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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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Friday, July 03, 2009

THE WEIRD WARBLING WHATSIT

One of the more bizare episodes, which happened to us during the long hot summer and autumn of 1997 was what my friend and colleague Jan Scarff dubbed 'The Case of the Weird Warbling Whatsit of the Westcountry'. We were sitting at home when the telephone rang. It was a lady living at Clyst St Mary (a little village just outside Exeter) who had been hearing strange bird calls outside her window in the middle of the night, every night for the previous five weeks.

She didn`t know whether she had a strange wild bird living in her garden or whether she was being haunted by some kind of poltergeist. After talking to her for a few minutes we became convinced that the matter was a strictly paranormal rather than a zoological one.

Luckily for us, it transpired that she had managed to make a cassette recording of one of these episodes of strange bird calls, and she played it, first to Jan and then to Jon, down the telephone. It sounded like nothing else I had ever heard before, although it was mildly reminiscent of the weird call of an Albatross, but even though Albatrosses have been known to venture into the Northern Hemisphere on odd occasions the chances of one alighting outside a lady`s bedroom window at precisely the same time each night and issuing forth unearthly cries for a precise number of times before dissappearing every night for six weeks, was so unlikely as to be statistically impossible.

We decided to visit the scene of these events, and in the words of the characters from a dozen third rate US TV cop shows "stake out the joint". This we did on the night of the following Friday, accompanied by Dave Hopkins - a keen ornithologist, whom we brought along not just because he is good fun, but because we thought if it WAS some strange bird making these noises then he would be the person in our team most likely to know what sort of bird it was.

According to our witness these noises always occured at four minutes past two in the morning, and so we began a long and lonely vigil in the car park of the boozer opposite her house. Curious, the pub landlord stood outside with us giving us coffee and telling us ghost stories. Apparently a bar manager several years before had hung himself and ever since there had been a string of poltergeist reports and even the occasional sighting. Some of the more superstitious bar staff refused to work after hours alone.

Although we started the evening in high spirits and an atmosphere of hilarity had prevailed, by the time two o`clock approached we were actually getting quite scared, and when all the owls in the area started to hoot and screech we were quite unnerved, but unfortunately we heard nothing even approaching the noises that had been played to us. Feeling somewhat deflated we all went home, but the next day Jan telephoned me to tell me that much to his surprise, the lady had reported hearing the same noises as usual on the previous night, and had even been watching us wandering around the garden at the same time as she had heard them. This was getting very strange indeed and when, on the next two nights (saturday and sunday) she produced tape recordings of what was apparently the same sound, we decided that there was only one thing that we could sensibly do - we had to go to her house, at four minutes past two, wait in her bedroom and see what happened.

Understandably she was loth to have a whole bunch of quasi-fortean weirdos trampelling around her boudoir and therefore It was only Jan who visited her laden with paranormal investigating equipment the following night. As the hour of two approached the atmosphere in the house became strained and tense, and by two o`clock you could, (in Jan`s words) "cut the atmosphere with a knife".

Four minutes later the unearthly sounds started. Jan, together with the lady`s son Paul, rampaged around her bedroom and eventually found the source ofthe noise... it was a novelty Japanese watch with an alarm consisting of the electronically generated sound of a cock crowing.

The mystery was solved, but there is an object lesson here for us all. During the days before we knew what had actually caused these sounds Jon appeared on BBC Radio and played the tape, voicing his opinion that here MIGHT be a genuine paranormal occurence. As it was, it was nothing of the kind, but if we had not come public here in this column with the truth of the matter "The Case of the Weird Warbling Whatsit of the Westcountry" could well have passed into the canon of fortean literature as a genuine unsolved mystery.

One wonders how many other well known cases have equally prosaic explanations?

DOC SHIELS JUST RANG....

...which is one of the reasons that the blog is running a few minutes late. However, in his younger days he played piano alongside the legendary (or should that be sensational?) Alex Harvey. So here is an apposite excerpt from Harvey's remarkably obscure 1977 album Alex Harvey presents the Loch Ness Monster


FLEUR'S INTERNSHIP DIARIES

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that Fleur's diaries are back online, courtesy of those jolly nice folks at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. I think that I may have been a trifle premature with my comments yesterday (which have been removed, by the way), because they apparently have given young Fleur permission to go full steam ahead with her blog-journal.

So all's well that ends well....

TRISTAN SANDERSON-DUCKETT: There's something in the attic!

Are you seeing a pattern developing here: long hair; boyish good looks? And we are not just talking about Jon. We have Max; Dave has grown his hair; and now Tristan, who writes: "Hello, I'm a fifteen-year-old animal and rock freak, that loves being outoors, observing nature! I'm home-educated so I have plenty of time to do stuff that most people wouldn't consider 'education,' even though I've learnt far more from being outdoors and thinking for myself (instead of being cooped up in a classroom, being taught instead of learning). I hope one day to be finding new beasties and conserving known ones so I thought it might be a good idea to blog for the CFZ!" With Jon's wild hair and beard the CFZ is rapidly beginning to resemble a fortean version of the Manson Family. Fleur as 'Squeaky', anyone? Welcome aboard Tristan....


This week, we’re back talking about Wales; a great place; no wonder it left such an impression on me. This time, unlike the blog about the red sparrows (see 14th June), I’m not entirely sure what the beastie was. I’m not even sure if it’s crypto, but it’s worth mentioning, as it might be of interest – but, in fact, I don’t have a clue what it was.

I think it was 2006 or 2005 when I first noticed something was 'living' in the attic (yes, I know this sounds like a children's ghost story, but it did happen). At first I suspected it was a rat or a squirrel so I put some food out to catch a glimpse, or at least find out whether it was carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore. All I found out was it didn't like peanuts (not a squirrel or rat then) but it loved bread.

At first, apart from the food disappearing, the only sign of life was the odd scuttle or shuffle. One night I had a friend staying over and as the weather wasn't the best for camping (plus the 'friend' was quite frankly a wuss when it came to the whole outdoors dark thing), we were sleeping in the living room. The whateveritwas obviously got braver, and started banging around downstairs, almost in the room we were in. Needless to say, I was scared (having a rather more active imagination then, than now) and from then on the beastie stayed braver, one night it even sounded as if it was trying to unlock the door from the attic.

If at this point you think this is fanciful, it does sound so – but it’s not nice having an unknown animal in your house. So if anybody has any idea what this was, please leave a comment; it would be most helpful.

And now to the photos I promised last week. I’ve had no success with the fox, but I’m sure you all know what one looks like! I found a suitable trout to photograph that show the variations, so look closely and you hopefully will see the dark mark on the dorsal fin, plus the zigzag-type dotting. If you don’t, just say, and I'll try to get a better photo. Enjoy....

AT LAST: RONAN JOINS THE BLOGGO

This is a melancholy blog.

At present I have the distinction (since made redundant) of working at a Call Centre. I had considered being a bank robber, but with a slightly arthritic left knee, I felt my getaway techniques might be impaired.

Making the same call time after time is not my idea of fun. Oh, I try to spice up the calls a little, but some of those I speak to seem to have the intelligence of amoebas and I hope that remark isn't amoebist.

In particular, I find Geordies difficult to understand. Old ladies who can only speak Punjabi come second. And, would you believe it; they laugh at my calls. I have only to make a remark like "Your appointment is now being confirmed. It is shooting through cyberspace" to provoke a geriatric cackle at the other end.

I am well past my sell-by date when it comes to handling computers; a vital part of my equipment. My computer skills can be summed up as follows:

(a) ability to switch machine on;
(b) ability to get to right page;
(c) ability to summon help from supervisor.

But enough of such depressive mumblings. I set off for work shortly. Before that I can look forward to doing the dishes (thoughtfully left for me by my family), separating the dog and cat who live in mutual hostility and making sure nothing edible is left for the dog (Sasha).

That dog will eat everything. Bananas, would you believe? It somehow skins them (I suspect in its mouth). Butter, grapes; things no self-respecting canid should touch. As a special delicacy, it will consume the contents of the cat's litter tray. Its most fetching habit is to sit licking its pudenda. The cat regards it with scorn.

I must now away. You can see from the above the exciting daily routine I pursue. For some reason, the call centre regard me as one of their better employees. That should give you some idea of what the others are like.

WANTED BY THE BBC: HOLLY BLUE CATERPILLARS

Celastrina argiolus

The BBC Natural History Unit is currently making a 60min programme devoted to British Butterflies and would love to obtain Holly Blue caterpillars, either captive bred or collected from the wild that we could film pupating and emerging later this summer. If you can help please call 0117 974 7855, or email simon.bell.01@bbc.co.uk

CONGRATULATIONS ARE IN ORDER: We now have a vet in the family

As most of you know, Shosh is the eldest of my two darling step-daughters and an occasional bloggo contributor. I have just received a telephone call from Corinna who went down to Hatfield to be with her today:

Shosh has passed her final Veterinary Examinations (with a merit), and as soon as she graduates will be a fully-fledged vet. Those of you who met her friends Becky and Aurelia at the last couple of Weird Weekends, will be glad to know that they, too have passed! Well done girls!

I am feeling ridiculously emotional about this, and am trying not to blub. I love both my step-daughters very much and could not have been prouder of darling Shoshannah at this moment if she had been my own flesh and blood!

ALAN FRISWELL: RAY’S RABID REPTILES RENT BOYS? REVEALING REVELATIONS!!!!!!

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, and furthermore a guest blogger who's output is often so elegantly macabre that I have started hassling him to write us a book....


As it happens to be Ray Harryhausen’s birthday this week, I thought that I might tell you a story about Ray’s creatures that you probably haven’t heard before, and may well take you by surprise - and besides, it gives me and Jon an opportunity to post up some completely, and unnecessarily gratuitous shots of Raquel Welch and Victoria Vetri, and that’s good enough for me. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't implicate me in your disgusting sexism, young Friswell. I am married to a feminist, and I am scared she will hurt me)

It’s funny isn’t it, how one small, seemingly insignificant fact can compel us to re-evaluate our pre-conceived perception of the entire universe? Not to mention everywhere else.
For example, did you know that Teflon non-stick surfaces were originally invented, not to ensure prevention of your sausages from adhering to your frying-pan, but was actually created in the late 1940’s as a special coating for false teeth that chewing gum would not stick to?
I’ll bet you didn’t.

And furthermore, were you even remotely aware that it is possible to karate chop straight through 15 vinyl 45 record discs, each featuring the talents of little Jimmy Osmond performing his rendition of ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool‘? I’ll bet that’s a new one as well.

But the real question is: did you know that Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs were gay?

No, well I certainly didn’t, and I wouldn’t mind betting that it’s come as a bit of a shock to Ray as well, but if you believe the gospel according to Hammer Films producer Aida Young, that’s the way it is.
The story goes like this….

Hammer Films released One Million Years BC--allegedly their 100th production--in the winter of 1966. The combination of Ray’s fantastic stop-motion dinos, and the spectacle of a primeval Raquel Welch in a fur bikini that seemed to shrink in size during the course of the film, ensured that One Million Years BC made more money than practically every previous Hammer production put together.

Not surprisingly, the Hammer executives, quickly arriving at the conclusion that dinosaurs and sex, however unlikely bedfellows they might be, were obviously dynamite at the box-office, thought that a sequel should be run up the flagpole as quickly as possible. Even before a script had been written, Harryhausen was approached for the FX work, but by this time, he was already in pre-production with his regular producer Charles Schneer on what would become The Valley of Gwangi. (1969)

Looking around for a replacement for Ray, Hammer were directed--most likely by Ray himself--to Jim Danforth, a young (27) stop-motion animator from California, and one of Ray’s admirers and ‘pupils’. Apart from being a superb animator, Danforth is one of the best all-round special effects artists in cinema history, and took to Hammer’s new dino-flick with enthusiasm, as it would be the first project over which he would have complete control of the FX work.

The movie, now entitled ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth‘, went into the full-script-writing stage, and Danforth was told to prepare for the journey to England to participate in the principal photography, to be filmed on location in the Canary Islands, and on huge interior sets built at Shepperton Studios.

Understandably, Danforth sought to impress the Hammer top-brass, and while he was waiting to come to England, he constructed an armature of a tyrannosaurus-type dinosaur, which although he had yet to see the script, he believed--not unreasonably--would surely be in the storyline somewhere. I’m sure that you all know this already, but just in case, an armature is an articulate, fully-jointed steel skeleton of whatever creature is to be animated, which provides an internal frame for the rubber exterior, allowing the model to be positioned in incremental stages of movement during the animation process.

Danforth was, in his own words, trying to “get ahead of the game” in building the armature, and was intending to offer it up for free, saying in effect: “Hey guys, here’s this armature that I made for you, and it won’t cost you one penny!”

So on arrival at Hammer Studios at Bray, Danforth whacked the Rex skeleton onto the desk in the main conference room, and awaited the warm and glowing praise that he felt would be surely forthcoming from the assembled production execs.

This hopeful expectation, however, swiftly disintegrated as Aida Young, an associate producer on One Million Years BC, and who had now been ramped-up to fully-fledged producer on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, took one look at the armature and said: “We’re not having any of those in the film, they look like poofs! Yes, my husband agrees, they look like poofs wearing high-heeled shoes!”

To say that Danforth was somewhat taken aback by this would be something of an understatement as not only was he surprised by the hostile reaction to his dinosaur armature, but, as in 1967, national colloquialisms--is that an oxymoron?--such as ‘poof’, had not yet travelled across the pond to California, or at least not as far as Danforth’s ears, he had no idea what the hell Young was going on about.

So Aida Young patiently explained to him that ‘poof’, was an English slang term for homosexual.

Now Danforth was really confused.


It appeared that the main offender was the allosaurus from One Million Years BC, that raided the Cro-Magnon village before being spectacularly impaled by caveman actor John Richardson on a giant tent-pole. It seemed that the bird-like spur at the top of the allosaur’s ankle gave the impression that the dino was wearing high-heels, or at least it had to Aida Young’s husband who, it would be pertinent to point out here, had no professional connection with Hammer Films whatsoever, but had managed by some weird creative proxy, to influence the production, and consequently scupper the chances of any carnivorous dinosaurs appearing in the new film. Young, presumably convinced by her husband’s insightful observations, imposed an immediate ban on all ‘gay’ dinosaurs--the fact of the carnivores in One Million Years BC being one of the greatest reasons for the film’s success now seemingly irrelevant. Danforth realised that he would have to radically revise his plans, or as he put it: “I put the ‘poofasaurus’ back into my briefcase, and never brought it out again.”

Take it from me, all us stop-motion types are dino-nuts, and Danforth was no exception, originally planning to conjure up a Mesozoic menagerie as accurate as contemporary palaeontological science would allow; but now a spanner had been chucked into the works, and most of the dinosaurs would now have to be ‘invented’ with only two being ‘true’ prehistoric creatures.

The first was a chasmasaurus, a triceratops-type animal from the Cretaceous, and the second; a ramphorynchus, a pterosaur from the Jurassic. This latter figure was very accurate in most physical respects except for it’s size; in that the real pterosaur had the wingspan of a seagull, whereas it’s cinematic counterpart was portrayed as being large enough to carry off a human.

All the other dinos were ‘made up’, and included two plesiosaur-types, a huge lizard-like monster and it’s baby, and giant crabs.

Danforth made the best of the situation, going on to produce some brilliant, Oscar-nominated FX (the award went to Disney’s less deserving Bedknobs and Broomsticks 1971), but at the time, he must have wondered just what he had gotten himself into with these crazy, homophobic limeys.

Oddly enough, the poster for Dinosaurs cheats terribly in promising the kind of dinosaurs on offer in the film itself, sporting not only an image of a styracosaurus that was lifted directly from a painting by Zdenek Burian--of course there is no styracosaurus in the film, although there is a fantastic one in The Valley of Gwangi--but most unbelievably of all, a tyrannosaur that has been ‘nicked’ from an illustration by Natural History Museum artist Neave Parker meaning, presumably, that while ‘gay’ dinos were verboten in the movie, it was quite all right to splash them all over the promotional material. Why the poster artist chose not to render images of Danforth’s excellent models is anyone’s guess, although a subsequent poster design did boast more accurate renditions.

If you’re a stop-motion or dino-fan, a monster movie afficionado, or just enjoy a few beers and a B-movie, you need to check out When Dinosaurs Ruled the earth. It’s a very silly film, but great fun. Danforth’s FX are amazing, with some of the most realistic animation ever put on film. The pterodactyl even has motion blur on it’s wings, which Danforth achieved by photographing the model through a sheet of glass upon which was painted Vaseline, which obscured the sharp edges of the wings as seen though the camera lens.

As well as this, the hilarious Patrick Allen plays a tribal leader, prone to belting out such prehistoricisms--yeah, I know that’s not a real word but I love it--as “Akita!” and “Necro!”, shortly before scratching himself, and/or sacrificing blonde virgins. And speaking of which, the film is full of the obligatory half-naked young women, and all the more amazing for a PG-rated film, the beautiful Victoria Vetri gets her kit off (political correctness be dammed!), so you see, you just can’t go wrong.

And It’s not the only time by a long shot that the spouse of a film producer/executive has influenced a project in an adverse way. I’ve run into it more than once on film projects that I‘ve been involved with. And did any of you wonder, for example, why Judge Death didn’t put in an appearance in the Judge Dredd movie? Well, believe it or not, the film’s producer was sitting with his wife--who my source described as being a dead ringer for Shelly Winters--beside their swimming pool discussing the film, and his wife, looking at a particularly lurid comic book illustration of Judge Death said: “How could you possibly make something as hideous as this into a toy?” Well, that was enough for the producer, and poor old Judge Death got his marching orders.

I’ve never actually heard what Ray thought of the notion that his dinos might be gay. I’m sure that he might have been amused, if slightly nonplussed, and one can only assume that on his return to California, Jim Danforth put his ‘poofasaurus back into the closet, where presumably, Aida Young felt he belonged….

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

As it’s Fact Friday on Yesterdays News Today it's up to me to serve up a ‘true fact’ along with the latest cryptozoology news links and bad pun. Although, as nobody reads this bit, I could make up any old fact… Hmm, tempting. Today’s fact is:

The recently late Michael Jackson was, as well as a good singer and dancer, also a talented player of the concertina and secretly recorded the theme tune of hit BBC comedy show Allo, ‘allo as he was a huge fan of the series (Officer Crabtree was his favourite character). After he sent his recording to the BBC it was incorporated into the existing theme tune from series 3 onwards on the condition of anonymity.

And now, the news:

Mating seahorses in Studland Bay
North America faces beetle plague
A healthy start for Seaford's summer seabird spectacular
Prehistoric bloodsucker in Thames
Hot hippo gets stuck
Hordes of hungry grasshoppers invade Utah
Norway helps endangered eel wriggle from fish nets

Q: What did the eel say when he got out of a fishing net during World War II?
A: ‘Eel’ meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when….

Q: What did Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pet eel say when he got out of a fishing net?
A: ‘Eel’ be back.