Sam Knight (2022) The Premonitions Bureau: A True Story.

Sam Knight reminds the reader, I’m not just making this up. I believe him. I love this kind of wacky stuff and read it in one go. But when Knight tells the reader what psychiatrist John Barker was thinking about when he was flying into New York in the mid-sixties, he’s writing fiction. It’s the kind of world Stephen King writes about and asks questions like how can we know what we do not know? In one of King’s novels, the protagonist sets out to kill the American President who was going to begin the Third World War. Remember, this was written before the moron’s moron was elected in 2016.

A case he highlights was featured in Life magazine in the 1960s. Malete Hanzakos lived in New York. He was a naturalised immigrant who emigrated from Sparta, Greece, in the 1930s. He didn’t marry and his closest relative was his sister Constance. He chose a headstone, had the grave dug, and invited his sister and her son for burgers at L.K. Restaurant. He gave away the few things he had owned with envelopes of cash. When his nephew tried to hand the cash back, he said he didn’t need it and dropped down dead. Heart attack, natural causes.

There are multiple ways of explaining this. Beginning with your starting position, we might end up with different answers. Occam’s razor suggests Malete Hanzakos knew he was going to die and died. The simplest solution is often the best. But it also suggests that a mechanical version of cause and effect does not work in life. Time must somehow be more than what we think and related to how we feel. We are all each other. Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious suggests that future events such as the tragedy at Aberfan will cause a ripple effect that can be picked up before it happens.

The paradox is if we save somebody from dying, they couldn’t really have been dead. There are countless stories about this. ‘Death in a Nut’, for example. Or the story of a man seeing Death in the market and galloping hundreds of miles away and Death being surprised to see him there. We’re talking about fate and fated. Predestination. The bullet with your name on it, in popular First (and Second) World War mythology.

A little girl in Aberfan had a dream she told her mother.

‘No Mummy, you must listen. I went to school and I dreamt there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it.’

Eryl Mai was buried the next morning in the school by something black.

Psychiatrist, John Barker, like hundreds of others, visited Aberfan. He wanted to help. But he also liked being in the limelight. He wrote to Peter Farley, the science editor of London’s Evening Standard.  Farley’s big break came from a piece of luck or insight which he couldn’t really explain himself. He was receptive to the idea of setting up what they called a Premonitions Bureau.

28th October, 1966, he publicised and carried an appeal for people that had ‘a genuine premonition before the coal tip fell on Aberfan?’

The response was encouraging enough for the newspaper to employ Jennifer Preston to catalogue cases. There was news in it. But the results of further premonitions and predictions were around 97% guff. Almost all predictions that were accurate came from Miss Middleton and Alan Henscher. They both warned John Barker about his impending death. He died in a Shrewsbury hospital in 1968. The Premonitions Bureau fell out of vogue. A different, but similar, version carried on in New York. You may be fated to read this book, but don’t read too much into it. Read on.       

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