If precognition is an individual experiencing a forewarning of things yet to pass, what of those times when the warning seems to come from an outside agency?
Many people believe in the idea that there is some greater force watching over us, a force that is capable of intervening with our lives. Indeed, unscrupulous individuals posing as mediums, psychics and soothsayers have had great success over the years in separating people from their money on the pretence of communicating with said force.
But modern examples of such supernatural intervention are few and far between.
But not unheard of.
8th May 2015
Robert Bilson is a tall, middle-aged gentleman, with a wide smile and hair the colour of snow. He is currently employed as an administrator for the NHS, but twenty years ago he worked for a different branch of the civil service.
We meet in the George & Dragon pub in Epping. After apologising profusely for his lateness, even though it was a mere ten minutes, we take a seat at a table in the old games room. Over a pint or two of real ale, Mr Bilson shares his memories of an event that occurred just over two decades ago.
‘I was working for the Revenue at the time, in their old offices in South Norwood. I think they used to be army barracks or something. They certainly felt like it. The building was pretty cramped, lots of interconnected rooms that always smelt like damp. We called it ‘the Labyrinth’.
‘I used to stay behind after everyone else had gone. I’d just been through a pretty bad break-up at the time, I’ll spare you the gory details, but I liked the peace and quiet. It let me get things done.
‘One night, I think it was a Tuesday, I was working away, typing up some records, when I noticed a sound. It was strange. Whenever I typed, I could hear the clacking of keys. Not just mine, but sort of ‘underneath’ mine, if that makes any sense. It sounded like it was coming from down the corridor, but I couldn’t get a handle on it, as it only seemed to happen when my fingers were on the keyboard.
‘I started thinking it was just an echo. But there was something different about that sound. Every few seconds there was a muffled ‘ding’ and then, like a sliding sound.
‘I recognised it. It’s the noise the carriage bell return on a typewriter makes.
‘I didn’t know anyone in the building who used one of those. But, like I said, it was an old office, and there were some eccentric types that worked there. I figured it was one of the older members of staff. People like what they like, I guess. Old habits and all that.
‘I carried on with my reports, maybe another hour or so, the muffled ding on the typewriter carrying on as well.
‘When I packed my things up, I realised I was going to have find whoever this other person was who was working late and let them know that they’d have to lock up.
‘I did a circuit of the whole building and could not find another soul. Perhaps they’d snuck out? I thought it was a little rude that they’d not said anything, but oh well.
‘As I went to the front door I passed one of the offices that were just off the main corridor. It was dimly lit, but I’m sure, absolutely sure, that I saw someone in there. It was a guy in a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat. He had his back to me and he seemed to be on the phone.
‘I only caught a glimpse of him, because I was walking quite quickly and hadn’t expected to see anyone. I stepped back, did like a double take, but the room was empty.
‘I turned the light on, but nope. Not a soul to be seen. And the other weird thing? There was no phone in that room, not even a socket in the wall for one.’
These types of sighting are not uncommon. Indeed, there is an argument that certain buildings can retain a memory of the souls that dwell within them, and that an individual’s routine, if repeated often enough, can somehow leave an imprint on the very surroundings, an imprint that can be played back if certain conditions are met. But these imprints are just recordings; capable of being replayed, but incapable of interaction.
But what happened next in South Norwood argues against that idea in this instance.
Mr Bilson continues.
‘I’ll admit I was a little spooked, so I locked up and got out of there sharpish. I got in my car and drove out of the car park.
‘Now the end of the road that the office was on was known for being badly lit. A lamppost had been knocked down a few years ago and had never been replaced, and it was pretty dark that night.
‘As I slowed down at the end of the road, getting ready for the turn, I heard a voice, a male voice, clear as a bell. It sounded like it was right in my ear.
‘It said ‘not yet, not yet’.
‘I froze. The car came to a dead stop and I just sat there, gripping the wheel.
‘Suddenly, in front of me, a big black van with no lights screamed past, tyres squealing, the lot.
‘I didn’t recognise the voice, and I had no idea where it came from. But I know this: if it hadn’t spoken, if I hadn’t stopped and had just carried on going, that van would’ve taken me out completely. I’d be dead.
‘I’ll tell you something else too. I don’t believe in ghosts, or angels or spirits. But something or someone saved my life that night.’
Mr Bilson says he worked late in that same building many nights after that. He never heard the clacking of the typewriter or saw the shade of the man in the pinstripe suit and bowler hat ever again.
But he was always sure to stop at the end of that particular road and double check it was clear, even after the broken streetlamp was finally replaced.
Is it possible that Mr Bilson somehow unknowingly picked up on the danger around him – the lack of light, the sound of the van approaching, even the vibration of the vehicle through the earth itself – and some part of his subconscious manifested the voice to warn him?
This is not unheard of, and the fact the words sounded directly in his ear rather than coming from somewhere else lends weight to this idea.
However, this theory does not explain the sound of the typewriter that Mr Bilson heard, nor the figure he briefly glimpsed in the dark office just before he left.
Mr Bilson did note that the building always had a damp smell, and it is not unknown for the spores of certain types of toxic mould to have psychoactive effects. Studies recently undertaken at Clarkson University in New York at least suggest this is possible, although it is interesting to note that I could find no record of any other incidents of this nature occurring in or around the premises.
Whoever the mysterious individual with the penchant for typewriters was, perhaps more than just his routine remained behind in the building. Perhaps part of his soul lingered there too, keeping an eye out for the staff that stayed behind after hours.
Whatever the explanation, something unusual occurred that dark night in South Norwood, and, whatever it was, it saved Mr Bilson’s life on that particularly gloomy evening.
Dr Thomas Gotobed