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Enigma Issue 15: Things that go Bump in the Night

by John Vigay

Some months ago I was settling down into my usual chair late one evening to have a quiet read when I was distracted by a regular ticking sound coming from the nearby window sill. If I turned my head just slightly then the sound disappeared.

Impossible to Ignore

At first I tried to ignore it, but this became impossible. My really absorbing book was unable to hold my full attention. After an hour or so I started to investigate where the sound was coming from. As I got nearer to the source of the sound, which was behind the curtains it stopped abruptly as soon as I started to gently move the curtain aside - so back I went to my chair. I read another page and sure enough the ticking started to distract me again. Gradually my full attention was diverted to this constant tick and the urgent need to "sort it out".

The U.T.O.

At that time (August 1997) I had no idea what a puzzling unexplained phenomenon this simple tick was to become and still is, - no less than an Unexplained Ticking Object. As a keen and conscientious student of the normal natural world the search for an explanation became more and more puzzling as one after another explanations were eliminated.

Not just hearing things!

The first reaction was to get someone else to hear it to ensure that I was not just " hearing things". (I did once hear morse code whilst half asleep in bed!) It was quite a relief when my wife, Mavis eventually heard the tick some days later. If a ufologist sees a UFO - the first reaction is to alert as many others as possible to the object witnessed, the same reaction applies to UTOs, the only difference is that the audio senses instead of the visual senses are concentrated.

Metallic and Regular

Just what is this regular tick? The closest description I can give is that of a time switch clock - rather metallic and at a regular speed of 4 ticks per second. The source of the tick was traced to a small terra-cotta hippopotamus-shaped plant holder containing a small succulent plant with tiny red flowers and fitting closely to the description of Crassula Cooperi, a native of Transvaal. This was sitting on a wide window sill facing south east. By elimination the following explanations are now discounted :-

(1) A timing device and possibly a bomb - it was carefully moved to the end of the garden - Paul Vigay on a visit foolhardily yanked the plant out [huh hum - Ed.] - there was nothing inside the pot except the tangled dry roots of the plant. The trip down the garden had completely stopped the tick - the pot was returned to its former position. Two weeks of silence and I became confident that it was not a detonator and that I could now read in peace, then one evening, it started again.

(2) The central heating pipes and a radiator were under the sill. They were not in use in August and in any case do not normally click or tick when they are in use.

(3) The metabolism of the plant or the gas interchange in the fleshy leaves are not likely to produce such a constant tick day or night in all weather conditions, although the tick seems to be more persistent in warmer spells of weather.

(4) Death watch beetle - one visitor claimed this was definitely the answer - This is not possible as it does not match up to the beetle's lifestyle at all.

(5) A 'planted' micro-timer, bugging or other electronic device - nothing has been suspected but it is very sensitive to any movement of the curtain or the slightest touch or disturbance. If an observer stays quiet and motionless it will start up again after 30 seconds or sometimes less.

(6) Amplifying some signal or inaudible sound being received from a distance (ie. anywhere from the next room to outer space.)

(7) Ticks - I've no evidence that they do tick but I cannot discover why they are called ticks anyway so will discount these unpleasant relatives of the spiders.

Sceptical Witness

Usually, if we have visitors, there is not any sign of ticking but recently (7th December '97) we had three visitors, one of whom was a very sceptical person. There had been no ticking for some days past but on this morning the tick really excelled and kept ticking loudly all morning.

Still no explanation!

Our visitors had to become confirmed believers in our UTO. (quite a relief to know that we were not both going a bit peculiar as I'm sure some of our friends were beginning to wonder !) Our friends were not able to offer any explanation whatsoever and seemed as mystified as we are. They had previously heard a recording of the tick but to the sceptic this could have easily have been the gas boiler time clock which sometimes sounds similar.

And so our little tick carries on at intervals. There is not a sound whilst I am writing this and there is no regular pattern. It is very strange that it is far more sensitive to my wife. Sometimes it would stop ticking as soon as she entered the room.

Loudly Audible

At one stage my investigation made me stay up all night sitting on the other side of the room. The tick carried on all night and could be heard above the radio (classic FM with a Sibelius symphony).

Suggestions welcome....

During this vigil I read several books on noise making insects, plant acoustics, radio and wave transmission, no reference produced a remotely possible explanation. I have not yet been induced to reading about alien technology, looking up the X-files, or even writing to NASA but would welcome any reasonable explanations from Enigma readers. Meanwhile we will carry on living in harmony with our "friendly" little tick.


What exactly is it really sensitive to ? - Vibration, air turbulence, breath, heat, electrical fields, body auras or living things, it could be any or all of these, something makes it stop and start again, it certainly makes a very quick and sensitive response to something, maybe the plant is trying to communicate - that would be worth a letter to the New Scientist.

Some say wait until it ticks and empty the plant and contents out into a big bowl and dissect everything therein. I am reluctant to do this as it would probably be the end of the tick, if nothing was found then we would probably never find an explanation to this strange phenomenon - in any case it's almost become one of the family!

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