Back in December 2020, there was a review posted in this blog of a new movie based on the traditional pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. It was written by Lily, the then 9-year-old daughter of writer-performer hyphenate Ariane Sherine.
The multi-talented Lily, now 11-years-old, has been writing fiction since then and this is her latest piece:
THE BEEF OF THE THREE SAUSAGES
Once upon a time, there were three sausages: the planet-loving vegan, the intelligent pork, and the beef, who would rave about the strength of cows but was not too strong himself – especially emotionally.
Every day, the plant-based sausage would brag, “We are simply SO good for the climate! If the whole human population ate only us then the world would never need to fear for the well-being of our planet!”
And the pork sausage, pig-like as ever, would boast, “Us pigs and boars are the brainiest of the lot – and I’m not telling a porky!” And then laugh at his own ever-so-smart witticism.
As much as the beef sausage attempted to prove that he, and indeed all cows, was equally as remarkable as the other two, all he could manage was a feeble, “We are very strong!” This only earned him guffaws and taunting, and him being a gentle soul, it was simply too much for him to cope with.
Too much for him to cope with in many senses – for the other two bangers went so much further than calling him a cow. They would hit him with sharp utensils, typically a fork, but one day, it was a knife that hit his flesh.
It was plunged in by the vegan, who felt no guilt about this whatsoever – despite how strongly he felt about the fossil fuels entering the atmosphere, the beef sausage’s soul leaving the planet did not weigh him down at all.
A week passed, and suddenly he found that he would start to absent-mindedly pluck the leaves from hedges he walked by, and was even about to order a taxi without specifically asking for an electric one! But of course, he paid little notice to this – simply intrusive thoughts.
Perhaps, though, a little more peculiar, was that the pork sausage would continuously somehow get the simplest of equations drastically wrong! When he would ask to be ‘tested’ on his maths (which was only a request for compliments in truth) the vegan sausage would roll his eyes and say drolly, “55 x 4.” And the pork would reply, “215!”
Additionally, he began to question famous theories, like finding fault in one of the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence. Of course, he paid little notice to this – for the sharpest minds would often have intrusive thoughts, and it was simply a sign of creativity, surely.
But a month later, the vegan would pull up plants, do crazy protests that climate change was a pack of lies, think thoughts that they should buy a diesel car. The most peculiar thing was that he had the strongest feeling that these thoughts were not truly his, as if he was a puppet with dictated beliefs.
Similarly, the pig would forget his times tables, put down its own species and almost WORSHIP cows, as much as the vegan would lead protests about the ‘dangerous fantasies’ scientists were enforcing into people’s minds. Both felt like they were somehow being controlled.
It was only when the trees became beef sausages and the pigs suddenly died that they realised they were being haunted by the cow they’d killed.
And such mental anguish was felt by the vegan sausage, who had committed the crime, that they burnt away the world they had tried so hard to save just 6 weeks ago.
“Celine used to run her ‘salon’ just round the corner from here. Celine Hispiche. That’s her name. I read a few short stories there. At Celine’s Salon. Now it’s going to be a book. Celine’s Salon, Volume One. The publisher phoned me up and said: Could you do a 600 word short story? One of the stories you read at the club? So I did.”
“What’s it called?” I asked. “Your short story.”
“Autobiographical?” I asked.
How very kind of him, I thought. But then he is an actor.
There are so many sub-cultures in Soho, let alone in London, that no-one can know them all. Tony Green, the comedy performer formerly known as Sir Gideon Vein, knows lots of sub-cultures and people I don’t.
He took me along to Torture Garden late last century dressed as a cricketer – HE was the one dressed as a cricketer – or maybe it was an homage to Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who – because he (Tony Green) knew Sophie Seashell who was organising the Berlin-Between-The-Wars-type cabaret performances amid the slightly self-conscious fetishism and kinkiness going on in the disused 3-storey warehouse up a back street in Islington.
Celine must have been right under my nose all the time…
I hang my head in shame that I had never heard of Celine Hispiche until two months ago. She started her career as a featured writer at the Royal Court Theatre, progressed to singing duets with Marc Almond on his album Bluegate Fields and playing support to the Human League with her band Nitewreckage.
Then there was touring down the US East Coast with fellow comedians from Saturday Night Live, playing the comedy stage at the Glastonbury Festival, supporting Harry Hill at the Hackney Empire, four consecutive cabaret years at the Edinburgh Fringe and starting Celine’s Salon in 2015 at the Society Club, described as “an arts and culture bookshop in the daytime and a private members Bohemian cocktail lounge in the evening.”
Tony Green in his mask outside Soho Theatre
“So,” I said, two months ago, “Shape-Shifting Lizards?”
“I got the idea,” Tony explained, “because some friends of mine who, at one time were quite well-balanced human beings, have gone… Well, they wouldn’t say ‘Conspiracy Mad’. They would say their eyes have been fully opened to this awful situation…”
“The Covid-19 situation?” I asked.
“Oh no!” said Tony. “Not that! I’m quoting Gilbert & Sullivan here. My eyes are fully opened to this awful situation…
“No, no, not the virus, although they know all about the virus, of course. That’s why none of them are having the vaccination.”
“Because the world is run by an international cabal of Satanic paedophile cannibals?” I suggested.
“Of course.” said Tony. “I’m not saying this is the truth, but it’s what was told in a pub. You meet some strange people in public houses… So Lady Diana…”
“…was killed by the Cabal?” I guessed.
“Oh definitely,” said Tony. “But this is what was told in a pub… She was ‘nutted-off’ because she found out…”
“…about the Royal Family all being lizards?” I guessed.
“Oh definitely,” said Tony. Prince Philip told her: Whenever you want to see us about anything, always knock on the door first.”
“So they have time to shape-change?”
“Of course. And, of course, there was that one unfortunate time she didn’t knock. She burst in and saw and was told If you say anything about this… It wasn’t the fact she was expecting a baby with Dodi Fayed or because the chauffeur was drunk…”
“Whenever you want to see us, always knock on the door first”
“It has to be said,” I suggested, trying to be helpful, “that, in his dying days, Prince Philip did look a bit lizard-like – Did you see that photo in the car?”
“Oh, they’re all lizards,” said Tony with a twinkle in his eye. Well, both eyes. There was more than one twinkle in more than one eye. “On one a occasion, a very well-spoken young actor said to me: Oh, I’ve just heard you’re a ‘Cockney’, aren’t you? I know why all of you Cockney chaps are all so ugly and stunted and stupid. You’re all inbred, aren’t you… And then somebody said: I think he must be confusing Cockneys with the Royal Family.”
“You told me you also wrote a novella,” I prompted him.
“Oh – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – yes. It’s called that because the story came to me when I WAS halfway up Arthur’s Seat. In Edinburgh. I think it would make a great film, but it would cost a helluva lot of money. It needs 200 extras. It’s an homage to Edinburgh. It ends with what could possibly be described as a supernatural element. My partner read it and she felt it needed more explaining. I don’t think it does.
“A journalist friend of mine wrote a story about a certain notorious serial killer and he said to me: Do you think I made the ending only too obvious? I told him…”
“What?” I asked.
“Have you read any of Jake Arnott’s books?” Tony asked.
“I’ve seen the TV adaptations,” I told him, “but not read them. Have you read The Long Firm?”
“I have. When I wrote my story – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – it’s nothing at all like Jake Arnott – but I’d been reading a lot of Muriel Spark stuff. It was reading her stuff that prompted me – that and living in Edinburgh…”
Did I mention Tony spends a lot of time in Edinburgh now? Mostly, he says, “as a result of the bleedin’ virus and the lockdown’s etc.” I met him when he was briefly back in London.
Tony Green in Soho, London, not in Edinburgh
Thus the Soho Theatre Bar location.
I forgot to tell you.
It was two months ago. Other things have intervened.
“The hero of my story,” Tony continued, “is called T. Jellicoe Mungham. He wrote a book in 1902 called Dear Oscar, when he was at Cambridge. He was lauded for this book. He is a mischievous but loveable person in my book but also quite wise.”
“Autobiographical?” I asked.
Tony ignored this and continued:
“Muriel Spark is a hero of mine, like Andrew Marr and my idol Michael Gove. All Scots. All I can say about Michael Gove is that the horror film industry’s loss is politics’ gain. You know he was in a film, playing a vicar? Robert Hardy on one side and Christopher Lee on the other.
Michael Gove: from movie minister to government minister
“Michael Gove was actually adopted and his parents were Socialists. I can only imagine someone said to him when he was quite young: Michael, you can’t keep backing losers. Conservative is just another name for Winner. You’re a Winner. Join the Conservatives and get rid of that Scots accent… Muriel Spark had no Scots accent either.
“Of course, she left Edinburgh when relatively young and lived in Camberwell in London, for years, virtually turning her back on her Scottish/Jewish heritage and becoming a devout Roman Catholic like her friends and admirers Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Funny that she wrote her must famous book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in Edinburgh in the early 1960s on an extended visit to her parents flat in Bruntsfield Place.
“I think my stories have a very Scottish ring… The reason I wrote Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat was because there is NOT a part in it for me. People accuse me of being up my own anus, but I’ve written a story where there’s no part in it for me at all… Did you know Jake Arnott wrote a book about Alastair Crowley?”
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
Fenella Fielding on her 90th birthday (Photo Etienne Gilfillan)
“Just before she died,” Tony continued, “I saw Fenella Fielding do a reading. She was over 90. The reading she did from her autobiography, for a woman of that age, was A1. It was a perfect rendering. The reading was only a few months before her departure. There was a Q&A afterwards and I said to her: It’s very refreshing to hear someone reading as you read. You don’t give the impression of being a luvvie. As an actor, was there anyone you ever worked with you didn’t like?”
“Oh, that’s a very naughty question, she said. I don’t think I could answer that here. She was a nonagenarian and a likeable one. She knew even months before her demise that she still needed to ‘play the game’.”
Tony Green has returned to Edinburgh now.
Celine’s Salon is published in the UK on 6th September.
Like Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t quite say at the beginning of this blog… Sometimes it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. It is the journey that is interesting. The sidetracks. And – hey! – Robert Louis Stevenson ended up in the South Seas Islands, which wasn’t too bad a place to end up at the time.
Teddy bears now think humans are a dangerous virus… (Photograph by Daniele Levis Pelusi via UnSplash)
MONDAY 23rd MARCH
I woke up with the same very slightly hard-edged cough I had last night but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough…
I emailed a comedian to see if they were OK and got this reply:
“Yes I am OK, John. But it’s a war crime against humanity. It’s phycological warfare.
to distance humans from each other
the fear is a virus
take away the self-employed sector of society and devalue them in one fell swoop
force everyone on to Universal Credit
the scrap heap of society
using war language like front line
next up forced vaccines and 5g
It does feel like we’re fucked.
This is crime against humanity.
Someone else (not a comedian) told me that her spiritual advisor had told her the whole coronavirus thing had been a purge by the spirits. They had decided to wipe out Mankind but had changed their collective mind. Now it is pretty-much over because the spaceships which were seen over Goa at the weekend and over Peru the previous week have gone away.
In the evening I went out for a one-hour walk – the government says we are allowed out once a day for exercise. When I got back home, I was a bit light-headed and had – I think – the tiniest hint of little headaches, but I could have just been imagining it.
TUESDAY 24th MARCH
We are supposed to keep 6 feet or 2 metres apart, unless we are living together. Thank heavens UK social distancing rules do not apply if you share a household…
A comedy performer has posted on his Facebook page:
I called it yesterday: Pandemic Panic gonna be over by April 6th. Only 28 people died in the UK yesterday.
Around teatime, again, I went out for a one-hour walk. And, when I got back home, I was very slightly light-headed and ever-so-slightly woozy but, again, I could have just been imagining it.
WEDNESDAY 25th MARCH
I feel back to normal today.
The comedy performer who posted on his Facebook page yesterday that the coronavirus outbreak and ‘panic’ would all be over by April 6th today posted:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” (HL Mencken)
Conspiracy theories are sometimes – for some people – easier to understand than reality. And so they are strangely comforting. Because we have all seen the twists in Hollywood movies where the government turns out to be the ultimate ‘baddie’. The devil and plot explanation you know is better than the devil and plot development you don’t know and can’t predict.
Prince Charles has announced he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will self-isolate for 7 days.
My chum Janey Godley, the much-lauded Queen of Scottish Comedy and nemesis of faux President Donald Trump, posted this on her Instagram, headed: Day four of self-isolation.
The bad news (for them) may be that her husband, daughter and dog all have to self-isolate with her
When I do my daily walk to get exercise in Borehamwood, everyone is very polite and keeps their distance. If you see someone coming towards you on the pavement, one of you moves to one edge of the pavement – or sometimes into the road (which is mostly devoid of traffic) and the other person moves to the other side of the pavement. Sometimes, the two people acknowledge each other with a smile or a nod of the head to say Thankyou. It feels like I have been transported back to an Agatha Christie novel set in a 1930s English village… and the killer is still on the loose.
Other views are available. Someone I know of Indian origin posted:
Walking down the street and having old white people cross the road when they see me… Now I know how my dad felt when he came to the UK in the 1960s. No Blacks, no dogs, no virus.
Two metres is the distance we are supposed to stay away from strangers during this coronavirus outbreak… I only understand feet and inches, so I have no idea what 2 metres is.
But I heard a useful explanation on BBC News today. If you imagine the body of an average-sized dead man lying between you and the other person… that is about it.
That I can imagine.
THURSDAY 26th MARCH
Who knew communes still existed? (Photo by Elias Arias via UnSplash)
Someone I know lives in a commune in North London. Who knew such things still existed? He tells me:
There was a minor drama in my house yesterday… The conspiracy theorists who live here actually went to the local hospital to prove that there was no such thing as coronavirus. They went to the chest unit!
When they got back, they talked loudly about it in the garden – about how the doctors weren’t wearing masks. They talked very loudly so everyone could hear because they thought then everyone would realise it wasn’t happening and it is just a conspiracy.
You can imagine the response. Everyone else started freaking out… I’m surprised they weren’t lynched.
I am going to have to try to talk to them again. But it’s really stressing me out because I’ve tried before and now they hate me because I don’t agree with them because that’s how groups work.
A little later, I got an update:
I feel better. I started shouting at the conspiracy theorists about fuck knows what and now I feel better. I had kinda let them chat before because I don’t want to be right about everything, but I had to say something now they’re running around hospitals and are trying to organise a flash mob of young people to meet outside Parliament to defy the ban (and no doubt give each other corona that will kill their grandparents).
I spilt oats on the floor during the row in the kitchen, but not milk – and there’s no use crying over spilt oats.
FRIDAY 27th MARCH
Yesterday, 181 people with coronavirus died in the UK.
Boris Johnson made his health announcement via Twitter
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced they had tested positive for coronavirus and each would self-isolate for seven days.
And I found a message in the spam folder of my email account. It started:
Here is Great News. The UK Government website has downgraded the seriousness of Corona Virus. The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID.
However, We Still Have a PRISON PLANET No Matter what The Honest Scientists Say.
Why? Most European and World economies are now at a standstill. Virtually all European car manufacturing has come to a halt. I have talked about the coming collapse of the world economy since 2008 and I have done my best to tell people to protect themselves by getting healthy.
The Pharma/Medical Cartel have been concerned for a while that the public were realising that vaccinations may not be as safe and effective as claimed. This followed CDC researcher Dr Bill Thompson’s revelations who published 10,000 documents exposing a cover-up of side effects and failure of vaccines and autism. The Pharma/Medical Cartel quickly realised that Covid-19 that originated in China was an opportunity to terrorise the population by exaggerating its effects. Vaccines could be shown to be our saviour.
I strongly recommend getting healthy rather than any drug route. Eat more colourful vegetables.
Really healthy people don’t die of Flu or Corona Virus. Read and follow the plan in my eBooks, even if you can’t afford everything.
Like Hippocrates, my books help you to practice health care and follow his famous teaching, “Let Food be thy Medicine, and Medicine be thy Food”.
My bestselling book is now available on a download for all of my readers. Quite simply, this book could change your life!
SATURDAY 28th MARCH
Nick Adderley of the very under-pressure Northants Police
We are allowed to go out only once a day to exercise and you are allowed to travel in to work if your job is deemed essential, but anarchy appears to have broken out in Northamptonshire.
The BBC reports Nick Adderley of Northamptonshire Police saying that the force’s control room has had “dozens and dozens” of calls about people ignoring the order to ‘self-isolate’.
“We are getting calls,” Nick Adderley says, “from people who say ‘I think my neighbour is going out on a second run – I want you to come and arrest them’. We would not want to discourage people from making us aware, but we have to set expectations. We won’t have police officers crashing through garden fences to check the ID of everyone who is there to see whether they live at the house or whether they should be self-isolating… If people think we will be descending on these houses with blue lights, then we won’t.”
Superintendent Ash Tuckley, who leads the control room, says other queries have included someone asking if it was illegal NOT to cough into a tissue and a man who asked: “My wife doesn’t think her job is essential but I do and she’s working from home. Is there anything I can do?”
260 people with coronavirus died yesterday in the UK. The victims were aged 33 to 100 with at least 13 of them being healthy adults with no other underlying health problems.
Echoing what was said around a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of the outbreak, the medical director of NHS England, today said if the number of deaths can be kept below 20,000 the government will have done well.
85-year-old London-based US storytelling comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller.
She has just returned from a week working in New York and having meetings in Washington DC.
I have just received this from her…
Here is my new view of Trump country seen through the cataract-dimmed eyes of the elderly…
I landed in J.F.Kennedy Airport where I was being picked up by Val, a Russian man whom I had never met.
Suddenly there he was: a zaftig Russian man with a bouquet of flowers waving at me. The trip to my hotel with him was not just eventful, it was a lesson in pessimistic politics.
Val evidently has been studying historic trends since he came to the United States thirty years ago and he alone has figured out the source of world’s problems. No one else in the universe knows the answer to all the unrest we are experiencing. But he does.
It is those damn Russians causing all the trouble.
No one dares admit this, but all these little countries that SAY they are independent, are not. They are ruled by Russia. In fact, it turns out that the Soviet Union still exists and controls us all. Every world power is in collusion with the KGB.
Angela Merkel? A Russian ally. Theresa May? A Soviet cipher.Jeremy Corbyn? Trained by the KGB.
“Have you seen what is happening in Venezuela?” said my omniscient driver. ”Well, thirty years ago, they swore they were a peaceful country, immune to Islamic forces and look what is happening there today. And what about Sri Lanka? Who do you think instigated that attack on that church there? Right! The KGB.”
Notre Dame? Syria? Islam itself? Even Israel! All Russian controlled.
And would I mind if he stopped and got his wife some tea?
By the time I got to my hotel I was so depressed, I thought I would have been better served to simply jump out of the moving cab and throw myself into the traffic. It is a matter of moments before the Russians invade Britain and confiscate the EU because who do you think instigated Brexit? Right. Those damn Russians. My mother would have commiserated with Val. It was back in 1957 when the Asian Flu swept American that my mother swore it was the Russians infecting us all. Nothing could convince her that the virus had no nationality.
I wandered around the streets of New York the next day trying to revive old memories of the time I lived here in 1965. I lived next door to the United Nations Building then and spent my time going to matinees in the afternoon and writing freelance stories no magazine wanted at night. The face of the city has changed since then. It is busier, louder, angrier, more crowded and far more impersonal than it was when I was here. People shove you and push you. They are on their way to somewhere important and evidently they are all late. My toes and shoulders were impediments they are determined to demolish.
That night was my first comedy show at Dangerfield’s. The first thing I noticed when I arrived there was that everyone spoke with my accent. I now realize that I must stop blaming my inadequate hearing aids for squishing sound together into unintelligible speech. Evidently, I have not learned to decipher an English accent. It could be because there are at least twenty different dialects spoken in London, all purporting to be the King’s English, whatever that is.
In New York, everyone talks just like I do and I understood every word. At Dangerfield’s, a man named Quentin hosted the show. I realized then how very different New York comedy is from what we do in London. First of all, the host chats with the audience in a very different way than our British MC’s do. He does not ask anyone’s name or what they do for a living.
Instead, he asks random questions and riffs a bit before he goes into his own set. There were only three comedians besides me and the host and each had a fairly long set. Each one got up on stage and told involved stories with no set ups, no punches and very few big laughs. All three had a least ten years experience so they knew what they were doing and the audience responded to them, even though I did not.
The format of the evening was very different from the shows I do in the UK.
There was no interval. They had a man named Joey doing a long set in the middle of the show and he was evidently the headliner because he had TV credits. His comedy reminded me a bit of Ken Dodd’s. It went on and on and on. He had lots to say about young men and the unpredictable and embarrassing reaction of their dicks. I found this fascinating. It is obviously a guy thing. I do not remember my vagina surprising me like that. Of course, now, the poor thing is dead.
My set seemed like an encore for the show. I finished the evening with a ten minute set.To my surprise, I did very well despite a sharp difference in my style of comedy compared to the others on the bill. Everyone stopped to chat with me and tell me how wonderful I am, which was very gratifying.
The next evening, I was booked as the headliner at a Comedians Over Sixty event at Stand UP NY, one of the major clubs in the city. There were nine comedians on the bill, all experienced. Each one did 10+ minutes of the kind of comedy I was used to hearing when I did the clubs in California.
They had short set-up-punchlines peppered with funny stories. Again, this MC was not anything like those in the UK. He was more in the style of the MCs at The Punchline in San Francisco. He did his own comedy set to warm us up and then reappeared throughout the show to introduce each new comedian. Once again, there was no interval and all I could think of was OMG, these people will not be drunk enough to laugh at nothing when I get up there.
The comedians that night were sharp and funny. Most memorable for me was a guy named Joe who did brilliant comedy about his autistic son, Theo. He made us laugh and at the same time, he endeared himself to us all. I knew I could not possibly follow anything that professional and profound. Thank goodness there were three more comedians before it was my turn.
I did about 25 minutes and got a standing ovation. Both managers have invited me back. The audience all wanted pictures with me and who am I to say no?Sadly, I am so short I came up to everyone’s waistline so all you can see in those photos is the top of my head. You cannot have everything.
I am writing a memoir, so I went to Washington DC to discuss it.
Diane Nine, the agent, is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan just outside Detroit. It felt very comfortable to be with someone who talks like I do and has a Midwestern background.
Just as people in the UK from the north have a different mind-set from those in the south and London is unique in its attitudes, so it is in the United States.
The Southern personality is directly opposed to the rushing, killer attitude in New York City. Midwesterners are very hospitable and kind. They will bring you a casserole if you move next door and will be there to help you find the right stores and supplies. They will invite you over for backyard barbecues and treat you like family… as long as you do not want an abortion, are not gay and you are the right color.And should you knock on their door unexpectedly, you would be shot.Guns are standard household equipment.
Diane Nine has been involved in politics all her life. She worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House and met both Clintons. She said that Hilary Clinton was a charming, gracious woman, not at all the bitch the press painted her to be and that Jimmy Carter used to take her to church with him when she was his intern. He was and still is a very religious man. The Obamas actually live in her neighborhood now that they have left The White House. Her mother’s best friend was Helen Thomas, the Washington correspondent who was banned from that press corps because of her offensive remarks about Israel and Jews.
For lunch the next day we met Lora who works for the Department of Agriculture. She is part of a team that monitors plant imports and plant diseases.She was saying that they work with the EU on imports and, when Britain leaves the EU, there will have to be a whole new set of standards for agricultural products shipped between the UK and US; just one more complication caused by our Brexit upheaval.
I went to the first day of the Fortean Times‘ UnConvention at the University of Westminster today to see comedian Helen Keen’s hour long show It Is Rocket Science! which blends science, comedy and bizarre facts and unusually sat among even more bizarre fare. She was wildly enthusiastic, even by her high standards.
Fortean Times is the self-proclaimed ‘Journal of Strange Phenomena’ which non-readers assume concocts loony stories of crop circles, UFOs and conspiracy theories but which regular readers know casts a sceptical eye on anything strange and apparently inexplicable.
Presentations in today’s UnConvention included Ian Ridpath comprehensively demolishing the so-called Rendelesham Forest UFO Incident by going back to the original sources – US Air Force reports, UK police records and audio tapes actually recorded at the time – to reveal rational and arguably even mundane explanations of allegedly alien events which have escalated into OTT UFO myth – basically, he convincingly argued that the alleged ‘alien craft’ was a combination of a known falling fireball that night and a local lighthouse’s flashing light. It was an interesting dissection of how a myth gathers momentum.
As was Jan Bondeson’s talk on “The Bosom Serpent” – hundreds of years of stories of snakes, frogs and even a hen lurking inside people’s bodies. Jan, a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University by day, came over as a cross between Dr Strangelove and Jimmy Carr with a droll line in dry humour. I was particularly impressed with his telling of the true tale of Catharina Geisslerin, the so-called Toad-Vomiting Woman of Altenburg, and how the cure for another historical figure’s frog-vomiting was to drink three pints of horse urine. Well, I guess that would cure you of complaining about anything else although the alternative remedies of luring snakes out of their lair in people’s stomachs by enticing them with sweet-smelling milk or cheese or even using an improvised fishing rod seem a tad easier.
Then there was Mark Pilkington on myth-making by the world’s Intelligence services and tales of how a Chinese lantern can become a time-travelling Nazi flying saucer and how Communist insurgents in the Philippines were routed by the CIA’s leaked fictional rumours of a winged vampire (something only topped by Helen Keen’s revelation in It Is Rocket Science! of American plans in World War II to attack mainland Japan using thousands of bats with miniature bombs attached to them).
Aside from Mark Pilkington’s tales of the KGB’s First Directorate and their successful plot to spread a false rumour that AIDs resulted from CIA plans to develop a genetic and/or ethnic weapon… and the Rand Corporation’s 1950 paper by Jean M.Hungerford on “The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare”, I was particularly interested to hear that the US Government’s short-lived Psychological Strategy Board as long ago as the early 1950s had suggested using existing respected cultural organisations to spread stories.
In the 1990s, I knew a Western European who, during the Cold War, had been a deep cover sleeper agent for the Soviets. He had been ‘run’ via the East Germans. When he was caught by the Americans in Germany, they debriefed him in Washington, but not in any CIA or Defense Department building. He was instead debriefed by the CIA in the offices of a major international cultural magazine.
The most fascinating thing I learnt during today’s UnConvention, though, was about Generoso Pope Jnr, a man I had never heard of before. Formerly employed by the CIA’s psychological warfare unit and with links to the Mafia (his son’s godfather was mob boss Frank Costello), Generoso Pope Jnr bought the New York Enquirer in 1952 (allegedly with money from Costello) and re-named it the National Enquirer, spawning future stories which not only claimed that the existence of the Mafia was a myth concocted by the Communists but also, via its sister paper the Weekly World News, publishing stories of an alien face on the Moon, the dead Elvis Presley seen working in local grocery stores and a gay marriage between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden with the happy couple adopting a shaved ape baby named Robert, who posed as a human child.
Now THAT’s what I CALL a conspiracy theory!
And who would have thought either the Mafia or the CIA had a sense of humour?