Over the weekend of the 5th, 6th, and 7th of May 2000 the Centre for Fortean Zoology held its first convention - in Exeter, in south-west England. Although on a far smaller scale than the Fortean Times UnConvention, it nevertheless attracted a good response and featured speakers from as far afield as Newcastle, London, Scotland, and Ireland. On 'lecture day' - Saturday - alcohol and snacks were available... and some of you may be surprised to learn that Jon and Graham can run a bar throughout Saturday and still be sober at the end of the day! As they say, though: hosts haven't got time to be indulgent...


L-R: Maxine, Jessie, Graham, Kathy, Mark (back), Asa (front), Jon Downes, ?, ?, Richard (leering), ?, ?, Di, John-John.

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The first evening was a get-together at the Cowick Barton, Exeter’s most famous haunted inn, and involved the showing of the CFZ’s first full length film "The Owlman and Others". A co-production with Limited Talent Productions, it’s a pseudo-documentary loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Downes and is a blackly comic romp that sees the author and his girlfriend retrace the investigative steps in the book. Involving sea serpents, gay cowboys, wizards, mad lemonade selling tramps, trans-sexual nazis, inbred yokel mobs, lesbian witches, and other assorted perverts and nutters, it is a trash cinema classic in the same league as Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster, Edward D. Wood Jr’s Bride of the Atom and John Walter’s Multiple Maniacs. The film was met with bed-wetting approval.

Jon Downes, with Kathy (on the left) who played the part of Maxine (on the right) in the Owlman film..... Eve & Rachael played the witches and Mark Norman was cameraman

It was followed by a question and answers session, in which the speakers took queries from the audience. These ranged through just about every area of Forteana but were marred when one speaker’s reference to Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy sparked off a real loony toon (there's always one) in the crowd to spout on for far too long about numerology and other related drivel too dull to mention.

Saturday: the main conference day

This day’s events were at Exwick Parish Hall, with speakers delivering their lectures. First up was Emmet Sweeney with his talk on the dating of the pyramids. Emmet believes in the controversial theories of Velikovsky as detailed in the book Ages in Chaos.

emmet sweeney

Emmet pointed out the failings of carbon dating methods and that the poor people of any given age would often use inferior tools resembling those of a more antiquated period. Global legends of floods, earthquakes and other cataclysms were cited as supporting evidence.

Next was Richard Freeman talking about that most ubiquitous and ancient of monsters, the dragon. The talk started with a look at the different kinds of dragon from legends world wide.

richard freeman (CFZ)

He then looked at misinterpretation of dinosaur bones, giant crocodiles, snakes and lizards (including the possible survival of Megalania prisca a 30 foot monitor from Pleistocene Australia). He examined Peter Dickinson’s idea that dragons evolved from carnivorous dinosaurs and both flew and breathed fire through the manipulation of hydrogen gas derived from hydrochloric acid in the gut and calcium from both limestone and the bones of their victims. Finally he gave examples of modern dragon sightings such as the Jersey Devil and the Texas Big Bird, suggesting that these could be paranormal entities.

Mike Hallowell, from Newcastle had surely the subject matter least known to even the most hard core Forteans, the mystery of Marsden Grotto. At the fall of the Roman Empire the one of the legion’s garrisons at South Shields was sacked but the marauders found that its fabulous treasure hoard was already gone. In subsequent centuries various paupers and vagabonds have become unaccountably rich. Legend has it that they have stumbled upon part of the Roman treasure. It is said to be hidden in a net work of fathomless caverns beneath the area and guarded by giant snake-like creatures (one of which Mike claims to have seen). These brutes were appeased by human sacrifice until 1927! Mike has interviewed miners who have stumbled upon hidden caverns (some of which stretch eight miles out under the sea bed) that he believes were carved in order to hide the tons of treasure. Ghosts, secret societies and smugglers also feature in the complex and compelling story.

David Farrant is a name any Fortean worth his salt will know. One of Britain's formats vampire experts and president of the British Occult Society he regaled us with the strange and tragi-comic tale of his involvement with the Highgate vampire in London's famous cemetery.

David Farrant

After a series of satanic rituals and cases of vandalism in the late 1960s a black figure with glowing red eyes was reported prowling the graveyard at night. Believing the entity was summoned by these shenanigans Farrant and his friends tried several times to banish the creature with white magick.

As the vandalism increased (this time including grave robbing!) the inevitable happened, David was caught on the premises and blamed!

Farrant rounded of by giving us his theory that the vampire legend had it genesis with incubi and sucubi, spirits that sexually molest people during the night, draining energy and sexual fluids.

Malcolm Robinson gave an entertaining talk about his SPI (Strange Phenomena Investigations) group and described some of the ghost watches that they’ve undertaken. Sometimes SPI has been called in to investigate a reported haunting in cases where someone may be trying to enhance their rehousing prospects by the local council. He showed samples of their press coverage, where the tabloid press have described them as ‘ghost-busters’.

Nick Redfern discussed a newly-surfaced CIA file on Noah’s Ark that he was able to obtain via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. He revealed that at least two departments within the CIA have on file photographic-based data on the Ark that they refuse to release in the interests of national security. Nick also discussed the rumour that the CIA located the Ark back in the late 1940s whilst undertaking a covert spying mission over the former Soviet Union.


Sunday on Dartmoor, Devon, for some of the Weird Weekend-ers

The third day took us out of doors and onto Dartmoor, one of the weirdest places in Britain.

Mark Norman, a fortean researcher as well as a film cameraman, gave a talk on the devil in Dartmoor at Widecombe in the Moor. Satan was supposed to have visited the church here during a violent thunderstorm, damaging the spire and killing several worshippers. Others were badly burned. The event sounded as if it could have been a case of ball lightning. Comparisons were drawn with Bungay in Suffolk, where a demonic black dog reportedly appeared during a church service, causing similar effects.

Mark Norman: fortean researcher and film cameraman

A visit to Dartmoor Wildlife Park gave everyone a chance to see creatures as diverse as tigers and bald-headed eagles; and Chris Moiser gave a talk on big cats in the British countryside.

Jon Downes gave a talk in the shadow of Hound Tor on odd disappearances and appearances on the moor. These included the flowers that mysteriously appear on a roadside grave each day (no-one is ever seen placing them there) and the geology professor who vanished on the Tor. The man reappeared a few days later with no recollection of were he had been and speaking in a language no one understood. He died a few days later, leaving the riddle unsolved.

The trek around Dartmoor rounded off the "Weird Weekend" and the three day event was felt to have been a success by all who participated.