Wednesday, 31 December 2008

That'll teach you to mess with Thomas P. Hinkley

Christmas is a strange thing. You spend weeks, in some cases months, building up to a single event and then when it finally arrives it's over pretty much as soon as it's begun. And, when the dust has settled and you're on your fifth day straight of eating a variant of a turkey dinner (Gee Note: I mean I like turkey and all but I'm just saying, turkey salad for lunch followed by a turkey curry for dinner followed by, oh I don't know, a turkey cheesecake for dessert is a bit much even for me) it then hits you that nothing much has changed. Yes, you have a few more cool things to call your own like a new coat, or a money bank that also doubles as a robot, and yes hopefully you'll have a happy memory of spending Christmas with loved ones. But in the bleak aftermath of it all, Christmas is a lot of hard work for the chance to give presents to people you care about on a specific day of the year. In fact if it wasn't for the upside of Christmas (Gee Note: Getting to drink more wine and eat more chocolate in three days than I do the rest of the year combined), I'd go so far as to call it a bit of a pain.

One of the things that I really don't like about Christmas is that television stations seem to get it in to their head that it is correct and proper to fill the air waves with rubbish. Not good rubbish either, like "When Aborigines Attack" or something. No, this rubbish is a special kind of rubbish. The "ummm it wasn't good enough to air at any other time of the year but it's Christmas and nobody gives a monkey's" kind of rubbish. It's not uncommon this time of year to flick through channels to find a program about fat men from all around the world competing to see who can carry a very heavy object the furthest sandwiched between an episode of a long forgotten 1970's sitcom and a variety show where the highlight is a dog that can whistle the theme tune from "Friends".

Now it should be noted that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as on boxing day this year after one too many glasses of vino I ended up having a whale of a time watching the European Championships for Lumberjacks. Or Timbersports to those in the know. Now for those of you who scoff at the idea of big men duking it out to find out which of them can chop a piece of wood the quickest, then let me just say that you haven't lived until you've seen Dirk Braun and company face the might of the Hot Saw.




Sometimes however, the lack of original programming over the Christmas period really does lead to baffling situations. Such as when one of the cable channels here in the U.K. found itself with a two hour block to fill the night before Christmas Eve. Naturally they searched through their archives, found a film they had the rights to broadcast and hastily shoe horned it in to the schedule. In fact considering the time of year, and how Hollywood mindlessly produces roughly five thousand movies with a holiday theme every December, a good old Christmas movie seems like a sound investment.

So which classic piece of festive cinema did these wise folks plump for? Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Wonderful Life? A Muppet's Christmas Carol? Santa with Muscles?

(Gee Note: Now it may sound to the uninitiated that I made the last one up. I mean who in their right mind would call a film "Santa with Muscles"? Step forward and take a bow Mr. Hulk Hogan. At some point during the mid 90's, probably in between raising his trap jaw daughter and stumbling around a wrestling ring like a drunken gerbil, Hogan miraculously found the time to star in this piece of cine magic as an evil millionaire who through reasons way too silly to go in to here, has a case of explosive amnesia and wakes up believing he is good ol' St. Nick. Regularly voted as the worst movie ever made on IMDB, the writer was so ashamed of the finished product that he sued to get his name removed from the credits. To which I say good on you. Sometimes I wish we could all do that when things don't turn out right. "Yeah, you know that spice rack. That's right, the one that has rusty nails sticking out of it, is as crooked as Richard Nixon, and can only hold things if their lying down and at a 72 degree angle? Well that was nothing to do with me. I mean sure I may have cut the wood, put the pieces together, and hammered it in to shape, but at no point am I responsible for it's complete failure as a spice rack. Anyone dares to say I am will find their ass in court.")

Well, er, you'll be surprised to learn it was none of the above. Or in fact anything remotely close. Nay brave reader, them good hearted folks at the cable channel decided to treat us to that renowned holiday classic "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein".

Yeah, I don't get it either.

I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if it was a good film. But alas, it isn't. Made in 1994 it is directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh as the titular Dr. Frankenstein, with Robert De Niro (Gee Note: He's a very good actor and a lovely guy, with a cheeky smile and a mole under his eye. His name is Bobby ooooooh, Bobby De Niro aaaaaaaaah….) as the monster. Now I like Branagh as an actor, but as a director he tends to subscribe to a Mel Gibson-esque more is more style of film making. As such his movies tend to be overblown, and in the case of Frankenstein moments that should be all kinds of subtle and creepy come across as just plain silly.

Which is a massive shame as the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster is, in my opinion, one of the best. It's the reason why I find Andrew Crosse such a fascinating character.

You know the kind of people I love? The eccentric inventor type. Those with no training in mechanics or science who have a passion and a love for it anyway, to the point where they dedicate their lives (Gee Note: And more often than not their basement or shed) to the pursuit of discovery. Sadly the perception of these good and noble folks has changed over the years. Not too long ago if an "eccentric inventor" was featured in a movie or television series they were seen as loveable types, with big hearts and bonkers ideas. Over the past week alone, thanks to the land of the lost repeats that is Christmas T.V. I manage to spot the "loveable mad scientist" in things ranging from Mary Poppins to Young Sherlock Holmes. Hell there was even one in a Quantum Leap episode (Gee Note: Man, I love Quantum Leap. Remember the one when Sam leapt in to the body of a monkey? That was great. Also, it has a brilliant theme tune. Dah dah dah dah dah daaaaah boom boom dah doo dah doo dah doo daaaaah).

In recent times however society has decided to mock these individuals. Soulless television shows such as Dragon's Den and American Inventor take it upon themselves to poke fun at the good folk who willingly turn up with their labours of love. Rather than celebrate these people for daring to think, daring to imagine, daring to dream, with a sneer these programs tear them down to strips, berating all but a few for believing that they could change the world.

Mind, through out history the eccentric inventor has always had occasional problems conforming with the rest of society. Andrew Crosse was a prime example of this.

Crosse was born in Somerset, England in 1784. He was the first son of the wealthy Richard and Susannah Crosse and after they had both died by the time Andrew had reached 21, young Crosse took over running the family estates including the mansion at Fyne Court. Now seeing as running a mansion basically involves sitting around all day on a comfy sofa while a butler brings you fruit, one would have forgiven Crosse for spending his life in the lap of luxury. However Crosse wasn't about to allow servants catering on his every whim and enough money to sink a small Caribbean island to spoil him. Instead he decided to do something he had wanted to ever since he convinced a school master to allow him to sit in on a lecture about natural sciences. Andrew decided to experiment with electricity.

It's probably fair to say that in the 1800's the study of electricity was more of an art form than anything else. No really it was. If you're having trouble visualising this imagine your in London's West End, and you somehow find yourself in possession of two tickets for the hottest show in town. You arrive a good couple of hours early only to find the queue to get in already stretching around the block. When you finally do make it inside you have to push your way through a mass of bodies just to get to your seat which, despite the empty space in your wallet saying otherwise, aren't that great. However at the end of the show you sit in your chair amazed, they sweat pouring from your back, the hair on your arm standing on it's end. Then the applause starts. You leap to your feet with the rest of the audience, and deliver a standing ovation to the single person on stage that lasts almost a whole half hour.

You've just witnessed Nikola Tesla turn on a light bulb without using wires.

See? Electricity was pretty much the rock and roll of it's day. And Crosse embraced it whole heartedly. He set up massive pylons around his mansion to "catch" lightening, scaring the bejesus out of local folk any time a thunderstorm rumbled through Somerset. While walking past his mansion any time of the day, loud crackling could be heard while flashing blue lights emanated from the windows.

Crosse was experimenting with electrolysis, separating chemically bound compounds and elements by passing an electric current through them (Gee Note: Which, personally, I think should be a requirement for annoying celebrities when they divorce. Like Madonna and Guy Ritchie for example. Those two deserve to have their skin scorched just for Swept Away alone). He successfully separated copper form its ores and, get this, at some point created a water powered battery. Which really tells you all you need to know about the man. I mean why generate power safely when you can add an element of chaos? Nobody's ever really had a bad experience with electricity and water anyway right? Right?

Now if you believe Creationists, God created life about 6000 years ago. If you believe anybody who isn't crazy religious, life started approximately 3.5 billion years ago when randomly some amino acids collided with each other. Rather than call National Accident Helpline to see if they could claim up to £10,000 in compensation, they decided to react and hey presto life was born.

However if you believe a certain section of today's population, Andrew Crosse created life in 1836.

Crosse was conducting an experiment to do with electrocystalisation, or the appearance of crystals in certain minerals when electricity is passed through it. On the 14th day of his experiment he noticed that tiny little bumps had appeared on the stone he was sending the current through. Or, as Crosse described them, “Nipples” (Gee Note: “Dude, you grew boobs on a stone? HIGH FIVE!”). On the 26th day the nipples, er, hatched. And there in front of Crosse stood what he could only describe as the “perfect insects”. A couple of days later they started to move their legs. A couple of days after that and they had removed themselves from the stone and were quite happily gadding about and doing all kinds of insect related stuff.



Now Crosse was a bit eccentric. But what he wasn't was completely insane. So he surmised that somehow the eggs of these insects must have been embedded in the stone and then stimulated by the electricity in to hatching. So he conducted the experiment again. With a different piece of stone.

To Crosse's amazement he got the exact same result. More nipples, more insects, more head scratching from Crosse.

Crosse still believed that his initial hypothesis was correct, and that eggs must have been present in both stones. He mentioned his experiment to a couple of friends and then, by all accounts, thought nothing more of it. However, Crosse's friends must have been the biggest blabber mouths in the entire country as the story that wealthy landowner Andrew Crosse had created life all by himself soon made it's way through every social circle imaginable. Before long a local newspaper printed an article about the experiment, and it was duly picked up by other papers across both Britain and Europe.

The articles were, and this will shock those of you who believe that the media getting it all bass ackwards is a new concept, ill informed. They claimed that Crosse was this maniacal scientist hell bent on world domination by creating a race of super bred mutant mites. OK not really. But they did leave the reader with the impression that Crosse claimed to be able to create life as easily as most people wake up in the morning (Gee Note: I say most people. If you're me, waking up in the morning is really hard. Because, you know, bed's comfy).

After these articles, Crosse began receiving hate mail accusing him of blasephmy, and every once in a while a death threat (Gee Note: Yes because murdering another human in cold blood is exactly what Jesus would do). A local Reverened by the name of Phillip Smith was so incensed he started to campaign to have an exorcism performed on Crosse's country estate. Admist the controversy the London's Electrical Society commisioned W. H. Weeks to repeat the experiment. Which he did. To his astonishment Weeks reported the same results, insects and all. The Electrical Society kept the report to themselves however, aware of the backlash against Crosse and afraid to be tarnished by the same brush.

Crosse kept his head low until the storm died down and, when it did, carried with things as normal. He lived a relatively happy life until the age of 66 when he died of a stroke. In the time between those two points he was an advocate of education for the lower classes, served as a magistrate, and remarried after his first wife's death in 1846.

Since his departure from this existence, Crosse's experiments have been hotly debated. Several have tried to repeat the experiment, most notably Henry Snoad, but none have managed to duplicate either Crosse's or Weeks results. Nowadays most agree that, at least in Crosse's case, the scientific instruments used were probably contaminated by dust mites or cheese mite (Gee Note: Which don't actually taste of cheese, despite their name. I know, I was dissappointed when I found that out as well).

But on the off chance that Crosse did in fact perform a miracle, then there is at least one piece of good news. The insects have already been named Acarus Crossii in his honour despite the fact that they may not even exist.

And I think that's a fitting tribute to the man. It's much better than being laughed at on national television anyway.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

"Yo, sir"? You must be from the south! That's "Yes, sir." You got foot patrol.

Well it's been a crazy old week so far. For a start, in a news item that seems like it was practically designed for Naveed, it turns out that one of the moons of Saturn has a spreading surface. Enceladus, the sixth largest of sixty, yes sixty, moons that orbit Saturn has an ice water surface that appears to move an awful lot like the tectonic places on Earth, prompting speculation amongst scientists that there's a liquid underneath the surface. Prompting speculation that the liquid may be water. Prompting speculation that there may be life on Enceladus. Prompting speculation of which will be the first to set up a joint there, McDonalds or KFC? It's exciting times kids.

Following on from this is a mountain of even more speculation, this time about the third Batman film. After The Dark Knight's ground breaking performance at the box office this summer, those bastions of common sense at The Sun have announced the new line up for the forthcoming flick tentatively entitled "Gotham". Christian Bale will reprise his role as the caped crusader heading an all star cast including Rachel Weisz as Catwoman, Shia Labeouf as Robin, and….. wait for it…. Eddie Murphy as The Riddler. A film insider was quoted as saying "Eddie's a fantastic addition. Everyone's excited to see what he does as The Riddler". Now, while I agree that it's about bloody time Murphy got his act together and produced a truly versatile performance such as Robin Williams in One Hour Photo or, er, Heath Ledger in TDK, it's sadly not going to be as The Riddler. Because, and you may want to be sitting down for this, currently there are no plans at all to film another movie in the Batman franchise. Christopher Nolan, the man most responsible for the rejuvenation of Bruce Wayne as a cinema force, is busy doing other things and as such Warner Bros., although anxious to get another Batman flick in the bag, daren't proceed without him for fear of ruining their one quality movie product (Gee Note: Because they wouldn't want to do something stupid like, oh I don't know, woefully miscasting a major role. Like, and this is just off the top of my head, having an iconic villain like The Riddler portrayed by someone like Eddie Murphy for example).

The "journalist" who wrote the article is a man named Gordon Smart (Gee Note: Oh the irony). Obviously Smart is a man who doesn't believe that facts should get in the way of a good story as with the minimum amount of research he would have found out that Nolan is on record as saying that he didn't believe certain characters from the comic books would work in this new "realistic" Batman universe. Among the characters he named as unlikely to ever appear in the franchise were Killer Croc, The Penguin, and most importantly Robin. Which means that Labeouf will not by donning the yellow cape of the boy wonder in the near future. Oh Shia, will you never be able break away from art house cinema like Indiana Jones and Transformers and get the chance to star in a summer block buster?

Also, today I found myself right slap bang in the middle of an Anthrax scare. No really, for reasons beyond my control I was in the office of a telecommunications company this morning when someone in the post room opened an envelope containing a white powder. Which means either Jack Nicholson got so wasted he accidentally mailed his stash to an overseas cable supplier (Gee Note: "Oh man, not again. What the hell am I meant to give the strippers now?"), or somebody intentionally filled an envelope with talcum powder hoping to scare the bejesus out of white collar workers.

The truly noteworthy aspect of all of this was the aftermath of the letter opening. Despite the fact that the local Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency felt the need to evacuate during the September 11th attacks (Gee Note: Which I still don't understand to this day. I mean did people honestly think that the DVLA was high on Osama Bin Laden's hit list? "Yes friends, we will attack the World Trade Centre throwing America's economy in to chaos. Then we will attack the Pentagon, crippling America's military. And then in our final assault, we will destroy the DVLA. This last step will surely bring the West to it's knees. Without a way of being able to register private licence plate numbers, there will be panic in the streets and civilized society will tear itself apart. Finally friends, victory will be ours. Mu ha ha ha ha hah!"), my home town of Swansea isn't really a terrorist hot spot. And so, probably due to the lack of experience in dealing with such matters, it took the police a whole three hours to turn up to the office block, by which point most people had forgotten about the whole "mail of death" thing and started to carry on with the rest of their day. The police, feeling that they should probably do something now that they were there, ordered all the smokers huddled in the freezing cold back in to building and stopped anyone else from entering. They then examined the powder and concluded that, as everybody was still very much alive, it wasn't anthrax after all. Following this brilliant piece of the detective work they seemed satisfied and left. All in a day's work ma'am.

Now it would be easy to criticise the local police for being inept. Very easy in fact. But then it should be remembered that Swansea is hardly cosmopolitan, and so as far as a copper's day to day work would go, you're much more likely to find out that someone's car has been nicked by Dean from Bonymaen than you are to stumble upon a criminal plot to overthrow the Swedish government. And hey, at least nobody died. Nah, as poorly prepared as the South Wales Police Force is when it comes to dealing with anything other than the simplest of crimes, they are far from the most inept crime fighting unit.

That award must surely go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, circa 1934.

Allow me to explain. After the roaring 20's the golden age of high profile criminals had pretty much come to an end. Organised crime's fight against prohibition endeared them to members of the public, making anti hero's out of folks like Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran. To some these were men who, while violent and brutal, were trying to combat an unjust law. However when prohibition was abandoned in 1933, these men and others like them suddenly found themselves the outcasts of society.

And so in 1934 America needed a new dashing criminal to fall in love with. Step forward and take a bow Mr. John Dillinger.





John Dillinger, born in 1903, was the son of a grocer. At the age of 4 his mother died, leaving his teenage sister Audrey to raise John Jr while daddy maintained the business. Without a strong hand to guide the young lad, Dillinger soon found himself in trouble with the law. Unhappy at home, and under the watchful eye of the local police force, Dillinger decided to join the Navy.

Sadly not even the life of the sea could whip the young John in to shape. He deserted only after a couple of months, and proceeded to continue his in and out of jail existence, managing to convince a girl named Beryl Hovious to both marry and divorce him in a five year period in the process.

While in jail for robbing a local grocer after a drinking binge, John took the opportunity to learn from the masters. Men like Harry Pierpont and Russell Clark, veterans of the robbery game, took it upon themselves to school the young Dillinger. John soaked in all the information he could, bided his time, planned ahead, and dreamed big. Dillinger didn't want to become just any old crim. Oh no, Dillinger wanted to be a bank robber.

Dillinger had the tools to succeed. He separated himself from the pack by, incredibly, emulating the movies. He would be stylish in his escapades, wearing nice suits and hoping over counters. He wasn't a violent man, nor did he have an explosive temper. In fact, in a world dominated by brutes and thugs such as Baby Face Nelson, Dillinger could've been considered something of a gentleman.


He was smart too. Realising that he would do himself more harm than good by walking in to every bank guns blazing, he came up with ingenious ways in which to relieve the institutions of their money. Such as posing as a security alarm Sales rep, or getting his gang to pretend they were a film crew shooting some “bank robbery” scenes.

Dillinger wasn't immune to being caught however. And at the beginning of 1934 was locked up in the “escape proof” Crown Point jail, after previously escaping prison in Lima. Unable to cope with life behind bars Dillinger put his intellect to work and came up with a plan. Carving a bar of soap in to the shape of a handgun and painting it black using shoe polish, John Dillinger bluffed his way to freedom. Not one to finish on a low note, Dillinger completed his getaway by stealing the brand new Ford of local Sheriff Lillian Holley. Holley was later quoted as saying “If I ever see John Dillinger again, I'll shoot him dead with my own gun.” (Gee Note: It would appear that Hell hath no fury like a woman who's just had her car nicked by a guy carrying a Dove bar). By taking the car over state lines however John peaked the interest of the FBI.

Dillinger and his crew headed to the Little Bohemia Lodge (Gee Note: What a great name. I don't know about you but to me that sounds like the kind of place that would rent by the hour. To pimps. And cockroaches.) in Wisconsin. Among this rogues gallery of, er, rogues were the aforementioned Baby Faced Nelson and Homer Van Meter. They attempted to keep a low profile for a bit and pre-occupied themselves by monitoring the owners of the lodge, making sure they weren't going to “rat them out” (Gee Note: I actually did my best Jimmy Cagney impression out loud while writing that. If somebody was near me when I did that they'd be all like "Wow man, you should be a professional or something". And I'd be like "No way man, I'd have to go on tour with it and be all famous and stuff. And at first all the groupies and the drugs would be fun. But then I'd have to pander to the man, and my face would be, like, on a cereal box or something. And then everbody would want a piece of me, and the paparazzi would follow me everywhere. And I couldn't live like that man. I just couldn't"). Sadly all did not go according to plan, as the owners wife managed to slip away unnoticed one morning and call the authorities.

And who should step up to answer that call? Why none other than the Feds themselves. Agent Melvyn Purvis led a mini army of the best and the brightest the Bureau had to offer to the lodge. Obviously, the element of surprise would be the key in apprehending these hardcore villains. So you can imagine how disheartened they must have felt when all their sneaking was undone by two guard dogs outside the lodge starting barking furiously at them.

Except, and get this, the crooks were so used to the dogs making a racket that they didn't bat an eyelid. No, what alerted them prematurely to the FBI's arrival was the sound of gunfire as the Fed's mistook three civilians for members of Dillinger's gang and blew them away. The gang, quickly realising the FBI were idiots had surrounded them grabbed their guns and shot their way out of trouble. At the end of the gun fight each member of the gang escaped unharmed. Only one more person was killed, an agent named W. Carter Baum who was gunned down by Nelson.

Three civilians. One FBI Agent. No bad guys. To the class of 1934.

Dillinger split from the rest of his crew and headed to Chicago where, under the name of Jimmy Lawrence, he tried to carve out a normal life. Realising that the FBI must have been pretty pissed at him by this point (Gee Note: And oh boy were they. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was not the most stable of chaps to begin with, but he became positively enraged when he discovered what had transpired at Little Bohemia. However, rather than rethink his strategy of having Commandant Lassard train his men, he laid the blame squarely at Dillinger's door and diverted approximately one third of the FBI's entire annual budget in to bringing in the bank robber) Dillinger resorted to desperate measures to conceal his identity. He even went so far as to burn the skin of his fingers with acid, hoping that his fingerprints would either be removed forever or come back as different a set. However after going through months of agonising pain while he waited for his hand to heal, Dillinger was the first man to discover that even if skin is removed from a finger the prints will grow back exactly as they were.

Sadly John's attempts to keep hidden ended in his demise. He started dating a girl named Polly Hamilton, who soon introduced him to her friend Anna Sage. Sage recognised Dillinger from his picture in the paper and promptly contacted the FBI with her information. She offered to give Dillinger up in exchange for a free pass for her upcoming deportation back to her native land of Romania. The Feds readily agreed, and so a date and a time was set. Dillinger was to attend the the Biograph theatre on July 22nd 1934. It would be his last day alive.

The FBI rounded up as many of their own men as they could and hired a couple of gun men from police forces outside of Chicago, the theory being that Chicago's own police force had been compromised. Unfortunately because of this the FBI did not inform the powers that be within the Chicago police, and so when the Biograph's manager noticed a bunch of odd characters hanging around outside the theatre, all of whom were armed to the teeth, he assumed they were planning to rob the joint and dialled 911. Only a hasty phone call from Purvis averted the boys in blue from spoiling the FBI's party.

Upon leaving the theatre with with Hamilton and Dillinger, Sage was spotted by the FBI wearing a previously agreed upon orange dress. However, as it's been already established that stealth was hardly the Bureau's forte, Dillinger immediately knew something was up and quickly made an exit for a nearby alleyway, attempting to draw his gun in the process. Three bullets later, two in the chest and one in the neck and America's most notorious bank robber was dead.

Which is where we come in.

See the thing is, not everyone is convinced that John Dillinger died that hot summer's night.

As well as the usual Elvis like inconsistencies in the autopsy report (Gee Note: I should think of a word to sum that up, like the Chinese guy in Tremors who comes up with name GRABOIDZ to describe those huge worm things that keep eating the local folk. Elvisities? Elvisalites? Elviserons? I'll think of something.) such as the colour of Dillinger's eyes not matching the records held by police and what not, other disputable evidence cropped up. The corpse appeared to have heart condition which would have prevented Dillinger from joining the Navy or playing Baseball in jail, something which he did avidly according to the physician of Indiana State Prison. And even more curious, the gun Dillinger is reported to have drawn when shot to death was put on show at FBI headquarters until some clever button pointed out that it was the wrong pistol. After all how could Dillinger draw a gun that was manufactured five months after his death?

And then there was the letter. Posted to the Indiana Star in 1963 with a return address in Hollywood, California. The letter accompanied a photograph of on older man who looked remarkably like an aged John Dillinger.

But one thing tears all this down. Those rotten fingerprints. Despite the scarring, the prints from the body were a positive match for Dillinger.

So why all the controversy? Well take in to consideration these points. The FBI were embarrassed by the lodge incident, causing Hoover to lose the plot and divert a ton of money to the hunt for one man. The man in charge of both the assault on Little Bohemia, and in the Biograph stakeout was Agent Melvyn Purvis, who surely would have had a score to settle. And the gun apparently peeled from Dillinger's cold dead hands and proudly put on display was a fraud.

So the question should not be if it was Dillinger that was shot. Instead it should be what if Dillinger was unarmed when he was shot? What if the gun Dillinger allegedly pulled from his holster prompting the authorities to open fire never existed? If that's the case the justifacation for gunning down the man in that dark alleyway seems slim at best.

Sadly, we'll probably never know for sure. But if I'm honest I would put anything past the class of 1934.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!

You know there are just some things I can't get my head around. For example, post-modern Art confuses the hell out of me.

Take the case of Simon Pope. In 2006 he installed an exhibition in the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. Having been paid an undisclosed sum of money for the work, some of which would have been derived from the £50,000 grant given to Chapter by the Arts Council of Wales, one would have thought that Mr. Pope would have pulled out all the stops in order to bowl over the good folks who came to see it. After all judging by the number of BBC types that frequent the place, Chapter is pretty much the artistic heart of Wales. One gets the impression that a strong showing at Chapter in front of the right person can really make a career.

So what did Pope do for this once in a life time opportunity? Well according to a spokeswoman for Chapter he produced "a seemingly impossible feat: summoning up remote spaces - through memory, body, speech and movement - reduplicating these spaces, so that (the visitors) exist at two locations simultaneously." (Gee Note: Whoever this woman is she should get together with Carlos Miguel Allende. Those two would get on like a house on fire. Or, knowing what a nut bar Allende was, actually set a house on fire. One of the two). Which sounds fabulous right? So what did the good people who dutifully turned up to the exhibition actually see?

Nothing.

Sorry I'm being facetious, because that's not strictly true. They saw some walls, a floor, a roof, and, er, that's it. No hanging paintings. No suggestive sculptures representing male or female genitalia. Just a bare room.

The idea was, apparently, that people who came to the exhibit would reminisce about previous exhibitions they had been to, and then imagine those works were in front of them as they wandered through the empty space. (Gee Note: Is it just me or couldn't you do that from the comfort of your own home? Seems an awful lot of effort to jump in the car, drive down to the local arts centre, park up, get out, lock the car door, walk three feet forward before turning around and walking back to make sure you've locked the car door..... just to spend an afternoon with one's memories. I mean couldn't you just put your feet up at home and crack open a photo album instead?)

As you can probably tell this didn't go down all to well with the local press. And it's not hard to see why. I mean I do understand that a lot of post-modern art is to do with the idea, the initial concept that nobody has thought of before but seems so simple afterwoulds (Gee Note: The term for which is known inexplicably as the “Egg of Columbus”. Which is news to me. I didn't even know he was a bird. Boom Boom. Ah, rest in peace Bob Monkhouse.) Which is fine, if the idea is genuinely a good one. But sadly one can't open an art show if your only attraction is a life sized sculpture of a great white shark wearing a pair of skis. Because, even though it's original, it doesn't say anything other than “I thought about a shark wearing skis”. And so while an art exhibition without art is also original, all it says is, well, you know the rest.

Unless of course someone makes it big in the art world with a sculpture of a shark wearing a pair of skis. In which case post-modern art really does confuse the hell out of me.

Speaking of post-modern art, arguably the world's most famous currently active artist outside of Jasper Johns is our very own Damien Hirst. Hirst rocketed to fame in the 90's with his work called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” which, after you'd got past the ridiculously long and needless title, turns out to be a dead tiger shark floating in a tank full of formaldehyde. It was sold by Charles Saatchi, the man who commissioned the piece, for £8 million in 2004.

Hirst's latest notable work is “For the Love of God” which looks like something a Columbian drug lord would have mounted on his wall next to the lion's head.




Like almost everything Hirst does it's steeped in controversy. For a start it's apparently not entirely original, as the artist John LeKay claims it's based on his own crystal skull work called Spiritus Callidus # 2 made in 1993. Also Hirst claims that For the Love of God was sold for a reported £50 million, which would make it the highest paid price for a single work by a living artist. Problem is it was sold to an unnamed consortium, with the money being paid in cash (Gee Note: Which means their either giants or they needed a truck to carry it around). However a lot of folks dispute that the work was ever sold at all. In fact editor of Jackdaw magazine Dave Lee is on record as saying "Everyone in the art world knows Hirst hasn't sold the skull. It's clearly just an elaborate ruse to drum up publicity and rewrite the book value of all his other work.".

Mind, if that is true then it wouldn't be the first time a Crystal Skull had been “sold” under mysterious circumstances. In fact you'd only have to go back as far as 1944 and a chap named F. A. Mitchell-Hedges.

Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges was an English adventurer with a penchant for tall tales and showmanship. Through out his career Mitchell-Hedges was rumoured to be working for the British government as a spy, a mercenary for hire, or a rich Jack the lad, all personalities that he cultivated vigorously. Despite his lack of bona fide credentials as an explorer, he was a darling on the British socialite scene, regaling them with stories of lost civilisations and dangerous beasts.

He even managed to write a couple of books. Ones with such glorious titles as, “Land of Wonder and Fear”, and “Battles with Giant Fish”. (Gee Note: The last one is my favourite. I can just imagine Mitchell-Hedges writing something along the lines of “Bunty and I were diving in Eastern Indian Ocean, when out of the shadows came this terrifying monstrosity brought forth from the pits of hell itself. Still, a quick wax of the whiskers and a stiff jab later, and we were home in time for crumpets and tea”). Alas, they at best can be charitably described as “fictional” pieces rather than anything else. Still it's tough to look down upon a man who obviously had an infectious joie de vivre, however much nonsense he spouted.

Another book penned by the amazing Mr. Mitchell-Hedges was the old boy's autobiography, entitled “Danger My Ally” (Gee Note: Apparently the second choice for the title was “I Drop Ice Cubes Down the Vest of Fear”). In the first printed edition he recounted a tale of a trip to British Honduras in 1924. It was there they found the ancient ruins of a Mayan temple. Upon investigating the area Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges, Frederick's adopted daughter, discovered something very strange indeed. Because, much to her astonishment, glistening in the rubble was a Crystal Skull. Anna removed the object and quickly enquired of the few remaining Maya as to what this artefact was, and was told that it was used by a Mayan High Priest to "will death". Thus it was was given the catchy title of “The Skull of Doom”.

Soon all sorts of strange claims were made about the The Skull of Doom. It kept itself at a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit they said, and could perform any number of miracles such as curing someone of disease or administering a curse upon them. In later years Anna would claim that she saw a premonition of the assassination of John F. Kennedy when handling the skull, and that visions like these were not uncommon.

Sadly however, these claims forced sceptics to look harder at the history of The Skull of Doom. And what they found didn't quite match up. For a start no mention of the skull was made by Mitchell-Hedges or anyone else in the documentation of the original excavation. No photographs of the artefact, and no recorded mention of it by Mitchell-Hedges in any way shape or form prior to 1944, 20 years after it was apparently discovered.

And when it was found in British Museum records that Frederick had purchased a Crystal Skull from a man named Sydney Burney, an art dealer who had himself owned the skull since 1933, in an auction at Sothebys, the sceptics crowed that the The Skull of Doom was nothing more than a hoax. It certainly didn't help matters much when the official on-line website for the Mitchell-Hedges' claimed that:

In 1943, Mitchell-Hedges got embroiled in another controversy that still rages in some quarters to this day. In times before burglar alarms, it was not unusual to leave valuable items with friends if one was going away for long periods of time.

Mitchell-Hedges did this with a school friend, Sidney Burney, who had always shown an interest in the Crystal Skull. However, in 1943, Burney inexplicably put the Crystal Skull up for auction at Sotheby’s in London.

Mitchell-Hedges learnt of this the day before and was so furious that for a while he was unable to speak. Unable to contact Burney, he arose the next day at 5am and travelled to London to retrieve his property.

Sotheby’s informed him that the vendor was Sidney Burney’s son. When they refused to withdraw it from the sale, Mitchell-Hedges realized the easiest way of regaining his property was to purchase it back. This he did for £400.

Did I ever tell you about my coffee table? I discovered it in the crater of recently crashed meteorite in New Mexico. Judging by it's style and size I immediately realised it had been carved by an ancient race of Martians. Unfortunately I had to leave soon for a business trip to Africa, and having no lockable doors in the wood hut that I was living in at the time, gave it to my good friend Jimmy Ikea to look after. Upon my return I was amazed to discover that Ikea was trying to sell my coffee table in his local brick-a-brack store. Rather than cause a fuss I bought the table there and then and told Mr. Ikea that if it wasn't for his useful and good value for money range of storage devices for DVD's I'd be really cross with him right now.

Dude, c'mon now. That explanation is as full as holes as the Albert Hall. I mean if you want to come up with a story at least try and make it sound somewhat plausible. Otherwise the people this tale was designed to sway, the folks who think that the your full of nonsense to begin with, will simply laugh at you. Which, as it happens, is pretty much how it went. And, despite the fact that prior to 1933 there is no record of just where the hell this skull came from, the credibility of the Skull of Doom has been debated ever since. Well, actually no, that's not quite right. For a debate one would need at least two contrasting points of view. The general consensus in this case is that because of all the hoo-ha surrounding it's discovery, the Mitchell-Hedges skull is nothing but a fraud.

Which is a massive shame. Because it really does deserve more analysis than that. I mean it's not even supposed to be physically possible to make for a start. Or so say the good people at Hewlett-Packard.

Having already been grilled by all and sundry Anna became fiercely protective of the skull all the way to her death in 2007, refusing to let it be tested or carbon dated by anyone. Probably due to the fear of yet more public humiliation. However somehow the skull did find it's way to a Hewlett-Packard laboratory in 1970. One of the most highly regarding crystal testing facilities in the world at the time, the the skull was extensively put through it's paces in Santa Clara, California, overseen by Art restorer Frank Dorland.

And the results were, well, astonishing.

According to the data from the HP final report, it is five inches wide, just over five inches high, and seven inches long. Unlike other crystal skulls that have been discovered and traced back to a 19th Century European art movement, this skull is almost an exact anatomically correct replica of a female human skull, right down the detachable jawbone. The second noteworthy point the report brings up is that the skull was carved from a single piece of crystal clear quartz “against the grain”.



Now, as any fool will know, carving something against the grain is by and large impossible. It means the tools will be working against the crystals natural molecular symmetry. This would force the crystal to shatter, even using modern carving tools such as lasers. So unless the sculpture was initially supposed to be something else, but splintered to form a visually perfect human skull then it really shouldn't exist in it's unblemished form. (Gee Note: Having said that it's not that difficult to believe having used the Graffiti application on Facebook. I tried drawing a balloon on Mana's wall once. In the end things got so far out of hand I had to settle for a stick figure of M.C. Hammer instead. Complete with baggy trousers. Of course I claimed that was my intention all along. Stop.... Hammer Time).

And this leads on the next curious thing. During the tests at HP they found no evidence of microscopic marks that would indicate the use of metallic tools. Which begs the question how the deuces was it carved in the first place? Well Dorland put forth the theory that it was roughly cut with diamonds initially and then gently nudged in to shape with sand, or silicon, or both. Which some bright spark then deduced would take roughly 300 years worth of man hours.

So the real interest in this crystal skull is not in it's supposed mystical powers or it's disputed origin, but in it's properties instead. And for me the one mystery of how it was made and by whom is enough, without adding the “discovered in an ancient temple of witchcraft” or “can kill a person by making their nostril hairs do the tango” stipulations. Because sometimes the simple questions are the best ones.

The skull is currently held by Bill Homman, Anna Mitchell-Hedges partner at the time of her death. I would think that in accordance with her wishes he'll keep it under wraps for the time being. Meaning that it may be a while before an even more thorough test is done on the skull. There may be a time rather soon however that the all mighty dollar convinces the owner otherwise. After all, there are an awful lot of eccentric billionaires out there, and crystal skulls are big business. They were recently used as a main focal point in the latest instalment of the Indiana Jones (Gee Note: Sadly not even the skulls magic powers could help out the quality of a movie that suggests that all one would need to do to avoid a nuclear war would be to hide in a fridge). And they've even been used in conjunction with Dan Aykroyd to promote a novelty vodka.

And I think it's only right that we leave the final word on Crystal Skulls to everyone's second favourite Ghostbuster.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Follow the money.

I get distracted easily, especially when it comes to research. This is almost always a bad thing, such as the time where I spent two hours laughing at a Youtube video about a “Ninja Cat” instead of finding out who was the President of the United States in January 1974 (Gee Note: It was, of course, Richard Nixon). Another example, if it wasn't for my limited attention span I would never have found out that my home town of Swansea was the birth place of Princess Lilian of Sweden, who is still going strong at the age of 93. God bless her.

Sadly the subject I was researching has nothing to do with former party girls who won the heart of Prince Bertil, because otherwise that little nugget of information might be quite useful. However seeing as Lillian May Davies cannot even be remotely connected with famous British Earthquakes or with UFO crash sites then I guess I'll have to tuck it away with every other bit of useless data I've acquired in the past three months or so. In to the “Random” folder you go Your Royal Highness.

Anyway, speaking of January 1974 (Gee Note: “Oh, what a MacGuffin I've been!”) try and picture the scene. You're in North Wales, it's bloody cold, and for the past couple of months a strange aircraft dubbed “The Phantom Helicopter” has been seen in the skies hovering dangerously low, even flying in treacherous conditions. Then on January 23rd at precisely 8.38 pm all hell breaks loose. A massive explosion emanating from the nearby Berwyn Mountains causes the ornaments on the mantelpiece to rattle. Suddenly the ground beneath you starts to tremble and the tea cups on the coffee table topple to the floor. This lasts a full four or five seconds and scares the bejesus out of the dog. As you rush to your window to see just what the hell is going on, a brilliant light greets you, cutting through the dark night sky like a scalpel.

Within minutes the military have surrounded the region. A young nurse, thinking that a plane may have crashed in to the mountains races to the scene, and considering it's biggest peak is some 827 metres high it's not an unnatural assumption to make. She makes her way to the mountains but is astonished to find a series of “fairy lights” appear in the landscape before her. She pulls over to get a better look and is further amazed when there in the side of the mountain a giant disc appears to be glowing, changing colour from red to orange to white. Too far away to make it by foot she heads back in to her car and further down the road until she is accosted by a series of military personnel. She is told in no uncertain terms that the mountain range is out of bounds and escorted away from the area. A couple of hours later a large army truck is seen travelling away from the mountains with a sizeable crate on its back, flanked by a convey of outriders.

The surrounding towns of Bala, Llandrillo and Llanderfel become a hive of activity over the next couple of days. Strangers from other parts of the country arrive and start asking locals about what they've seen and heard, making notes, and generally being a bit too nosey. Meanwhile the police issue a statement saying something along the lines of “Nothing to see here folks” while an official report is kept under wraps. Reporters from national newspapers do the rounds, asking questions about “meteorites” and “crashed aeroplanes”.

Eventually the strangers and the reporters disappear, the police remain tight lipped, and because nothing else shakes for a while the villagers carry on with their lives.

And then a couple of months later documents start doing the rounds with ufologists all around the north of England. Claiming to be from the Aerial Phenomena Enquiry Network, or APEN for short, these documents state that an extra terrestrial aircraft had collided with the Berwyn mountains that evening and that it had been excavated by the army some hours later. And with this an incident that had pretty much been accepted as definitely rather odd but, er, nothing much else suddenly becomes the most famous case in U.K. close encounter history.

Because, after all that had happened, Great Britain had a “Roswell” of it's very own.

Soon even more evidence was added to pot. Radiation readings taken in the area later that year were shown to be abnormally high. A local man named Arthur Adams, a former Concorde engineer, visited the sight in 1980 and found green metallic fragments embedded in the rock. He took samples back home and connected them to voltmeter. A 1 inch cube fragment gave off two kilowatts of electricity (Gee Note: Ah, if only it was the 1.21 Gigawatts needed to power the Flux Capacitor. Then we could ALL have hoverboards). An unnamed source contacted experienced ufoologist Tony Dodd, claiming to be part of a military unit that had escorted two oblong boxes away from the town of Llanderfil sometime after the initial incident. These boxes were taken to Porton Down in Wiltshire where they were opened in front of the informant. He claimed that the contents of the two crates were the dead bodies of two aliens who were “about five to six feet tall, humanoid in shape but so thin they looked almost skeletal with covered skin.”

So the question is, just how likely is it that a UFO got itself in an awful mess and managed to hit a great big piece of rock in an otherwise uneventful corner of the globe?




Well, as with everything, it depends on who you believe.

For example a lot of what I've just related above is here say, reliant on unverified claims. Thanks to the excellent work of Andy Roberts we have learned that the report of a truck heading away from the mountain range was reported by a local newspaper but an eyewitness to the incident has never come forward. The Phantom Helicopter was a phenomenon that happened far away from the Berwyn mountain range, indeed no strange aerial sightings were reported in Bala or surrounding areas previous to the night of the 23rd. The lights in the sky can be attributed to a particularly vibrant meteor shower that would have been visible that night. And the strangers asking questions were members of the British Geological Survey, who had come to town to study the very real Earthquakes that had happened that evening. Roberts maintains that when taking all this in to consideration the likely hood of a Berwyn being the final resting place of a couple of Zeta Reticulans (Gee Note: Or them big headed, pot bellied, grey skinned dudes to you and me) is very slim indeed.

Which is all very convincing. But a few unanswered questions remain. For example Roberts claims that there was no military presence in the area for the next couple of days. Instead local memories have become confused with an incident in February 1982 where an RAF Harrier Jet did legitimately crash in to the Berwyn mountain, prompting the air force to close off the area for some time. Which, again, makes sense except for the fact that newspaper reports from the time specifically make mention of a military presence in the area after the incident. And what of the “glowing disk” that Nurse Pat Evans saw in the mountains? Well after much painstaking explanation Roberts puts forward the theory that it was the light from a poacher's lamp (Gee Note: And it's no wonder he spends so much time qualifying his theory. After all the idea that someone could mistake a torch used by a poacher for a flying saucer is, you know, pretty lame. I mean the two are so abstract. It would be like mistaking Madonna for someone with talent). Having read the arguments for this theory I can't say I'm holy convinced.

But it is a far from certain “Alien Encounter” as some would have you believe. Especially those mysterious folks at APEN.

Ah yes APEN. Without whom none of this would have ever come about. Just who are this seemingly know all group of highly resourceful and knowledgeable people?

Well it's impossible to say with any certainty. APEN are kind of like a British version of the “Men In Black” except without the snappy dress sense. They tend to communicate with ufologists by sending them cassette tapes or letters without contact details or a return address. Very rarely do they contact UFO researchers in person and when they do, as with the case of Peter Bottomley, it tends to be for a purpose.

Bottomley was contacted by APEN in an effort to recruit him in acting as a “go between” for the group. He discussed this with fellow UFO researcher Jenny Randles. Randles felt that the group were not to be trusted or relied upon and confessed these feelings to Bottomley. A couple of days later Bottomley turned down APEN's offer. A couple of weeks after that Randles moved house, and upon arriving at her new abode she found a “Welcome Home” card from APEN. Inside was the message "Never call anyone bigger than yourself stupid".

Which, when you think about it, is quite unsettling. Most ufologists believe that the APEN is a hoax. Nick Redfern, the prominent British cryptozoologist and ufologist, stated in a series of interviews recently that APEN is a radical right wing movement that uses disinformation and smear campaigns against genuine UFO research groups. This, according to Redfern, is in order to cause disharmony amongst them and gain more prominence amongst individuals who would then join the APEN unaware of its political agenda. (Gee Note: Why is it that conspiracy theories and cover-ups always attract far right wing mentalists? I mean if you're xenophobic and racist to begin with wouldn't an Alien be, like, the ultimate foreigner? I'm just saying, as a front to a Neo-Nazi organisation a UFO research group seems an odd choice.)

Whatever the case APEN don't seem like the most trustworthy bunch of guys. And so when it comes to a possible UFO crash site that owes its infamy to a Nazi loving group of wannabe Deep Throats, it's easy to agree with Andy Roberts and his ascertain that maybe the Berwyn Mountain UFO crash was nothing other than a combination of a meteor, some poachers lights and an earthquake.

But deep down, I don't know. Yes APEN are probably both a fabrication and evil. Yes the reports of military activity in the Berwyn Mountains may have been embellished somewhat. And yes a meteorite may explain the lights seen in the sky. But there's still a couple of things that don't add up. The glowing disk, the radiation readings, the strange metal fragments. It's enough to say that maybe something very strange did happen around the sleepy villages of North Wales one winter.

I wonder what Princess Lilian would make of it all?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.

Trilogies are, by and large, pretty much rubbish. Even the best franchises tend to go downhill by the third instalment. From “Spider-Man” to “The Godfather” almost every single cinema work that has attempted a three part odyssey has found that final hump just a step too far. Even the mighty Star Wars struggled with Return of the Jedi, before George Lucas decided to prove that what we fondly remembered as being the best thing ever in our childhood was, er, not that good by releasing three of the most poorly judged films imaginable (Gee Note: Seriously, I've tried loving the prequels. Really I have. And I don't think they're bad per se, just an example of a completely wasted opportunity). In fact, with the exception of Serge Leone's “Fistful” trilogy, good three parters are very thin on the ground.

So why do those creative types in Hollywood keep making them, knowing that by film three the quality will have gone down hill so badly that those enlightened folks on the talk back section of Aint it Cool will be questioning the film makers parentage? Well there's two reasons. Firstly Hollywood is foremost a business, and so a movie with an in built fan base and proven track record will always be ridden in to the ground like a lame donkey. If you ever needed any proof just look at what happened to X-Men. Bryan Singer, regarded by most as an absolutely fine director until the misstep that was Superman Returns, had crafted a perfectly decent origin story for the first movie before knocking the ball out of the park with the second film. And then, after months of wrangling with the suits at FOX, he was replaced by Brett Ratner. That's right, the man who directed “The Usual Suspects” was replaced with the guy who directed “Rush Hour”. And the end result, despite being financially successful, was a dreadful film. But as far as FOX were concerned, it made a ton of money and so was therefore the best thing since sliced bread. And they'd do it all over again if they could.

The second reason is that, sometimes even the best of us don't know when to stop. After all nobody on earth outside of Francis Ford Coppola wanted to see Michael Corleone spend four hours trying to make the family legit before deciding to say “Bollocks to it” and kill everyone in sight. Still Coppola did it. Why? Because he arguably misjudged what made the initial two films absorbing to begin with. The Godfather was always about how an honourable man does dishonourable things to maintain a twisted vision of what makes a greater good. Having a remorseful ageing gangster fretting over his past transgressions and his flirty daughter for 240 odd minutes is, well, not all that interesting. And because of that Coppola managed to make part III of the greatest gangster story ever told very very dull indeed. Sadly Francis hasn't come anywhere near making a decent film since to atone for this grave injustice.

Anyway, enough of all that. Welcome to the final instalment of the “I Saw Elvis In The Woods Werewolf Trilogy”.

Yeah, you're right. It's probably going to be awful.

So, the trouble with Werewolves (Gee Note: Not to be confused with the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Although how great would it be if William Shatner opened that cupboard and a bloody great big wolf leapt out and went straight for his jugular? Now THAT would be drama.) is that, for such an iconic creature, sightings of the wee beasties are frustratingly rare. As mentioned previously, I'm not sure if shown a werewolf I'd be able to distinguish it from a regular wolf. Unless it played basketball really well and pulled Lorie Griffin. That would be a dead give away.

Even the very few reports of Werewolves that trickle in are almost always cases of mistaken identity. Take the story of Andrei Chikatilo. Or the Rostov Ripper if you prefer. Chikatilo was a serial killer who preyed of disadvantaged youths of both sexes for a period of 12 years between 1978 and 1990, murdering 53 people in the process. Chikatilo would often use a knife to rape his victims with, and then eat their sexual organs. Unfortunately, because these crimes were committed within the boundaries of those sensible chaps in the Soviet Union, a media blackout was ordered so that the state's enemies and her own public would not know that a serial killer was loose in her borders (Gee Note: Insane isn't it? “Nah we don't have such things as serial killers. However we do have several thousand nuclear warheads pointing directly at the United States of America”. I don't know about you, but if I was a citizen in the USSR at the time I'd rather hear about one mental chap with a knife, than the fact that my leaders were thinking of instigating a war that would end up nuking me off the face of this earth). And so local communities, upon hearing of the mutilated corpses that were piling up by way of rumour, became convinced that a Werewolf was on the prowl. Now while Chikatilo could be accurately described as a “sick puppy” that's, unfortunately as far as this blog is concerned, about the extent of his canine features.

So Werewolf sightings are about as rare as a decent Pussycat Dolls record. But in a world full of crazy drunks diverse folk such as ours there's always bound to be one or two.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present Doristine Gipson.

On October 31st 1989 Miss Gipson was travelling along Bray Road near Delavan, Wisconsin. She had reached over to change the radio station (Gee Note: Seeing as “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson was the number one record in the country at the time, I'm surprised she just didn't turn the damn thing off), when she felt her front tire jump off the ground as if she had hit something. She got out to have a look and did not see anything around her. However off in the distance some movement caught her eye. A large, dark figure was coming towards her with some speed. It was heavily built, and appeared to be covered in fur. Unnerved by this Doris jumped in her car and attempted to drive away. Before she could get very far however the figure had jumped on to the back of her trunk, but was unable to hang on. Instead it fell to the wayside leaving a scratch on the paint work.

(Gee Note: If I was Christopher Davis, I would sue the ass off this woman.)

To her credit Doris didn't for one second believe she had seen anything too out of the ordinary. Instead when relating this story to her friends she would surmise that perhaps she had accidentally knocked down a bear that had then become slightly miffed and attacked the car. But upon hearing this story others came out of the woodwork to tell of their odd encounters along Bray Road.

One such person was Lorianne Endrizzi. Endrizzi was 24 and working as a bar manager in the autumn of 1989 when she found herself one night driving down Bray Road. She saw what she claims was a half man, half wolf creature hunched at the side of the road. It had a strong upper body, grey fur, fangs, long pointed ears, and it's face was “long and snouty”. Oh and it had glowing yellow eyes (Gee Note: Always with the red eyes. What?!? Yellow eyes you say? Well I'll be dammed. That's three in a row).

Even more weirdness was to come. The following year a young woman Heather Bowey claimed to have had a run in with the Beast at some point during the Christmas period after she and some friends were on their way back from a spot of sledding. It approached initially on it's hind legs before bounding towards them on all fours, chasing the terrified group briefly before turning off in another direction. She described it as having grey-brownish fur and was “way too big to be a dog”.

A year and a bit after that in February 1992 Tammy Bray was travelling along Bray Road having finished a hard days work at a retirement home, when a remarkably similar beast to the one described above nonchalantly stepped out in front of her. She slammed on the breaks only to receive what can only be called a “Hey, I'm walking here!” look from the animal before it carried on it's merry way. She ran home to tell her husband, Steve Bray. Oddly enough Steve was one of those that had claimed to have spotted the beast back in 1989. No really, he claimed to have seen it from a distance in a field or something. I don't know, it didn't involve cars screeching to a halt or rosy cheeked children being chased by a demon beast from hell so it's not very interesting. But the coincidence is intriguing don't you think?

Alas this is pretty much where the Beast of Bray road story ends, as no further credible sightings of the creature have been reported. Even though, much like the Chupacabra, a mutilated farm animal turns up every so often that gets the local press all giddy at the prospect of the the return of the Wolfman.

Outside of our old favourite “mass hysteria” no explanation has been offered as to what could cause such a rash of sightings, all of which were remarkably similar and all from pretty reliable people. Was it a bear? A wolf? A hoax? A collective figment of the imagination? Sadly we'll probably never know either way. Which means that we end our trilogy on a bit of an anti climax.

See? I told you they were rubbish.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Don't tell me what I can't do.

I've become ridiculously hooked on “Lost”. As far as I'm concerned it has everything I look for in a television show. Guns, monsters, stuff that blatantly doesn't make sense, good actors who look witheringly off in to the distance every so often, a bonkers French woman who for some unknown reason has a Yugoslavian accent, it's just fantastic in each and every way. Sadly, after a playground spat between two of Britain's rival cable companies, I ended up missing the entirety of the 4th season as I simply couldn't recieve the channel it was broadcast on. But thanks to the magic of DVD I am currently catching up as best I can and enjoying every second of it.

One of the things I especially love about Lost is that every episode starts with a 20 second montage of scenes from previous episodes proceeded by a voice over stating “Previously on Lost”. And the reason I love that is because it's one of the things that make television a truly unique art form. You really wouldn't be able to get away with it in any other medium. For example, could you honestly see yourself buying a ticket for Return of the Jedi, settling down in your cinema seat, hearing the trumpets of 20th Century Fox before Mark Hamill's voice pops up with:

“Previously on Star Wars.”

“Luke, I am your Father.”

“Noooooooooooooooooooo!”

I don't know, it wouldn't really work would it?

Sad thing is though, for this post I could really do with a “Previously on I Saw Elvis In The Woods”. Because, much like the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 are still stuck on an Island, we're still stuck on the subject of Werewolves. Partly because they're damned interesting, and partly because I ended up doing so much research for the last post and used, er, none of it. Problem is, if I had a “Previously on...” then I wouldn't have to bother with an introduction and skip straight to the bits worth talking about. Now however I have to think of way to introduce the subject all over again.

Ah hell with it.

Previously on I Saw Elvis In The Woods, we talked about my receding hair line and a big animal that terrorised Southern-Central France that may or not have been a Werewolf.

So, moving on.

The thing about the Beast of Gevaudan is that it wasn't alone in terms of European “Big Bad Wolf” encounters in the middle ages. The province of Périgord was accosted by a pack of ravenous wolves in February 1766. The city of Sarlat itself had only just recovered from a lone wolf that had injured 17 people in June the very same year before The Beast of Gevaudan came calling. Even Paris had trouble with wolves in the winter of 1450 when a hungry pack breached the city walls, killing approximately 40 people before an angry mob stoned the poor canines to death.

But if you're looking for the possible existence of a Werewolf then nothing can hold a candle the story of Peter Stubbe, aka Peter Stumpp.

Stubbe was born in the village of Epprath near the town of Bedburg, Cologne, Germany. The exact date of his birth is unknown, the records probably destroyed during one of the many wars that swept through Germany over the following centuries. What we do know is that by 1580 Stubbe was a widower, a father of two, a wealthy land owner and farmer, and an influential part of the rural community. It was around this time that Stubbe started a relationship with a distant relative called Katharina Trump.

Then, on the eve of Halloween, 1589 Peter Stubbe was executed.





There's only one source that divulges the details of this event. A German pamphlet entitled “A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of One Stubbe Peeter, a Most Wicked Sorcerer.” (Gee Note: And who wouldn't want to read that? It's amazing that more books don't take that approach. For example, “Tuesday with Morrie” would probably sell a bucket load more if it was called “Tuesday with Morrie.... and a vicious Warlock.”). There are only two known copies of this in existence, both English language translations of the original German version. The text reads like this.

Those whome the Lord dooth leaue to followe the Imagination of their own hartes, dispising his proffered grace, in the end through the hardnes of hart and contempt of his fatherly mercy, they enter the right path to perdicion and destruction of body and soule for euer.

Translation : Look guys, God's a pretty laid back dude. Just don't get on his bad side OK? Just saying, the cat's got a pretty mean temper ya dig?

Anyway according to the pamphlet Stubbe confessed to murder of 16 people, of which included two pregnant women and his own son. He would often eat the body parts of his victims and even in some cases, as apparently happened with his son, devoured their brains. His motive however wasn't some repressed sexual desire, or the insatiable lust for power.

Nay good people, according to the confession Stubbe made while he was on a torture rack, the real culprit was the Devil. Stubbe claimed that he had dabbled in black magic at a formative age, and at some point had raised the Dark Lord from the depths of Hell. The Devil, like any good house guest brought with him some gifts, a succubus that Stubbe had intercourse with, and a belt (Gee Note: “Oh really, you shouldn't have. A bottle of wine would've been fine).

Now you would think that out of the two, the most interesting of these two presents would be the succubus (Gee Note: I'd also like to point out that at no point have I had a guest around my house who's brought with them something I could have sex with. Am I, in fact, just inviting the wrong people around for elevenses?). But you'd be wrong. Because the belt wasn't any old belt. Oh hell no, this was a magic belt. One that when worn would turn you in to a ferocious, slavering, animal. One that, when worn by the illustrious Mr. Stubbe, turned him in to a ravenous......

Goat.

Nah, not really. The Devil's Magic Girdle (Gee Note: That would be one heck of a band name. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome on stage The Devil's Magic Girdle. Seriously the tickets would sell themselves) turned Peter from a mild mannered farmer in to a ravenous wolf.

Now bare in mind that, as previously mentioned, Stubbe confessed to this while on a torture rack. And if I'm honest, if every joint in my body was being slowly wrenched out of their sockets simultaneously, then I'd probably swear on the bones of Zombie Jesus that the comic book character Magneto was entirely based on me and my strange yet alluring powers over metal if you told me to. But apparently this was proof enough of his guilt to his accusers who, also believing he had been involved in an incestuous relationship with his own daughter Sybil, executed Stubbe by bludgeoning him to death on a breaking wheel. His head was then severed from his body and, as a warning to others, it was placed on top of a pole along with the carcass of a wolf (Gee Note: “Ok so you're saying that if the Devil calls, I should get someone to tell him I'm out pitchfork shopping or something right? Yeah, I think I've got it).

Now, what makes this all the more interesting is that Stubbe was a Protestant. Which even until very recently would have got you in to trouble in certain parts of Britain, let alone 16th century Germany. Especially considering that during the time of the crimes, an internal war between Catholics and Protestants had raged in the province of Cologne. At the time of the trial, the Catholics had recently grasped power in the region. And due to the lack of evidence outside of said pamphlet and the fact that both Sybil Stubbe and Katharina Trump were executed along side Peter Stubbe for, er, no real apparent reason that I can see, this trial takes on a whole new meaning. Could it be that the new Catholic regime, attempting to stamp authority on the Protestant population much in the same way the Protestant regime had done years earlier, used the influential Peter Stubbe as an example of where the Protestant faith can lead to?

The fact that there were high ranking members of the local aristocracy in attendance despite this being, bizarrely enough, a fairly run of the mill trial for the time certainly doesn't help dispel that notion. And even though Stubbe stuck valiantly to the Werewolf version of events, and despite what must have been excruciating pain, the trial judges took an unprecidented step and proclaimed that Stubbe had been suffering from a mental illness. Now an extremely cynical person may suggest that the reason for this was to make sure no one was in doubt as to who to blame for these atrocities. This wasn't the work of the Devil good people. It was the work of the protestant Peter Stubbe.

So there we have it. Either Stubbe genuinely went to his grave thinking he was a Werewolf, or he was an innocent victim of a Catholic conspiracy.

And trust me, if there was a television programme with a plot line like that on the air, I'd tune in every week.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mani doesn't use firearms.

Whisper it quietly, but I think my hair line is receding.

I know, I know. Time makes fools of us all. I thought that I'd be able to avoid the dreaded “solar panel” however. My hair has always been long and strong, kind of like Bungle from Rainbow. Sadly after a Saturday night spent checking my forehead in the mirror, I'm resigned to the fact that I'm now in the market for a new hat.

There are unfortunately only two known cures for baldness. And there's a problem with both of them. One of these is called Demoxinil, a chemical compound that when applied correctly can lead to a dramatic re-growth of hair on one's head. The problem is that, as far as I know, this compound is solely available in the cartoon world of The Simpsons.

The other cure is even less appealing. That is getting bitten by a Werewolf.

Now this latter option is problematic for any number of reasons. For a start you'd have to get bitten by a Werewolf, which I'm pretty sure is not as easy as all that. Firstly would have to make sure that the animal biting you is actually a Werewolf, as opposed to just a really big regular wolf. Now think about that for a moment because, if I'm honest, having never seen either one in the flesh before I'm not sure I could tell the difference. And the truth is, the idea of a bloody great big wolf gnawing away at one's arm is enough to put the heebie jeebies in to anybody.

Just ask the good folks of Gevaudan.

Gevaudan was one of many provinces in France to have problems with wolves from the middle ages all the way up until 1954. In fact wolf packs were responsible for a large culling of the human population in places like Benais and Vivarais, to name but two. The Beast of Gevaudan was different however. For a start it attacked as a single animal, rather than in a pack. And secondly wolves generally only attack humans if they feel threatened or if other food options are sparse. This critter however simply had a taste for human flesh.

To begin at the beginning. On the June 1st 1764 a young woman was tending to cattle near a forest when a large animal came charging from the trees and headed straight towards her. The dogs that she had been using to herd the cows quickly realised that they were overdue for their weekly cross stitch discussion group and promptly made their excuses and left. The cows on the other hand, displaying a level of cool headed thinking that James Bond would have been proud of, promptly stampeded (Gee Note: Finally the age old question of “Who is smarter: Cow or Dog?” has been answered. Congratulations to the dogs who had the sense to get the hell out of there as soon as a monster came bounding from the trees). The sight and sound of charging hooves was enough to put the beast off any ideas it had for a late afternoon snack and it headed back from whence it came.

It was 29 days later when the beast claimed it's first victim. The beast, described as large as a cow with a wolf's head and a reddish brown fur, attacked without provocation and warning, mauling a girl named Jeanne Boulet to her death.

Over the next year the attacks continued. Often times bodies were mutilated, limbs torn from their sockets, while half eaten mounds of human bones were left scattered across the countryside. The local townsfolk started to become a tad concerned and would regularly round up groups of hunters to search for the beast. These attempts were by and large fruitless until King Louis XV became involved.

Louis XV has the distinction of being one of the most unpopular Kings to ever rule France. Which is odd considering, when all's said and done, he ruled Her for a almost 59 years. He was crowned King at the tender age of, er, five (Gee Note: Think of all the things you were doing at the age of five. You know, like sticking your head in to a bowl of custard, or trundling around on that little red tractor of yours. Now imagine doing none of that, and instead being responsible for the well being of the world's second largest economy. Yeah, makes you think doesn't it?) until the time of his death at the age of 64.

And the sad thing is that, like so many rulers before and after him, his unpopularity had nothing to do with him as a leader of people. Instead an unavoidable war with Austria, a skirmish with the power hungry British, and enough extra marital affairs to make even Hugh Hefner blush were enough to turn his people sour on him. Which is a shame because unlike many of his predecessors Louis XV had a keen sense of where France's true passion lay, and under his guidance the arts flourished.

He also had a keen sense of knowing when everything was just about to go tits up. And so after hearing of a failed attack by the beast on a group of six people, Louis decided to award to bravest of the group, Jacques Portefaix, with 300 livres and an extra 300 livres to be shared amongst the rest. The King then ordered his best professional wolf hunter Jean-Charles-Marc-Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval (Gee Note: The baptist must have loved him) and his son Jean-François to track down and exterminate the beast. They hunted the beast for several months but as the attacks continued and with no slavering wolf carcass in sight, the King lost patience and replaced the impossibly long named wolf hunter and his son with the King's personal gun bearer François Antoine.

Antoine spent the first couple of months charting the territory and interviewing locals. Word quickly spread throughout the villages that the gun bearer was too scared to head out in to the woods by himself and so wasted his time drawing maps and talking to folk. But Antoine was instead taking an amazingly methodical approach when it came to capturing the animal. Instead of, like the others before him, charging in to he forest guns blazing and bloodhounds baying, Antoine instead looked for patterns in the attacks and sightings. Effectively Antoine discovered what he believed was the beasts lair without ever stepping foot in the woods.

And so on September 21st 1765 Antoine took a few good and hardy souls with him and came back with the body of a 5'6'' long, 130 lb wolf. Pretty much everyone who saw it agreed that this was a monster of a specimen. Antoine, confident that this was the fabled beast, invited locals to inspect the carcass for themselves. Onlookers were amazed to find the body covered with scars that they themselves had inflicted in efforts to defend themselves from the Beast.

No one was in doubt that finally the Beast of Gévaudan had been defeated.




Well, that was until people starting dying again.

A full two years passed. And sadly many more deaths followed as the creature tore it's way through the province. People began to think that the Beast was unstoppable, an irresistable force that would destroy all in it's path. That was until the beast made it's way to Sarlat (Gee Note: By the way for anyone who hasn't been to Sarlat, go. Go now. If you love beautiful architecture, historical gravitas oozing from every pour, and enough street entertainment to make your head spin, Sarlat is like a gift from heaven). A local farmer and inn keeper by the name of Jean Chastel was wandering around Mont Mouchet one day, minding his own business. According to the legend Chastel just happened to be carrying around two silver bullets, fashioned from a medal representing the Virgin Mary, when the beast approached from the distance. The animal, despite having attacked everyone else on sight, stopped just long enough for Chastel to load his gun, open up a bible, say a prayer, and then shoot the beast in it's heart. It died instantly.

An unbelievable end to an unbelievable creature. When all was said and done, the Beast was responsble for at least 99 deaths over a three and a half year period.

As you can guess controversy surrounds the Beast like electrons surround a nucleus (Gee Note: A science analogy for you there. Who says “I Saw Elvis” can't be highbrow?). Many people believe that Chastel, for example, trained a wolf-dog hybrid to attack people before killing his own creation in the search for fame and fortune. Others believe that the beast was never killed in the first place, sighting discrepancies in the various descriptions of the beast and the wolves that were killed by both Chastel and Antoine. Some even believe that the Beast was a bona fide Werewolf, after a few fantastical historians claimed that villagers had reported meeting an “extremely hairy man” in the forest shortly before the beast attacked.

So, I guess with that in mind it is possible that if one was around on 18th century Southern Central France then you could have found that second cure for hair loss.

You'll forgive me though if I'd rather take my chances with Demoxinil.

Friday, 21 November 2008

I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.

Right I'm either bored, being boring, or both. Because the truth is I've sat around all day and accomplished a grand total of absolutely nothing. Time to shake myself out of this rut. But the question is “what to do”? I've already finished all my unread books, made an experimental lunch consisting of bacon and apple sauce, argued with a friend, and watched three episodes of Jerry Springer. What else is there on a gloomy Friday afternoon?

Wait! I've got it. Why don't we play a game?

Here are the rules: I'll post a picture of something and you have to guess what it is. Sound good? Yeah? OK then. Here's your first picture. Your time starts now.





Awww I know, it's adorable isn't it?

OK folks, time's up. Now did anyone say albino hedgehog? Well if you did then, um, you're wrong. Not about it being a hedgehog of course. But about it's colouring. Because it's not an albino at all. Instead it's an exceedingly rare blonde hedgehog. And, unlike 99% of the women in Playboy, this hedgehog's a natural.

OK next pic.





Spooky huh? So what do we reckon? An extra terrestrial? Some kind of government experiment gone horribly wrong? Well for anyone who said it's a Guitarfish feel free to award yourself five points. The Guitarfish are a family of rays who rank alongside the Umbrella Mouth Gulper Eel and the Leafy Sea Dragon as the weirdest looking things to come out of the sea.

Last one.




Who here is thinking smoke? Maybe from a fire in those reeds? Yeah me too.

Apparently though we'd be wrong. Because this ladies and gentlemen is a picture of the legendary Lake Worth Monster. Or a Goat Man. Or Bigfoot. Or something.

Allow me to explain. It was the summer of '69 (Gee Note: That would make a great song title wouldn't it? Let's just hope nobody like, oh I don't know, Bryan Adams decides to sing it though. That would be rubbish). The birds were singing, the bees were being bastards by landing on my jam buzzing, and young couples were driving around looking for a scenic spot to park up and, well, you know. One such place would have been the lake on the edge of Fort Worth, Texas.

Meet Mr and Mrs John Reichart. They were travelling alongside Lake Worth on July 10th that year when out of nowhere a large and savage beast leapt on to the bonnet of their car before heading off in to the surrounding foliage. This was no Deer, or Baboon even (Gee Note: Do they have baboon's in Texas? I mean I'm naturally inclined to believe that they don't, but I'm too lazy to check for sure. And, if I'm honest, the mental image of a Rhesus Monkey wearing a Stetson and drinking bourbon has amused me greatly. Monkeys are funny). Nay good reader, this was a giant, white furred, half man half goat. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, it was scaly. Like a fish.

Now as far as cryptids go that's pretty much as strange a description as you're likely to hear. I mean creatures like Nessie can at least be rationalised as being, as unbelievable as they might be, biologically sound. But fur like a polar bear? A face of a goat and the scales of a fish? The only way that the Lake Worth Monster could be crazier was if it was wearing a Groucho Marx mask as well.

But here's where the story gets stranger. The next morning the Fort Worth Star Telegram ran a story on the Reichart's close encounter. That evening a chap named Jack Harris was driving past the lake when the creature crossed the road in front of him. He saw it run up a hill where a group of around thirty other people, having been inspired by that morning's paper, joined him in observing this incredible oddity. That was until the Fish-Goat-Man (Gee Note: Worst. Super Hero. Ever. Special powers include an inability to survive on land and taking a bite out anything that doesn't move for three seconds) got a wee bit miffed at all the attention and threw a tire at the group, causing them to flee for their cars. Obviously monsters are a bit like Kanye West when it comes to their privacy.

Sightings continued throughout 1969. Although often times it appears that every little thing was attributed to the monster. For example a group of young men claimed that the beast jumped on to their car and hung on until it crashed in to a tree (Gee Note: "No sir *hic*. We 'aint been drinking. We been *hic* attacked by that great big monkey fish").

The last sighting of that year was on November 7th by Charles Buchanan. Buchanan was tucked up in his sleeping bag in the back of his pick up truck when the creature attacked him. Charlie threw a bag of chicken at the beast, which greedily grabbed it and took off towards the lake. (Gee Note: By the way I'd just like to point out. Pickup truck. Bag of chicken. Buchanan must have been a massive hit with the ladies).

At some point during that time period Allen Plaster took the above photo of what appears to be a white, um, something. And that's part of the problem with Lake Worth's little mystery. Despite it being one of the few sightings of strange creatures to be witnessed by multiple people at the same time, people who were by and large looking for the creature, the only picture we have is a unidentifiable blob. I mean people take photos and videos of the most ridiculously boring things like their children's first ice cream or a pet dog wearing a hat. Are we to seriously believe that out of numerous sightings with multiple people who were specifically there to see the creature, we'd only get one picture? Somehow I doubt it.

It should be worth noting that Plaster himself believes that the photo is nothing more than a prankster in a suit. And sadly with a lack of solid evidence to counter balance that argument it's difficult not to agree with him. Because despite it being analysed time and time again, we still don't know what exactly is in that photo.

And so therefore, with a sneaking suspicion that the monster of Lake Worth might not be on the level, there's no other choice than to call an end to this particular game. Game over, man.

Game over.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylam.

Exciting news kids. With a concept that was blatantly not stolen from Moonlight Investigations, tomorrow night “I Saw Elvis” records it's very first podcast. If all goes to plan then by the end of the week it should be available to download right here. Please folks, do try and contain yourselves until then.

Speaking of stealing stuff, for those of you who don't keep up with the excellent Naveed's Realm (Gee Note: And there really is no excuse if you don't. No really, I've been reliably informed that only fascists and weirdo's don't read Naveed's Realm. And you wouldn't want to be a fascist or a weirdo now would you? Would you? Think about that while I play some records) about a week or two ago Naveed posted a kind of overview on the subject of Reptoids, which coincidently is one of my favourite subjects.

Now this may come as a shock for those out there who read this and picture me as some kind of well dressed, fabulously charming, Adonis of a man, but I can actually be kind of a geek (Gee Note: Not that I'm not amazingly charming and all the rest of it. It's just, you know, sometimes a man can be both sexy and a massive nerd at the same time.) Especially when it comes to the subject of comic books.

Comic books are an art form that will never really be accepted by the mainstream. The image of a comic book fan to most people is this:





Which is a shame really, because as a man who regularly bores people in pub conversations about classic literature (Gee Note: Seriously, never ever get me on to the subject of Shakespeare. Unless, of course, you happen to be looking for a cheap alternative to sleeping pills.) there are some comic books I would genuinely rate along side any piece of writing from The Bard and the like.

For example, in my opinion both Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are works of such depth and complexity that very few non graphic novels can compare to them. The Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman is another sterling example, prompting Norman Mailer of all people to call it “a comic book for intellectuals”. (Gee Note: By the way did you know that Norman Mailer stabbed his second wife with a pen knife, nearly killing her? Makes that loveable old guy from “When We Were Kings” seem less, well, loveable doesn't it?). Add to that list The Dark Knight Returns, so close to being a complete masterpiece of the superhero genre it's scary, and you have enough to rival any “serious” art form beloved by regular folk.

Strangely enough what ignited my love of comics wasn't the super heroes themselves. Back then, and to a lesser extent even now, I found most heroes exceedingly boring and one dimensional, driven by an “aw swell” need to be good. Even those who were “edgy” and “dark” were often simply portrayed as having a low level of teenage angst.

No, for me the joy of comics always came from reading about the villains.

Trust me, until the recent "anti-hero" explosion inspired by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the villains were always more fascinating characters than the heroes were. For example, take Bruce Wayne. A poor little rich boy who, while being skilled at hand to hand combat, basically beats the bad guys because he has an enormous wallet. Compare that to the Joker, a man driven to insanity for unknown reasons (Gee Note: "If I'm going to have a past I'd prefer it to be multiple choice") to the point where he kills people in unbelievably gruesome ways, and cripples innocent people for no reward other than to prove that "anyone can lose their mind after one really bad day". I don't know about you, but I know which one I'd rather read about.


Often times the heroes would just be a foil for the writer to have some fun with a psychopath. I mean how dull would a Spider-Man comic be without a character like Doc Ock? Or the Fantastic Four without Dr. Doom? Or Watchmen without the great big alien squid thing? (Gee Note: OK I know I've ranted about this before but, believe me, I understand that a lot of the graphic novel has to be ditched due to time constraints if you're going to actually make a Watchmen movie. And so therefore if "Tales of the Black Freighter" and the news-stand guy don't make the cut then fine. But not only is the squid thing pivotal to the storyline but it's also a kick ass visual. To replace it with a tired and clichéd atom bomb type of deal is a complete travesty in my opinion. It doesn't mean I won't go and see the movie. Just that my expectations of it being potentially the best film of the 00's have been significantly lowered. End of desperate sounding, whiny voiced, fanboy moaning.)

The reason I bring all this up is that the very first super villain I fell in love with was none other Dr. Curt Connors. AKA The Lizard. The Lizard has everything I adore about a good super villain. A noble and wise man, he is enlisted in to the army as a field surgeon where he saves the lives of countless G.I.s before losing an arm in an explosion. Honourably discharged due to his disability, he begins researching reptilian DNA in an effort to discover the secrets of limb regeneration. Driven by two parts desire to make a difference and one part ego, Connors develops a serum and like any good scientist, uses himself as a test subject. (Gee Note: My favourite scientists are the ones that are crazy enough to experiment on themselves. Guys like Barry Marshall, who in 1982 drank a witches brew of bacteria to prove that it was Helicobacter Pylori Bacterium that caused stomach ulcers and not, as it was thought at the time, stress. Marshall and his partner Robin Warren deservedly won both a Nobel Prize and a pretty severe tummy ache because of it.) Alas all did not go according to plan and the good doctor's serum transformed the mild mannered likeable chap in to a berserk, slobbering, half man half lizard mutant.

Pretty much like the one that was reported by 17 year old Christopher Davis in South Carolina, June 29th, 1988.

Allow me to explain. At approximately 2 am that morning Davis was on his way home from work, travelling on a road that runs alongside the Scape Ore swamp near Bishopville, when he had to pull over to fix a flat tire. He was just finishing up placing the flat in to his trunk when he heard a noise coming from a nearby field. Upon turning round to see what was causing such a ruckus he was amazed to see a 7 foot tall bipedal lizard with glowing red eyes charging towards him. Understandably freaked out Davis jumped in to his car, slammed his foot to the floor, a tore off down the road as quickly as the good folk at Toyota automotive engineering could muster.

Alas it wasn't quick enough as, according to Davis, while speeding along the creature leapt on to the roof of his car with a loud thud. A large three fingered claw started to reach over the windscreen while a second limb grabbed the drivers door. In a desperate attempt to save himself Davis swerved the car, forcing the creature to fall off. Davis didn't look back and sped all the way home.

A couple of days later Lee County Sheriff Liston Truesdale interviewed Davis about the incident. Believing it to be nothing more than a teenage prank Truesdale slowly became convinced that Davis was telling the truth. To that end Truesdale arranged for a lie detector test which Davis passed with flying colours.

Davis supplied the Sheriff with this drawing of the creature:




(Gee Note: It turns out that, erm, Christopher Davis isn't much of an artist.)

Soon Truesdale became besieged with other reports of a Lizard Man terrorizing the area around Scape Ore swamp. Construction worker George Hollomon Jr. reported seeing a beast that matched Davis's description of the creature near the Scape Ore Swamp Bridge while collecting water from an artisan well. The creature rounded on Hollomon causing him to flee the scene. Again Hollomon passed a lie detector test, and his brother claims Hollomon was genuinely disturbed by the event for months after. Later a young couple by the names of Brian Edward and Michelle Nunnery were interviewed by officers after they claimed to have nearly hit "some big animal on two legs" while driving down Cedar Creek "Gum Springs" Road.

And then a hoaxer came out of the woodwork.

Meet Kenneth Orr, an airman stationed at Shaw Air Force Base. Orr went to the police and claimed that he encountered the Lizard Man on Highway 15. Being a conscientious lover of nature, Orr promptly shot and wounded the Lizard Man , providing blood and scales as evidence.

Sadly the story was untrue, Orr recanted it two days later and was charged with filing a false police report. For many locals this one incident explained the events of that summer, the stories of a "Lizard Man" were nothing more than the work of a prank loving Air Force Sergeant.

But then that wouldn't explain what happened to Colonel Robert Cooper of the Army Corps of Engineers. On his way back home from a wedding rehearsal during the early 90's Colonel Cooper spotted what he described as a half-man half-dinosaur running alongside his car while driving past Scape Ore swamp. Cooper decided against placing a formal report on file due to the fact that it would not be kept private. Which is understandable. On the verge of promotion to General, Cooper probably felt that going around saying "I done seen a Dino-Man!" wouldn't help his career much.

Indeed seeing as Orr claimed to have nothing to do with the initial sightings and insisted that his one hoax was the fake scales and blood, it also wouldn't explain the footprints found by Truesdale in the swamp area while investigating the claims of Davis and others. The prints had three toes, and measured 14 inches long by 7 inches wide. Truesdale took them to various Wildlife experts who's opinions divided between "fake" and "real, but I don't know what the hell it is".

So here we have the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp. An undiscovered monster? Or a hoax? Well the truth is there's something about this tale that intrigues me, and while hard evidence is thin on the ground I'm not so sure it can be dismissed quite out of hand. And, honestly, I'm not even sure why I feel that way. There's just something about it, how the descriptions match, how the reports are from reliable people, how sightings continue to trickle in to this day, the negative lie detector tests, etc. I don't know, it just sounds more "genuine" than a lot of "weird beastie" stories.

And maybe, just maybe, there's a honest-to-goodness real life Curt Connors out there somewhere.