Manfred, fireworks, and a boy called Oliver

This is a true story. I’ve thought about that summer often over the last thirty years and I still recall vividly the terrible feeling of panic, the hellish special effects, and those pale eyes.

I was twenty-one, my sisters were coming up to twenty, eighteen, and almost seventeen. It was the end of the school/university year and we were all at home. I had just had the first big bust up with my boyfriend, first sister had just jacked in her stint training to be a nurse, second sister was about to embark on a course at a swanky London art school, and youngest sister was slowly but surely turning into a subversive. Tensions and adolescent angst were running reasonably high.
Second sister and I were going to spend July 14th in France to see the celebrations and take my mind off…things. The other two were looking for jobs. For some reason, in the lull between working and travelling, we decided to have a go at a séance. Don’t ask me why. While being a fully paid up sceptic, I’ve always preferred to give that kind of thing a wide berth. Anyway, we did. We cut out letters and arranged them in a circle on the dining table with a glass in the middle. Nothing fancy, no ‘atmosphere’, left the electric light on and the tv going in the corner.
The glass started to move as soon as we put our fingertips on it. We replaced the glass with an orange—the orange moved too. It worked as long as at least two people touched it, any two.
It was fun at first, sort of exciting. Then the sister I was going to France with started asking the usual sort of questions, and we started getting comprehensible answers. ‘It’ claimed to be a German called Manfred, a Panzer tank driver who was killed in WWII. The question and answer sessions were a bit laborious as the sister putting the questions has a flippant turn of mind and wasn’t taking it seriously. The rest of us were too uneasy to ask anything.
We did this over several evenings. Sometimes ‘Manfred’ didn’t turn up. We used to play Schumann’s Manfred Overture for him but I’m not sure he was particularly musical as it didn’t make much difference. Manfred seemed like a reasonable enough bloke, said he’d been married with two children and he was sorry for all the fathers with families he’d killed. He wasn’t your typical angry vindictive spirit so we kept on ‘contacting’ him. Then one evening he let us know he was aware two of us were going to France, and to be careful. He kept repeating it, said he didn’t want anything to happen to us, but we had to watch out in France. There was someone who wanted to harm us, someone called Oliver. He seemed to get quite distressed and almost hysterical. That was the last time we got him. The airwaves went dead and we stopped trying. It was time for our trip anyway.

So, we went over to Dieppe, a little town we already knew and liked, arriving on the 13th. The evening of the 14th, they told us in the hotel, there would be dancing in the street more or less everywhere, and not to miss the fireworks. It started late, there were street orchestras in every little square, and we had a whale of a time. My sister and I got separated—she was dancing with one guy, I was waltzed off by another. I still remember his face, tanned, light brown curly hair and big, pale, blue-green eyes.
He started with the usual chat, practicing his English. Then he went suddenly serious and said, “I’m going to tell you something that will frighten you.”
I didn’t say anything, just cast about looking for my sister. He pushed his face with his big pale eyes right up to me and said, “My name is Oliver.”
I remember jabbering something about it being Olivier in French, and he just shook his head and grinned. “It’s Oliver. I told you you’d be frightened.”
You bet I bloody was! I turned and ran. Somewhere, the firework display had started, and the flashes in the sky splashed eerie light across the faces in the street. Firecrackers went off all around us making everyone shriek. The noise from the fireworks and the band was deafening, the lights flashed and the narrow streets leading into the square were full of shadows. I charged about like a mad thing, yelling out my sister’s name, barging into people who waltzed into my way and trying to avoid the gangs of kids chucking firecrackers about. Oliver just watched. I caught sight of him through the crowd, grinning.
I found my sister, grabbed her by the arm and told her I’d just met Oliver. She didn’t ask “Oliver who?” just ran. We charged off down a dark street, completely disoriented and without a clue where we were in relation to the hotel which was out of town, almost in the countryside. It took us an age to get back, lock the door and stop trembling. Twice over the next couple of days, I saw Oliver hanging around in front of the hotel. I spotted him a couple of times sitting on the terrace of the nearest café too. The third morning, he was in the café of our hotel, leaning on the football table. We left.

When we got home, the first thing my sister did was get out the cut-out letters and the water glass and ask Manfred if he had any more little nuggets to impart. Nothing. We never heard from him again, and I have never had anything to do with prying into the supernatural again.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

41 thoughts on “Manfred, fireworks, and a boy called Oliver”

  1. Omg! That is unreal! Who the hell is Oliver? God I’m scared just reading it. You cant be too careful with these things. No wonder you’ve kept away from it after an experience like that.

    So how can you remain sceptical after that? You know there is more to it. To say you dont believe it is surely denial.

    I also think its a good thing to write about it and get it out in the open. Personally, I’m hoping to one day meet all the people we’ve recently been writing about. (Before you ask, no, only green tea. Mind you, its a potent enough brew lol!)

    1. I suppose I have the same attitude as my dad. We were in the kichen one morning, same time as the Manfred episode, me, my dad, and the cat, and this knocking started in one of the cupboards. I opened the door and the knocking moved to the cupboard next to it. It went all round the room, through all the drawers, stopping and moving on each time I opened the door or drawer. The cat followed it round too, jumping up at the drawers where the noise was coming from. My dad just sat there and laughed at the cat! Said something like, “Well, I’ve never heard anything like that before.” And that was it. He just accepted that there are funny inexplicable things that go on.

      I haven’t a clue who Oliver is or what he was after (except the obvious) but he was dead real and what he said made my blood run cold.

      1. Your dad’s right. That’s not denial. Funny old thing to happen with the knocking. Creepy and not very nice trick to play. I’m sure there are a lot of nice spirits out there too. You were just unlucky.

      2. The end of the knocking story was strange too. My dad was having a laugh at the cat jumping up at the cupboard doors and trying to get inside, when my mum came in. I should have said that my dad didn’t believe in God. He didn’t see any evidence for it, just a lot of hot air. My mum though was probably the most devout of anyone in the family, more than any of the old ones even. Anyway, my mum came into the kitchen, asked why the cat was dangling from a cupboard door. My dad said she was after the poltergeist that was knocking inside. My mum didn’t even listen, she just said not to be silly, things like that don’t exist, banged a few doors and the knocking stopped. My dad said, “You’re mother showed it who’s boss.” We never heard it again.

      3. Fabulous! You should turn all this into a paranormal story! You’d sell thousands, especially as its based on truth… all you need to do is introduce a handsome ripped good spirit to provide the love interest and put an end to Oliver😄

      1. Exactly! Olivier is a common enough name in France, so I would probably have just put it down to a strange coincidence. But when he insisted that it was Oliver which is English, and not the French equivalent I really thought there was something creepy going on.

  2. Very interesting indeed Jane. I must add that repeated knocking is quite common with spirits, they are after all trying to get your attention. Although in this modern age many play with your TV, radio and computer. I think it’s more than a coincidence that you ran into Oliver, whether it’s a common name or not. Then his stalking behaviour afterwards was a bit strange. I’ve run a few séances over the years and yes, you get some real crap coming through then at other times you receive spot on communication. I’ve seen the results of badly run séances too. If something comes through for myself I let go of the glass and sit back. Thereby negating any issues relating to cheating. A long dead uncle came through at my last séance and told some very dark, personal things about my father that I was aware of but nobody else in the group knew. All things psychic were my bread and butter for many years, so there’s not a lot that happens in this world that startles me. People ask, ‘Aren’t you afraid of spirits?’ My answer, ‘It’s the living you have to worry about.’ Sure you may get a pesky spirit that hangs around, or when I was doing readings they would turn up the night before and make themselves known. Thanks for sharing the experience Jane.

    1. It’s the only brush with the supernatural I’ve had so maybe that’s why it sticks in my memory. Might also be because it terrifyed me so much at the time! I’d never play with ouija boards. Whatever it is that speaks, knocks or moves glasses around, it’s a mystery I prefer to leave well alone.

      1. I imagine it would stick with you. 🙂 I can say that whatever it is has helped save a few lives that I know of. It keeps me interested up to a point.

  3. That’s an interesting tale and I’m trying to make sense of it. Manfred and the sceance I can understand. I have a friend who’s psychic and has told me who my spirit guides are. It sounds like Manfred was acting in a similar role. But Oliver is a different thing entirely. Human, solid, tangible and yet someone Manfred predicted.

    In retrospect it’s easy to say you should have asked someone, ‘who’s the creepy guy at the football table,’ but we’ll never know who or what he was. Or even if he’s still out there, physically unchanged from when you saw him all those years ago.


    1. That’s really what bothers me still. Supposing there was some kind of spirit warning delivered to watch out for this character, what I find creepy is that Oliver appeared to know that I had been warned about him. How? If I’d actually spoken French at the time I would have asked someone who he was, but I didn’t. ‘Oliver’ spoke to me in English. Now that I know the country pretty well, I can see that ‘Oliver’ was a Kabyle. I’ve met lots of them since, all light brown-haired, blue-green eyed with dark olive complexions. And they all, without exception, use traditional names. No Kabyle would ever be called Olivier, much less Oliver.The plot thickens.

      1. I bet. I find it shivery just reading about it, it is the kind of thing that makes you feel a little too…exposed…to forces that we don’t like to think exist.

      2. And if you don’t go out of your way to ‘make contact’ does that mean that all sorts of supernatural ‘things’ are going to hit you that you’re not even aware of?

      3. And you say to all your friends, why does everything happen to me? when if only you’d paid attention to the black cat crossing in front of you, smirking at you, and your head was turned the other way, looking at your reflection in the store window, wondering if that new hair cut really suited you or not…

      4. What I wonder often is, if there are dozens of us who see the magpie, or the black cat refuses to cross anybody’s path, do we all get the bad luck? I would always slip Finbar’s lead back on if we saw a magpie, assuming he was the one would attract the bad luck, but it could have been for someone else. The person sitting on the park bench, or the one leaning over the parapet of the bridge.

      5. Yes. That it knows its target, but we don’t, and so we have our charms and so on, but walk along without noticing and maybe our charms do the same, until it’s our turn, and nothing we can do about it.

      6. I’d be tempted to say, anyone who goes out without their lucky charm is quite likely to go out of their way to have an accident, just to make it come true.

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