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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday Sermon: On Books And Stuff And Why I Am Really Quite Normal

If I so much as mention Bigfoot/Sasquatch or even unknown sea creatures to people I meet I get that look.  You know the one -a slight wry smile with that look of "he seemed quite normal earlier!"

But then, if I go into a sudden lecture on history I can get the same look -or worse.  An acquaintance once telephoned me and asked what I was "up to?"  I replied: "I'm currently re-reading Julius Caesar:Man, Soldier & Tyrant by J. F. C. Fuller-" before I'd even finished there was the laugh, though it was quickly followed by a "Well, I shouldn't be surprised really!"

I am not just interested in the "established" history. I am fascinated by the “Lost” history.  For instance, that Irish sailors reached the Americas long before the Vikings and many others.  Bristol was one of the most important ports in Medieval times and our founding father traders had secret sea route maps but where did Bristol merchants get their maps?  Why are pineapples depicted in Ancient Egypt and also in a mural at Pompei –they are New World fruits in the Old World?

Then we have all the lost technology from the past (do not even as a joke mention “Ancient Astronauts” to me.  Man is creative and inventive and we do not need to pull aliens into everything from the building of the pyramids to the Easter Island heads (we know through archaeology how these were built).  Al Andalus (or Andalusia) was ruled by “The Moors” for 800 years after moving into the Iberian Peninsula around the 8th century.  They quite literally re-introduced civilisation to Europe. Mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, architecture and even medicine was far more advanced than that in the rest of Europe –people travelled to Al Andalus (where religions were not in conflict) to learn these skills.  What the Spanish later did in their Reconquista was set Europe back hundreds of years.

There is so much to learn out there and when people say “Who cares –that’s in the past!” I just have to look at them and ask why they are alive!

But then we have those old questions regarding ghosts, demons and the like.  According to the church it has not yet decided upon the ghost and ghostly.  Now, if after over 2000 years of Christian religion, full of ghostly events and practically based upon some ghostly events, hasn’t yet decided it is only because it simply just has not bothered or, even more likely, coming upon events it cannot explain it decided that it “never happened” or to talk about it is “blasphemy” or might incur the attentions and mischief of the Devil so “be quiet”.  The Devil –another Church creation that doesn’t appear in the Bible.

Growing up you hear things. I once lived in a house in St. Werburghs, Bristol, where the back room overlooking the Mina Road Park had a very weird feeling.  As kids my brother, Peter and I had this as our bedroom.  I have never ever slept well and so I got used to the huge glowing eyes looking in through the window at night (an owl) and how things mysteriously moved about the room during the day (windows left open during the day and a jackdaw popped in –I caught it one day moving things and I don’t know which of us looked more surprised!).

But the room had a very strange feel and it was where I had my first hypnagogic event (a waking dream): the dark silhouette of a traditionally dressed witch with full high pointed hat –I even through a book at ‘her’ as she moved past the bed.  My gran did wonder why the book was on the floor when she came in to wake us up in the morning.  My mother and father had this bedroom at one point but my mother flatly refused to stay in it –even during the day she would not go into it unless someone was with her and she never said why.
One morning we heard a “thump” and my gran and parents rushed upstairs to the room in question.  My brother had been knocked out having hit his head on the ceiling. “He must have been bouncing on the bed” was my fathers explanation: yet we had not heard a sound before which we should have done had he been bouncing on the bed.  Also, which I realised even then, he must have been performing Olympic style leaps to hit the high ceiling!

Eventually, a lodger, Fred, moved into that room. Within three years or so he was taken to a mental hospital but we had all realised this was inevitable –sadly, people deteriorating mentally is no rarity.  Then the new lodger moved in.  Derek was young, bright and breezy and had no trouble with “the room”.

I could go on and on but throughout my formative years I encountered one thing after another that some might call “ghostly” –witnessed just by myself or with others. Our home in Knowle, Bristol, had thrown up a few oddities and one evening we were sat around and I looked at the Christmas decorations as the latest “event” was mentioned. On TV someone was talking about “the devil” so I said: “If the devil exists let him pop a red balloon!”


A red balloon popped.  I thought it was hysterically funny.

Even in Germany the ghosts and ghostly kept popping up.  So, that I was reading books by Elliott O’Donnell, Harry Price and others by the time I was thirteen should not surprise anyone.

One day, after school, I went into the Greystoke Avenue Library, in Southmead, Bristol, and looked through their “Older readers” section.  In those days, if under 16 you weren’t really allowed to venture over to the adult section but the librarians let me.  I had read most of the paranormal/ghost books but saw two I had not read before.  I was in a hurry and on leaving the library discovered I had accidentally picked up a copy of Brisley Le Poer Trench’ The Flying Saucer Story.  I was annoyed. I could not take the book back until next day (lending policy). 

On that day I read The Flying Saucer Story and much more than forty years later I’m still suffering the results of that read! It was only later that I heard from my parents that before I was born they had been on the farm in Germany and seen a large ball of light (UFO).  So it was fate!


And wildlife. I have never had a problem in this area.  While in Sevier Street, St. Werburghs, I looked out after a Summer rain shower to see an approximately six inches (15 cms) long caterpillar of some type –it was literally covered in long, fawn colour hair so it looked like a long mop.  It moved up the wall between the outhouse and coal shed and to this day I have never been able to identify what it was.

In Germany, while collecting wood for the fire in woods just outside Dalborn, my father about six feet ahead of me with the wood-cart, there was a sudden silence. I turned to my left to see a young fallow deer, a true “bambi”, looking at me curiously. Some ten feet (3m) beyond it, in amongst the trees, stood the mother also looking at me. This lasted some time before we all mutually moved off.

My grand mother had lived in Dalborn since the Second World War but had never seen any hares.  She was a bit miffed when I returned from a walk to describe watching groups of hares and even hare ‘boxing matches’! 

When I was a bit older I did walk through the forestry and hear an odd noise. I looked down and saw wild boar piglets and at that point I broke into a cold sweat because I became aware and then saw the sow.  She stared at me as I slowly moved away, walking backwards and not taking my eyes off her.  She never charged me.

On one holiday, as a family, we went with our grand-father to pick dandelions for his giant rabbits.  The route was a familiar one to us –out through the farm orchard, down the tractor path and then along a basic road between cornfields and the forest. As we passed a tree stump a good few feet from the forestry my grand-father casually mentioned that the stump was where he had seen “the sturm-geist” (storm ghost/spirit). Now, Opa had suffered a stroke so his vocabulary was good but not great –he was still “re-learning” full speech.  The storm ghost had an ugly face and was covered in hair and when he saw it the beasty leaped from the trunk and into the forestry.  “It sounds like a chimp or monkey of some kind” I said.  Opa smiled that smile: “No. We don’t have monkeys here.” I thought “We don’t have monkeys but we do have storm spirits!”  Of course, Opa was probably thinking “He thinks we have monkeys in the forest?”

Opa had been alone that time but when we were all together on the rough track one day, right next to where the sturm-geist had been seen, he said “Look there!” All we saw was a glossy black, hair-covered back leap into the coniferous forestry. If you’ve seen black furred/feathered creatures you’ll know that in bright sunlight the fur/feather has that sort of brownish, even purplish glint.  So did this beasty.  I rushed forward determined to see what it was but the forestry was so wild at that point I could only get five feet ort so –but we all heard it crash through the branches of the trees.

My cousin later threw almost an hissy-fit as we explained the event.  I have no idea why he was so vehement in his dismissal of the sighting.  His explanation?  It was a “fishing bird.” I was puzzled having never heard of a “Fishing bird” –I found out it was a cormorant. I’ve seen so many cormorants over the years (we have them in Bristol) that I know it was not that we saw.  And besides, our critter was leaping not flying.

On another occasion I observed what I thought was a badger emerging from forestry across some fields.

Everyone, including the local ranger, assured me that there were no badgers in the area. A few nights later I got up to go to the bedroom window because it was hot and sticky and the midges were being noisy pests. I heard a noise in the flower bed, about three feet (90 cms) below the window.  I looked down and there, looking up at me, was what for all the world looked like a fluffy black fox with white facial markings –almost raccoon like.  I tried to reach for the camera at my bedside that had a flash on it and trying to do so without taking my eyes off the critter.  My hand knocked the camera and I tried to grab it –when I turned back the animal was gone.

Next day..there was that look again in amongst chuckles as I explained what I had seen. I was dreaming it seems. No such animal existed. Alright, now I knew what people reporting a UFO or Sasquatch felt like!

Back in England I went through all my books and –there it was.  Fluffy black fox with white markings!  But it was not a fox, rather it was a raccoon-like dog which is a rather primitive wild canid that can hibernate and they were kept by fur farmers before escapes in the 1930s and, of course, during the war.  I had seen one the furthest west they had moved (though that was not known at the time.
Next year I took the book and showed everyone I could in Dalborn.  Not a single odd look just the very, very annoying response of “Yes. You saw one –so what?”  I was sure this was a conspiracy.
So you can imagine I thought everyone considered me a nut-case.  However, one day my aunt said to my mother: “Ask Herr Professor if he wants coffee.”  I looked around and she was looking at me.  I had no idea up to this point that the family called me “Herr Professor” or that some of the locals were also referring to me in that way.  Apparently, my constant nose-in-books, asking questions and checking everything from insects, unusual plants and animals out had earned me a reputation!

The books, of course, varied.  I had been introduced to Brinsley Le Poer Trench (later Lord Clancarty) and his outlook on “flying saucers” and I had read of Price and O’Donnell and their ghost hunting experiences.  My big heroes were later added to: Major Donald E. Keyhoe and his take on the flying saucers and Ivan T. Sanderson who covered many topics but then, he had travelled and lived in much of the world and seen and investigated much.  Sanderson had introduced me to underwater UFOs (USOs), the Patterson-Gimlin film and, with Abominable Snowmen:Legend Come To Life, set me on another avenue of study.

I corresponded with George Haas of the Bigfoot Bay Area Group, Dimitri Bayanov in Russia on the Almas and many others covering subjects from hairy hominids, sea creatures, UFOs, ghosts, astronomy, aeronautics and beyond. I investigated my first UFO when I was around 15 years of age and joined many different UFO groups –I even famously fought with two Men In Black characters on my doorstep (quite a few witnesses).  I have chased (on foot) UFOs at Warminster, on roof tops, along roads -and nearly crashed twice.  I never ever understood why people wanting to find “the truth” just stood on the spot not daring to face the phenomena face-on.

The same applies with ghosts or even unusual creatures: you do not endanger yourself but you don’t just stand there saying “Well, that was a mystery wasn’t it?”

And those over-sized “coffee table” books full of photographs and full colour illustrations did not help.  “Is this true?” I’d ask myself.  How could I trust some stranger who just wrote this account or offered a photograph without checking it all out myself?  Sadly, those huge books are a thing of the past to a degree.
But when I kept being asked about my “officially unofficial” UFO work, or my work as a wildlife consultant to UK police forces and so on I got fed up.  I decided to put it all (well, some of it) in writing.  Some Things Strange & Sinister was my look at ghosts, poltergeists, UFOs, local and world-wide mysteries and, where-ever I could I gave an explanation.  Explaining something away is not being a sceptical debunker.  Only after you’ve looked at all the possible explanations can you say this was a hoax, that was misinterpretation or, sorry Charles Fort, that never happened.

Dead aquatic creatures washed up on UK shores as well as on Tanzanian shores. Alleged ‘mermaid/man’ carcasses and so much more.

I could, like others, just sit back and say this was all real.  No need to disbelieve. An easier life by far but then that would mean believing that real flying saucers had crashed at Aurora and Roswell. I’m not that dumb. No, I have to look into these things.

In some cases it has taken 20, 30 and even 35 years to get to the bottom of an event/case but to me that is worth it. Now I know what the facts are. And I need to point out that I am not a “Cryptozoologist”, a “Ufologist”, a “Fortean” or any other pseudo-ologist!  I am a naturalist/researcher-investigator.  That’s it.
When I wrote my second book, Some More Things Strange & Sinister I put together a lot of what I had learnt as a naturalist, historian and researcher-investigator.  From gorillas in the UK before they were actually scientifically discovered, primate historical mysteries and oddities, tales of all sorts of wildmen from the United States, England and Europe.

I looked at the mystery of a strange city said to appear in Alaskan skies each year.  Unlike other writers and ‘researchers’ over the years I went out and found the quoted source and the oft-mentioned photograph of the city-in-the-sky.

The so called “Girt Dog Of Ennerdale” which, in 1810, killed sheep and was eventually killed.  Everyone has written on it in the “mystery big cat field” or in cryptozoology and Forteana.  It’s been a werewolf, a vampire beast, a hyena a UFO creature of some kind and even a tiger, lion or a Tasmania thylacine (the current cryptozoological favourite explanation).  I went out and got the, again, oft-quoted sources and found that there is no great mystery and definitely no big cat or thylacine. The facts are in the original sources.

The Beast of Gevaudan –again, so many silly explanations but going back to original sources and corresponding with the French natural history museums, the explanation is clear –and there are later incidents correlating with “the beast” events.
Sea creatures and so-called “flying light wheels” emerging from the sea, the Great Serpent of Carthage, mystery snakes and so much more and all pulling together everything I have learnt since I was a child.

The Red Paper: Canids covered Ennerdale but also the natural history of foxes in the UK from the point where they were going extinct through to mass importation of foxes for hunting.  Wolves roaming the British countryside long after they became extinct here, jackals, coyotes, arctic foxes and much more –the hunts, where they came from and cases never before reported on.  One naturalist called it “an explosive book!” 
I try to make each book, no matter what the subject matter, interesting for the reader whether they are UFO or cryptozoology buffs or simply curious.  Photographs, maps, charts and much more, though sadly, the idea of full colour plates is way to expensive. To think. To learn and enquire into the strange, the unusual or even history is what makes us humans.

Before I shift off this mortal coil I want to pass on this information and keep delving into things that grab my attention…and try to carry on earning some kind of living!

Long winded, I know, but it tells you something about me. 

I really am quite normal.

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