Wednesday, 19 October 2011

He liked the idea of travel, and the memory of travel, but not travel itself.

Do you ever find yourself saying something that you know you’ll come to regret later on?

For example, the other night I was lying in bed when I had a sudden urge to [insert your own euphemism for urinating here]. So, with a bleary eye and a head full of cotton, I lurched into the bathroom and discovered two unexpected guests lounging around in my bath tub. A spider and a moth to be precise. Now I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a huge fan of insects. It’s not that I’m scared of them you understand (Gee Note: Because I don’t fear anything. In fact if you look up “Alpha Male” in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of me shirtless and carrying a gun while a pair of Lithuanian sex workers hold on to my legs) It’s just I find them very weird. Indeed, it never fails to amaze me that people scoff at the idea of the existence of Bigfoot, and yet think slugs are perfectly acceptable. I mean sure, tentacled legless mucus bags that have protective shells on the inside of their body are perfectly fine. But an undiscovered large ape? Now you’ve gone too far buddy.

Anyway it was late and I was tired, and this situation was only going to end in one of two ways. Either I was going to stumble downstairs, grab a newspaper, head back upstairs and spend a fruitless half hour trying to coax the little buggers on to the folded journal so they could be deposited neatly out of the window. Or I was going to turn on the tap and send both these intruders to a watery grave.

I chose the second option. Which, it turns out, was a mistake.

Because after I had completed my initial goal of relieving myself I pawed at the faucet to turn it off without checking to see if the little squatters and taken the one way trip to drainsville. Instead I bumbled out of the bathroom, stubbed my toe on the bannister, and climbed back in to bed moaning about how completely unfair the world is when things like bannisters are allowed to exist.

The following morning I was woken by the sweet voice of The Future Ex-Mrs. Davies.

“Gareth?” she asked softly.

“Mmmmppfflufflloff” came my response.

“Gareth?” she asked again, somewhat louder this time.

“Wha?” (Gee Note: To be fair it was first thing in the morning. I’m amazed she got that much out of me. She normally checks my pulse before banging a pair of cymbals next to my head).

“Why is there a dead spider and a dead moth in the bath?”

“I don’t know” I said before making my second mistake “Maybe… they fought to the death”.

Now had I just said “Oh sorry love. I tried washing them down the drain last night but I guess it didn’t work.” then things would have been fine. But I didn’t say that. Instead, even though there was only the slightest chance I may get in to trouble over two deceased insects, my fight or flight response kicked in and I immediately reverted to ‘deny all knowledge of event and offer alternative hypothesis’ mode.

“They fought to the death?” The Future Ex-Mrs. Davies asked incredulously (Gee Note: She’s a smart cookie that partner of mine. She knows nonsense when she hears it. Which is why I have to often distract her with shiny things and pictures of puppies. Otherwise I’d end up spending all day every day explaining myself and, well, that would become awfully tiring after a while).

“Yeah sure,” I said. “Spiders and moths are mortal enemies”.

“Are they now?”

“Uh huh. In fact it was in that nature documentary we watched last week. The one narrated by David Attenborough. Insecty Planet. There was this moth and this spider and the moth was all like “Don’t you come near me man!” And the spider was like “I’ll go wherever I please. I’m a muthaf***ing spider!” And then the moth starting throwing karate kicks and the spider came back with these brutal haymakers and…”


“Yes dear?”

“Go in to the bathroom. Get rid of the two bugs you killed. And then clean the bath from top to bottom.”

“Yes dear.”

So yeah. That was my morning. Cleaning the sodding bathtub. All because for some reason I tried to convince my wife that there's a 300 billion year rivalry between two different sets of creepy-crawlies.

But hey, it could have been worse I guess. It wasn’t like I went missing for five days and when I returned claimed I had been abducted by aliens.

Meet Travis Walton. The date was November 5 1975. At the time 22 year old Travis was part of a logging crew led by his best friend Mike Rogers. The rest of the crew was made up of Ken Peterson, John Goulette, Steve Pierce, Allen Dallis and Dwayne Smith, all of whom resided in the small town of Snowflake, Arizona. They had been hired by the United States Forest Service to tidy up some 1,200 acres of land that had become overrun with shrubs. It was a pretty sweet deal all things considered, as should the work be completed by the agreed deadline then Rogers and friends were set to make more money from this single job than they had on any other one previously.

Problem was the lads had fallen behind schedule, and rather than risk defaulting on the contract they had literally started working from dawn till dusk. On November 5 at a little after 6 pm the group had hung up their bush cutting implements for the day and were heading back to Snowflake in Mike’s truck. It was an uneventful trip and nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Nah. I’m yanking your chain. The truth is all hell broke loose. Shortly after setting off on their journey they saw a bright light coming up from behind a hill in front of them. As they got closer they noticed it wasn’t a light at all. Rather a bloody great big flying saucer, hovering above a clearing in the forest. Silver in colour it was described as being somewhere in the region of 8ft high and 20ft in diameter.

Now Mike Rogers was a sensible sort of chap and he immediately stopped his truck so as not to get fried by an alien laser. Alas Travis Walton was not as sensible, because as soon as the vehicle stopped Walton leapt out and started running toward the UFO like a dog chasing a car. Everybody else in the truck started shouting things like “What the deuce? Travis? Why art thou heading towards that beastly contraption at such velocity?” (Gee Note: Either that or “Holy shit! Travis??? Get back in the truck you goddam moron!!”. Records are sketchy is what I’m saying). Undoubtedly scared witless by the huge spaceship in the heavens above none of the other loggers followed Walton. Which was probably for the best, because as Travis arrived at his destination the woovy bezerk flying thingy fired a beam at Travis that "rose him a foot into the air, his arms and legs outstretched, and shot him back stiffly some 10 feet (3.0 m), all the while caught in the glow of the light. His right shoulder hit the earth, and his body sprawled limply over the ground." according to statements made to UFO researcher Jerome Clarke.

Seeing Walton getting his ass handed to him by a bunch of aliens was enough for Mike, who swung the truck around and put his foot down. When he finally lost control and skidded off the road they were a quarter of a mile away. It was half an hour later and after “much discussion” (Gee Note: “So, Mike. I hear Julian Barnes has been shortlisted yet again for the Booker prize. Do you think he’ll win this year, and if so is The Sense of an Ending any better than the bracing postmodernism of Flaubert’s Parrot?”) they returned to the scene. Where they found…


Not a jot.

No sign of Travis. No sign of a struggle, or a body being violently flung about like a hot cup of coffee at one of Barbra Streisand’s assistants. Sure as sugar no sign of any aliens. Rogers and the rest of the crew drove around for a bit trying to find any clue as to what might have happened to Travis, but to no avail. They found neither hide nor hair of him.

At 7.30 pm Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison received a phone call from Ken Peterson. Peterson, obviously sounding distressed, reported that Walton had gone missing. Ellison arranged to meet Peterson and the rest of the crew at a shopping centre, and upon his arrival they divulged the full story. During this conversation Ellison noted that all the men were distraught, with two of them actually reduced to tears. While he did not believe for a second that Jack McSpaceman was snatching folks from Arizona willy nilly, he became convinced that whatever had happened to these men had affected them deeply. So Ellison called his superior Sheriff Marlin Gillespie, who advised Ellison to keep the men at the shopping centre until he got there. Within the hour Gillespie arrived with Officer Ken Coplan and the tale was related to them. Rogers demanded that they head back out to the scene with sniffer dogs. No dogs were available, but Gillespie rounded up a posse regardless and they all headed off to find what many expected to be the lifeless body of Travis Walton.

There wasn’t a body to be found. In fact there wasn’t anything to be found.

Literally no physical evidence to suggest that anything untoward had happened at all. Although police kept up the search for a couple of hours the truth was many of them had already come to one of two conclusions. Either Walton had been killed by accident or on purpose by one of his work colleagues and buried somewhere in the forest, with the rest of the crew going along with this fantastical ruse in order to protect one of their own. Or Walton had pulled a prank on his mates and was now currently hanging out in a bar laughing at how silly everyone else was.

Rogers and Coplan went to visit Walton’s mother Mary Walton Kellett to break the bad news to her. Rather than collapse in tears and tear open her blouse, she simply asked the men to repeat themselves. They did and she then calmly asked if anyone other than police and eye witnesses had heard the story. Coplan left her house thinking that she was acting strangely, very unlike a mother who had just been told that her son was missing. He got the impression that the only way she would be this calm was if she knew Travis was actually not missing at all. This added fuel to the growing suspicion that Walton’s “abduction” was not on the level.

Fast forward three days and still little progress had been made on the case. In fact the police had pretty much given up the search, which led to Rogers and Travis’ older brother Duane to cause a fracas in the police station. Worse the media had rocked up in Snowflake, and were salivating all over this story. For reporters this was a win/win. Either Walton was dead, in which case the loggers would go down as the most knuckleheaded criminals in the history of North America. Or Walton had faked his own disappearance, which would make him a real life pantomime villain. Or Travis had actually been abducted by aliens, which would be the biggest news story since that Jewish guy water skied across a lake without any skis or a boat to pull him. Whatever the result the newspapers and television shows were quids in.

Almost immediately large sections of the media started to raise doubts about the validity of the UFO story as well as questioning the character of all the main players involved. Therefore Rogers and the rest of the crew agreed to a polygraph test (Gee Note: On the Jeremy Kyle show! That would be an amazing episode. “Where I come from people are taught to take responsibility for their actions. So why don’t you LAY OFF THE CANNABIS, GET OFF YOUR BACKSIDE, PUT SOMETHING ON THE END OF IT, AND STOP KILLING THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH AND BURYING THEM IN THE WOODS??? *pauses for applause* We have to take a break but we’ll be right back with those all-important lie detector results”). With the exception of Allen Dallis, the men passed the polygraph, leading to the tester to comment that "These polygraph examinations prove that these five men did see some object they believed to be a UFO, and that Travis Walton was not injured or murdered by any of these men on that Wednesday".

(Gee Note: By the way the reason Dallis did not complete the test was that he legged it halfway through. You see Dallis had lied about a previous criminal conviction in order to get his job with Rogers and was worried that he would get exposed. Which is why all employers should have a polygraph machine on hand when interviewing prospective employees in the first instance. “What’s my worst quality? Well some people have suggested that I’m a workaholic and I care about my job too much” Beep. “What? Oh f*** it then. My worst quality is stealing underwear from Marks & Spencers. There. Happy now?”)

It didn’t matter though, as both police and the news people were convinced this was all a stunt. Snowflake town marshall Sanford Flake was particular keen to expose the fraudsters, publically announcing that Travis and Duane had fooled the loggers by lighting a balloon. Without, alas, a shred of evidence to back it up. He even turned up on Mary Walton Kellett’s doorstep with a camera crew hoping to find Travis hiding inside her house.

And then on 10 November, five days after he had gone missing, Travis Walton called his friend Grant Neff from a public phone box at Heber Gas station. Neff at first didn’t believe it was him until Travis screamed down the phone "It's me, Grant ... I'm hurt, and I need help badly. You come and get me". So Neff did what he was told. He found Walton at the Herber Gas station slumped in a booth, wearing the same clothes he had on when he went missing. Neff bundled Travis in to the back of his car and headed back to Snowflake, while Walton mumbled about “things with terrifying eyes” (Gee Note: What, like Edwina Curry?) and was surprised to discover he had been away for five days, thinking he was gone a couple of hours at most.

So what had happened to Travis Walton?

Well, according to the man himself the beam that hit him knocked him unconscious. And when he woke up he was on an alien craft. Luckily Walton was carrying a home movie camera with him at the time and managed to record the following footage.

OK. Not really. I have no idea what that is (Gee Note: It’s kind of hypnotic though right? I’ve watched this thing like sixteen times in a row now. It’s not that I like it. It’s that I can’t not watch it). According to Walton the last thing he remembered was being hit by a beam, waking up on the ship, and getting in to an argument with some little aliens which he described as “shorter than five feet, and they had bald heads, no hair. Their heads were domed, very large. They looked like foetuses”. Which I’m guessing is what caused the argument in the first place. I mean Martians have feelings too you know? Anyway the tiny follically challenged dudes beat a hasty retreat when Walton threatened them with glass rod. They were replaced with human figures in blue jumpsuits and with glowing golden eyes. These people grinned at him inanely not saying a word, before eventually leading him to a small room where they gassed him and then presumably dumped him at a gas station for no reason at all.

Now the spacemen were done with Travis Walton, it was the turn of the press. The Phoenix Gazette ran a story about a man named William H. Spaulding who claimed to have examined and questioned Walton for 2 hours the day following his return. He claimed that there had been inconsistencies with Walton’s story and that he was prepared to expose Travis for creating a carefully constructed lie. Feeling under pressure to defend himself Travis spoke to Gillespie and offered to partake in a polygraph or be injected with truth serum. Gillespie said a polygraph would be fine (Gee Note: Largely because he was neither Jack Bauer nor a Russian spy and as such truth serum was pretty hard to come by). But then news that he was to undergo a lie detector test was leaked to the press and Duane Walton, by this point acting as his brother’s minder, cancelled the test thinking Gillespie had tipped off the reporters.

In the end Travis did take a polygraph test, paid for by the National Enquirer, who were probably trying to tie up the Waltons to an exclusive interview. The test was conducted John J McCarthy and…

Travis failed. (Gee Note: I assume that there was a sharp intake of breath by the studio audience when the results were read out. At least that’s what happens on Maury. And considering I’ve never been hooked up to one of these things that’s all I can go by).

In fact not only did he fail but Duane Walton requested the results be supressed, as per the agreement he made with the National Enquirer. And by the time that they were made public eight months later Travis was already considered to be a fraud, the polygraph being the final nail in the coffin. The cynics sighted the lack of emotional response from Mary, interview statements made by Rogers and Duane casting doubt on their motives, and a medical examination of Travis showing low levels of ketones in his urine (Gee Note: Ketones are present when you go without food or drink for an extended period of time and your body starts to break down fats to survive. If Travis had been gone for five days then he surely would have had high levels of ketones in his wee. But he didn’t. So either he was eating pretty regularly, or E.T. and pals were funnelling liquefied cheeseburgers directly in to Walton’s tummy. Which, when you think about it, is one way McDonalds could revive their flagging business. “In a hurry? Why not try the new McPumpulator?”. Cash cow I tells ya).

And it really doesn’t matter that McCarthy’s conduct during the test was brought in to question as being “unprofessional”, or that Travis would later pass two further polygraph tests. It doesn’t matter that Rogers was accused of being an accomplice in a scam to allow him to default on his contract with the Forrest service, despite the fact that he had defaulted on several other contracts with them before without claiming alien involvement. It doesn’t matter that the Walton’s were labelled as drunks and ne’er-do-wells in the tabloids, or that Mary’s dignified response was deemed to be suspicious.

No the real moral of the story is that if you want to have a quiet life and you see a friend of yours being abducted by aliens then do the smart thing. Tell the authorities it was a gang of hoodlums that did it or something. Because when it comes to aliens, just like the moth and spider’s rivalry, getting people to believe you is damned difficult. No matter how many lie detector tests you pass.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

My name is Sue. How do you do?

I should really stop trying to be a smart arse.

Allow me to explain. A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece on this ‘ere web based log about Cosmic Ordering, and how it was all just a little bit silly. To prove my point I decided to nominate myself for the Wales Blog Awards’ “Best Writing” category, and placed a Cosmic Order asking the universe if it could see its way to making this blog one of the finalists.

Now I’ll be honest with you (Gee Note: I mean by this point we’re pretty much buds right?). I expected to get trounced by all the other folks who entered the Wales Blog Awards. Largely because the people of Wales have a tendency to be bloody good at this sort of thing. No really. We might not be able win a football match or leave a supermarket without having to pay for the carrier bags, but dognammit when it comes to being creative we can rub shoulders with the best of them. We produce more Hollywood stars than we have any right to. Our poets and song writers are celebrated around the world. Our language is rightfully considered to be one of the most remarkable in Europe. All in all we’re a pretty awesome bunch when you think about it.

So when it came to my chances of making a splash in the WBA’s, I was rather confident in my upcoming failure. Because, when surrounded by genuinely intriguing and fabulously written blogs, a fat ginger nerd waffling on about aliens and sea monsters would probably be considered laughable at best. Oh sure if there was a “Bless him. He tries hard. He really does” award then maybe I’d be in with a shout (Gee Note: Although even then I’d probably lose out to a particularly slow squirrel bashing a nut against a keyboard). But “Best Writing”? Nah. Not a chance.

Anyway the Wales Blog Award finalists were announced on Friday. And so I clicked on the link while gleefully preparing a smug “told you so you crazy hippy basket cases” post in my head.

And then… it all fell apart.

Because somehow the judges were afflicted with what medical professionals would refer to as “a case of the f***ing crazies” and, lo and behold, I Saw Elvis In The Woods is on the list. Which means one of two things. Either A) the judges really are open to bribes no matter how much they “protest” or B) Cosmic Ordering actually works. In which case nuts to the Wales Blog Awards. I should have asked for a Ferrari to be delivered to my front door by a Swedish bikini model.

(Gee Note: By the way the finalists are all listed here for your consideration. And, despite the questionable practice of including this tour de farce amongst them, the rest of the entries are all brilliant. Not least the other two nominations in the “Best Writing” category, Morden Haiku Poetry by the ridiculously talented Matt Morden and by a tremendous writer named… er… Mike Jenkins. So congratulations to both of them as well and, as long as neither of them actually wins, I’m honoured to be considered alongside them. Should either of them win then they are both thieving bastards and probably also terrorists of some sort. Also as well as the established categories up for grabs there’s THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE award which is decided by a public vote. So go there and vote for me if you want to. Or don’t. Whatever. I can’t force you to. It’s not like I’ve kidnapped your pet or something. And then tied said pet to a conveyor belt that's heading ever so slowly towards a circular saw. I mean that would be crazy wouldn’t it? It would also make me the type of guy you wouldn’t want to mess with correct? Well relax. I haven’t done that to Mr. Fluffy at all. You’re right. He’s probably just out in the back garden enjoying the sunshine.)

Speaking of things that don’t turn out the way you would expect, Psychic Sally has been in the news a lot recently. You guys remember Psychic Sally right? No? You sure? Well for those of you who aren’t familiar with “Britain’s Favourite Psychic”, Sally Morgan is a former dental nurse who claims to be able to contact the dead. In 2008 she became rather famous in the UK after publishing a book entitled “My Psychic Life”. Since then she has toured the country non-stop, conducting shows in various theatres where she offers readings to members of the audience. Unlike most UK psychics who, let’s face it, are kind of creepy - Sally’s gimmick is that she’s an average, down to earth woman. She’s the mumsy medium, the one who’ll hold your hand while saying things like “There, there love. Your grandmother wants you to know that you shouldn’t leave the cod in the oven for too long”.

She’s also a complete charlatan. Well she is if you believe a boy woman named Sue.

On September 11th Morgan performed in the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin. Just like any other show of Sally’s she wowed the crowd by (Gee Note: Contacting the spirit of late great professional wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage? That would be amazing. “I’m with a man named Randy and he says… OOOH YEAH!!!!! Does that mean anything to anyone here? ‘OOOOH YEAH!!!!’? He’s also saying… wait… he’s saying ‘Hulk Hogan is a little bitch’.) informing them that their loved ones in the great beyond were having a grand old time and were proud of them and so on.

However the following day Sue, a member of the audience the previous night, called in to RTE Radio 1 during their Liveline show. Here’s a recording of the interview.

Now if you looked at that video and balked at the running time of 17 minutes then I’ll break it down for you (Gee Note: Although if you don’t have at least 17 minutes to kill then why the hell you’re reading this blog I have no idea. I mean you may not have noticed but these posts tend to go on for a long ass time). Sue was at the show at the Grand Canal Theatre the previous night and noticed something rather odd. At the back of the theatre, just behind where Sue was sitting was a small enclave that she described as like “a projection room”. From the room Sue could distinctly hear the sound of a man’s voice during the performance (Gee Note: Talking during the show eh? Only one way to deal with people like that. They deserve a full blooded, no holds barred, tutting at).

The strange thing is the voice didn’t appear to be having a regular conversation about whether or not one would “do” a certain celebrity or what a shambles a specific sports team is. Instead the voice from the room would say something and then a handful of seconds later Sally would repeat the same thing on stage. The example Sue gave is that the voice would say something like “Dave. Complained of a bad back. Passed quickly” and almost immediately Sally would say “I’m here with Dave. He’s complaining about a bad back. Says he passed quickly”. Sue was under the impression that the information was being fed to Sally via an earpiece from an accomplice who had mingled with the audience before the show, picking up scraps of information here and there.

Anyway the story was picked up by The Guardian, and specifically by Chris French. French is the editor of The Skeptic Magazine, and as such is always on the lookout for a good tale about claims of the paranormal not being on the level. So he submitted his article to the Guardian, threw in some information about James Randi and the one million dollar prize for proof of psychic abilities remaining unclaimed, and probably thought nothing else about it.

Sally Morgan, as featured on Living TV

But, like sharks smelling blood, tabloid journalists came a-sniffing. You see there’s nothing better than stories of celebrities, no matter how small and insignificant, disgracing themselves with which to fill up the pages on an otherwise slow news day. And so with ears pricked and claws sharpened, off to the races the press went.

There were a million opinion pieces written that week, penned by slathering sirens desperate to preach from their holier than thou soapboxes. Journalists such as Jan Moir, who claimed that people who believe in psychics are “gullible”, “simple-minded” and “foolish”. In an article that wasn’t so much an attack on Sally Morgan as it was on those who spent hard earned money trying to find some piece of mind, it’s astonishing that she didn’t jot down a paragraph asking those morons to just kill themselves and make the world a better place. Iain Hollingshead took a slightly less abrasive position, at first comparing the news that a psychic could be a fraud to the pope admitting he’s catholic before claiming he has an “open mind”. Even Nigel Pauley of The Star got in on the act, guffawing that for such a powerful medium it’s amazing that Sally never saw this hullaballoo coming. (Gee Note: Think that’s amazing. I once saw a potato that looked exactly like Winston Churchill. Point to me I think).

Obviously feeling under pressure to respond to the criticism being levelled at her Morgan came out swinging. At a show at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, Sally opened her act with the following monologue which The Daily Mail referred to as a “spirited defence” (Gee Note: GEDDIT?!?!? “Spirited”. Cos she’s like a psychic and everything? I know. It’s pretty sweet right? It’s all Jeremy’s work. We sat there for, oh gosh, ages trying to come up with a brilliant pun and Jeremy walks in and is all like “How about a spirited defence”? At first we didn’t get it but then he explained it and we were like “Oh man, that’s great”. But that’s Jeremy all over really. Deep thinker).

These are so you can hear me. This is a microphone. I can put my hair behind my ears to prove I have nothing in my ears. I refuse to hold a hand microphone because part of the show is the fact that I act out what I am hearing (Gee Note: Really? I refuse to hold a microphone because I often say stupid things. Like, for example, comparing my feet to my ears or something). If I’ve got a hand microphone I’m going to feel restricted. I don’t hear anything through my ears. It’s like trying to say I receive messages through the soles of my feet (Gee Note: Well I’ll be damned. You say stupid shit as well).

She went on to say: I don’t know any of you in the audience. I don’t know who is coming tonight. I know nothing about you. I can’t Google you. I haven’t walked around your local cemetery. I’m a medium. This is what I do. (Gee Note: You can Google me if you like. Although you won’t find much. Because I’m a super-secret ninja spy who must keep his identity secret at all times. Either that or I’m not very noteworthy. One of the two).

And do you know what? This speech received a hearty round of applause. No really it did. In fact not one single person called out and said “Bollocks. I’ve seen Derren Brown on the telly. I know how this stuff works!”. Instead she carried on with the show and everyone probably had a marvellous time.

Which, I guess, is the moral of this story. It doesn’t matter what all those mean newspaper people say. Morgan’s fans will stick with her regardless. They want to believe that she can talk to the dead, even though all logic and scientific fact would suggest otherwise. They want to believe that Sally Morgan has a direct line to the spirit world, even though if she did you would think that she'd spend all her time betting on the gee-gee's (Gee Note: No relation) and helping world leaders locate members of Al-Qaeda, rather than standing on stage in a sparkly blouse. They want to believe in her to such a degree that they’re willing to ignore a national scandal about her authenticity. They simply want to believe in Psychic Sally.

So despite the outcry, the blustering editorials, and the online comment sections being flooded by opinionated readers, Sally Morgan will keep drawing in the crowds whether she’s knowingly duping the public or not.

And you don’t really need a voice in your ear to tell you there’s something not quite right with that.