walden (see last post) seems to be telling a story, but I don't know what it can be! 


Anyway as I cycled along a quiet lane we passed this sign on a rusty-roofed old shed 


Adjoining this old shed was a handsome house, decorated with some interesting modern pargetting describing medieval customs. I thought it was great. 





We have also seen pargetted homes in Northern France, but there the pargetting is often painted up in bright colours. 


I suppose the scenes in old pargetting are also to do with legends, supernatural things, traditions and spells, lingering on in our modern world.

66 comments:

  1. Spem in Alium, wow. I know of it, never listened all through, thank you so much.

    The pargeting is amazing, better in monochrome I think.

    Some people like their eerie set in concrete with names and addresses, "ghosts", so they can feel in some control. I'm with you, preferring it as a mystery, possibly explicable, if not explained.

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    1. Glad I could offer you Spem in Alium all through. The more I know it the better I like to hear it - there is always more to hear.

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  2. Hello Jenny, thanks for your interesting post. I too prefer to keep a very open mind about ghosts etc, also I was once at a friend's home where a woman produced tarot cards and a few people seemed quite into it. I didn't feel comfortable so I left after a little while and immediately felt so much happier. Best to follow our own intuition always isn't it.

    Lovely to learn about Pargetting. I have often admired some decorations around houses and didn't realise what it was called.

    I do love your first photo of that gorgeous butterfly and flower... so pretty.

    Beaut to catch up with you again Jenny. Sorry I've been away from blogging but I get around to everyone eventually.

    Cheers now :D)

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  3. I myself have had what might be called "paranormal" experiences and they don't bother me. I just feel that we have not yet discovered or identified all of the different senses and well, parallel universes? I don't know. I just know that I accepted them and was not afraid or creeped out. They seemed as much a part of life as anything.

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    1. Yes, part of life - that is just what they are. We would be silly to think we understood everything.

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  4. During the time we lived in a churchyard and my husband worked in the church we had to cope with lots of 'hauntings' and 'cursings'. The church can be a magnet for weird behaviour, not all of it alcohol fuelled. It can be just plain annoying during the day, but late at night amid the tombstones.....well!

    Pargetting is a lovely craft and your photos are fascinating.

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    1. I really don't think I would like to live in a churchyard. I think a strong faith can help deal with this kind of thing, which was certainly the mental defence of the vicar I spoke with.

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  5. Your post is the first time I come across the word pargetting and the houses decorated in that manner. It's beautiful!
    Regarding ghosts etc., I share your view. There are certainly many things that can not be easily explained, but I believe that there is an explanation behind everything - even though at the moment we might not find it. The human mind is complex and works in strange ways! For some, firm belief in the supernatural is maybe a means of escaping harsh realities they can not cope with otherwise. For others, it may just be that they like the "thrill" it adds to their lives, or they are curious and (as you said) suggestible. If I were talking to someone who firmly believes in ghosts, I would not merely brush aside their point of view - I'd probably not even try to reason with them. But that only applies to the harmless ones. Those who do seek to cause harm to someone else should be taken seriously, not for their belief in the supernatural, but because of their intentions.

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    1. There is a sort of perennial fascination in ghosts. I would never brush aside peoples' views and convictions. It was very interesting (though unsettling) working with the exorcist because it gave a glimpse into a world which in some ways was mad but in other ways just frightening. I just prefer not to delve too deeply.

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  6. I do like a bit of pargeting, and you have shown us some lovely examples, I enjoyed seeing the example from N. France too.
    I am like you re: ghosts etc, but I remember once in the middle of the night, when I was alone, I heard a very loud humming. I went to investigate and the noise took me to the bathroom where it was even louder. I couldn't make out what was going on, but eventually tracked it down to the toilet cistern where upon lifting the lid found a large trapped bumble bee!!!

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    1. Ah, you told the story about the bumblebee very well! I was waiting to hear what it had been. I would imagine that it would be rather resonant in a toilet in fact :)

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  7. I'm going to try replying individually to some of the posts. As you might know I can't change the colours on this blog so the replies come out yellow on white. Huh! The way to read them is to run the cursor over and highlight them. I'll give it a go anyway. Let me know if it works.

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    1. It works fine, Jenny. Thank you for making the extra effort!

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  8. I don't believe in ghosts and hauntings, never having experienced any, but I do believe in some "supernatural" phenomena like telepathy and premonitions. I think it's possible to sense someone else's thoughts or feelings or to sense how some future event will turn out. I once had the same dream as my girlfriend, for example. And I sometimes have total certainty that a future event will work out well, and it does.

    I love all the pargetting. It's a great way of decorating a house. As you say, the one in Saffron Walden seems to be telling a story.

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    1. I do believe in premonitions, etc.and I might be with Lewis Carroll on this, he said he thought there was some force we didn't presently understand which carried this kind of information. I suppose a bit like we'd have looked at lightning years ago and not realised it was really electricity and not gods throwing their spears around! :)

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  9. How strange about the 'yellow' type.

    I like to see the pargetting on old houses in the countries I have visited but I didn't realise the craft was still practiced.

    I have had one or two strange and unexplained experiences so I think there's something 'out there'. However, by and large I don't believe in ghosts.

    Thank you so much for your good wishes. Joe is home again, together with more 'tubing'. He's fed-up with it all but generally not too bad. It's a very upside-down world for him these days.

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    1. I'm glad Joe is home again, Valerie. What an upsetting time for you all.

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  10. What a varied post! Loved your first picture. Like you, I keep a spirited open mind; there are certainly things that happen that cannot easily be explained. But there are some sad, and sometimes evil, people out there, are there not? You've found some wonderful examples of pargetting - I always thought it was unique to the Essex area in Britain. And v interesting to see someone use the term, 'Wessex'; just the other day I was thinking of launching an independence campaign for it..!

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  11. I love pargetting - it adds such a lot to a building. One of the best examples I've seen in my local area is the Ancient House in Ipswich which is home to the Lakeland shop. I didn't realise it was peculiar to the east x

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  12. Hello Jenny,

    We too are on the sceptical bench when it comes to ghosts and hauntings but how deeply unpleasant it is for the vicar whom you met to be on the receiving end of the weird behaviour of some disturbed people. As you say, one can imagine that this is the work of somebody in a much earlier century.

    The examples of pargetting which you show are delightful. We do like this form of decoration and it us such fun to try and imagine what stories are being told by the tableaux.

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  13. My community is small, old, rural, and beset by legends of super normal activity, set in place years ago by reporters on slow news days. The internet magnified all this, there are sites devoted to supposed participation in the same legends, over and over. Nothing new ever happens, same old stuff. However, these people climb fences to trample graves in the dark, perform rituals on graves sacred to the living. The police have arrested any caught, the trustees have successfully prosecuted them. However, being found guilty and sentenced to many hours of community service is flung out to the internet as part of the paranormal experience. It is the worst form of ignorance; I have no sympathy for these fools who value the ancestors of the living so little.

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  14. That music, which I knew of and have a recording of by the Tallis Scholars, is truly Divine and really lifts the spirits (as opposed to raising them!). Lovely pargetting examples too.

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  15. I don't believe in ghosts, but I do believe in unhappy places, don't know what causes them
    Love the pargetting. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it before.

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    1. My friend was always convinced she could tell unhappy places. And happy ones, I hasten to add.

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  16. Well, I think I would be very happy to live in a pargetted (?) home. I'd heard that word -- never knew what it does, although I suppose I do a similar thing when I use plaster or molding paste to make patterns on canvas -- nothing so intricate, though. So beautiful -- I would have photographed every single one!

    What an odd experience. Yes, I think I would have been quite pleased to get out of the pre-school/vicar's zone and elsewhere. I'm not big on the ghost concept, but the whole thing is rather sad, isn't it? I believe that there is a lot we don't know -- and probably never will, for if one says yes another will say no and who's really to say? Too bad these people had to express themselves that way, though.

    Thanks for sharing the music. Stunning.

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  17. The music by Thomas Tallis is beautiful - thank you for posting this video, I loved listening to it. I'm very fond of this kind of music. Almost two years ago I was able to enjoy a performance by the Tallis Scholars in our concert hall, and it was so beautiful.

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  18. I'm not suprised about "normal" people reporting on experiences with ghosts. I have my own fair share of anecdotes. In my case I have always attributed them to a state of mind rather than something "out there". Beautiful photos and information and a new English word for me: paragetters. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. I am always tempted to ask people to recount their own experiences. Even though I am a sceptic, I'm also fascinated....

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  19. I've never had ghost problems but I did have an alien problem once.

    http://amommoneyandmore2.blogspot.com/2011/10/true-story.html

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  20. I'm with you on ghosts and hauntings. I believe there's stuff we can't explain (or explain yet) and some people just take it the wrong way.

    I had never heard of pargetting or seen examples of it before I came to read your post today. Learned something new - thanks!

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  21. Thank you Jenny!
    I thought right away of Jean Pargetter of "As Time Goes By." Beautiful buildings.
    As for spirits, I tell them to stay out of the bathroom when I'm in there. I've seen one. It wasn't scary. Quite the opposite, late summer evening walking a dog in a cemetery. The dog was calm as well.

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  22. Pargetting looks like a much more interesting way to decorate the outside of a home than most others i've seen. Thank you for highlighting it.

    The music is intensely beautiful, and nice to drive away the leftover concerns of possible paranormal things, which i prefer to leave alone!

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  23. Wonderful pictures. I know you write about England, but I'm curious about your opinion about Scotland separating from Great Britain. This is big news here in the States.

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  24. Those buildings make those of today seem so plain and incredibly boring.

    I can't even explain the behaviour of the living, let alone try to explain that of the dead! ;)

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  25. I do not believe in ghosts, but that does not mean I can't be frightened or creeped out by stories of hauntings and the supernatural.

    The Spem in Alium video is just beautiful, as well as the pictures of the pargetting on the buildings. Both are new to me and I enjoyed reading and learning about them.

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    1. So glad to introduce you to them both!

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  26. I love that picture of the butterfly on the flower. Sooooo pretty!

    I believe in ghosts, and I also believe I've seen a couple.

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  27. I so enjoyed the pargetting photos. I don't recall seeing any on my trips over there. But will try to get to wessex and essex one day.
    Meantime, some months after my husband's death, I saw him walk around the bedroom, go into the closet and come out dressed. Then he walked out of the room.
    I don't believe in ghosts, but this sighting showed me why people want to. I felt better after seeing him. It was, in a way I can't describe, re-assuring. But I know in head and heart that it was something out of my own head. I "saw" him doing familiar things and time was suspended for that brief minute or two. It has to be a faculty of our brains, developed over millennia of evolution. Of my friends who have "seen" their loved ones, they all report that it happened just once and for a very short time.

    How easily people can turn these visions into "ghosts." There's a grain of truth in most weird things we hear and read about. It wasn't long after I "saw" my beloved that I woke up one day and knew that the sun was shining and that I was still alive and it was time to live life again. I think that was his last gift to me---or my brain's last bit of patience with my grief. Get on with life, it was telling me.

    But your stories show why I don't think much of the "celebration" of Halloween. Creepy and truly a put-down of aging women--- aka crones.

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  28. The butterfly photo is fantastic. I've never heard of pargetting, but the examples you've shown are really charming - actually beautiful. It's been a long time since I've heard anything by Thomas Tallis - the motet was a treat.

    You're very wise in not wanting to meddle in the paranormal or supernatural. It can be a very dangerous thing. I would have never believed in spirits or ghosts if I didn't experience a few very real incidents. Now I'm a believer. Of course, it's a tricky subject - sometimes inspired by over-active imaginations or dreams, etc. - - but I've experienced several horrifying things that occurred when I was wide awake and totally sober. Scared the jeeters out of me!

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    1. Hope you'll make a blog post out of them Jon, I think it would be bound to be enthralling!

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  29. Loved the singing - I sing in a choir, not always well, but we love it. And I sang in a come-and-sing version of Jenkins' The Armed Man so years ago 400 of us singing!! It was truly amazing.

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  30. Pagetting is everywhere in Essex. The houses are built mostly of wood and plaster and this is an excellent way to decorate them. Some of it is coloured but usually plain, I suppose it is hard work keeping it maintained.
    Demons and such are in the bible, basic Christianity is required here. Jesus is has to be said is God, they are not! Those who attack vicars this way usually know little about the real supernatural world, it's just a wee game to them. However many get caught and deceived this way. Telling the difference between 'troubled' people and those with demonic influence is not easy. A famous Christian psychiatrist said he often could tell but at times it was not possible. John White was his name.
    Tallis is wonderful! More please!
    The butterfly is fabulous. How did you get it to sit still for you? Did you stick a pin in it perhaps?
    Great shot.
    You see things I would miss when travelling, I hope you keep moving through winter!

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  31. Hi Jenny,
    It's good to be back blogging again and reading your spooky post, I have been away far too long!
    The blue butterfly photo is stunning, such a great shot!
    Parts of England and especially London has so much history with a lot of ghost stories to tell. I felt sorry for the vicar and some people with mental illness do think they are possessed. I'm like you, I keep an open mind about ghosts.
    The plaster decoration on the buildings are wonderful and they look like like fairy tale houses.
    Great to read your posts again, they are always interesting!
    Best wishes,
    Jo.

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  32. I especially like the one with the furry owl. AT least, I think that's an owl.

    I don't believe in ghosts, but I have plenty of patients who sure do. Me, I figure there's a scientific explanation for everything, even if we can't always find it.

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  33. Start with that fotaza butterfly, and then this enormous musical gift, is not the same as live, sure .. but invites. Weird Figures samples in homes. A lovely post. Greetings and good week.

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  34. I'm keeping an open mind about ghosts. Although I know people who claim to have seen them, I never have and would prefer to keep it that way!
    The pargetting is beautiful and reminded me of the plasterwork I've seen above Tudor (I think) fireplaces- some great examples of that locally at Old Hardwick Hall

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  35. Thanks for the further comments. It's irritating the heck out of me not being able to read what I reply, so I'm going back to commenting like this - but thank you for the kind response, Meike.

    Stephen, it's a complicated subject, incredibly so. I totally understand the Scottish wish to be controlling their own destiny but my gut feeling is that they are getting carried away by emotion and not thinking of the practicalities, just hoping it'll work out. With the country split down the middle about staying in or out, I just feel it's not the right time to rely on everyone suddenly deciding to tackle any serious difficulties shoulder to shoulder... it could even turn quite nasty and recriminatory. If I was a Scot I'd vote "No", then see whether the UK government met all its promises - and if it didn't, I'd fight like heck for another referendum VERY soon - and get a clearer mandate for independence by then. But hey, I'm not a Scot and I don't have a vote.,
    Jackie, my feeling exactly. Hardly a better antidote!
    Maywyn, it is interesting how such "visions" are often quite lacking in emotion, and so varied, aren't they?
    Really laughed at your post, Sonya - your blog always cheers me up.
    Pargetting is a lovely word, I think, I never heard of Jean Pargetter though, so that's something new for me too :)
    carola, I hope you get the chance to see Spem in Alium live one day, it's so amazing to have that wall of sound
    Jeanie, if you ever get to East Anglia you'll find lots of examples of pargetting. As Teresa says, the house in Ipswich is really something else and worth travelling a long way to see. I had some photos of them but couldn't access them when I was putting my post together.

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  36. Some more replies:
    Mike, had to smile at independence for Wessex! It's used quite a lot in Wessex itself, I think. Or so it seems. Jane and Lance, I found myself wondering whether anyone has done a survey of pargeted houses and their stories - it would make a lovely project for a local historian.
    Nell, I wish I had thought to say "lifts the spirits instead of raising them" - brilliant. Can tell you are a poet:)
    Never heard of "The Armed Man" Jo but it sounds like an intriguing title, and perhaps an old piece. I will look it up after this....
    Maryom, I had never made the connection between interior and exterior plasterwork for some reason. But you are quite right. .

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  37. Hello Jenny, what an interesting post. I keep an open mind about ghosts and spiritual things, I don't have a definite opinion, but prefer to not think about it all too much. How awful that the vicar is having such a hard time, there are some nasty people about.
    I love the pargetting it is so decorative and charming. I particularly like the painted one. Hope all is well with you and your family, love Linda x

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  38. "The air seems to jump about" is an excellent way to describe the experience of live music. I used to sing in a school chorus of around 300 voices, so I have experienced the power that can result from a wall of sound.

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  39. We used to spend quite a few pleasant weekends in essex and often visited Saffron Walden. I know that house front very well. Is the antique and bookshop still there?

    The music, wonderful. Tallis is amongst my most favourite favourites.

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  40. I so love visiting your blog and touring around your wonderful country. The picture you posted is amazing, and I'm really impressed with all the paragetting. Ghosts - hmmm, well, I don't believe in them either. I'll change my mind and say I was wrong if I ever meet one. But, being I'm in my 70's, I doubt I'll meet any!

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  41. Hi, Jenny! I enjoyed this interesting post. I don’t believe the existence of ghost, or being possessed by someone’s bad spirit, though I don’t say I’m not scared at all walking alone in the cemetery.

    However, I like to see imaginative creatures including supernatural ones. Pargetted houses are lovely. If the design of pargetting is based on legend or myths, I like to imagine what our ancestors valued or feared, what they symbolized, and their meaning of life and death

    Yoko

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  42. No supernatural for me, real life is exciting enough. I really enjoyed the pargetting pictures and of course it is nice to learn a new word.

    Darla

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  43. I loved the pargetting I saw when visiting Essex recently. David was less impressed " It's just like outside Artex" he said! I believe that often repeated actions or powerfully emotional happenings may leave an imprint. Perhaps Ghosts are just sensitive people seeing the imprint? Jane xx

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  44. I can attest to the spiritual realm being more real (in a manner of speaking) than most of what naturally comes to meet our physical sight, but most superstitions are nonsense.

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  45. I used to be convinced about many things supernatural and still believe there is much we do not understand but experience has taught me that things I believed to be were not always as they seemed and having dealt with many seemingly 'normal' people who believed in the most extra-ordinary things (many of which were results of psychosis).

    I'm not a great fan of Renaissance music as a rule and it had been a long time since I'd listened to Spem in Alium so I spent an hour or so this afternoon going through my CDs of that and similar music. It was good to be re-acquainted but I think it may be a while before TT comes out again. It's a good job we don't all have similar tastes.

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  46. Just like you, I don't need ghosts to have an exciting life. And I didn't think that, in 2014, the issue could still exist. I have state in London most of the time, so thanks for sharing your Essex/Wessex experiences...

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  47. Jenny, I'm prepared to accept there may well be spirits or things 'out there'. There seems to be a lot of evidence to support it, but like you, I prefer not to go down that road. I'm one of those who finds it all a bit disturbing - perhaps more so as it brings out the downright malicious in some people.

    Lovely about the pargetting! The examples you've shown are so attractive. I love the French one in particular!

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  48. I love this post! I really like those pargretted designs. Very lovely. I don't mind ghostly talk - I find it interesting. I don't actually believe in ghosts but I do believe that inexplicable things happen and the explanations might lie in physics or psychology. I had an encounter with a dear friend's ghost the morning after her death and I also had an encounter with an angel that I believe saved my life (I was hurtling down the highway at the time). I don't know what actually happened there but they were both interesting experiences nonetheless.

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  49. That sounds intriguing, Mandy. I always love to hear peoples stories of their experiences. Reading back through the comments, Val, it does seem that many people share this ambivalence about spooky things.
    Muriel it sounds as if ghosts aren't that popular in France. I wonder if they have other way out interests there - flying saucers maybe?
    GB Your comments are wise. I tend to put more credence on people I know are sane in other ways, but (a) the mind and (b) human trickery are capable of such amazing things that nothing really surprises me. I saw Derren Brown's stage show a few weeks ago and it is awfully hard to believe that he doesn't have supernatural powers, although I am sure he doesn't!

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  50. I keep my mind open on ghosts and things like this, I just don’t know. Do you remember my post of last November of our walk in Allatoona Pass? I took a photo of a tomb and there was a weird white shape at the base of it … no one could explain it.

    That first picture with the blue butterfly is delightful.

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  51. I have never heard of pargetting, but now I see the photos, realise that I have seen it on occasions. The French house is particularly beautiful. I am with you on the ghost thing - while strange things sometimes happen, it is unhealthy and weird to become proactive about it. Minds can play tricks, as well as wind and the elements. An interesting post, Jenny.

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  52. Interesting pictures. Regarding ghosts, I've heard a lot of stories as well. I don't believe in them...well at least I don't want to. Sometimes it's better not to know some things you don't see and cannot explain. I just try not to entertain them in my mind so I don't get scared :)))

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  53. Beautiful butterfly! I spotted a similar one, likely from the same blue family, in our garden back in CA last year. Now, the butterfly species seem different here on the East Coast. I haven't seen the blue kind yet. But the ecosystem here is amazing -- we've had an owl swoop down a few times at dawn or dusk, we've seen a fox, garden snakes, turtles, and of course, the deer that like to dine in the bushes. There's so much more moisture here that it seems to make everything thrive.

    That Tallis choral piece is beautiful. I can just imagine how magnificent hearing them first hand would have been.

    What an incredibly creepy story about your exorcising vicar, as well as the other one receiving malevolent tapes. I think there is a spiritual aspect to human life that cannot be completely explained (yet) but I have never personally come across horror story material like that.

    Thanks for introducing me to pargetting -- I'd never heard of it before! I love the medieval scene with the court jester bouncing along!

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  54. Thanks Jenny. I always love your comments. The pictures of your home that I saw in CA always looked so beautiful but I think that wetter places might have more visible wildlife, just because hot places are so unforgiving and exposed.

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