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-->
As luck would have it, we had been talking to the Swedish group Archives for Ufology (AFU), energetically led by Clas Svahn. Although they started out running local UFO groups and publishing an extant magazine, they have evolved into a truly astonishing enterprise. For several years now, they have been rescuing researchers' collections, acquiring buildings in which to store them, and vigorously engaging in archive-type materials preservation, cataloguing and even digital scanning. They had also enlarged their scope from ufology, to encompass cryptozoology, parapsychology and Forteana.
We talked to each other for many months. AFU shared our ideas about the collection and preservation of our kind of materials - so woefully neglected by more orthodox
institutions - and our aim of establishing national collections. We discussed mutual support and ways we could work together. When AFU offered CFI the kind of services we could not provide ourselves, shipping our imperilled foundation collection to Sweden for safe keeping as soon as possible was a no-brainer.
The special collections included Raymond Drake's library (author of such early classics as Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East) and the extensive archive of Dr Justin Schove's research into the historical records of anomalous and extreme meteorology. There were periodicals from Paul
Holloway and John Michell, a general collection from Chris Woodyard (including a scrapbook), and splendid period collection of books by Tiffany Thayer from David Edelberg. All these books, clippings and periodicals will remain in our charge, but for the time being they would be safe.
AFU has an impressive track record on rescuing our kind of material, having provided a home for the archives of most of the leading UFO groups around Europe, as well as collections from many leading writers and researchers ... but more on this another time. The amazingly efficient Clas Svahn drew up plans and a date was set for their
annual rescue mission to England - May 2012. They had other collections to gather, but ours would be one of their biggest operations.
In preparation for Clas and his team it was decided that, for ease of packing and loading the hired truck, we'd use boxes of the same size. Earlier efforts, using boxes that varied in size and shape proved to be an inefficient use of space. After a few experiments, I decided on a size that would best fit our news clipping file folders ... in this case each box held the equivalent of half a metre of shelving (which made calculations, as well as handling, easier). Around 300 flat cartons were ordered and Clas brought more with him.
I repacked some of the boxes in the Raymond Drake collection as they were falling apart. His manuscripts filled one box. Then I sorted our own collection, separating out any newsclipping files and folders to keep back in case we might want to consult in the next few years. I also acquired a few pallets by roaming
the streets and dragging home some lucky finds. Good thing I did because they were really needed later.
On 21st May, Clas - accompanied by Hakan Ekstrand , Anders Persson and Carl-Anton Mattsson - left Sweden for Gothenburg, where they took the ferry to Frederikshavn, drove to Esbjerg, and there got the ferry to Harwich.
On the 23rd, they left Harwich for London, stopping in Loughton to see skeptic Mike Hutchinson and picked
up his donated boxes. They arrived at my house in the evening and stayed overnight. Over the evening meal we surveyed my chaotic cellar and planned out what must be done.
24th - 26th ... Clas and Hakan left on a large circular route to pick up material from (ufo artist) Denis Plunkett; some of Hilary Evans'
library from his daughter; with
further pick-ups from Margaret Fry, David Sankey, Omar Fowler, John Rimmer, Lionel Beer and another UFO artist, Michael
During those three days, Anders, Carl-Anton and I rarely came topside from my cellar as we packed several hundred folders of newsclippings. Then we worked on books and periodicals (keeping back those on psychology, folklore, witchcraft and abductions and other subjects I needed for reference). All boxes were marked with a hint to their contents, and in case of the special collections, their donors. We almost lost touch with the outside world. Besides rediscovering many old treasures, one highlight was finding a mummified rat that had wedged itself between two boxes and starved to death.
On the 27th, Clas and Hakan returned from their 4,000 mile meander with a car packed to the roof with even more material. We found room for those too.
On the 28th, the Swedes had a day off visiting Stonehenge.
On ttook he 29th, while we waited for the huge articulated truck to arrive, we all the boxes out to the front pavement 313 in all. According to our calculations it was the equivalent of 20 metres of shelving and 20 cubic metres by volume of material, amounting to 3.2 tons. Strangely, my cellar is still over a quarter full!
Thank heavens the weather was dry and sunny. The Great Wall of Forteana certainly got curious looks from the neighbours as they passed by or stared from their windows. Phew - I'm glad that was over; it took my aching back and legs several days to recover. The boxes arrived in Sweden a week later, where they were decanted into AFU's ‘C-archive'. More on that later.
Photos copyright of Clas Svahn.
PS - apologies for the sloppy layout - I can't seem to get the hang
of the control.