Just back from a week's break in Kenmare (County Kerry) one of my favourite towns in all the world which features, among several other brilliant things, a second hand bookshop where I try very hard to bankrupt myself every time I visit. This time, part of the trawl was a book called 'Mind Readings' which was published a few years ago and consists of contributions from a score or more well known writers describing states of mind.
Many of them concentrated on personal experiences of breakdowns, depressions and panics (all of which I can empathise with at the moment) but Melvyn Bragg, the broadcaster, proved as intriguing as ever with a contribution describing how his adolescence was turned into a nightmare by spontaneous out-of-body experiences (OOBES).
During an OOBE, for those of you who haven't met the term before, you leave your physical body to move around like a ghost, passing through walls and sometimes, like Melvyn, levitating to find yourself floating somewhere near the ceiling. It's a phenomenon that has fascinated me for years and provided the subject matter of the very first book I ever published.
I found my own out-of-body experiences puzzling and intriguing, but the young Melvyn was terrified when he had his. Furthermore, he had an intuition that he should discuss them with no-one, so they became his guilty secret as well as his nightmare.
For Melvyn Bragg, the OOBEs eventually stopped of their own accord, but I've a feeling he was right in telling no-one about them until now. Many years ago, I met a girl in her early twenties who told me she was a diagnosed epileptic. I asked if she suffered from grand or petit mal. She looked puzzled and said she never had fits at all. Rather, as a child, she had found herself out of her body and floating near the ceiling. Unlike Melvyn, she told her parents who decided she must be ill and took her to a doctor.
Although statistics show anything up to one in four people have a spontaneous out-of-body experience at some period of their lives, the doctor had never heard of the phenomenon. He agreed with her parents that she was ill.
By the time I met her, she had taken anti-epileptic drugs every day of her life for more than 12 years.