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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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

THE CATS OF UPPER MINSTER: Part Seven - Children With Dirty Faces, Hunting Mystery Animals In Unusual Places...

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 other day 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!

“We are going to have to do something and it’s going to have to be something special,” mused Robin, his head whirring with several possibilities. “The thing is that I’d like to know for sure that this “Big Cat” actually exists and it seems to me that, if it does, it can’t be a magical cat but a real one that is lost, thousands of miles out of time and place and probably damn hungry!”

“Yes, I think it’s probably responsible for some of the sheep deaths locally,” said Frieda, “remember that farmer Barton and his son were going on and on about that a while back...”

“And old Mr Tanner at Gatehouse Farm told mummy about something similar, and he said he didn’t think it was foxes but something much odder,” added Robin. “I wonder whether we should tell mummy or just carry on our own investigation!”

“Well, I don’t want mummy getting cross with me,” said Florence. “I’m worried that she’ll think we’re all in terrible danger and won’t let us out for ages.”

“Mummy isn’t like that, darling Florence,” argued Robin. “After all, she has lived in the country all her life and believes in ghosts and spirits so this is hardly a stretch for her.”

“What isn’t a stretch for me,” asked their mother pushing the door open. “It’s not like you four to sit in a circle musing! Whatever is the matter. I haven’t seen such seriousness from my children in quite a time.”

“Oh mummy,” said Florence excitedly. “We were wondering whether to tell you what we’d been talking about. It is all my fault really and I feel terribly sad about not telling you and now look at what a mess it all is.”

“Oh Florry I am sure it’s not that bad. For a little girl who helps spiders across the road and rescues insects from the clutches of predators I am sure you haven’t a bad bone in your body,” countered mummy. “But I suppose you’d better tell me what’s going on before I have to threaten you with no bread and butter pudding this evening.”

“Wellll,” said the youngster. “It is a coincidence really. Have you heard about what’s going on up in village mummy?” Sheila hadn’t, as it happened, but she soon knew all about the ridiculous General character, the camouflaged burger van and the awful sleazebag from Channel X. “But what has this to do with you darling,” she asked her daughter.

“Well” admitted Florence, “I have seen the supposed mystery cat whilst playing in the woods with Tom. We were up a tree and it passed beneath us. We were out of harm’s way it seemed. The thing wasn’t interested in us at all and looked as if it was hunting for food as it was padding rather gently through the area. We kept very still though,” she added, smiling.

“Gosh,” the sense of danger, adventure and total insanity runs through the family still I am glad to report, mummy said with a broad grin on her face. The whole thing had, it seemed, captivated her. “And get this, children,” she continued, “Jack and I saw it one night a few years ago,” so I happen to know you’re telling the truth.

“But it is a question of what you DO about such things,” she added. "I mean so we saw it. So what? Is it that mysterious? Is it THAT unusual? I think not and as you know, Jack studied zoology at University and I remember talking about it with him for a time afterwards.”

She continued the story and it turned out that there were three schools of thought where such creatures were concerned and it pretty much depended upon the individual as to which theory one supported. The first seemed fairly simple. Over the years people had kept such beasts as pets - for whatever insane reason - simply couldn’t cope with them and, from the remaining goodness in their hearts, accepted that, at least, the wild was the best place for them. Some had kept Lynx, other Pumas, and a few black leopards were even described. Some of the animals had been illegally imported into the country and so all kinds of exotica could be responsible for the 5,000 sightings of so-called “mystery beasts” over the years.

The second theory was that these were a native species of big cat but it was explained to the children that although the Lynx had existed in Britain until perhaps 1500-1800 years ago and that bones of the creature had been discovered by scientists. It seemed that the Romans not only discovered hostile natives when they arrived here but a stunning menagerie!

Some scientists believed that the Lynx, native to many parts of Europe, could have survived here until medieval times and might have died out through the removal of its natural habitat, the growth in farming and man’s activity on the land. An increasing human population would have given the animal less cover and less places to hunt. Other scientists argued that the cat would have been wiped out by rising temperatures but it occurred to the children that it was often far too cold in their Dorset village!

Another obvious point was that the lynx was neither black nor brown, the most reported “mystery cats” being of those colours. Interestingly, the children discovered that Lynx had been reintroduced to parts of Europe in the 1970s. “I wonder if one or two stowed away on the ferry from France,” joked Frieda. “No worries there,” said their mother. “An Oxford University chap wants to bring the Lynx back to control deer populations, so we might be in luck and get to see one!”

The third theory, the “Colonel Bonkers” theory as mummy called it, was that dark mystery creatures were, in fact, depending upon your outlook, agents of the dark lord, aliens taking cat form, shapeshifting creatures from the “other side” and other such bizarre theories. Mummy suggested to the children that you could tell a lot about people if they believed in such “utter nonsense.”

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