Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Special Day

John Downes (1925-2006)

Mary Downes (1922-2002)

Its St. Valentine's Day. No-one really knows who St. Valentine was. Indeed, his name was removed from the church calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul as part of the Vatican II purge of dodgy saints. This was one of the most unfortunate pieces of Roman Catholic PR of the last few years; they removed the official status of much loved saints such as St. Valentine and St. Christopher, on the grounds that they were of doubtful historical veracity, whilst retaining support for a whole slew of dull, but worthy ones that no-one really gave a damn about. Once again, those in power over us show very little understanding of what the people as a whole actually need or want!

However, I digress.

Today is not just the feast day of a probably fallacious patron saint of lovers. It has two far more important connotations for me personally.

Exactly a year ago, I was sitting by a hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit at Barnstaple Hospital. I was holding my father's hand, and waiting for the LED figures on the life-signs monitoring equipment by his bed to tell me that his long struggle was over. I sat with him for the last twelve hours of his life, and at 6.30 in the morning; 365 days and two and a half hours ago, he died.

Not a day goes by that I don't miss him. We had a pretty fraught relationship in life, but during his last eight months, as - together with the boys of the CFZ - I nursed him through his final illness, we became friends, and the old hurts were healed.

As I said at his funeral, I owe him a great debt. Everything that I have ever doine in my adult life, I was taught how to do by him. He taught me to drive, type, use the English language, lay out professional documents, build dry-stone walls, and even how to play the guitar. Without him I would not have achieved the things that I have achieved, and I would not be sitting here typing this now.

Rest in Peace, Dad.

This Picture was taken the night he died by Kaye Phillips,
who is the nearest thing I have ever had to a sister...

Five years ago today, my mother was dying in the same hospital. She and my father had been childhood sweethearts, since they met in 1932, and except for the years when my father was away at sea during the war, they were together for the next seventy years.

I cannot imagine the wrench it must have been for him when she died in March 2002. To have someone in your life for seven decades is unimaginable - at least for me, but I can understand why life was never the same for him after she died. I have always taken a great consolation in the fact that the two lovers were reunited on Valentine's Day.

There is a third reason why today is important to me. Well actually it is tomorrow, but who is quibbling?

Two years ago, tomorrow, I met Corinna, and - just like my father in 1933 - I knew that I had finally found the person with whom I wished to spend the rest of my life. Back in 1974 when my Dad was teaching me to play the guitar, he did so by using the pop songs of his youth. I resented the heck out of him for it. I wanted to be John Lennon, or Jimmy Page, not some weirdo music-hall singer of the 1920s, but the experience served me well. Not only can I now play guitar reasonably well, but I vaguely know a particularly trite song called "I want to marry a girl (just like the one that married dear old Dad)"

My mother was a remarkable woman. Together with my father they explored parts of West Africa that no European had visited for half a century or more, but she spurred him on to achieve extraordinary things. I truly believe that the semi-educated, and shy Grammar School Boy from Salisbury would never have risen to the heights of being Colonial Secretary in H.M Hong Kong Government, or have been made a companion of the Imperial Service Order, or any of the other things he did without her. I don't remember who it was who said that "behind every great man is a greater woman" but damn tooting!

On 15th February 2005, I met my "great woman". As I write this, she is putting together the last preparations for a last-minute dash up to the Lake District so we can interview another giant eel witness, and look at what may be some conclusive photographs. Its cold, its windy, and - to be quite honest - I don't want to go! But Corinna is pushing me in the right direction, in a markedly similar way to how my mother always pushed my father.

I think it is highly unlikely that we will have seventy years together - I have no intention of living to the age of 115 - but for however much longer we have together on this planet, I am not just in love with a beautiful and highly intelligent woman, but I am now in a partnership as strong, and as solid, as that of my parents. The shy, and semi-educated Grammar School boy from Bideford can now go on to great things! (And it's all down to one woman, and my Dad)

Dad, and Mum, I miss you!

Corinna, I adore you!

I love you both.