If you can creep silently along an underground street, if you’re not afraid of the dark and if you can scream like you’re being skinned alive several times an hour then I know the perfect job for you.
For three years of my life, while living in the notoriously spooky city of Edinburgh, I worked as a jumper outer on the ghost tours, eventually graduating to tour guide. There is no job quite like it.
Ghost tours are big business in Edinburgh and if you walk down the Royal Mile you will see many groups of nervous tourists following cloaked guides. Most of them end up in part of the city’s underground streets and vaults, which is where I plied my jumping out trade.
For the princely sum of £5 a jump, I would hide out in Southbridge vaults wearing a cloak and plain white mask.
When the group of tourists entered the final vault of the tour, I would creep up to the doorway and when the guide said their final line I would scream and run in.
The groups would scream even louder than me, they would leap into the air, sometimes they would hit me.
Then they would laugh, they would tip the guide (never me) and they would leave, the fear they had built up during the 90 minute tour forgotten.
Because there are actually some very good reasons for a jumper outer on a ghost tour.
My job was not just to scare the bejesus out of people (and once, memorably, the urine). I was there to relieve the tension at the end of a terrifying tour so that people could have one big scare and then relax.
And it was important that they relaxed because the tour finished in a pub that was also owned by the same company.
People drink more when they are laughing than when they’re scared so it was just good business sense.
How often you get hit – and how to make them cry
Jumping out has its dangers as a career, of course. People have a fight or flight response to a terrifying, cloaked figure leaping out at them and screaming like a banshee.
Most would fall back in terror but the occasional one would scream back and lash out.
It was particularly bad when it had been raining above ground (and this is Scotland, it’s almost always raining above ground) because then I was jumping out on large groups of people armed with umbrellas.
After just six months of screaming at tourists, I was promoted to proper tour guide.
This was an even better job; I could wear a top hat and corset to work – something that is sadly not appropriate for most other jobs.
That meant I didn’t just make tourists scream. I made them cry too.
I once even made a tourist vomit while rather enthusiastically describing a method of torture involving a cage, a torso, a rat and a flame.
Tricks of the trade – and why couples are separated
Above ground I told gruesome stories of Edinburgh’s more macabre history.
Once in the haunted underground I turned the torch upwards to light my face and told horrifying ghost stories.
I worked out a knack of loosening the bulb so that if I knocked my torch it would go out and I would audibly gasp.
I would insist on separating men from women in certain parts of the tour, claiming it helped calm the poltergeist.
Actually, it the reason was that if I separated couples then they couldn’t clutch each other for comfort and it was even scarier.
Not that the vaults needed much help to scare people, the underground street was a genuinely frightening place.
I was pretty scared of it myself. When it was my turn to walk down there alone at the start of the day to light the candles, I just didn’t.
Reducing 40 cheerleaders to hysterics at once
Weird things happened in the underground. Rationally, I think that was down to hysteria and the power of the mind, but I know some of the other guides believed firmly in the ghosts.
Punters frequently fainted, they repeatedly described seeing the same ghostly figures, and they often came out with cuts on their necks from where they had scratched themselves in fear.
When that happened I would nod wisely and murmur about ‘poltergeist energies’.
Once, I led a tour of more than 40 16-year-old American cheerleaders into the underground.
When the jumper outer jumped, they screamed and leapt back, knocking into each other and falling down like dominoes, kicking and crying on the floor.
I shone my torch around and every inch of the vault’s floor was covered in writhing, hysterical teenagers.
It took a good 30 minutes to calm them down enough to be able to lead them out of the underground.
It might be wrong, but I was a little proud of my work that day.
The power of suggestion or paranormal activity
Another thing I loved about that job was how suggestible people become when they’re scared.
No, I didn’t use that for tips (no, I’m not sure why either) but I used it to make the tours even more frightening.
On one small daytime tour I was feeling really unwell and had to stop in the middle of a story to try not to be sick. I told my group that I was sorry but ‘sometimes, if the poltergeist energy is really strong, I feel really nauseous’.
Ten minutes later half the group were complaining they felt sick! I had given them all my hangover.
I know what you really want to know, of course. Was the underground street genuinely haunted? Were the ghosts and poltergeists I scared tourists with real? Were the stories true?
Look, I’m writing this in a well-lit office, with my dog lying peacefully on my feet. I don’t believe in ghosts.
But there’s no amount of money that you could offer that would persuade me to spend a night alone in that underground street.
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