Tuesday, December 30, 2008
1 Brian Wilson That Lucky Old Sun
This - with no arguments is my album of the year. It is so much better than it has any right to be, and disproves all the arguments that the poor old bugger is being manipulated by The Wondermints. Ofcourse he's mad. I'm mad, you're mad, we're all mad....but the spirit that wrote
Heros and Villains is still alive and kicking. Roll on the next one.
2 Brett Anderson Wilderness
Last year's debut was lush and glorious and was my record of the year. This year's model is stripped down and intimate, sounding like Brett is just sitting around your living room with a cellist and a piano player. There are even microphone pops and studio chattery things. Still magnificent, though possibly not quite as good as the debut
3 British Sea Power Do You Like Rock Music?
Fantastic band which get better and better with each succesive album as they plough their own initable furrow. This is possibly slightly less conventional than their second album, but still absolutely magnificent. Songs about floods and great skuas. How can you miss them?
4 Al Stewart Sparks of Ancient Light
Just what one expected but no less the entertaining for that. Al has produced just another Al Stewart album, but so what? If you like what he does, and I do... It is wonderful. There isn't a duff track on there, and although there isn't anything quite as good as Royal Courtship from his last album, or The Night that the band had the Wine from Down in the Cellar, who cares? Masterful
5 Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip Angles
Nope, Thou shalt always kill was not a one off. This record can't make up its mind whether its perpetrators are a novelty act or the 21st Century analogue of one of the 60s beat poets, and is all the better for it. I for one can't wait to see what happens next.
6 Dengue Fever Venus on Earth
Psychedelically twinged Cambodian rock/pop music with weird twiddly bits. The previous album Escape from Dragon was perhaps slightly better, but this is masterful. Great fun for all the family (especially the stoned ones)
7 The Last Shadow Puppets The Age of the Understatement
I am mildly embarrassed putting this up as one of my favourite albums, because so has every other reviewer on the planet. However I don't care if it is a side project of whathisname from the Arctic Monkeys because I have never been impressed by them. However this has the vibe of some of the lesser songs from Scott 2 and is well worth a listen if in retro mode...
8 Goldfrapp 7th Tree
Electrovixen goes folky! So read all the reviews backalong when the album first came out. They missed the point. Goldfrapp's songs have always had a traditional folky structure, which is probably why I like them. This is good, tho perhaps not quite as good as everyone (including the band) like to think.
9 Laura Marling Alas I cannot Swim
These are the days of the sassy and intelligent female singer-songwriter, and Laura Marling is perhaps the best of the bunch. Highly recommended if you like that sort of thing, and in certain moods I do.
10 Bon Iver For Emma forever Ago
Everyone and his dog has lauded this album as a masterpeice, and I have to admit that I didn't get it at all. Then I listened to it one cold winter's day when I was feeling sorry for myself and found it a perfect soundtrack. It is too resolutely lo-fi for my tastes, but it does press the right buttons.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Directed by and written by Sam Addison and Michael Cox
The other day, quite out of the blue a DVD landed on the CFZ’s doormat.’ Occasional Monsters’ is a full length, and very low budget film about two inept monster hunters from darkest Aberdeen. I’ve always been quite a fan of films like this. As a lad I was a member of a film club and enjoyed watching hand made films that were sent in by viewers to programmes such as Screentest. Despite lack of funds, such films are unrestricted by studio pressures and can be a breath of fresh air after the painting by numbers junk Hollywood churns out.
Jon and I sat and watched Occasional Monsters and we both laughed like drains on account of both the humour and the fact we recognized real life analogues of all the characters.
The story revolves around an unseen film crew that are making a documentary about two monster hunters Wolfgang Markus (a huge gun wielding psychopath with a hatred of cats, no it’s not me, I don’t have a gun) and Duane Craig (bespectacled nerd). The pair’s nerve centre is a run down flat peppered with CFZ books and a world map of monster sightings. Imagine Blair Witch Project crossed with The League of Gentlemen and you will get an idea of what this film is all about.
At one point, acting on a tip off that a werewolf is lurking down by the river, the duo tranquillise a hairy, humanoid under a bridge and transport it back to the flat only to find out they have captured a tramp.
They also attempt to turn their hobby into a business by visiting a business seminar. The only other attendee is interested in manufacturing cardboard (he has some cardboard and can get more cardboard but he doesn’t know how to make cardboard). Our heroes start distributing badly-drawn leaflets offering their services as monster hunters and are eventually asked back to the house of the man who was running the business seminar. He claims to be a werewolf and after the guys ask for proof he brings out a dossier of his reign of terror clipped from local papers. These include things like ‘POLICE INVESTIGATE ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR’ and ‘LOCAL SCHOOL VANDALIZED’.
As it turns out, he really is a werewolf, and later when Wolfgang tries to sell his skeleton to the museum he gets into a heated debate with the curator about the existence or otherwise of matamata turtles.
Whilst investigating reports of a report of a panther from Duane’s girlfriend’s aunt Wolfgang wastes her pet cat with a heavy-duty machine gun.
The other hero of the story is the unbalanced van driver Ben who talks in inarticulate mumbles, has unexplained cadavers in the back of his van, claims to be a ‘specialist’ and is prone to fits of violent madness with hammers and pick-axes.
Some of this is frightengly close to stuff that has happened at the CFZ over the years!
Occasional Monsters shows what can be achieved on a tiny budget and restricted time (it is 83 minuets long but was filmed in one week). The film as the feel of a pilot for a series. I hope this comes to fruition because Wolfgang and Duane are such great characters and are funnier than anything in any new sitcom for years. These guys really need some airtime.
Occasional Monsters is available for £9 from Donside Picture’s website at http://www.donsidepictures.co.uk/shop.html Unmissable 10/10
Monday, December 15, 2008
ERIC MORRIS - CFZ SUPPORTER AND DONOR PASSES AWAY
Please send the following out to those who you think might be interested."It is with great sadness that I must tell you about the death last week of Eric Morris, who many of you will know as a prominent Ufologist on the scene over the last 25 years.
Eric died in Gibraltar last week and was discovered by his wife, Linda. Initial reports suggest a ruptured spleen as the cause of death. Eric Morris was a colourful figure on Britain's UFO scene and first began his involvement with the quest back in the 1970s whilst serving in the Royal Navy (he joined in 1970).
Eric served as a combat medic in the Falkland Islands conflict of 1982 tending the injured on board ship as well as in the field. After 15 years service he left to follow a long career in nursing, a profession he enjoyed and which he continued to follow after leaving England for Gibraltar in early 2008. Not content to work the long hours his chosen profession required, he studied hard, and was awarded a specialist Nursing Degree in 2000. He worked as a Supervisor and Team Leader in a number of Cheshire hospitals and nursing homes as a result.
One of his passions was Ufology and he attended numerous events, appeared on TV programmes and wrote articles for a number of "X-Files" spin-off publications in the 1990s. I first met him in 1996 at the Staffordshire UFO Conference in Rugeley. At the time, his British UFO Studies Centre, run from Winsford then Northwich, was well-known on the scene and Eric knew all the major players. He would drive hundreds of miles to investigate a case. Initially, he focussed on claims of Close Encounters and "alien abductions" but became very skeptical about these in later years. We hit it off from the start and we regularly travelled to Conferences, meetings and events. Eric acted as a sort of "security man" for me on occasions, his boxing abilities being of use on more than one occasion in 1998-1999!
From the mid 1990s onwards Eric, myself and up to a dozen others regularly visited Wiltshire during the Summer to investigate crop circles and associated phenomena. In 1998, we staked out the UK Headquarters of the CDCN near RAF Rudloe Manor and subsequently located the government's new emergency bolt hole at a nearby quarry, much to the interest of Channel 4 news and the chagrin of their full-time reporters. Who said Ufological investigations can't be fun?!
In 2004 Eric appeared in a TV documentary made by Jon Lundberg titled "The Mythologist" that investigated his early dealings with Henry Azadehdel, aka Armen Victorian, whom he met on a number of occasions in the late 1980s. From 2000, I was lucky to work with Eric organising a number of small but successful Paranormal Conferences in Runcorn that raised hundreds of pounds for the Cat's Protection League. This was Eric's other main passion, evidenced by a houseful of rescue cats that ruled the roost!
This part of his life was little-known to UFO enthusiasts but he donated thousands to Cat's Protection over the years. Eric was a caring man, despite his somewhat brusque deportment and non-nonsense "in public" attitude. He was a very kind man and was always extremely generous with presents for my daughters Alexandra and Freya. With this in mind, Eric also nursed our good friend David Kelly, another BUFOSC member, at the time of his death from Cancer in 2000.
Similarly little known was Eric's passion for the music of Jimi Hendrix and The Who. He was a huge fan of Britain's 1960s trend-setting rock band and went to see them in concert every time they played within driving or flying distance! He was known to members of the band and the band's fan club and collected a great deal of rare merchandise and memorabilia over the years.More recently, whilst organising his long-planned emigration to Gibraltar, a place he came to know and love during his Navy days and which he visited on many occasions subsequently, Eric started to re-investigate some older UFO cases he'd been involved in including the Rendlesham Forest ferrago.
He came to some interesting conclusions about possible hoaxing in relation to this and it is to be hoped that we can recover this material for subsequent publication. Eric maintained his passion for Ufology until the end. He will be greatly missed by those of us who were privileged to know him. I understand that Eric's body will be flown from Gibraltar to Winsford where a funeral will be held as soon as arrangements have been made.
If you're interested in attending, please feel free to contact me as shown above or on 07515 151597.
Tim Matthews, December 13th 2008"
I would like to add, that although I never met Eric, he was immensely kind to me back in 1997/8 when Nigel Wright and I were researching and writing `The Rising of the Moon`, and he made small, but welcome donations to CFZ funds on a number of occasions between 199-2002. I would like to extend my personal condolences, those of my wife, and those of the Centre for Fortean Zoology to his family and friends.
Monday, December 01, 2008
And, the assumption that so many people in authority seem to make about the attentiuon spans of the current younger generation, apparently has nothing to do with it.
So I barged in, guns blazing, for nothing on this occasion, and I apologise.
However, the battles continue....................
However, I am back on my soap-box again. Whilst trying to upload the latest episode of On The Track - our monthly webTV show, I discovered to my shock that YouTube had changed the guidelines of how "Director's Accounts" operate. Now it seems that nobody can upload films longer than 10 minutes. I personally think that this is shocking.
It actually looks as if - due to a loophole - I will be able to have YouTube still hosting `On The Track`, and if not they will be posted on Google Video, but I think that this is a very disturbing trend, and so I joined the YouTube Users Forum http://help.youtube.com/group/youtube-help and posted the following message:
"Whilst being very grateful to YouTube for providing a free platform whereby film-makers like ourselves can broadcast to the world, we believe that the recent decision to change the terms of service for people like us with Director's Accounts was a bad idea.
We are the only organisation in the world who produce high quality original films about cryptozoology and allied disciplines. Some of our films have been very succesful indeed - `Lair of the Red Worm` which we released on YouTube last year has now been seen by over 45,000 people.
From a purely aesthetic point of view having to cut our films into ten minute segments just feels wrong, but we believe that there is a more important political issue at stake here. By only allowing films in short, bitesized chunks we believe that YouTube is perpetuating the fallacy that young people today are so stupid, and suffer from some social analogue of Attention Deficit Disorder that they can only watch things that are under ten minutes in length, otherwise they will get bored.
We believe this to be totally false - young people are as clever, and as dumb, as they have ever been, and should be given the chance to benefit from the information revolution, rather than be stifled by it.
Come on guys, reconsider..
I don't usually ask for help on this blog, but I am going to start. If you agree with what I have written, please go and join the YouTube User's Forum, and add your weight to what I have said. Don't be rude, don't rant, just make your point in a calm and reasoned manner. Let's see if a little bit of democratic reason can change things back....
My original posting can be found:
Thursday, November 27, 2008
It is only recently, however, that I realised some very sad truisms about life in general, and the cryptozoological community in particular. I don’t know whether it is because so much of what we do is fundementally absurd, but the cryptozoological community, as well as attracting some of the finest people that I have ever known, also - sadly - attracts some of the most inane, superficial, and irritating.
Let me tell you the story of Jordan Warner.
I am very nearly fifty years old, and it is a sad trait of men of my age, that we tend to look down our noses at the younger generation. We complain about their taste in music, their clothes, their social mores, and their sexual habits, conveniently forgetting that it was only a few short decades ago that the generation now in their dotage said much the same thing about us.
However, in the last year or so I have met a string of young people, who have become involved with the CFZ, and far from being a gang of unpleasant little oiks they are some of the nicest, and most exceptional people that I have ever met. It gives me great pleasure to be able to help these kids who are at the start of their fortean journey through life, and - when I can - give a few words of guidance or advice, which they are sweet enough to accept without making me feel like a pointless old git.
A few months ago I was contacted by an American lad called Jordan. He was, or so he said, making a webTV series on cryptozoology. I made polite noises, but was convinced that I would never hear from him again. However, I was proved wrong when, a month or so later he posted a trailer for his new show, called `Cryptid Hunt`, and at Samhein (Hallowe’en to you, laddy), he posted the first installment. Well I have to say that I was really impressed. To produce an hour long show is no mean achievement, but to post an hour long show when you are fifteen, and presumably still at school, and furthermore a show which is done on a low budget and with relatively primitive equipment, but which still manages to get production values which are considerably better than films I was making well into my forties, let alone anything that I could have concieved at the age of fifteen..
So why, I have to ask, has this talented young lad been treated so badly by members of a cryptozoological community who really should know better. One pundit, who shall remain nameless, but whom I hope will feel jolly well ashamed of himself when he reads this article (which he surely well), greeted Jordan’s requests for help with sarcasm and derision.
On the YouTube community Jordan had an early champion in the person of a bloke with the handle of Methadone4Life. I, like him, went through drug problems earlier on in life, and whilst I dealt with my opiate addictions in another way, I have the greatest respect for anyone who is honest about their weaknesses and how they came to terms with them.
`Methadone4Life` has proselytised wildly on Jordan’s behalf, believing - as I do - that he is not only a talented young man who should be encouraged, but that he is a single minded, ambitious and driven young man, at an age when so many of his peers are obsessed with far less impressive pursuits than film-making and cryptozoology. `Methadone4Life`, like me, believes that this is laudable, and should be nurtured at all costs.
He went on to cryptozoology.com - one of the more well known cryptozoological websites, to post a news item that he had written about Jordan’s new show. He did this without Jordan’s knowledge, and when Jordan went on the same forums - as he had every right to do - a few days later, he was, as far as I can gather, booted off on suspicion of `spamming`.
Well, guys, let me tell you: 150 unsolicited e-mails trying to flog you viagra or softcore porno vids is spamming. Two, differently worded news postings about a webTV series which was completely on topic for the readers of that particular message board is not, by any stretch of the imagination, anything of the sort.
And then it got worse.
Whereas most of the people on cryptozoology.com were, quite rightly, supportive and complimentary about Jordan’s undeniably impressive achievement, others just belittled him, and were rude and unpleasant to the extent of being bullies. And bullying is one of the nastiest and most vile characteristics of human nature.
Then somebody, and as far as I know it wasn’t Jordan or Methadone4Life, and I know it wasn’t me, wrote an article on Jordan and the series for Wikipedia. Now, call me dumb (and I know that quite a lot of people do), but I would have thought that the simple fact that a young man of such tender years had written, filmed, and produced a multi-part webTV series that was of such quality to have attracted the attention of a seasoned cryptozoological professional like myself, was quite a significant and notable achievement. Certainly one worth including in an online encyclopaedia like Wikipedia.
21:25, 26 November 2008 Thehelpfulone (Talk | contribs) deleted "Cryptid hunt" ? (Speedy deleted per CSD A7, was an article about a real person, group of people, band, club, company, or web content that didn't assert the importance or significance of its subject. using Twinkle)
Well, `HelpfulOne` whoever the hell you are, congratulations. You have just sent out the message to a young man of relatively tender years who is already quite significantly upset after his online bullying experiences, that to make a multi-part webTV show at the age of 15 is not as notable an achievement is being a scatwhore - because, and you can look it up if you don’t believe me, there is a whole series of articles on this most morally dubious of subjects.
I am very proud of what we have achieved with the CFZ over the past two decades, but I am nearly fifty years old and in the mostb appaling ill health. I very much doubt whether I will still be alive in another twenty years, and this is a sobering prospect. Not because I am afraid of death - I am not. I am not actually looking forward to the process of dying, because it is usually either painful or undignified, or both, but I will cross that bridge (as we all must do) when I come to it.
No, I am worried because there is a disturbing paradigm amongst fortean organisations. With two notable exceptions - the SPR (founded 1888), and the Ghost Club (founded 1862), every other fortean organisation has not managed to survive the death of its founder by more than a few months.
I think that if this were to happen to the CFZ it would be a crying shame, because as well as continuing to push back the boundaries of human knowledge, we do something which I think is even more important. We enthuse a whole new generation of young people whose schools teach them how to pass exams and not a lot else, that knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a wonderful thing.
So watch out world. As we enter our fifteenth year of publication, our 50th book, our 50th issue of this magazine, and my 50th Birthday, the CFZ are launching a series of outreach projects. Some of them are educational in nature, others more political, but they all have the same aim: To help propogate the two most important facets of what we do. For we are the Centre for Fortean Zoology - there are two strands to what we do, although they often become intertwined.
Zoology is the study of the animals who share this planet with us. For 100 years from the mid 19th Century, Natural History was the most widespread hobby of people of all ages in the western world. Now it is almost forgotten in favour of television, video games and fast food. We aim to redress this.
Forteanism, although Fort himself hated the term, is a mindset which encourages people to test the intellectual boundaries which constrict us all. To dare to stand up and say `I don’t believe that`, and in an increasingly constricted and beaurocratic world that HAS to be a good thing.
In our own little way we are trying to change the world, and help forge a society where boys like Jordan are lauded and appreciated for their efforts, rather than bullied and ignored. Because boys like Jordan are the future, and without them the future looks very bleak indeed.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
It seems that every time I write one of these, I start off by making apologies for the length of time it has been since I last wrote. I am undecided whether to start this newsletter in a similar fashion. Part of me just wants to sail in with all my guns blazing, secure in the knowledge that whilst I have not actually been very diligent in my writing, I have been doing enough other things to justify my existence. However, I am still the paranoid little fellow that you all know so well, and so - of course - I am going to apologise for having taken so long in writing this.....
KARL SHUKER'S NEW BOOK
A lot has happened since the last met in this corner of cyberspace, and it is difficult to know where to begin in trying to bring you all up-to-date with what has been happening both with me personally, and with the CFZ as a whole. I have not been well over the past few months, and therefore have not achieved as much as I would like to have done. However, I am proud to announce the second CFZ Press Book this year by Dr Karl Shuker.
This one is a total departure from form for both him and us. It is called Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals on Stamps - A Worldwide Catalogue.As Karl writes in the blurb on the back cover:
"There has never been a more popular time for dinosaurs and all things dinosaurian. From blockbuster films packed with breathtaking CGI effects, children's television and video cartoons, computer games, CD-ROMs, animatronic museum exhibitions, and theme parks, to countless books, magazines, toys large and small, ornaments, collectabilia, and even fun lines in confectionery and other edibles, prehistoric paraphernalia continues to scale new heights of desirability worldwide.
But nowhere is this more apparent than within the philatelic world - where the issuing in recent years by an ever-increasing number of countries around the globe of handsome, highly-prized stamp sets depicting a spectacular array of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals is matched only by the corresponding increase of thematic collectors eager to amass an eyecatching, comprehensive menagerie of palaeontological monsters that the custodians of Jurassic Park could only dream about!Today, well over 500 sets of stamps portraying all manner of dinosaurs and also a multifarious assemblage of other prehistoric animals have been issued, with a substantial proportion of these having appeared within the last decade alone - confirming the escalating interest among collectors in this exciting thematic subject. And who can blame them?
After all, where else but in the pages of a stamp album could stegosaurs and plesiosaurs, tyrannosaurs and sabre-tooth tigers, brachiosaurs, mammoths, belemnites, ground sloths, giant birds, and ichthyosaurs jostle for attention with velociraptors and trilobites, dimetrodonts and diplodocuses, mosasaurs, woolly rhinoceroses, Archaeopteryx, titanosaurs, iguanodontids, ammonites, giant sea scorpions, and innumerable other spectacular denizens of our planet's distant past? Now, for the very first time, here is a philatelic catalogue devoted exclusively to these incredible animals. Compiled by zoologist Dr Karl P.N.Shuker, a lifelong, enthusiastic collector of wildlife stamps and with an especial interest in those that portray fossil species, it provides an exhaustive, definitive listing of stamps and miniature sheets depicting dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals issued by countries throughout the world. It also includes sections dealing with cryptozoological stamps, dinosaur stamp superlatives, and unofficial prehistoric animal stamps.
This invaluable book will undoubtedly encourage everyone with a passion for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures to pursue it not only on screen, in books, or in museums but also via the ever-fascinating world of philately".
The Amazon.co.uk link for the book is here:
THE RUSSIAN EXPEDITION BOOK AND FILM
I am also happy to be able to announce that the long awaited Russian expedition report is practically completed. Richard and I did all that we had to do for the interior this weekend. I have already half designed the cover, and once Graham has done our final proof on it, I shall upload it, and it should be available from Amazon within the next fortnight.
The film, is taking longer than we had hoped, but 15 minutes is now completed, and once Richard and I have finished working on the 2009 Yearbook, and issue 45 of Animals & Men, we will make a concerted effort to finish the film.
I know that the Internet rumour machine has been working overtime recently. I would like to take this opportunity to stage once and for all, that I have not had a heart attack. Yes, it is true that I collapsed on the Saturday afternoon of the Weird Weekend. This was due to exhaustion, and complications to do with diabetes. This was not the sort of "exhaustion" in large quotation marks which I used to cite everytime one of my clients used to collapse back in my previous life as a music business PR person. In those days, exhaustion was a useful synonym for overdose or withdrawal symptoms. In my case it is neither. I was simply exhausted.
CFZ OUTREACH - PREPARING FOR WAR?
At the Unconvention in early November, we distributed the following leaflet:
"FOR YEARS WE HAVE BEEN THE WORLD’S LEADING MYSTERY ANIMAL RESEARCH GROUP. NOW, BECAUSE OF THE WAY THAT THE WORLD HAS CHANGED, WE HAVE BECOME SOMETHING FAR MORE IMPORTANT...
We are the world’s largest cryptozoological organisation, and - or so we like to think - the best. We have been going since 1992, and in the intervening sixteen years we have published nearly fifty books, 45 editions of our journal, several other magazines, and have carried out over a dozen major foreign expeditions.
We have a free multimedia website, a museum, the world’s largest annual cryptozoological convention, and we produce a free monthly webTV show.We are active in community work; carrying out school visits and working with children and vulnerable members of the community at large, and in recent years, without meaning to, we have become synonymous with the spirit of adventure, and love of the natural world, which once defined entire generations of British children.
But in the last few years things have changed. Things have become far more serious.
Not only are we the only professional fortean zoological organisation in the world, but we are the only people consistently pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge in our particular field. But, perhaps most importantly, we are in many cases the only link that the children, with whom we work, have to an ethos that we feel is very important, and furthermore one that successive governments have done their best to suppress within the National Curriculum; the undeniable truth that the universe is a strange, mysterious and beautiful place with myriad mysteries still to explore, and that it is not just a human right, but a human duty to do so.
Come and join us.
Every community and online service that we provide is free, and from where we are sitting, it seems that what we do is valuable. But we are becoming increasingly beleaguered. We are under attack from all sides, and as our activities broaden we find our resources; financial, human, skill-set, and equipment, are increasingly overstretched. This is why we have taken a motto from an ancient Greek philosopher which has not been used in popular parlance for over thirty years, and it is why we are asking for your help. Will you help us?
HELP US CHANGE THE WORLD JUST A LITTLE BIT: JOIN THE CFZ TODAY"
I was quite upset at the response.
Across the Internet people who obviously had no idea what I was talking about, and who furthermore had not bothered to read our statement, accused us of trying to declare war on the rest of the fortean community worldwide.
The disturbing thing is that the leaflet we distributed which basically attacked nobody except for the idiots who wrote the National Curriculum, is pretty well the same as a campaign that we have been carrying out for months through our sister magazine "EXOTIC PETS: the Magazine of the Amateur Naturalist".
We launched this campaign in May at the Briotish Tarantula Society Show, and have carried it on ever since. It has been distributed through the zoo, at several insect shows, reptile shows, and at our own conference. It is only now that anyone has done anything other than pat me on the back and say "Yes, Jon. Modern standards of education and literacy are rubbish!"
I wonder why this is.
As far as I can see, these attacks come mostly from folk who believe that sniping at people on the Internet is actually preferable to be going out and doing research. Sadly there are too many people like this in the fortean community. We have put up with their ill-natured and mealy mouthed criticism for years. We have no intention of putting up with it any longer.
Another thing which for some reason that I find difficult to understand attracts criticism from various quarters is the involvement of my old friend Tim Matthews with the CFZ. It is undeniable that some people believe that Tim's past is a colourful one. Although most of what has been written about him is completely untrue, Tim has a few skeletons in his closet. But so what? Haven't we all? It is not what Tim did in his past that matters, but what he is doing now. He has been involved with us for ten years now, and has never put a foot wrong. He is a trusted friend and a much valued colleague. He actually turned his back upon the fortean community at large about six years ago, and only came back last summer as a personal favour to me.
We will soon be announcing a range of CFZ Outreach programs which will start next year. These will, we hope, be successful in bringing a comprehensive programme of education and consciousness raising to schools and institutions across the UK. Tim Matthews is very much involved in these programmes, and I believe that it is true to say that because of my failing health, we would not be able to carry these community programmes out without him.
AND FINALLY A NEW ARRIVAL
As you all know, Tessie the CFZ dog since 2000 died in September. Being the people that we are, we couldn't exist without a CFZ Dog for very long, so I am overjoyed to announce that my darling wife is now the proud owner of Biggles - a three-month old border collie puppy who now has the entire household in his thrall. Pictures of him can be found on my wife's blog.
TH TH THAT'S ALL FOLKS
Well, that is just about all for this newsletter. The CFZ are not coping with the global recession very well. Sales of books are down, and we would be excessively grateful for any donations of time, money, or expertise. The next few years are going to be hard ones for us all. We believe that what we do is now more important than ever, so please help us in any way that you can.Until next time
God bless you all,
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I know several people who have used Facebook for life changing events like the ending of a relationship, or to get one's own back on a colleague or employer, and I am certain that it is this lamentable faux intimacy that has triggered these events. Whether or not they would have happened without Facebook is a moot point, but it is undeniable that Facebook is the catalyst that propelled these events into happening.
Another thing that I find disturbing is how easy it is to find people that would otherwise have been lost forever. I have made contact with my friend Jane from Derby, with whom I lost contact after her divorce twn years ago. I first met her 20 years back when my ex-wife and I were doing our own inimitable thing alongside Steve Harley and his rebellious cockneys, and I am very pleased to be able to rekindle our friendship.
I also managed to find Jim from `The Amphibians from Outer Space` who left his contact details on my old laptop which gave up the ghost shortly before I left Exeter. So again, on this instance, Facebook has done me a favour. (And yes, you folk hoping for an Amphibs reunion, Dave, Jim and I are up for us, and I am hoping to recruit Marcus, so it is looking on the cards to a certain extent at least, but whether we play live, or release new music, or both, remains undecided at this stage).
However, as an experiment, I amso found that in one half hour period I managed to find four ex-lovers, one ex-fiancee, two people from whom I used to buy drugs, several more with whom I used to take drugs, two of my three ex-managers, several people who owe me money, and at least two to whom I may well owe a few quid! It is as if, with a few clicks of my mouse button (and no, I haven't been stupid enough to do any of them) my entire past could come back to haunt me, like a post modern version of `This is your life` without Michael Aspel.
I have very little interest in meeting up with any of these people again(no, that isn't true: I made contact with the most disreputable of my ex-managers who is now running a brothel in New Zealand), but I can imagine that for some people it would be an immense temptation to do this very thing. I don't actually want to meet up with my ex-wife, because I am perfectly happy with the one I have now, but I have to admit that I looked for her. The fact that (assuming that she is still married to the bloke she left me for) her name is `Alison Smith` means that my search for her would not be an easy one because there are hundreds of people with that name.
I am perfectly secure in my second marriage (my wife is a saint for putting up with me, but that is another story) but I can imagine that this easy instantaneous access to everyone that you have ever been emotionally, or physically, (or both) involved with is going to (if it hasn't already) put the kybosh on quite a few slightly rocky relationships.
Me? I am gonns stick to using it to play tetris!
Friday, September 19, 2008
Yes, I admit it. There are some albums by Queen in my voluminous music collection. I am particularly fond of the first four albums, but some of the later ones also have their moments. I also have several albums by Free although I always thought Bad Company were pants.
Can you see where this is going?
When it was announced that Free singer Paul Rogers (OK I didn't like anything else he did post-Free) had teamed up with Messrs Meddows-Taylor and May I was mildly intrigued. Paul Rogers at his best was an incredibly soulful rock singer, and had one of the bext voices in late 60s/early 70s music. So I downloaded some live stuff they did.
It was terrible.
I should, I suppose, have been prepared for this by the fact that ex-bassist John Deacon, who was by far the most self-effacing member of the band, had refused to have anything to do with the project.
It turned out that a dear friend of mine (who shall remain nameless cos I won't out him) went to see them live. They were, apparently, dreadful.
So I played some tracks to Richard Freeman.
"What is this shit?" he said
But still, fond as I am of Wishing Well and My Brother Jake, I insisted to all my friends that once the album - with new material that had not been penned for Fred to sing came out, the band would be vindicated. I was sure it would all be alright in the end.
Well it ain't.
This is the nastiest, most cynical, vile piece of capitalist shit that I have ever heard. It is almost pornographic in its insincerity. It sounds great - but then again it would. The lyrics are banal and childish, and the whole thing is executed about as well as a saturday night pub band. There can be no reason for this album to have been made apart from to make three rich men richer.
So I have been in bed, being a trial to my nearest and dearest, and feeling appaling (and probably acting and looking worse). But now I am able to sit up and do stuff, even though I am still as weak as a kitten.
Redders wrote: His missus is still unwell, but seems to be a little better - more news when I have it. No more news on Doc, and the administrative problems to which I alluded seem to be retreating somewhat........
Still, September ain't much fun so far....
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tessie has been buried at the bottom of the side lawn at the CFZ. There are quite a few other work-related problems that I am not at liberty to talk about at the moment, but the good news is that Richard and I have now done about fifteen minutes of the Russia movie, Exotic Pets #6 is well under way, as is the Russia expedition book, and Dave Penna came round to dinner last night to discuss the possibility of reforming The Amphibians from Outer Space so - recession notwithstanding - all is far from lost.
Onwards and Upwards
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Tess was unique among the dogs I have had as she was the only one that I didn’t know since she was a puppy. Her background is hazy. Apparently she had first been owned by a disabled man who could not exercise her as well as he would have like. He passed her onto a friend who later, because of work commitments passed her on to a woman named Tracey Freestone who subsequently became Graham’s girlfriend.
Tess was around nine when we had her but was often mistaken for a puppy she was so active and playful. During summer she never tired of diving into the river after balls. She made friends everywhere she went. In particular a lady who worked in the WH Smiths on Exeter train station always enquired after her. Many times her past owners and their friends would stop and make a fuss of her.
When Jon moved up to Woolsery, Tess came along as he had a large garden and there were plenty of country walks to be had. About a year ago, Tess fell victim to a condition where the corneas on her eyes slipped, leaving her blind. Both operations and medicine failed to
save her sight. However she got along quite well, finding her way round the house and garden.
Over the past few months she had become increasingly frail and prone to collapse. This condition worsened until she could not walk. She merely
stood around then violently collapsed when she tried to move. In order to save her any suffering, I had her put to sleep on Tuesday 16th of September 2008.
To me losing a dog is like losing a child. I’ve always preferred dogs to people. There is no duplicity about them. They have no hidden agenda. A dog gives its love totally and truly.
Goodbye, Daddy’s little girl.
The Power of the Dog
Buy a pup and your money will buy
When the fourteen years that nature permits,
We've sorrow enough in the natural way
Saturday, September 13, 2008
My new book is using the decline, extirpation, and - in one case extinction - of various species of British lepidoptera, as well as an examination of changing population trends and deliberate introductions, as an analogy by which to look at the subject of cryptozoology as a whole.
A lot has been written about the subject of trying to fit cryptozoology into mainstream zoology - this is doing almost completely the opposite.
However, in order to make the thing readable, as well as giving me a chance to put into print various things that I have never been able to fit into a book before, so the whole thing is being presented alongside a series of my own life experiences...
It is also the first time for thirteen years that I am collaborating with my old mate Richard Muirhead, who I have known since I was a boy in Hong Kong, and who did much of the background research for The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the Westcountry and who's own life experiences, some of which are shared with me, are actually an integral part of the story.
There is a lot more, but I don't want to give it away just yet, partly so no-one else pips us to the post, and partly because if I reveal all of the story here in my blog there will be no point in anyone going out to buy my book when it finally comes out next year.
This, by the way, is why - I believe - that a well known publisher who specialised in books based around people's blogs, went bust earlier this year. Nobody wants to pay for what they can get for free.
I can't remember if I have plugged our latest books on here, but if I haven't may I reccomend Karl Shuker's latest Dr Shuker's Casebook.
"Although he is best-known for his extensive cryptozoological researches and publications, Dr Karl Shuker has also investigated a very diverse range of other anomalies and unexplained phenomena, both in the literature and in the field.
Travelling the world in search of mysteries and marvels of every kind, Dr Shuker has climbed the volcanic slopes of Easter Island on the trail of moai and manbirds, he has traversed the Theban necropolis of Egypt's West Bank in search of a singing Colossus and the head of Ozymandias, he has journeyed to Woolpit in the footsteps of its mystifying Green Children, and to Niagara on the lookout for its long-lost winged cat.
Whether it be flying over the Bermuda Triangle (four times!) , inspecting cropfield circles in Buckinghamshire, questing for mermaids and unicorns, gazing in awe at a putative living dinosaur emblazoned upon the magnificent Ishtar Gate of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar, revealing a bizarre yet hitherto-undocumented bat-winged monster encountered in the heartland of Kent, uncovering an anachronistic Cambodian stegosaur at Angkor Wat, peering in hope across the dark waters of Loch Ness and the monster-haunted lakes of Iceland, seeking resurrected avifauna in New Zealand, finding solace in the stark majesty of Stonehenge and the holy grandeur of Lourdes, charting the preternatural entities of Senegambia's forests or Australia's Dreamtime, tracking elusive black panthers on Exmoor, or unmasking serpent-necked panthers on an enigmatic artefact from the ancient Middle East, if there are mysteries to be investigated, Dr Shuker is in hot pursuit.
Now, compiled here for the very first time, are some of the extraordinary cases that he has re-examined or personally explored down through the years - from sky beasts and reptoids, statues that weep, bleed, and even come to life, vanishing planets and invisible saints, frog rain and angel hair, and the world's weirdest ghosts and aliens, to a chiming tower of porcelain and a talking head of brass, spooklights and foo fighters, Herne the Hunter and photographed thought-forms, the chirping pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, magical mirrii dogs Down Under, and the most comprehensive study ever published of winged cats in which he successfully unveils their long-debated cryptic identity.
All of that, and much more, await you inside this arcane archive of inexplicabilia, dubitanda, and mirabilia or, as we prefer to call it, Dr Shuker's Casebook. "
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Once upon a time I used to write a book a year, but in recent years that has fallen by the wayside. Just look at the evidence:
2000 Blackdown Mystery
2001 Only fools and goatsuckers
2002 Monster of the Mere
2004 Monster hunter
2008 Island of Paradise
OK, in the middle I put out Strength through Koi but that was only a piece of fun, and a compilation of previously published articles to boot.
So I have started my new book with good intentions of having it finished by Christmas, and published in the spring. However, that's what I said last time, and the bloody thing still took four years.
So keep your fingers crossed, and don't ask me what it is about cos I'm not telling!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
However, today I received two new albums which are so good that they have spurred me into writing my only eulogistically non-crypto posting of the year so far. Brian Wilson's long-awaited new album appears to be fantastic by anyone's standards - but when one considers that he is in his mid sixties, and has suffered from schizoaffective disorder for much of his life, it is remarkable. I have liked most of his output since the beginning of his return to form 20 odd years ago with his eponymous first solo album. Things have meandered from good to mediocre (usually the former), but about four years ago a reimagining of the legendary lost Beach Boys album `Smile` polarised his long standing fans. Was it good? Was it brilliant? Was it a rip-off by members of the BB cover-band The Wondermints who had basically co-opted an ageing loony into making their career?
I loved it, but was still uneasy. The follow-up Christmas album did nothing to allay that unease. But this - the first bona fide post-Smile album proves that Brian Wilson is still what we all had hoped - a giant of what Gram Parsons called `cosmic American music`.
The other fantastic new album is Wilderness by Brett Anderson. I have always been a big fan, but I felt that he lost his way somewhat during the latter days of Suede. His reunion album with Bernard Butler had its moments, but it wasn't until last year's self-titled debut solo album (my favourite record of last year) that he proved (to me at least) that he could still really cut it. The follow-up album which I heard for the first time today is not as immediate, and is a far more intimate and confessional affair, but it is so good that I have a sneaking suspicion that it will eclipse its predecessor in my affections before too long.
So 2008 is not looking too bad, and there are stiull four monhs left...
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
But enough of the self-congratulation. There is work to be done.
In the last week I haven't just been catching up on my sleep. I have also revamped the CFZtv website, which was severely in the doldrums, and in great need of refurbishment. You can see it at www.cfztv.org and - what's more - for the first time, you can watch the 2008 Weird Weekend in its entirety. As far as I'm aware, we are the only organisation in the world, certainly within our field of operations, that, following in the footsteps of certain somewhat dodgy religious organisations, makes the entirety of their annual conference available - for free - on the Internet. I hope that you will enjoy it.
So, onwards into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, to quote a poem that I learned at school (which my dear wife informs me was by Keats). What do the autumnal months have in store for the Centre for Fortean Zoology?
We have several books planned for this autumn. The first out of the starting gate will be Neil Arnold's book on the Mystery Animals of Kent - the second in our series of county by county investigations into the cryptofauna of the United Kingdom and Ireland. This will be closely followed by Michael Newton's book on giant snakes, Richard Freeman's encyclopaedia of Japanese monsters, and Nick Redfern's Mystery Animals of Staffordshire.
Before the end of the year, CFZ readers can also expect another issue of `Exotic Pets` and another issue of `Animals & Men` as well as the 2009 Yearbook, so - all in all - things ain't doing too badly here at CFZ Mansions.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
So I refer you all to Corinna's latest blog posting
Sunday, August 10, 2008
This has been a particularly unpleasant week. Firstly it is nearly the Weird Weekend again, and organising this year's event has been a bloody nightmare. I am several staff down, and have been all summer. One (John F) has gone on to pastures new. One (Mark) is on semi permanent leave looking after his parents. Richard has been in Russia and at the zoo, and Dave has had his GCSEs and work experience to do. In vain did I argue that hanging around with his Uncle Jon was the only work experience that he would ever need because once I have finally worked myself into a premature grave he can take over my job, but his mother seems to think that he needs more conventional qualifications.
So we have shuddered on. Last week the ceiling of the porch collapsed, one of the finches died and I had a disturbing letter from the Tax office. This week one of my dearest friends told me that he has cancer (quite possibly inoperable) and I lost a long-standing dispute with a printing company. So, all in all life ain't good at the moment. On top of that, as anyone who has seen the latest `On the Track` will have noticed I have not been very well, and look like a self-ambulatory member of the walking-dead (and that is not a West Coast beat group c. 1967).
But. The WW is less than six days away. So far we have only lost one speaker - Paul Vella, who has had to pull out due to a family matter. Everything in the garden is rosy (or it would have been if the torrential rain hadn't knacked my roses), and next weekend is looming upon us like an out of control juggernaut.
I am sure that it will all be OK in the end. It always is! However, do me a favour and keep your fingers firmly crossed for me.
My darling wife will be doing a running commentary of events on her blog, so keep her in mind.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
This also includes the last appearwance of `Flump` our Chinese softshell, aho - despite all our efforts - died last night. She is now being overly aggressive and biting all the other inhabitants of Turtle Heaven....
Good hunting Flump.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
I have just spent a happy half hour listening to British Sea Power and leafing my way through Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell trying to find a specific quote that seems ridiculously appropriate to describe the events of yeasterday. But Sod's Law applies (as it so often does), and I can't find it. But the quote reads something like this:
"Animals, like humans, get ill. But they seem to choose the worst possible time in which to do so".
Flump, the softshelled turtle who has been living quite contentedly at room temperature (in the summer) in my varied premises for five or six years, decided yesterday (in front of a party of old-aged-pensioners from Ilfracombe) that it was time to get a chill and become seriously ill. Luckily (for everyone involved) we had a couple of friends of mine from the zoo mafia on hand, and crisis was averted. This morning she is back to her old self, she tried to bite me, and has tucked into a dinner of prawns like they were going out of fashion. But it was not an auspicious way to launch the first public outing of the CFZ museum.
For, after two years of the top of the CFZ grounds looking like a cross between a particularly unsalubrious building site, and a First World War battleground, the CFZ Museum is finally open for business, albeit in a fairly rudimentary state.
We had about 40 visitors, and even sold a book, so we must be doing something right, and I am limbering up for day 2 of the Open Gardens weekend, which starts in about fifteen minutes..
Hey Ho, Let's Go!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
So much is happening at the moment that it is almost too much to take in, let alone document on my sadly neglected bloggything. However, the boys are off to Russia amidst a flurry of terrorist alerts and other high jinks that I am not - at present - at liberty to talk about. You can follow their adventures on The Expedition Bloggything . They leave tomorrow evening, and I expect the first bulletin, telling us that they have, at least, made it through immigration at Moscow, early on sunday.
I am sitting in the office at the zoo at the moment. All the staff have become very fond of Richard in the short time that he has been Head Keeper, and are anxiously looking forward to news from the expedition.
In the midst of this, building work on the museum is just about completed, and we have moved the first four exhibits in; Flump the Chinese softshell turtle, Myrtle the Amboina box turtle, one of our amphiumas (Gumbo), and the alligator softshell. I am sitting here atb the zoo frantically trying to work out where to put a second softshell that we recklessly said that we would have months ago....
And on top of everything, my new book `Island of Paradise` is out next week.
Bloody hell I am exhausted...see u soon
Thursday, June 05, 2008
The publishing information for the first volume is as follows:
Title: The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Northumberland and Tyneside
Author: Hallowell, Michael J
The book will be available in the next few days.
We are proud to announce the authors of the next few volumes, which will be published in the next twelve months or so:
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Kent by Neil Arnold
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Dorset by Jonathan McGowan
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Staffordshire by Nick Redfern
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Co Durham and Humberside by Mike Hallowell
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Greater London by Neil Arnold
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Devon and Cornwall by Jonathan Downes
I hope that you will agree with us that this is an extremely worthwhile series, and I hope that you will decide to support us...
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
2 issues `Exotic Pets`
1 issue `Animals & Men`
5 20-30 minute webTV shows
14 live broadcasts
1 full length documentary (am hour and three quarters)
plus I have written original music for most of the above.
I am bloody exhausted!
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am nearly in a position where I can rest back on my laurels and shout WOO HOO at my own cleverness.
One thing is sure: I am never gonna take on a workload like that again! However, a lot of it has been one offs. For example, the Yearbooks. This year I have restored, and remastered (and in several cases drastically re-edited six of the CFZ Yearbooks (with one left to go), and these will never have to be done again. By next week I hope that the entire run of CFZ Yearbooks from 1996-2008 will all be out inmatching paperback editions, and that I can then quietly forget about them.
The next regular book to come out is an exciting one, and the genesis of this particular project goes back over twenty years!
More years ago than I care to remember, my first wife bought me a birthday present. It was a book about the mystery animals of Britain and Ireland, and I devoured it avidly. When I finished, I was horribly disappointed. It had covered the mystery cats of the country in some depth, as it had done with the black dog legends, and a smattering of more arcane `things` (as the late, great Ivan T. Sanderson would doubtless have dubbed them) such as the Owlman of Mawnan, and the Big Grey Man of Ben McDhui. But there was so much that I knew that the author had simply left out.
Where were the mystery pine martens of the westcountry? Where were the Sutherland polecats? Where was the mysterious butterfly known as Albin’s Hampstead Eye? This was an Australian butterfly, the type specimen of which was caught in a cellar in Hampstead (hence the name) but no-one knows how or why? Where were the butterflies, moths, birds and even mammals known from the British Isles on the basis of a handful of specimens only? And where were the local oddities; the semi-folkloric beasts only known from a specific location.
Although at the time I had no pretensions to being a writer, I started to collect information from around the country, and with the benefit of hindsight it is probably with my disappointment with my 27th birthday present that the seeds of what would eventually grow into the Centre for Fortean Zoology were planted.
Nearly twenty years later to the day, I was sat in my garden at the Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] in North Devon, sharing a bottle of wine with my wife Corinna, and my old friends Richard Freeman and Mike Hallowell. The subject of my disappointing 27th birthday present came up, and someone suggested that we do our best to redress the balance. CFZ Press, the publishing arm of the CFZ, has become the largest dedicated fortean zoological publishers in the world, and we are now in the position to put my vague daydreams of a couple of decades ago into action. We decided that rather than trying to publish one enormous tome covering the mystery animals of the whole of the British Isles (which, by the way, geographically, if not politically, includes the Republic of Ireland, but excludes the Channel Islands) we would be much happier presenting this vast array of data in a series of books, each covering a county or two. Then we realised the enormity of what we were proposing: The series would probably end up being something in the region of forty volumes in length!
However, never ones to back away from a challenge, we decided to go ahead with the project, and now - six months later - the first books in the series are being published.
It seems fitting, that - as he was there at the inception - Mike Hallowell should have the honour of being the author of the first book in the series. I am glad that he is, because it is a stonker!
We argued the toss for months over how we were going to format the series. For a long time we were intending to have a rigid format for all the books, somewhat akin to the Observer’s books of the British countryside. But then we decided `No`. There are as many kinds of researcher as there are mystery animal, and it would - we felt - be more in keeping with the ethos of the CFZ, if we allowed each researcher to present his or her findings in their own inimitable style. The books, therefore, will reflect the character of the individual author.
Some will be poetic verging on mystical. Some will be matter of fact scientific. Some will be from the point of view of a naturalist, and some from the point of view of a folklorist. Some will be short, some will be long. Some will be full of scientific theorising, and some full of metaphysical speculation. But one thing is sure: Whoever gets one of these volumes for their 27th birthday present…..
....They won’t be disappointed!
In other CFZ related news, the museum really is nearly finished. The first birds will be going in the aviary block today, and - all things being equal - the first exhibits will be going into the museum building itself at the weekend. It will be another few weeks before it is respectable enough to receive visitors, but once again there IS light at the end of the tunnel.
Soon the CFZ (or at least me, Graham, Corinna and Oll) will be able to get back to being researchers, rather than builders and printers. Richard, however, is off on another expedition imminently, but THAT is another story...
Monday, May 05, 2008
Friday, April 04, 2008
The band maintained that the only reason that they formed was to make a record, and show that anybody could do it. It was the perfect visualisation of Andy Warhol's oft repeated concept that "anybody can be famous for 15 minutes".
I don't think that even Warhol himself ever visualised the current state of affairs with the mass media, whereby not only can anybody claim their allotted 15 minutes, but that the media would feed upon this, and become completely out of control. We now live in a world where not only can anybody become a star, but the people who do become stars seem to do so by virtue of their overwhelming mediocrity.
Paris Hilton is a star for Christ's sake. The bar has become that low.
But all this has been said before. The Internet is full of middle-aged men like me moaning into their computers about the depressing state of affairs which is the world of faux celebrity, a well-known band half my age recently released a song which bemoaned the fact that "everything is average nowadays", and one other middle-aged git adding his two penn'orth to the argument will make not a jot of difference. I am rapidly turning into my father. I remember, back in 1973, when my father was the age that I am now, that he was wont to spend Sunday lunchtimes complaining about the world which the younger generation had created, and although as I approach 50 years old I find myself becoming more and more of a cliche every day, I don't want to go the whole hog just yet. Okay, each year there is less and less that I want to watch on television, and the little bits that I watch by mistake seem fashioned with only one idea in mind; to give people like me high blood pressure and incipient apoplexy, but I can always read a book, and usually do.
No, the reason that I'm bothering to write this blog entry, is not so that I can vent my spleen upon media nonentities such as Paris Hilton, Jade Goody, and their ilk, because I have a far more serious adversary than merely taking pot shots at a gaggle of ill-educated, slutty, and vulgar nonentities. My bete noir is the media itself. And more exactly, the people who work within it.
I have been making films for TV companies around the world for 15 years now, and whereas, a lot of the time, it has been an exciting, and even uplifting experience, ever since the beginning I have noticed a particularly disturbing syndrome within media types. Furthermore, this syndrome seems to be spreading faster and faster, and threatens to become almost ubiquitous. Media people - on the whole - have absolutely no fucking manners!
I have spend most my adult life doing my best to be a gentleman, and although anybody who knows me will be perfectly aware that on occasions I have been, and will continue to be, incredibly rude to some people, I have always remembered my father's axiom that a gentleman is somebody who is never unintentionally rude to anyone.
I certainly have always done my best to treat eyewitnesses, and fellow researchers courteously. I am perfectly aware that when making films things don't always run to schedule. However, if I'm going to be late, or - worse - am going to have to reschedule, I will always make sure that the person whom I am inconveniencing has a convincing apology, and quite often a bunch of flowers.
One would have thought that this would be standard practice within the media. After all, logic tells us that a service industry so ephemeral would have to rely - to a greater or lesser extent - on the goodwill of its consumers.
Ha bloody Ha!
Over the past 15 years the mass media has brainwashed its audience so thoroughly that practically everybody in this poor benighted country has only one ambition - to be a star! When I was a kid in primary school if you had asked a class of seven-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up, some would have wanted to be soldiers, some train drivers, some farmers. I wanted to be a monster hunter, and to own a zoo. These days the vast majority of the poor little sods want to be television presenters.
An acquaintance of mine has an eight-year-old daughter. She has two imaginary friends (like little girls have always had), but with a difference: her imaginary friends are Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. Two brainless little pop tarts. The cult of celebrity is so ubiquitous that it has even infected the voice recognition software that I'm using to dictate this rant. Whilst the software does not recognise the words `praying mantis`, or `katydid` the names: `Paris Hilton` and `Nicole Ritchie` are hard wired into the original programming.
Because the mass media - knowingly, or not - have now got the vast majority of the population of the United Kingdom exactly where they want us, they can do exactly what they like, and they can treat people in as cavalier a fashion as they wish.
We get approached by TV production companies at least once a week, and at least once a month a representative from one of these companies comes to visit us, and promises us the moon on a stick. They all want to do the same thing. They all want unparalleled access to one of our expeditions. They all want free access to our - after nearly 20 years - sizeable archive of photographs and video footage. They all want to spend hours interviewing me and the boys about what we do. And they quite often - because cryptozoology (another word which the voice recognition software significantly failes to recognise) is lumped in their eyes together with the more colourful aspects of the lunatic fringe - want to film us wearing silly hats, jumping out of bushes, or parading around the garden wearing pith helmets.
I am always polite to these people, and when - occasionally - I am mildly impressed by their professional pedigree, I co-operate with them to a certain extent. I refuse to do anything stupid, and forbid the boys to do anything stupid either, but on at least four occasions in the last 12 months, I have put in large amounts of time and effort into helping someone from a media production company to put together a programme submission.
On each of these occasions, the producer/director/researcher has gone back to London, and - over the next week or so - followed up his visit with a string of long and exhaustive telephone calls. On each of these occasions, I have been assured that the senior commissioning editor from Channel 4/Living TV/BBC2/Animal Planet/Discovery Channel has assured them that the decision-making process is a mere formality, and that we are just about to be the subjects of a lucrative, and career changing TV documentary. On each of these occasions, the telephone calls have simply fizzled out, and I never hear anything from them again.
On other occasions, they make appointments, and simply don't turn up. When they do turn up, it seems that the days of being paid for contributing to a TV documentary are a thing of the past. If I had a fiver for each time I am told "we can't pay you for your photographs, but we may be able to put your website in the credits", then I would be significantly richer than I am now. If these people looked as if they really were running on a tight budget then I might feel sorry for them, but they turn up in expensive cars, wearing clothes but I certainly can't afford, and boasting about their expense account lunches, the limo that takes them into the studio, and the fact that they flew to Los Angeles the week before last for a commissioning conference.
Well screw you. I have had enough of being exploited by an increasingly soulless and self-serving hegemony. I, too, am a filmmaker. A film we put out last year has been seen by over 30,000 people - the sort of viewing figures that some minor cable TV channels would kill for. Over a thousand people a month watch my monthly WebTV show - not astounding figures, but perfectly respectable, especially when one considers that it is made on a budget of practically nothing. Things are only going to get better. I am rapidly beginning to think that I don't need the mass media. And when I look at the mass media, and the soul destroying, vapid nonsense that it spouts out for an increasingly undemanding audience of morons, the more I begin to feel morally uncomfortable with being a part of it.
The conventional record business has collapsed. Musicians and songwriters now know that they do not need to sell out to what George Harrison once described as the "old grey buggers of Manchester Square" in order to sell their music. Authors, and small publishers like ourselves have discovered that we no longer need to put ourselves through the soul destroying process of kowtowing to a major book publisher in order to get our books into the marketplace. We no longer have to submit to editing by focus group, stupid changes of title in order to fit in with the dictats of somebody else's marketing department. And we no longer have to accept royalty rates of 25p for each book sold. We can do for ourselves. The Desperate Bicycles were about 30 years too early, but now what they said in 1977 is true. It is easy. It is cheap. We can go and do it for ourselves!
In October 2006 we were in the Lake District making a film called Eel or No Eel about the giant eel sightings from Windermere and Coniston water. The local BBC telephoned me out of the blue and insisted on speaking to our health and safety officer. What on earth are you talking about? I asked. "Well, if you want us to come out on the lake with you, in time to make it on this evening's news, we will have to review your health and safety procedures". What on earth you talking about? I reiterated. He repeated exactly the same thing. I knew nothing about any scheduled TV appearance and told him. "But of course you want to be on television" he insisted, "otherwise what would be the point of you being here?" I told him that I didn't care whether we were on television or not. And tried to reason with him that we were there on a mission of investigation, not on a search for spurious sell publicity. "But everybody wants to be on television" he insisted, "let me speak to your health and safety officer".
"No" I said, and put the phone down, and returned to the task at hand.
Two minutes later he phoned back. "Everybody wants to be on television" he insisted in an increasingly hysterical voice. "Don't be so bloody stupid" I said, and turned my telephone off.
Two hours later, the crew who had driven like madmen from Manchester turned up completely uninvited, and once again insisted on viewing our health and safety procedures. Half an hour later an enormous truck festooned with satellite dishes turned up, and then a sports car containing a blonde bimbette who was planning to make amusing comments about our activities for the studio audience.
"But I don't want to do an interview" I said. "Before we start, can I see your health and safety procedures", she said. "I am not interested in appearing on your programme" I said. "But everyone wants to be on television", she said with what she fondly imagined was a winning smile. I will draw a discreet veil over what happened next. But like Rottweilers on an inner-city housing estate, they got most of what they wanted. With the worst possible grace I gave them an interview.
A few weeks ago I had an unfortunate experience with a camera crew from one of the Bristol based TV stations who wanted to talk to me about mystery cats. Springing it upon me that they needed to film that very afternoon, and they insisted that I be in Somerset at three o'clock. This is impossible, I said, because it is a two-hour drive, and I had an appointment in Bideford 1.30. This person would not accept this, and became increasingly rude. When I finally arrived - at 3.45 - he had forgotten his laptop onto which I was going to transfer some video footage which - by the way - I was letting him have for nothing. He insisted that I give him my portable hard drive which he would return sometime in the next few days. I refused. It contained a number of pieces of sensitive information, including stuff I needed that very evening. He just wouldn't understand that I am not one of these people who do anything to get on television.
Yesterday I spent all afternoon waiting for an American TV crew to come and talk to me about licensing some film. They did not even do me the courtesy of telling me that they weren't going to turn up. This morning a man with a silly name telephoned my wife, and said that they would be coming today. No apology. No asking whether it would be convenient. She said that I would phone them back. I haven't bothered. If they do turn up I am not quite sure what I'm going to do.
Today I feel as mad as a bag full of cheese, and am in no mood to suffer fools - or anybody else, for that matter - gladly. If they do turn up unannounced, and uninvited, then I am sorely tempted to play them The Medium was Tedium and to tell them to commit a biologically unfeasible act of self procreation.
However, my wife is nicer than me, and is the only person in the world who can tell me what to do, and she will probably tell me not to do it. And I always do what Corinna tells me...
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
I am 48. I smoke, despite the fact that my boozing days are behind me, I still drink alcohol on average more than once a week, I am at least five stone overweight, and I have a history of recreational drug abuse. I should, apparently, be dead.
Yesterday, when I read this edifying and uplifting snippet of information, I was in the third day of the worst cold that I have had for ages, and was quite prepared to believe that my death was imminent.
Today, I am not so sure.
Not only is my tiresome virus in retreat, but the sun is shining, issue 34 of Animals & Men is being enveloped up as we speak, my blasted book is finished, and just awaiting a foreword from Biffo, I managed to finish episode seven of `On the Track` in the wee small hours, we have just posted out the first trenche of sponsorship request packs, and Graham is just about to start painting the outside of the museum. Jon's in his office, and all is reasonably right with the world.
But it gets me thinking about mortality, or more particularly, about current thinking on the subject.
My mother drank reasonably regularly, but never smoked a day in her life. She died of lung cancer aged 79. My grandmother smoked like a chimney, and drank like a fish for years, and died aged 85 of an illness completely unrelated to either of her habits. My father is one of the only two men I have ever met who could drink both me and Graham under the table, (Tony Shiels is the other) and was merrily mixing sherry and morphine together every lunchtime until a fortnight before his death aged 81.
A fellow traveller in the cryptozoological rat race died a few weeks ago aged a few years younger than me, and as far as I am aware, he was teetotal.
I'm not quite sure what point I am trying to make here, or, indeed, if I am actually trying to make one at all. It was quite a shock to read that my race should, statistically at least, already be run, but in the cold grey light of dawn, or rather in the bright, brisk sunlight of April Fool's Day in sunny north Devon, it does not seem anywhere near as frightening a prospect as it did yesterday.
My life has carried a government health warning for years. I have achieved a fair amount, but only scratched the surface of what I intend to achieve. My father refused to die until he finished his magnum opus on the history of modern Africa. I intend to follow in his footsteps, light another cigarette, and tell the grim reaper to sod off until I'm ready for him.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the website I found was only in April Fool's prank from my doctor, anyway. Everybody knows that fags, and the occasional slug of brandy in your coffee are actively good for you!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The reissue programme of the CFZ Yearbooks is continuing apace. So far the 1996, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2008 yearbooks are all available perfect bound, and the 2003 volume will be available in the next couple of days. I have to admit that I take a childish delight in typing ` Centre for Fortean Zoology` into amazon.co.uk and seeing all of them displayed there on the same page. I am very proud of the yearbooks, and am already soliciting articles for 2009 volume.
The Guyana expedition report has also been published, and I would like to apologise to everybody who has been waiting so long for it. However, I hope that you'll think it was worth the wait.
Last weekend we attended the second annual conference from BCIB (Big Cats in Britain) which was held at Tropiquaria - the small zoo in north Somerset which is co-owned by Chris Moiser, Jane Bassett, and my darling wife Corinna. I had the honour of been the compere for the weekend, and I believe that a great time was had by all. Sadly, Mark Fraser, the head honcho of BCIB was unable to attend due to a back injury. Poor chap must have been gutted.
Last weekend also saw the launch of the 2008 Big Cat Yearbook - the third in the series. For those of you not aware of these books, they contain a comprehensive list of every reported big cat sighting in the UK over a 12 month period, together with a series of articles written by various luminaries of the big cat research community.
My biggest news is that last night, after having worked on it, on and off for nearly four years, my new book - The Island of Paradise - is finally completed. It is, I believe, the most comprehensive book ever written on the subject of the mystery animals of Puerto Rico, and it tells the story of my two expeditions there in 1998 and 2004. Weighing in at over, 120,000 words, it is going to be a fairly massive tome. Because Nick Redfern accompanied me on the second expedition, and also because I have libelled him unmercifully throughout the volume, I am allowing him a right of reply, and, the manuscript is presently with him, so he can add his comments to the end of each chapter.
On a personal level, I am going through quite a strange time at the moment. At the end of last year, my consultant changed my medication, putting me on to a drug called tegretol. Backalong, as they say in North Devon, I was a nurse for the mentally handicapped, and as such familiar with psychoactive drugs. Stop that giggling in the cheap seats! You know perfectly well what I mean! Tegretol, or carbemazepine is a well-known medication for epilepsy, but in recent years it has been found to have two other uses; a palliative for trigeminal neuralgia, and as a mood stabiliser. It is this last property which has caused it to be prescribed for yours truly.
Well it seems to work. However, some of the side-effects are quite unpleasant. Whereas I have to admit that my rapid mood swings, and days of bleak depression, have been considerably curtailed, every day now when I wake-up, I feel sick, dizzy and disorientated. Sometimes these symptoms go off after an hour or two, and sometimes they last all day. This is a filthy bloody disease, and what makes it worse, is that I know that I may not end up dying of it, but I will certainly die with it. I just have to make a continual series of decisions; choosing between the living hell of the down times of Bipolar II, which are not with me all the time, and this new, debilitating ickiness which - more often than not - is with me 24/7.
I am sorry to be such a pain in the neck. Nobody wants to listen to (or read) a load of whingeing from some stupid bloody invalid. The way I see it, in life, you play the cards that you are dealt, and if you are me, you do your best to have a spare, and marked deck up your sleeve. However, it does help sometimes to have a good old moan when the cards are stacked against you.
Friday, February 01, 2008
The latest one, and goodness me I have a hangover. Oll and I were still editing this magnum opus at 5.30 this morning. We had actually finished at about 1.00 but somehow the bloody file became corrupted and we had to start editing again from scratch.
Four bottles of vino later we finished, but we both feel a little frail today...
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This year's speakers include:
PAUL VELLA: Bigfoot for kids
RONAN COGHLAN: Theology of extraterrestraials
GEOFF WARD: Spirals in nature
JONATHAN DOWNES: TBC
RICHARD FREEMAN et al: Guyana 2007 Expedition report and results
DR KARL SHUKER TBC
JONATHAN MCGOWAN TBC
LEE WALKER: New Ferry after Dark
MIKE HALLOWELL: Invisikids
GAIL NINA ANDERSON: TBC
CHRIS MOISER: Tropiquaria Zoo - tales from a zookeeper
DARREN W RITSON & MIKE HALLOWELL: Tyneside Poltergeist case TBC
MICHAEL WOODLEY: classifying sea serpents
Dr MIKE DASH: Lake Monsters title TBC
TIM MATTHEWS: TBC
NICK REDFERN: Planet of the Ape-Men
PAUL ROSE: A year of monsters
OLL LEWIS: tbc
and more to be confirmed soon.
To give you a taster, here are some videos from last year's event, edited by my beloved nephew David. I really don't know what I would do without him...