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I WAGER that most who ever think of the Isle of Man do so within the context of its 38-mile round-the-house race circuit and annual display of motorcyclic mayhem known as the Tourist Trophy. But here I offer a different tale of Isle of Man madness, a talking mongoose named Gef.
How do I encounter such things? In this case, thanks to the London Review of Books, July 27, 2017, and Bee Wilson’s article “I am the Fifth Dimension.” Wilson reviews Christopher Josiffe’s Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra-Special Talking Mongoose, just released in paperback.
Sheep farmer Jim Irving, 38 years old at the time, his wife Margaret, and 13-year-old daughter Voirrey first heard their talking mongoose on September 13, 1931. According to LRB reviewer Wilson, for ten more years Gef “amused the family with his gossip and jokes.”
Gef was a yellowish animal resembling a weasel, with a ratlike body, a long bushy tail and a high-pitched voice. Usually he spoke English, albeit with a Manx accent; for example, “sacret” for “secret.”
And Gef was multilingual. Wilson reports, “He knew a little Hebrew and Gaelic; in June 1932 he spoke a sentence in Russian, and two years later recited two verses in Spanish. This was followed by a ‘long complimentary sentence’ in Flemish, although when asked what language it was, he told Irving it was German. ‘Poor Gef,’ Irving observed, is not infallible.’ ”
Wilson adds, “The really surprising thing is that so many people outside the family seem to have wanted the talking mongoose to be real.”
In January 1932, the Manchester Daily Dispatch sent a reporter to Doarlish Cashen, the Irving’s farmhouse on the Isle of Man, to investigate the story. He claimed he heard “a voice which I should never have imaged could issue from a human throat.”
The British tabloid press took an interest. And, in July 1935, magazine editor Rex Lambert and his paranormal investigator pal Harry Price visited Doarlish Cashen. Gef clammed up, but this didn’t stop the pair from writing The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap, 1936.
The investigation and book led to Sir Cecil Lord Levita claiming Lambert was “cracked” and “off his head.” This difference of opinion reached the British High Court, which, according to LRB’s Wilson, “took the view that Lambert’s investigation of Gef wasn’t a sign of madness, and awarded him damages of £7500.” A non-trivial judgement: $37,275 in 1936; $662,000 today.
In 1937, Nandor Fodor of the International Institute for Psychical Research stayed with the Irvings for a week. Again, Gef chose to remain silent and out of sight.
This reticence on Gef’s part didn’t dissuade Fodor from writing a sweet thank you note: “Dear Gef, I am very disappointed that you didn’t speak to me during the whole week which I spent here. I came from a long way and took a lot of trouble in collecting all your clever sayings… I believe you to be a very good and generous mongoose. I brought you chocolates and biscuits and I would have been happy if you had done something for me.”
Over the years, Jim Irving collected 200 pages of Gef’s activities and utterings, including the following:
“I have three attractions. I follow Voirrey, Mam gives me food, and Jim answers my questions.”
“I’ll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!”
And “I have been in nicer homes than this. Carpets, piano, satin covers on polished tables. I am going back there. Hahaha!”
My favorite is, “If you knew what I know, you’d know a hell of a lot!”
From the very beginning, it was suggested that “Schoolgirl May Have Powers of Ventriloquism.” Yes, it all fits for a bright mischievous 13-year-old Voirrey. But it’s also refreshing, from time to time, to be fooled for awhile. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017