THE DALBY SPOOK
Direct communication between two individuals in the same room can be complicated enough, across the sundered veil of worlds more so. The words of the dead are, for the most part, famously obtuse. We do know of a twentieth century presence who gave dictation, an earthbound spirit, ghost in the form of a Mongoose. Gef (pronounced Jeff, important to an apparition with an accent), a temporary inhabitant of the Isle of Man in the 1930s whose faithful scribe recorded his utterances for close to a decade.
In 1931 twelve year old Voirrey Irving reported to her father Jim that whilst setting out to kill rabbits for the family pot at their remote farmhouse, Cashen’s Gap, she found the job had been done for her, left as a gift by a friendly ghost who took the form of a mongoose. This spirit form was a mischievous companion, visiting the house at night, shouting out an irreverent and sarcastic commentary on the life of the family as they toiled, the two parents and their lonely child, to maintain their low running farm without electricity and the comforts of modern living. The family endured voices in the dark, banging in the walls, poltergeist pranks.
According to the increasingly streamlined story given to reporters by Jim Irving many times over, when Gef first arrived langauge was strange to him. During his ealiest appearances, sometimes taking the form of a giant cat, Gef’s sounds were vowels and grunts, until Jim and Voirrey taught him nursery rhymes. This conquered, the floodgates opened. Secrets were revealed. Their visitor was born in India in 1852. He spoke in Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, Hindi, stangely just enough to be recognisable, understood, quoted. A querlous and restless spirit, disparaging of any hint of religious hypocrisy, Gef was taken with modern pre-occuptaions. Often he would leave the farm and enjoy bus trips around the island, amusing Jim with local gossip on his return. He had knowledge of Newton and Einsteen. Boastful, he claimed “I’ll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!”. Increasingly Jim became the vessel for broadcasting the words of Gef to the wider world. For a short time the mongoose, and Jim by proxy, gained celebrity. This attention seemed to be no burden for Jim, a once successful salesman and gregarious storyteller, but Voirrey learnt what it was like to be subject of cruel ridicule at school where the other children called her “the spook”.
Whilst claiming not to seek any publicity for himself or supernatural tenant, it is very clear that Jim Irving issued a great many invitations to visit Cashen’s Gap and encounter the Dalby spook (as Gef was nicknamed by the press) whereupon he would conduct a tour of the various peepholes used by Gef to observe the family, and regale the audience with the latest pronouncements. Although scientific paranormal investigation was still in it’s infancy, Harry Price was invited by Jim Iriving to attend the farmhouse of many occasions. Intially demuring, Price sent an associate, Captain James MacDonald (real surname Dennis) who found the family to be credible witnesses. Gef took exception somewhat to Captain Macdonald, and failed to physically materialise, telling Jim “I’ve been looking at the man, and I don’t like him. He does not believe in me. He is a doubter!” but his voice was heard. Macdonald wrote a letter to Gef hoping to smooth the waters and attempted to bribe him with chocolate and other sweetstuffs but to no avail.
Price eventually did visit in 1935 but Gef was even more horrified, telling Jim “I like Captain MacDonald, but not Harry Price. He’s the man who puts the kybosh on the spirits!” . Gef wthdrew for the duration of the three day visit, and by the time of the publication of Price’s book “The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern “Miracle” Investigated” his vists, or at least reports of them, had dwindled considerably before ceasing altogether in 1939 when the farmhouse was sold and Voirrey struck out on her own.
“The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap” carefully stopped short either both belief or exposure. The investigators privately concluded that Jim Irving and his family were possibly guilty of a pychological fraud, by which they recognised that whilst Jim Irving might geniuinely believe in his experiences, these visitations could be the result of a split personality, spilling over into a collective family delusion. Another visitor, Nandor Fodor, Research Officer for the International Institute for Psychical Research later reached a similar but more explict conclusion, writing “As a commercial traveller, originally, his horizons were too wide, both physically and mentally, to reconcile himself to the cabined and confined life of a sheep and goat farmer in a God-forsaken spot where he was constantly struggling against physical starvation.The problem of mental starvation, for a man of Irving’s intelligence, must have been even more serious. There was no way to relieve it by conscious means. So his unconscious took care of the job and produced the strange hybrid of Gef, fitting no category of humans, animals or ghosts, yet having common features with all of them”. A number of Gef’s pronouncements take on a distrubing aspect when viewed in this light. Who is speaking when Jim’s diary records Gef saying “You don’t know what damage or harm I could do if I were roused. I could kill you all, but I won’t.”?
Other writers were not always so generous. The Manchester Daily Dispatch, noted how on their tour of the farm Voirrey, known from her school to be a talented ventriloquist, walked behind with hands over her mouth when the high pitched sound of Gef was heard, whereupon Jim would excitedly point in the opposite direction claiming to identify the source of the sound. Demands for physical evidence that went beyond cracks in the ceiling resulted in photographs that most resembled a fur stole arranged on a wooden fence. Hair samples provided for analysis tested as dog hair, then matched conclusively with that of the Irving’s sheepdog, Mona . Jim certified a self portait said to be drawn by Gef in August 1935.
Finally this most irritable of spirits, somehow also consented to leave a deliberate Plasticine imprints of his paws, or hands as he styled them. Reginald Pocock of the Natural History Museum was engaged to examine the imprints, concluding there was no match for any known species although one of them might have been “conceivably made by a dog”. Gef defended his earthly representative, chiding “Don’t you dare to upset Jimmo with any skeptical remarks”.
Voirrey Irving very rarely gave interviews but never recanted on her version of events. In 2005, shortly before her death she stated, “Gef was very detrimental to my life. I wish that he had let us alone.”