This is the twentieth year when, as New Year's Eve approaches, I sit down to write my annual report. This one will be much shorter than usual and heralds the most radical shake-up of the Centre for Fortean Zoology this century. The truth is that times are changing, and we have to change with them. Like John Lennon famously said about The Beatles in 1969, we are in danger of becoming an "...ancient monument, and ancient monuments should be changed or scrapped".
THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS
You will probably have noticed that this year the CFZ has done much less than usual, and that many of the activities that we have done for years have gone to the wall. There has been no issue of Animals & Men, no Yearbook, and only a handful of episodes of On The Track. Even the Weird Weekend was smaller than usual.
It would be easy to blame this on the recession. After all, despite the Government's talk of the 'Green Shoots of Recovery' they are hardly visible in what remains of our High Streets. Our Christmas sales this year, for example, have been respectable but hardly anything to write home about.
But it is not the recession that is to blame, at least not directly, but in many ways it is the effects of the recession on people who have hitherto given up their time for the CFZ. Some people who have hitherto had free time to do volunteer work with the CFZ now are to busy to do so, some people who because of their disability have previously been on State Benefits, have now been forced to take up demeaning and often health-threatening jobs which preclude them doing anything else, and across the board prices have risen - the most important from our point of view being postage, which is so prohibitively high now that it precludes many of the things that we have taken for granted during the twenty two years that the CFZ has been in existence.
There has also been an awful lot of deliberate malice about in the last few years. Looking back at the history of the CFZ I think that it was by far its most enjoyable back when Graham, Richard and I were on the breadline. People truly pulled together with us to make good things happen. However, it all changed once I inherited a relatively minor sum of money. As soon as my bank account was in the black, various people whom I had known for years decided that it was their bounden duty to divest me of it.
Before we go any further let me reassure you that the core team of Richard, Graham, Corinna and myself are still as thick as thieves, and I am sure that we shall always be so. However, the eagle-eyed amongst you will probably have noticed that at this year's Weird Weekend there were several old faces missing. Some, like Max Blake and Jess Heard had perfect reasons for not being there, and will, I am sure be back in the future. However, others were not there for far more sinister reasons. On the whole their presence wasn't missed and my enjoyment of the event was far higher for their absence, because these are people who have been running me ragged for years, and in several cases been robbing me blind. The machinations of one couple, for example, have this year cost me something between fifteen and twenty thousand pounds, which is more than my entire savings.
For much of the last twenty two years I have been propping up the CFZ from my own personal income. I am not complaining about this; I did it gladly, and will continue to do it gladly. But because of the aforementioned couple, whom I treated like friends and family, and who outmanoeuvred me at every turn, my personal income is now over five hundred quid a month lower than it was in the autumn of 2013, and I simply cannot afford to continue propping up the CFZ until my situation is improved.
This sounds like it is a precursor to me shutting up shop, but I assure you that it is nothing of the sort. The CFZ will continue much as it always has, and I have no intention of closing it down. But things have to, and are going to, change.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING
The cryptozoological community has changed massively in the past few years, and not necessarily for the better. For years cryptozoology has been an esoteric and rather arcane practice, in which only a small, intelligent and literate minority were interested. Now, because of the success of American TV programmes like Finding Bigfoot, it has become mass market entertainment and this is not necessarily a good thing. Not at all.
Now I am not being an intellectual snob (or any other kind of snob) here. I abhor that kind of elitism and self-aggrandisement, but the renewed interest in the subject in mystery animals that has come in the wake of the success of various mass market television programmes has done much to destroy a lot of the credibility that people like me have been working for years to build up.
Bryan Sykes et al wrote: "Rather than persisting in the view that they have been 'rejected by science', advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so". I agree with them entirely, and would also like to publicly reject any suggestion that cryptozoology has somehow been 'rejected' by mainstream science, but it is certainly true that cryptozoology has been rejected, or at least shunned, by some scientists. Even scientists who are interested in the subject are discouraged in some cases from being involved. I shall not cite individual cases here, because this is neither the time nor the place, but believe me I could do. But in the current climate where cryptozoology is quite widely seen as nothing but the source material for yet another facile gameshow how can you blame them?
In these days when despite having been exposed as a hoaxer TWICE there are still some people who believe Rick Dyer's latest claims that he has shot a bigfoot, and where some people still believe the nonsense spouted by Melba Ketchum, the subject hasn't got a chance. However, it is not just the propagation of pernicious nonsense by people who should know better. There is an insane amount of negative reporting as well. The Guardian, for example, recently printed an article about the paper by Bryan Sykes et al claiming:
"DNA analysis indicates Bigfoot may be a big fake - New genetic analysis of 'yeti' hair samples reveals they actually originated from dogs, horses, bears or other known mammals".
Admittedly the Sykes paper did reveal that the samples originated from dogs, horses, bears or other known mammals, but nowhere did it even hint that this could be as a result of deliberate fraud, which is what a "Big Fake" would perforce have been. The newspapers just made that bit up!
Even the Loch Ness Monster wasn't immune. In November people from The Woodland Trust suggested that the most recent photographs and film purporting to be the monster could just be "logs floating on the water." Within a few days the "Nessie was a fake all along" headlines were appearing the very same newspapers which a few days before had been touting the very same unlikely videos as the "definitive proof" of the monster.
This continual tirade of negativity and nonsense has discouraged many people from being involved in the serious end of cryptozoology. It irritates and even angers me, but I think in these decadent times we need the CFZ to be active more than ever.
THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
The cryptozoological community is also changing, and in several ways is not as nice a place to be as it was a few years ago. The advent of ubiquitous social media means that everyone can and does state their opinion about various things several times a day. I know that I do, and I applaud the fact that other people can and do likewise.
However, sometimes this new freedom can and does turn round and bite us on the bum.
Most weeks I get a complaint from some earnest and well-meaning CFZ member and/or sympathiser, complaining about the public behaviour of one or more senior member of the CFZ. This usually means that they have said something on Facebook about which the other person disapproves. These subjects include, but are not restricted to, animal rights, hunting, sexism, homophobia, abortion, religion or some other related subject. I even receive complaints that this member or that member has posted a picture of a scantily clad Hollywood starlet on their homepage, and I have to spend a lot of my time trying to think up polite ways of telling the complainant that not only do I not care, but I couldn't do anything about it even if I wanted to.
The CFZ is a loose confederation of people broadly interested in one or more aspects of mystery animals, Forteana, and the culture surrounding them. This doesn't mean that we all think, believe, or like the same things. I do not choose to put pictures of page three girls on my Facebook page, because to my mind it is vulgar to do so. I am also 55 and happily married, but I have no intention of criticising my friends and colleagues, let alone people I hardly know, because they choose to do so. It is simply none of my business.
A whole generation of like-minded folk quite rightly think that the advent of the Internet and its accompanying technology heralded the manifestation of the concept of the Global Village which was promulgated half a century ago by people such as Marshall McLuhan. However, although I live in a village, and would much rather do so than live in a city like I did for twenty years, I am not blind to the fact that villages have their disadvantages, as do global villages.
The internecine squabbling over relatively minor things such as I describe above has driven many people away from the cryptozoological community, and I will be the first to admit that mine and Richard's high profile protesting about subjects like the badger cull, and the proposed re-legalisation of fox hunting, has annoyed and alienated some people. But unlike someone making sexist jokes on their Facebook pages, these are subjects about which I am prepared to nail my colours to the mast. And as the CFZ is an animal welfare organisation, I feel that I have no option but to do so.
I have also been told that the CFZ has lost support in some quarters because I am a vegetarian, drink to excess occasionally and smoke cigarettes. How can I expect anyone to take me seriously when I do things like that? Personally, I don't think it is anyone's business except for mine and my wife. So there.
Another problem with village life is the way that various cliques squabble with each other in constant games of one-upmanship. I have known this happen in the village in which I live, but have never known it as prevalent as it is at the moment within the cryptozoological community. The CFZ has been around for over twenty years and is undoubtedly one of the largest cryptozoological organisations that has ever existed, and I like to think that we have been largely a success. However, the cryptozoological community is full of people who would rather be divisive and petty in an attempt to sell a few more books or get a few more visitors to their websites. The false sense of intimacy that social media engenders is conducive to such idiotic squabbling and divisiveness. It is a game which I refuse to play, but I am afraid to say that others do.
The final social change which is proving very harmful to the traditional model of the CFZ is the fact that more and more people expect to get stuff for free. This has already irrevocably changed the music industry, and I am the first to admit that back in 2001 when I first logged on to Napster I did my bit to promote this sad decline. But the traditional business model in publishing, especially where magazines are concerned has now changed forever.
WHAT'CHA GONNA DO ABOUT IT?
- Animals & Men
I am a stubborn old so and so, and have always tried to stick to my guns. I don't like ebooks, and I don't like the way that electronic publication, especially through websites, has largely replaced hard copy publishing in some quarters. The CFZ has always insisted that its flagship publication Animals & Men would never become a digital-only magazine. So it won't, but it is going to change.
As you may know I have been editor of the Gonzo Multimedia weekly music magazine, the Gonzo Weekly, for over two years now, and I was also editor of UFO Matrix during its final four issues. During that time I have learned a lot more than I thought that I ever would about digital publishing.
As of issue 52 of Animals & Men, will be produced in full colour using similar production values that you can see at www.gonzoweekly.com. However, unlike Gonzo Weekly it will also be published simultaneously (or within a few days either way) as a hard copy magazine available from us or via Amazon and other online outlets.
We intend to start this new model as quickly as possible but it will, perforce, mean a very drastic change in the way that CFZ membership works.
- Changing the membership Structure
1. For the first time since 1994 there will be no subscription model for Animals & Men
2. The membership package will now consist of a monthly newsletter, a book, and a series of discounts on CFZ publications and tickets to the Weird Weekend. Details of is new package will be announced in the next few days.
3. All current subscriptions will be migrated to the new format, and a credit note issued for any outstanding monies held by us. That credit note can be redeemed against any of our publications including Animals & Men, so although we are changing the model, subscribers can still stick to the current plan if they wish.
4. More details will be announced in the next few days.
5. Whilst it will be completely free to read or download the magazine in a pdf flipbook format, there will be an opportunity to sponsor the magazine via Patreon.
6. Initially the important thing is to return to the quarterly format which we have not achieved for many years, but in the medium term the plan is to make Animals & Men a monthly publication. But baby steps first.
- The Daily Blogs
Since January 2009 we have been publishing daily blogs on the CFZ blog network, and we have now had over five million readers. We shall continue to do this, and it will continue to be free, but we intend to introduce sponsorship via Patreon in the next few weeks for those of you who are kind enough to want to contribute. The blogs will continue to come out 365 days a year, but are likely to be shorter and with less entries at weekends and public holidays. My grey hairs are beginning to be noticeable, and I became a grandfather in September.
I do not actually see any great difference between what I do with Gonzo Multimedia, and what I do with The Centre for Fortean Zoology and its attendant projects. Indeed, at the Weird Weekend back in August no less than three of the speakers were actually people who are Gonzo artistes, plus another two who have appeared on a number of occasions in the pages of this magazine. Basically, it is all about encouraging a literate and intelligent interest in things which are challenging to the mainstream, because if we never challenge the mainstream then nothing will ever change and society as a whole will never progress.
This coming year, together with my friend and colleague Martin Eve, who is best known as electron composer 4th Eden, we are launching a new umbrella project called 'Wyrd'. Wyrd is a concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny. Their concept of fate, wyrd, was stronger than that of the Classical Pagans as there was no resisting it. The word is ancestral to Modern English weird, which retains its original meaning only dialectically.
Some of you may remember that about ten years ago I was involved in publishing a magazine with this name, and indeed there may well be a revival of said magazine. But it is more than that. The company I own, CFZ Publications, exists basically to give a voice to authors who would otherwise be unlikely to get published. It is about taking the profit motive out of publishing; a concept which has sometimes turned around and bitten me in the bum as people who I thought I was helping have turned round and accused me of trying to profit from their genius. However, although some people have totally missed the point and disappeared into a cloud of their own self-importance, other people have grokked it immediately and remain close friends and collaborators to this very day. Wyrd is an attempt to do something similar but in other artistic media, utilising the new technology and the burgeoning social media to play games with form, and subvert any recognisable business practises.
SO WHAT DID WE DO IN 2014?
We published the following books:
Hoaxed! By Michael Newton (Fortean Words)
Wyrd by J G Montgomery (Fortean Words)
The Magical Adventures of Henry Owl (Fortean Fiction)
Judex Book Two - The Vibrating Spirit by Judge Smith (Fortean Words)
Manbeasts by Adam Davies (CFZ Press)
The Menagerie of Marvels by Dr Karl Shuker (CFZ Press)
Atco and Grass by Jim Jackson (CFZ Communications)
The Museum of the Future and Other Stories by Dr Andrew May (Fortean Fiction)
You will be pleased to hear, I am sure, that Volume Two of George Eberhart's monumental Mysterious Creatures is nearly complete, and is with the author now for indexing. This has been a monumentally arduous endeavour, but I am glad that we took it on, and even more glad that we have nearly finished.
Ronan Coghlan has taken over publicising the books on Facebook and elsewhere, and I would like to publicly thank him for all his hard work here, and on the CFZ America blog which was opened this year. I would also like to thank my current list of employees and interns: Andrea, Tammy, Jess, Danny and the two interns who completed their placements this year: Sheri and Saska. Thank you for all you have done my dears, it really is gratefully received. I would also like to thank Dr Andrew May for writing the Words from the Wild Frontier column twice a week, and commencing work on ebooks.
- The Weird Weekend
As you no doubt have heard, after eight years of holding the event at the Community Centre in the village where we live, this year we moved to the Small School in Hartland. I am not going to go into the details of the move, but it was distressing at the time. This year's speakers were:
Nick Wadham, Shoshannah McCarthy, Ronan Coghlan, Lars Thomas, Silas Hawkins, Tony Whitehead, Dean Phillips, Richard Thorns, Judge Smith, Miss Crystal Grenade, Hunt Emerson, John Higgs, Richard, Freeman, Silas Hawkins, Matt Salusbury, C.J. Stone, Glen Vaudrey,Ronan Coghlan and myself.
The 2015 event will be held at the Small School over the weekend of the 14-16th August 2015. Speakers pencilled in so far are: Lee Walker, Lars Thomas, Silas Hawkins, Nick Wadham, Glen Vaudrey, Jaki Windmill, Max Blake, Judge Smith, Adam Davies, Richard Freeman, Rosie Curtis, Rob Cornes, Shoshannah McCarthy, Ronan Coghlan and myself. However, I would like to stress that there are over eight months to go, and so this line-up is ridiculously provisional.
- Bigfoot Forums
This has been a good year for the Bigfoot Forums. Regular membership continues to grow and the Premium Membership level continues to fund all operational expenses. The BFF Steering Committee has approved the creation of a new logo and design for the forums. These should be reviewed, voted on and in place within the first quarter of 2015.
New Memberships for the 1st quarter 2014: 45
New Memberships for the 2nd quarter 2014: 95
New Memberships for the 3rd quarter 2014: 59
New Memberships for the 4th quarter 2014: 95
Total New member registrations for 2014: 294
Total spam registrations purged were: 21473
This report was compiled by:
Director, Bigfoot Forums
THE RING IN THE NEW BIT
2015 will be a year of challenges, and we will be dependent on a lot of different people pulling together. However, I have faith in my team and I am sure that we shall achieve our objectives and that 2015 will be a year in which we can continue the upwards trajectory that we had until so very recently.
With all my very sincere wishes for the New Year,