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The Weird Weird West…

What’s the connection between giant bird eating spiders, astrophysicists, ancient technologically advanced civilisations, prog rock pioneers, and near death experiences?

Give up?

Well, they were all on the agenda at this year’s Weird Weekend at Woolfardisworthy in Devon, once again held at the fabulous Community Hall, comprising an auditorium, exhibition hall, canteen, social club and bar, and sports fields on which camping was allowed for the duration of the event.

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Our genial host, Jonathan Downes, by Thomas E Finley

I arrived for my second annual dose of anomalous apparitions and fantastical flora and fauna on Friday afternoon, to bright sunshine and blue skies over the campsite.
I assembled my cobbled together  tent/tarpaulin porch accommodation and went in search of fellow Weirdies.

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Paranormal Panoramic campsite. photo – Paul James Pearson

I had already arranged to meet digital artist, photographer, and Wicked Spins Radio DJ, Shaun Histed-Todd and his family. I first met them at last year’s event and Elaine and I have since become good friends with them and visited them on beautiful Dartmoor on more than one occasion in the intervening twelve months.
This year Shaun was to give a talk on Saturday evening on The Evidence for Civilisation X, exploring the case for societies with advanced technologies that may be lost to history.

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But first it was time to watch the predictably eccentric introductory film from Weird Weekend co-founder Richard Freeman.

…followed by his alter-ego, self confessed “bad nightclub comedian” Barry Tadcaster, and surreal glove puppet sidekick, introducing Richard Ingram’s lecture on The search for inhabitable planets.

Despite being slightly hampered by the A/V set up misbehaving, I found his talk very interesting and when I cornered him outside the auditorium to tell him so, he suggested we go for in the bar for a drink and a chat.
There followed the sort of conversation that I found myself getting used to in the company of such an eclectic collection of wildly theorising and intellectual people. It began with a discussion on the – currently partially broken – Kepler space telescope and how it might be fixed, and somehow managed to take in Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and West Side Story by the time we were done.
A truly fascinating man with an incredible breadth of knowledge on so many subjects that it was an education just talking to him.

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It’s amazing the variety of topics and range of expertise you can get exposed to in the space of a couple of hours in a bar full of Weird Weekenders.
At one point I was in conversation with big cat expert Jonathan McGowan and all round science brainiac Dan Holdsworth, and discovered the following interesting facts:

Dan – A man whose car broke down on a remote African road known for lion activity had to walk some distance to get help. Knowing (as you do) that lions don’t like the smell of petrol, he took a can with him and whenever approached by curious feline beasts, sloshed the stuff liberally over himself. When he got to the nearest town he was apparently trailed by a whole gang of hungry lions who couldn’t quite bring themselves to overcome the smell and eat him.

Jonathan – Ah, but not so with leopards, who actively seek out the pungent aroma of hydrocarbons.  They are actually known to have been caught licking the sides of land rovers under the petrol cap because the smell is reminiscent of the musk of females.

Now, where else could you find that out in a social club bar?

By the end of the evening the sky was still full of stars and a decidedly eldritch moon was peering out from behind the wispy clouds.

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Having been up since 5 a.m. I crawled into my tent with a feeling of pleasant exhaustion, only to be kept awake by drunken laughter from outside the bar and then woken at seven on Saturday morning by the hall’s alarm system unaccountably going off for half an hour.

Oh well, a whole new day of strangeness ahead and nobody had even mentioned the words “flying snakes” yet.
Things were looking up.

It really is a testament to the relaxed attitude and good humour of these extraordinarily clever people, that they would still cheerfully accept me back into their collective bosom for a second year running despite the fact that all I did last year was take the piss and ask awkward questions.

However, this year I was prepared to tone down the sarcasm and cynicism for the sake of cordial relations with the assembled intelligentsia, but it seemed as though there were other non-believers in attendance with whom I could vent my skeptical opinions.
And, to be honest, the speakers,  enthusiasts, exhibitors and organisers at the event are such lovely people that it seems churlish to make fun of them too much.
Indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks that I attended, including that given by my friend Shaun.

His lecture on lost technologies of ancient civilisations was highly thought provoking and made some startling comparisons between the iconography and known locations of various races from the Egyptians and Olmecs to the Mayans and Aztecs.
I’m told that all this year’s talks will eventually be up on the Weird Weekend website, so check back regularly to see what you’ve been missing all these years.
The final talk that I planned to see was one that I was to be given by a speaker I was most intrigued to meet.

A few years ago I was given a double CD concept album called Curly’s Airships by a man who was a founder of ’70s prog rock pioneers Van de Graff Generator called Judge Smith (that is to say he recorded it, not gave it to me)
This extraordinary piece of work also featured ex-members of various prog and punk groups, and is about the R101 disaster.

It has to be heard to be believed.

Anyway, I had noticed that a man with the same unusual name was speaking on Saturday evening and not long before he was due to start, I bumped into him in the bar:
Me – Excuse me, are you Judge Smith?
J.S. – (beaming, pleased,charming) Yes.
Me – Wow, you’re responsible for Curly’s Airships aren’t you?
J.S. – (looking even more pleased) Yes, that’s right
Me – What an extraordinary piece of work, sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. And you were in Van De Graff Generator. (adopts Wayne’s World style “not worthy” pose)
(J.S.‘s girlfriend bursts out laughing and got me to do it again so she could photograph it)

And five minutes later, he proceeded to give an absorbing talk on life after death.
He even fielded my slightly cheeky question about the lack of negative messages from séances with good humour;
J.S. – Maybe the negative people get sent somewhere else from where they can’t answer.
Me – You mean that grumpiness can get you sent to Hell?

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Here come the Judge.

And that, bar the Saturday night socialising, was my Weird Weekend 2013. I didn’t have time for the Sunday session, so I said my grateful goodbyes and made the journey home, already looking forward to next year.

Talking of gratitude, I’d like to do a few thank yous –

To Jon Downes, Richard Freeman, Nichola Sullings and all at the CFZ, for organising the excellent event.
To Jonathan McGowan, Richard Ingram and Dan Holdsworth, for telling me all sorts of amazing stuff
To Nadia, for proving that Germans can be funny and charming.  (What do you mean I can’t say that?)
And to Paul for being a brother in skepticism and for additional photography.
And finally to the staff of the Community Hall and social club. (When I walked in on Friday, I was met by the barman, Mick – who I met for the one and only other time exactly a year ago – “Oh hello, back again? Pint of Thatchers was it?

Now that’s service.

 

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The Odd Squad…

Have you ever found yourself amongst a group of very agreeable people who all have similar beliefs that you do not share?
The sort of harmless, mainly inoffensive people that are too easy a target to make it any fun making fun of them?
No? Me neither, usually.

This was the situation I had assumed that I would find myself in for the last few days, as I have been attending the annual Weird Weekend, hosted by the Centre for Fortean Zoology in Woolfardisworthy, North Devon.

I was to be pleasantly surprised.

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Abandon cynicism all ye who enter here.

This is the annual pilgrimage for all those interested in phenomenon such as yetis, ufos, ghosts, crop circles, sea serpents, and even some real animals that have previously been thought extinct, or live in unusual environments.

I had been informed that the event was taking place in a community centre, which brought to mind images of a cold breezeblock structure with hard wooden chairs.
However, when I arrived, what I discovered was Woolsery Sports and Community Centre, a large timber structure with green credentials – wind turbine and solar panels for electricity, underground geothermal heat pump for heating – incorporating a sports / lecture hall, exhibition space, kitchens and canteen, showers, and a social club bar!
This was an improvement already.

I was camping for the weekend, in the field behind the hall, and in contrast to my recent Glamping experience, this time I was roughing it in my car.

Still, no reason to be uncomfortable, so I rigged up an outdoor veranda too.

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Chez moi.

I was there, primarily, to support my good friend and ex-flatmate Zippy (Richard Thorns), who was to give a lecture on his specialist subject, the Pink Headed Duck, on Friday night.
And, up until now, that was the only reason that I would have chosen to spend the weekend with the sort of people who think nothing of starting a conversation with “Did you see my article about the flying snake of Namibia?”

Speaking of snakes and serpents, the first lecture was from Richard Freeman; “20 cryptids you have never heard of” describing a bewildering selection of giant reptiles, unremarkable birds, and frankly terrifying monster killer worms that apparently “explode if you poke them with a stick”.

After a fairly lengthy break in the exceedingly comfortable bar, chatting to a number of fellow attendees and other speakers, it was time for Zippy’s moment of glory.
He took to the floor of the auditorium with all the confidence of a man with all his ducks in a row, so to speak, and delivered a genuinely absorbing and assured talk on his trips to Burma, alone, in the search for his elusive quarry. His amiable delivery, and obvious knowledge off his subject, plus his ability to answer questions afterwards, impressed the crowd and organizers alike.

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All the world is Zippy’s stage.

Jonathon Downes even made a special point of congratulating him on his exploits, and asked him to come back after his next expedition.

Zip was delighted with all the attention in the bar afterwards, and even got booked to do a radio interview on Saturday morning.

After another pleasant hour or two in the bar, I retired to my car for a surprisingly good nights sleep.

Tomorrow was to be another day of weirdness…

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8 Comments

Posted by on August 19, 2012 in cryptozoology, Personal anecdote

 

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