Sunday, May 31, 2009
We are now looking to swap some of our surplus for anything else interesting. If you have bred something yourself that you would like to swap, or indeed just want to buy some at a quid each, please ring me on 01237 431413.
I would prefer you to come and collect them in person, but transport could probably be arranged if necessary..
But, unlike more well-known TV shows which purport to be cutting-edge cryptozoology, but in fact are just a way of exploiting the cryptozoological community for a fast buck, these people paid me. I am also rather proud because I directed all the UK shoots myself...
Robin and Frieda Fox were twins aged 12 so they did lots together and always knew what each other was thinking. A weird kind of mental connection meant they were often ahead of the game but their quirkiness and love for country living meant they spent a lot of time together, and not always being too well behaved! Their mother, Sheila, kept them at the cottage during school time and preferred to homeschool them and when she couldn’t teach them she would find someone who could.
The children had a younger brother and sister, Tom and Florence, aged nine and ten, who, like their older siblings, got bored very easily when the daily fayre of cooking, cleaning, organic gardening and visiting local friends left them at a loose end. All four children adored country life but sometimes needed another outlet for their vast resources of energy.
So when The General and his ABC Team arrived in their village, Upper Minster, it was almost too good to be true. Florence and Tom had been rescuing chickens with their friend Arthur Barton, the youngest of that old farming family, and when they arrived in the village by the pub they were intrigued by the large white vehicle, complete with Satellite dishes, marked Channel X.
Florence saw their friend Jenny, who worked at the pub, standing amongst the gathering crowds outside, she went up to her and asked what was going on: “Hello Jen, what is all this fuss about and what is this strange vehicle doing here?”
“Hiya Florence,” said Jenny, always happy to see the eight-year-old. “I think it’s something to do with my big mouth!”
“But you have a lovely mouth, Jenny,” said Florence, knowing full well what her friend had meant. “So what did you say and how can it have led to all this excitement?”
“Well, it turns out that Tony the glass collector has a friend who chases Big Cats for a living,” said Jenny. “Or, at least, likes to pretend he does,” she added, wry smile on face. “And Marj Seaton from Higher Cottage was taking her dog for a walk when it chased off after a large black creature. That’s pretty much it! I mentioned it in the pub the other night and now all hell has broken loose.“
“Ladeeeessss and Genelmun,” said the General. Channel X was about to deliver his 3pm ego boost and Florence was standing to the side of him, just another child to be ignored as far as anyone was concerned. How wrong they, and the General in particular, were. “Well Jenny, he really is an awful man. He is loud and brutish and he is talking rubbish in any case!”
“Ohh Florence do you know something about this,” asked Jenny. “Well, I have my suspicions, Jenny”, she replied. “But I don’t know. It is all quite fun though, and I must go and tell my brothers and sisters about this. After all, not much happens around here and I know they’ll be fascinated.”
Florence rushed off back to Old Farm Cottage - where the family lived - as fast as her legs could carry her and burst in through the door to be overwhelmed by the fantastic smell of home baking. She entered with such gusto that Bertie, the smallest dog in the household and possibly the whole of Dorset, started barking frantically.
“Oh Florence,” said her mum Sheila. “What an entrance! What IS the matter darling? You’re all red and sweaty and excited. What joys have the village of Upper Minster bestowed upon you this afternoon?”
Tom, Robin and Frieda were sitting around the kitchen table eating freshly baked scones but they looked up at when Florence burst in. “Well, it’s a mystery creature and there’s a man from the television there and Jenny says people are arriving in the village to set up base in the pub and it’s all her fault,” Florence blurted out. “And it is live on TV every hour and by the weekend the village will be swarming with men in camouflage!”
“Heavens,” said Florence’s mum. “Far too much excitement for a place like this. Mystery creatures? Sounds odd to me although when I was younger I do remember seeing a large black cat a few miles away in the woods. Not seen anything since then and, anyway, in years gone by many such animals were let into the wild, escaped from travelling circuses and so on so I shouldn’t be that surprised if a few remain.”
“Oh, that’s not it at all,” exclaimed Florence. “This awful fat man is there doing interviews with this man from the TV and he says it’s shapeshifting aliens!”
“Then he is utterly foolish, my little darling,” said Sheila, smiling. “We have all lived in the country long enough to accept its many possibilities but be sensible enough to always question what we see and feel.”
“Oh mummy you’re being all clever and philosophical again,” said Frieda. “You do make me laugh!”
“Then I am veerry sorry for lowering the tone,” said mother. “Eat your scones then up to your rooms. I need some space and Jack is coming around later.”
“Wwwwwwooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” said the children in unison. Jack was Sheila’s boyfriend and worked as a gardener and although the children thought he was great fun they loved annoying their mother about him - especially when he stayed over. “Well, that’s nice mummy,” said Robin. “I think we might have a lot of fun this evening!”
The children shared bedrooms, Robin with Frieda and Tom with Florence but they had a cozy room with cushions, blankets and an up to date computer that Robin spent far too much time on. He was, it was said, an annoying computer geek, but as the children had no television, they used the computer mainly to watch nature programmes via BBC I Player and find out as much as they could about local flora and fauna. Each of the children adored nature and knew a thing or two about supposed mystery animals as their mum owned several books on the subject.
Robin logged on to the Internet and looked up Big Cats Research. He looked up The General and within half an hour it was clear that this was a group full of charlatans, lunatics, oddballs and people who liked dressing up in military uniforms. “Ace,” exclaimed Robin. “A bunch of nutters and here in Upper Minster. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we should doooo something about them. But what?”
Florence had been sitting quietly next to Tom and she suddenly started crying, quite hysterically and hiding her head behind her hands. She was sobbing uncontrollably and none of them new quite why. “Oh it is so unfair,” she moaned. “So unfair. Why oh why did that beastly man have to come here of all places with his TV friends and that silly man in his burger van. It is tragic!”
“What doo you mean Florry,” asked Robin. “Why the upset. Did somebody say something to you whilst you were in the village?”
“Well, it is this,” said Tom. “I know.”
“Oh no pleeeassse don’t say,” cried Florence, “please don’t Tom. It is your and my secret. It will ruin everything. Everything!” She started crying again, uncontrollably.
“It was our special secret and now it’s all going to come out!” he continued. “Oh Florry we can’t keep it quiet now.” He turned to his brother and sisters and told them the story, whilst Florence continued to sob as if the world was ending.
“Florence and I were playing in the Hartshill Woods last year and, one day, we were climbing trees and, from our vantage point, saw something below that looked distinctly cat like. It wasn’t a house cat or even a slightly larger feral cat. It was a BIG cat, like a Puma or Lynx. Well, we sat there whispering to each other and, oddly, it didn’t seem to notice us. It looked like it was hunting. It left after a while and we climbed down of course. Well, as we were walking home in the distance, on the edge of the woods, by the fields, we saw it again. It was very beautiful and quite out of place.....it looked majestic and not the sort of animal you’d want fat pigs in camouflage chasing after....”
The children just sat there. Even Florence had stopped crying. All that could be heard was mother downstairs singing along to Tam Lin, her favourite track by Fairport Convention, as she prepared supper for herself, Jack and the children.
Eventually, Robin, the oldest by a few minutes, said, “Right. We are going to have to doo something about this. We are family and although we are much younger than The General, the TV reporters and no doubt the media types who will descend this weekend we know the land, we have plenty of free time and we’re local. Maybe it’s time for us to do something together. If there is a big cat out there the last thing it needs is the General and media exposure. It mightn’t know it, dear old thing, but it needs our help......”
And so the plotting, planning and preparations for the children’s biggest adventure of all time truly began......
I have enjoyed The Big Three, and in a way I am sad that it is over. In the next few days I shall start collating the information and at some point soon there will be some sort of a summary of information. But for the moment here are my three animals that (at least at the moment) intrigue me more than others...
1. The giant earwig of St. Helena
As regular bloggo readers will know I am fascinated by creepy crwalies. Indeed, it has to be said that my true loves are far less spectacular creatures than those of most people who reside at the CFZ (and I suspect than many of those who read the bloggo). However, as Maxy has written on a number of occvasions, the search for smaller creatures is just as validf cryptozoologically than the search for the more spectacular ones.
The Saint Helena earwig (Labidura herculeana) was the world's largest species of earwig reaching a massive 3.3in in length. It has not been seen in alive for many years and has popularly been supposed to have been extinct for many decades. The last living one was seen in 1967. However a 1995 expedition found dessicated fragments in an unexpected location and proved that they did not only live in gumwood forests and, before breeding seabirds were wiped out by introduced predators, they also lived in seabird colonies. So I believe that there is every hope for them having survived.
2. The British large tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros) was a well known British butterfly until it suddenly declined and died out in the early 1980s. But sightings of them continue to the present day, and I for one am intrigued to find out whether these butterflies are the remains of the original wild population, or whether they have been introduced by well-meaning amateurs. Intriguingly Nymphalis urticae the small tortoiseshell, which was one of Britain's cvommonest butterflies is also now in terminal decline, and the rise and fall of British buterfly populations is something which is taking up a great deal of my research time at the moment. I believe that if we could understand how these fluctuations happen, and even more importantly why, we would know a hell of a lot more about the natural world than we do at the moment.
3. The British beech marten (Martes foina). Some months ago I wrote a bloggo entry about this tantalising creature, which can be found:
The reason that this animal has always intrigued me so much is that for centuries it was always accepted that both species of marten - M. martes (the pine marten) and M. foina (the beech marten) lived together quite happily across the UK, as indeed they do across much of Europe. Then in 1879, when Edward Alston published an article entitled “On the Specific Identity of the British Marten” for the Royal Zoological Society, what had hitherto been described as two separate species, became lumped together as one.
This act of taxonomoc ethnic cleansing, on the sparsest of evidence, has always seemed so unfair and unjustified that it appealed to the most Gerrard Winstanleyesque traits in me, and fuelled me with the powers of righteous anarchism. I wanted to overturn this ridiculous ruling, and restore the poor beech marten to its rightful place in the textbooks, and nothing that has happened over the last twenty years since I first started to investigate this case has changed my mind!
At the forthcoming Weird Weekend cocktail party it will be strange not to have him rampaging about, drinking my tequila and making bad jokes. Rest in Peace old buddy.
Every Sunday, along with the latest cryptozoology news stories and the increasingly lame pun, I recommend a film and provide a link to a trailer. This week I’m not going to. Regular readers of this bit, if there are any, will be aware that I am rather fond of Japanese anime and manga, and indeed that perhaps my favourite series was Fullmetal Alchemist. Well, the new series of Fullmetal Alchemist, which is a reboot that closely follows the plot of the manga, is being released in a subtitled form in weekly instalments completely free of charge on the website of the US licence holders, Funimation. So why not check it out? (There are a number of other series available on the website too, several of which contain cryptozoology related content)
And now, the news:
New panda cub surprised Thai zookeepers
Cheeky parrot steals tourist's passport
Studies shed light on collapse of coral reefs
Saving baby seals: one woman’s crusade
Man uses live swan as a weapon
Apparently the fight broke out because one of the men was ‘swanning’ around as if he owned the place.
READ ON AT THE LINK BELOW:
Saturday, May 30, 2009
And now its time for Richard Freeman, my closest collaborator in the CFZ. WEe have been working together now for thirteen years, and lived together for much of that time. He is the Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology and an all round good egg...
No prizes for guessing this would be my number one choice. Dragons and their literal existence is somewhat of an obsession with me. But `wait` I hear you cry, dragon legends worldwide are probably based on a number of different creatures. Well yes, in that sense I suppose this choice is a bit of a cheat. The dragon is indeed many things in many lands.
- In Europe it is a bat-winged flame spewing, knight devouring monster with scales of steel or a poison-spewing serpent large enough to coil about a hill or crush a church.
- In Asia it is an antlered celestial rain god whose breath brings life.
- In Africa it is an elephant devouring, blood-sucking monster with a crested head.
- In Australia it is a swamp dwelling, man-eating lizard from dreamtime
- and in the Neo-Tropics it is a feathered serpent that brought music to mankind.
But what of the dragon today? Dragon sightings still occur around he globe. Asia in particular has a rich tradition. From eyewitness accounts I have built up a picture of a serpentine monster of vast length. It has scales of dark green or black that have rainbow sheen like oil on water or crystals refracting light. It has a head shaped like a horse’s in outline with an errectile crest on top. Some witnesses speak of four short legs and two bat-like wings. It appears to be some kind of huge reptile.
This creature has interested me ever since I saw he famous film of ‘Benjamin’ as a boy. It looks just amazing, a wolf with stripes that is actually a marsupial! Like everything else in Australia it is wonderfully weird.
Called the healthiest extinct animal in the world there have been over 4000 recorded sightings since he date of it’s supposed ‘extinction’. These have come not just from Tasmania but from mainland Australia and also New Guinea. It has been seen by a zoologist and a park warden and has also been filmed. How many other cryptids can boast that? The late Peter Chappell (an excellent zoologist and bushman who had seen the animal himself) showed me a frame-by-frame brake down of a thylacine filmed in 1971. It was no fox or dingo.
If only one cryptid exists then this is it. Not only is it the most likely to exist it is also an icon of conservation and mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow creatures. A magnificent beast.
If Truth be stranger than Fiction then you needlook no further than the "Gornal Monstrosity" for unquestionable proof.
Just another Gornal legend, you may be tempted to scoff. Believe me it is no legend. People to whom I have spoken have seen it, handled it, and recoiled from the sheer loathsomeness of this 'Thing' which was a direct contradiction of all the laws of orderly Nature.
True, this horribly grotesque creature is no more. Who, on earth would wish to preserve such a vile specimen of flesh and blood? But we do have faded photographs to prove that this was no figment of a distraught imagination.
Let me outline the relevant facts.
Herbert Stevens was a jobbing farm labourer who hired out his skills to local farmers. Work must have been a little scarce because in the mid-1880's Herbert was working as a 'Night-sile mon' for Sedgley U.D.C.
For those who are too young to comprehend I shoud explain that a 'night-sile mon' was one one who cleaned out earth-closets in those far-off days before deep sewerag and flush lavatories. It was an unpleasant and smelly job, hence the need to do the work in the small hours of the morning.
Herbert was busily occupied with the task of employing one particular earth closet. He lowered his long-handled earth ladle into the messy, murky depths. In the dim light he thought that he saw something move. "A large rat", he told himself.
The creature was still moving around in the scoop when Herbert brought it to the surface.
Much to his astonishment he could see that it was certainly no rat. He peered closer. in many ways it resembled a new-born child. Then he began to realise that the grotesque form was something, the like of which, he had never seen before..
He cleaned the 'thing' up as best he could then hurried around to the local doctor. Doctor St. Ballenden. The monstrosity was still showing faint signs of life. Dr. Ballenden quickly sent for two specialists but despite their efforts at ressucitation, the 'thing' expired.
Herbert took it to his home in New Street, Gornal Wood. Older Gornal readers may recall the Stevens family of New Street. Mrs Stevens sold fish and chips, grey 'pays', grorn puddin' and faggotts from the spotlessbrew-'uss which was attached to their cottage.
But back to the monstrosity. In the seclusion of his home Herbert was able to examine it even more closely. He could scarcely believe the evidence which lay before him.
The creature had eight legs, four tails, three bodies, eight teeth, a miniature elephant's trunk at the back of its head, a dog's upper jaw, the lower jaw of a pig, and four ears. A pinky-silvery fur covered it's body and during it's brief life it had surveyed the world through two pairs of eyes.
That, of course, was a century ago, but for many years afterwards the monstrosity was preserved by the Stevens family.
Sixty-six years old Jack Stevens, of Ladbrook Grove, Lower Gornal, is a grand-nephew of Herbert. He confirmed that he had seen and actually handled the 'thing' many times. "It was no more than nine or ten inches long", he told me. "And however much you examined it it was difficult to believe that such a monstrosity had ever existed".
Active pensioner, Mrs. Vera Beardsmore, who lives in Plank's Lane, Wombourne is old Herbert's grand-daughter. She is a cousin of Jack Stevens, and she, too, has vivid recollections of her grand-father's loathsome keepsake.
She, too, has handled it, examined it and, as a young child, she has recoiled from the sheer horror of it's loathsomeness.
Moreover, in her well-documented family scarp-book she has preserved an actual photograph of the creature. Two photographs, in fact. They were taken by a relative and depict the front and back view of the 'Thing'. Unfortunately, the pictures are not of the quality one would like but they still show sufficient detail to indicate the grotesqueness of this barely believable freak of nature.
From the recesses of their memories some readers may be able to verify the existence of the 'Gornal Monstrosity'. Herbert Stevens often hawked it around the Gornal and Sedgley pubs. Urged on by curiosity many people made the pilgrimage to see it at the Stevens' home in New Street.
Somewhat understandably the 'thing' suffered an ignominious end. It came to be regarded by succeeding members of the family as a creature of ill-luck and sometime after old Herbert's death it was thrown on to the fire, where, aided by the draw plate it was quickly reduced to little more than a memory.
Do you remember the old horror films about werewolves and vampires and such creatures. At the end of those films, and to prevent us from having nightmares, a comforting voice would try to reassure us that ''That there were no such things''.
Well as far as the Gornal Monstrosity is concerned "There was such a thing".
* Note: This article originally appeared (exactly as reproduced) initially in Black Country Bugle for December 1985. It was monitored by Paul Lester to Paul Screeton, who reproduced it in his magazine Folklore Frontiers, issue No. 34 of December 1998.
Wow! News travels fast. A colleague of mine at the Southwark News in London contacted me recently after a man walking his dog had an interesting encounter on March 16th 2009 which read as follows:
“Just walking my two dogs late this evening (at Peckham Rye) when one of them started acting strangely near the back of the garden area. Then something came out of the shrubs and started to walk across the path into the picnic area. At first I thought it was a fox, then realised it was actually bigger than my dog, which is a young Labrador. Its tail was long and thin, curling up over its back and it had sandy-coloured fur with a leopard patching. It dawned on me that this was some kind of wild cat, then seconds later a second one, smaller, appeared alongside it and they both turned and headed up the path towards the wooded area.”
I was naturally intrigued about the sighting as I have covered much of London and the south-east for many years, but what mystified me, and also made me giggle more than anything was how my comments in response to the sighting, which I covered on my Saturday Strangeness column for Londonist.com, were picked up by the ‘big cat brigade’, namely Mark Fraser of Big Cats In Britain. I simply stated that I didn’t believe the witness had seen the normal spotted leopards as, in all my years of research across the south, I’d never received any consistent sightings or evidence to suggest such cats were out there. Black leopards, yes. But normal leopards, no. In fact, the witness could well have seen anything from a lynx, as I’ve seen lynx with slender, but not overly long tails, or something smaller such as a serval. I had no reason to believe it had been a pair of leopards. And no further sightings have emerged to suggest so.
The next moment, Cryptomundo website featured my article, and Scotcats (Mr Fraser) was quick to react:
“BCIB archives have several reports of spotted leopards in the UK, and even a picture to boot.”
In my article I also commented that I was the UK’s only full-time researcher into sightings of ‘big cats’ which also touched a raw nerve.
He commented: “I would also assume that people like Di Francis would have a little amusement as not being classed as a full-time big cat researcher here in the UK.”
I found this pettiness a little sad considering only a few months previous I’d written a post speaking of such ‘ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ attitudes in the world of UK ‘big cat’ research. At the end of the day, to comment on my own research and then be criticised for it kind of shows how silly this has all become. The criticism also emerged on the Big Cats In Britain blog, under the childish headline, ‘Dooh they say no reports of spotted leopards’. Of course, the ‘they’ Mark was referring to was little ol’ me, and then the post began with, “Again we come across an author who claims there are no reports of spotted leopards in the UK.”
The ‘author’ of course being me.(and whilst it was actually nice to be called an author rather than something nasty,) I’d just like to finish by saying, Mark, I actually think it’s good that you’ve constructed the website for people to report sightings nationwide. I also respect Di Francis and her work, if it wasn’t for her books many ‘researchers’ out there wouldn’t be doing what they are today. But considering my opinion on normal leopards in the south was based on my research, and never did I say anything regarding the rest of the UK or your research, it’s crazy how such a detail has irritated you. But then again, I guess that’s what plagues this kind of research, it always has done. It’s going to go on forever. As many groups etc, emerge from the shadows of the mythical British Big Cat Society, it’s clear that it’s Ufology all over again. And proof also that it’s not about the cats, but the catastrophe of petty politics within a field that should be fun. The gloves are off…the anoraks are on.
If anyone has any grievances with me, my mobile number is 07851602853. Surely this can be dealt with by being adults ?
Anyone who knows me will tell you I have an obsession with Japan, and in particular it’s folklore. My next book ‘The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia’ (due out later in the year) is an A to Z of Japan’s monsters. Japanese monsters or yokai are mindbendingly weird, but I won’t give too much away here, you will have to buy my book!
The Royal Academy of Art is currently (until the 5th June) holding an exhibition of the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the most celebrated Japanese artists of all time, and one who excelled in painting yokai.
Of course, as a yokai obsessive, I had to go. In fact I visited the exhibition twice. It was an eye-popping experience.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi was born in 1797, the son of a silk dyer. By the age of twelve he was producing impressive drawings that caught the attention of the renowned artist Utagawa Toyokuni whose studio he joined. He worked in the Ukiyo-e style of woodblock art. Ukiyo-e, or ‘The Floating World’ was a genre that transended the mundane, everyday world. It revolved around pleasure, entertainment and living for the moment. Kuniyoshi was one of the first Japanese artists to use the more brightly coloured western dyes and paints in his pictures. He was also the first to incorperate western perspective in his work. This made him unpopular with critics. He was, however, massivly popular with the general public. So much so that there were even Kuniyoshi pirates who did knock-offs of his prints!
Kuniyoshi had a number of themes to which he returned again and again. One was great warriors from history and legend. He painted the heroes of the Chinese classic tale The Water Margin in spectacular action poses. He was also fond of painting beautiful women from history, folklore and from contempory life. But it is for his grotesque monsters and ghosts that he is most famed.
A nuber of pictures depictiong yokai were on show in the exibition. One of the most spectacular shows the horrific Gashadokuro, a giant cannibal skeleton. It is 90 feet tall and created from the bodies of those who died in famines. Gashadokuro bites the heads off its victims and its coming is heralded by a ringing in the ears. The painting depicts a story from the 10th century in which a provincial worlord called Taira-no-Masakado led a coup against an outpost of the central government untill he was killed by his cousin Sadamori. He was dismembered and beheaded as a warning to others.
Taira-no-Masakado’s head carried on living. It leered and laughed and eventualy flew away. His daughter, outraged at the treatement of her father’s body, prayed at the ancient Kifune Shrine in Kyoto untill her outrage was given form in a in a monsterous skeleton.
In another picture we see the renowned hero Yorimasu doing battle with the Nuẽ, a sort of Japanese Chimera. The Nuẽ has the head of a monkey, the legs of a tiger, the body of a tanuki and the tail of a snake. In 1135 the Emperor Konoe whilst at his palace in Kyōtō began to suffer dreadful nightmares. He became very ill and it was noticed that a black cloud appeared on the palace roof at 2 am each morning. The Minamoto hero Yorimasu shot an arrow into the cloud. Out of the dark miasma fell a dead Nuẽ.
Yorimasu threw the weird carcass into the Sea of Japan. The body washed ashore in a bay and the locals, fearing a curse buried it. The mound under which the Nuẽ lies is still there today, but to my knowledge no one has ever excavated it.
Yorimasu features in another spectacular work by Kuniyoshi in which he battles the titanic earth spider or Tsuchigumo. Once the great Yorimitsu fell ill and was confined to his mansion in Kyoto. He had many servants so it did not bother him that he did not recognize the boy who brought him medicine at midnight. But as the days drew on Yorimitsu became more and more ill, and suspected the boy of poisoning him.
One night Yorimitsu attacked the boy and slashed him with his sword. The youth spat a vast web about the warrior and bound him to the bed. One of Yorimitsu’s lieutenants heard the commotion and ran to his aid. He met the boy in the corridor and once again the strange youth sprayed out a giant web, pinning the man down whilst he made his escape.
The boy was tracked to a cave, where his true form - that of a giant spider - was descovered. The monster was overcome and slain. At the monster spider’s death it’s vast webs disintigrated and Yorimitsu’s strange ailment vanished.
Another story has the Tsuchigumo manifesting as a beautiful woman leading an army of yokai. Yorimitsu and his friends do battle with the bestial hord. Yorimitsu hacks at the woman and her followers vanish as if an illution. The hero follows the woman to a cave were she transformes into a monsterous spider. After a desperate struggle Yorimitsu slashes her asunder. Even in death the Tsuchigumo vomits forth hundreds of spiders the size of human infants from it’s innards. Yorimitsu and his retainers claim claim total victory only after having made sure every last one is slain. Yorimitsu was wielding a sword named "Kumokirimaru" (spider-cutter).
Both stories feature in the exhibition. In the former we see the earth spider, its bloated body covered in eye-like markings, bearing down on the hero and entwining him in its web. In the second we see the Tsuchigumo vomiting forth, not just spiders but a whole army of spirits and monsters.
In another jaw-dropping picture we see a whale-sized fish shashing the boat of the samuri Minamoto no Tametomo. Winged bird men or tengu swoop down to snach him from the waves that are engulfing his wife and child.
From a cryptozoological view point the most intresting painting was Asahina Saburo and the crocodiles. It shows a Japanese warrior in battle with two crocodiles on a beach in Japan. Crocodiles are not native to Japan but are known to the Japanese as wani. In fact the huge Indo-pacific crocodile has been known to occasionally stray into the waters around the southernmost Japanese islands. German traveler Englebert Kaemfer encountered a dragon worshiped in a Japanese temple in 1690. He tells us that he saw…
“A huge four footed snake, scaly all over the body like a crocodile with sharp prickles along the back; the head beyond the rest monstrous and terrible.”
From his description the creature seemed to be a crocodile. He even refers to a crocodile in his description. Kaemfer had almost certainly not viewed a living crocodile prior to this.
However the creatures doing battle with Asahina Saburo have turtle-like fins that make them look more like Mosasaurs than crocodiles. This could be, of course, that Kuniyoshi had never seen a crocodile and was filling in the gaps in his knowlage with his imagination, but you never know.
In a more sedate and muted picture Kuniyoshi depicts Arhat Handaka, a spiritual hero and Guardian of the Buddhist Doctrines, summoning a rain dragon from a rice bowl.
These are only a handful of the monsters that Kuniyoshi depicted in his long career. I would urge anyone in the UK to hurry down to the Royal Academy of Arts and see this amazing exibition whilst you still can.
It’s got cryptozoology, it’s got news, it’s got bad puns, it’s got a bit before the news links that nobody reads and today it’s got the song of the week. This week’s song is *asterisk by Orange Range http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz8QPmcUkyw
And now, the news:
Two boys spot lemur in Calabasas backyard
Society warns cuckoo bird in danger of extinction
Beavers return after 400-year gap
Thrush uses own body as a dam
Bet they’ll be in a ‘thrush’ to move somewhere else now.
TORBEN B. LARSEN
Jacobys alle 2, 1806 Frederiksberg C, Denmark (email@example.com)
Anthene georgiadisi sp. nov. is described as a new species in the difficult complex of the “ red Anthene”, in West Africa closest to A. mahota Grose-Smith, 1887.
It is the smallest species in the complex. The type locality is the newly created Sapo National Park, one of the largest and most important protected areas in West Africa.
Anthene georgiadisi sp. nov. was among 150 species collected during a brief visit by a non-specialist collector, emphasizing the need for continued intensive collecting in the dwindling forests of West Africa.
Friday, May 29, 2009
My friend Annie sent this link to me, which I thought you might find interesting.
Unconcerned at the journalists Who, Where, When, What Why directive, The General simply adjusted his shades and looked menacingly into the camera: “If there is anyone out there who denies the reality of such amazing phenomena I defy you to get down here and see for yourself!”
Meanwhile, Robin and Frieda Fox, teenagers from Upper Minster who had been watching the TV broadcast, decided to put their plan into operation because they had already seen enough..........
3. Lake Monsters
I’ve had the fun of joining in the hunt for a Lake Monster. Readers of Jon Downes’ book, The Monster of the Mere, will be familiar with this tale, which started early in 2002. Newspaper reports said a mystery ‘something’ had been attacking swans at a nature reserve in Lancashire; a giant unknown creature has been seen dragging fully-grown swans beneath the water at Martin Mere. So, off we went.
Now, a swan’s wing can break a man’s arm, so I wasn’t wholly convinced that it was safe to go out on the water, hunting this swan-killer, in a small inflatable dingy... nonetheless, I sailed forth on the murky waters. It amuses me that, although I was out on the water, paddling around with all the fancy sonar gear and a video camera, it was Richard Freeman, standing on the bank of the lake, who actually saw the monster and identified it as a Wels catfish.
I was duly informed that it was probably as big as a domestic settee (sofa) and had a mouth roughly of the aperture of a domestic rubbish bin, so I was still a bit dubious about paddling around. It wass reassuring to hear that they eat insects and fish and small mammals, but suppose it decided to embark on a gastronomical upgrade, just as I was passing overhead?
However, it didn’t; and I’ve remained intrigued by the Lake Monster theme ever since.
2. Life around hydrothermal vents
Still on an underwater tack, I like reading about the strange ecosystems being found around hot-water vents on the ocean floors. The foodchains there, which include normal sea-type animals such as fish, crabs, and shrimp, don’t depend on plants, since sunlight can’t penetrate such depths and allow any plants to photosynthesize. Instead, bacteria that are able to convert sulphur found in the vent's fluids into energy are the bottom of the foodchain.
This conversion process, chemosynthesis, is an interesting demonstration of the tenacity of life in gaining footholds in unlikely spots. The creatures that live in these spots also have to contend with mineral-rich hot vent water, and of course the tremendous water pressure found 2 or 3 km beneath the ocean waves.
It’s like finding alien life, but it’s here on this planet.
1. Alien Big Cats in Britain
I suppose it could be argued that Big Cats used to roam the area now known as the UK, and so they’re not alien at all; they’ve merely regained some old hunting grounds. It could also be argued that there’s enough evidence for pumas in the UK countryside for them to be no longer regarded as a mystery: they’re just there.
The man reasons I find the Big Cat scenario interesting are: the candidates are plausible (escapees or releases, possible relict survivors); I’ve met several candidates in captivity and liked them; and there’s plenty of food for them in the UK, so their ongoing survival is readily explainable.
Around 10 years ago, on a CFZ excurtion to Dartmoor, I was in a puma enclosure at Dartmoor Wildlife Park. I sat cross-legged on the ground and kept still, hoping some of the pumas would be curious enough to approach this visiting stranger. One eventually did, coming to within about 18 inches of me. Others plodded around me in circles, looking suspiciously at me.
The thing that struck me most, as I looked around the enclosure while sitting in the centre of it, was how elusive those pumas were. There wasn’t a massive amount of cover available, yet I could seldom see more than two or three at a time. If they stood or lay still, and were behind a bush or even a few branches, they seemed to fade away and become almost unspottable. I saw they’d brought self-effacing to a fine art.
So... the failure of people – not least, police marksman – to find them in the general countryside does not surprise me at all. I would be amazed if a group set out to ‘round up’ a puma, and then suceeded.
I like the thought that pumas inhabit our countryside, and I know that if I leave them alone, they’ll leave me alone. I think they’ve as much right to be here as I have.... or possible even more!
He falls in love with an upper-class art student, but is too shy to approach her, and when - by chance - he wins a large amount of money on the football pools, he spends it on an isolated house deep in the countryside, and becomes obsessed with his plans to kidnap his inamorata, and somehow manipulate her into falling in love with him. Obviously, it doesn't work out like this, and all ends nastily. However, Fowles's novel inspired a host of tributes ranging from a single by The Jam to at least two majorly unpleasant serial killers.
Butterfly collectors have often been treated with distrust over the years. Eleanor Glanville (c.1654–1709) was a 17th century entomologist who lived in Lincolnshire, and later Somerset. She was particularly interested in butterflies. She collected large numbers of butterfly specimens, many of which survive as some of the earliest specimens kept in the British Museum (natural history), and has been immortalised for British entomologists by being one of the only two people to have a native British butterfly - the Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) named after them. The other, by the way is Real's Wood White (Leptidea reali), a species only discovered in 2001, which appears to be endemic only to parts of the Emerald Isle.
In 1776, the year of the American revolution, Moses Harris, usually described as the father of British entomology wrote of the discovery of the Glanville Fritillary: "This fly took its name from the ingenious Lady Glanvil, whose memory had like to have suffered for her curiosity". Thus started the only two facts that most historians know - or think that they know - about Eleanor Glanville. However, like so much that appears in print each year, both `facts` are completely wrong.
Firstly, although nearly every book published since refers to her as `Lady Glanville`, she had no title. Harris had merely given her the honorific of `Lady` because she was a gentlewoman - the female equivalent of a `Gentleman`. Secondly, her memory had not "suffered for her curiosity". Harris went on to write: "Some relations that was disappointed by her Will, attempted to let it aside by Acts of Lunacy, for they suggested that none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in Pursuit of butterflies".
Poor Eleanor Glanville. The pursuit of Natural History was not the socially acceptable, genteel occupation that it would become a century or so after her death, and women who were perceived as having an unhealthy relationship with the natural world were still accused of witchcraft. The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1716, nine year’s after Eleanor’s death, when Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth were hanged, so Eleanor’s researches into things that were either ignored, or worse ridiculed, by her peers, were actually very brave indeed. To – as her neighbours were quoted as claiming - beat the hedges for "a parcel of wormes", was actually, for a seventeenth century woman, a very brave thing to do.
It appears that Mrs Glanville's interest in the natural world seemed that began in maturity, in the aftermath of a disastrous second marriage to Richard Glanville, a violent psychopath who threatened to shoot her again on several occasions. Quite possibly her life with her second husband drove her towards her eccentric behaviour. As well as threatening to kill her, he also organise the plot to kidnap one of her sons with the aim of getting him to withdraw any claim against the property that he stood to inherit upon the death of his mother. Eleanor withdrew into herself and embarked on a love affair with nature, and in particular British butterflies, which took priority in her battered psyche over what she perceived as the rampant injustices of the real world.
Because of the behaviour of her estranged husband, she arranged for her estate to be dealt with by a board of trustees after her death, and when her will was finally published, her eldest son entered into litigation seeking to set her will aside on the grounds that his mother had gone mad, "for they suggested that none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in Pursuit of butterflies" and according to Michael Salmon writing in The Aurelian Legacy, had believed that her children had "all been changed into fairies!"
Writing as someone who has very little faith in the rule of law, it is comforting to be able to report that this outrageous legal gambit failed spectacularly.
Moses Harris wrote: "fortunately and Mr Rae defended her character. This last gentleman went to Exeter, and on the trial satisfied the judge and jury of the lady's laudable inquiry into the wonderful works of Creation, and established her will".
Eleanor's posthumous reputation, and indeed her estate were secure. But this story is far more than a mildly interesting 18th Century legal anecdote. I can understand what happened to Eleanor, because much the same has happened to me over the years. My love for the natural world has got me through more bad times, than my fondness for hard liquor or the fruit of the poppy ever did. I, too, fell in love with the natural world, and in particular British lepidoptera many years ago, and I, too have my share of mental health problems.
Recently Nick Harling of Blackburn Museum while searching through the Blackburn Mail found some interesting Fortean articles which were posted on the CFZ blog as “STRANGE STORIES FROM BLACKBURN”
on March 20, 2009. It was the article for November 6th 1793 which caught my eye describing a very bizarre case.
What was this weird sounding amphibious man-beast? All sorts of strange humanoids have been reported in Britain over the years from Owl-man to the mysterious Man-monkey of Ranton. Could this be another addition to their ranks? Should I dash off to Accrington to see if this horror still lurked there? In Lancashire strange things still lurk the CFZ investigated reports in 2002 of a “lake monster” in Martin Mere in Ormskirk attacking swans, a beast which was probably a large catfish. Jon discusses this case and the local folklore concerning a mermaid in the area in his book the Monster of the Mere.
I thought more research was needed however into the history of the area before getting too excited. My investigations revealed that the area in which this “Toadman” was supposedly seen was at the time the cradle of the industrial revolution in Lancashire, a revolution which later spread across Britain and from there to the world, and an important part was played by Sir Robert Peel senior, (1750 – 1830), the father of the famous Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Near Accrington is Stanhill where the inventor of the Spinning Jenny, James Hargreaves lived, and his device was used in Robert Peel’s Cotton Mill at Brookside, Oswaldtwistle. In 1768 the mill was attacked by angry home based cotton workers who thought Peel’s use of spinning jennies in large quantities would destroy their livelihood. Eventually Peel moved away from Brookside by 1779, and he had already set up another works in 1772 which involved the printing and dying of calico and these were the printing works at Church Bank, Oswaldtwistle, mentioned in the article. This involved various chemicals which undoubtedly would be disposed of in nearby water courses such as the River Hyndburn, which is the river which the "Toadman" would have lurked. Peel’s works were part of the expansion of cloth industry and made the family very wealthy leading to Peel and his son both becoming MPs . One result of this industrial expansion and chemical experimentation was the work of John Mercer from nearby Great Harwood (1791–1866), a pioneering chemist who discovered Antimony orange and the mercerisation process and made many discoveries in dying and printing fabric. Entirely self taught, Mercer never went to school, he later became a member of the Royal Society because of his pioneering role in industrial chemicals at Oakenshaw. As industry expanded in the area the Liverpool to Leeds Canal passed nearby to take finished cloth to port. In the nineteenth century several chemical works were established near the canal to supply textile printers, with one building formerly run by William Blythe remaining today.
When I learned that the beast was seen near the print works at Church-bank and there was much experimentation with chemicals in the area my mind boggled inspiring some strange theories. As everyone knows, well everyone who watches the right B-movies (see the excellent Korean film The Host for a prime example], the main problem with spilling with industrial chemicals and waste is that the inevitable result is gruesome mutated people or animals of one kind or another with a grudge against humanity. Was the toad-man actually a former dye worker who had fallen into a vat and had been horribly disfigured and driven mad? Did the Peelers or police force founded by Sir Robert Peel conspire to hide the depredations of the monster on innocent millworkers? Or was it a prehistoric survival possibly from the Silurian period perhaps disturbed by the quarrying and mining also found in the area? This mining at led to the Aspen Coke Ovens, at Oswaldtwistle, which are curiously known as the Fairy Caves, which still stand. Then there is the ancient folklore of Lancashire which includes numerous hostile water monsters such as Jenny Greentooth in the Ribble, the water-devils of the River Lune or the Mermaid of Martin Mere.
More careful investigation however revealed sadly that the tempting idea that the toadbeast was the hideous spawn of the Industrial Revolution was more to do with my imagination than reality. The clue comes from the curious interest of the creature in alcoholic beverages, rather than the food usually favoured by such monsters as brains, blood or spinal fluid. In fact what might seem to be a report of a cryptozoological oddity is I believe in this case more to do with local political intrigue and industrial development. As mentioned earlier the Liverpool to Leeds Canal eventually was built near this area. I discovered in my research that the canal’s route caused some controversy at the time of the article:
“As the Leeds and Liverpool Canal winds its tortuous way through East Lancashire it seems to carefully avoid Accrington. However, when the canal’s route through East Lancashire was planned in 1793, it was to continue up the valley of the Hydburn, crossing it at a point close to the old Grammar School on Blackburn Road. The proposed Haslingden Canal was to join it here, creating a waterway link with Bury and Manchester. Had this happened there would have been a wharf near the junction where goods to and from the town could have been handled.
Instead the route was altered. The Peel family asked the canal company to avoid crossing the Hyndburn above their textile print works at Peel Bank. At that time it was one of the largest factories in the world and used the river's waters during the printing process. Building the embankment for the canal to cross the Hyndburn would have interrupted this supply and caused production problems. Instead, the canal was built downstream, rejoining the original line at a right angle junction at Church. Much of the land for the canal deviation had to be purchased from the Petre family of Dunkenhalgh. Although they were quite happy for the canal to be built, they requested that the towpath was made on the side of the canal away from their house and lands. They hoped that this would prevent poachers from gaining easy access to their estate!” 
So it is seems likely that as well as a reference to the Peels that the Dunken Park reference in the article is an allusion to the house and estate of Dunkenhalgh Park in nearby Clayton-le-Moors which was owned by the Petre family. The controversy over the canal route would have been at its height in 1793 whether it ran near the Peel’s Print works or through lands owned by Lord Petre. Thus I believe that the toad-man is in fact a satirical reference to one of the canal promoters possibly to one of the Peels or Petres, describing him as a subhuman amphibious beast, a suitable form in the circumstances of discussing a canal, as well as playing subtly on an established reputation for indulgence in strong drink in the person referred to. The fact it was seen wallowing in the “mill dam at Accrington” may be another clue but there were already a number of cotton mills in Accrington and I am uncertain to what it refers to. Some local historian could probably work out the toad-man’s identity with more certainty. It is another case where a playful newspaper article has created a false mystery as in the Angel of Mons or the exaggerated mystery attached to Spring Heeled Jack, seen in Lancashire amongst other places, as a result of later Victorian newspaper sensationalism. It is another example of how the Fortean researcher should be careful to investigate the history of reports before leaping to outrageous ideas no matter how tempting.
Yet there is another aspect to the case which adds to its intrigue for there is a gruesome side to the history of the Petre family. Early in the eighteenth century supposedly a visitor to Dunkenhalgh Park had an affair with the Petre’s French governess, Lucette. He heartlessly ruined her, made her pregnant and then abandoned her. In despair the governess drowned herself in the Hyndburn. Her sodden ghost or boggart still haunts Dunkenhalgh Park and on the witching hour of midnight on Christmas Eve it supposedly can be seen climbing from the river near the bridge where she leapt to her death and then laboriously moves towards the house. So if the newspaper article is aimed at the Petre family then it seems possible that the toad-beast is perhaps also an obscure reference to a local scandal which produced a legend of an aquatic boggart.
Nick Harling also found a reference in the paper from 1794 to a strange creature found in Hooton Roberts in Yorkshire, a fourteen legged lion headed thing which is either an even more arcane reference or a genuine cyptozoological oddity.
1 - The History of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal . http://www.facebook.com/l/;http://www.cottontown.org/page.cfm?pageid=2594
The latest cryptozoology related news stories from the CFZ’s daily cryptozoology news blog will as ever follow this bit that nobody reads. Before that though there is the matter of tea of the week. This week our collective liberal guilt will not be satisfied merely by wringing our hands, saying “Oh those poor fellows, they really have it rough.” and donating 50p to Oxfam or something, Oh no. This week’s tea is Clipper fair trade green tea with lemon. Alright, I got these because of the really cool faux retro 50s box but they make a nice cuppa too. And now, the news:
New extinct lemur species discovered in Madagascar
Pink dolphin a standout in La. shipping channel
Siberian child 'raised by dogs'
Manitoba museum displays sea monsters
Nessie pops up to say 'Allo
Maybe Nessie was just pissing by their small beat after they set out from the dick. (Note to people who didn’t get that: look up Officer Crabtree + Allo Allo on youtube)
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Biggles, as you know, has been making bids for freedom over the last few weeks, and has escaped succesfully on several occasions.
So, it was time for all good men (and for `all good men` read `Graham`) to come to the aid of the party )and for `party` read `boundry hedge`), because what had once been a boundary hedge was nowadays no such thing.
My father, and my grandmother before him, had been keen gardeners, but round about the time of my mother's death in 2002 the old boy gave up interest in the garden, and basically neglected it.
Mind you, I didn't know exactly what a smelt was, but its great to have them back anyway. Smelt and chips! Fried smelt and onions!
Seemingly, at one time the River Tyne was filled with smelt, had smelt coming out of its ear holes. Then they took the hump at the pollution and went somewhere else. Probably the Wear. But now they're back, and we Geordies have something to sing about.
Apparently, officers from the Environment Agency – God bless 'em, I say – had a quick plodge in the river to see if there were any other Swimming Things in the water other than salmon, dolphins and the odd leviathan or two. And indeedy-doody there was – bucketfuls of smelt.
Now the smelt is a funny old fish. It's not economy-sized – only reaching 25cm on a good day, apparently – and has a nice silvery set of scales. However, the interesting thing is that vegetarians and vegans can eat smelt without getting a guilty conscience. Why? I hear you ask, pray tell me!
Well, it's like this. The smelt looks like an ordinary fish, but is most peculiar in as much as it smells distinctly like cucumber (seriously). This means that if vegetarians and vegans shut their eyes they can pretend that they're actually eating cucumber and delude themselves into thinking that its okay. Now I'm the first to admit that there are one or two minor flaws with this theory, the main one being that the smelt is not really a cucumber, but a fish. To get around this difficulty I am going to propose that we reclassify the smelt taxonomically as a vegetable. Let's face it, it wouldn't be the first time.
Take the Chinese, for instance. (On second thoughts, don't take them; there are bloody millions of them and in any case where would we put them?). The Chinese eat this thing called a sea cucumber, which is an echinoderm of the Holothuroidea class. It's actually a slug-type thingie, but if zillions of Chinese people call it a cucumber then they can't all be wrong, can they? The Chinese also eat this delicious stuff called crispy seaweed. Except that it's not seaweed. Its cabbage. Or sometimes lettuce.
My point is that if we can call all these other things something they're not then why can't we do it with the smelt? My mate smelt a smelt (sorry) once, and he reckons that it really does smell like cucumber. However, to differentiate between smelt and, say, a sea cucumber we need to call it something else. I was thinking of something like a Sea Onion, a Sea Croissant or a Sea Cheesecake. It's not very conventional, admittedly, but it is creative.
Anyway, whatever the reason for their departure the smelt are now back in the Tyne, cucumber fragrance and all. I'd be interested to hear of any other animals that are called things that they're not, like the sea lion, which doesn't look like a lion at all to me, although it does look unnervingly like my paternal great-grandfather. I think this is probably just a coincidence, though, as you'll see by the photograph that accompanies this blog.