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Thursday, 17 September 2020

"Just One of Those Things"

      Here's something I'm sure we're all familiar with: an item, usually a small one, inexplicably goes missing. Some time later it turns up in a place where it has no right to be or, even more puzzling, appears staring you in the face in an area which had already been thoroughly searched. Mostly we can put it down to absent mindedness, or some such "rational" explanation, but sometimes it is harder to explain. When we bought a second hand car, I purchased a logbook, which stayed in the glove box when I wasn't writing in it. Two weeks later it disappeared. I bought a replacement, and that one also vanished after six weeks. I wasn't game to tempt fate a third time but, six or seven years later, we collected the car from its twice yearly service, and discovered that the mechanics had left both logbooks, not obviously dirty or damaged, on the front seat. Obviously, they had been discovered in some nook of the car. How did they get there from the glove box? How come it happened twice? And why weren't they found earlier? Just the same, I am not (yet) prepared to invoke a paranormal explanation. It was "just one of those things". However, some other incidents are more difficult to dismiss.
     Take, for instance, the experience of Prof. Michael Swords. He used to empty his pockets every night and place the objects - nearly always the same, and always including his watch - on a space by the sink. One morning, the watch wasn't there. No amount of searching and backtracking could locate it. Finally, after five days without a watch, he purchased a new one, and placed it with the other items that night. The next morning, not only was the new watch there, but the old one had come back. (Have you noticed how missing items tend to reappear just after their absence ceases to be an inconvenience?) Not only that, but a friend of his had a pair of scissors disappear and be replaced by a different pair, only to return later.
    So these things represent a genuine paranormal phenomenon. There is a website called "Reality Shifters" about it, while the Fortean Times magazine calls it "pixilation", and readers told many stories about how they used to successfully ask for the items back. I suggested elsewhere that this custom might inadvertently encourage the phenomenon.

     Mary Rose Barrington, a prominent member of the (British) Society for Psychical Research, labels it "JOTT", for "just one of those things", and has written a book about it. The case histories she provides are quite extraordinary, so I shall list only a few.
     [1] This case was unusual in that it was documented by a series of correspondence. Prof. BSM was living in a house in rural Somerset, the nearest neighbour being half a mile away. The children were at school. His elderly uncle was resting in bed. His wife was asleep in the garden, well secluded from the outside world, but when she woke up, there was an unopened letter on her lap, addressed to a Miss X in the West of London.
    When she showed it to her husband at tea time, they opened it, and discovered it had been written a month earlier (where had it been in the interval?) from a London University college library demanding the return of a certain book. Well, they corresponded with the college, and returned the letter. Later, the Professor realised that, although he had made copies of all their correspondence, he didn't have a photocopy of the original letter to Miss X, so he wrote to the library requesting a copy. The one he received was not the original, but a copy of the second letter demanding the return of the book. When he brought this to the attention of the library, they searched and searched, and discovered that their copy of the original letter had disappeared.
     This is something you may wish to consider the next time a letter from or to you is "lost in the mail".

    [9] A small child chewed a gramophone record and tossed into the air - where it promptly vanished! Five years later, it returned, complete with tooth marks. As the author said, "This is surely too bizarre for anyone to make up with an expectation of being believed."

    [36] This is especially weird, as it apparently involves a ghost. A month after she had lost her husband, ERC lost a bracelet given to her by her late husband, so that afternoon she and a friend searched for it thoroughly, including "every inch of the ground between the car and the front door." Before going to bed she addressed (?prayed to) her late husband aloud, asking him to find the bracelet. That evening her daughter was out on a date. At 1 a.m. she and her boyfriend burst into the bedroom to report that they had both seen her husband looking out through the kitchen window.
    To cut a long story short, at 6 o'clock, when it was barely daylight, she decided to take her dog for a walk. When she returned about 9, lo and behold! there was the bracelet just below the milk bottles. The milkman insisted he had never seen it. It hadn't been there when ERC had left at 6, and certainly not when she and her friend had combed the whole area the previous afternoon.

    [47] A Frank Drucker was holding a special stamp between thumb and forefinger as he crossed the floor to stick it on an envelope. While both his eyes and fingers were fixed on it, it dematerialised - and, of course, was never seen again.

   [59] From your own experience, you probably know that keys are popular items to go wandering. This case was written down within 24 hours of its occurrence. Maurice Grosse's wife lost her handbag, so they had to replace the lock on the door - ditto the keys. Removing the old keys from the keyrings was a real trial; Maurice had to use pliers to keep the spring-loaded plunger open. He then put the old lock and the spare old keys in a special box. The very next day, his wife noticed a new key on her keyring. Another one was found in the box with the old lock and, yes, they did fit the old lock. But they weren't the old keys; they were brand new. Not only that, they bore the name and telephone number of a locksmith the family had never used. Further investigations revealed that the locksmith had ceased making this sort of key at least two years before.

    [66] Dr Alan Mayne once picked up a pale green apple in order to eat it, only to have it slip from his fingers. He heard it strike the floor, but then it disappeared. Much later, he was finishing dinner with a retired physicist in the latter's kitchen, when a wizened green apple suddenly appeared at eye level and fell softly onto his plate. (Readers may remember I wrote an article about objects which materialise out of nowhere.) 

    [75] Finally, she provides examples of what she calls "oddjotts", which defy the laws of nature as we know them. In this case, a woman entered her bathroom, locked it from the inside, and hung her dressing gown on the back of the door. When she emerged from the shower, it was missing, only to turn up at the foot of the stairs. The implication was that it must have passed through the locked door.

     The book is essentially two books in one. The second half is an attempt at an explanation. It takes us through a grand tour of psychic phenomena, and ends up with a bizarre theory-of-everything which turns out to be pantheism dressed up in scientific language. It may be a vast edifice built on a slim, shaky foundation, but the exposition of paranormal phenomena is well worth the read, and it appears the psychical research of a century or more ago was more rigorous than it is usually given credit for.
    Finally, I would like to throw into the melée another anecdote. I must emphasize that I am NOT proposing this as a blanket explanation for the phenomenon of jott, but it deserves a mention. It is case number 267 of the second fairy census, and concerns a woman from Illinois.
Some friends came from the city for the weekend and the lady brought with her a pattern and fabric so I could help make [a] dress for a party. One of the items was a long zipper and when it came time to put the zipper in, it had gone missing. She drove into a nearby town and bought another and the dress was finished. A couple of days after they had gone I was in my parlor and I looked up from what I was doing to see a wee man about eighteen inches high. He had brown skin and a very odd looking face. His hair was black and tousled like the hair of a baby. His eyes reminded me of apple seeds. And in his hand was the missing zipper. 'HEY' I called out and in that instant, he was gone and the zipper was lying stretched flat on the floor in the doorway. . . . I saw the little fellow clearly one other time while she [her toddler daughter] was playing with him.


  1. You attribute the term 'pixilation' to Fortean Times, when really it should be attributed to my mother whose pixilations I wrote about in the FT piece. I was pleased that the piece provoked so many robust examples of the phenomenon. If I were a structural anthropologist, I might be tempted to say that pixilation forms a system with its inverse - cases where things suddenly appear, such as apports...
    Enjoying your website, Malcolm,
    Best wishes, Patrick Harpur

  2. Not sure if this fits or not, but I did just put this down as one of those things, and it came back to mind reading this post... About 3-4 years ago I was working in my home office on a nice spring day when I turned in my chair, coffee cup in hand intending to go down stairs and make a fresh cup. As I turned I saw a wasp bump off the window, on the outside. It repelled back a few inches, and then flew at the window again in the centre of the double glazed panes, and seemed to pass right through them, whereby it flew past my face and down the hall way. I moved (as I really don't like them, and less so flying around me) and was bemused. I tapped the window and it was indeed solid pane glass. I've no idea how that happened, never seen it happen again before or since.