WELCOME TO THE CFZ BLOG NETWORK: COME AND JOIN THE FUN

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, March 17, 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: NONDISCRIPTS AND THE FEEJEE MERMAID

Over the past week or so we have been showing you pictures that I took during my visit to the Buckhorn museum in San Antonio, back in November 2004. Once again, this particular image sparked up a reaction in Richard Freeman's psyche, and he writes:

In Victorian times it was not uncommon for explorers to bring back stiffed ‘mermaids’ from the Far East. These bore little resemblance to the beautiful creatures of European myth looking more like aquatic monkeys. Most originated in Japan and were skilful composites were the top half of a monkey is stitched onto the bottom half of a large fish. This is done with such skill that the stitching can only be seen via an x-ray.

In Japan the mermaid is known as the ningyo and has ape like features. It is said that eating its flesh brings extreme long life. In the west these were commonly called Nondescripts.

The most famous was created in 1810 by a Japanese fisherman. It was bought by Dutch merchants who then, in 1822, resold it to an American sea captain, Samuel Barrett Eades, for $6000 (at the time, a huge amount of money). Eades had to sell his ship in order to afford the mermaid, but he hoped to make a fortune by exhibiting it in London. Unfortunately he didn’t own the ship and spent the rest of his life in debt!

His son sold the mermaid to PT Barnum who exhibited it in the UK and the USA. It was destroyed in a fire.

Other examples are in museums around the world and some of the oldest are kept in Japanese temples. The CFZ even has an excellent specimen skillfully created by the special effects wizard Alan Friswell. Thankfully he did not use a monkey!

MIKE HALLOWELL: MEMORIES OF A WEIRD WEEKEND 5

The Weird Weekend, the largest predominantly cryptozoological conference in the English Speaking world is only five months away. You can read all about the 2009 event, and buy tickets, at http://www.weirdweekend.org/ or by clicking on the logo at the top of the page. Corinna will be covering the preparations for the event, and profiling the speakers over on Her Blog and there will be lots of other fun stuff in the months to come. However, completely unprovoked, Mike Hallowell, who was one of the speakers at the first event, relives his memories over five mornings this week...

Don't believe a bloody word..

Every profession has its risks and drawbacks. If you’re a GP, then your patient might suddenly snot all over you and hey, presto, you now have whatever it is that they came to see you about in the first place. Being an aircraft pilot is fine, until the panel in front of you starts to flash with an ominous, red light, telling you that the autogizmo on the Weinbacher advanced warning floobel has shorted out, and that you now have thirty seconds in which to recalibrate the furgling circuit or you, your crew and the rest of the passengers will become shark bait in the Indian Ocean.

And then there are we Paranormal Investigators. Believe me, when it comes to hazards, the rest of the workaday world doesn't know horseshit. Let me take you on a tour of some of the difficulties we encounter as we traverse our darkling world of unexplained phenomena.

During my time in the police service I made my fair share of arrests. Give me a burgled house, and I’d try and find you the burglar. Show me the female victim of domestic violence and I’d make every effort to collar the bastard who dished it out. Over 90% of murderers are caught. Why? Because the police know who they’re looking for and what they’re dealing with. It’s just a matter of collating the evidence, interpreting it correctly and working with what you know. But the world of paranormal phenomena is different. Paranormal Investigators do not work with what they know, but rather with what they don’t know. They work in a world where the essence is dark and the shadows are light, where the unseen dwarfs the visible and solid facts are as fireflies darting around the interior of a vast cavern. Hence, when it comes to professional hazards, we encounter some very strange things indeed.

Problem numero uno is that of nut-jobs. The paranormal world is filled with them. By virtue of the nature of our craft, one actually has to be something of a nutter to make any headway. And so it was, in that sedate little pub in the heart of Exeter, that the world's finest assortment of loonies gathered to talk about all things weird and wonderful for an entire weekend.

During the next two days, at a nearby village hall, we congregated in front of a large audience to pontificate about ghosts, UFOs, psychic phenomena, witchcraft, mysterious animals and a load of other arcane stuff which escapes me now.

The first Weird Weekend was an enlightening experience, and I mean that in a truly spiritual sense. THE CFZ were genial hosts, and I will always be proud of the fact that I gave the first talk at what has become the country's premier paranormal fest bar none. I returned to the Frozen North exhausted, but well satisfied. Indeed, I was a changed man. Future Weird Weekends beckoned, but the first will always be something special. Perhaps I should end this blog forthwith, as I am becoming misty-eyed and overly romantic. I also need to take a pee, although I assure you this is not the main reason for terminating.

Weird Weekend? Approved!

MIKE HALLOWELL: MEMORIES OF A WEIRD WEEKEND 4

The Weird Weekend, the largest predominantly cryptozoological conference in the English Speaking world is only five months away. You can read all about the 2009 event, and buy tickets, at http://www.weirdweekend.org/ or by clicking on the logo at the top of the page. Corinna will be covering the preparations for the event, and profiling the speakers over on Her Blog and there will be lots of other fun stuff in the months to come. However, completely unprovoked, Mike Hallowell, who was one of the speakers at the first event, relives his memories over five mornings this week...

Don't believe a bloody word..

There must have been eight of us unloading the gear from a flotilla of cars. There were two loudspeakers which looked like yeti coffins, and by the weight of the bloody things felt as if the carcass of a hairy hominid was still inside. Bit by bit, like roadies at a concert, we carted in an assortment of bits and pieces. One chap, I noticed, was carrying a piece of metal piping with what looked like a plastic doll’s arm sticking out of the end. Wondering if this was going to be a prop in some bizarre ritual, I decided to be patient and wait and see. (Actually, I never did get to the bottom of it. I never saw the pipe or the doll’s arm again, and forgot to ask the guy what in hell he was going to do with it.)

In the large lounge, where the meeting was to be held, Nick Redfern was busy sticking cables into black boxes of various shapes and sizes. Happy to defer to his greater technical expertise, I headed straight for the bar to see what local beverages were on offer to perk up my sluggish liver. Cider was available under a number of different labels, but I deferred. It’s true that you can get pissed as a fart on cider, but I’ve never liked the after-effects. These include passing enough wind to blow your arse into orbit around Pluto and your teeth being set on edge. Stick with what you know, they say, and so I did. I asked the barman did he, pray perchance, have a bottle or five of Brown Ale in his cellar?

“Oi zurdainly doo zurr”, he replied, and, God bless ‘im, toddled straight off to retrieve them. Minutes later I was, alcoholically if not literally, in the land of my forefathers. If you’re an ex-pat Geordie, you’re never far from home if you can get your hands on a bottle of Broon. Broon is to Geordies what Soma was to the ancient Vedics, saki is to the Japs, vodka is to Russians and whisky is to our tartan brethren north of the border; i.e., the water of life.

There is an old nickname for Brown Ale. Years ago it was called Lunatics’ Broth, and had a reputation for sending you crazy if you over-imbibed. Hardened drinkers, who would think nothing of downing half a bucket of silver polish for breakfast, would still treat Broon with respect.

Actually, I don’t think that the effect of Brown Ale was really any different to that of other beers of similar strength, but the legend became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you sunk two bottles of Broon in rapid succession, people would expect you to start swinging from the chandeliers, groping the barmaids and eating the beer mats, and so you did. (In one case, a guy drinking in the Switchblade & Gumshield, at Byker, tried swinging from the beer mats, groping the chandelier and eating the barmaids. He’s currently doing twelve years in Durham for attempted cannibalism.) The author has never, for the record, involved himself with any of these lurid activities. This was not for the want of trying, but rather because of the sudden onset of unconsciousness. God, its good stuff, that Brown Ale. Anyway, I digress.

There was I, standing at the bar in the Cowick Barton with my Broon, when I heard a familiar voice. Or rather, not so much a familiar voice, but more of a familiar accent. To understand the significance of this you must indulge me whilst I digress once again, and force-feed you with some brief notes regarding the Geordie dialect.

Strictly speaking, the heart of Geordieland is the area covered by the city of Newcastle, on the north bank of the River Tyne, and surrounding districts. However, what many North-Tynesiders do not realise is that there is a sizeable Geordie population on the other side of the river, living in South Shields, Jarrow, Hebburn, Gateshead, etc. One of the farthest outposts of what we may call South Geordieland is a group of villages collectively known as the Boldons. West Boldon, East Boldon and Boldon Colliery are on the southern border of the Borough of South Tyneside, and will be the first line of defence if we ever get invaded by that lot from Sunderland. The folk of Sunderland (colloquially known as Mackems, for historical reasons too complex to detail here) are, for the record, the deadly enemies of the Geordies, and the two sides stand on the opposite banks of a cultural divide which is wider than the Persian bloody Gulf.

The animosity between the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland is generated by several factors, the main one being one’s choice of allegiance in the world of professional football. 100% of Geordies support Newcastle United. The Mackems, to a man, support Sunderland AFC. Should a Mackem actually prove thick enough to venture north of the Tyne wearing a red-and white striped Sunderland top, he will be lucky if he gets out of the bus station without being hung by his testicles from the nearest lamp-post. Conversely, should a Geordie wind his merry way to Wearside sporting a black-and-white Newcastle shirt, he will be subject to the unspeakable tortures of the damned before being barbecued and eaten.

Fortunately, Geordies and Mackems are able to recognise each other without having to resort to the asking of discrete but probing questions. The main give-away is the accent. To the untrained ear, or to those who hail from other parts of our green and pleasant isle, Newcastle folk and Sunderland folk may all seem to speak the same tongue. You will be forgiven for harbouring this notion, but it is, nonetheless, complete and utter bollocks. The Geordie tongue is harsh and sometimes quite guttural. When a Geordie approaches you in the street and sounds as if he is getting ready to expectorate a generous dollop of lung-butter all over your chest, judge him not harshly; he’s probably just asking you the time. By comparison, the Sunderland accent is soft, rounded and extenuated. Mackems, like those bloody Australians, have an awful habit of adding a high note to the end of every word. This makes them sound like a cat mewing for its milk, or worse, a dog with colic.

All of this will help you appreciate, I hope, the rather difficult position I was in when I heard a distinctly Mackem accent sing forth from the person standing next to me at the bar of the Cowick Barton. By listening to the subtle nuances, I was able to locate his place of origin within a two mile radius. He was either from Town End Farm, Redhouse or Hylton Castle – three housing estates in Mackemland which are only a stones-throw from my own dwelling, which is just over the border in Geordie territory.

Despite everything I was taught at school – how to catch Sunderland supporters, how to skin them without getting blood all over the carpet, etc. – the peaceful atmos of this lovely little Devonshire town was getting to me. Love and light filled my soul, and I began to ask myself searching questions. Was it really right to loathe a fellow human being just because he supported a different soccer team? Could I really bring myself to turn on hundreds of thousands of people, like a snarling hyena, and condemn them just because they spoke with a stupid accent? Of course, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes”, so I promptly turned round and nutted the bastard.

Now before you get yourself all excited…I’m only kidding. Of course I didn’t nut him. In fact, I was so glad to hear a northern accent – even if it was a Mackem one – that my stony heart simply melted. What’s more, it turned out that he liked Newcastle Brown Ale, so he couldn’t have been all that bad. Its generally true that those Mackems who live close to the Geordie border are more civilised than their fellow tribesmen who live in the uncharted regions further south. Some even have radios and flush toilets.

Even my new-found Mackem friend – who did indeed hail from Hylton Castle, as I had suspected – was taken aback by this extraordinary coincidence. Two blokes, who live hardly a mile from each other, bumping into each other at the other end of the country in a quiet little pub in Devon. Bloody amazing.

Within minutes our differing tribal affinities were forgotten, and we were soul mates. To show how magnanimous we Geordies are, I even invited him and his missus to visit us any time they liked. Now this may not seem like much of a sacrifice, but it is. I have, you see, sired a thoroughly dysfunctional family.

I have three sons. The oldest is a Newcastle fan, but has let the side down somewhat by marrying a Mackem lass from Thorney Close. Worse, she’s a bloody nice Mackem, and they’re the worst sort because they make it hard for you to rip the piss out of them. She’s a real stunner, polite, intelligent, articulate and friendly. How can you hate someone like that? True, she still has the silly accent, but no one’s perfect.

And then there’s Number Two son. I blame myself for letting him knock around with the wrong crowd. Two of his best mates were Mackems, and he swore that he could handle it. Well, my granny used to say that if you dance with the Devil he’ll stand on your feet, and that’s exactly what happened. One day the cheeky little bugger waltzes in the house as bold as you like wearing a RED AND WHITE SUNDERLAND AFC SHIRT. Well, that just did it. “You’ve chosen those colours well, son.” I said. “The bloodstains will be far less noticeable by the time I've finished with you”.

I blame the social workers and their carey-sharey ideas. They poison the minds of our youth with liberal, trendy notions, when what they should really be doing is poisoning all the bloody Sunderland supporters. But I’m only joshing again. I don’t really hate anyone from Sunderland, and there are more than a few decent paranormal investigators from that neck of the woods. Incredibly, only minutes after sharing a pint with our wayward Hylton Castletonian, I then approached the bar and bumped into another northerner who only lived three miles in the other direction.

“By lad”, he said in a rock solid Geordie brogue, “Are ye from up the Toon, like?”

“Not quite”, I replied. “South Shields – just across the river”

“Shields? Why, yuh bugger, ah used to work at Westoe Pit before that a****** [name removed for legal reasons] that was supposed to be fighting our corner f****** everything up. Fancy meeting a Geordie aal the way doon heor, but! Amazin’ that, like!”

And indeedy-doody it was. Within the space of half an hour the manager was desperately searching for more Brown Ale, as well as wondering what the hell to do with all the empty bottles. Even our Mackem friend – who was there for the convention – joined in with gusto, and the bar manager must have thought that we belonged to some Geordie Mafia trying to take over the place. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.

Just then, Richie walked over from the lounge. “I think we’re about ready to kick off, Mike”...

MIKE HALLOWELL: MEMORIES OF A WEIRD WEEKEND 3

The Weird Weekend, the largest predominantly cryptozoological conference in the English Speaking world is only five months away. You can read all about the 2009 event, and buy tickets, at http://www.weirdweekend.org/ or by clicking on the logo at the top of the page. Corinna will be covering the preparations for the event, and profiling the speakers over on Her Blog and there will be lots of other fun stuff in the months to come. However, completely unprovoked, Mike Hallowell, who was one of the speakers at the first event, relives his memories over five mornings this week...

Don't believe a bloody word..

When I arrived at Exeter station, the sun was shining brightly. I ascended a flight of steps and cast a gaze around the throng of moving and stationary travellers. Someone, Mr. Downes had assured me, would be there to meet me off the train.

As I crossed the bridge which straddled the track between the platforms, I spotted a guy in a leather jacket and black jeans. In his hands he clutched the side of a dismembered cereal box, upon which were written the words, “Mike Hallowell”. Using all my powers of deduction I concluded that this was my contact person. How the hell I never got to be PM I’ll never know. With as razor-sharp intellect like this I could have ruled the bloody world, mate. I just chose not to. Honest.

The person clutching the cereal-box glyph was none other than Richard Freeman, cryptozoologist and Fortean researcher extraordinaire. Richard was staying with Jon, and was my first living link with the Big Guy himself. Step by step I was getting closer to Downes – closer, indeed, to one of Britain’s most enigmatic writers and researchers.

Richard is one of life’s good guys. He doesn’t crap on people, and if he can’t do you a good turn he certainly won’t do you a bad one. He’s a Goth of sorts, is our Richard, and always makes me think that he should have been aboard that submarine – wotsitcalled – with that Captain Nemo guy. He wouldn’t look out of place in a Victorian music hall, and would undoubtedly pass as a Svengali – type figure. His intense eyes, goatee beard, ponytail and Goth-cum-Victorian gear worked in perfect harmony with each other to create an image which was slightly sinister, intensely appealing and yet mysterious all at the same time. Richard has now removed his ponytail, but he still has that unique allure.

After shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Richard and I ambled off towards the car park. There, he said, awaited Mr. Downes.

Jon sat in his Mercedes. As I clambered into the back, and Richard into the front, I could see what made this man so popular in Fortean circles. He exudes a strange mixture of authority and charm. When Downes says do, you do. But the thing is, you do because you want to, and not because you have to. He turned and smiled warmly.

“Hello, mate. Good trip?”

I picked up the Big Fella’s vibes, and they were definitely okay. I was going to get on just fine with him.
For the next ten minutes or so, Jon weaved through a succession of streets, lanes, roads and highways. Occasionally he would break the silence by asking, “Richie…did we get the booze for tomorrow?…What about tonight? Is there enough booze for everyone tonight?…Have we got plenty San Miguel? I like San Miguel…”
This was obviously a guy who had his priorities right. I’ve organised enough conventions to know that alcohol will cover a multitude of inadequacies and mistakes. Stuff the speakers, stuff the buffet, stuff everything. As long as everyone can get pissed then its cool.

In his book The Blackdown Mystery, Jon described his then abode as a temple of “Bohemian squalor”. This, I would venture, was not entirely unadjacent to the truth, although later I had a right job finding the Bohemian bit. When we pulled up outside Jon’s house I saw Graham Inglis standing in the doorway. Although I did not know it at this juncture, behind him was an alternate reality which bore little resemblance to the universe outside.

The first thing that one noticed on entering Chez Downes was a handwritten chart blue-tacked to the wall. This was a feeding chart which contained little memos, such as “FEED PYTHON TWICE DAILY – DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CUDDLE”, “PERUVIAN IGUANA – VEGETABLES ONLY, BUT AVOID TWIGLETS AND STORK MARGARINE ” and “CHILEAN RING-TAILED WATER MONKEY – MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, AND SATURDAYS, STRICTLY NO ALCOHOL”. Or some such, I can’t remember exactly, although I’m sure that it also said, “RICHIE FREEMAN – FEED ALTERNATE DAYS, AND ALCOHOL INTRAVENOUSLY AT WEEKENDS.”

Standing there, in Jon’s living room, was veteran UFO researcher Nick Redfern. Nick has been a prolific writer on the UFO scene for years, and is well known for his ability to get his hands on classified documents even if they happen to be locked inside the office of the CIA’s top honcho.

Nick is of striking appearance. His head is completely devoid of hair, and he will wear any colour clothing providing its dark black. He swears he gets his hands on secret papers by requesting them through the proper channels, but I don’t buy it. Its all that black stuff he wears. I reckon he swings around on ropes like the guy off the Cadbury’s Milk Tray advert, cat-burgling the 57th floor of the FBI central headquarters and nicking anything marked, “EYES ONLY – TOP SECRET. KEEP AWAY FROM THAT LIMEY BASTARD REDFERN”.

And there was Toby, too, the CFZ dog. Toby eyed me curiously as I entered. Not suspiciously, mind you, just curiously. I’m not sure that he’d ever seen a Geordie before, and I wondered if he was considering taking a lump out of my arse to see how, culturally, we Northerners react to such a bonding ritual. But he didn’t. He just stared at me with sad, knowing eyes and went back to sleep. Toby was a tired old dog, although a happy one. I thought, for a fleeting moment, that I saw Toby grin as he toddled off to Doggie Dreamland. At the time I dismissed this as a figment of my overtaxed imagination, but I was wrong. Toby had already decided to test the mettle of we Brown Ale Drinkers from the frozen north. He saw this as a challenge; survival of the fittest, if you like. This was going to be Geordie Lad versus Exeter Dog. As you will see presently, he blew me out of the water with consummate ease, demonstrating vividly why he was the CFZ mascot. It was because he was a bloody smart dog, that’s why, and with a wicked sense of humour. Like I say, all will be revealed presently.

“Tea, mate?” said Jon, snapping me back to the here and now.

“Er, yes thanks …milk but no sugar.”

Graham came in presently with a steaming mug of tea which had enough sugar in it to fill every pancake made on Shrove Tuesday.

“Right”, said Downes, “Here’s the plan. First we…”

At that point there was a knock on the door, and we were joined by several other members of what is known, colloquially, as the “CFZ Posse”. In they trooped, and I was struck by how ordinary they looked. Well, they would have looked ordinary had they been in Madame Tussauds, but never mind. Anyway, first through the portal steps this female. She was incredibly nice, but wore a large, black floppy hat, the brim of which was so big it almost reached her knees. For a moment I thought Jon had slipped a mickey into my tea and that she was a giant, talking mushroom.

Right behind her stood another hallucination. It was a role of candystripe carpet. (This was very popular back in the 70s, and was made up of all the scraps of wool lying on the factory floor. You could cover your entire house out for less than a tenner.) This roll of candystripe carpet was unusual, however, as it had a golden-haired Cocker Spaniel sitting on the top of it. The Spaniel spoke. “Hoi thurrr.…an’ owwer youuu thaaan…?”

“Er…fine.”

I wondered if it could roll over and die or fetch a stick. Graham, another paid-up CFZ loony – and I mean that in a caring, sharing, sort of way - introduced me to the Spaniel. Indeed, as my eyes adjusted to the surfeit of colour, I could see that the Spaniel was in fact a mop of unkempt hair, and the roll of candystripe carpet was the skeletal figure of a man in a hand-knitted pullover which was a) just like a candystripe carpet in both colour and design, and b) so bloody long he swept clouds of dust up from the floor wherever he walked.

Whilst I was toying briefly with the idea that he still may not be human, but simply a giant packet of fruity Polos with the wrapper off, he spoke again. He possessed that wonderful Exeter drawl which sounds like a hedge trimmer in first gear, and was totally unintelligible to me, a Geordie. I just smiled, nodded and said, “Absolutely, mate”.

Actually, the CFZ Posse were – are – a brilliant bunch. In fact, she of the toadstool-type headgear was one of the most interesting people I came across during the whole trip.

More tea, and then down to business. A shed-load of gear had to be taken down to the pub where the meeting was being held, and, like General Paton, Jon instructed whom should take what where and when.

Now although they drink tea in Exeter, they are not pathologically addicted to it like we northerners. When other children are getting their first experience of needles with their MMR jab at the clinic, Geordie kids are already mainlining PG Tips – or, if your parents have the money, Ringtons. Newcastle is the only place in the world where “gear” consists of a tea strainer, sugar bowl and bottle of gold-top.

Now these Exeter dudes, they can get by on just three cups a day, for goodness sake. Geordies drink tea by the gallon, and if you can’t manage six gallons an hour your mother will phone the bloody social workers and try to get you committed. Ah divvent knaa wot’s wrang with ‘im, pet. He’s been like this for days. Ah think ‘ees got that disease…y’knaar.. Hanorakia Nerve-hoser, or summit –that one wot stops yuh eatin’ and drinkin’ proper, like. ‘Ees only had fifteen cups of tea this mornin’ an’ ‘am wurried sick.

Suddenly feeling withdrawal symptoms due to a sudden drop in my caffeine level, I asked Jon if I could fix myself another brew.

“Of course mate, no problem.”

I sauntered through to the kitchen, carefully stepping over a number of dodgy-looking cables which snaked across the floor. From whence they came and whither they led I have no idea, but I made a mental note not to touch them unless I was wearing rubber wellies and had the paramedics on hand.

Richie – a thoughtful guy – shouted through and mentioned something about the fridge. A split second later a jolt of electricity coursed up my arm as my hand connected with the handle. It was live.

“You okay, mate?” enquired Jon – or it may have been Richie, I couldn’t tell, due to this weird ringing noise in my ears.

“Fine…fine…Ithe jutht bithen right through my tongue, thath all. Apart from thath everythingth jutht hunky dory…doth your fridth alwayth do that when you tuth the door…?”

An hour later, we started packing stuff into boxes for transportation to the meeting. There was an assortment of books, magazines, periodicals and films, for starters. These included the latest CFZ video, The Owlman And Others, which was, as far as I understand, Jon’s debut in the world of cinematography. I travelled with Jon and several others through the winding streets of Exwick until we reached our destination – a delightful olde-worlde inn called the Cowick Barton...

MIKE HALLOWELL: MEMORIES OF A WEIRD WEEKEND 2

The Weird Weekend, the largest predominantly cryptozoological conference in the English Speaking world is only five months away. You can read all about the 2009 event, and buy tickets, at http://www.weirdweekend.org/ or by clicking on the logo at the top of the page. Corinna will be covering the preparations for the event, and profiling the speakers over on Her Blog and there will be lots of other fun stuff in the months to come. However, completely unprovoked, Mike Hallowell, who was one of the speakers at the first event, relives his memories over five mornings this week...

Don't believe a bloody word..

The train was late. Tannoy Tracey then made an announcement to this effect, which went something like, “Bing bong. Woh wayn weing woh nyazzenyers nyong ylantnyorn vyore nyll knee nyelayd nyore nmroxnylnely nyongteen nynuts. Gnynee r zzorry nore nye neelay. Nyangyoo. Bing bong.”

It was getting a bit nippy, so I opted for a quick willy check. All intact. Fingers still operating at 50% efficiency. They breed us tough in Geordieland.

Once ensconced in seat A 12 F, I settled down for the ride. In front of me on the table was a copy of the Daily Mail, the latest issue of Nexus magazine, a bottle of Diet Coke, a copy of Night Whispers by Charles Veley and my mobile phone. Tannoy Tracey’s sister, Intercom Eileen, introduced herself. Unlike her colleague, she was able to make herself understood at least half of the time. Refreshments would be available, she told us, either from the trolley service or the buffet car. We could enjoy hot drinks, she enthused, such as tea and coffee. Eileen was very, very sorry for the delay, and hoped that we wouldn’t physically abuse the guy who came round to check our tickets. He only worked for the train company, you see, and not those greedy bastards who didn’t invest enough capital into the network. So as it had bugger all to do with the ticket guy, we should leave him alone, geddit? I wondered whether Eileen was seeing the ticket guy on the side.

And yes indeedy we did geddit, and we weren’t particularly bothered. It was only nineteen minutes, so what the hell. The train was beginning to rumble forth, and both Exeter and the enigmatic Mr. Downes beckoned.

It all went well until we reached York. By this time I had imbibed three miniature whiskies and a can of lager, and was pleasantly immersed in my book. The alcohol was insulating me from the rest of the world and the carriage was blissfully quiet. I felt incredibly serene. Then, out of the blue, five slappers staggered through the door like harpies from hell. The journey from York to Bristol Temple Meads was a bloody nightmare which I will never forget.

Sitting opposite me was a woman. She looked eminently respectable, and I suspected she was a schoolteacher. Until the advent of the aforementioned slappers she was studiously annotating what looked like a pile of examination papers. Her concentration was punctuated by the occasional forlorn sigh, which she would then follow with a dash from her red pen through a paragraph of teenage incompetence. Yup, definitely a teacher.

The look of horror on her face when the girlies entered the carriage precipitated feelings of both sympathy and amusement within my bosom. We were going to be stuck with this shower for some time. She knew it, I knew it, and I could see she didn’t like the idea one little bit. Four of them deposited themselves around the table on the opposite side of the aisle. The fifth actually sat on the table with her back against the window.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why the woman opposite me looked fed up to her back teeth. These lasses had no volume control, no deodorant, no manners, no femininity and no bloody life. They had, we learned from their conversation, been released that very same morning from one of Her Majesty’s hostelries. They had all been done for soliciting and/or possession of illegal substances, and were now on their way home to Wayne, Dwayne, Shane, Nozzer and Biffer. Mind you, exactly why Wayne, Dwayne, Shane, Nozzer and Biffer would want anything to do with this shower of degenerates was beyond me. I’ve seen ageing rhinoceri with better skin tone than this bunch, who looked as if they hadn’t seen a bar of soap in years. Had I been a research scientist I would have paid dearly for a blood sample from one of these ladies of the night. I could then have made a name for myself by discovering several of the exotic strains of hitherto undiscovered bacteria and viruses which must surely have been coursing through their oft-punctured veins. They looked like girls who had everything.

The shortest of these belles possessed a face which resembled the surface of Mars. Pustules of great magnitude threatened to erupt at any moment, each one lovingly crafted, I am sure, by a long-term dependency on the big H. Her teeth looked something akin to a Turner landscape, with a multitude of green shades and hues competing with each other for attention. I do not mock her appearance. I simply hold her in contempt for creating it. She could have been pretty, but had obviously decided years ago that it was too much hard work. Taking baths and brushing teeth were exercises which obviously wasted her time; time that could be spent far more profitably indulging in narcotics, shagging low-life punters and, in her case, belching loudly in between gulps of extra-strong lager. As the last drops of amber liquid trickled down her neck - and chin - she threw the can on the floor. It rolled, depositing itself at the feet of the schoolteacher. She started to push the can away with her foot, and then thought better of it. She guessed, quite rightly, I think, that this may have been interpreted as a silent protest and drawn out the vitriol of the party animals in the seats opposite. A loud fart punctured the atmosphere – generated by she of the verdant teeth, methinks – precipitating a deafening chorus of giggles and laughs from her travelling companions. Within seconds the place smelt like a cattle truck.
The least shop-worn of the bunch – a raven-haired temptress who was to beauty what asbestos is to healthy living – suddenly eyed me up. Cat like, she left her seat and crossed the aisle. Placing her hands upon the table, and leaving sweaty fingerprint marks on the schoolteacher’s papers in the process, she spoke.

“Gorra pen I can borrer, dahlin?”

Without a moment’s hesitation I withdrew a ballpoint from my shirt pocket and placed it in her hand, taking great care not to touch her fingers, which could have been God-knows-where.

“Thanks, dahlin”, she muttered, smiling as sweetly as an angel. I never actually looked to see what she did with it. I was too bloody shocked at the idea that this vision of Neanderthal loveliness could actually understand the concept of writing.

Several burps and farts later, she returned my pen. Now it was my turn to smile sweetly. “Tell you what”, I replied, “why don’t you keep it. I’ve got another one.”

“Aw, reely? Aw…thanks, dahlin!”

“My pleasure.”

“It could be if you paid her a f****’ fiver”, said Grizelda Greenteeth. For a moment I thought that the schoolteacher was going to throw up across the table.

Its funny how life has a way of suddenly banking sharply to the left when you least expect it. Further up the carriage sat two drunken Glasgwegians. They were casually but smartly dressed, and could have been a couple of stockbrokers on an away-day. Perhaps they were. Anyway, Ravenhair gets her bloodshot eye on these two, and whispers something to the creature in the seat next to her. She then turned around in her seat and bellowed, “Got the time, dahlin?”

She could, of course, have asked the schoolteacher, me or several other passengers who were in much closer proximity. But she didn’t, because, unlike the two drunken Glasgwegians, she didn’t as far as I could tell - want to engage with us in an act of sexual congress.

The younger of the two Glasgwegians – not a bad-looking lad – smiled impishly and said, “Aye, nae worries. Its thrue reet mahujinae skreekin’ richt ae nae bollis the roond, if yae ken”, which, of course, none of us did.

Meanwhile, Grizelda Greenteeth had suddenly – in between farts – started to take notice. With great deliberation she placed her bag of prawn-cocktail flavoured crisps down on the table and stood up. You could have smelt her hormones buzzing from a hundred miles away. She was obviously not going to let Ravenhair have her pick of these two studs. Without any hesitation she bowled down the aisle and told both of them exactly what £2.50 would get them in the toilet at the end of the carriage.

These two Jack-the-lads were obviously not the fussy type. One of them muttered something which was totally unintelligible but obviously obscene. Greenteeth responded by forcing her herpes simplex – decorated lips upon his, and then thrusting her tongue halfway down his oesophagus. To my horror he responded enthusiastically, and appeared to be doing everything in his power to retrieve the last vestiges of prawn cocktail crisp from between her canines, molars and incisors. Even his colleague found this too much, and tried to drag his demented pal away from this Hammer Horror reject. Too late; their tongues were inseparably intertwined and would not disentangle themselves until Bristol Temple Meads. I shudder to think what exotic life-forms transferred themselves from she to he during this episode of tonsil-tangling. I suppose our Glasgwegian reveller shuddered too, when he sobered up and realised exactly what (or who) he’d done.

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully. Well, at least after Bristol Temple Meads. The girlies alighted there, much to the relief of everyone else aboard, and staggered off down the platform in search of Wayne, Dwayne, etc.

“I’m glad they’ve gone”, I said to the prim schoolmarm sitting opposite.

“So am I. What a bunch of f***** twats”, she responded in the best Thames Estuary English.

Definitely a schoolteacher, then.


MIKE HALLOWELL: MEMORIES OF A WEIRD WEEKEND 1

The Weird Weekend, the largest predominantly cryptozoological conference in the English Speaking world is only five months away. You can read all about the 2009 event, and buy tickets, at http://www.weirdweekend.org/ or by clicking on the logo at the top of the page. Corinna will be covering the preparations for the event, and profiling the speakers over on Her Blog and there will be lots of other fun stuff in the months to come. However, completely unprovoked, Mike Hallowell, who was one of the speakers at the first event, relives his memories over five mornings this week...

Don't believe a bloody word..

Many moons ago, when the world was dark and England's greatest cultural hero the Great Thatcher was yet to be born, a convocation took place in a distant part of the kingdom called "The South". I journeyed to this arcane gathering, and, for the first time, have decided to release my diary notes from the time. Laydeez and Gentlemeyn....let me now recall for your edification the life and times of a traveller who attended the very first Weird Weekend...

Newcastle Central train station is an absolutely crap place to be in February. Mind you, it’s not the place itself which is crap, for as train stations go Newcastle Central is a sexy little number. It had a face-lift a few years ago, in fact, and now flaunts itself outrageously like a tart in a new frock. It’s also full of interesting things, like, er…trains. Sometimes you’ll even see one which works, although you may have to wait a day or two.

Nevertheless, it’s still a crap place to be in February. This is largely because its cold enough to freeze the brass off a bald monkey [Are you sure this is right? Ed]. After five minutes standing on the platform in winter your fingers cease to function. This renders the ritual pulling down of the trouser zip an impossibility. To urinate, one must enlist the help of a porter who, for a suitable tip, will guide the frozen traveller to the Great Tiled Temple and – with the aid of a freshly ironed handkerchief - point them in the right direction, if you get my drift.

After ten minutes in this sort of permafrost one begins to hallucinate. Male commuters will stare down at the ground and imagine that they see a cute, wrinkly, hairless water vole crouching sweetly beside their left shoe. Entranced, they will stare at its bulbous head, strangely - pursed lips and rather rotund hips. Truth to tell, what they can actually see is their own willy, which has frozen solid, dropped off and rolled down their trouser leg. Such is the Arctic temperature at Newcastle Central train station in February.

To prevent the onset of more worrying symptoms, such as death, emergency treatment may be required. As dedicated facilities to this end are not to be found within the precincts of this grand city, critically hypothermic passengers must make their way to one of the several Emergency Medical Booths dotted hither and thither throughout the streets. These are known colloquially as caf├ęs. For a mere £15.99, the nurse will supply the frozen sojourner with a styrofoam receptacle which looks no bigger than a pixie’s commode. In the bottom will be a mouthful of scalding hot brown stuff hiding beneath four inches of froth. The froth tastes like nothing and the brown stuff tastes like micro-waved camel dung. It will possess a fancy Italian name, a few drops of almond essence and enough heat to melt your tongue to the roof of your mouth.


Drinking this medicament will raise the body temperature just enough to avoid cardiac arrest, but not quite enough to make you grow a replacement willy.

It is because Mr. Jonathan Downes invited me down to Exeter in the far more clement month of May, as opposed to the sod-awful month of February, that I have steadfastly refrained from calling him an absolute bastard. Mr. Jonathan Downes is and always will be a scholar and a gentleman, providing he never makes me stand in the cold at Newcastle during the month of February, thus precipitating the dropping off of my willy, to which I am extremely - and hopefully permanently - attached.

But I digress. The aforementioned Mr. Downes is the leading light in a group called the Centre for Fortean Zoology. The words “centre” and “zoology” should not tax the reader of this diary too greatly – one hopes – but the adjective “Fortean” may prove troublesome to those who have not as yet traversed the more exotic plateaux of the Fourth Dimension.

Charles Fort was a strange dude in the USA who collected strange stories about strange things. The assassination of presidents and the rise and fall of nations he met with a scarcely stifled yawn, but tell him that there was a goat in Canada with seven legs and he’d be on the first available train.

Charles Fort loved weird tales. He revelled in legends about fish falling from the sky, delighted in reports of vampires and hairy monsters and would kiss the feet of anyone who could point him in the direction of a bona fide mermaid. In time, Fort’s name became associated with the weird, the strange and the bizarre. Fortean zoology, by definition, then, is the study of weird, strange and bizarre animals, in which taxonomic bracket I firmly place both Mr. Downes and myself, as neither of us are sure exactly which branch of the evolutionary tree we sit upon.

Jon – as his best friends are allowed to call him – was also one of the luminaries of the Exeter Strange Phenomena Research Group. Within the inner sanctum of this motley collective one could always find strange things are on the agenda of items to discuss. Is there really a Loch Ness monster? Are people really abducted by aliens? Do mediums ever become extra-large? Who was that bird you wuz wiff last night, then? These and other philosophical conundrums were dissected, ingested, masticated, and, eventually, digested with great vigour.

Jon – God bless ‘im – wields a papal-like influence within the world of strange phenomena and paranormal investigation. If Mr. Downes (who is both a physical and an intellectual giant) points his finger at you, you either grow wings or pooh your pants. I was more than a little flattered, therefore, when this large and legendary personage invited me to speak at a conference he’d organised in his home town of Exwick in Exeter. And thus it came to pass, in the merry month of May in the year 2000, that I awaited the train which would deliver me into his economy-sized presence. As you will see in the next instalment, it was to be a journey of nightmarish dimensions...

SPINELESS NORMAN

This is one of the most peculiar things that I have ever seen. The poor little chap is a hedgehog who, for some reason unknown to all, has lost his spines.


I, for one, am quite surprised at how chunky the little fellow looks all naked, but I hope that those jolly nice people at St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital manage to sort out a cure for him....





http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/5000892/Mystery-condition-leaves-hedgehog-with-no-spines.html

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

I am still very unwell. Diabetes is a horrible bloody disease, and I feel absolutely wretched. I am in bed most of the time, only emerging to do the bare minimum of officework, and then skulking back to bed (often with Corinna's ridiculous dog, who has appointed himself Head Physician at my sickbed, and whose `treatments` involve bounding about, yelping, and trying to chew my nose off when I am asleep).

I was up for about half an hour earlier to do my emails, and read this:

jerseydevil_mothman@yahoogroups.com

Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:06 PM
Subject: Re: [jerseydevil_mothman] TUESDAY LUNCHTIME AT THE CFZ: Giant eels, eyewitnes...

Hey Jon, Just dropping you a note. I really like the Lunchtime Articles , Something to brighten up my Day. I don't always comment, on the Things in life, I enjoy. Just thought I would start.
Thanks again. HHW

Thank You HHW whoever you are. It is nice to know that our efforts are appreciated, especially as in the last few days there have been a string of snide comments and ill-mannered insults about the CFZ in general, and me in particular, across The Internet.

I know, sticks and stones and all that, but when you are a manic depressive suffering from the synergistic results of a serious illness and a trivial one, words can hurt you. Being told that the CFZ website is "full of self important crap", that I "will burn in hell" for denying the literal truth of Creation, that I am obviously "a Government spy sent to suppress the truth about angels and the chupacabra" (I cannot work that one out either), that I only write, post and promote this blog because I have "too much time on my hands", and am "over excited" and that I am "abusing" a certain mailing-list by posting the blog updates on it, as well as a string of unpleasant jibes from Big Cat researchers who disapprove of our association with Neil Arnold, and various people who disapprove of our relationship with Tim Matthews, and I do get quite upset.

So when people like you, HHW, and other people who write similar things each week, write to say how much you enjoy what we do, it literally makes my day :)

THIS WEEK AT HARTLAND WILDLIFE RESCUE

People at the last Weird Weekend will have noticed a bric-a-brac stall incongrously situated between a bookstall and a specialisr publisher.

Behind the stall you would have seen a pretty young lady called Beth, and on the sunday she was joined by two newborn kittens which were - I think - a bigger draw to Weird Weekenders of all ages than anyone except possibly Ronan.

Her name is Beth Tyler-King and for years she has been involved in Wildlife Rescue, first in Bristol, and now in Hartland. She has become a good friend of the CFZ, and like all our friends she has been persuaded to write for the bloggo...

I picked up a very underweight starling last week which unfortunately although I fed it and had it under a heatlamp, died in the night but I get comfort from the fact that it died in the warm with a full tummy and not out in the cold. Picked up a young pigeon yesterday from vets, also very underweight so hand feeding that too. Collected a hedgehog last Thursday from Stibbs Cross that had been attacked by a dog and it is at vets for a couple of days having regular injections as it is not eating very well. I also have since last Thursday taken in a 6-8mth old puppy that I am needing to rehome so if you know of anyone that would be great. It looks like a small bearded collie (Greyfriars Bobby kind of look) but is actually a King Charles spaniel cross. He is veryhouse trained and very trainable, good with cats too.

I gave my 18 year old pony a bath yesterday as she may be going on loan to Kingsland Riding stables in Woolsery. She was on loan to a Riding school for five years before when I lived in Bristol and she adores children (not adults, hates me!!!!)

Beth

MUIRHEAD'S MYSTERIES: Tritons and Grampuses

Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent; a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge. Twice a week he wanders into the Macclesfield Public Library and comes out with enough material for a blog post..
Here are two new stories,both of a marine nature.The first seems totaly inexplicable...You must decide!

"A Triton - On the 31st of July {1812] an extraordinary animal was seen by five fisherman, in the creek of Port Mesin(?)(Murbian) Its shape resembled that of a man. It had arms, and the bust was completely human, but the lower part terminated in a fish`s tail. Its head was bald, with the exception of fore parts, on which was a bunch of black hair, and another bunch was perceptible upon the chin. The seafaring people who have sent us these particulars, had time to observe the monster at their leisure;it was within half a musket shot of the shore, between two boats, but they were afraid of it, and did not go any nearer"
(From a French Paper) Macclesfield Courier. September 5th 1812 p.2

"An enormous fish,believed to be a grampus,(1) was caught off Brighton...The havoc which this stupendous sea monster(which measures in length upwards of 31ft,and is nearly 16ft in girth)made in the herring nets that entangled it,cannot be repaired for a sum so moderate as £50,but already triple that amount has been made from its exhibition at 6d per head. The weight of the fish is computed to be from 5 to 6 tons;and the oil of it,if properly extracted, it is imagined will be worth from £100 to £150. "

Macclesfield Courier November 14th 1812.p.3

(1) Grampus is an alternate name for the orca, the white whale, and various species of porpoise.

GUEST BLOGGER ALAN FRISWELL: Scary Spider Stories #1 - Attack of the Camel Spider

Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offered to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger..

Apocryphal tales, particularly those of a frightening or gruesome nature, have become an inherent part of our contemporary folkloric culture. Seemingly a continuation of the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories while roasting chestnuts on the fire at Christmas, the recounting of fearsome fables finds a cosy, even comforting resonance with afficionados of the ghoulish and ghastly (and that’s me, by the way).

Accounts of werewolves, vampires and forest phantoms, told to earlier, more superstitious peoples have evolved and transmogrified into the ostensibly more credible, but no less grotesque urban myths of psychopathic hitchhikers, breast implants that explode at high altitudes and babies in microwave ovens.

The one unifying factor in all these tales of course, is the fact that, despite supposedly all being based on real incidents and factual accounts, there is very rarely - if ever - real nuts-and-bolts evidence to support any of them, and most importantly - never any witnesses who can claim to have personally experienced them.

Now I’m going to present the following story as openly and honestly as I can, and perhaps you can make up your own minds as to whether it is simply another example of a twice-told tale that has gotten out of hand, or perhaps that even the creepiest urban legends might, on occasion, have some basis in truth.

So let’s talk about camel spiders.

While it is a member of the arachnid family, the camel spider isn’t actually a true spider at all, belonging to the order solifugae, meaning: “Those who hide from the sun.” With over 1000 species, these creatures are to be found in the Middle east, Mexico and the Southwest United States. Also known as the wind spider, the sun spider and the wind scorpion, the camel spider is thus named because it is principally a desert dweller, making it’s home in shaded areas way from the arid heat. It’s main diet consists of insects, lizards and scorpions, and will routinely consume so much food, that it’s body will swell up like a balloon, rendering it incapable of movement.

This animal has become an almost legendary beast, more fitting perhaps for a crypto zoological classification than that of an ordinary creature, with horrific stories of it’s depredations and super-normal physical abilities that qualify it more as a mini-monster, than the comparatively innocuous creature that it actually is.

We are told that camel spiders can:

Run at 30 MPH; jump five feet in the air; produce a hellish scream like a kettle full of boiling tyrannosaurus urine; chase people at great speed across the sand; kill camels with their deadly venom and rip their stomachs open before eating them; have jaws that can cut through tin cans; prove almost impossible to kill, and worst of all, inject sleeping humans with their anesthetizing poison and dine on the unfortunate victim, chewing away great chunks of flesh.

In actual fact, camel spiders are quite fast, but their top speed is about 10 MPH. They may be able to jump small distances, but no one has ever filmed one jumping five feet. They have no real scream, but some species can produce a buzzing or hissing sound. As the troops in Iraq have found, camel spiders will run towards you in the desert, but this is only to get into the shade provided by your shadow, and not because it has designs on your blood. They would never attack an animal that is beyond it’s ability to subdue, so camels, needless to say, are safely off the menu. It is true that they have powerful jaws - or chelicera - but why would one ever attack a tin can? The toughness of these creatures is well documented, and in truth, they are hard little buggers, but even so, you don’t need kryptonite to take one out.

So what about the last, and most grisly legend to be attributed to the camel spider - that of creeping up on sleeping humans, and after anesthetizing them with their venom, feasting at leisure on their raw flesh?

Well that’s where the story begins…..

Regular blog readers will already know about my brother-in-law Alfie, and his encounter with a mysterious sea-creature while night-fishing in the Red Sea. Well, while he was in Saudi Arabia, Alfie had another run-in, so to speak with another example of zoological strangeness, and while perhaps not as spectacular, or indeed frightening as having a sea-monster emerge from the ocean right next to your boat, this particular experience was far more macabre.

The Saudi laws regarding alcohol are strict, and very comprehensive. Basically it’s illegal, and that’s the end of it. At least that’s the official line. An understanding of the cultural differences of workers from the west and other parts of the world have precipitated a ‘tolerance’ of sorts, in that as long as you strictly indulge any alcoholic proclivities behind closed doors, and don’t make a nuisance of yourself, then a ‘blind eye’ will generally be turned. As can be imagined, Alfie and his mates took full advantage of this loophole in the local judicial system, staging wild mash-ups on regular occasions.
The main problem was obtaining the alcohol in the first place, as they certainly couldn’t import it. One of the hotel workers used to smuggle in bottles of beer from some unknown source, but a couple of Arab tradesmen in the town, seeing a huge market for bootleg booze, had embarked -at the risk of severe punishment - on a sideline of ‘home brew’ production, which they manufactured in three steel drums in their attic room, hopefully away from the long arm - and lashes - of the law.

This beverage, according to Alfie, was somewhere between whiskey and weedkiller, one mouthful having the twin properties of absinthe and sulphuric acid. Needless to say, this stuff was not to be taken lightly, or as Alfie said: “If you managed to drink a whole bottle, you’ d wake up three days later feeling like your head had been kicked-in by an elephant.”

Alfie and his mates were mostly all young, single chaps who basically saw Saudi Arabia as a kind of working ‘jolly’, but mike, a slightly older guy, had family back home, and the separation would sometimes inspire periods of depression, during which he would drink heavily.

One evening, Alfie and the boys were holding one of their regular ‘sessions’, and the wine was flowing, so to speak. Mike had been over-indulging with the local brew, and to no one’s surprise, passed-out in a heap on the living-room floor. The guys carried him upstairs to his room, and laying him on his side in case he threw-up, left him to sleep it off.

The lash-up continued unabated, until about three hours later, when one of the chaps - Jerry -went up to check on Mike. I’m going to quote from Alfie here, and although of course I’m paraphrasing somewhat, it’s about as verbatim as I can make it:

“We heard Jerry come flying down the stairs, and he rushed into the room. He was frightened out of his life. He said: “It’s Mike, it’s Mike! He’s f*****g topped himself!” We never thought that Mike was suicidal, but he had been so down lately about missing his family, that being as p****d as he was, he might have hurt himself. So we all ran upstairs, and Mike was laying on the bed on his back, although we had left him on his side. The left side of the bed by his head and shoulder was soaked in blood.
We went round the side of the bed to see what kind of injury he had, and there was something moving slightly, just tucked-in under the side of his face. We got closer in, and saw that it was a camel spider that had crawled-in between the pillow and his head. These things are so common around the hotel and the aircraft plant where we worked that no one takes any notice of them.
They never bother anyone, and I couldn’t believe that they were dangerous. The thing was covered in blood, it’s body, legs, everything. It took us a moment to realise that the thing was feeding on Mike, and although I can’t remember properly, I think one of the guys threw-up. For a minute we were just stunned by what we were seeing, but someone at the back - I don’t remember who - ran out into the passageway, and came back a few seconds later with a broom from the cupboard. We gently nudged the spider way from Mike’s face, and to our surprise it didn’t move much, it fact it seemed blown-up like a little balloon.
We pushed it off the bed on to the floor, and it just laid there, as if it couldn’t move. Jerry - it might have been him who threw-up - ran downstairs and brought up his 357 Magnum. He took dead aim about two feet away from the spider, and let one go. In the small room it was like a cannon going off -my hearing in one ear was f****d-up for hours afterwards - and the spider went up like a bomb. It just exploded and it was all blood - like a shower.

We rushed over to Mike, and saw that the side of his face was partly eaten away. It was worse than any horror film that you can imagine. He had a huge wound under his left eye that was open and bleeding, and the lower part of his cheek was in bits - we could see through to his teeth.
We really thought he was dead, but carried him downstairs to the foyer, where we called an ambulance. We were really lucky as the ambulance seemed to arrive in no time, and Mike was taken to hospital. A couple of us went in the ambulance, and we had to admit that Mike had been
drinking, as the doctor wanted to give him an anaesthetic. The doctor said that it was important to clean out the wounds, and flooded them with a water/hydrogen peroxide solution. We told the doctor about the spider, and he said that although cases like this were extremely rare, they were not unheard-of. The doctor thought that Mike might have cut himself shaving or in some other way, as blood can attract camel spiders, who will feed on dead animals. A policeman came in to see what was happening, as he had seen Mike taken from the ambulance. He could see that we had been drinking but - bless him - he didn’t make an issue of it. He told us that camel spiders will never crawl on people who will move around even slightly, but as Mike was so out of it, the spider would have seen him as dead flesh, and just started eating. I don’t understand how the pain didn’t wake him up, but he must have been completely unconscious.

We said about the spider being bloated, and the policeman said that camel spiders often eat so much, that they cannot move for hours, and it made us all feel sick that the thing had been full of Mike’s blood.

Mike was pumped with antibiotics, and his wounds stitched up as well as the doctor could manage. Any infection the spider might have left cleared-up, and at the end of the day, all Mike really suffered was flesh-wounds.

Mike recovered completely, but was badly scarred. He couldn’t remember cutting himself in any way, so we could never figure out why the spider had crawled on to him in the first place. Perhaps the spider had smelt sweat and skin, and when Mike didn’t move, it just did what comes
naturally. After that, we all made sure that the rooms were clear every day, and none of us could sleep properly for a while - we used to wrap ourselves in mosquito nets.

I know that this all sounds like some weird story, but I was there - I saw it happen.”

So there it is. Alfie repeated this story to me many times over the years, and the details never changed. Nothing was ever embellished, or ‘rewritten’, and I can only believe that the tale is - at least substantially - based on true events.

Yes, it sounds like a classic apocryphal ‘camel spider’ story, but it’s a story I heard from someone who claims to have actually witnessed the whole thing. So all I can say, is make up your own minds…..

RICHARD FREEMAN: The largest known camel spider is about 5 inches across, but there have been persistent rumours of much larger ones. Could they be for real? Or are they a persistent British Armed Forces version of an Urban Legend? Even ordinary sized camnel-spiders have a very powerful bite for their size, and can snip apart tarantualas and scorpions. One could deliver a nasty bite to your fingers if provoked. But could, and would, a camel spider feed on an unconscious human it thought was dead? I'm no entomologist, so make what you will of this odd story...

I have read alot of cryptozoological and weird creature accounts. I can usualy work out if a story is fabricated. This one has a ring of truth about it. Could Mike have injuered himself in his sleep? or did the creature realy start to feed on what it thought was dead flesh.

If there are any solifugid nuts out there, let us know what you think.

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD HOLLAND: Big eels in British Columbia

Once again we hand you over to guest blogger Richard Holland, editor of Paranormal Magazine, and all round good bloke. He is a regular visitor tho these pages, and I am sure that you will all agree with me that this is jolly good news for all of us..

Flicking through an old copy of ‘Wide World’ magazine (May, 1926), I find a few newspaper clippings which I hope will prove of interest. The subject of the sea serpent was a chestnut in ‘Wide World’, with correspondents regularly sending in info from around the globe to the editor’s mail bag. The first clipping, from a British Columbia publication, should especially appeal to Mr Downes, who has had notable success when it comes to elongate Anguilla:

‘SEA SERPENT TRACKED TO LAIR AT LAST – The age long sea serpent mystery appeared to have uncoiled itself today when John P Babcock, Deputy Commissioner of Fisheries, was notified that Queen Charlotte Island Indians had identified the notorious sea serpents of their neighborhood as huge eels which live there in large numbers.

‘John J Can Valkenburg who has been investigating the sea serpent story all Summer and who claims to have seen one of these interesting creatures, is responsible for tracing the monsters to their den. From ancient Indians living in the Queen Charlotte Islands he has learned that for many years the natives have been accustomed to catch astoundingly large eels at rare interviews. These eels, the Indians say, live in a dark, slimy cave at the northern part of the Islands. Here many years ago an Indian brave, aided by six logs [dogs?], did battle with one of the monsters and killed it after a fierce fight. The eel killed in this encounter was nearly forty feet long.

‘The Indians’ description of the eels, says Mr Van Valkenburg, tallies precisely with the strange creature which he saw swimming near his home a few weeks ago. “They have a very large head, big nostrils and the mouth is equipped with very long, sharp teeth,” he states. Mr van Valkenburg announces that he will shortly make an expedition to the home of the eels, invade their cave and kill one if he can, thus solving the sea serpent mystery for all time.’

Or not. Needless, to say, there is no follow-up. The editor does inform us, however, that: ‘Another correspondent in British Columbia tells us that some time ago he met two prospectors who had a nerve-trying encounter with a monster “snake” of this kind while cruising in the same vicinity in a rowboat. Both were reliable men of excellent repute.’

Several months later, in the August 1926 issue, we have a new sighting reported, and this time it includes a sketch of the thing. The following report was reproduced from the ‘Tacoma Ledger’ and refers to a sighting by Captain House, an officer of the Fishery Protection service, of the Canadian Government vessel, the ‘Cloyah’. He spotted the monster when the ‘Cloyah’ entered Wright Sound, 50 miles south of Prince Rupert, BC, en route to New Westminster. Capt House’s report reads as follows:

‘The first appearance was the object rising spirally out of the water and then straightening out to about thirty feet high above the surface, retaining this position for half a minute. The last position was when it recoiled back into the water, churning it to a white foam, and submerged in the same way as it came up, at a rapid rate of speed.

‘As the sun was shining through the clouds the body took on a bright glistening green and bronze colour. The head appeared to have several dark ridges, also long pieces of thick skin, much like kelp, hanging from its head, also shining as if water was dripping from it.’
Capt House’s sketch of the twisty critter is reproduced here.

The thing caught further south, in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, was no less impressive but no one dared be so bold as to pronounce it ‘eel’, or ‘serpent’ or even ‘fish’. From the ‘Boston Globe’:

‘SEA MONSTER AT BOOTHBAY HARBOR. Aug 25 – The strangest denizen of the deep that was ever seen by fishermen or anyone else in this vicinity was towed here today from Monhegan Island by Capt Cass Brackett. It measures 33 feet long, is estimated to weight about eight tons, has an enormous girth and a mouth so big that it is said an ordinary sized flour barrel could be hidden away between its toothless jaws.

‘Scientists from the numerous resorts in this vicinity came here today to look at the monster and went away with the statement that while it resembled a whale and looked something like a shark they weren’t quite sure whether it was a descendant of the sea serpent or the devil fish.’

Surely they couldn’t confuse a fish with a cephalopod? A fish-cum-squid would be a curiosity indeed. Perhaps a ray is meant by the term ‘devil fish’? I know such vague archive reports have little value alone but I offer these here in the hope that they are not well-known and may therefore be useful to anyone studying the fishy cryptids of these particular regions who can add these snippets to their sum of knowledge.

Richard Holland, Editor of Paranormal Magazine (www.paranormalmagazine.co.uk) and Uncanny UK (www.uncannyuk.com).




GUEST BLOGGER LINDSAY SELBY: Seeing is Believing

Lindsay is fast becoming a fixture here on the CFZ bloggo, and her articles are always entertaining, insightful and thought provoking. However, she refuses to post a photograph of herself, sending a picture of her cat instead, asking who would be interested in a photograph of a "middle aged fat lady". Well, speaking as a middle aged fat man...

Seeing is believing or is it? The majority of cryptozoological and paranormal activity evidence relies on eye witness testimony.Anyone who has studied psychology will have come across studies that show eye witness testimony to be unreliable. It is not yet an accepted science by mainstream standards..Most of the evidence is anectdotal i.e. stories ,or people saying they have seen something and reporting this. Little concrete evidence such as blood samples or bones of unknown creatures have been found. Photographs can be altered, so are often discarded as fakes by the scientific establishment.There are occasional success stories such as the coelocanth. his is a prehistoric fish discovered still living in the waters off Africa and Indonesia.

The most well known study on eye witness testimony was by Loftus (an American psychologist) in 1979 .This experiment has been repeated many times by psychology undergraduates in the classroom and has always come up with the same results. The students are shown a video of an incident( a car accident or bank robbery). They are then divided into groups in which some are witnesses and some are detectives.What the witnesses don’t know, is that the questions they answer are in different formats.

Witness 1 is asked open questions e.g. What colour was the car?
Witness 2 more closed questions e.g. Was the car blue or brown?
Witness 3 closed and leading questions e.g. The car you saw was blue yes?

Even when shown the film again, after questioning witness 3 will say they could have sworn the car was blue. If asked again 3 months later they will repeat the car is blue.Human beings have the capacity to fool ourselves that something untrue is true and stick to that idea stubbornly.

How does that reflect on a scientific genre that relies on eye witness testimony for it’s evidence? The correlation often cited between whisky drinking and sightings of the Loch Ness phenomena comes to mind. In order for eye witness testimony to be become scientifically acceptable ,it has to be made more reliable by scientific method. A standard would need to be set to be used by everyone involved in this research. It would also prove useful to law enforcement agencies as a tool.

The first step would be to have the evidence i.e. eye witness testimony, recorded as soon as possible after the event has taken place. Any lapse of time would cause some deterioration of the memory or embellishment from discussion with others. E.g Witness 3 in the study above had some of their peers convinced the car was blue despite having previously stated otherwise. This would mean a pro forma ( in the form of an observation chart or record)would have to be readily available to complete. Around Loch Ness , for example, it could be available from visitor centres and eating establishments, just to pick up and take away, should something occur.

It would need to not only consist of the expected questions ,on age, gender etc. of witness, description of sighting, weather conditions, other witnesses, but also information that some witnesses may not want to reveal. There would need to be questions on the witnesses health. Do they wear spectacles? Were they wearing them at the time? Were they under the influence of alcohol or medication/ drugs? ( If so how much had they drank?) Had they had mental health problems or suffered from hallucinations( not in them selves mutually exclusive), dizzy spells or memory loss? Have they seen this phenomenon before? (dates and times).

Only by eliminating all possibilities can the evidence be classed as a true record. The problems inherent in this are obvious, in that one must rely on the witness being truthful about any health conditions and that these same conditions may disbar the evidence from being classed as reliable by some scientists. As most of the population will suffer with mental health problems at some time in their lives, such as depression, it’s seems wrong that this is the reason given for debarring some eye witness testimony as unsound.

However in the method's defence, Brigham et al (1982)(an american psychologist), found only 34.2% reliability of eye witness testimony in a field setting, so any method that can improve on that is a positive. The only way forward would appear to be a field trial of the method. The drawback to this is Nessie does not appear on cue, nor do paranormal activities appear when called.

So many fake nessie experiments have taken place, where something is planted for visitors to see, that only a true scientific method can rescue this type of research from farce. The people who undertake these fake experiments , have the best interests at heart, but do more harm than good by making cryptozoology a joke.In order for any science to be accepted, as the so called new social sciences have been, by the scientific establishment, a method of investigation that can be replicated must be utilised. In eye witness testimony a better approach must be found.


That method may be by necessity intrusive on participants private lives but without some sort of scientific measure, cryptozoologists and paranormal investigators will constantly be beating their heads against a brick wall. To become accepted at an academic level necessitates improving on present scientific methods to accommodate what is normally not measurable phenomena. In other words, make seeing believable. Only by making eye witness testimony more reliable can these studies move on to a firm footing.


  • Loftus E F Eye Witness Testimony Cambrige Mass:Havard University Press 1979
  • Brigham J.C, Maass A., Snyder L.D. and Spaulding K.
    Accuracy of Eye Witness Identifications in a Field Setting (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1982 42 673-681)

Where do all these videos come from?




I want to know where these YouTube videos come from, and why they become so unaccountably popular. Over a million and a half people have seen it, or so it would seem. However, the art of spamming YouTube is apparently not as difficult as one might have thought.

As far as I can tell, this rather unpreposessing video shows a plastic bag floating in the wind, but the blurb which accompanies it (from someone called Ian Donaldson - a name with some very unfortunate connotations) reads:

I was sent this INCREDIBLE video from a guy in Hamburg. You won't believe your eyes. These guys were joking around filming each other in his car when they captured this really strange flying "creature" in the background. I have no idea what it is - they have suggested its angel....I'm not quite sure what to think..have a look for yourselves!!!

Another even less impressive video from the same bloke which concists of a blurry shape in a mirror in the background of a video of a bunch og German teenagers singing links us to www.fallenwings.org but as you will see this URL is just one of the multipurpose ones splashed across the web that don't seem to actually do anything.

So why is someone using the name of a dead Nazi skinhead purporting to show people videos of angels? This is all getting rather peculiar and I would quite like to know the answer.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

“What happened yesterday in the world of news related to cryptozoology?” you might ask (well you might if it wasn’t such a mouthful) well I’m about to tell you, and I hope you appreciate it because I’m typing this with only one eye today as the other one is too sore to even open at the moment. I could regale you all with the exciting and fascinating story of why my eye is sore this evening and I’m sure you would all be most entertained by this tale derring-do, adventures on the high seas and me singing the king of Spain’s beard, but alas it would just be a pointless tall tale to cover up the fact that I’ve been rubbing my eye too much. Anyway you’re all due a film of the week; this week’s film is ‘1408’, which I recommend you watch alone in a dark room and if you have to stay in a hotel at some point this week I suggest bringing the film along with you to play on your laptop. It is a rare thing, a horror movie that will actually disturb you rather than grossing you out or making you jump and John Cusack gives perhaps his best ever performance. I’ve wasted enough of your time now, in the words of Jeff Lynne ‘here is the news’:

Mystery animals spotted in Palisades
Fancy watching real pond life?
Hellhound stalking Cannock Chase?
Wisconsin Cougar Confirmed
And
Trinidad rancher finds mutilated cow

Apparently, it was a scene of ‘udder’ carnage.