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Gef the Talking Mongoose Enigma

By Silverspear

Most individuals nowadays have never heard of Gef the Talking Mongoose. However, thanks to the Internet and social media Gef is currently enjoying something of a comeback, having captured the imagination of a new generation of fans. A poll conducted a few years ago by that long-running magazine of “High Strangeness” Fortean Times voted Gef the Talking Mongoose one of its most popular topics. Gef has also acquired his own Facebook page, which shows that you can’t keep a good mongoose down!

The story of Gef began in the early 1930s, resulting in a large number of journalists, sightseers, and famous psychic investigators of the day taking great interest in the case, dubbed by the press at the time as the “Dalby Sensation”. Dalby is a region situated remotely on the southwest coast of the Isle of Man. By the end of the 1930s, however, Gef had almost vanished into obscurity. Occasionally, over the years, he did enjoy a brief resurrection during the silly season when news was a bit thin on the ground. It was during one of Gef’s rare media airings in a popular magazine in the 1960s that I first read about the case and, oddly enough, have remained interested ever since.

Although the case is bizarre and stretches one’s credulity to breaking point, I’ve always suspected, based on a life-long interest in the paranormal, that there might be more to Gef than meets the eye, which is why I have always resisted the temptation to default to the sceptical position by immediately dismissing Gef as nothing more than a hoax; it’s also worth bearing in mind, however, that there is often an element of the trickster god behind hoaxes.

Many ancient pagan cultures acknowledged the role of the trickster in our world, which is why they often had a trickster god in their pantheons. The role of a trickster god is to challenge our literal view of reality – to put a question mark over our prejudices and preconceptions. In that sense, the perpetrator of a hoax is also a pawn in the game because behind the deception a trickster god is in fact manipulating the hoaxer.

Initially, Gef wasn’t described as a mongoose at all. Sometimes the media, as illustrated in the newspaper cuttings of the day, referred to Gef as the “man-weasel” or the “Dalby Spook”. In addition to that, when Gef first appeared, he wasn’t called Gef at all. The creature – if that’s what we can describe Gef as – was originally given the name “Jack”. The so-called mongoose, however, said that he preferred to be known as Geoff, which he spelt out phonetically [G-E-F].

In 1931 an ex-commercial traveller by the name of James Irving retired to the Isle of Man and bought a farmstead known as Doarlish Cashen. A book published in 1935, entitled “The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap”, co-written by Harry Price and R.S. Lambert, described the farmstead as an eerie and remote dwelling: “Immediately upon entering the house the visitor is struck by its sombre interior. Not only are the windows few and small, and mostly not made to open; the whole of the interior is panelled with match boarding, which has been stained a deep dark brown, almost verging upon black”.

James Irving said that he first caught sight of Gef one morning close to the farmhouse, describing the creature as “similar in appearance to a weasel, with small body, long bushy tail, flat nose, and yellow in colour”. However, it wasn’t long before Gef decided to take up residence inside, as well as outside, the farmhouse. According to James Irving: “This eerie weasel, as I thought he might be, then began to keep us awake at night by blowing, spitting and growling behind the matchboard partition of the lower rooms…” From such a description, it seems we have the first clue that Jim Irving may have been dealing with a poltergeist.

Gef, however, proved to have more sophisticated potential. For some peculiar reason, James Irving had decided to try and communicate with Gef and soon the creature had progressed to mimicking various animal noises and (allegedly) repeating nursery rhymes that James Irving had taught him. Gef’s voice was said to have been loud and clear, and one or two octaves higher than a human voice. Some witnesses described it as very high and screechy.

Gef was certainly contradictory. Sometimes he would say that he was the ghost of a weasel that would haunt you with weird noises and clanking chains. But as time went on, he said that he was “just a little extra, extra clever mongoose”. Gef also displayed features of a brownie, or house hob, by leaving dead rabbits on the porch for the family. In turn he would be rewarded with various treats.

Nonetheless, Gef often tormented the Irvings. On one occasion, when Jim Irving took too long in opening the morning paper, Gef impatiently cried out: “Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!” In 1932, when the media first took an interest in the case, James Irving denied that the farmhouse was haunted, but shortly after may have changed his mind, insisting that Gef could shape-shift, and even become invisible.

Before long, the controversial psychic investigator Harry Price, widely regarded as a self-publicist who courted attention in the way that reality TV stars do today, began investigating the case. Price’s initial suspicions fell on James Irving’s wife, Margaret, and daughter, Voirrey (Manx for Mary). Harry Price suggested that both Voirrey and her mother might have been in collusion because neither enjoyed life on the lonely farm. The popular theory was that they were trying to frighten Jim Irving into selling up and leaving, which seems an unlikely explanation in view of the fact that Jim Irving clearly had an enthusiasm for Gef. Furthermore, the family were still there at Doarlish Cashen 12 years or so later when Jim Irving died.

Harry Price also noted that every wall in Doarlish Cashen had a cladding of match boarding, which had been installed to keep out the cold. As a result, there was a gap of about three inches between the cladding and all the outer walls. This meant that sound could travel around the house in a similar way that sound moves around inside an acoustic musical instrument. Price suggested, therefore, that Voirrey was speaking into tiny gaps in the wall when no one was looking. However, an independent witness later heard unaccountable speaking in the farmhouse when Voirrey was some distance away in a field, which suggests that on that particular occasion Voirrey clearly was not the culprit. In his book, Harry Price gives a valuable description of Voirrey, which in the light of modern knowledge may be a key to such a strange and enigmatic case:

“Voirrey can be found most days out upon the downs, tramping the hillsides above Glen Maye in solitude, save for her dog. Voirrey is now seventeen, having left school two years or more … She carries something of her mother's strange look in her greenish-brown eyes, which, rarely fully open, seem to observe the world with a penetrating yet half-concealed disdain. This young lady, you would conclude, is old for her years, isolated though those years have been from the ordinary rough and tumble of human experience. She must have passed a curious childhood, without playmates or friends, always in the company of her elderly parents, seeing life from their remote and limited angle.

At school she was not exceptionally apt at her lessons, yet she is obviously intelligent and self-possessed. For a young girl she certainly seems undemonstrative, so reserved in fact that you could easily fancy her moody. She is not interested in books, though her father will tell you that she has, or had, a great interest in animals and eagerly devours any reading upon that subject which might come into the house.
Voirrey had never, up to the summer of 1935, left the Isle of Man, or indeed visited the northern half of the Isle, beyond Ramsey. Nevertheless, she is rather more sophisticated in her tastes than this fact might lead one to suppose.

She is greatly interested, not so much in natural as in mechanical objects, such as motorcars, aero- planes, and cameras. She knows the names and recognizes the leading points of all the principal makes of automobiles. She pays special attention to the local motorbus routes and their garage, as well as to the flying services between London and the Isle of Man. She can manipulate a hand-camera with some skill, and seems to enjoy being photographed. There is, indeed, a touch of vanity about her character, natural enough in a young lady who has been brought up as an “only child” in a very real sense”.

There is a wealth of valuable information in that description. The fact that Voirrey’s eyes rarely fully opened suggests that Voirrey might have been on the autistic spectrum. In other words, she could have had high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome – a condition unknown to medical science in the 1930s. One feature of Asperger’s is over-sensitivity to light, not to mention sudden, loud noises.

There are also additional clues. The fact that Voirrey knew the names and details of every kind of motor car, including paying special attention to the local bus routes etc. and aircraft services suggest “Special Interest”. “Special Interest” is the term used to describe the obsession that those with Asperger’s Syndrome frequently have with one specific subject. Nowadays, it is often referred to as the “Little Professor” syndrome.
Voirrey’s interest in mechanical, rather than natural, objects could also be described as tomboyish, bearing in mind that Voirrey was a young woman in the 1930s when gender interests and roles were far more clearly defined and more strictly adhered to than they are today. One also cannot rule out the possibility that Voirrey’s sexual orientation may have been lesbian, which would have been unthinkable in the 1930s.

There is also another factor to consider, although no concrete evidence ever emerged to support the view; some have suggested that Jim Irving might have attempted an incestuous relationship with Voirrey. That may sound cynical and controversial, but in the light of more recent sex scandals involving depraved celebrities once believed to have been beyond reproach, it is a suspicion that carries a lot of weight nowadays. The suspicion arose because Jim Irving had persuaded Voirrey to have her bed moved into his own bedroom after Gef had been noisier and more disruptive than usual. On the other hand, and in all fairness to Jim Irving, he may simply have had genuine concern for Voirrey’s safety.

One night, when this arrangement had been made, Gef was heard to cry out from behind a wall: “I’ll follow her wherever you move her”. At this point, Jim Irving claimed to have barricaded the door with furniture. The door, however, began bulging as if a great weight was being thrust against it, and then suddenly, from within the room, a pot of ointment threw itself at the bedstead. One could argue, of course, that the pot had been thrown by Voirrey herself, in protest against her father’s sleeping arrangements.

On the other hand, it also suggests poltergeist activity. If it were the case that Voirrey had been a sexual target of her father, then there is no doubt that she would have been extremely traumatised – more so, possibly, if she had not been heterosexual. Such abuse in a rather unusual young woman like Voirrey would create the ideal conditions by which poltergeist activity would manifest. Nandor Fodor, the famous psychologist and psychic researcher, took the view that repressed anger, resentment, and sexual tension often went hand in hand with poltergeist activity. Some experts also argue that poltergeists are created when a part of the human mind splits off to assume a form of independent expression, rather like a tulpa or thought-form.

Another interesting point to note, is that Voirrey took a dislike to Harry Price – and so also did Gef. Perhaps Gef was a split-off of Voirrey’s subconscious, and it was she who disliked Harry Price. As Gef put it: “I like Captain Dennis, but not Harry Price. He’s the man who puts the kybosh on the spirits!”

The name Captain Dennis seems to have been a pseudonym to protect the identity of R. S. Lambert, another investigator involved with the case at the time, and who later co-wrote the book on Gef. Lambert was an entirely different sort of man to Price. Lambert studied Classics at Oxford, was a biographer, popular historian, broadcaster and the founding editor of The Listener magazine.

Unfortunately, Lambert’s interest in the case did eventually cause him a great deal of trouble. An article on Gef the Talking Mongoose, written by Lambert, had come to the attention of Sir Cecil Bingham Levita, a former Colonel in the British Army and chairman of the London City Council. He accused Lambert of being “soft in the head” and unfit to serve on the board of the British Film Institute. In response, Lambert successfully sued for libel, and received £7,600 in damages, which was a substantial sum at the time. The case became known as "The Mongoose Case".

Meanwhile, Gef continued to come under further investigation. Harry Price managed to persuade Jim Irving to send him some hair samples from Gef, which Price promptly sent to the Zoological Society for analysis. The result came back: “I can very definitely say that the specimen hairs never grew upon a mongoose, nor are they those of a rat, rabbit, hare, squirrel, or other rodent … I am inclined to think that these hairs have probably been taken from a longish-haired dog …”

Price returned to Doarlish Cashen later in the year and managed surreptitiously to obtain some hairs from Voirrey’s dog, Mona. These turned out to be identical to the sample analysed by the Zoological Society. Plaster casts of Gef’s paws made by Jim Irving were also sent for analysis. According to the experts, the imprints displayed none of the folds and textures of real animal paws, and looked as if they had been made by the end of a stick. There was also a disparity between the size of the front and rear paws. Predictably, the case of Gef was officially dismissed as nothing more than a crude hoax.

That should have finally sealed the matter once and for all. But too many loose ends still needed to be tied up. For example, many witnesses outside of the Irving family had also heard voices in the farmhouse. One bus driver also claimed that Gef’s antics had infested the bus depot at Peel, further up the coast. Bearing in mind that Voirrey had an interest in buses, it would be logical to conclude that she herself had gone to the bus depot and got up to mischief.

On the other hand, poltergeists have been known to follow the object of their attachment, as also have certain house fairies. There could also have been multiple factors at play, such as the suspicion by some that Doarlish Cashen was haunted long before Gef came on the scene. The surrounding landscape had long had a reputation for being uncanny. When Jim Irving eventually passed away, Mrs Irving and her eldest daughter Elsie were present and both claimed that a brush kept near the fireplace began moving of its own accord, only stopping when Jim Irving finally breathed his last.

As to Gef, in the early stages of his appearances he sometimes pleaded with Jim Irving to let him go: “I must go back to the underground,” Gef would say, and Jim Irving would reply: “Well, be off. I’m not keeping you.” Gef would then call out “Vanished”, in a long drawn out manner, followed by silence. Gef, however, was soon back and up to his usual mischief. But finally, Gef simply faded away for good, in the same way that poltergeists tend to do, and was never heard from again.

Eventually the farmhouse was sold to an ex-army man who had no belief in the paranormal. But what seems rather odd is that some years later Doarlish Cashen was actually demolished, leaving no remains of the building today. This is curious, because owing to the high cost of demolition in remote and inaccessible areas, such as the west coast of the Isle of Man, old buildings were usually abandoned and simply left to ruin. This raises the possibility that having earned itself such a notorious and sinister reputation, it was decided that no trace of Doarlish Cashen should be left.

Decades then passed before Gef again briefly received media attention. In 1970, a journalist from Fate magazine managed to trace Voirrey and persuaded her to be interviewed. The following is a transcript of that interview:

“It was not a hoax and I wish it had never happened. If my mother and I had had our way we never would have told anybody about it. But Father was sort of wrapped up in it. It was such a wonderful phenomenon that he just had to tell people about it … I was shy … I still am … Gef made me meet people I didn’t want to meet. Then they said I was ‘mental’ or a ventriloquist. Believe me, if I was that good, I would jolly well be making money from it now! Gef was very detrimental to my life. We were snubbed. The other children used to call me ‘the spook’. I had to leave the Isle of Man and I hope that no one where I work now ever knows the story. Gef has even kept me from getting married. How could I ever tell a man’s family about what happened? And yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things. He said he was a mongoose and said we should call him Gef. But I do wish he had let us alone”.  

It’s interesting that Voirrey remained a spinster. Perhaps she may have been a lesbian after all, but never succeeded in coming to terms with her sexuality because of both the laws that were in place at the time and the social climate in which grew up. If so, then she was a tragic victim like many others who lived in less enlightened times. Sadly, Voirrey died in 2005 and the real truth about Voirrey and Gef will now never be known.