In an attempt to get back to regular blogging a short one today with more to come.
Occassionally some of the things we are insterested in as Forteans become mainstream and have a life outside of our special interest group. One such example was all of the material used in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.
But last night I was somewhat bemused by a drunken "conversation" I could not fail but to hear. I think we're all used to hearing the occasional shouting match between two people outside of a pub and that's what I intitially took this for. Until the words being used started to penetrate my brain. This was a shouted argument about alleged cover ups in the Madeline McCann case, strange enough in itself. But to top it off after one individual had vented their spleen about their take on the case they were met with the following ripost "You f***ing illuminati c**t".
Worthy of Kant and Leibnitz themselves I'm sure you can agree.
But being an illumnati, erm, stooge as a withering comment in a drunken argument. Brilliant.
Many thanks to the Fortean powerhouse that is Mike Dash for the heads up on this entry for the Fortean Property Portfolio.
We have a nice haunted house for your perusal today, and quite frankly even without the ghostly goings on it would be a rather impressive building. First the bad news. It's £1 000 000. And that's the only bad news, everything from now on is great.
It's in North Wales quite close to Prestatyn, Grade 1 listed, seven bedroom and 400 years old.
The description from the estate agents reads
Typical. You wait ages for an explanation of the Voynich Manuscript and then, just like buses, two come along at once!
To quote from Wikipedia
"The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The book has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a book dealer who purchased it in 1912.
The pages of the codex are vellum.
Some of the pages are missing, but about 240 remain. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or
As regular readers will know I have a bit of a thing about Fortean property - even if it is outside of my price range!
Recently I was invited to do an online interview with Steve Parsons and Ron Kolek at Ghost Chronicles Live. The topic of discussion was to be a famous case of poltergeist activity and haunting which was investigated by the Society For Psychical Research in 1897. The way they investigated it was cool - they rented the property for a month or so and a large number of people visited and reported on their experiences. The whole episode was written up as The Alleged Haunting of B..... House by John Crichton-Stuart and Ada Goodrich-Freer. The whole book is annoying in one respect - most of the names are redacted in the same form as the name of the house in the title, it does make for frustrating reading! This all despite a number of points in the case being discussed openly in the pages of the Society of Psychical Research and The Times Newspaper! However the case is interesting (and possibly the subject of another blog) and I have visited the location in question so I was more than happy to speak. But the thrust of this post is the house itself - it's called Ballechin House and It's just south of Pitlochry in Perthshire. And unfortunatley the house itself burnt down in 1963. A few outbuildings and the servants quarters remained. But phoenix like a new house arose on the spot, and it incorporated some of the walls from the previous building. As I was having a quick look around the 'net to see if there were any extra pieces of information about Ballechin House- and what did I find - but the current house has been up for sale! And for the price of £660 000 - they missed a trick there with the price!
Tom Binns is Ian D Montfort: Psychic Fayre
Tom Binns at the Pleasance Courtyard
A crowded room, slightly darkened, a tense air of expectation and then out pops Ian D Montfort. Psychic. But for those who are a bit worried about psychics don't worry, he's not. He's an excellent comedian and an excellent magician. Just to give you an indication of how excellent he is in both spheres anyone who has seen him will realise his skills at comedy but how many will appreciate that they have just seen a range of magic tricks superbly employed?
In the past Montfort has contacted the spirits of famous people who have passed on - well at least we've all heard of them and we can enjoy it rather more than listening to Uncle Ned forget where he left the will! But none of that this time, it's a new show but it's just as hilarious. If you've ever been to a spiritualist meeting the setting and general patter will seem spot on, perhaps a little too true for some as I'm sure some of the members of the audience on the day that I was there were convinced it was the real deal!
A few lucky (!) people get their innermost thoughts and secrets revealed to us and one poor skeptic is shown the error of his ways.
If you're a Fortean then this is the show for your - you'll recognise the cultish messiah personality, the methods of spirit communication (except perhaps doodleology) and if you're really lucky you'll recognise your innermost thoughts...
Dan Willis at The City Cafe
There have been of late many zombie themed shows at the Fringe, some are good, some excellent and some terrible. And we have here another one - but which camp will it fall in to?
Let's be honest here- the zombie apocalypse is coming at soem point so anything that helps us survive it has to be a good thing. There are lots of films and source material about zombies, some of it contradictory, so Willis narrows his view of zombies down, largely to The Walking Dead, but also taking in Zombieland, 28 Days Later and many others. Most of the show relies on interaction between the audience and Willis - for example I was asked what the best weapon I had in my house would be - I fudged as I didn't want to get into a disussion on what a truffle stick was! We were also asked to think about the best defensive position for our group of survivalists - everyone seemed to forget the rather large castle a few hundred yards from where we were... And then one memer of teh audience was asked to choose from a list of celebrities to make a survival team. I won't prime you with who the choices are but if you had the person choosing that we did you would realise that we are all dead. Or as the badge handed out at the end of the show remined us - we're all just zombie food.
All told it was zombies and it was presented in a fun and laid back manner. Part of the Free Fringe and as far as I can tell the best zombie survivalist show on the Fringe this year.
Deborah Hyde Interview With a Vampire Expert
Most shows at the Edinburgh Fringe are repeated but, like the Richard Wiseman event in the previous review, this talk is a one off but part of a series. So whilst you have missed this one there are others at the same time and same location.
Deborah Hyde is the current editor of the UK Skeptic Magazine and is making a welcome return to the Edinburgh Fringe. Last year she spoke on Werewolves and this year it was to be Vampires. But not especially the Vampire of the movie, and most definitely not the Twilight vampire. This was to be a talk on folkloric vampires and it included a quiz!
From their origins from the little understood way a human body decomposes through to plagues vampires have been woven into the human psyche for many centuries, particularly from the 18th onwards in the Balkan States, Greece, Turkey and associated areas. A dead body can still appear to have growing hair and nails, actually shrinkage of the skin due to water loss. A freshly exhumed corpse can show fresh blood around the lips - decomposition of the internal organs and the liquid remnants bubbling up. These and many other things that happen to a decomposing corpse can lead to people believing it to be undead. Similarly a spate of similar deaths must have a cause - obviously that strange old person who recently died and no one liked must be to blame. So instead of a plague wiping people out and corpses decaying you suddenly have a vampire myth.
Richard Wiseman Psychobabble
Most shows at the Fringe are performed repeatedly so there are plenty of options to see them but there are a few one offs and this was one. It's part of a series of talks at The Assembly Rooms which includes Jon Ronson and Robin Ince.
Richard Wiseman holds the chair of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and has written a number of excellent books, the latest of which, Rip It Up, has just been released in paperback.
Psychobabble is really a journey through the interests of Wiseman, starting off with magic, so cue a few magic tricks from the former professional magician. This then led on to his interest in optical and auditory illusions and how we perceive the world- his demonstrations will have forever changed the way the sell out audience view Mickey Mouse and Carmina Burana. We then moved to the paranormal including the world's scariest fire walk and a mass public participation with ghost photographs. Finally we were treated to some aspects of luck and the psychology of change.
So, that's the topics that were covered but how was it? In a word, excellent! Wiseman is an engaging speaker, both accomplished and relaxed he seems to be having as much fun as the audience and not to the detriment of our enjoyment as you sometimes see from some performers.
Every year for a long time I've reviewed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival with Fortean overtones for Fortean Times and more recently exclusively for this website. And it's that time of year again - the Fringe is starting up as I write this and the tents are being put up for the Book Festival. I'll report on what I can. But as there are 2 871 show's performed by 24 107 artists in 273 venues across Edinburgh I won't be able to make them all! Heck some of them I won't even know about as going through the brochure is a mammoth effort in itself! If you see or know of any shows you think I should go to let me know and I'll see what I can do.
One person has been in touch about his own show and it definitely looks to be of a Fortean theme - Paul Gannon's Ain't Afraid of No Ghost,
A few other things are happening as well, for example until November 3rd the National Galleries of Scotland are having an exhibition of paintings entitled Witches and Wicked Bodies. The Edinburgh Fortean Society is taking a break as venues are hard to come by during the Fringe but they will be back with their monthly meetings after the Fringe has finished, with a first meeting in September with Caroline Watt talking about precognitive dreams.
Good news - Charles Fort is getting the official recognition he deserves.
After lobbying the relevant committes for a blue plaque for Fort at 39 Marchmont Street, London, and being turned down, Bob Rickard organised an unofficial plaque which has been a place of pilgrimage for many for a number of years.
But now the Marchmont Association inform us that a blue Plaque for Fort is coming - it doesn't physically exist yet so they sent us a mock up
We've asked if they can include the word writer to denote what he was and also if people wonder who he is from reading the plaque they can seach for his books.
Thanks to the Marchmont Association Blue Plaque Committee.
As soon as I get details of dates I'll pass the information on - it would be nice to have a good turn out!
I'd previously blogged that the Minnesota Ice Man was up for sale on ebay, well here's the follow up to what's happening to it.
It's been bought by the Museum of the Weird. And it goes on display starting this Saturday - the 13th of July.
So if you're anywhere near Austin, Texas then this is the place to be.
In Summer 2014 Steve Busti (owner of Museum of the Weird) will be loaning the exhibit for display to Loren Coleman and his International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland Maine.
A US TV show availbale in the UK on satellite called Shipping Wars has an episode featuring the transport of the Ice Man and the nature of these beasts is that they are continually repeated so check your TV guides to get a sneak peak.
A new post at the Smithsonian site looks at a sensational trial in mid-nineteenth century Haiti - and the negative effects it has had on perceptions of voodoo ever since.
After a number of blog posts about Fortean property you need something to put in it. Well how about what is claimed to be Frank Hansen's original 1960's Minnesota Ice man sideshow exhibit?
The listing reads
When the Sect needs a new Invunche, the Council of the Cave
orders a Member to steal a boy child from six months to a year old. The
Deformer, a permanent resident of the Cave, starts work at once. He
disjoints the arms and legs and the hands and feet. Then begins the
delicate task of altering the position of the head. Day after day, and
for hours at a stretch, he twists the head with a tourniquet until it
has rotated through an angle of 180, that is until the child can look
straight down the line of its own vertebrae.
There remains one last operation, for which another specialist is
needed. At full moon, the child is laid on a work-bench, lashed down
with its head covered in a bag. The specialist cuts a deep incision
under the right shoulder blade. Into the hole he inserts the right arm
and sews up the wound with thread taken from the neck of a ewe. When it
has healed the Invunche is complete.
The world’s last great witch trial took place as recently as 1880. It
was held on the remote Chilean island of Chiloé, and featured
remarkable allegations of mass murder, child mutilation and sorcery, all
committed in the name of a strange sort of alternative government known
as La Provincia Recta – ‘The Righteous Province’ – a sect of
warlocks, based in a hidden cave and given to flying about the island
wearing magical waistcoats stitched from the flayed skin of the recently
Men and women have always dreamed of paradise – and for many, in the years
before the world was fully explored, it was somewhere that might have a
physical existence in some distant corner of the earth. This week's Smithsonian essay takes
a look at what's been said about an earthly arcadia, from the medieval
Land of Cockaigne (a villein's playground that offered a mirror image of
life as it was led in this period, with plenty of rest, a ban on work,
and food that literally threw itself into the mouths of inhabitants) to
Russia's much more spiritual peasant paradise, Belovode, the "Kingdom of
White Waters." More intriguingly, it tracks some of the many very real
expeditions that set out over the years to locate these lands of dreams –
A Fortean at the Fringe Review
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
Theater of Evil
Ok - the stuff you probably know - Amanda Palmer, former Dresden Doll, married to Neil Gaiman, first studio album in four years, crowd sourced from 25 000 people. Interesting as all of that is - the big question is - what's the album like?
As a whole one thing that comes across is that this is an album screaming out to be performed live. It's a grandiose mix of intimate songs and gut wrenching powerful attempts to break the piano! The album was written over several years and this is seen in the range of songs both in terms of performance and subject matter. One song - The Killing Type - had me beating out the rhythm as it went along at the first hearing. I didn't want that song to end. But it did. But I didn't mourn The Killing Type for long. Want it Back hit me with its familiarity from the first hearing - surely a glitch in the matrix! If it is a case of a glitch then bring it on - I could listen to Want it Back all day, definitely a stand out in a brilliant album.
Ian D. Montfort - Unbelievable
Ian D. Montfort is a medium. But don't think Derek Acorah or any of those other mediums you see on the TV. No, they only channel people you knew during your life. And that's boring for the rest of us. Montfort channels famous people, a veritable chat show for ghosts! Who care if Auntie Ethel like what you've done to the house? No, we want to hear that Elvis is looking after our departed pets. That's where mediums should be taking us. And that's exactly what Montfort does.
There were soem people waiting to go in saying they didn't want to see a mediuma nd why were they here once they glanced the poster above advertising the show. Well glad you did your homework before buying a ticket. But they need not have feared - this is unlike any other medium show you have ever seen. Tom Binns in the personna of Ian D. Montfort is, as they say, comedy gold. He has the mannerisms of several famous mediums down to a t and he has a wit to match. There's audience participation for some with potential good natured embarassment for others. Those who experienced that didn't seem to mind as they were finding it as funny as the rest of us. Ian D. Montfort is not a medium, he's a comedium and his job as spokesperson for pseudoscience in the Science and Drama (think about it) department at Sunderland University couldn't be in better hands. Bring back Most Haunted and have Montfort on!
Helen Keen: Robot Woman of Tomorrow
You may know Helen Keen from It is Rocket Science, various Radio 4 show's or even the Fortean Times UnConvention. Two things you will know if you have encountered her before is that she is a geek and proud of it and also she is very, very funny. Particularly if you are also a geek. Which says something about me.
Just to give you an idea where Keen is coming from she was inspired by reading science fiction and by the following painting.
It's entitled Going to the Opera in the Year 2000 and was painted in 1882 by Albert Robida. The flying cars we all knew would come in the 21st century but don't quite seem to have made it yet. I can see how this painting can inspire.
So this show looks into the future. Or at least how some people interepreted the future and how some have genuinely brought it to life (as demonstrated by shadow puppets), and how some have subverteted it to their own ends. Just seriously do not do a search for Roxxxy, let Keen tell you about her instead - it's less sad being told about it with a crowd of people around you than searching for it. And who knows who might find the digital footprint you leave behind? But back to the show, she's a geek, she's a Fortean, she's one of us, she's funny and she's well worth going to see. See it now before you forget what the future could and indeed should have been.
Country Air - A Contemporary Ghost Story
A new play by a new company and a new writer, all in the atmospheric cellar vaults of St Augustine's United Church.
The writer, Jack Goulder, acts as narrator too - initially emerging from below a sheet covering some furniture (don't worry it's not a ghost story with people running around with sheets over their head). A quick prelude to let us know where we are - City banker, stressed with his job, wife with miscarriage, relocate to isolated house in Somerset to try to kickstart their lives.
So - a good setting for a ghost story - and where do we go from there? The young cast make a good job of the whole show and we are treated to some inoffensive postmodern breaking down of the fourth wall - removal men complaining they are poorly written and typecast as working class stereotypes, characters interacting with the narrator and so on.
We have standard ghost story tropes - mysterious child glimpsed out of window, history constantly re-enacting itself as the events unfold and some great satire on middle class hypocrisy, mediocrity and desire for hummus. I won't say where the play ends up - I'll let you discover that for yourselves, I will say that there is one section that made the hairs on my arms stand up though! Not a perfect play but a lot more enjoyable than some of the stuff on offer in the Fringe and a good start for this group.
Richard Wiseman: Psychobabble
Richard Wiseman is a former professional magician and is now a professor in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of a number of books of a Fortean interest, most recently Rip it Up.
So we have - in a rather crowded basement bar - a mix of psychology, magic and good old Forteana. The audience warmed to Richard instantly and were treated to an hour of laughter and insight. They also learned one or two things which I guarantee a large proportion have since attempted themselves.
I promise this is the only show on the whole Fringe that will teach you how to make a chicken out of a tea towel. I kid you not.
I don't want to list all of things that happen during the hour but you'll be amazed and amused in equal measure. Richard's handling of an audience is excellent - if only all university professor's were like this! Catch it while you can, as they say.
My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver
Toby Hadoke is a life long Dr Who fan. If you needed convincing look at the picture above and check out his CV (writes for Dr Who Magazine, a previous Fringe show is Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf and he chairs many of the audio commentaries on the Dr Who DVD releases). So you might be expecting this to be a show about Dr Who. And it is. But it isn't. There we are, that's a helpful and totally enlightening review. But I may need to clairfy.
This show is a very personal journey for Toby about the estrangement from his father and then from his wife and how he is now remarried and how he is now a loving father to two sets of children. And there's his psoriasis. But as Dr Who is such a large part of his life (understatement) it's there all the time as well.
Yes there are jokes that only Dr Who fans will get but there are plenty of funny moments for those who have never seen it, and for those who have a partner who is a fan they will realise they are not alone and all those funny little (i.e. frustrating) habits are the normal mode of behaviour of a Dr Who fan. For those who are not too familiar with the perils of a Dr Who fan as a partner Toby admits to sending a text to a fomer girlfriend telling her that he liked her more than he liked The Seeds of Doom. Praise indeed.
Morgan and West: Clockwork Miracles
Over the past few years Morgan and West have fast become enjoyable staples at the Edinburgh Fringe. For those who don't know them they are a pair of deboniar, bewhiskered, time travelling magicians.
I've seen them several times over the years and their recent TV appearance on Penn and Teller's Fool Us has done them no harm - this is the biggest venue I've seen them play and it was a total sell out, and being the Gilded Balloon it wasn't one of those pokey, uncomfortable venues, good seating, good views and not like a Turkish sauna.
They are magicans and they do use members of the audience so be careful where you sit. But they are masters of misdirection - one effect I had seen them perform before and I still looked where they wanted me to at the crucial moment. Damn. We also have the first magic I have ever seen performed by a shadow puppet. If you are an afficienado of magic then its true that you will have seen some of the effects before but quite frankly who cares - this time round they're wrapped in a bed of charm and inventiveness. A must see and genuinely for all the family.
As well as this show the pair are appearing at the same venue in a midnight show called Morgan and West: Lying, Cheating Scoundrels.
The Good, The Bad and the Extraterrestrials
This show is part of the free fringe - what that means is that there are no tickets and when you leave if you have enjoyed the show you make a voluntary contribution. After seeing this show I was more than happy to cough up.
The poster promised an interactive western / sci fi comedy - for some the phrase interactive may be a put off, but don't worry, in this show it's minimal.
So, what do we have - we do have a Western, we do have sci fi and we do have comedy. The young actors company are all aged under 21 and are all full of enthusiasm. And they're also all crammed into a very small room. And there's a lot of them. And then there's the audience too. Pretty quickly the side room at the Espionage Club becomes full but over the course of the 45 minute long show it was never an issue. I found myself totally involved with the show and ignoring any potential levels of discomfort.
Apparently the last Friday in April is national hairball day in America. No me neither.
I have an ebay alert for bezoars and I recently received one pointing me to the following auction
And tucked in the middle of it is a piece cut and pasted from the internet
may feel that you know all you need to know about hairballs, but the
National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington, DC, unpacked what
curators described as the "myths and realities" of the objects in a
temporary exhibit this week, created in honor of National Hairball
Awareness Day. (The holiday fell on Monday, but I've been slow to
assimilate it into my calendar.)."
So I did a quick Google and sure enough - the last Friday in April. I note it's not a national holiday which is a shame. It actually has a serious purpose - the recognition and elimination of hair balls in cats. But it got me thinking about bezoars - never a bad thing. A bezoar is actually an indigestible mass found trapped (usually) in the stomach. They can be made of different materials - one comprising of hair for example is a trychobezoar.
Up until the end of the sixteenth century (and probably beyond to be honest) it was believed that a bezoar could be used to neutralise any poison - a universal antidote. In 1567 or 1575 this was put to the test in a scientific manner (although you'd probably have trouble getting it past the ethics committee nowadays). A French Royal Surgeon Ambroise Paré took advantage of the fact that a cook at the court of Charles IX or Henry III if the latter date is correct had been caught stealing silver cutlery.
It was one of the most surreal - not to say tiring - couple of weeks of my life when I turned my cellar over to Team AFU, an
infamous gang of marauding Swedish archivists. To be fair, it was by arrangement and completely necessary...
Over the years I have taken in a number valuable book and magazine collections - some orphaned by deceased owners, some no longer wanted and others from living Forteans donating to one of the our primary causes: the establishment of a national reference collection of printed Forteana. Since we have no funds with which to pay for a proper base - such as a weatherproof house where we could unpack, catalogue and shelve these books and magazines - my own home, which is blessed with a large cellar, was our only option for temporary storage.
However, this old house is more than a hundred years old and the cellar floor - made of compacted earth over which I had poured a thin layer of cement and levelling compound - could not stop the slow but steady seep of moisture from below. A dehumidifier running continuously down there extracted up to three litres of water a
day ... not good news. It was a race to find a sound storage solution before the unique materials we were pledged to preserve were damaged by the encroaching damp. <!--break-->
August in Edinburgh is what can only be described as a rather hectic time. You can't shake a thylacine without hitting a festival!
For a number of years I have been covering material of a Fortean nature for the Fortean Times website. This has mainly been from the Fringe Festival and the Book Festival. After last years events had finished and everything had died down I copied the relevant reviews (and here, and here as well)over to this site and they seem to have gone down well. And so, for the first time ever I shall now be putting the reviews up here first.
For those who don't know what this is all about the Fringe was established as an alternative to the Edinburgh Festival in 1947 and it has grown to what is now the world's largest arts festival. This year there are 42 096 performances of of 2 695 shows in 279 venues. 814 of these shows are free. In 2011 nearly 2 000 000 tickets were sold.
Recently, prestigious estate agents Strutt & Parker announced the sale of the historic Kirklees Estate, a seven-hundred-and-fifty acre property in West Yorkshire, for offers in excess of seven million pounds. In their brochure the property is described as “a unique agricultural, sporting and residential Estate with excellent opportunities for development” and there is extensive mention of its distinguished heritage, with the estate home to an Iron Age or Romano-British enclosure, the remains of a medieval nunnery and a number of Grade 1 Listed 16th Century buildings. However, rather less is made of what some might argue is the estate's most saleable asset: the scheduled ancient monument known as Robin Hood's Grave.
A narrow band of Green Belt land located between the Heavy Woolen District and the Calder Valley, with the M62 motorway scything across its western flank, Kirklees perhaps seems an incongruous place to boast the burial place of England's most legendary outlaw. However, the association between this area and Robin's death arguably predates more familiar aspects of the myth such as Sherwood Forest.
The phantom black dog is a common folkloric motif and the most famous example is probably the black dog of Bungay.
The story took place in August 4th 1577 and it resulted in two people being killed in Bungay church where they were shelterting from a storm. Damage was also done to the church, many were injured and the dog reappeared 12 miles away where it killed others. This Suffolk based story is one of many from the UK and it is often said that the dog (Black Shuck as he is sometimes known) presages a death.
All very well and interesting but most black dog stories are old. So imagine my delight when I received an email from Lars Munk Sørensen, telling of his own recent sighting. I reproduce the email below:-
With the obvious exception of Ghostbuster, Cthulhu wrangler and exorcist there are very few jobs specifically in the Fortean world, more's the pity. So how about this one for those suitably qualified?
Research Fellow in Cognitive Psychology / Neuroscience
Cortical Hyperexcitability and its Association with Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) in the Non-clinical Population
Working at the University of Birmingham this is a position for someone with a Phd in Psychology and an obvious interest in OBE's.
To quote the job advert:-
Full Time for 3 years. Fixed term from 1st September 2012 - 31st August 2015
Starting salary is normally in the range £27,578 to £35,938. With potential progression once in post to £38,140 a year.
A Research Fellowship is available in the School of Psychology,
University of Birmingham (UK), studying the role of cortical
hyperexcitability underlying susceptibility to visual hallucinations -
specifically out-of-body experiences in the non-clinical population.
The project will involve taking psychophysiological measurements
(Electrodermal activity), will employ TDCS procedures of
brain-stimulation and is under the supervision of Dr Jason Braithwaite,
Lecturer, in the School of Psychology. The project is funded by The