THE CENTRE FOR FORTEAN ZOOLOGY
ANNUAL REPORT 2005
“Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been.”
The Grateful Dead: Truckin’
It seems incredibly weird that the CFZ is just about to enter its fifteenth year – a decade and a half of cryptozoological research. It seems that every year, when I sit back to write this report, I find myself looking back on the proceeding twelve months and wondering how we possibly ever managed to fit so much in!
It has been an odd year – beset by personal dramas – but it has been a successful one.
The first few months of the year went according to plan. The General Council meeting in January sorted out a great deal of the administrative problems that we had been having, and the publication of my book Monster Hunter opened the doors for a new range of CFZ books. Out were to go the old spiral-bound, home-made books, and in was to come a new range of perfect-bound paperbacks. The entire CFZ Press range was to be revamped with new material, extra pictures, and new artwork by Mark North.
Graham – later assisted by Oll Lewis – took over the job of running the ailing and elderly CFZ forum and has turned it into a thriving cyber-community which spills out into a `Virtual CFZ’ in the animated chatroom ‘Habbo Hotel’. It is all getting very strange.
We spent much of the next three months working on Richard Freeman’s book; Dragons; More than a Myth and everyone who visited the CFZ during the late winter and spring of this year found themselves roped in to working on the project! My girlfriend Corinna, my cousin Pene, and Oll Lewis (a new CFZ recruit from South Wales), all found themselves working on the index, and proof-reading, of this mammoth work. Well over a quarter of a million words long, the book is the first scientific study of dragons for over a century, and when it finally appeared in early July it was well worth the wait. However, by then, the world of the CFZ had changed forever.
In May, Richard, Chris Clark, John Hare and Dave “Davinian” Churchill went to Mongolia on the largest and most ambitious CFZ expedition yet: The search for the fabled Mongolian deathworm. They were in Mongolia for a month, during which Mark North – who had sadly been made redundant – found himself living almost non-stop in Richard’s room in Exeter and working on the dragon book and also our first crypto-novel – Chris Moiser’s While the Cat’s Away.
I spent much of May at Corinna’s house in Lincolnshire working on my next book (The Island of Paradise – my second book about Puerto Rico), and planning CFZ events for the second half of the year. In early June, the day after Richard returned, we had the second council meeting of the year, with the ranks being boosted by Oll Lewis and Lisa Dowley. Work started on capitalising on the successes of the Mongolian expedition – they had not actually found the deathworm, but had amassed more eyewitness testimony than ever before on the subject, and had also found reports (hitherto unknown in the west) of dragon-like creatures in the Gobi Desert - when something happened that was to change the CFZ for ever: My father was taken seriously ill.
Corinna (who happened to be visiting me that weekend) and I went up to see him and were shocked by what we saw. He was so ill and emaciated that there was no way that he could be left alone any more. Three days later Graham and I – thinking, I must admit, that my Dad would not live more than a few more weeks at most – moved in to the old family home in North Devon. I must be a better nurse than I realised, because six months later we are still here!
As many of you will know, it has long been my plan to move the CFZ to a rural location and to set up a proper visitor’s centre. Over the years I have been only too aware that some people have been somewhat disappointed when they saw the physical reality of the CFZ. A Japanese TV crew once came to film us about something, and almost the first thing that they said was: “But we thought you had a centre!”
We did – and do. The CFZ is now unquestionably the biggest cryptozoological research organisation in the world. We are the largest publishers of cryptozoological material in the world, and each year we undertake at least one major foreign expedition. But it is unquestionably true that – until now – visitors have come to see a rather grotty mid-terraced house in an unprepossessing Exeter housing estate. Now, this is all about to change.
My old family home is a rambling house in over a third of an acre of land in rural North Devon. It has outbuildings and a large conservatory as well as a fine old garden. Since June, I have been living here full time again for the first time in a quarter of a century. Graham has moved in as well, and we are joined by Mark North, Richard Freeman and John Fuller on shifts. In August we started moving the main CFZ Office, and I am proud to announce that I have reached an agreement with other family members that when my father finally dies, the CFZ will buy out their interest in the property, and we will finally have a visitor’s centre.
There will be a museum, a library, a laboratory, and room for our collection of exotic animals. There will be a permanent display of our ongoing researches, and what’s more, the village has an outstanding Community Centre that we can use for a nominal fee. Within the next few years we will be able to fulfil one of our major objectives, and the planned centre will be a major resource for cryptozoologists across the globe.
In August we left the village and came back to Exeter for the sixth annual Weird Weekend. It was the most successful event to date.
In Richard’s words:
“If the Fortean Times UnConvention is a wine bar then the CFZ’s Weird Weekend is sitting back on the sofa with a six-pack and watching re-runs of League of Gentlemen.
This year’s convention was again held at the Cowick Barton pub in Exeter. The pub was close to capacity, as the event has grown so much over the last three years. Far from the embarrassing early years when speakers rivalled attendees in numbers, the Weird Weekend is now thriving and can lay claim to being the biggest Fortean gathering in the UK outside of London.
There were 14 talks in all but as with anything you are involved in organizing you never have time to truly appreciate it. I missed many of the lectures this year as I was off behind the scenes doing this, that and the other.
Nick Redfern travelled all the way from Texas to give us two talks. The first was on the Texas Bigfoot. Most of us think of Texas as desert and scrub but in the east, on the borders of Louisiana, there are huge forests and swamps. After the Pacific North West and Florida, Texas is one of the real BHM hotspots in the US.
Nick also spoke about his new book ‘Bodysnatchers in the Desert’ (sounds like a 1950’s B-movie!) and his theory that the ‘aliens’ at Roswell were deformed human children used in altitude experiments by the US government and Japanese scientists pilfered by America after WW2. It makes a damn sight more sense than little grey men.
Over from Ireland was one of my favourite Fortean authors, Peter Costello. His books ‘In Search of Lake Monsters’ and ‘The Magic Zoo’ were benchmark works that inspired a generation of researchers. In his talk he looked back over his distinguished career searching for lake monster in his homeland and in the UK.
Speaking of Ireland I think that when you look in the Encyclopaedia Britannica for said country there should be a picture of Ronan Coghlan grinning cheekily whilst holding up a bottle of porter. One of the weekend’s highlights was the talk by everyone’s favourite twinkly-eyed rascal. The subject was mermaids. Not high up on the list of beast likely to actually exist, I hear you cry. Well you could be wrong. Ronan provided a convincing argument for the existence of an aquatic primate. Not quite the fish tailed, blonde beauty of myth but a more ape-like beast.
That line between man and beast was also blurred by Jon Hare in his talk on Sumatran weretigers. This was Jon’s first ever lecture but you wouldn’t know it from listening to him. His was widely regarded as the best talk of the weekend. He covered obscure martial arts from the Sumatran jungle that involve fighting on all fours and thinking like a tiger (Jon must be one of the few Westerners than have ever practised this art.) Forget the image of a tiger-human hybrid; this is something much stranger, involving beliefs in tiger ancestry and possession by tiger spirits.
On a less threatening note, the lovely Gail Nina Anderson looked at the portrayal of fairies in art. She showed that this was less of a reflection of true fairy lore and rather a projection onto them of the current trends and fashions. Contrary to the popular image, fairies almost never have wings and are often both ugly and malevolent. I was, however, amazed to find out she doesn’t like Richard Dad’s painting ‘The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke’, one of the few portrayals of fairies as disturbing creatures.
Chris Moiser (who wandered around carrying a life-sized toy panther) examined the fortean fauna of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These stretched far beyond ‘The Lost World’ and included an elephant sized, subterranean bear in the Peak district (I wonder what he had been drinking when he thought that one up?)
My old mate Steve Jones dealt with strange creatures associated with holy wells and springs. These ranged from fish and snakes to dragons and great wyrms. As always he was seen walking abroad with his mighty horn (er drinking horn that is).
My own humble offering was a recounting of the CFZ expedition to Mongolia.
Some of the treats I missed included award winning author Jeremy Harte on Fortean happenings recorded in medieval literature, and Simon Sherwood on black dogs. David Farrant gave us his theories on the nature of the paranormal. Richard Ingram looked at conspiracy theories.
But it wasn’t just lectures. John Harrigan gave an intense and disturbing theatrical performance in the alter ego of Dr Bleach. Raised in a graveyard with corpses as friends he roamed the audience giving out deformed dolls with messages inside, like diseased fortune cookies. The performance was a prologue for Dark Nights of the Soul, a six-part horror / cryptozoology / fortean / occult anthology play being held at the Horse Hospital in London.
Sam Shearon provided a menagerie of cryptid artwork in a jaw-dropping display of artwork. The reputedly-haunted Monk’s Room in the Cowick Barton was given over to Sam’s amazing paintings of monsters that looked so real that you half expected them to lunge out of the canvas and sink rows of stiletto-like teeth into the soft flesh of you face or stomach.
Other delights included Bob and Sid’s excellent Apra Book stall, CFZ awards, quizzes, much drinking, a Russian restaurant, and extreme right wing phallic ray guns. And the best thing? Not hide nor hair of rescue mediums, healing crystals, psychic questing, or guardian angels”.
We raised nearly £1,000 for CFZ funds and this year was so successful that we are forced to look for a larger venue, so next year’s event will be held at the aforementioned community centre here in Woolsery. The following speakers have already been confirmed:
And there will also be an exhibition from Mark Fraser, and workshops from Paul Vella, Paul Crowther, Oll Lewis and Chris Moiser.
The `Foolish People` Theatre Company will also attend for the second year running, and we hope that within a month or so we shall be able to announce further speakers and attractions. The village is easy to find and we shall be laying on a complementary minibus from Barnstaple railway station, as well as cut rate deals with local hotels, camp sites and B+Bs.
In the autumn the CFZ made its first foray onto the legitimate stage with Richard Freeman’s high profile collaboration with the aforementioned `Foolish People`.
“Those of you at the last Unconvention may have seen the Foolish People theatre group stall. I was lucky enough to see their excellent production Ruined Steel earlier this year. As it turns out John Harrigan, creator of the group is interested in cryptozoology! Foolish People’s next project is a co-production with the CFZ.
An ark of six plays featuring six classic monsters is being written by John. Entitled Dark Night of the Soul they are to feature Richard Freeman as a narrator much like Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone with Jon Hare as his able assistant. Richard is writing notes for the plays and suggesting story themes. The six plays will feature dragons, basilisks, were-tigers, vampires, the Wendigo, and little people. See Foolish People’s website www.foolishpeople.org for more details.”
In November Richard and I spent several days at Loch Ness, courtesy of the American magic duo Penn and Teller. We were filming a segment for the show Penn and Teller: Bullshit! which will be shown sometime next year. We have come in for some criticism for appearing on a TV show that will not add anything to the sum total of cryptozoological research, but as I said at the time:
I will not be at all surprised if P+T do take the piss. It was always a serious possibility, but I think it was worth it because we not only got paid a heck of a lot of money which was badly needed to swell CFZ coffers (100% of my fee went into the CFZ funds as usual), but got to make good relationships with Adrian Shine and Willy Cameron.
It has not been a bad year. It has not been the easiest that we have had, but we are in a better position than we were twelve months ago, and that is the main thing. The only real downside to the year has been the fact that our publication schedule has been delayed somewhat. We have published four new books and four re-issues, but only two issues of the journal; and the Yearbook has been held up until the spring.
Issue 37 of Animals & Men is very nearly finished and will be sent out in January, but I am awaiting some important information without which it would be difficult to publish. Also coming soon in the new year is the long awaited Big Cat Yearbook edited by Mark Fraser, reissues of The Blackdown Mystery and the first two volumes of A&M reprints and a deluxe 30th Anniversary edition of The Owlman and Others.
There will be a General Council meeting in January and we will then be able to announce the expedition and investigation schedule for the year. As always we are in desperate need of donations of time, money and expertise. The CFZ makes quite a lot of money but, boy, do we spend it fast! We are currently carrying out research all over the world and every penny earned goes straight into these projects. We do not ask for money for personal gain. We are all capable of supporting ourselves, but if we are to continue our programme of research we MUST have more money and more manpower. If you are interested in cryptozoology (whether or not you are a member of the CFZ) and feel that you can help, send donations via PayPal or feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, many thanks for all your support this year….
(Director, Centre for Fortean Zoology)
December 8th 2005