The eighth Weird Weekend was a real stonker. Our good friend Helen 'Helen of Troy' Lester offered to write it up for us. Yes please, we said, not realising that she would deliver us with a manuscript the size of a small novel!

But here it is, in all its glory.....

For the second year, the small village of Woolfardisworthy in North Devon played host to the strangest collection of individuals west of the Peso. Despite the rural location, it is relatively easy to find, with trains from Exeter to Barnstaple, and a supply of willing volunteer drivers to ferry the remaining 10 or so miles to Woolsery.

Weird Weekend is a rather amazing event for all kinds of reasons, and not just because of the impressive collection of Cryptozoologists, UFOlogists, Folklorists, and Swedish Death Metallers. It is a well organised, professional unit, yet it retains a level of fluidity and spontaneity that allows for last minute additions of someone asking for help on environmental issues, those asking for stories and anecdotes to assist with investigations, to the inclusion of jet-lagged Cryptozoologists dropping in with two hours’ notice to launch their book, and various other 'little' things. Weird Weekend is, itself, in a state of strangely organised flux. The one thing is isn't is chaotic. How this is managed should itself be the subject of some kind of scientific investigation. It is difficult to believe Jon Downes' tales of horror, because it is difficult to see that anything has, or even could, go horribly wrong.

It does, of course. There is always major drama lurking behind the scenes, of three-way telephone calls, twisted ankles, hospital emergencies, and speakers being arrested for suspected terrorist activities. That none of these things in any way slow down the pace of the Weekend is a tribute to the organisational skills of those involved. Any and all emergencies are dealt with quickly, efficiently and with tremendous aplomb. Nothing and no-one stops Weird Weekend; and nothing in the experience gives the slightest indication that any kind of problem has even existed, never mind been encountered and neutralised.

What makes Weird Weekend even extra special, apart from the amazing list of speakers, the organisation, the flexibility - oh and the food - is the accessibility of all information. There is no backstage area or Green Room for speakers to hide out in and avoid the proletariat; the speakers sit in with other talks, they sit and drink tea (and other forms of liquid sustenance), and are more than happy for anyone to tag along to ask any other questions, share experiences, or just chat about anything else.

The whole village is involved; the children attend workshops and lectures, draw pictures, enter competitions; while everyone chips in to provide food, man the bar, make the tea, or whatever else is necessary, free, gratis and pro bono.

In short, the whole weekend is a family event - friendly, charming, informative, educational, and amusing. It is a truly wonderful experience.


Thursday Evening

The CFZ's Cocktail Party - where margaritas flow freely, champagne sparkles (but not as much as the wit), and fun and laughter prevail. Jon and his beautiful wife, Corinna, sit holding court like the true King and Queen of Cryptozoology.

Children flail around with blunt instruments - aided and abetted by a slightly demonic Mad Hatter in the form of Richard Freeman - whacking a poor defenceless piñata crocodile. Music plays, conversations are plenty, and all is well with the world.


Friday - Day

The CFZ's Open House. Rather a misnomer, as the CFZ would appear to run an Open House pretty much 365 days of the year. This, then, is the Official Version, one suspects. Again, an excellent opportunity to mingle, view the myriad of creatures that call Myrtle Cottage home (and some are even human!), and listen in on fascinating conversations. Oh, and fight the ginger cat lodger for sausages off the barbeque.


Friday Evening

The Weekend begins.

The proceedings were delayed slightly by Steve Jones' visit to the bathroom, as Jon decided to await his return as he considered it unwise to annoy the Witch. This allowed Jon to recount the numerous woes that had befallen them within the last 24 hours - such as Richard twisting his ankle rushing in to save the turtles when the tank broke; Jon twisting his ankle desperately trying to co-ordinate a three way conversation with America during the cocktail party, and a major advertiser being rushed to hospital and consequently having to pull out from the weekend. Jon, as always, relates these tales of woe with a wonderful sense of humour, of irony, and of humanity.

The proceedings are finally underway, with the children performing a Dragon Dance, narrated by Jon himself. A spectacular red dragon chasing a child around the stage is always entertaining!

The one other tradition of the Weird Weekend is Richard Freeman's introductions, which stretch the boundaries of surrealism like some kind of elasticated banana-coloured dromedary. So to speak. Devoid of hesitation, deviation, repetition, or notes, Richard's introductions are almost as much fun as the talks themselves.

And so to the first speaker of the weekend -

Jon McGowan - Britain's Secret Wildlife

It is assumed that Britain only possesses three snakes and three lizards. Jon McGowan, with particular attention to the Dorset area, states there are at least two new lizards. The Wall Lizard, found in Isle of Wight, Sussex and Dorset, grows to around 27cm. In Bournemouth, the wall lizard has adapted into brighter colours, and the North Halich Wall Lizard is also found. Jon believes Wall Lizards were native to the UK at one time, but due to releases into the wild, variations have occurred. The Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) has been found in the area. This grows very large, with the largest Jon has found measuring 49cm. Green Lizards are not meant to be native; however, natural history books of the 19th Century do describe them in Devon, Dorset and Kent. The males have bright blue heads or chins, which develops around June and remains for about two months before fading. The Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) was also released into the Bournemouth area, lasted around two years, and then disappeared after a particularly cold winter. The Western Green Lizard survived the cold weather and remains. That these creatures can exist without our realising it shows that humans do not really know about the animals we are supposed to know about. We rarely notice whether a creature is even there, never mind whether it is indigenous.

There are, for example, two common mistakes about amphibians: the Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae) is native to the UK. Furthermore, Tree Frogs, when found in this country, were not protected, and when the last one was actually found to be unlike the European counterpart (Hyla arborea) and therefore a British species, it was too late to do anything about it. Therefore, we need to be sure such creatures are not indigenous, or whether they may actually be a different species.

The three snakes in Britain are accepted as being the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), the Adder (Vipera berus) and the extremely rare Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) - records of the last date back to 1856, when Bournemouth was being built. The Smooth Snake has a broad, heart-shaped head, and - as the name suggests - is smooth. In addition, Adders tend to have red eyes. However, there are 26 described variations in Adders, and 18 of these can be found in Bournemouth. Asp Vipers (Vipera aspis) could be a subspecies or even a different species.

Polecats can be found all over southern England. American Mink (Mustela vison) are also to be found, but not European Mink (Mustela lutreola). In addition, Pine Martens (Martes martes) can be found, although some people have difficulty telling the difference. The Victorians thought Pine Marten, with their yellow bibs, were younger versions of the Beech Martens, their reasoning being that as Pine Martens aged, their fur turned white. Actually, pale coloured Martens are more likely to be young, as Martens grow darker as they age.

Variations in Martens can be quite subtle. The Caledonian Pine Marten has a black face. Beech Martens (Martes foina) are actually a separate species, with a white bib that goes further down the legs, with a thicker tail. There are other differences, such as marked differences in footprints. The Pine Marten has lots of fur on its paws and therefore rarely leaves clearly defined footprints, whereas the Beech Marten has less fur on its feet and leaves well-defined toe prints.

It may be that Beech Martens were released into the wild, but Jon is not sure about that.

Mouse-Eared Bats were said to be extinct, but are very easily overlooked.

Roe Deer were extinct in the early 1800s, although they may have survived in the extreme North and Scotland. There were rumours of Roe Deer in Dorset and West Sussex. There are regional variations in the antlers, and the Roe Deer in Dorset are not a genetic match for the breeds used to repopulate the area of the Drax Estate in Dorset. The antler growth is untypical of the various breeds used to repopulate.

The Northern Lynx may have survived in Scotland. Although regularly sighted, the Puma is not native to the UK. There are leopards in the UK, mainly of the melanistic variety, and there are over 2,500 reported sightings per year. Deer carcasses are found, clearly eaten by big cats. Cats have a distinctive eating pattern; the skin is licked up and the carcasses licked clean. No other animal does this. Carcasses are also found in trees. Leopards kill by suffocation, placing their paws over the nose and mouth of the prey; carcasses are found showing the distinct marks of this kind of attack throughout Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon and the New Forest.

Scats from Cats [where else would you get the opportunity to write that! HL] are also distinctive, usually being white due to calcification from the bones. Foxes and dogs chew their food; cats eat quickly and cannot chew, and so the scats have large fragments of bone.

Jon has found hair caught in wire around Bournemouth, which has been photographically analysed and found to be a match for Lynx hairs.

Tracks are also distinctive. Dog pads are rectangular, and it is possible to draw a cross through the pads in the print. They have two front toes, at an equal height, and clear claw marks. Cat prints, however, have a clear heel pad showing three lobes, a clearly defined leading toe, and no claw marks. There are also distinctive footprints for different big cats. Other clear indications of big cats in the area are tree scratches and spraying. It is hoped that some trigger cameras set up may capture something.

Answers to questions from the floor

* Domestic feral cats can grow large, but they have distinctive prints.
* There has only been one incident of a cheetah seen in the UK.
* Wild Cats have been seen in Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, parts of Sussex, and parts of West Midlands.
* It is possible that all these species can keep to the same areas as they do keep themselves to themselves.
* Cats can hide even in built up areas.
* It is not too cold for Jaguars or Ocelots. Some cats prefer cooler temperatures.
* They often raid bins.


Next on the agenda -

Peter Robbins - Wilhelm Reich and the UFOs

Peter Robbins has undertaken extensive research into Reich, and accordingly, it is difficult to give the subject justice in a 45-minute talk. Reich’s life was eventful, and his interests varied, so it is difficult to give a simple potted version of events. Instead, Peter gave us edited highlights from his paper on the subject. His paper is free either via e-mail, on request direct to him, or via the CFZ. Copyright is waived on the material, and can therefore be distributed freely.

Wilhelm Reich was a naturalised American, who developed the study of Orgonomy; that is, the study of how energy functions in the living and non-living realms of nature. This is similar to the concepts of the Ether, or Chi. It involves an amalgamation of biology, psychology, meteorology, child-rearing etc, etc, and challenges the accepted theories of science and society. Hitler, Stalin, and particularly the Communists wanted him dead. Some of Reich’s theories and views on Communism proved accurate to the point of prophetic.

Reich’s main experiments involved cloud busting. The Cloudbuster was a series of long metal pipes, connected to hollow cable, and grounded in deep water. It would create atmospheric movement, drawing water down to the ground, attracting moisture, and breaking up weather fronts.

Reich was born in 1897 to quite well-off farming parents. However, by the end of the Great War, the family fortunes were gone.

Reich was a member of Freud’s inner circle, rising to the status of Freud’s first assistant. However, they split after six years, when Reich could no longer quietly accept Freud’s teachings and began to question Freud. Reich believed all neuroses were due to sex, whereas Freud considered most due to sex. He then worked for the Communists for a while, with blue-collar workers. However, Reich’s habit of concentrating on family priorities rather than Party priorities did not endear him, and Reich was kicked out. The Communists said he had been sacked because he was crazy. Freud agreed with them that Reich was mentally unstable.

Reich wrote “Mass Psychology of Fascism”. He emigrated to Norway in 1933, and then the USA in 1939, becoming a Professor in New York. His beliefs were that trauma is trapped in muscle contractions in the body, which changes the person’s outlook on life, etc; releasing the muscular contractions releases the memory, which can then be dealt with.

Reich developed the Accumulator, an amalgamation of alternating organic and inorganic materials. The principle was that inorganic (such as metal) reflects, while organic (such as fibreboard) holds.

Reich met Einstein, and their correspondence can be seen at the Reich museum. However, Einstein soon dropped Reich. The FDA investigated Reich for possible quackery, that is, dubious medical practices.

Reich moved to Maine. He began investigating UFOs from the 1950s, having not been caught up in the 1940s spate. He undertook nocturnal time-lapse photography, which produced unexpected results. All the stars in the pictures moved in a line as time passed. However, some remained static. Reich deduced from this that the non-moving items were UFOs of some description.

In October, 1954, the 5th/6th, he proved his cloud busting theory in Rangely. The cloud buster was trained on these UFOs, which provoked peculiar reactions, as though putting up a struggle. Reich - who, being an immigrant, harboured an intense love and sense of patriotism to the country that had adopted him - wrote directly to President Eisenhower to report his findings. He received a letter from Eisenhower’s secretary, directing him to correspond with the CIA and USAF about his findings, and this is what Reich did from then on.

He chose Tucson for his tests, as it was the hottest, driest area, with riverbeds dried for half a century, and no rain at all for the past five years. He arrived on 19th October, 1954.

Many UFOs were observed paying attention to the cloud busting experiments. By the 7th November, moisture in the soil had increased by 65%. Reich was directing his machine to the West to draw moisture from the ocean. A UFO appeared, and the clouds decomposed. It was obvious to make connections between the moisture dropping, the cloud disappearing, and the appearance of the UFO.

Reich continued with his experiments, and the moisture increased to 67%. Prairie grass began to bloom for the first time in recorded memory. Humidity then dropped 20% as two UFOs appeared. Reich turned the cloud-busting machine on the UFOs, which visibly wobbled and dimmed. A third UFO appeared and was drawn on, whereupon all three disappeared.

There were reports of rain between the ocean and Tucson, in a direct line from where the machine was aiming.

Reich saw a cigar shaped UFO with windows, which was observed on and off for 16 days.

On 14th December, the atmosphere was depressive and deadening.

On January 3rd, 6th and 7th, it poured with rain. There was snow on Mount Catalina. Homes built in dry riverbeds had to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, the FDA had been investigating Reich for 8 years for being a quack. They finally brought legal action against him. There had been no complaints made by his patients; none of those trained by Reich had received any complaints from their patients. The action came about because Reich’s first assistant had shipped the accumulator interstate, which thereby violated the laws concerning quackery, that is, dubious medical practices. The case was prosecuted and heard by two of Reich’s former personal attorneys - an unprecedented case of conflict of interests. Reich was sentenced to two years in prison. Seven days before his release in 1957, he was found dead in his cell. His final manuscript - almost finished - was missing. Eight tonnes of Reich’s work was subsequently burnt.

Answers to questions from the floor

* The UFOs seemed interested in Reich’s cloud busting experiments and the changes in weather patterns.
* His autopsy was inconclusive. However, Reich was overweight, a heavy smoker, and suffered from high blood pressure.


A combination of telephone call, and need to stretch my legs, meant I missed Matthew Williams’ talk on Crop Circles.

Discussions and conversations over the weekend with those who had heard the talk and Matt himself led to the following notes.

There are reports of witnesses to crop circles being oblivious to the crop circle makers themselves. Circles known to be man-made are witnessed, yet no one sees the makers. This causes a constant battle between the True Believers and the Circle Makers. However, there are a small percentage of circles for which no-one claims responsibility. These are the ones the investigations should be looking into, instead of looking into all circles, even those known to be of human manufacture.

However, it is not as simple as humans going out at night with a plank of wood to make pretty patterns. There are reports of circle makers being ‘called’ to a certain area to make a circle. Shadow figures are seen in the circle while it is under construction. Circle makers see a mysterious figure, and on counting the figures that can be seen, they can end up with a figure one more than they started with. Matt has been chased from a circle by balls of light.

The question is, therefore - what makes the Circle Makers do it? What drives them? What force provides their inspiration? It is quite possible that the more complex the circle, the higher the possibility it was man-made. Man-made circles have a distinctive ‘comb’ pattern, formed by the one-metre long plank used in their construction. Where the one metre flattened area ‘overlaps’ with another, the join will be flatter still, rather like comb marks left in wet or gelled hair. The more straightforward patterns, or plainer circles, may be of more mysterious provenance.

There are reports of horses shieing away from circles, and combine harvesters developing a glitch or actually breaking down upon nearing a circle.

Matt has videos on You Tube showing interviews with crop circle makers. There is also a DVD available.