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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

THE CATS OF UPPER MINSTER: PART 14 - The Meeting

The other week, as an amusing one-off , Tim Matthews wrote a silly short story spoofing some of the more ridiculous exploits of various self-styled big cat researchers over the years.

It was so popular that he wrote another one and now - by public demand - it has become a serial. Every few days will see an episode of Timmo's new Fortean soap opera The Cats of Upper Minster. And having read the first few episodes I can confirm that it is bloody smashing and highly amusing. "I'll carry on until it stops being funny," says Tim, and you can't say fairer than that!

A meeting was to be held at the Minster Village Hall and many villagers would be there out of concern. The local vicar, Thomas Harrison and the head of the Village Council, Lady Penelope Gregson, would be chairing the meeting at which The General would be speaking and locals would be able to ask some of the questions that were concerning them.

The children were all going and Robin was bringing his camera to film events and to produce the first scenes for his internet movie, presenting, he hoped, a villager’s view of events. Many of the children’s friends would be going too and it was said that local farmers would be out in force almost certainly to give The General a hard time.

The children met at the war memorial. Ellie had decided, after talking with Frieda, to stay away from the event and true to form, The General asked her to stay away because “things might get heavy”. He also didn’t fancy having any of the limelight being taken away from him by a pretty young girl, and a local one at that.

As the children approached the meeting they said hello to lots of their friends and neighbours. All those attending had to fight their way past a strange man selling “Minster Beast” t-shirts and a van selling “Big Cat Burgers”. Disgusted, the children and their friends from the village mocked the money-makers and made their way into the hall.

The place was a hive of activity; women from the local WRVS offering tea and sandwiches, the vicar speaking with a local radio station, Channel X TV personnel lauding it over the locals and setting up cameras for a “live link” and villagers mingling with strange people who looked like they rarely saw daylight. Various groups were giving out leaflets including the “Rendlesham Research Initiative”. Robin reliably informed his brother and sisters that in fact a lighthouse had been responsible for the sightings in 1980 but the people giving out leaflets – and asking for donations - said it was a government-alien cover-up, and that rabbits and radioactivity were also involved.

The children sat to the left of the hall next to friends of theirs and Tom produced a huge bag of sweets including jelly snakes, curly wurlies and Sherbert Dip Dabs. He also had some other goodies in his bag but they were for later. (He was carrying materials that would be of use to friends; when the time was right.) Whilst munching away at their feast, Robin filmed various scenes and Frieda assisted by taking lots and lots of digital photos with mummy’s new camera. All would be included on a new website Robin had set up and that afternoon he’d used his pocket money to buy a website and domain name – www.minstercats.co.uk – which would become the main vehicle for putting out a sensible, balanced view of what was happening and also a lot of information designed to encourage all the visitors and trippers to leave as soon as possible.

After around twenty minutes waiting, The Reverend Harrison stood up on stage and welcomed “friends and visitors” to the village, to the hall and to the meeting. He noted that such excitement was relatively unknown to locals and that some resentment had been caused but that he hoped that some understanding could be gained through the evening’s proceedings. “It is to be hoped that from tonight we can start to see thing’s from each other’s point of view and that the Spirit may guide us towards a common purpose,” he added. Lady Penelope then took the stage and declared that this was one reason why tonight’s meeting had been called; to see what could be done about the current state of affairs, the interruption to village life and what - if any - evidence there was for the many extraordinary claims being made. “It would be nice to see some of the outsiders acting with class and tact,” she added. Several people laughed.

Reverend Harrison continued with a prayer and it was interesting to note that the villagers joined him and that the outsiders mocked. Just as the prayers were ending The General and his motley crew of shower dodgers burst in through the main door. His troupe pushed their way past some of the nice old ladies making tea and marched up to the front of the room where ABC sympathisers had saved some chairs for them.

“I demand an audience,” screeched The General. “I must be heard!”

His supporters, around 20 in all (probably the entire membership), clapped furiously as if The Messiah had entered the room but nobody else was impressed by this fake. Florence stood up and threw an empty bottle at him and was immediately chastised by her older brother even though it hit the target. “Silly girl,” he rasped. “We’re supposed to be pretending to just be here for the fun. Keep a low profile. Please keep calm my darling....” Florence went bright red but her actions met with the approval of her friends. It was a good shot. The General swung around with a look of hatred on his face and felt the back of his head to see if there was any damage. “Might knock some sense into him,” said Albert Brigstocke, a local gardener. Everyone nearby laughed.

After a few minutes of bullying and loudness from The General, Reverend Harrison agreed to allow him to say a few words. What transpired can only be described as the rantings and ravings of a madman but to cut a long story short, The General basically said that Upper Minster had become, variously, a focus for dark forces, was being visited the devil and was “a centre for “Nephilim Activity.” The big cats were “a small part of it but evidence shows that Upper Minster is a window area for Paranormal activity.”

He made some pretty offensive comments about local farmers too; so rude in fact that even the Barton family, who were sitting to the right of the hall near the back, were stunned. If he had been trying to win friends and influence people he had singularly failed but his brief from Yvonne Fawcett was to cause as much trouble as possible so she could get more dramatic scenes on camera and make it look as if the villagers had something to hide.

After The General had finished, the floor was opened up to questions and it was at this point that local frustration and anger boiled over. It started with Susannah, the local vet, calmly but firmly asking The General a series of straightforward questions. “What evidence do you have for local big cat activity?” she asked.

“Too much to mention here,” he said. “But Marj Seaton told me what she saw and there have been many other sightings too,” he replied.

“Yes,” said Susannah, “but these reports, that I have seen on your website, could be anything. Having done five years training at Vetinary College and a further two years specialising, I can find no good evidence, no scientific evidence, to support your claims. Indeed,” she continued, working up a head of steam, “several of your supporters believe in aliens, UFOs, abductions, the global conspiracy and none of this has to do with big cats, and nothing to do with Upper Minster. Not one of you is a vet, none of you have any qualifications, none of you are experts and nowhere in anything you present is there any meaningful evidence. In fact, yesterday one of your supporters claimed to have found evidence of something you call “animal mutilation” of two field mice and I ask you, Mr Norman, why any of us here in Upper Minster should take you at all seriously beyond the offence and upset that you have caused.”

Clearly shocked that a wretched local, and a damn vet too, should have inside information on his activities, The General struggled to maintain control. “Errm, well, yes, eh hem...yesterday we did make momentous discoveries down by the river and errr, we were ably assisted by, errm, local people, in making these finds. As I speak, the samples are being looked at by experts.”

“There you go again,” interrupted Susannah. “Without meaning to bang my own drum and that of Minster Vets, which deals with all the local animals and provides an excellent service to people here,” (cue appreciative applause from local farmers and pet owners alike) she stormed, “I am the only real expert here. And you’re not talking to me and you haven’t asked for my help. What scientific methods are you using and which experts have you consulted? I think, given the interruption of village life you and these damn media whores have caused, that you should at least present us with evidence; a picture at least, or some detailed answers.”

“Young lady,” The General replied, “you are clearly here to disrupt tonight’s proceedings and I am wondering who put you up to this!”

“I put myself up to this. I realise you probably have trouble with women,” she added, much to everyone’s delight, “But I am asking questions that you don’t seem to be willing or able to answer. You are the one making the claims and I am the local vet. Now I do not discount the possibility that a large cat could be operating locally – one released into the wild perhaps - but you are coming here making ludicrous claims. I would like to know the names of the scientists you are working with and I can offer them my assistance and I am sure my friends here would prefer me to represent them than you misrepresenting them.” Massive applause erupted and people cheered Susannah. She was the local heroine.

The General was beside himself and started shouting. He was a bully after all. At this, the mood changed from interest to anger. “Yes, she’s right,” shouted Will Smith, local shopkeeper. “Come on, tell us: who are the experts?”

“Answer her questions you fat prat,” shouted Lynsey Stark, local mother of three. “You’re just talking lots and saying very little.”

Other people joined in as Susannah sat down. Several local farmers got out of their seats and walked towards the stage wanting to have meaningful discussion with The General. He, meanwhile, was visibly distressed at this evil turn of events and fiddled with his glasses as Reverend Harrison struggled to maintain a semblance of order. Yvonne Fawcett was not pleased, either, as her propaganda coup was turning sour. It would look like she was working with idiots and her expensive live link was being ruined by what she saw as inbred locals.

The General stood up and prepared to walk out with his people. The meeting was going nowhere but he figured that at least he was at the centre of attention and could present himself as the hero of the hour. Just then, on cue and as arranged, several of the Fox children’s friends armed themselves with some goodies Robin had prepared for the evening. Throughout the evening, Robin had been passing his friends little bags of ammunition. The General walked, with his nervous-looking troops, towards the back of the room, whose audience was shouting much abuse at him and telling him to clear off. As he approached the back, and the gaggle of journalists clamouring to ask him questions, a group of youngsters ran towards Farley Norman, shoved custard pies into his face and fired crazy string at him and his supporters. Others threw feathers. What a mess! The ABC Team was covered in bright colours and gunk and some looked shocked and terrified.

Priceless! What a wonderful picture for live TV viewers and local media. Clearly, Big Cats Research had entered a new stage in its development....

Robin Fox sat back and smiled. Things had gone nicely to plan. The General might think he was calling the shots and his sidekick, the Fawcett woman, might think she was famous and untouchable, but he was actually, a teenager, going to make things happening the way he and his family wanted them to happen.

Tonight had gone very well for the Foxes.

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