Friday 20 February 2009

They livin' it up at the hotel Tavistock

Jon and Richard were giving a repeat appearance at the Grant Museum in London last night so yesterday morning we bundled our gear into the car and made our way to Wraysbury in Middlesex, where we left the car and caught the train to Waterloo. Wraysbury is a quiet place – one of those English ‘villages’ where you never see any pedestrians. It is reminiscent of those villages that quite often appeared in episodes of The Avengers consisting of a telephone box, post box, lovely houses, parked cars, but no people. However, it does boast some shops and a wonderfully named pub called The Perseverance in front of which stands a pub sign consisting of a snail walking through, what looks like, a desert.

The most attractive aspect of Wraysbury to us, though, is the fact that it has a small mainline railway station. From here, you can catch the train that trundles along the track from Windsor and Riverside through to Waterloo on (at least on the occasions we have used it so far) clean, half-empty carriages. Around half an hour later you are in London, after having been treated to a skyline sightseeing tour that includes the London Eye, House of Parliament, the Thames and that gherkin shaped monstrosity which is apparently No 30, St Mary Axe. Personally, I find the address more intriguing than the building. According to Wikipedia, St Mary Axe was a medieval parish in London whose name survives on the street it formerly occupied, St Mary Axe. The church was demolished in 1561 and its parish united with St Andrew Undershaft, which is on the corner of St Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street. The name derives from the combination of the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a neighbouring tavern, which prominently displayed a sign with an axe image. To me, a tavern with an axe image on its sign whets my appetite more as to its clientele than a snail. But, there you go.

The ticket machine at Wraysbury Station did not work, and seemed to be stuck in some kind of loop, only asking which ticket you would like and then offering you to confirm your purchase, although when you did it immediately repeated its request of which ticket you would like and so it went on. Eventually, we gave up and hoped that the officials at Waterloo would believe us when we said that we had joined the train at Wraysbury and that we had encountered the teasing ticket machine of ‘not quite a sale’. However, it was interesting to learn, when we paid for our tickets on arriving at Waterloo, that it hardly ever worked and that Wraysbury was a strange station. Hmm, well I did mention The Avengers earlier didn’t I?

Our hotel was in Tavistock Square and is, rather aptly, named the Tavistock Hotel. It was supposedly just around the corner from the venue, but Jon decided that a taxi would be the best idea to get us to the ‘right place at the right time’ as we were beginning to run a bit late. Well, we had a jolly nice ride in the cab as it took us, basically, around the block and alighted us just round the corner from the hotel. The cabbie must have thought we were, at worst, mad or, at best, lazy, but perhaps he would not be that far wrong in either of his possible estimations.

However, we made it with about a quarter of an hour to spare, and the lecture was well received by those attending. A few of us then went out to dinner with the organisers of the event to a local Italian restaurant, and then it was back to the hotel for a diet coke and a chat. After driving for about 5 hours, including the obligatory awful mile or so on the dreaded M25, I was exhausted by now (well it was gone 1 am) so I left Jon and the others to it and retired to my bed.

This morning, Jon told me an interesting snippet of information that had been revealed after I had left last night.

It turns out that, apparently, there is a basement to the hotel and that earlier on that evening there had been some kind of party going on involving some black metal band members, including those of one my listed favourites, Dimmu Borgir. D’oh another wasted gatecrash opportunity, But then, if such parties these days are like they were (supposedly) in my gig-attending heyday, it was probably just as well that it was just another missed opportunity.

Before we left for home this morning, I woke myself up with a stroll around the little gardens opposite the hotel. I sat near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi (which has been there since 1968) with its plinth festooned with bouquets of fresh flowers. Although a Friday morning, with the usual London traffic racing around on its daily business, the park was surprisingly peaceful. I sat for a few minutes, watching a white haired lady as she walked around placing items of food in holes in the tree trunks for the wildlife. Not only was she followed around the narrow paths by a flock of pigeons, but a squirrel hopped along the grass and took a morsel of food from her hand before running off back into its high branches. It always amazes me that such wildlife can be found in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the capital city, with its high rise office buildings, the continual drone of traffic and all-too-frequent whines of emergency vehicles.

We are off to London again tomorrow – but this time I am sitting in the back seat thank goodness.

Saturday 14 February 2009

New kids on the crypto-block #4

My last introduction is for Heather Mikhail, who is our new rep in the United Arab Emirates.

"I grew up in Devon with a keen interest in Natural History and this combined with the frequent news stories on 'The Beast' probably piqued my interest in cryptozoology. I am also a reader of the Fortean Times magazine and message board, and of course this lead to exposure to the efforts of the CFZ. My main interest is recently extinct animals such as thylacines and moas, but any cryptid, whether mythological or archival is likely to pique my interest, I am also fond of museums and the history of natural history and Zoos. So if a cryptid is old and somehow connected with Natural History I'm there!There have always been women in the 'masculine' worlds of exploration and Natural History and I suppose I feel I am carrying on the legacy of women like Isabella Bird and Beatrix Potter in my own small way."

So a very warm welcome to Heather. All here at the CFZ hope that she, together with Naomi, Lanette and Jan, all have fun being part of our team.

Friday 13 February 2009

New kids on the crypto-block #3

Yesterday found us halfway through my introductions of our four new area reps. Today it is the turn of our third - Jan Edwards – our rep in County Durham.

"Ok, a bit about me... Age 51 and a bit, I am the Head of Animal Care of Farplace Animal Rescue. I am also an animal behaviourist, dog trainer, groomer, writer. I generally have around 300 animals to care for at any one time, ranging from African Land Snails, degus and mice, to pigs, sheep and a Siberian goat. I am very into mini-beasts, inverts, amphibians, reptiles... Love snails, slugs, spiders. All in all I’m a bit of a weirdo. I do a lot of work with feral cats and wildlife. The feral cats are the biggest problem. They are not “pets” but they are not fully “wildlife” – they are a bit of both, but don’t get the protection that either group get. My biggest challenge (and biggest thrill) is acting as midwife for a feral mother, when she’s having a difficult labour.... to help a stuck kitten into the world when the mother is hanging from the roof of the cage and trying to amputate your limbs, head, eyes.... SUCH good fun!

I have been interested in out-of-place animals all my life, but it really grabbed my interest when I saw my first Big Cat – a black puma / leopard – some 13 years ago.

The Cat walked through a flock of sheep in a neighbouring field. The sheep barely glanced at her and carried on grazing. She weaved her way through the flock and jumped over the dry stone wall into the next field where she was lost from view.... but because she was amongst the sheep, I could see the size of the beast in comparison. She was shorter in height than the sheep. Her body about as long, and her tail, which was held low, but not quite touching the ground, was about as long again. Her coat reflected the shimmer of the summer sunshine, and looked like black satin. She was amazing.

We have seen her (or her relatives) several times since then, but that first image shall stay with me forever
Welcome to the CFZ, Jan!

Thursday 12 February 2009

New kids on the crypto-block #2

Our new area rep in Missouri is Lanette Baker. She has a great interest in cryptozoology and has had since she was a child, as you will see below. Lanette says that she has been to other online crypto sites but has felt that they were more of a club and that outsiders were not allowed in, nor were their opinions wanted. Well Lanette, that is not what the CFZ is about and we are very happy to have you on board!

Here is what she wrote to me:

"I think I have been enthralled by cryptozoology for as long as I can remember. I was the kid in 2nd grade who wanted to know where the dinosaurs were in the bible (that did not go over well in Sunday School class), loved stories about dragons and big foot, and I even remember talking to my mother about Nessie, and her always saying she hoped they never found actual proof of him because then "something" would happen to him.

I am a single mother, a bit unconventional a times, but very open with my boys. I encourage them to believe in themselves and the fact that there is more than meets the eye. They love to tease me about UFO's, my books on cryptozoology and the conspiracy theory things I read up on, but of course their favorite thing to tease me about is classes I take from time to time on ghost hunting.

I have worked in the animal rescue field for years and have been the director of a small Humane Society in Sikeston, MO for the past 4 years. I have friends who work for the conservation department and the USDA and we often get calls on people seeing the "black panthers", wolves (yes they are in our area), and of course the strange looking beasts that no one has ever seen before from time to time. The standing joke with all who know me is that if any of those are ever caught they will end up at my house in foster care. I often am taking care of baby coons, squirrels, skunks, and even a possum.

Besides my 2 legged kids I have an evil cat, my spoiled rotten little dog and a fennec fox who can be a bit devious at times.I am not sure about the masculine oriented worlds, I am the grand daughter of a hog farmer.....heh grew up playing in the hills, climbing shale cliffs and helping him and the rest of my family in the country doing things. Plus I was never raised to be girly I guess, I am going to get to learn to shingle a roof pretty soon and always helped my dad since he never had a son. (though I am not allowed to touch a chain saw, something about me being accident prone....... go figure)

There are not any folks around here who have an interest in cryptozoology at all, though I do have some friends who have an interest in the paranormal. "

Once again, welcome Lanette.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

New kids on the crypto-block #1

The CFZ has always been a more male orientated affair. Yes, there have been a few females involved within its confines from area reps to raffle ticket sellers at the Weird Weekend, but when I found myself involved by default when I met Jon, there were only a handful of the fairer sex. Since then, things have been changing and in the last couple of weeks we have welcomed four new area reps on board, and – I am pleased to report - they are all females (this, of course, purely from a ‘hey another female to keep me company’ point of view before accusations of sexism arise).

So, over the next few days I thought that I would introduce each of these ladies to you. I emailed them all and asked them for a few lines about themselves so that I could add them to my blog.

Our new area rep in Texas is Naomi West. It seems that she shares my love of pet rats, and is also of the same opinion that the genders should not be pigeonholed into certain roles just because they are male or female. I have always said that if I had had sons I would have instructed them in the ways of ironing, cooking and shopping - just as my daughters were instructed into basic car maintenance and how to change a plug. Yes they had dolls when they were small, but they also had cars, a train set and water pistols.

But, as ever, I digress. Here is Naomi and a copy of what she wrote to me:

"I was born and raised in West Virginia, daughter of a minister. I was always looking for adventures and unexplained mysteries as a kid, and my first area of paranormal interest was the topic of the Biblical Nephilim. I have always loved animals -- everything from whales to bugs -- with pet rats being the dearest to my heart. I am a performing soloist, but writing is my true passion.

I live in Central Texas and currently teach high school English, but I hope to be a fulltime writer someday. My husband tests weapons systems for the military here at Ft. Hood, and he is also a musician and fellow UFO enthusiast. We are both MUFON field investigators.

I had never heard of Fortean Zoology until I read Redfern's Three Men Seeking Monsters. Since my involvement with CFZ, I have discovered that Central Texas has contributed most recently with the blue dog sightings, where my interest currently lies. I will always be most fascinated with the Loch Ness monster. Fortean Zoology combines my love of mystery with love for animals.

Being a woman in a masculine oriented world has never been an issue for me; rather, I resent being a woman in a world where both genders, at social functions, continually try to separate into "gender oriented" activities: I don't cook, I hate shopping, I dislike "chick flicks", I have never had kids, I love theology and science fiction...oh yes, and did I mention pet rats?

More difficult than being a woman is being a student of the paranormal in Christian circles as well as an Orthodox Christian in paranormal circles, or, for that matter, an animal lover amid hunters, or a meat-eater amid Vegans. I love people from most all schools of thought, but find myself often a member of opposing groups and always worried one group will throw me out when they learn I am not necessarily on their bandwagon. But I have received grace from all groups around me -- from pagans to atheists to Christians to people who think our government leaders are all Reptilians, and in the end, I just love people...almost as much as animals

PS. After reflecting on those bio details I sent, I wanted to clarify, for accuracy's sake, that I am not a hunter or a Vegan. That may have been confusing. I had had a long day and it resulted in unnecessary rambling. :)"

Jon and I are looking forward to meeting Naomi, her husband Ritchie and her mum Barbara when they visit the UKin June.

Friday 6 February 2009

Misguided milk delivery of human kindness

As I was driving to Tiverton Parkway station this afternoon to pick up my youngest, Olivia - who was visiting for the weekend - I heard a snippet of news on the radio which caught my attention. The radio was not quite tuned in properly – I had spent around half an hour of the journey trying to tune it to a suitable station, but had given it up as a bad job so was having to put up with the crackle and spasmodic fading and shared airwaves with another channel – so I was not quite sure that I had heard it correctly.

So I checked on the internet when I got home and was not wrong in what I thought I had heard. Some of you may have heard or read about it yourselves, but for those of you who haven’t I thought I would share, what I think is, a rather touching story, albeit one that does flout the laws of this country. However, you cannot help but feel some kind of affection for the old boy.

Basically, a 72 year old milkman from Burnley, Lancashire has just been given a 36-week suspended sentence and a one year supervision order after pleading guilty to his crime last year. What is this crime? To supply pensioners on his round with a little extra with their daily pints, to help ward of their aches and pains that’s what.

“Is this a crime?” you may ask.

Hmm, well to continue. On his milk van sat an egg carton. However, this was not filled with half a dozen medium eggs as one would expect, but contained something far more potent - cannabis resin to be exact. As is much publicised this does act as an aid to relief in some illnesses and can help with nausea from chemotherapy and helps people who lose their appetite after chemotherapy. But it is a Class B drug and although the poor chap thought he was being helpful and acting as a service to the community, he was obviously charged with possession of an illegal substance.

He is certainly not the average drug dealer. His wife of 53 years has Alzheimer's and has recently gone into a home where he visits her every day. His mission, in his eyes, was to provide those with relief from pain where they cannot get it elsewhere. He was not into making any profit out of his illicit egg carton dealings.

OK a drug dealer is a drug dealer, whether 5 or 85 but as I say, you can’t really help but feel some kind of warmness towards the old chap. The thought of pensioners leaving out a note with their empties and the fact that this septuagenarian kept the resin in a egg carton on his milkvan and went out of his way - clocking up the miles - to deliver this pain relief has, in an odd way, the touch of an old scratchy black and white Ealing Comedy about it all.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Snow, white with seven choices

OK, after my last entry it actually snowed properly. None of the mealy-mouthed effort of the day before. Oh no, that was weather lulling us into a false sense of security. This was a full blown overnight downfall which left the garden under a thick blanket of the stuff just begging to be trampled through.

Now, like children (and some adults) all over the country, the CFZ was agog with excitement. For us, this was the day that we would learn what Biggles thought of it all. You could hear the sound of a pin drop as the lead was attached to the collar for the first time that morning. We all knew that there could be several outcomes of this first foray into the world of snow. Of the most popular suggestions, those below stood out more. Would he:

a) totally ignore it?
b) be scared of it?
c) roll around in it?
d) eat it?
e) notice it but not really care two figs?
f) refuse to walk in it (as he refuses to walk through puddles if he can avoid it)?
g) bark at it?

The door was opened, and ....... well nothing really. Trying to keep our spirits up and not give in to the feelings of despondency at his seemingly distinct lack of interest, "OK", we thought. "Perhaps he was just so desperate to perform his first wee of the day that he didn't notice anything different, it was a bit overcast after all".

However, after several scientific experiments (well trips out for the evacuation of bowels and emptying of bladder to put it in a less dramatic and more precise way) it was discovered that only two of the above applied.

So, as a silly exercise, here are a couple of photos so you can see whether you can guess which two they were. One is obvious, the other, however, could be a tad deceiving as a stills photo does not give the whole picture.

I may divulge the answers at a later date, but then again I may not. It may not do his street-cred any good to let on, but I shall not say more just in case I inadvertently give the game away.

However, as an added bonus, I could not let this entry close without sharing a picture of Biggles that would grace the kennels of the females of his species and get tails wagging and bring forth whines of adoration - a sort of Malborough Man of the canine world. Phwooar girls. What a pin-up eh?

Monday 2 February 2009

Biggles almost in an adventure with snow

I remember the first time my two cats first encountered snow. They rushed out the back door as usual of a morning and both stopped in mid-air at the sight of the blanket of snow that had covered their patch and came back inside to sit annoyingly on the back door mat so I could not shut the back door until they had made up their tiny feline minds. Whilst I became colder and colder, they sat there for a while cogitating on whether their needs were really that important to warrant having to go forth into such strangeness, but eventually their bladder/bowels/curiosity got the better of them and off they went, one by one down the garden to do what they individually had to do.

Now, as those of you who have some yourself will have realised, cats do tend to exaggerate. To watch them tackle the snow was highly entertaining. They didn’t just walk to their intended destination, but did a kind of half bunny hop/deer leap through the carpet of white strangeness. We had received a fair downfall during the evening, so the back garden had a blanket of an inch or so and they could have walked fairly easily through it, but – no – in true drama queen fashion they had to make it plain that they were not at all amused at getting their legs covered in cold snow perfectly clear.

When I woke up this morning to witness what looked like quite a thick snowfall occurring I thought “Great” to myself. “Now we can see how the intrepid Major James will tackle this new experience”. Sadly, though, when I got downstairs I discovered that there had not been a serious snowfall at all and the paths and grass were not covered in an unspoilt layer, just begging for a few photographs to be taken. And there would be no adults in wellie-clad feet childishly tramping through it either. Disappointingly, it was more like a sprinkling of icing sugar on an uneven topped Victoria spongecake.

Therefore, Biggles just did his usual pottering around, completely unimpressed, and probably not even noticing the odd white stuff on a few patches of grass and earth. What was noticeable though was that, although we refer to him as being a black and white dog, against the starkness of the small amount of snow, his white patches actually looked more like a dirty off-white. So, in future – for propriety’s sake at any rate - I shall refer to him as a black and cream dog I think.

But, that does bring me on to a rather tantalising thought. As you may well have seen from previous posts on here and on the main CFZ site, there have been black cat sightings in this area for quite a while. If it were to snow more so that the fields were buried under a healthy layer of Christmas-card prettiness, just think how a black cat would stand out against it?

Sunday 1 February 2009

Biggles in an adventure with mud slides

Yesterday, Shosh (eldest daughter) and I took Biggles out for a walk in the woods a few miles away from home. This was an adventure in itself as the path led us up, and up, and up the side of a hill, which would be no problem usually, but after all the recent rain this path was intermittently nothing more than a giant pool of mud. And very slippery, boot sucking-off-the-feet mud at that. Added to the fact that the young'un on the lead is as strong as a baby ox it did get a bit tricky in places, especially on the downward gradients where, at one point, Shosh and I did a kind of mud ski without the assistance of ski poles to help balance us. Combine that with a sheer drop on one side of us and you can understand that it was quite an adventurous hour out with our charge.

Biggles turned the grand old age of 25 weeks on Friday. It is a common belief that 1 human year is equal to 7 dog years. Apparently, this is not very accurate, since dogs reach adulthood within the first couple of years. The formula of 10.5 dog years per human year for the first 2 years, then 4 dog years per human year for each year after is a bit more accurate (as accurate as one can judge these things) according to an unspecified canine expert. So working on this current theory of conversion, that makes Biggles around about a 5 year old in human terms.

In an article I have found, I was somewhat amused to see certain comparisons with Biggles at his 'converted' age, with children of 5 years old. Children are aware of the rules of good behaviour, but they still have trouble consistently following through with their responsibilities (oh yes - he knows full well that he is supposed to adhere to certain rules, but just decides to simply ignore them when he feels like it). They're concerned with "fairness" and they'll let you know when they think the rules of games, chores, or rewards and punishments aren't fair (yes the vocal chords are very finely-tuned, thank you). It's important that you give kids this age lots of praise, while still being firm with your expectations (don't we just, till we are blue in the face sometimes).

However, I don't recall my two girls taking a sneaky chew on the furniture when they were 5.