Byline: TASHA KOSVINER
THEY are the embodiment of pebble-dashed drabness. Long, glum terraces stretching away into the spring skyline in a place that has the dubious mantle of being the world's biggest council estate. Dagenham, then, would not appear to be a promising portal to the afterlife. Yet, within 30 minutes of knocking on the front door of one of the town's greyish abodes, home to a psychic, I would be in tears.
A gentle, maternal woman - with heavy makeup and her bobbed hair dyed a rich occultist red - seemed an unlikely host for a gathering of those of my family who had "crossed to the other side". But suddenly, my eyes smarting, my mind turning somersaults, I felt decidedly unsure of the world I knew.
Were there ancestral wraiths really in the room with us?
Psychics and seances are once more hot news. After the recent controversial US screening of a seance, in which the spirit of Princess Diana was supposedly conjured up, a British cable and satellite channel followed up with a debate on the subject. That the channel is called Living TV may perhaps be taken as an ironic comment.
The less spiritual among us might write off such television fare as a cynical ratings ploy - as yet another example of big business cashing in on the memory of one of Britain's most enigmatic daughters and her documented fascination for psychics, fortune tellers and the like. But should we be so sure? I set off on the road to Dagenham to find out.
A substantial portion of Dagenham's council houses - 27,000 socalled "homes for heroes" - were built in the Twenties and Thirties as a reward for families of soldiers who had fought in the First World War.
It is in one of these homes that medium Lynn Lait plies her trade. Lynn is a large lady of 45, mother of two, grandmother of one and wife to a building manager who works in the City. I have come here with my sceptic radars on full alert, expecting to leave with my self-assurance intact.
Lynn is clearly nervous when I arrive. "I've given readings for loads of celebrities and media personalities but never for a newspaper," she says, a little too loudly. "I could hardly sleep last night for worrying." I flash my best "trust me I'm a journalist" smile and sharpen my mental claws.
The reading - Lynn doesn't like to call them seances because she also uses her contact with spirits to offer health, career and relationship advice - takes place at a polished mahogany table in her lounge, all beige and chintz. On the table an incense burner emits a mild lavender scent - "for calmness," says Lynn, although it is unclear whose - and a bowl of crystals flash in the morning sun.
We sit side-by-side facing a mirror on the wall, and immediately she begins. Her reading is a stream of consciousness; breathless, unbroken, without order. There are no theatrics; from her demeanour, we could just as easily be talking about the weather.
"The spirits are telling me that you don't pay enough attention to your health," she says. "I feel that you're stressed, your life is hectic. I see you surrounded by books, like a pile of books are coming down on you. You've done a lot of studying.
"Money is a problem but there will be more money energy flowing in for you soon. There are a lot of wooden floors in your house and I see some decorating happening there. The spirits are telling me that you are intending to take better care of your health but you haven't got around to it yet."
Initially, I am not impressed. Everything Lynn says is more or less true of me but also, I'd wager, true of pretty much every other mildly harassed twentysomething professional living in London.
Furthermore, she later comes out with some glaring inaccuracies. The spirits suggest that I am single she ventures, which I am not. They suggest a nursing history in my family where there is none, and a religious background that doesn't exist. …