Hello. It's the start of a New Year. And so what better way to celebrate than by looking back at some of the stories that have intrigued us over the past 12 months? Well a better way would be to watch a bunch of Polar Bears playing soccer to the sound of "Eye Of Tiger" obviously. Except I'm not sure that's ever really happened and if it has I don't know where to find video footage of it. So this is what you get.
I Believe In Danny Dyer.
As a professional cockney and the man who single handedly keeps the low budget film industry alive, Danny Dyer is the sort of chap who often looks to broaden his horizons. As such he remarkably became the poster boy for British ufologists this January after his star turn on I Believe In UFOs. First aired on BBC 3 in January it showed Dyer turning his hand to a bit of investigative journalism. When that failed he joined a cult, got stoned off his box, and said the word "fackin'" a lot in what turned out to be the most bizarrely fascinating 45 minutes of television of the year.
If at first you don't succeed…
Towards the end of the year Mickey Rourke announced he was "committed" to portraying rugby legend Gareth "Alfie" Thomas on the big screen. Rourke believes that Thomas, the world's only openly gay active professional sportsman, and his story would be a perfect follow up to The Wrestler. The film for which failed to win an Oscar largely because he's Mickey Rourke and a bit of a mess.
Winston Churchill was a big fat liar. Or maybe not.
August arrived and duly brought with it a new batch of Government files that used to be classified but now, no, not so much. Amongst them was a report about how Winston Churchill ordered the cover up of a UFO sighting by the Royal Air Force so as to avoid "mass panic". The allegations involving Churchill were made by the grandson of one his personal bodyguards. Apparently the bodyguard overheard the ol' bulldog discussing how such a sighting could damage the British public's faith in religion, and told his family about it. Fifty years later his grandson wrote a letter to the MoD questioning the incident. In unrelated news, Brad Pitt is actually an overgrown toad who was taught to fit in amongst humans by a crazy scientist and a catholic nun. It's true. My friend's, aunt's, step daughter's, hair dresser's, boyfriend's, colleague's, mother once read about it in a Japanese newspaper. Of course it was all hushed up by the Illuminati but they can't keep us down forever. Some day the people will be set free from your oppression, you overgrown lizard bastards.
U. F. Oh?
China is a strange place. For example, when a UFO rocked up in skies above Hangzhou in July, the authorities took it seriously and closed an entire airport, re-routing all incoming flights and grounding any planes about to take off. As opposed to what would have happened here in the West, where the authorities would have claimed it was a trick of the light, then a weather balloon, before finally settling on "What UFO? Man you crazy. You wanna lay off the sauce a little bit, don't you think? Hey Charlie, this dude here thinks he saw a flying saucer! No I'm not shtting you…".
Tsk. China eh? What a weird country.
In February a chap named Kevin Horkin, who happens to be the Director of Parallel Management - a company that specialises in promoting psychics in what has to be the lowest rung on the ladder of showbiz - produced a photo which he claimed was a ghost he'd snapped at Gwrych Castle. Was it real? Was it fake? Would falsifying evidence of the existence of spirits somehow help Horkin's business, which lest we forget is a PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM FOR MEDIUMS? Enquiring minds demanded to know. Alas The Sun, who picked up the story and ran with it, didn't bother to answer any of those questions. Instead they put all their efforts in to thinking up a witty headline. The result? SCREAMY WINDOW. Well done lads! The drinks are on the house!
2010 was a year when many great people passed away. Here are but a few.
Leslie Nielson – He who single handedly proved that subtlety was the true path to comedy.
Norman Wisdom – Rubber faced genius.
Blake Edwards – Cinema legend.
Lynn Redgrave -Theatrical Aristocracy
Corin Redgrave – Ditto
Tsutomu Yamaguchi – Survived two atomic bombs and yet 2010 bested him. Hell of a year.
Teddy Pendergrass – Classy soul singer who was caught “associating” with a transvestite and paralysed on the same night. Death was probably a walk in the park compared to that.
Jean Simmons – Classic English rose with thorns.
J. D. Salinger – Author of “The Catcher In The Rye”. Recluse. Bonkers. He'll be missed.
Alexander McQueen – Fashion designer responsible for Lady Gaga's wardrobe and therefore her reason for existence.
Dick Francis – Champion jockey whose wife wrote some books that my dad likes.
Corey Haim – Ah where to start? The Lost Boys. Where to end? The Lost Boys. God's speed Corey.
Peter Graves - “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”
Malcolm McLaren – Once managed The Sex Pistols. Was able to turn that in to a career long after they disbanded.
Gary Coleman – Really? I don't have to explain this right? It's Gary Coleman for chrissakes. It amazes me he doesn't have a national holiday already.
Dennis Hopper – Actor and director who kick started a revolution in Hollywood with Easy Rider.
Alex Higgins – Controversial snooker player who was blessed with such natural talent it didn't matter if he was sober or not.
Tony Curtis – Never won an Oscar. Proof that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets it wrong more often than it gets it right.
That was the Sheik that was.
In April Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi announced that the recent wave of earthquakes suffered in the region was all the fault of women flashing their ankles in public. "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes. There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes." he said. "Viva Las Vegas!" my friend Simon said, before spending a week in the gambling capital of the world, and then a further two weeks getting treated for a venereal disease. Still at least a building didn't fall on top of him.
Ringo wants to sing more.
The Soccer World Cup in the summer will be forever remembered for two things. One, Diego Maradona's reaction when a newspaper reporter asked him if he was gay. And secondly, Paul the Octopus. Using psychic powers in a way that would make Uri Geller go green with envy, Paul successfully predicted all of Germany's World Cup results as well as the outcome of the final. Which of course meant that Paul became a media sensation. Alas the fame went to Paul's head and after the final of the World Cup he spent the next three months partying with Slash from Guns And Roses and snorting cocaine off the back of crabs. In October Paul was found dead in a hotel room in Munich after an emergency call was placed from on of the seven prostitutes he had hired that night. Or he passed away peacefully in his tank. I forget which one. Anyway the moral of this story is "Just Say No Kids".
Blondes have more fun.
There were very few extraordinary cryptozoology stories this year. However one that fit the bill was the tale of Tim Peeler. As reported by WCNC, the North Carolina native was kicking around his home one day when he was disturbed by an unusual grunting noise. He went outside to investigate he was confronted by a creature that was "10 feet tall with beautiful hair, yellowish hair, and a yellow beard.". Peeler then proceeded to do what he does whenever he finds something "beautiful". He got a big stick and poked at it until it ran away. After that he called 911 and asked the all important question of "Would I get in to trouble if I shot and killed this beast?" to which the operator replied "Dude. It's a blonde bigfoot. How the f*** should I know?". Well OK, not really. Turns out NC's police department is a lot more professional than that. But, you know, their University mascot is a Dorset sheep with it's horns painted so I really wouldn't put anything past them.
In March the very last episode of MonsterQuest aired, and to be fair it went out with a bang. While most of the show was pointless filler material following three half-baked crackpots wandering around in the woods for no real reason, the finale delivered a shocking twist. During an interview, conducted by werewolf historian Linda Godfrey, Steve Cook admitted that the “Gable Film” footage had been staged all along. Indeed that thing charging at the camera wasn't a werewolf, but instead a bearded fellow wearing a blanket named Mike.
The thing is, even though the Cook confession was one heck of a scoop, it's a shame that it was the most memorable moment of MonsterQuest's last ever episode. What should have been a huge celebration about hunting for cryptids, and a lasting memorial to those who toil in the field of cryptozoology, it instead turned in to a swell of anger at a radio host who, let's face it, came across as a complete dick.
By the way, during the fallout I ripped in to Cook on here after he'd tried to justify his actions online. Much to my surprise Linda Godfrey herself mentioned it on her own blog. And even more surprising, she was quite complimentary about it. On a personal level that mention alone remains one of the highlights of my year and her kind words were a wonderful thing. Although how she came across I Saw Elvis in the first place I have no idea. Seriously I know people who solely write post-it-notes who have more of an online presence than I have.
Speaking of which...
It's been a crazy old year as far as yours truly is concerned. I got engaged. Then I found out I'm about to become a father (Gee Note: Due February 4th folks. So be prepared for the gushy “isn't life AMAZING” post around that time. You have been warned). And I just want to say that to anyone who's enjoyed something they've read on here over the past twelve months, thank you. It means a Hell of a lot.
And to those of you who haven't, why not come back in 2011? It won't be any better but, hey, it can't get any worse can it?
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Hello. It's the start of a New Year. And so what better way to celebrate than by looking back at some of the stories that have intrigued us over the past 12 months? Well a better way would be to watch a bunch of Polar Bears playing soccer to the sound of "Eye Of Tiger" obviously. Except I'm not sure that's ever really happened and if it has I don't know where to find video footage of it. So this is what you get.
Now I don't usually start out these posts in a bad mood but today is a special occasion.
F*** the snow.
Actually that's a bit unfair. Snow is great. No really it is. It's fun to walk in, you can build stuff like snowmen, and if you have a stick and nothing better to do you can write rude words in it. Snow's brilliant really.
But f*** the compacted snow on the pavements that turns in to ice and makes every sodding journey out of my house a hazardous trial.
You see, I'm a big guy. I'm 6'5'' and I weigh somewhere around 260lbs, most of that distributed firmly around my waistline (Gee Note: It's amazing my career as a male model never took off when you think about it). I'm also pretty rubbish when it comes to things most people take for granted. Like maintaining one's balance. Seriously I suck at that. I've never been able to ride a bike, Or rollerskate. And as far as surfing goes, forget about it. You might as well try getting a space hopper to ride the waves. Damn thing's got a better chance of staying on a board than I have.
So it's safe to say that I'm no good when it comes to mounds of ice on the roads. "But just how pathetic are you?" I hear you cry. Well you know that bit in Bambi where Thumper's on the frozen lake and is all "Hey Bam-bizzle! Why don't you get your deer ass out here and give us a triple axel homie?" (Gee Note: You'll be amazed to know I don't have a copy of "Bambi" to hand and so I'm quoting from memory here. I know. I'm like a mind wizard or something). And then Bambi heads out on the lake and ends up spread eagled, face down in some frozen water. Well that's me. I'm like a big, bearded, Bambi. Except I only have two legs. And I don't have a tail. And I'm not best friends with a hyperactive rabbit and a creepy skunk that will most likely grow up to be a sex offender. So not really like Bambi at all when you think about it.
What makes it worse is that I'm the only one who seems to struggle with this. Today alone I've seen many a teenager (Gee Note: Or as I like to call them, "Bastards") skidding along and laughing without a care in the world, showing off to impress their peers. Now if it was just them I would write it off as the follies of youth, and console myself with the knowledge that at some point one of them will fall over and break their jaw.
But it's not just them. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is managing to walk over this bloody death-trap apart from me. The elderly folks down at the Salvation Army Centre across the way are practically dancing a jig on it (Gee Note: Possibly proving that God really is on their side). Hell even The Future Ex-Mrs. Davies is doing fine. The. Future. Ex. Mrs. Davies. A woman who is, at the time of writing, 8 months pregnant (Gee Note: It should be noted that she looks amazing. And I am in no way saying that because her hormones are going bezerk at the moment, and I'm afraid that one day I'm going to wake up to find that all my shoes have been cut in to little bits). Yet despite that she's practically skipping around like a child.
Even now as I'm typing this I can see an old woman shuffle past our window uphill. I swear she's mocking me.
So it goes without saying that for the past three days I've been cooped up inside my house. And, I'll be honest with you, it's slowly driving me crazy (Gee Note: No outside and all day time television make Gareth a very miserable boy). It's not that I'm the most outdoorsy fellow around. In fact give me a choice between sitting down with a sandwich or climbing a hill to get a spectacular view, I'll inevitably choose the sandwich (Gee Note: Unless of course the view is of the finalists of the "Miss Bikini-A-Thon 2011" contest. And even then it depends on what’s in the sandwich. For example, if it's a watercress sandwich then I'm-a gonna climb that hill. On the other hand if it's bacon then a rocket ship wouldn't get me up there. Bacon always wins). And what's bothering me isn't the fact that I'm consigned to my sofa for the foreseeable future. Because, let's face it, that's probably what I'd be doing anyway. It's the uneasy sense that I can't go out even if I wanted to. I don't know why but it doesn't sit well with me.
So seeing that, as that great philosopher of our times Sammy Cahn once put it, "the weather outside is frightful", I've been trying to come up with things to occupy my time (Gee Note: Sammy Cahn was the guy who wrote "Let it snow" if you're curious. By the way Sammy had to change his name twice to avoid confusion with other people. First with comic Sammy Cohen and later with lyricist Gus Kahn. Which must have been annoying. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if he felt like this
Yes the entire paragraph was just an excuse to post that video. Merry Christmas)
Thankfully the Devil's Playground that is the World Wide Web has come to the rescue. You see over the past few weeks the information super-highway has been dominated by one subject. And strangely enough it has nothing to with a fat jolly man and his sweat shop of midgets.
Yes siree, the internetz have gone positively batty about aliens recently. It's to be expected I guess. Much like the summer months, the end of the year tends to be a wee bit slow as far as "proper" news goes and, unless someone goes mental and decides to hold the entire cast of Glee hostage at gunpoint until they promise to never again do what ever the Hell it is they do (Gee Note: I'm not condoning such an act you understand. Just saying it's an option), then we usually end up with an honest to goodness mini silly season.
As such media outlets try and find "alternative" stories to fill space with. Even the BBC has got in on the act, producing a remarkably open minded piece about extra terrestrial life and why we haven't made contact yet (Gee Note: Even more remarkable when you consider that four months ago they allowed Dragons Den presenter, and the walking embodiment of "Oh where do I know him from?", Evan Davis publish an article online about how he doesn't believe in UFOs and how he got reeeaaaalllly bored looking in the woods for some once). Basically it presented the age old question of "Where the clucking ducks is everyone else?" and concluded the following.
Either A) We are in fact alone in the universe. Which is highly unlikely as, you know, space is a pretty big place. Or B) We are not alone in the universe, it's just Johnny Klingon isn't using radio waves as a form of communication. Or C) We aren't actually living creatures, instead we are a computer generated collection of conscious bots developed and run by our descendants for research purposes. In the simulation, of course, we are the subject and so therefore aliens do not exist in the programme (Gee Note: No really. That's a theory put forward by Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford University. Which just goes to prove my theory correct that you can be as mad as toast, but as long as you have a couple of degrees to back you up then people will listen to whatever you say. If, on the other hand, you're a manual labourer from Dudley with no teeth then the chances are everyone will ignore you. Which is why I've decided to go back to school and complete a PhD in, oh I don't know, knitting or something. That way when I tell people that I've taught a whale to play Bob Dylan songs on the banjo folks will listen. Shit, I'll be a millionaire by the time they work out it's not true).
Following this we had the release of New Zealand's UFO files. Now New Zealand is a beautiful country filled with crazy people, and has an air force that is the equivalent of me pretending to fly toy planes in the bath (Gee Note: What? All the cool people do that. I've heard Samuel L. Jackson has a little plastic submarine as well. Which he calls "Lil' Muthaf***a". Maybe. I don't know. Shut up.). So it's no surprise that they don't use their limited resources to investigate reports of flying saucers. Still they do make a record when ever someone calls them to complain that some people from the stars have landed their spaceship in their back garden, and as such the document weighs in at some 2000 pages. The contents of which range from the mundane (Gee Note: Lights far away. Could have been aliens. Could also have been a tractor on a hill) to the amazingly balmy (Gee Note: Giant extra terrestrials who spout wisdom such as telling us what happens to us when we die. Apparently upon snuffing it our souls ascend as hydrogen atoms. "You will remain in hydrogen form for 150 years", says Biggy McSpaceman "Then it will change to sodium". Then add some chlorine and, hey presto, you can be used as seasoning for someone's chicken dinner. That's science kids.) making sure that aliens were in the headlines for another day.
Proving that this seasonal Martian frenzy could also be topical, message boards and blogs almost exploded when WikiLeaks founder and professional government baiter Julian Assange was arrested in the UK after his… er… own Wiki leaked (Gee Note: Ba Boom Cha). It all started when, after the latest batch of classified cable communications were released, Assange was quoted as saying "It is worth noting that in yet-to-be-published parts of the cablegate archive there are indeed references to UFOs". Now the fact that these "references" are more than likely going to be along the lines of "Dear Jim. I looked up in to the sky last night and thought I saw a UFO. But then I realised it was actually your mum. Because she's so fat. Your pal Mikhail" than anything else, it didn't stop believers going in to overdrive on their keyboards. And before you could say "Wait. What?" the following story appeared online.
A new report circulating in the Kremlin today prepared for President Medvedev by Russian Space Forces (VKS) 45th Division of Space Control says that an upcoming WikiLeaks release of secret US cables details that the Americans have been “engaged” since 2004 in a “war” against UFO’s based on or near the Continent of Antarctica, particularly the Southern Ocean. According to this report, the United States went to its highest alert level on June 10, 2004 after a massive fleet of UFO’s “suddenly emerged” from the Southern Ocean and approached Guadalajara, Mexico barely 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from the American border. Prior to reaching the US border, however, this massive UFO fleet is said in this report to have “dimensionally returned” to their Southern Ocean “home base”.
The article was published by the relatively unknown EU Times, who claim to use reliable sources. But then I claim to be an astronaut who was thrown out of NASA for being too handsome when I'm in a bar I know I'll never go back to so, you know.
Another rumour doing the rounds was one about "Three Giant UFOs Heading Towards Earth" (Gee Note: Dun dun dun duuuuuuunnnnnnnn). The amazing thing about this is that it's actually a couple of months old. It first came to light in September, when copy and paste merchants the world over posted this on their web-ma-thingys.
Recent light has been shed on the reason that the SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project has been cancelled by the government. It seems that something was starting to happen. According to my sources the government black project boys have taken over some of the antennas and are now processing signals for the exclusive use of the United States Navy. The government seems to be highly upset that more than one very large object is fast approaching Earth.
Of course eagle eyed readers will notice that the SETI project wasn't cancelled by the government, largely because the government doesn't actually fund SETI in the first place. In fact you have to go all the way back to 1992 to find the last meaningful contribution the US made to SETI in an official capacity. The blurb goes on to explain that at the current rate these "large objects" will arrive here sometime in the middle of December 2012 and, adding all that together, what we have is an obvious attempt to hoodwink folks in to thinking all those Mayan Prophecy Doomsdayers might actually know what they are talking about. As opposed to just being a bunch of smelly hippies who should really know better at their age.
Somehow though the same piece of fluff managed to rear its ugly head again in late December, thanks to some clever engineering on the scribes part. Gone was the blatantly false information about SETI, replaced with… blatantly false information about SETI. Hoorah. Here's version two taken from The Examiner online.
E.T. does not need to phone home anymore, someone, or something is on it’s way to earth.
SETI Astrophysicist Craig Kasnov ( not to be confused with Craig Kasnoff ) has announced the approach to the Earth of 3 very large, very fast moving objects. The length of the “flying saucers” is in the range of tens of kilometers. Landing, according to calculations of scientists, should be in mid-December 2012. Date coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar.
Craig Kasnoff is not an astrophysicist, and is no longer associated with SETI, but at least he actually exists. Craig Kasnov, on the other hand, doesn't. At all. In any shape or form. Oh sure, there may be a couple of dudes here and there with the name "Craig Kasnov". But are any of them a top astrophysicist dedicating themselves to finding little green men? No. No they aren't. Honestly, you might as well have started the story with "Elusive super spy James Bond believes the Earth is pretty much boned because Harry Stamper told him he saw, like, 5 gazillion spaceships armed with death rays and dressed up to look like big sharks or something". I mean really if you are going to make stuff up, at least try and be responsible enough to use the tried and tested "a source close to SETI claims". Say what you will about the
Speaking of Doomsday, Bugarach is the place to be when the four horseman come riding over the horizon. Or not if you believe Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord. You see Mr. Delord is a bit panicky at the thought of December 21st 2012. Not because he thinks that Armageddon will hit us like Hugh Jackman trying to make a dramatic stage entrance. But because a lot of New Agers are convinced that should the heavens open and rain down a monsoon of fire, then Bugarach is going to be just tickety boo.
The reason? Well according to the Daily Telegraph:
Bugarach, population 189, is a peaceful farming village in the Aude region, southwestern France and sits at the foot of the Pic de Bugarach, the highest mountain in the Corbières wine-growing area. But in the past few months, the quiet village has been inundated by groups of esoteric outsiders who believe the peak is an "alien garage". According to them, extraterrestrials are quietly waiting in a massive cavity beneath the rock for the world to end, at which point they will leave, taking, it is hoped, a lucky few humans with them.
Hence ol' Jean-Pierre is a wee bit concerned that should a throng of people holding signs saying “Take me with you. But leave the missus. She never really understood me anyway.” decide to descend upon Bugarach en masse then chaos would ensue. Although it's a bit difficult to nail down exactly why the Pic de Bugarach should generate so much interest in alien loving circles. There are, of course, rumours that the Nazis and Mossad have both conducted digs at the site. That and President François Mitterrand was once flown by helicopter to the summit of the mountain for reasons that were never disclosed. Oh and a chap who once lived there claimed to have heard a spacecraft humming from under the surface of the rock. But outside of those slim pickings there's not much more than conjecture and heresay.
Still this hasn't calmed Delord any. “This is no laughing matter,” he's quoted as saying. "If tomorrow 10,000 people turn up, as a village of 200 people we will not be able to cope. I have informed the regional authorities of our concerns and want the army to be at hand if necessary come December 2012."
Mind, maybe he'll get lucky and the army won't be needed to keep the David Icke wannabes away.
After all on December 21st 2012, there's a chance it might snow.
Evolution (Gee Note: If you believe in it that is. If you don't, well that's cool I guess. I don't believe in Ryan Seacrest. I'm still waiting for the day when he falls apart live on national television and reveals a puppeteer from Jim Henson's Creature Shop working him from underneath. One day my friends. One day. By the way Christmas is coming up, which means I get to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol again. Yes deep down I am still six years old.) doesn't always make sense.
Take, if you will, the Terrible Hairy Fly (Gee Note: Coincidentally "Terrible Hairy Fly" would also be my ring name if I ever achieve my life long dream of becoming a Mexican wrestler). Recently rediscovered after a 62 year gap it is, well, kinda rubbish. For a start it can't actually fly, having wings that are… not really wings. They're more like pointless limbs sprouting out of it's back than anything else. In addition our creepy crawly friend is practically blind, likes making love in bat faeces, and looks like Bernie Ecclestone after seven rounds with a mugger.
So the question is, at what point in the cycle of natural selection does a fly think "You know what? This flying thing is overrated. I mean sure it helps me find food and evade predators. But, really, nobody's ever been made happier by flying. So to hell with it. I'm going to stay right here by this flying rodent poo and watch the ladies go by."? It's pretty crazy when you think about it.
Speaking of which, ever hear the one about the Mokele-Mbembe, the dinosaur in the Congo?
Meet Abbé Lievain Bonaventure. Abbé was a French missionary kicking around the Congo River in the mid 1700's, and in 1776 he published a book about his life there. Most of it consists of Bonaventure describing various plants found in the region, or how the natives were lovely/complete bastards. However in one passage Abbé describes wandering through the jungle one day only to stumble upon something quite remarkable. Namely (Gee Note: President Obama's birth certificate? GEDDIT?!?! Because he's in Africa. Ah ha ha ha. Ah ha ha. Ha. Man I should, like, write a sitcom or something) a set of giant footprints, unlike any he had ever seen before. According to our boy in black the animal that left them "must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference."
Fast forward 134 years and enter Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck, born in Hamburg in 1844, was the son of a fishmonger. As a way of generating some extra cash his father would occasionally deal in exotic animals, and it was because of this Hagenbeck junior found himself in possession of a couple of seals and a polar bear at the age of 14 (Gee Note: No really. That was Papa's way of spoiling the kid. Now I can understand the seals. I mean they're kinda harmless and look a bit like a non threatening version of Ja Rule. But a f***ing Polar Bear?! That's not a responsible gift to give to a child surely? It would be like Saddam Hussein handing a nuclear warhead to Uday Hussein on his 12th birthday. "Your mother said I was spoiling you. But I saw it in the Argos catalogue and I couldn't resist. Nothing is too good for my boy! Now I've kept the receipt so if you don't like the colour we can change it". Madness I tell you).
This started a life long obsession with young Carl, who went on to collect various beasties like they were Pokemon (Gee Note: Pokemon's still a thing with the kids right? Huh? What the hell is a "Ben 10"?). In fact Hagenbeck became a real life Kraven The Hunter, capturing and transporting the world's craziest creatures for display in zoos all across Europe. He even managed to strike up a professional relationship with one P. T. Barnum, to whom he supplied many a strange and rare attraction for folks to view at a price.
Anyway to cut a long story short, in 1909 Hagenbeck published his autobiography "Beasts and Men". The book, guaranteed to be wildly popular to begin with, soon started making headlines around the world. Thanks in no small part to the claim that something rather large and unusual was stomping it's way through Zaire. According to Carl, various tribesmen and animal experts familiar with the area had told him of a creature there that was "half elephant, half dragon" (Gee Note: And we shall call it a "Dragant". Although it's not to be confused with Drag-Ant, a wildly popular stage act within the gay insect community). Indeed naturalist Joseph Menges reported to him that it was "some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs."
And with that the legend of "Mokele-Mbembe", the Sauropod of the African jungle that time forgot, was born.
It became a bit of a media sensation, leading to stories printed all across North America and Europe in the daily newspapers. Which is remarkable considering that the only evidence for this monster was "some dude told another dude who then wrote it down". Still it ignited the imagination and passion of many a brave explorer, and off they trotted to the Congo to find themselves a rootin' tootin' dinosawwwwr.
These expeditions were met with varying degrees of success. In 1919 a 32 man expedition organised by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. ended in tragedy. A train carrying the team to supposedly diplodocus infested waters crashed, killing four outright and seriously wounding many more. Conversely, legendary cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson claimed to have spotted the elusive target on a trip to Cameroon in 1932, describing the creature's head as nearly the size of a hippo itself. "I don't know what we saw, but the animal, the monster, burned itself into my retinas. It looked like something that ought to have been dead millions of years ago. As a scientist, I should have been happy, of course, but this encounter was so frightening, so nasty that I never want to see it again." When he asked his guides what in the blue hell had just happened they replied "m'koo m'bemboo".
However despite the numerous attempts to catch a glimpse of this notorious beast, hard facts were tough to come by. Indeed, outside of the tales told by locals and the occasional roar head off in the distance, "Mokey" left very little physical evidence in it's wake. (Gee Note: Which considering it's supposed to be the size of an armoured truck, is quite the accomplishment. I mean there are professional spies who leave more of a trail than this thing. Actually, thinking about it, that would make one hell of television series. "Dino-Spy: The Cold War Files". Throw in a brontosaurus wearing a dinner jacket and an evil Russian T-Rex with a monocle and you've got yourself a hit show. Seriously, I've got half a mind to pitch this to the BBC).
That was until 1987 and Dr. Roy P Mackel's book "A Living Dinosaur?" hit the shelves. Dr Mackal was a former Marine in WWII, who later became Professor of Zoology at the University of Chicago. (Gee Note: Which I can totally relate to because I am also a delicious mixture of brains and brawn). An avid advocate of cryptozoology, Mackal himself had journeyed to the Congo on two separate occasions. And while he never managed to spot the Mokele-Mbembe, he did collect numerous statements from first hand witnesses. These he collated and, with his own narration, transformed them in to "A Living Dinosaur?". The most striking thing was the similarity of these reports. As Mackal himself puts it:
The witnesses described animals that were 15 to 30 feet long, mostly head, neck and tail. The head was distinctly snake-like, a long thin tail, and a body approximating the size of an elephant, or at least that of a hippopotamus. The legs are short, with the hind legs possessing three claws. The animals are a reddish brown in color, and have a rooster-like frill running from the top of the head down the back of the neck.
About 300 pages in Roy mentions a letter he had received from someone named Atelier Yvan Ridel, before reprinting the letter in full.
A member, as you are yourself, of the J.N.E. (Writers-journalists for Nature and Ecology), I am a professional photographer and passionate amateur naturalist. This explains why I photograph, as the occasions arise just about every animal (wild ones, especially), that I counter -- from the smallest to the largest.
(Gee Note: Man that sounds like good hobby. Better than mine anyway, which involves eating an entire tub of ice cream and watching reality television shows. That counts as a hobby right?).
Ridel helpfully supplied a photograph with the letter, this one to be precise.
This is how I happened to have taken the slide I have enclosed (a duplicate), showing the footprint of what I believed at the time (1966) to be a hippopotamus, without even realizing that the foot that had made it had only 3 toes. But, not thinking that far, I didn't believe it could be anything else, so filed the negative and scarcely thought of it again.
I ought to mention that this photo was taken in August or September of 1966 in the Congo (Brazza) on a steep river bank and that the animal's tracks lead out of a mass of reeds, crossed a little beach area and descended into the water.
Now we're talking.
You see anecdotes of woovy bezerk monsters are all well good, but they're tough to believe without something else to back them up. For example, when I was growing up every kid in my class was convinced that if you went in to the bathroom at night, turned off all of the lights and said the words "Bloody Mary" three times in to a mirror, a ghost would turn up and rip your eyes out. But just because everyone said it would happen didn't make it true (Gee Note: Although I'll be buggered if I'm going to try it. I mean I really like my eyes. They help me see things. Like flowers. And mountains. And Monster Trucks on the telly. Eyes are pretty goddam awesome in that regard). It's the same in this case. Except "Bloody Mary" is a bloody great big lizard. And she doesn't rip your eyes out. And she might not be a "she". So it's not really the same at all when you think about it.
But it doesn't end there, oh no siree. In 1983 zoologist Marcellin Agnanga visited the area known as Lake Tele, a veritable hot spot for dino sightings. While there he claims to have seen the fabled creature from a stones throw away. According to Agnanga it had a small head, a long neck, and a large broad back (Gee Note: Sounds like my ex. Hey-oh.), and luckily Agnanga had his video camera with him. Unluckily Marcellin was to home movies what Rise Of The Robots was to videogames, and he either left the lens cap on or forgot to set the camera to record at a distance, depending on who you believe.
Leave it to the Japanese to go one better then. In 1992 a documentary crew from the land of the rising sun were filming some 2nd unit footage from a small plane flying over Lake Tele. While in the air the camerman noticed a disturbance from the water below. He proceeded to record the following action.
Now this video has generated a great deal of debate. "It's a dinosaur!" say some. "Rubbish. It's a person in a row boat!" say others. "It's an elephant going for a swim!" yet more people cry. In the end it's just too grainy to truly decipher. It could be a be a Brontosaurus. It could also be a bird with a long neck. Like an emu. (Gee Note: Or Naomi Campbell, if one of the contestants on hit 80's tv gameshow Family Fortunes are to be believed. For those not in the know, FF eventually became notorious for the idiotic and often bizarre answers the players would blurt out. Such as - Q: Name something that makes you scream. A: A squirrel, and - Q: Name a number you have to memorise. A: Seven. In retrospect it really is no wonder that host Les Dennis had a breakdown on national television in 2002. I mean sure, the fact that his wife was being banged like a big bass drum by another guy may also have played some part in that. But considering what his working life consisted of it's amazing he managed to hold it together for as long as he did).
Since then there have been numerous visits to the region in search of "Denver" (Gee Note: Did you know that "Denver The Last Dinosaur" only had one series? It turns out that a guitar playing aptosaur who can, for reasons that are not entirely made clear, travel through time isn't all that bankable. Hmmm. I may have to rethink my Dino-Spy series. Maybe throw in something for the male 18-34 demographic. A stegosaurus in a bikini perhaps? Yes. That's it. She can be a professional surfer/kung fu expert who also happens to be a stegosaurus. This can't fail!). Alas all of them have come back pretty much empty handed, except for the usual stories from pygmies about a giant reptile splashing around in lakes, eating shrubs, and picking fights with hippos.
So I guess the question is, what are the chances that a living fossil is tearing around the dark continent? Well, honestly, it appears to be pretty slim.
Now before we start, some people reading this will have undoubtedly heard of the Coelacanth. If you haven't then I'll try and explain as briefly as possible, The Coelacanth is a fish that was thought to have been extinct for approximately 65 million years. That was until one was found swimming around quite happily off the coast of South Africa in 1938. It has become the poster child for misguided creationists all over the globe who have apparently taken on the "Dinosaur in the Congo" crusade as a way of proving that God really created the universe. Why they do this I have no idea. I mean even if it's true it doesn't really prove God exists. Just that one giant lizard is reeeaalllly good at hiding.
But people often point to the Coelacanth and go “See? Scientists schmientists. They don't know everything. Look at this primitive and, let's face it, really ugly fish. They thought it didn't exist. But it does. You can poke it if you don't believe me. Go on. Poke the fish. Poke it. Hmmm. I can't help but notice you're not poking the fish. Listen buddy, we didn't drive all the way to SeaWorld for you to just stare. So just poke the f***ing thing and we'll move on.”. Except that argument is all kinds of mental when you think about it.
For a start we know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about the sea floor, and Coelacanth can live some 700m beneath the surface. Also they're dark blue, hide in caves all day, and can only be found in waters which have a temperature between 14°c and 22°c. With the ocean covering two-thirds of the Earth trying to find a Coelacanth is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Except, and here's the key bit, nobody was actually looking for one. Until 1938 it hadn't entered anyone's head that a Coelacanth might actually still be swimming about somewhere. Now it is true that the Coelacanth disappeared from the fossil record since the Cretaceous period. But all that can tell you is that the fossil record is incomplete and should really be used as a rough guide.
Basically what it boils down to is this. Let's say, conservatively, that the Mokele-Mbembe is about the size of an elephant. And let's say, generously, the area it inhabits is about the size of Florida. In 90 years of searching, and with all the technological advances we've made in that time, we haven't come close to finding anything. Outside of eye witness reports, we've had the grand total of one photo of a footprint and one shaky video.
Of course the argument is that the Congo is ridiculously difficult to travel to and once there it's quite an ordeal to get from one spot to the next. But with hippos and elephants both on the endangered species list, and with numbers of each steadily dwindling, we can still find plenty of wildlife programmes capturing these animals in their native habitat. Not to be able to find a lizard of similar size even after 90 years of trying just doesn't make sense, especially after the first thing anyone on an expedition does is grill the pygmies as to where exactly this thing is.
But then, on the flip side of the coin, evolution doesn't always make sense. Just ask the Terrible Hairy Fly.