At the last Weird Weekend, my friend Steve Jones kindly offered to send me two dusty tomes penned in the mid-19th century by a chap called T. Fordyce. Fordyce was a Geordie, thus making any other positive references regarding his character entirely redundant.
The books are essentially diaries of events which took place in the Northumberland and Tyneside areas and surrounding places during that time, and they make for interesting reading. Should you ever happen upon one or more of these volumes, entitled - wait for it - LOCAL RECORDS; or, HISTORICAL REGISTER of Remarkable Events, which have occurred in NORTHUMBERLAND AND DURHAM, NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, and BERWICK UPON TWEED, with BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICES of DECEASED PERSONS OF TALENT, ECCENTRICITY and LONGEVITY, then I would suggest that you purchase them. Indeed, no Fortean should be without them.
Fordyce was a strange cove; never once in his writings did he mention some of Geordieland's finest achievements, such as landing the first whippet trainer on the moon (1846), our invention of the radioactive truncheon (1859) or the fact that we were the first nation to cure the vapours with intravenous transfusions of liquified stottie cake (if you don't know what a stottie cake is, look it up).
Seriously, though, Fordyce was an amazing bloke who, had he lived in our own era, would undoubtedly be giving the keynote address at every Weird Weekend from now till eternity. He delighted in accruing, as did Mr. Fort, weird tales and stories of enigmatic events. Until Geordie Dave and I came along, there had been nobody like him.
One of Fordyce's fascinations was the curious appearance of frogs, toads and other critters in blocks of stone. He detailed many instances of labourers cracking open boulders, only to find inside healthy, living specimens that had, seemingly, been there for untold millennia. Personally I think they hid there to avoid paying the Pleistocene equivalent of the Council Tax, but I'm only guessing. Geordie cryptids are devious buggers.
But Fordyce didn't restrict himself to the appearance of ordinary animals in extraordinary places. He also detailed the use of ordinary animals in extraordinary ways. He mentions this bloke, for instance, who - seriously - tethered a gaggle of geese to a barrel. He then got into the barrel and persuaded the geese to drag him up the River Tyne. It seems he was trying to replace steam power with goose power, but it never did catch on. He was outdone by a Mr. Kent, who, on May 16, 1822, according to the author, "exhibited his marine velocipede upon the River Tyne. Being Ascension Day, and the weather very fine, he fired his musket, and performed a variety of evolutions with much ease and dexterity, to the great delight of a large concourse of spectators. June 3rd, Mr. Kent exhibited his apparatus at Sunderland to at least 20,000 spectators"
I might have known those Mackems would have stuck their oar (or marine velocipede) in there somewhere.
Fordyce also mentioned the regular appearance of oarfish which appeared (mostly deceased) on our beaches. There were bloody dozens of the things, and, funnily enough, there was a picture of one in The Shields Gazette last night. Fordyce would have loved it.
Fordyce also collected tales of longevity. Hardly a page can be turned without hearing of people who were aged 102, 104, 116, etc, and were still vigorous enough to get down to the pub every night. Wisely, Fordyce refrained from announcing the secret of Geordie longevity to the world. Had he wished, he could have told those in foreign parts, such as Yorkshire, that Geordie longevity owes its legendary status to the holy trinity of baccy, brown ale and bacon sandwiches.
Another Fortean penchant of Fordyce was searching for prehistoric trees; not fossilised ones, mind you, but those still living. Now I hasten to add that the rather boring pass-time of finding supposedly extinct plants still with us didn't interest the great man in the slightest. Rather, he preferred to find trees that had begun to grow millions of years ago and were still budding forth in the 19th century. Alas, even this was too tame for Geordie Forteans (or more properly, Geordie Fordyceans). It wasn't enough, say, to find a 50,000,000 year-old tree still growing in a field in Bensham. Fordyce wanted to find living trees in more exotic places.
Hence, in July 1822, he announced the discovery of a living oak tree thirteen feet underground. This sturdy specimen was uncovered when labourers were digging new foundations for Morpeth gaol. What happened to it I do not know, and it may still be flourishing there with only a few simple needs like rain and Baby Bio. Fordyce related other discoveries of subterranean plants, much to the amusement of his followers.
I could go on ad infinitum relating the cryptozoological and other discoveries of Mr. Fordyce, but time prevents me. Mind you, if readers want I can scatter them around future blogs for their edification.
Those who wish to know more about the bizarre flora and fauna of Geordieland, or our Fordycean legacy, may apply to embark upon a degree course at one of our nation's universities, such as the Royal and Accredited University (formerly the old Co-op "8 til' late" store), in Dock Street. Course fees begin at the moderate amount of £17,000 (per term) but include a free finger buffet on a Friday afternoon.