Saturday, December 24, 2011
Just before Christmas, and shortly after a mysterious excavation on a Finnish mountain, mysterious occurrences start happening to a small reindeer farming community. Although the adults are convinced a predator is loose, Pietari Kontio (son of one of the reindeer farmers and hero of the film) starts to piece the events together and comes up with one disturbing conclusion: Santa Claus is real, and far from the friendly fat man everyone thinks he is.
As you can see from the trailer and poster, the film is very much in B movie territory but that does not make it any less enjoyable. Full of black humour (typical of the Finish so I am told), the film starts up and continues at a fair ole pace as you watch Pietari first come to his conclusions that Santa Claus is real and then try to convince every one of his findings.
One of the best aspects of the film is that it keeps your interest throughout as you are never quite sure of what is coming next. (This works well throughout the film to the point where I didn’t know what was going to happen at the end.) The film is not all comedy and horror (or horror and comedy if you see it that way) as throughout everything that is going on, a sensitive father-son relationship/boy coming of age theme is also apparent and quite endearing so that you cannot help but like the characters. Although the acting and story are a bit thin in places, you don’t really care as the director is able to blend comedy, tension and mild horror very well into one enjoyable film. Rare Exports is spoken entirely in Finnish with English subtitles and, like Trollhunter, reading the subtitles doesn’t detract from what is happening on the screen at all.
In a sea of happy Christmassy movies, Rare Exports stands apart by doing something different.
But, it is no less endearing and should become one of those Christmas Classics that is watched every year!
Watch the trailer here!
And Merry Christmas Everyone!
1 'Let England Shake' by P.J.Harvey
No surprises here: I think this has been the album of the year for every reviewer in the UK. It is a magnificent record, and gets better with every listen. Polly Harvey has matured into an extraordinary talent, and this album which explores the twin themes of War and Englishness (and usually both) is testament to that.
2 'Superheavy' by Superheavy
This is where I can feel the brickbats winging their way through cyberspace towards me. A supergroup consisting of Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, him out of The Eurythmics, Bob Marley's son, and an Indian film music composer. Horrible, right? Nope. It is a bloody good record, and despite myself I have found myself listening to it more than most new albums from 2011. It is exactly what you would expect, only it works. And unlike most superstar collaborations, everyone gives everyone else space, and behaves in a surprisingly modest manner. Well done guys!
3 'Valhalla Dancehall' by British Sea Power
I have been a fan of this lot ever since John Hare played me their first album about seven years ago. They reconstruct the indie guitar-band ethic into something new and challenging, but at the same time familiar and listenable. This album breaks no new ground for them, but the old ground still has plenty of life in it, and the melodies - indeed the whole songs - are HUGE. The drumming is particularly satisfying here, and the vocals are mildly reminiscent of Richard Hell back in the day, but that is no bad thing. As always these songs are cinematic, but this time they are on a wide screen.
4 'An appointment with Mr Yeats' by The Waterboys
An immensely satisfying album which has been twenty years in the planning stage. Mike Scott took 20 W.B.Yeats poems and set them to music. He then toured the show for a year before releasing the album which is - by the way - excellent. I have always been fond of Mike Scott; he is one of the more fortean singers/songwriters to have come out of the broad New Wave melange, with songs about Pan, Findhorn and crop circles. If you are not a devotee, this album is probably your chance to become one
5 'Fly from Here' by Yes
The first new studio album from Yes for ten years. But is it Yes without Jon Anderson's vocals and Rick Wakeman tinkling the ivories? Surprisingly it is. New vocalist Benoit David does a fine job, even Anderson said so, and keyboard player Geoff Downes (no relation) has been involved with the band on and off for thirty odd (sometimes very odd) years. This is all that you could have hoped for and more. I am itching to know what happens next.
6 'C'mon' by Low
I discovered this band by accident when they were eulogised on someone else's round up of the albums of the year. This is an elegantly fragile album which never ceases to surprise. Just when you are getting used to a tune, it veers off into an unexpected new direction, even more beautiful and/or interesting than the previous one. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.
7 'Director's Cut' by Kate Bush/'50 words for snow' by Kate Bush
I cheated here, but when you wait for years for a new Kate Bush album, and then two come along within the space of a few months what can one do? Anyway, this is my top ten, and I can do what I like with it. If I had to choose I would say that The Director's Cut is my favourite of the two if only for the way she has deconstructed and twisted familiar material into something new and beautiful. But the piano led album of new songs is very close behind in my affections. Go listen to them both, and make up your own mind.
8 'A grounding in numbers' by Van der Graaf Generator
Everything I said about the Yes album can be repeated here. This is another band that has been going since the sixties - in fact they formed in 1967, a year before their more popular peers, and although they split at the end of the 1970s they reformed in 2005. This new album is as elegantly brutal as ever. Surprisingly although founder member David Jackson's horn playing was an integral part of the band's sound, on this - the second album without him - the sound does not seem to have suffered. If anything they are even darker than they were in their proggy heyday. Well done chaps.
9 'The Most Incredible Thing' by The Pet Shop Boys
Another one of the arty side projects that the duo do in between their 'proper' albums. This music for a ballet based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen therefore is their follow-up to the 2005 soundtrack for Eisenstein's 1925 silent movie Mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin. It is gloriously lush mixing, as you would expect, electro soundscapes with neo-classical strings. I only discovered it during the last few days, and I am well-impressed.
10 'The Impossible Song and other songs' by Roddy Woomble
Woomble is the singer with a band called Idlewild and I discovered this solo album totally by accident. However it avoids the pitfalls that many side projects from rock band frontmen fall into, and is a delight to listen to. Apparently his earlier solo work was far more rooted in Scottish traditional folk, but this delightfully unpretentious album of twelve songs inspired by his move to the Isle of Mull is a real eye opener. Well done dude.
Bubbling under were remarkably groovy albums by Alison Krauss, Wire, Hawkwind, Tori Amos, and Youth Lagoon....
Merry Christmas everyone!
And now the news:
Oil spill - Nigeria coast
Bolivia - conservation success for jaguars
Fulvous Whistling Duck seen in Bowness
Mistletoe under threat of dying out
Elephant's sixth toe
Uncle Scrooge is the 1% :
This has been a hard working but gratifying year. Although the CFZ has not been massively in the public eye for most of the year, there have been a lot of changes behind the scenes, and most of them – I think – have been for the good.
We got off to a late start, because just before Christmas 2010 Corinna and I caught swine flu, and we were not wholly recovered until the beginning of March. Two months were almost completely lost. However we soon made up for it
CFZ member Glen Vaudrey carried out a very successful appeal to raise money for trail cameras in the spring and early summer, and managed to buy four of them. Another member, Dr Dan Holdsworth donated two high-tech night vision scopes. We are slowly, but surely, amassing a collection of very useful equipment.
In October Oll Lewis left us to go and live with his girlfriend in Plymouth. We wish him well, but his departure made a lot of difference and has influenced our policy in a number of areas.
Publishing - books
In 2011 we worked very hard on expanding our publishing portfolio. We published eighteen more books and are formulating plans for over 100 more titles.
Grave Concerns by Kai Roberts, (Fortean Words) 12/2/2011
Police and the Paranormal by Andy Owens, (Fortean Words) 12/2/2011
ORANG PENDEK: Sumatra's Forgotten Ape by Richard Freeman, (CFZ Press) 11/1/2011
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: London by Neil Arnold, (CFZ Press) 9/22/2011
CFZ EXPEDITION REPORT: India 2010 by Richard Freeman et al, (CFZ Press) 9/20/2011
The Cryptid Creatures of Florida by Scott Marlowe, (CFZ Press) 8/25/2011
Dead of Night by Lee Walker, (Fortean Words) 8/4/2011
HAUNTED SKIES Volume Three by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway,(Fortean Words) 8/4/2011
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: The Northern Isles by Vaudrey, Glen (CFZ Press) 8/4/2011
The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Gloucestershire and Worcestershire by Paul Williams, (CFZ Press) 6/13/2011
When Bigfoot Attacks by Michael Newton, (CFZ Press) 6/13/2011
WEIRD WATERS: The Lake and Sea Monsters of Scandinavia and the Baltic States by Lars Thomas, (CFZ Press) 4/25/2011
The Inhumanoids by Bart Nunnelly, (CFZ Press) 4/25/2011
I Fort the Lore (An Anthology of Fortean Writings) by Paul Screeton, (Fortean Words) 4/25/2011
Space Girl Dead on Spaghetti Junction (An Anthology of Fortean Writings) by Nick Redfern, (Fortean Words) 3/15/2011
Centre for Fortean Zoology Yearbook 2011 edited by Jonathan and Corinna Downes, (CFZ Press) 2/23/2011
Monstrum! A Wizard's Tale by Tony “Doc” Shiels, (CFZ Press) 2/22/2011
HAUNTED SKIES Volume Two by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway (Fortean Words) 1/15/2011
In December 2011, we launched our third imprint, this time dedicated to - let’s see if you guessed it from the title - fictional books with a Fortean or cryptozoological theme. We have published a few fictional books in the past, but now think that because of our rising reputation as publishers of quality Forteana, that a dedicated fiction imprint was the order of the day.
We launched with four titles:
Green Unpleasant Land by Richard Freeman
Left Behind by Harriet Wadham
Dark Ness by Tabitca Cope
Snap! By Steven Bredice
These will be released in January 2012.
I think that when someone takes a look at our achievements, maybe in 20 years time when we will have been in operation for 40 years, and I - if I'm still alive - will be well into my dotage, they will find that our greatest achievement will have been in publishing a long list of books which needed to be published, but which had eclectic commercial value and which no money-orientated publisher would have touched with the proverbial bargepole.
Weird Weekend 2011
This was our twelfth event and the sixth since we came to Woolsery.
Matt Salusbury: Hunting Pygmy Elephants in India
Adam Davies:On the track of the Orang Pendek
Oll Lewis: The Man Who Humbugged Barnum
Kevin Goodman: The Warminster Triangle
John Hanson/Dawn Holloway: The Haunted Skies project
Glen Vaudrey: The Waterhorse
Peter Christie: Fortean North Devon
Max Blake/Dr Darren Naish: The new British Lynx
Henry Hartley: Fortean aspects of the modern Maya
Nick Wadham: Giant spiders
Richard Freeman et al: The India expedition
Ronan Coghlan: The Labours of Hercules
This year’s Golden Baboon award winners were:
John Hanson and Dawn Holloway
The Wadham Family
Numbers were down on previous years, mostly - we believe – due to a combination of three factors:
- There were far more Fortean conferences in 2011 than in previous years, and the WW is probably the most geographically isolated
- The recession and uncertainty in the money market leading to people having considerably less money than before
- The summer was the coldest in many years and people just did not feel like travelling to Devon
I am embarrassed to say that we didn’t issue either of our periodicals this year, although issue 49 of Animals & Men is ready to go and will be sent out in early January. This is obviously an area which needs to be addressed. It is time for a change. I have been editing Animals & Men for over seventeen years, and before I go any further let me get one thing straight; I intend to carry on editing it for so long as I am able. I have no intention of closing the title.
However, as regular readers are aware, things have been a little uncertain as far as our publishing schedule has been concerned for the last few years. I will be the first to admit that it was my fault; I totally miscalculated the production costs of the magazine now that it is produced perfect bound, but the real reason is that we are now doing so much more than we used to.
I have been biting off more than I can chew for most of my life, and I have no intention of stopping now.
However, it is becoming very evident that it is time for a change. Since 2002 a subscription to Animals & Men has been synonymous with membership of the Centre for Fortean Zoology. I think that this probably should change.
We are looking to completely change the membership scheme to become a yearly production, with a substantial discount on both ALL books published by the CFZ, plus Weird Weekend tickets. A&M will no longer be a direct part of the yearly membership, but you will get a discount whenever it comes out, if you are a member (the same applies for TAN).
A quarterly e-newsletter will also be sent out to members, keeping subscribers up to date with the latest goings in the CFZ, including: big news stories, recent publications and the latest news about the CFZ.
So, to be clear, the old membership subscription got you 4 issues of A&M (or TAN) and was renewed every 4 issues. The new membership will be paid for every year, but you will get a discount on all books published by the CFZ, all periodicals published by the CFZ, discounted tickets to the WW, and a quarterly e-newsletter.
On the other hand, the fact that this publication comes out so irregularly does not really affect your subscription which is for four issues rather than for twelve months, so everyone gets what they pay for in the end. It is up to you. What do you think? Please let me know, in confidence if you prefer, and I promise that I will take everybody’s views into account when I make my final decision…
Journal of Cryptozoology
In August we announced that in 2012 we shall be launching a new publication, The Journal of Cryptozoology which will be a peer-reviewed, academic journal. It will be edited by Dr Karl Shuker, and will have the following peer review panel:
1 Darren Naish
2 Brian Regal
3 Charles Paxton
4 Christine Janis
5 Lars Thomas
6 Colin Groves
7 Paul LeBlond
8 Tom Gilbert
9 David Waldron
10 Adrienne Mayer
Work on issue one starts in earnest next month.
We uploaded 46 films to our CFZtv YouTube channel this year. These include one feature-length (1hr 45min) documentary about our 2010 India expedition – Riddle of the Hills. There were also 12 monthly episodes of On the Track and the entire 2011 Weird Weekend. For those of you eagerly awaiting our feature film Emily and the Big Cats which we have been working on since 2009, it is nearly finished. We just have to wait until Spring to reshoot one sequence because the two folk who originally filmed it are no longer part of the CFZ family.
Also in 2011, we launched offices in Canada and New Zealand. The New Zealand office is run by our old friend Tony Lucas, someone who has been part of the wider CFZ family for many years. The Canadian office is run by Robin Bellamy, a newcomer to the CFZ but someone who is rapidly earning a great deal of respect.
For those of you who don’t know, we took over the administration of the BFF back in 2010. They are pretty well autonomous, as can be seen in their annual report.
“ShadoAngel” assumes BFF Director Position from Jon Downes.
BFF Steering Committee structure finalized and implemented and there are 6 members plus “Spazmo” as SC Chairman.
Software settings optimized and repairable glitches identified by “ShadoAngel”.
SC Chair Spazmo steps down, New SC Chair Bipedalist is seated.
BFF Merchandise discussed and SC contemplates processes to move forward with planning.
“ShadoAngel” steps down as BFF Director, New BFF Director “masterbarber” is seated.
SC elections are held.
New Director recommends the following from the SC Chair: SC member handbook and SC perpetual election Calendar. Both are created and implemented.
The SC Chair has established a team to explore BFF merchandising feasibility.
FMT secures a forum tech “gigantor”.
Tech identifies numerous issues with current server capacity, makes recommendations.
The SC approved amending rules to limit member appeals to 30 days from the date of a staff punitive action.
Due to past Security concerns, the BFF Director implements manual validation of new member registrations.
Trash can storage of deleted content will be for a period of 3 months then it will be removed from the forum (previously storage was indefinite).
Feed content will be retained (stored) for 3 months, then removed from the forum (previously storage was indefinite).
BFF Blog created.
New hosting server and company identified.
BFF Director obtains data files from the BFF 1.0 and secures them with the forum tech.
Membership total for the first three quarters is 1121 new accounts (approx. 373 new members per quarter)
BFF scheduled to switch to a VPS server host which will allow for continued growth and enhancements to the site.
When I look back over the last few years I see a CFZ that has changed rapidly in a very short length of time. And it is changing now, very much so. For example, when we first moved to North Devon, we expanded the CFZ animal collection greatly. In fact, with hindsight, we expanded it too much. Now we are downsizing, and we're doing so for a very important reason. When we first came here we intended to build a museum at the top of the grounds. We still have a small but interesting collection of objects from our various investigations, but now we have decided that it is far more important to have input into far more extensive exhibitions elsewhere. In 2012 we shall be announcing the first two of these.
We have rehomed all three rabbits, and one of the cats – Helios 7 – left with Oll when he went to Plymouth in October. We have also decommissioned five of the smaller fishtanks, moving smaller colonies of livebearers into the two showtanks that we maintain up at The Farmers Arms.
As regular readers or visitors to the CFZ itself will know, two years ago we acquired eight very young specimens of an undescribed species of cichlid - Aequidens spp - from Peru. We lost three of them in a power cut during the winter of 2009/2010 and another one a couple of months ago in a fight between the two largest specimens.
However, in early July we were happy to announce that they have bred.
When they breed again, we will be happy to share them to any aquariums or private fishkeepers (especially those with experience of cichlids, and either a species tank or a collection of large cichlids) We shall be studying the growth of these little fishes closely, as next to nothing is known about them, and we hope, soon, to be able to identify them once and for all, and to publish the results..
As well as the cichlids we have bred another 12 species of fish this year, but our most exciting breeding success are the two baby Rio Cauca caecilians that are presently ambling around the big show tank in the conservatory. These little amphibians are obscure enough already, but to breed them is very rare - in the UK anyway. We obtained ours at about the same time as the ZSL and Durrell Wildlife, and I am feeling rather smug to announce that to the best of my knowledge we bred ours first.
The CFZ expedition to India brought back samples from some antlers found in India.
The full expedition report (available in book form from CFZ Press) tells the story:
Llewellyn, a conservationist rather than a hunter, invited us to look at his father’s collection. Eagle-eyed Jon McGowan spotted something unusual among them - a pair of muntjac horns of unbelievable size.
On closer examination, these very distinctive horns proved to be even larger than those of the giant muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis) of Vietnam and Laos. This picture shows the horns next to those of the Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), and the startling size difference is apparent. Local people have a name for this particular deer, calling it ‘matchok’. We took some samples from the antler for analysis back in Europe.
We sent the samples to Lars Thomas, and he passed them on to Prof. Tom Gilbert at Copenhagen University. For a while it looked as though our suspicions were justified, but after hours of painstaking work, Lars eventually wrote to me:
“Hi Guys, Finally we have the results of the DNA analysis of the antler samples from India. It has taken an awful lot of time, but we do need to check and recheck and check again - and earn a living every now and then :-). Unfortunately there was no new species in there after all... “
The antlers turned out to be from a Sambhur (Sambar) deer - (Rusa unicolor) presumably a juvenile - because although the antlers of an adult resemble those of a fallow deer, the antlers of the juvenile surprised me greatly by looking like those of a muntjac. It is mildly disappointing but our job is to find out the truth, and not purely to look for cryptids, and we have found the truth.
Richard Freeman and I would like to thank Tom Gilbert and his team for all their painstaking work.
On other subjects: Lars Thomas has been analysing hair samples taken from our dwindling colony of ageing spiny mice, and he was very surprised to find that they appear to be a new species. When the next one shuffles off to spiny mouse heaven its corpse will be dispatched off to Copenhagen for Lars to work on.
In the early autumn CFZ supporter Jan Edwards from Co. Durham sent some hair samples from a dead mustelid found as a roadkill near her house. Lars was able to confirm that although it had a small abount of ferret ancestry, it was a bona fide wild polecat, and so the species is cheerfully recolonising yet another of its old haunts.
As Corinna and I get older I realise that the way that we lived only a few years ago, sharing our living space with an ever-changing ménage of people is something which a couple will into their fifties really cannot do any more. We still have visitors, and my old friend Richard Freeman, who like Graham Inglis who still lives with us is more like a brother than a friend, is still a frequent visitor. However, rather than looking for people to come and live with us, we now look for volunteers who are happy to give up some of their time and expertise on a regular basis to help further the CFZ ideal.
The first of these volunteers are Tim and Graidi Taylor-Rose from Ilfracombe who come to us every other Sunday and have done sterling work on several projects including the new library (see below).
We also have started employing Daniel Taylor (16) a strapping young lad who helps Graham and/or Richard on Friday afternoons. He is son of our housekeeper Helen and brother to Emily and Jessica who are both familiar faces around the CFZ.
In September, the fourth CFZ expedition to Sumatra took place. It was our largest expedition yet, and although not as successful as the previous one came up with one particularly important piece of evidence.
“We were about to turn back when Adam suggested the guides go on a little way ahead to see what they could find, and Sahar’s brother John found a print next to a rotting log that had been ripped apart. The orang-pendek has been seen feeding on grubs in such logs. Andrew, using quick drying dental plaster, cast the print. It looked more like a handprint than a footprint and appeared that the animal had been bracing itself with one hand whilst heaving the decaying tree trunk over with the other. Close by, Sahar found a number of hairs that Adam Davies preserved in ethanol for examination. We were elated at such a find so early on in the proceedings, and we set up two camera traps along the trail. Back at the camp, I had a closer look at the print as Sahar, using my spare toothbrush, cleaned it off.
It was clearly a handprint rather than a footprint. It was a right hand some 6in long by 4½in wide, the palm was rounded, and the thumb short and almost triangular. The fingers were thick and sausage-shaped, and the structure was quite unlike that of the Sumatran orang utan with its long thin fingers and almost vestigial thumb. It was more like the handprint of a small gorilla, but with a somewhat rounder palm. I’ve worked with all the known great apes and recognise an ape hand when I see one. The shape of the hand is interesting, suggesting a ground dwelling ape rather than an arboreal one. The hand looked as if it would be capable of manipulating objects quite well and could possibly indicate tool use. The orang-utan can use sticks as weapons and tools, and has recently been shown to fashion sticks into spears to catch fish! It is said that when the trans-Sumatra highway was being built that orang-pendeks emerged from the jungle and threw sticks at the bulldozers and other machines.
I think that the general shape adds weight to my theory that the orang-pendek is the third extant species of orang-utan, having speciated on the Sunda landmass (that incorporated Sumatra, Borneo, Java and the Malayan peninsular) before its break up and at roughly the same times as the Sumatran and Bornean orang-utans speciated around 400,000 years ago.”
Within the last few weeks Sahar Dimus, our guide on four CFZ Sumatra expeditions, died of liver failure leaving a widow Lucy and four children. On the 2nd November, Dezyama D. Sangma, wife of our friend and colleague Dipu Marak, our collaborator on the 2010 Indian expedition died, leaving her grieving husband and two small children.
Two such tragedies coming almost on top of each other forced us into action. We launched an appeal to raise money for both families.
In October Oliver Lewis, who had been living in my spare room for the last five years, left us to go live in Plymouth with his girlfriend. We have started turning what used to be his bedroom into a proper library, and for the first time in many years I am able to start gathering all my, and the CFZ’s, voluminous and esoteric collection of books in the same place. I am very indebted to Tim and Graidi Taylor-Rose without whom this complicated project would really not have taken place. We hope that it will be completed in the spring.
Eric William Classey (2 November 1916 – September 6, 2008 ) was an English entomologist specialising in Lepidoptera. Eric Classey was a book dealer and entomological publisher and cofounder of The Entomologist’s Gazette. He was a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London. He was one of the most important British entomologists, and we were shocked to find his collection turning up piecemeal on eBay. We have started buying as many of the aberrations as we can, with the idea of having them all under one roof again. These are kept in an entomological cabinet made by Graham’s grandfather, and are being kept in the library.
Well, do they?
The CFZ is currently in the state of flux, but looking back over the past two decades it seems that we always were. Believe it or not, this is the first time that I have ever sat down and cold-bloodedly looked at the progress, and otherwise, year by year of the organisation that I founded two decades ago. Ten years ago George Harrison, my favourite Beatle died of cancer. His posthumous album contains a song which includes the words: “if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there”, and if I hadn't already chosen a Latin tag Pro bona causa facimus (we do it for a good reason), which I pinched from a children’s book called The Case of the Silver Egg by the late Desmond Skirrow, then I would probably have adopted George Harrison’s words. It is interesting, by the way, that I have never managed to find any other reference to this Latin motto. I had assumed that it was Scipio, Cicero or one of those dudes from ancient Rome that I learned about during my Latin classes in Bideford Grammar School all those years ago, but on the Internet the only reference I can find at all are in things written by me.
I only just realised, literally whilst typing these words that my choice of motto could well be seen as quite significant in that it tells the story of a group of children living in 1960s London who get involved in a major international espionage mystery, and come out on top. The important thing about the story is that the Queen Street Gang do things in their own way, and usually without adult interference or supervision. Substitute the Queen Street Gang for the CFZ, and substitute ‘adults’ for erm the scientific establishment, the established media, and pretty well anybody else you can think of with whom we have come in contact over the past two decades, and you have fairly good encapsulation of the ethos of the CFZ.
Nw, what does the future hold for us? Of course, I cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty, and bearing in mind quite how many of what Graham calls curveballs have come our way over the past two decades, I would be even more foolish than normal if I tried to foresee the future. However, what I can do is to tell you what I would like to see happen.
I created the CFZ in my own image (and by this, I mean that I created it according to an image in my mind rather than having created it to look like an ageing fat hippy) and to a greater or less extent have been steering it in my desired direction ever since. It is interesting that when, like I have over the last few days, you look back of the history of the organisation you can see that it has had several distinct phases.
Phase one: the infancy, during which it was run purely by me and my first wife Alison. (1992 to 1993)
Phase two: our first phase of expansion during which Alison and I were joined by the late Jan Williams, and we started publishing. (1994 to 1996)
Phase three: in the immediate aftermath of Alison’s and my divorce, I was joined first by Graham, and then by Richard, and the three of us managed the running of the organisation quite happily, although at this stage we were still basically a theoretical and publishing organisation. (1996 to 2002)
Phase four: as my mental and physical health improved, and - in the wake of my mother's death - my income also improved, we began to do more and more fieldwork, and to publish more books (2002 to 2005).
Phase five: after the move to North Devon and then in the wake of my father's death when I was able to divert considerably more funds into an ambitious campaign of publications. Things became even more coalesced in 2007 when I married someone who took it upon herself to make the administration of the organisation work properly for the first-time.
Now we are approaching phase six.
In 2001 I codified the structure of the CFZ formerly for the first time. At the top is our titular Life President John Blashford-Snell who took over the position when the previous incumbent Professor Bernard Heuvelmans - usually known as the ‘Father of Cryptozoology’ - died.
Below him is a three-person committee consisting of myself, Graham, and Richard. Being three of us it means that we never have a hung vote. However, I would like to say that in the ten years that we have been operating in this manner we have never had a serious disagreement.
Below us there is what I dubbed The Permanent Directorate, and another group called the Advisory Board. The Permanent Directorate included people from the various study groups, the various international offices and those who have particular skills to offer. The Advisory Board are exactly what they sound like - a group of people who have particular expertise for knowledge in one specific area.
Now, ten years after setting this hierarchical management structure into place I am making the first major change. The three-man management committee is being - as of the 2011/2 management meeting - replaced by a five-person committee. Until now the only people eligible to vote have been me, Graham and Richard. Now, because of their invaluable contributions, I am expanding the committee to include my wife Corinna, and my nephew David Braund-Phillips. The Permanent Directorate, and the Advisory Board will still be there to advise and assist, but will not be able to make decisions.
I intend to continue our programme of publications, and in 2012 I am instituting a new series imprint called CFZ Classics. These will not just bring books that have been long out of print, and which are really only available to the cognoscenti, into the wider public consciousness, but will serve another, and equally important, function. There are people within the cryptozoological research community who have little or no income beyond state benefits. The last few governments have progressively demonised benefit claimants until it looks quite possible that we will see the end of state benefits as we know them in the UK within the next few years.
We have the technology and infrastructure available to publish as many books as we want, and the Internet is an invaluable marketing tool. Each of the books in the series will have extra essays, footnotes and as much additional material as we can provide. As each of the books in question is well out of copyright, the author’s royalties will be paid to the person who put the package together. We will provide an unprecedented level of help to put currently impecunious researchers into the position where they can earn themselves a monthly income through their own efforts, and thus be able to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.
As I have written elsewhere, I had an unhappy childhood, and though I was a mildly gifted child, my family and teachers did their best to stifle my creativity and aspirations. Despite them I achieved most of what I wanted to, and am now in the position to help another generation of writers, artists, and dreamers. I won't embarrass them by naming names, but there are various people now in the scientific and cryptozoological establishment who have become what they are today, at least in part because I and the CFZ encouraged them when it mattered most. Ever since we moved to North Devon we have had more and more children becoming involved in what we do, and I think that this is massively important. We intend to do all we can to encourage literacy, and a love of nature, as well as encouraging the innate curiosity of succeeding generations of young people for as long as we can.
I've already spoken about the tragic events of the autumn of 2011, and I am proud that the CFZ responded in the way that it has. I have always believed that we are a family, in a very real sense, and now we are rapidly becoming a truly global family. I hope that what we are doing for Sahar’s and Dezy’s families is only the beginning, and that we can eventually run programmes all over the world to help the members of the CFZ family who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Over the years I have made some bad decisions, and I have made some wrong decisions. My decisions to run a little museum and zoo in my back garden ultimately proved to be unwise, for example. However, over the past two decades the CFZ has done pretty well under my stewardship, and I am proud of what we have achieved together. I hope that whatever happens, we continue to be essentially a caring organisation, one that puts people before money, and common sense before ideology. I hope that the CFZ never loses its sense of humour, its sense of idealism, and never loses touch with its core concept, that half a century or more after Bernard Heuvelmans first brokered the ideal: the great days of zoology are not done.
Thank you to everyone who has helped over the past 12 months. I really do appreciate everything you do for us. To all members of the CFZ Family, and to all our supporters I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a happy and fulfilled New Year.
December 22nd 2011