Pipe Dreams: Chapter Seven

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography


Ghost Hunting

I don’t really know how I came to be involved in the supernatural certainly it was not a conscious decision. Except for the purchase of a ‘pendulum’, that tool which is used by many amateurs to tell them whether or not there is ‘something there’.

I did not buy it to embark upon ghost hunting but because I had witnessed an acquaintance using one which told him extremely accurately whether or not there were harmful additives in food. I was astounded at its accuracy. Held still on its cord, you ask it a question. If the pendulum swings to the left the answer is ‘no’, to the right ‘yes’.

I successfully used it to find an underground spring in our garden prior to the visit of a bore-hole excavator who divined exactly the same place as mine by the traditional method using a forked stick. A few weeks later I was contacted by a lady who claimed that there was a ghost in her spare bedroom. ‘Would you give your pendulum a try?’ she asked.

So one evening I accompanied her and her daughter upstairs to the ‘haunted’ bedroom. At first nothing happened then, without warning, my instrument began to swing to the right, gathering speed all the time, virtually going crazy.

The back of my neck prickled and then the light dimmed, almost extinguished. The daughter, an extremely practical young lady who was about to take the finals of her legal examinations, rushed downstairs and out into the street.

Then everything returned to normal. I cannot explain what happened and I will keep an open mind.

Back home, though, in recent times there have been some inexplicable incidents. From 1996-99 my mother lived with us for the final years of her life. Her bedroom was at the far end of the house.

Our grandson was born a few days after her death so he had never seen her. He was about 4 years old when he came to stay with us and slept in that same bedroom.

One morning he enquired ‘who was the old lady who was in my room last night?’ Assuming that he must have had a dream I asked what she had looked like. His description exactly fitted that of my mother!

A decade later, in recent times, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a figure crossing the dining room. I presumed that Jean, who had been watching television in the lounge, was responsible. It transpired that she had not moved off the settee!

Then came the strangest incident of all. Since my mother passed away in 1999 I have used her Parker ballpoint pen for virtually everything I write.

One morning it disappeared. We searched high and low but there was no sign of it. I was convinced that it would turn up eventually. It did, a week to the day, lying on top of a coffee table which had been cleaned and polished in the meantime. Again, I can offer no explanation nor will I attempt to do so.

I contacted my good friend, Paul Adams who has written and co-authored some highly acclaimed books on the paranormal. “It’s a classic case,” he told me. “One of many which I have investigated. Undoubtedly your mother is still with you.”

It’s a comforting thought and one which I will go along with.


I have always been fascinated with UFOs and aliens from out space ever since I read Dan Dare in my boyhood. Again, I have an open mind on the subject but I think it would be extremely arrogant of us to assume that we are the only form of life in the entire universe.

I certainly did not apply for the post of UFO Convenor, or whatever, for my area. I blame the local press who misinterpreted whatever I said in an interview or else their readers got it wrong. Whichever, I began receiving letters and phone calls about strange sightings in the night sky.

The majority of UFOs can be explained, possibly test flights about which the Ministry of Defence does not wish to give details or admit to.

I have only ever had one such strange sighting which came about one freezing December evening a couple of decades ago. There was virtually no wind and dusk was blending into darkness. I saw a red light moving slowly in the eastern sky about a quarter of a mile away. At first I presumed it was an aircraft but there was no engine noise. It was travelling absolutely silently.

I did not rush for the telephone. After all it was myself who was supposed to be receiving such calls! However, it was reported by the media the following day that a strange, silent flying object had been observed in the Birmingham area. The one which I had observed had been heading in that direction.

Eventually those all too regular contacts by folks who claimed to have sighted a UFO dwindled and died. I allowed the subject to rest in peace.

Big Cats

I am convinced that there are Big Cats living wild in our countryside. I have seen one with my own eyes and there have been no fewer than five authentic sightings on my own land. Yet I cannot come up with concrete proof which would satisfy the sceptics. Neither I, nor those who viewed these large felines, had a camera to hand.

Unequivocal proof of their existence amongst us will only come when somebody is in the right place at the right time and with a camera ready.

For myself it all began in 1980 when New English Library published my novel ‘Caracal’. The caracal is a feline of the lynx family, widespread in Asia. In the same week that ‘Caracal’ appeared a Big Cat sighting was reported. A magnificent coincidence and I could not have had better publicity. A South Wales newspaper carried the headline, ‘Guy laughs all the way to the Bank.’ Caracal sold 100,000 copies. After that sightings came thick and fast.

During the 1990’s I used to allow a couple of friends to come air gunning on my land. They helped to keep rabbits, grey squirrels and other small vermin numbers under control.

They used to arrive just before dawn and take up position in the gorse waiting for a rabbit or two to emerge. On the Sunday morning in question, just as day was breaking, a shrill screaming was heard beyond the fence which is my boundary. On the other side is a conifer forest.

The screaming came from a muntjac deer in full flight. Seconds later another creature appeared, clearly following the scent of the small deer.

Later the shooters described it to me as being ‘bigger than an Alsatian dog with brown fur and dragging a long tail behind it.’ Their description fitted a puma and they were both very frightened. It had passed within ten yards of where they crouched.

That was the last time that they visited me!


In 2000 came that dreadful foot-and-mouth outbreak which put farmland out of bounds to visitors to the countryside. In April my daughter, Tara, and her husband Lars, visited and asked if there was anywhere they could go for a walk. I told them that my acreage would be okay as we had no livestock.

Later that afternoon when they returned Tara described a ‘cat about the size of a fox’ which was darting in and out of the gorse bushes. They had watched it for about twenty minutes before it disappeared.

I went upstairs and fetched a copy of ‘Caracal’, the cover illustration of which depicted an excellent head of the animal.

“Was that what you saw?” I asked. “That’s exactly it!” she replied.

That was when we first knew that there was a caracal in the area. Over the next few years there were a further four sightings, all by reliable witnesses.

Shortly after Christmas 2009, when the countryside lay beneath a blanket of snow, I received a phone call from a local farmer. When feeding his sheep that morning he had found tracks which ‘resembled a one-legged animal,’ that had crossed one field and then the adjoining one. Would I mind coming and having a look?

As it happened with ghosts and UFOs I was now becoming the area’s Big Cat information point!

From a distance that long line of footprints resembled those of a fox. But not quite. On closer examination I saw claw marks between the prints, those of a creature which had walked with extended claws.
I had come armed with a 12-inch ruler and some potting compost in order to outline and measure those prints so that I could take a concise photograph.

The farmer accompanied me as I followed that single line of prints, right across one field, through the hedge and into the next. Three sizeable fields later those footprints entered a dense conifer forest.
By that time dusk was creeping across the countryside and I explained to my companion that it was futile entering the woods where it would be too dark to see the tracks let alone the animal that had made them.

“I’ll come back in the morning and we’ll give it another go,” I suggested.

Overnight the temperature rose and by morning it was raining. Just our luck, those tracks were all washed away.

At least, though, I had some photographs, copies of which I sent to a Big Cat authority in Holland. A week later I received confirmation of my suspicions. Those footprints had, without a shadow of doubt, been made by a caracal!

Caracal srints in snow

Caracal srints in snow

A few weeks later a local man, driving past our house, had to brake hard to avoid hitting ‘a cat like creature about the size of a fox,’ which he had glimpsed in the twin beams of his car’s headlights just in time. It had then disappeared through the hedge into our paddock.

“If you’d had time to observe it in more detail,” I told him, “you might have seen tufts of hair on the tops of its ears.”

“Oh, I noticed them.” He answered.

The caracal again, without any doubt.


“With all and sundry seeing Big Cats on your land, have you ever seen one yourself?” I am frequently asked.

Yes, just once. It was on a cold February afternoon when, glancing out of an upstairs window, a movement on the fields beyond the narrow road which borders our house attracted my attention.

At first I thought that it was the farmer’s mostly black, collie dog. But he lived three miles away and had no sheep or lambs on the fields so early in the year. So why should his dog be there on its own?

Then, suddenly, I glimpsed the long tail which the creature was dragging as it moved to and fro sniffing the grass, doubtless seeking a rabbit scent. I reached down my binoculars with hands that trembled. As I focused the lenses and obtained a truly detailed, close up view, I could not doubt the identity of the creature. It was a leopard, or at least of leopard origins. It was about twice the size of a collie dog and with a tail that was at least 4 feet long.

I watched it cross that field and then it was lost from view on the other side of a hedge. I never saw it again.

‘Are Big Cats dangerous to humans?’ That is another question frequently put to me. ‘No, unless they are either cornered or wounded.’ A scenario that I used in my novel ‘Maneater’, where a leopard is shot at and wounded. Unable to hunt its natural prey, it then turns to the next easy option, humans. The same could occur if one of these large felines was struck by a vehicle and injured.

Mostly, though, these cats keep out of sight. ‘How have they appeared in our countryside over the past twenty-five years or so?’

Prior to 1976 it was fashionable to keep a leopard, or similar, in an enclosure or large cage on private premises. Then the Dangerous Wild Animals Act became law. If you wished to keep any such creatures then your means of enclosing it had to be secure and to meet with strict standards. In addition you needed a licence and this wasn’t cheap. Thus many owners of Big Cats simply could not afford to keep their pets and secretly released them into the wild. Here they adapted to their new environment and bred. Those seen today are undoubtedly the offspring of the original creatures set free for the latter would not still be alive after nearly thirty years.

‘Why are Big Cats not flushed from woods by packs of hounds during a hunt?’ The answer is simple and overlooked by many. Whether a leopard is in Africa or Britain it will spend most of the daylight hours up in trees, only descending after dark to hunt. In a thick fir wood , for example, it would be virtually impossible to spot one of these felines in the upper branches.

‘Have Big Cats ever been shot or trapped?’ Several in the past, but they were deemed to be escapees from private menageries. Back in the 1980’s anybody who shot one would have been hailed a hero. Today there would be public outrage. That is how attitudes have changed.

I know that there are Big Cats out there and I am certain that one day somebody will get hurt. It is a mauling waiting to happen.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Six

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography


I have always been an aficionado of mystery and detective fiction. Sherlock Holmes is my favourite sleuth, followed by Dixon Hawke (naturally so, as I wrote a number of stories about him), Sexton Blake and a few others. I often wondered, though, what private detection was like in reality. In the late 1960’s I found out.

It came about as the result of a chance meeting in a Tamworth pub with Sam Bradley, a retired police sergeant turned sleuth. Sam had been an old fashioned copper and in his own words, “when I came off duty I changed into civvies and went back out there to find out what the local crooks were up to.”

We chatted and eventually he enquired how much free time I had, evenings and weekends. As it was I had recently closed my small cartridge loading business and I was looking for a new challenge.

“I’ve got a lot of enquiries on,” he went on, “too much work in fact. I could use an assistant. If you fancy earning a bit of extra cash I’ll show you the ropes and we’ll see where we go from there.”

So I began accompanying Sam two or three evenings a week. Work varied from debt collecting and serving writs to observation in order to gather evidence for divorce proceedings. Sometimes we had a long, cold wait in a street waiting for a particular car to arrive and park outside a house which we were watching. Sam made a note of the vehicle’s registration, noted its time of arrival and sometimes its departure.

Debt collecting was often an unpleasant business. Excuses led to a confrontation bordering on physical violence. Sam was a big, florid-faced man, not to be trifled with. I knew that I had a difficult and risky act to follow.

A month or so later my colleague informed me that I was now capable of working solo. Each week he provided me with a handwritten sheet of pending jobs and a few guidance notes where necessary.

Private detection was nowhere near as glamorous as I had believed in my naivety. It was simply hard graft combined with common sense and an ability to observe.

There was one investigation which I shall always remember, light relief from checking out extra-marital affairs. A lady living in a village asked me to call as a matter of urgency. Over a cup of tea she explained the nature of her problem.

She had an on-going feud with her neighbour, a bad-tempered old widower who never ceased to complain about anything and everything. Now, suddenly, a few of her prized rose bushes were dying and she was certain that he was creeping in through the sparse adjoining hedge and poisoning them. Would I be good enough to undertake a nocturnal vigil?

We agreed a fee and the following evening just before dusk I seated myself on a bucket just inside her rickety garden shed and propped the door ajar.

It was damned cold and a severe frost was setting in. Next door’s lights were still on and I was willing the old chap to decide on an early night. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to retire, though.

The nearby church clock struck ten. Then, after what seemed an eternity, eleven. By midnight my feet were numb. In all probability nothing would happen and the lady had imagined it all.

Suddenly I heard the neighbour’s back door open and a gruff voice said, “go on, make it quick, it’s bleedin’ freezin’ out here.”

Something was snuffling about on the other side of the hedge, then I heard the brushing of branches like somebody or something was pushing their way through. Undoubtedly a dog had been let out to do its final business of the day.

A sound like a tap being turned on reached my ears. I leaned forward, switched my torch on and its beam revealed a large boxer dog cocking its leg against one of those rose bushes. Mystery solved! I could not resist a smile as I went back indoors, explained to a surprised and embarrassed client why her rose bushes were dying, pocketed my fee and went home.

Then, a few weeks later, Sam died from a sudden heart attack. I had lost a good friend and maybe I would have packed up the detective business there and then except for the fact that I had one of his files in which there were several outstanding jobs. Well, I owed it to him to finish those which I had agreed to undertake.

For some reason, being in sole charge of a number of investigations motivated me. He had told me about the Victor Meek College of Private Detection, based in Exeter, suggesting I might enrol on one of their courses. So, I did just that.

It was a 4 month course and I can honestly say that it was a lot more interesting than the work I had been engaged upon previously. It covered both practice and theory, and the former was more like that which I had envisaged private detection to be.

One learned how to follow a suspect without being seen. You went to a busy town area such as a bus or railway station and singled out your ‘victim’ from the disembarking passengers. Then you trailed him, or her, keeping your distance.

Another lesson was learning to eavesdrop in a crowded pub or cafe. Again, choosing your ‘suspects’, you bought a drink and sat at a table a little distance from them. The knack was in learning to shut out the buzz of conversation all around and concentrate on theirs without looking at them and thus drawing attention to yourself. It isn’t easy but it can be done, a mental exercise in concentration. Eventually I mastered the art.
Examination time arrived and I passed, ‘First Class with Honours’ and received my certificate, together with an identification card. Then it was back to the old familiar ‘grindstone’, debt collecting, status enquiries and observing adulterers.

A few months later I decided that I had had enough. I had cleared up Sam’s backlog so I decided to call it a day.

It had not been a waste of time though, for I had learned a lot about the seedy side of life with a few minor crooks thrown in for good measure. All of which was good experience for the future when I became a full-time writer.