Fifty Years of Mystery

This blog has rather been in the doldrums since before Christmas. In part, Christmas can be blamed; but I was also tidying up drafts in preparation for (self-) publishing a new book about the Warminster mystery.

The mystery was 50 years old on Christmas day 2014. Until the 1960s, Warminster had never been famous for much. It is an army town, home to the Land Warfare Centre (formerly the School of Infantry). Salisbury Plain, to the north of the town, is used for military manoeuvres and training, including live firing. Very few luminaries had come from the town, and very little had happened there. In the 1960s, that was to change. Warminster was to become famous – notorious even – for its UFO sightings. These UFOs were described in the books of Arthur Shuttlewood, a local journalist. However, these books can only be found, if at all, second-hand, and only take the story of the mystery up until the late 1970s. Much has happened since then that needed recording — not so much UFO sightings, but information on what happened to those who documented the mystery, and the mystery’s slow re-emergence from the half-light of forgotten memories.

The mystery is being discussed and celebrated at a conference in Warminster in August this year (2015). It was in August 1965, during the summer holidays, that the town was first invaded by hordes of curious skywatchers who camped on the hills surrounding the town to look for the mysterious lights and listen out for the strange sounds they had learned about through TV, radio and newspapers, caused by a phenomenon the locals called the Thing.

To provide an introduction to the Warminster mystery — for those who might be new to it or revisiting it after many years — Kevin Goodman and I have written a new book that describes the fifty years of the mystery. The book reviews what happened during the crazy, exciting years of the Warminster mystery, and also what has happened since the mystery faded away. It is not a long list of sighting reports; it is a short history of the events — the lights and sounds — and the media reports and characters that shaped the Thing.


For information on the Warminster 2015 conference, see the Warminster 2015 Website.

For information on the Warminster mystery, see the UFO Warminster Website.

The Warminster mystery is described in the following currently in-print books:

History of a Mystery: Fifty Years of the Warminster Thing

In Alien Heat: The Warminster Mystery Revisited

UFO Warminster: Cradle of Contact

For information on out-of-print books that discuss the Warminster mystery, see the Books page of the UFO Warminster Website.


 

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Review: Crome Yellow

Crome Yellow
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed Crome Yellow a lot more than I expected to. I’m not one for humour in books, so if it was funny in a 1920s-style, that passed me by. Nothing much happens in the novel, and what passes for plot is slight. That it satirises and lightly mocks the world that Huxley moved in at that time is well-known: the Bloomsbury set, the Garsington crowd. And Huxley is self-knowing enough to realise that he is one of those people. It is tempting to see the protagonist Denis as Huxley himself; the young, slightly naif poet, moving among older, wiser, talented people, searching for something, but somewhat callow and innocent — many of the people Huxley mingled with at Garsington — Bell, Middleton Murray, Lawrence, Russell — were ten or more years older than he.

The crisis at the end is faintly ridiculous, but at the same time oddly true — for who else but a naif to whom nothing had happened would contemplate such an action?

Also of passing interest were hints of topics that would interest Huxley in his later books. Obviously, satirising intellectuals and the pre-occupations of a certain class would continue through Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza; but, for example, one of the characters in Crome Yellow discusses an ideal society in which children are selected at birth for particular roles and educated so that those roles become their prescribed path through life — a prefiguration of the social rankings in Brave New World, of course.

Ultimately, Crome Yellow was light and frothy. It was a delight. A charm.

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Memory Traces

I surfed the Web, randomly entering into Google the words I found in the notepads that were scattered on the desk. The desk was a mess, I noted. Scraps of paper contained notes and doodles, yellow Post-it notes yelled imperatives and reminders, and the rings from coffee mugs stained A4 sheets and the desktop. The ashtray was full to overflowing. The bottle of scotch was empty. Had it all been downed in one sitting? I worked around the chaos, carried on entering words. Pages were displayed. I scrolled and followed links. What I was discovering, what I was creating, was like a picture, a map, a simulation, a metaframework, of a mind.

I displayed pages about Devon, train timetables to Leeds, a Google map of Bristol. I zoomed in, found Montpelier. A page in one notepad contained only the words Flickr and Wiltshire. I searched Flickr for tags, looked at pages of photographs of beautiful, soft, green, Wiltshire hills. I read essays about reality, quantum physics, red rain, ghosts, and post-structuralism. As I worked, I saved all the pages to a folder on the computer. I printed out pictures and texts that took my fancy, and placed some of them in a physical folder. Other pages I placed on the cream walls of the office using the pins and Blu-Tac I found in the desk drawers. I made connections between the pages using the coloured ribbons I had also found in the desk. I used as clues the scribbles I had found, the Web pages I had read, and my own intuitions. A ribbon linked a Google map of Dereham to a photo of a UFO, then a Google map of Roswell. One blue ribbon stretched from a map of Banbury to a picture of Leeds University. The link was one made from intuition, as Banbury had been a station my train had stopped at on a railway trip I had once made from Reading to Leeds. From that picture, a yellow ribbon stretched across the wall to a photograph of Middlesex University. The ribbon was pinned and then turned 90 degrees, ending at a picture of Meg Ryan. I believe that Middlesex University once had a performance arts course, and Meg is, of course, an actor. It made sense. It made sense. Of course it did. I felt it in my gut. I searched around the desk, the Web, for another link, looked in the notebooks, at the scraps of paper and Post-It notes. Soon, I had found the connection and pinned it to the wall. It was, of course, Jim Morrison. I printed the photo and placed it on the wall, added more ribbon from Meg to Jim.

I continued to do this for half a day. I trailed ribbons around the walls of the office, connecting by inference and reference, induction and deduction, intuition and knowledge. I stood back and looked at the walls, at my fully-realised network, my wall Web. At that moment I should have been proud of that Web. I wanted to be. I wanted to admire its utility, its coherence, its completeness. But all I could do was shake my head in dismay. I sat down heavily in the black leather office chair, rested my arms on its leather arms, and continued to look at the wall. It was obvious to me now. I had been such a fool. I should have used the colours of the ribbons to also present information, to indicate particular types of connections and relationships. Although dismayed, I am by nature, dogged, persistent; some might say obsessive, although I think that is too strong a word.  It didn’t take me long to work out a system I could use that would could convey the additional information. The ribbons were only available in a limited range of colours – less ROYGBIV, more RGBY. I made a note of the colours and the information each colour would represent on a scrap of paper, and then set to work again, stringing the ribbons from photo to map to document. I hardly needed to refer to the key I had devised. Unsurprising, I suppose, when you have a mind like mine.

I sat down again, leaned back in the leather chair, my hands behind my head, satisfied, proud at last of my labours. I lit a cigarette. It was a shame the whiskey bottle was empty; my throat was dry. Researching, making connections, following trails through the evidence, was thirsty work. I thought about making myself a mug of tea, but I didn’t really want to leave the room. For a moment, my world, the world I was constructing, the world I would shore against my ruins, was in this room, and only in this room. The picture was not yet complete. That much I knew. I closed my eyes and relaxed.

 *

 Now, I open my eyes and turn to the computer on the desk. My attention is drawn to the photograph on the wall above the monitor. She is a pretty woman, there’s no doubt. Blonde, slight, laughing, her arms outstretched in front of her, ready to catch something, it seems. A ball, perhaps, or a frisbee? There is blue sky behind her, and trees, heavy with full, fresh, green leaf, lean into the photograph from the side of the frame. Her summer dress, long, maroon, has been arrested by the act of photography, but I can imagine its movement continuing, twisting the dress around her. I wonder what she would think if she knew that I was still here, in her house? The house was quiet. I knew she wouldn’t be coming into this room today.

I am going to enter into a database all the Web pages I have so far saved to the computer. I shall also scan the documents and photographs and also enter those into the database. I can then cross-reference all these motes of information programmatically. The database will not be as visual as the map on the wall, will not so instantly conjure for me fragments of memory. Yet, in time, the database will offer up more interconnections, intersections and permutations. I will add more documents to the wall, more ribbons that show the all-important connections.

My hands are warm inside the latex gloves. I remember this – I had found these gloves, earlier in the day, today I think, in a drawer in the kitchen. I allow myself to turn my head and glance through the open door to the hallway. I will later clear away the bodies that still lie there so obscenely. Death has created a vacuum in my head. I am blanked, black, blocked, all empty, nothing. First, I must reconnect these fragments from my notebooks, my desk, My Favourites, My Documents, rebuild my world, rebuild my self, rebuild my identity, rebuild, rebuild, restructure, reframe, cross-reference – reconstruct me.

Only then, perhaps, can I know to whom those bodies once belonged, and why they are in my hall.

Simon and Julie – A Fragment – Chapter 2

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]

Julie walked into town. She had no plan. She had rung Sarah’s house but there had been nobody there. Then she had dared ring Simon’s, but nobody was there, either. She had only momentarily contemplated ringing Tim before dismissing the idea. She had managed to elicit some more money from her parents, on a promise that it would be paid back from the money she got from Boots at the end of the week. She had bought ten Number Six in the Spar shop, and had enough left over for a drink or two.
The afternoon was hot and sunny. She was wearing jeans, tee-shirt, and jesus boots again, as she had seemed to do for most of the summer. Sometimes she despaired of the heat, wondered if it would go on forever, but most of the time simply enjoyed the odd, slightly Mediterranean, feeling that had descended on Dereham. Everybody was in tee-shirts and jeans, or in floaty, strappy, A-line summer dresses. Some of the more hippie girls were in halter-tops and skirts. In the evenings, people were drinking outside of the pubs, standing in the streets, smoking and chatting, and the beer gardens were, for a change, full and lively. Older people were preparing meals with salads and cold drinks and eating them in the garden. Young people hung their heads from car windows; music, thin and tinny, issued from the cars; hands  and arms were held out of the windows, sometimes flat and streamlined, sometimes made into blunt fists, and sometimes upright to cool the palms; shoeless feet rested on dashboards and doorframes.
She looked at the clock on the side of St Peter’s church tower. Five past one. The pubs would be open for another hour or so. She remembered what Simon had said yesterday. She should go to the White Lion. She hadn’t gone last night because… well, she had no money, and hadn’t wanted to bump into Tim. She’d had a nice day yesterday with Simon, Chris and Gray. The day had been so lovely and relaxing she had no inclination to ruin it by bumping into Tim.  In the evening she had watched some television with her parents and sister, and then gone to her bedroom to listen to Carole King and James Taylor and read a book. Today, Tim would be at work in Southleigh, so she was free to enjoy the sun. And perhaps enjoy Simon again, if he was around.
She crossed the road to the crescent of shops that curved around the market. In the centre of the shops was the White Lion. She walked up the steps, and went to the saloon bar. She poked her head around the door; there was no sign of Simon, but his friend Mark was there, chatting with two other people Julie knew, Imogen and James. She went to the bar and bought a Britvic orange. When she turned, she caught Mark’s eye. He waved her over.
“Nice to see you here,” Mark said as she sat next to him.
“Simon said I should come here more often,” Julie said. “Is he around?”
“No, he’s gone for a walk with Stuart, out over the hills. Fitness freaks, the pair of them.”
Julie knew that Simon did Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Stuart played badminton, and walked a lot. They sometimes did go off on long hikes together. Oh well, she would sit here and find out what had been happening in the worlds of Mark, James and Imogen.
“It’s too hot for that madness,” Mark said. “That’s why I have a motorbike.”
“Uh, I thought it was to pull the, uh, chicks,” James said.
Mark sighed, and then frowned. “There’s only one chick I want to pull,” he said.
Everybody knew who he meant, so nobody said anything.
Julie looked at James. He was drinking brandy, as ever. He had a job in Bensons at the weekends, and received generous amounts of pocket-money from his well-off parents. His beard was very extravagant for an eighteen-year old.  She smiled.  “Can I just say just say, your beard is more ridiculous every time I see it.”
Mark and Imogen laughed. “Always to the point,” Imogen said.
“But it is! You’re turning into a caveman.”
James had always been a fast developer, and had needed to shave before any of his friends, sometimes turning up in the fifth year at school with a faint five o’clock shadow. His hairiness had only increased during sixth-form, as he had become more of a freak, growing his dark hair until it reached his shoulders, and encouraging the beard that had quickly sprouted from his chin into a full Victorian-style monster.
“Shaving is for the bourgeoisie,” James said, always quick to separate himself from the proletariat and the middle-class, yet still hoping – while he drank brandy, pocketed the money from his parents, and read T S Eliot – that he was still relevant and connected with the working-class.

The Lament of Handsome Stevie

[I was discussing poetry with a friend last night, and we mentioned in passing The Song of Hiawatha. Later, I went and looked at some stanzas. As often happens after reading Hiawatha, I can’t stop the rhythm banging away in my head. So I thought I’d just let it out in an homage ]

The Lament of Handsome Stevie

On the byways of the high Plain –
The plain that stretches across Wiltshire,
The high wide Plain that’s north of Salisbury –
Drives the handsome Stevie Dewey
In his jaunty silver Honda.
On his lap there sits a camera,
Such a big black Sony camera;
A camera with a mighty zoom lens
A mighty Sigma zoom lens:
To photograph the running roe deer!
He parks the Honda in the tall gorse,
Hides the Honda in the tall grass,
Waits in silence for the roe deer!
Sees instead a hawk a-hunting,
A handsome harrier on the quarter,
Swiftly raises heavy Sony
Goes to focus mighty Sigma
And finds the grasses foil his focus!
In a panic hunts the button
That will switch to manual focus,
But instead he starts to film
The out-of-focus waving grasses,
Curses Sony button layout,
Stops the filming, reverts to stills.
Now the bird is growing distant;
Cursing Stevie exits vehicle
Trips on seatbelt, presses record,
Begins a film of dusty byways.
Curses more, pokes random buttons.
Finds the proper camera function,
Scans the Plain for distant bird-sign:
Cannot see the hawkish V-wings,
Cannot see the big bird hunting.
Can only see the big sky empty!
Sends foul language to the heavens
Fills the Plain with many curses,
Scares away the timid roe deer,
That had been nibbling the tall grasses
Just the other side of silver Honda.
Handsome Stevie kicks the Honda,
Damns all fauna to extinction.
On the byways of the high Plain
Stephen mutters imprecations
Blind to falcons, hawks and red deer
That mock him from the trackside hedgerows
And the photogenic wide blue skies.
So our cursing handsome Stevie
Leaves the byways on the wide Plain,
The high wide Plain athwart the county.
Lists his cameras up on eBay
Takes up knitting, watches telly.