Toby Neal: The realms of mysterious and inexplicable events

Read the latest column from Toby Neal.

About 18 months ago I had a little household project – revarnishing the top of a low wooden table.

It involved removing the table legs. So I unscrewed them, and with massive foresight and good sense, knowing that I was bound to lose the screws, I screwed the screws back into the holes in the table top so they would be there when the time came for reassembly.

After sanding down the top and applying new varnish, the time came to re-attach the legs. But when I turned the top over, all the screws were gone.

I immediately jumped to the obvious conclusion. My wife, I decided, had removed them, either as a prank, or to make me think I was going mad (I should never have watched that old movie, Gaslight). She just laughed and denied all knowledge.

Then a clue arose, or rather a screw, lying on the ground in the garden where I had sanded down the top. Then another, then another... What had obviously happened was that the vibration of the electrical sander had gradually loosened all the screws until they dropped out unnoticed by me. Mystery solved.

Mystery unsolved to this day is the locked bedroom door. One day we suddenly found our bedroom door was inexplicably locked. Not only was it never locked, it took some hunting around to find where we kept the internal door keys, and the bedroom door key was not missing. Somehow the door had locked itself.

If you're wondering where I'm going with all this, it is the realms of mysterious and inexplicable events. Which brings me to Wednesday night.

Flickering

Taking the mutt (I've actually got two, but the lazier one preferred to stay home) for its evening walk along a path through our local woods at the back of our estate I saw something which literally stopped me in my tracks.

High in the bare branches of a tall tree ahead I saw fleetingly flickering blue lights. Fireflies was my first thought. But what was happening was that every now and again there was a wave of flickering light blue lights through just a few of the branches, always moving from bottom to top.

I watched baffled, intrigued, puzzled, mesmerised, astonished, amazed, and probably lots of other things too once I have turned the page of my thesaurus.

Then I noticed something similar but with stronger effect was happening in a smaller, closer tree, in which there would be a rapid pulse of flickering white lights every few seconds through all the bare branches, moving from bottom to top.

And I assure you none of this was my imagination.

I stood in wonder and began to look for something to explain this extraordinary phosphorescent effect. Had somebody for some reason put Christmas lights in these trees? No, I concluded after a while. Apart from anything else the effect went to the very tips of branches about 40ft up.

After watching the light show for a good 15 minutes, I walked on. Back home I reported my discovery of a strange natural phenomenon in the woods.

"I think it might be St Elmo's Fire," I said, not necessarily being guided by the science.

Witness

That night I lay awake turning over in my mind what I had seen. On Thursday night I thought I'd go back and see if it was still happening, taking my mobile phone to film it as proof to keep the men in white coats at bay (the filming was a waste of time, it didn't show up). I also took the second dog as an eye witness.

Yes! It was still happening, not quite so strongly. Once more I watched baffled, intrigued, puzzled, etc. Dropping off the dogs, I went back later for some real in-depth investigation, determined to get to the bottom of it.

"Good job you didn't write about it in the paper," my wife said when I reported back.

You have probably already guessed what the cause turned out to be. It was, of course, some fancy strobing Christmas lights in a nearby garden spilling over into the woods with their light pollution.

So bang went my supernatural encounter.

But what I couldn't understand is why they were being operated by Martians.

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