Ripping Yarns

Clive Harold. The Uninvited: A True Story. Starbooks, 1979.

Though this account of the Ripperstone Farm case reads like a pulp novel, and is by a writer for Woman’s Realm, it throws some interesting light on the UFO experience. Although the author may have dramatised considerably at times, the story is 'true' in the sense that Clive Harold has not invented the Coombe family or their saga. Whether what the family say happened to them really did is rather another matter, and one which cannot be decided on the evidence available. Nevertheless, this book does, unwittingly, show the development of a 'UFO wave' and the interaction between psychological and sociological factors in the development of the experiences.

The 'giant' which haunts the family seems to have originated in the nightmares of one of the small daughters; nightmares which coincided with poltergeist effects and power outages. The Giant belongs in the long line of vague hallucinatory figures associated with poltergeist cases (Old Geoffrey at Epworth, for instance), and contemporary poltergeists have a penchant for electrical equipment. Poltergeist outrages are generally recognised to be associated with family tensions, and it is perhaps significant that the incidents on the farm (a very isolated place) died down for a period when Mrs Coombs had a seasonal job, and the eldest daughter was living with her grandparents.

What separates this story from many other poltergeist cases is the fact that the newspapers were full of UFO stories at the time. Assuming that the hallucinatory effects which are typical of poltergeist and haunted houses are generated both by the underlying anxieties which provoke the experiences, and the anxiety which is aroused as a result of those experiences, it is easy to see that they could be structured along 'ufological' as opposed to 'spiritualistic' lines because of this press publicity. So, instead of monks or ·malicious old ladies, the Coombe family 'see' UFOs and giant spacemen.

It appears that the original UFO panic in Dyfed was stimulated by the schoolyard panic at Broad Haven on February 4th, 1977, which in turn was probably generated by the publicity attached to the Joyce Bowles story which itself or originated from a background of poltergeist effects. Furthermore the Little Haven/Dale humanoid wave, as this book makes clear, did not involve independent, isolated witnesses, but rather spread across a tightly knit group of relations, friends and acquaintances, who all knew of each others experiences, and mutually reinforced each others beliefs. Thus we are dealing with a case of 'Social Haunting'.

When we see emerging from this cocktail accounts of the mysterious transportation of cattle, to add to the exploding TVs and strange visions, we are immediately reminded of the witchcraft panics of the 16th and 17th century. Without a doubt even less than a century ago, the events at Ripperstone Farm would have been attributed to either witchcraft or the fairies. And indeed, when we read of doors opening and closing in Stack Rocks and' strange beings entering and leaving, we are clearly in the realm of Fairyland: The events at the farm appear to have concluded with Mrs Coombs having a hypnogogic vision/dream of being on board a UFO with beings telling her that things were all right.

The result of all this is to induce a feeling of frustration here. we have a series of experiences of great sociological and psychological interest, but where were the sociologists, psychologists and parapsychologists at Dyfed (or Warminster, or Banbury)? If the events took place in anything like the way suggested by this book there was a wealth of date to be collected by UFO investigators what did they do?

This is one of many questions left unanswered by this book, for though we know that the roles of the UFO investigators Randall Jones-Pugh and the late Ted Holliday were crucial in this case (and in others in Dyfed) they are nowhere mentioned in this book, and Harold's account of Stack Rocks is very different from Jones-Pugh's. But nor do we have any real clue as to Clive Harold’s own role in this drama. Come to that we don't have such basic information as a plan of the farm, a dramatis personae of the people involved, any details of their background, or anything which would allow an independent judgement to be made. Looming above all this is the ethical question of using a family's personal experiences as a means of providing a 'good shudder' to vicarious thrill seekers most of whom probably do not know that there is independent confirmation that the family does exist and that events at least partially comparable with those described here have taken place, and will treat the book as a novel.

Though there is nothing in the book which supports such a conclusion, Harold tries to fit the events into an extraterrestrial framework. This is the explanation that the media, Harold and the UFO researchers have given the Coombs family; perhaps for the best, as a couple of years earlier the papers were full not of UFOs, but of demons and exorcism. One suspects that it would have been in that framework that the Coombs would have interpreted their experiences. With who knows what results? -- Peter Rogerson, from MUFOB New Series 15, Summer 1979. 

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