Did Barry Dodds Track Down The Ghost Of Mr Morris?
Barry Dodds, one half of the comedy-paranormal podcast The ParaPod, often gets a hard time for being a believer in the supernatural. Barry's belief in ghosts has recently been put to the test by his podcast co-host, Ian Boldsworth, in a feature length spinoff movie based on the series.
To find out if Barry's faith in things that go bump in the night is still as strong after his spooky road trip across the UK shooting 'The ParaPod Movie', we returned with Barry to one of the locations that features in the movie.
The movie had its premiere in London at the beginning of the year. Following this Barry and Ian began a UK-wide tour of cinemas with the movie. Unfortunately the tour was cut short due to coronavirus, but with restrictions now easing the tour looks set to resume soon, more information can be found at theparapod.com.
Fans of the Chortle award nominated podcast will be familiar with Barry's tales of ghost hunts, something he's been doing regularly since he was in his early-teens, but it's often hard to get a real understanding of Barry's experience because Ian, a hardcore skeptic, is quick to question and debunk him.
This often hilarious and ongoing battle between believer and skeptic has enabled the ParaPod to leap from podcast to movie, but we wanted to get Barry alone to find out how he hunts for ghosts and how seriously he takes ghost hunting when he's not behind the mic.
In the film Barry and Ian visit various haunted locations across the country, one of which is an old school in Long Eaton. The Victorian building in Derbyshire is a popular spot for ghost hunters, and also serves as the base for paranormal events company, Haunted Happenings (HH).
If you're worried about spoilers, don't be, the school only plays a minor role in the movie as part of a ghost hunting montage. HH were nice enough to let Barry return to the building for another attempt at capturing evidence of the paranormal. Natalie and Lisa from HH were on-hand to welcome us and give us a run down of the school's haunted history.
The old Victorian school opened as a boys school in 1886, before being replaced some years later by a larger school in the area. Some think the school could be so haunted due to its placement. It sits in the centre of a triangle marked out by a large cemetery, a funeral directors and the canal. Water is sometime said to be a conductor for the paranormal and alongside the canal are the former silk mills that the area is famous for. During their operational days they would have seen their fair share of deaths and accidents.
In recent years the school has been used as a convention centre and as offices. With the lights on in the day, Parklands Connexion, as the building is now known, feels like any other office block, but with the lights out it takes on a whole different character. Natalie told us, "even though I'm here most days on my own and I feel perfectly fine, I wouldn't come at night on my own."
Reports of paranormal activity in the building include unexplained noises, sightings of dark shadowy figures, and even poltergeist activity. There has been reports of object moving of their own accord, strange bangs, and the cracking sound of a cane. There's also been reports of strange light phenomenon, extreme temperature changes, disembodied voices and the unnerving feeling of being watched.
A former headmaster who seems to respond to the name Mr Morris has been blamed for much of the ghostly goings on in the building, but it's the ghost of a woman named Dorothy who is said to haunt the ladies toilets. She allegedly turns the taps on if you don't wash your hands before leaving the toilets.
We were actually lucky to have Barry joining us there at all on the night in question. At midnight the synth-pop duo Erasure were due to release a new album online, something Barry was very excited about and tempted to stay home for, despite the fact that he was once kicked off of the Erasure fan forum, as listeners of the podcast may remember.
We were also lucky to have Barry out ghost hunting again after what happened to him while filming the movie. In one pivotal scene in the film Barry experienced what he describes as "the most frightening thing I've seen in my entire life." He told us, "honestly, it wasn't pleasant. Even now that I've had the chance to reflect on it, I still don't think of it as being a positive experience."
So, what was a standup comedian turned podcast star like on a ghost hunt? Well, first off he was fun. Although he did take the ghost hunt seriously, he didn't take it too seriously. Sadly, the reality of ghost hunting is that it is nowhere near as exciting as Hollywood movies might lead you to believe, so you need to be able to have a laugh and a joke to help pass the time and help keep spirits up.
And speaking of keeping spirits up, Barry thinks that having a chat and joke might help to wake the spirits at a location up. He said, "most of the times I've had things happen, I've not been looking for it and it's always when I'm speaking and casual."
In those more relaxed and casual moments, Barry chatted about what is clearly a genuine interest in the paranormal. He covered off everything from his love of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, which is said to be the most haunted castle in England, to his thoughts on stone tape theory.
In the paranormal community, this is the belief that the stones of a building act as video tape that can record people and things happening and then plays it back. The classic example is long-dead Roman soldiers seen to be reenacting their routine from hundreds of years previously by walking through a now-bricked up doorway.
Barry said, "stone tape is the one that I think holds the most water." He added, "it's also why a lot of people think that a lot of old buildings like castles and stately homes have so many hauntings, and it's because of the stone." This lead us on to a conversation about the difference between residual and intelligent hauntings, all the while sat in a pitch black school room.
In 'The ParaPod Movie' Barry is armed with an array of arguably useless ghost hunting kit, including the popular K-II EMF meter, Ovilus 5 and Boo Buddy Bear - which looks like a normal stuffed toy, but its creators claim it can detect ghosts. Ghost hunting gadgets are also something Barry has talked about in episodes of the podcast, but actually on a ghost hunt he wasn't really interested in these unproven devices. He instead preferred to call out to the spirits and wait for responses using his own senses.
During the evening we did opt to use some trigger objects, because we were in a school we were using children's toys as triggers, including a stuffed clown with one eye named Bob that plays a tune like a music box if a ghosty gets too close.. There were toy cars, dolls, and plastic guns placed in every room of the school in the hopes that a mischievous spirit might be drawn out and tempted to play with them.
We started our ghost hunt just before sunset and spent the next five hours locked down in total darkness inside the haunted Long Eaton school.
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Our paranormal investigation began in an old classroom, although you wouldn't know it ever was one. The building has been divided up since its time as a school to create office space. We started our night sat in one of these offices in total darkness. The room is now completely empty other than one old desk, which Barry is sat behind.
To begin with we went around the room introducing ourselves to any spirits that might be present. As well as myself, Barry and the HH team, there were four others, a mixture of believers and skeptics. Although we were a small group we had plenty of energy and were excited to meet the ghosts of the old school.
Straight away Barry felt a cold area over the desk. Proving that he can be rational, his first thought was to try to debunk it and ruled out the possibility that it was the result of a draught.
As we got started one of the team moved in the dark and accidentally made a sound, which resulted in Barry shouting "what the f..." before stopping himself and demanding, "someone put the torch on." A little while later we started to hear unexplained taps and one very loud knock. The knock sounded like a band on the desk, but no matter how hard Barry tried to recreate it, he couldn't achieve the same tone. Barry handled this sound much better than the previous false alarm, perhaps because it was so clear that he just thought someone had moved.
Later in the vigil Barry asked the group, "I don't know if this is just me and it could be outside, but can anyone else hear like low-level murmuring?" As the group went quiet and listened intently, the silence was broken by Barry who had suddenly seen a light appear in front of him. There was no obvious source of the light and it left Barry puzzled. As for the murmuring, he concluded it might have been coming from outside the building.
The Day Room
Next we moved on to the day room, which until recently was used by local pensioners. They would visit the room to socialise, play bingo, chat, and have dinner.
Upon entering the room Barry said, "this room is the one I feel more relaxed in." However it's not wise to get too relaxed here since the room is said to be haunted by a ghost called Dorris who's been known to push people out of their chairs. And if that weren't enough, there's also a haunted chair in the room.
As we sat down around the room, Barry made a suggestion, "as an experiment before we try calling out or anything like that, shall we just have a chat for a few minutes to let it settle and just relax into the room."
We took Barry up on his suggestion and all settled into the room, even the one member of the team who was sat in the haunted chair, unbeknownst to her. After a while Barry kicked things off again and began to call out to any spirits that might be present, "Dorris, are you in the room with us? Are you here? Are you listening?"
Unfortunately, the room which Lisa from HH tells us is normally very active, fell quiet and we moved on to our next area of the building.
The Conference Room
After a quick break we moved on to the Derwent Suite, an eerie place with the lights out which is used as a convention room. This room also proved to be pretty quiet on the night for us, other than one really odd coincidence.
The HH team were using an Alice Box, a tablet-based ghost hunting tool that's spews out a random word from a pre-loaded library of 10,000. The idea is that spirits can affect the random nature of the app and use it to communicate. The device was left on a table where it was quietly throwing out words.
At one point Lisa asked us, "is anyone picking up on a certain word that relates to this room?" We all answered in unison, "about the land?" Because at that moment the word "land" had appeared on the Alice Box and correctly answered Lisa's question. Some of the hauntings in this part of the building are said to be connected to the land's former use.
Towards the end of the night we moved out into the main corridor that runs through the building. This is easily one of the most disconcerting areas of the former school and the location where a boy in a yellow coat has been captured on CCTV. Barry said, "of this whole building, it's this corridor that I don't like."
We were armed with a Ouija board, although Barry didn't want to get involved. He said, "I personally won't use it, but I will watch someone use it. I just got this thing about using yourself as a tool..." realising what he'd said and correcting himself, "as an instrument."
Five of us lightly placed our fingers on the planchette and we started calling out to the spirits and encouraged them to communicate by moving the planchette around the board. Unfortunately, the board failed to respond and spell out any words, so instead I asked if they could simply move the planchette, "if there's someone around the table you want to communicate with, could you move the planchette towards them?"
We waited a few moments but there was no movement, so Barry who was stood next to the table called "if there's somebody here that you want to use the board who isn't around the table, can you let us know." After a pause he added, "if you want me to use it, slide it towards where I'm stood."
The spirits might have ignored him, but we didn't. The five of us all purposefully pushed the planchette towards where Barry was stood. After calling us all bastards he declared, "right, I need to go to toilet now."
The Reception Area
With the time approaching 1am, the final vigil of our investigation took place in the reception area. We were drawn into the large room with a small servery and sofa area after hearing what sounded like something being thrown in there.
The strangest thing to happen to me in this room during the evening occurred during a break. While talking with the others I suddenly felt something cold on my hand while stood in the middle of the room. Looking down I saw a line of clear liquid on the back of my hand. I didn't feel the impact of a drip and the liquid was in a stringy line rather than a drop. Despite checking around the area, I wasn't able to find any obvious source of the liquid.
In a final attempt to make contact with the spirits of the Old Victorian School, Barry called out, "we're going to leave you soon, so this is your last chance to let us know if you're here or not. Just do it again, just like you just did. Throw something again."
Nothing was thrown, but we did hear a few small knocks and taps which didn't seem to be intelligent responses. The last odd occurrence of the night was a rumbling noise that we all heard, which sounded like someone pushing a trolley around the school.
The Old Victorian School was a surprising location. I knew the building is today nothing more than office space and I expected it to feel quite sterile, but actually it's an atmospheric place where you can sense more than 100 years of history. With the lights out the building becomes quite a creepy place.
As is often the case, the building didn't live up to its extremely haunted reputation on this occasion, but that's just the way it goes with ghost hunting. Although it was a quiet night, it was far from my flattest investigation and the loud unexplained knocks, bangs and other disconcerting sounds around us gave us something to ponder over as we drove home.
If you'd like to investigate the Old Victorian School for yourself, you can book a night there with Haunted Happenings. I'd like to say a big thanks to Hazel from HH for allowing us to visit and to our guides, Lisa and Natalie, who held the night together.
It was a treat to get to investigate with Barry, who has a very balanced approach to ghost hunting. Look out for the school in 'The ParaPod Movie', which resumes its cinema tour later this year. The screenings include a Q&A with Barry and Ian after the film.
To keep up with Barry's ghost hunting adventures and the latest news on 'The ParaPod Movie', support him on Patreon for as little as $3 a month, and you'll get access to updates about the film and future screenings, plus write ups on Barry's paranormal investigations, and information about his other projects.
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