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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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Saturday, February 07, 2009

COLUMNIST TIM MATTHEWS: Round And Round In Circles

Tim Matthews is one of my best friends, and also - coincidentally - one of the most controversial figures in contemporary forteana. He has been involved with the CFZ for nearly a decade now, raising eyebrows wherever he goes.
It takes two months of practice to move from making your first half-decent crop circle, perhaps a 30ft creation that can be made in 15-20 minutes, and something rather more spectacular. I know this because I have done it. Most people who make crop circles do so because they are told, by an increasingly isolated minority of desperados and New Age whackos, that they “cannot be made” at night with a small team of up to four individuals working together. Of course they can and always have been but it amazes me to discover, when for example speaking with work colleagues, how they just don’t get it, at least not to begin with.

If you say to them, “remember at school when you used to make nice patterns with a compass and pencil?” they go “ooooh yes” or “it was easy” and it is as if some amazing revelation has just taken place. Take them outside into the large light industrial area outside with a stick and show them how to mark out a circle using a bit of rope and one of them standing in the middle of the circle and they seem impressed. Tell them that to flatten wheat and make pretty aesthetically pleasing patterns all you need is a four foot stomper board, and that you push the wheat or barley down in the middle for the best results, and they seem to get it.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and once crop circles became widely known as a phenomenon from 1980 onwards many teams stepped into the corn to see if they could out do each other in terms of creativity. Although for obvious geometric reasons circles form the backbone of crop art - because it is art and has nothing to do with aliens, a higher intelligence or anything of the sort - triangles, squares and other simple shapes can be combined to impress even the most unhappy observer. Because circle makers opt to put formations near ancient historical and religious sites, or where they have dowsed to see if “natural earth energies” are present all sorts of pseudo religious nonsense is added to what is a simple creative-artistic process. What is more, small number of circle makers see themselves as agents of a higher power just to confuse things further.

The thrill is, of course, not to be caught and to produce a formation that pleases the senses. You, the potential circle maker, are also doing English tourism a massive favour. I remember phoning the former head of south west tourism for an interview many years ago (1999) asking for an interview about the impact of crop circles and he was of the view that crop formations were good for business. Anything to get people into Wiltshire, Hampshire and surrounding counties….

And what harm is done? Let’s just put it like this. Farmers like to moan and groan about crop circles but in some cases they profit from it. They can lower the cutters on their machinery to harvest crops affected by the circle making evil doers and, with prices for crops at an historical low, who’s losing out? The answer is simple. Nobody. You could potentially make more money by charging tourists to trample in the field to examine a crop formation up close than you will for the crop! Some farmers, where crop formations regularly appear, do indeed have a working relationship with some of the better known circle makers. An open secret, as it’s known.

If you really want to wind up the believers, fresh from a Glastonbury bookshop or of Sacred Geometrical Delusion, then why not drop some iron filings near the centre of a formation, paint balloons silver and let them off near your formation or arrange for “anomalous lights” to be seen locally. Even better, sit in a well know circle enthusiasts pub, listen to the conversation for information about the latest “projected formations” no doubt “channelled” by Miss Mystic Of Gurutania and fresh ideas will abound. I remember once talking to a circle maker who’d been for a drink with the local head honcho of a UK CSETI group (the ones that think you can shine torches at supposed UFOs and communicate with them, or that you can hold hands in a circle and wait for the aliens to land nearby). The Big Cheese told him that members of his “meditation group” had “channelled information” indicating that a huge formation would be put down in a nearby field within days. Lo and behold, my friend and his mate, after a few pints, went off into the field with his stomper boards and produced the desired result. Cause and effect! Simple!

Of course, getting used to working at night is not easy at first. Your eyes have to adjust; no wonder you often see strange things out of the corner of your eye (occasionally claimed as Paranormal phenomena). True, there is nothing like being in the fields of England at night. You want peace? You’ve got it! Circle making provides you with the most remarkable feeling of one-ness and, upon completion of your formation (nearly always conveniently located in a natural amphitheatre from where the tourists and croppies can observe), a remarkable feeling of satisfaction. You might not be good at your job but you’re good at this! Now you have a calling and it is in and amongst the sacred sites of England on a beautiful summer’s night.

If you haven’t tried it I suggest you do. Yes, it’s technically illegal so sensible caveats apply but only one man has been thus far prosecuted (our good friend and circle making hero Matthew Williams) and you will quite possibly “find” yourself whilst being amazingly creative. The highlight of the season 2009 might be a series of carefully sculpted Cryptids. The all-new physical graffiti this green and pleasant land…

3 comments:

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

Actually, Tim, you're not quite right about the "does no harm" to farmers bit. Granted a farmer can lower the combine table height and get lodged crops in, but have you ever wondered why farmers cut stubble to about 4" to 6" height?

The answer is that the cutting mechanism on a combine is a long, wide sickle-bar oscillating cutter made out of hard and rather brittle tool steel. It has to be hard to retain an edge (resharpening sickle bar teeth is a long, slow horrible job) but this means that if the bar hits a nice hard stone like a flint, it can break off a tooth or even break the entire bar. Running at about 6" high means the combine spills very little grain and runs no risk of hitting stones and breaking its self.

Replacing a broken bar takes time, and costs money in parts and labour. During harvest, a farmer is aiming to get the crop in when the moisture content is at or around 10%; any higher and the crop won't store and he'll have to dry it out. Drying grain means burning diesel, and red diesel costs about 50 to 60 pence per litre. If he has to fix a blade, he may miss a window in the weather and harvest wet grain, or even (like last harvest) be forced to sit and wait and watch grain sprouting on the ear because he can't get onto the land because its too wet to drive about with several tonnes of combine harvester.

So, by deliberately flattening crops, you're giving a farmer a real bugger of a decision to make: should he try to lower the table and harvest it, and contaminate his grain with damper grain that will need drying, and also run the risk of putting his combine out of action for a day or so (a day or so when he'll have to pay for mechanics and spare parts to fix the problem), or does he swallow the loss and run over the flattened grain?

Basically, by flattening areas of a field you're costing the farmer money, and since you're not offering to compensate him for this loss, you're effectively stealing part of his livelihood; if he misses most of his harvest you could even put the man out of business entirely since insurance is getting dearer and dearer these days.

And to think, you wonder why crop circle makers are viewed as scum by the farming community...

CFZ MANCHESTER said...

Hello. Some interesting comments and certainly food for thought but onyl some farmers feel this way, if at all. Many have benefitted from the crop circles phenomenon and if I told you that farmers had paid circlemakers to put formations in their fields I would be telling the truth. So there are many sides to this subject. I suppose, also, that one has to keep it in perspective. There were probably 50 formations last year in England and that's a tiny number in comparison with the numbers of fields. Circles are better constructed but less populous these days so it is to be hoped that any claims of damage relate to a minimal problem if we accept your take on events. I have spoken to farmers who are not at all unhappy about the formations but, as ever, opinions vary.

Hopefully, this reply makes some sense.

CFZ MANCHESTER said...

Hello. Some interesting comments and certainly food for thought but onyl some farmers feel this way, if at all. Many have benefitted from the crop circles phenomenon and if I told you that farmers had paid circlemakers to put formations in their fields I would be telling the truth. So there are many sides to this subject. I suppose, also, that one has to keep it in perspective. There were probably 50 formations last year in England and that's a tiny number in comparison with the numbers of fields. Circles are better constructed but less populous these days so it is to be hoped that any claims of damage relate to a minimal problem if we accept your take on events. I have spoken to farmers who are not at all unhappy about the formations but, as ever, opinions vary.

Hopefully, this reply makes some sense.