Tuesday, 13 January 2009

You frightened me so much, I'm spilling my tea.

You know there's an upside to everything. Take the global economic crisis for example. Businesses are collapsing, jobs are being lost, and prices for essentials such as food and gas are still rising. Not a day goes by without reports coming in of yet another victim of financial difficulty. What really hammered it home for me was last week when our local Woolworths closed it's doors for the last time. Having been a focal point of my home town for years, seeing this venerable retail giant shut up shop really did effect me in a way I didn't think was possible. Woolworths was where I bought my first record as a kid, and even these days I would regularly stop by to check out the DVD section. Passing by the empty building this morning, signs in the window screaming "Closing down sale!", the usually bright sign a dull grey, has all conspired to leave me feeling slightly sad about the whole affair.

Not to worry though, as the British media has the answer to wipe away the doom and gloom. Realising that thoroughly depressed people probably don't want to read about thoroughly depressing news, newspapers nationwide have been finding "alternative" stories to publish. This has led to all sorts of weird and wonderful tales gracing the morning's printed page in an effort to allow the reader a route to escape from the world's financial infrastructure collapsing around them. Stories about Australian's trying to escape the police while, er, exposing themselves, or a 140 year old lobster being released back in to the wild after a two week stay in a New York restaurant's tank have become the norm. As far as the newspapers go, it's silly season.

At the beginning of last week, the Independent newspaper published a news item about big cats in Britain. Every three years the Forestry Commission, a government organisation who deal with all things wood like, head off to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire to study some deer for a bit. These deer surveys last from three to four weeks, with the deer being filmed in their natural habitat and with all sorts of useful information, such as population growth and feeding habits, being gathered during this period. Thanks to the Freedom of information act, the results of the 2002 and 2005 survey were recently published.

Meet Rob Guest. Mr. Guest is a deputy surveyor for the above mentioned Forestry Commission. One day in 2002 on the outskirts of Churchill enclosure, east of Parkend, Rob and a colleague were filming some deer doing deer like things (Gee Note: If Disney are to be believed this includes making friends with rabbits suffering from an Attention Deficit Disorder and learning to skate on a frozen lake) using thermal imaging cameras. It was here they spotted something moving amongst the deer that appeared to be a large cat. Due to the nature of thermal imaging (Gee Note: All white blobs on black backgrounds. Like an Aryan fat camp standing in front of a massive version of Spinal Tap's "Smell the Glove" album) the identity of the creature could not be established as few of it's features were distinguishable. But, claims Guest, judging buy its movement and body shape it was most definitely a big cat.

Then in 2005 he spotted another one, again with a colleague and again via thermal imaging, this time on the southern slopes of Staple Edge. Apparently the area was home to a lot of rabbits at the time, which might explain why a big cat was kicking around Gloucestershire in the first place. Either that or it had signed up for one of those "Dick Whittington tour" type package holidays and then been removed from the coach after being recognised as a panther or something. (Gee Note: "I'm sorry sir I can't let you on to the bus." "Awww man, why not?" "Er, because you're a dangerous beast sir. It's against health and safety regulations." Cue the inevitable article in the Daily Mail about political correctness gone mad accompanied by a photograph of a big cat looking sad and a quote along the lines of "All I wanted to do was take some photos and have a story to tell when I go back to Brazil. Now I have to go back embarrassed.").

Now all this is thoroughly interesting, and at the beginning of the week I planned to do a lengthy post on big cats in Britain using this as my lead in. I also planned on doing a lengthy rant on how if there was a freakin' huge wild animal wandering around the Forest of Dean then why the hell wasn't this made public knowledge at the time? I mean, you know, folks who live in the surrounding areas might have been interested in finding out that they were neighbours to Lion-O and the rest of the Thundercats.

(Gee Note: OK if I'm being honest with you, and I think we've known each other long enough now for me to be, the truth is I only wrote that as an excuse to post a picture of the Thundercats. Because, you know, Thundercats are great. Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Ooooooooh! Yeah that takes me back. You know, Mumm-Ra used to terrify me when I was a kid. Still does if I'm honest. The dude was blue and had snakes for hair for God's sake. If that doesn't freak you out when you're six years old you might as well sign up for the marines there and then.)

Unfortunately all this will have to wait until another time, because with it being silly season it didn't take long for a much more interesting story to surface.

Have you ever seen something so ridiculously large that your brain struggles to process it? Well that happened to me not so long ago. I went away for a romantic weekend to Reading a while back and ended up staying in a hotel opposite a wind farm (Gee Note: I should also point out that the "romantic weekend away" was really an excuse for me to go and watch a game of rugby in a nearby stadium. Couple that to the fact that the view from the hotel was a series of metallic windmills and it's a wonder I wasn't found dead on the hotel floor with an ice pick sticking out of my chest. Ah romance, thy name is Gee).

Now only having seen a wind turbine from a distance before I thought that they were going to be about the size of a three story building. Big sure, but not overly massive. However upon arriving at the the hotel and being face to face with these alternative power generators for the first time my jaw hit the floor. These things are huge. I mean like King Kong, monster from Cloverfield, Richard Gere's ego huge. Amazed at the sheer magnitude of it all I immediately forgot about what I should be doing, namely finding somewhere to eat that night, and instead spent the next two hours on the internet looking up the history of these magnificent structures. What I found out was that wind turbines are generally between 200 - 300 ft high, with 65 - 130 ft long blades, making them significantly larger than a three story building. Unless of course you're a giant that is. But then I'm pretty sure that giants live in caves.

Anyway to cut a short story long, about two days after the big cat report our friends at The Sun had a front page splash about a damaged wind turbine. On the eve of January 7th residents of Lincolnshire started reporting strange lights in the sky. A local county councillor named Robert Palmer (Gee Note: "You can't eat oooh, you can't sleep oooh, because there's oooh, a great big alien spaceship in the sky oooh") claims to have seen "a white light - a round, white light that seemed to be hovering. That is the only way I can explain it - it wasn't a flare-like light - it was just round, white light with a slight red edge to it that seemed to be over the wind turbines."

Then at some point in the early morning this happened.

The turbine lost a 66 ft long propeller while another was bent out of shape. No other physical evidence outside of the damage to the turbine was immediately apparent. Dale Vince, an employee of Ecotricity the company that owns the wind farm, was quoted as saying "We don't have an explanation at the moment as to what the cause was." And quicker than you can say "All of your base are belong to us" some bright sparks put two and two together and came up with the idea that it must have been a UFO. Coupled with the odd lights spotted in the area that night it was enough for the Sun to lead with the story on it's front page that aliens had crashed in to the turbine and then like a drunken Hollywood celebrity, panicked and sped off without filing a police report.

It's amazing watching these things unfold in real time simply because of the polar opposite camps observers and commentators divide themselves in to. You're either a staunch believer that the Lincolnshire wind farm is a UFO crash site or your not. Those you aren't scoff at those who are. Those who are make light of those who don't attempts to rationalise the wreckage. (Gee Note: By the way, at what point would an alien aircraft, one that would presumably have to travel faster than light in order to get from A to B in space, get itself in to such a mess that it crashed in to a bloody huge wind turbine? Did they let the college kid drive for a bit? "Excuse me Kronos, aren't you supposed to be flying the ship?" "Hey man, back off. I've been piloting this hunk of junk for three days now. So I decided to give Zorg a go." "You gave ZORG a go!!!" "Yeah man, what's the worst that could hap….")

Now I'm not going to spend a ton of time on the UFO aspect of all this simply because the last time I posted about aliens an IP address registered to the Ministry of Defence, Britain's version of the CIA for all you overseas readers, came by and checked out the blog making me paranoid that the “spooks” were on to me. Well OK maybe not, but the hit from the MoD was real enough and it was a lot of fun doing very poor impersonations of Gene Hackman from The Conversation for half an hour or so.

Anyway here's what we can say it wasn't. It wasn't Godzilla (Gee Note: The lack of footprints and terrified Japanese people is a dead give away) or any other type of animal. It wasn't vandals, as the turbine is some 290 ft high. Now while I have faith that the youth of Britain wouldn't think twice about destroying a wind turbine, I'm sure the planning involved in such an act would have the average hoodie looking for the nearest car to key instead.

So what did cause all this damage and hoo-hah? Well one of the most plausible theories outside of aliens is ice thrown from one of the other turbines. Britain was subject to seriously cold temperatures last week and so should ice have built up on one of the turbines blades and then become dislodged as the wind picked up the resulting collision from frozen water and metal may have caused the devastation shown. Problem with this theory is that the wind turbines are designed with this in mind, and so if ice develops on the blade the internal sensors will pick this up and automatically shut the turbine down. And even though they have been known to occasionally fail, ice is thrown so rarely from turbines as to be an almost unheard of event.

The second theory is my personal favourite, which also involves a frozen liquid. Now if I was to say that urine had all but destroyed a wind turbine you might be forgiven for thinking me slightly barmy. But bare with me on this, because it's not as insane as it sounds. Well not quite as insane as it sounds.

“Blue ice” is an aviation term used to describe frozen material formed by leaks from a plane's waste tanks. A combination of human waste and liquid disinfectant, which gives the substance a blue colour, freezes at high altitude. Now while planes are not allowed to dump their tanks mid flight, leaks from the tanks can and do occur. On October 20th 2006 a couple in Chino, California were victims of such a leakage when they were amazed to find a hole in their roof the size of Gibraltar.

(Gee Note: “Blue Ice” is also the name of a terrible film starring Michael Caine. Sometimes Hollywood just doesn't do itself any favours. I mean if you are going to make a bad movie, wouldn't you try and choose a title for it that wasn't a by word for poo? Unless of course you were being intentionally sardonic. Sadly they weren't.)

So there we have it. Aliens? Ice? Frozen wee? Amazingly the story still has legs, as only yesterday the wind farm was sealed off by police much to the delight of The Sun. So it may be a while before the truth comes out. If it ever does that is. Stories like these have a tendency to burst on to the scene, make a huge splash, and then are quietly forgotten about.

But that's the beauty of silly season. It's not about proving that extra terrestrial life exists, or that aliens walk amongst us. It's about escapism, distracting the public from the real horror of every day life. And if it can raise a smile and get people thinking about something other than being horrendously in debt for twenty minutes then I think it should be saluted.

So here's to you big cats, UFOs, monsters, and all of the rest of the crazy, barmy, brilliant stories that have and will greet us over the coming months. Long may it continue.

1 comment:

Naveed said...

After reading about that turbine breaking, I had to go look up videos of similar events. There was something awe inspiring about watching something so large fall apart...although none of them involved "tentacled UFOs"