It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
No, who am I kidding? It’s been the worst of times, and it certainly wasn’t the year which we immanentized the eschaton. In fact, it has been a year that I would very much rather forget.
This is the 26th time that I have sat down to write my annual report for the Centre for Fortean Zoology, and it is the first time that I have written it as a widower. Only a few days after writing last year’s annual report, my mother-in-law passed away. She was very much a part of the CFZ family and someone whom I loved dearly. Her passing was the beginning of a pattern that would become only too familiar this year.
We lost Paul Whitrow, who produced the bloody awful record that I made with Lionel Fanthorpe back in the day, some of you may remember him as a familiar face at the last few CFZ Weird Weekends. We lost Professor Bryan Sykes, world famous geneticist and friend of the CFZ. We lost Rob Rosamund, one time chairman of BUFORA and again, another regular visitor of the Weird Weekends.
We lost Judy Dyble, the original singer with Fairport Convention and King Crimson; an old friend of Corinna’s and mine both, as well as an avid collector of black dog folklore. We lost Wolfgang Schmidt, a German philanthropist and the CFZ’s first large financial donor. We lost Nadine “Deanie” Rider, who many of you will remember as one of the CFZ girls and someone whom we all loved very much.
Above all, we lost Corinna. Administrative director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, my wife and companion of the last fifteen years. She had been fighting a mystery disease for the better part of the last two years, before she finally succumbed to two different types of cancer on August 16th. She was not only my friend and soulmate, but she was my partner in many endeavours: Together we looked for lake monsters in Ireland and the Lake District and we searched for blue dogs in Texas. As I am sure you can all appreciate, I am devastated by this loss and I know my life will never be the same again.
As a result of Corinna’s passing, everything has changed. Whilst for years I had run the CFZ with a small committee of people, including Corinna, Graham and Richard, I have recently begun to relinquish control to a talented group of individuals, all of whom bring vast amounts of specialist knowledge and insight to this great organisation. I have vested more power in an ad hoc committee which I laughingly call the CFZ Politburo, which makes me a sort of cuddly, cryptozoological Stalin, if such a thing were possible.
I realise that this annual report has started off on a depressing note; however, as I am sure we can all agree, this year has been pretty miserable no matter which corner of this beautiful world you choose to call home. The good news is, that despite the trials and tribulations caused by the global pandemic, we have managed to make some important steps forward as an organisation: The lockdowns that have defined this year, in conjunction with Corinna’s health, mean that I have spent much of the year at home, time which I have used to plan and prepare for this organisations bright future.
I will now discuss this years major developments in a vaguely coherent order:
There has been a lot going on behind the scenes. Firstly, my friend Louis Rozier, whom many of you will only have heard of from his assistance in setting up the CFZ’s Patreon page, has gradually become more involved with this organisation. He is currently researching and developing an innovative trail camera for us, which will be built using recycled mobile phones and a selection of other affordable components.
The device will monitor a given area for wildlife, recording quality footage day or night as motion is detected, this footage will then be sent by the device directly to the CFZ headquarters for analysis. One design we are evaluating is capable of being deployed in harsh conditions for many months at a time, without need for human interaction, for example the device's power needs can be met by an integrated solar panel. These cameras have the potential to greatly increase the CFZ’s investigative capacity, and because they are built upon affordable commodity hardware, we can do this at a very affordable cost. I intend to ask members to donate their old phones for this cause at a later stage, I look forward to updating everyone on the progress of this very exciting project!
On a quick side note, Louis is also working on some major updates to the CFZ’s online presence. I am excitedly looking forward to seeing the fruits of his labour sometime in this new year. These developments should help to solidify the CFZ’s future in the digital world and aid in all of our future endeavours.
A Lynx in the Forest of Dean
Secondly, I am sure regular readers of CFZ publications will remember that, about a year ago, Carl Marshall wrote a paper for Animals & Men based upon evidence which suggested that there are lynx living wild in the Forest of Dean. As a result we have started a major research project, focusing on the forest. This too is very exciting and here is it’s position so far:
He shot the cat from about 50m and said he was sure it was the baby of the adult cat he witnessed last week. Big cat reports in New Zealand are particularly interesting, as with the exception of three species of bat (one of which is probably extinct), there are no placental land mammals known from the region.
There have been reports from various parts of the world, but particularly from Australia, which suggest that under certain circumstances, feral cat populations can produce individuals of truly extraordinary sizes, and as the animal in Mr Feary’s report was obviously a domestic cat rather than a panther or puma, we decided that it was extremely important for us to investigate in every way that we can.
In early October, I wrote a briefing document to the CFZ Board of Consultants, which read:
A year or so ago, Carl and I started work on a virtual version of the CFZ museum, using open source educational software. We didn’t get that far with it, because life got in the way. However, it is still a project I want to complete in the long term, and I have just come up with another potentially useful use for it. Lizzie and I are trying to work out whether we can use this software, which has been customised to suit the needs of the CFZ, to act as the front end to her ongoing archives. This, I think, would be very useful, because I am unwilling to allow the archives to be shared in a format which means people outside the core team can edit them. This would, I think, be a recipe for disaster.
I have had a long discussion with Chris Clark, and we have decided the way forward for completing the Boris Porshnev book. I have been working hard on getting the first edition of my Hong Kong book out in time for Christmas, but the Porshnev book is next on the agenda and in a month or so should finally be out.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Richard for getting the book from Porshnev’s grandson in the first place, Lars for translating it into English, and Chris for editing. I would like to apologise to all three of them for the length of time it has taken for me to do my bit.
The other major book project that is going forward at the moment is a book on the mystery animals of Guyana by Damon Corrie, who was, you will remember, the guide on the 2007 expedition to Guyana.
The Golden Frogs of South Devon