Weird Weekend 2003 - A review by Richard Freeman

After the poor attendance and lack of interest in past Weird Weekends the 2003 convention was a startling success. Well over 60 people from as far afield as Switzerland crammed into the Cowick Barton Inn Exeter (a haunted 13th century pub, formally a priory) over the weekend of the 3th-5th of October. A nice mixture of old friends and new faces descended on the greatest concentration of weirdness in the country. Cryptozoologists, parapsychologists, witches, folklorists, ufologists, astronomers, and alternative archaeologists all rubbed shoulders. If a terrorist had bombed the Cowick Barton that weekend they would have wiped out the cream of British Forteana.

Prior to the activities at the Cowick Barton there was an open invite to view the CFZ. It is a good job that more people did not take this up as the minority that could make it filled the place to bursting point.

Following tradition the Friday night’s lectures started off with my cabinet of curiosities. I started this four years ago as a filler and have been doing it ever since. I don’t like much. It was ok as a one off but I have never understood why it is so popular.

This was followed by CFZ artist Mark North who delved into the legend of the Screaming Skull of Bettiscome Manor. The skull was said to be that of a black slave who longed to be buried on his native soil. It is supposed to scream if removed from the house and was said to have shed drops of blood before WW2. In fact the skull is of a woman and is from the Iron Age.

Nigel Wright, one of the world’s foremost ufologists examined ufology in America and Britain. He looked into the differences between ufologists on either side of the Atlantic and their approaches to and interpretation of the phenomena.

Then we all ate, drank, and caroused well into the night.

The Saturday, main day for the speakers started with Paul Vella’s impressive display of Sasquatch memorabilia. Paul, recently back from Bluff Creek showed off footprints and handprints of the giant ape. He also showed a new, enhanced version of the infamous Patterson footage. The blown up version clearly shows muscle movement in the creature’s leg that would have been nigh on impossible to fake in the 60s.

Palaeontologist Darren Naish discussed the extinctions of island faunas. Focusing mainly on birds (though reptiles and lemurs were also dealt with) he spoke in an entreating manner that was accessible to the layman. Going far beyond the well known dodo and moas he introduced us to dozens of species of beautiful creatures that none of us will ever see alive thanks to the planet wide cancer we call mankind.

Britain’s first pagan magistrate, witch, folklorist, and Fortean, Steve Jones gave a talk on practical magick. Eschewing the ceremonial robes, candles, and swords (though they are fun) he entertained us with tales of his initiation and hi-jinks with thought forms. Always amusing one story sticks out in particular of thoughtform vandal who was created drunkenly and got out of control. It is apparently still smashing up alters to this day. Steve was originally planning to do a ritual to raise the ghostly monk of the Cowick Barton buy time prevented it. Perhaps that’s for the best!

Rachel Carthy, the only person I know who is a bigger bibliophile than me gallantly agreed to step in at the last minuet as replacement for the ailing Phil Mantle. Her talk on one dimensional planets in literature and it’s relevance to the 4th dimension in reality would have probably made Euclid recoil and Newton slink away in terror. By using the intrusions of a 3 dimensional being into a one-dimensional world she pondered what it would be like for us if a 4th dimensional being manifested in our world. Ia, Ia, Yog-sot-ot, the gate and the key!

Adam Davies fresh from Mongolia regaled us with his hunt for the awesome Mongolian Deathworm. After giving us a rundown on the creature and his methodology he recounted his adventures in the southern Gobi on the trail of this much-feared monster. Though he didn’t see the beast he found many witnesses and narrowed down the area in which to search. He also got arrested, attacked by giant spiders, and became heartily sick of mutton and scared of clowns (don’t ask). Adam and his team are planning to join forces with the CFZ and return to Mongolia next year. We hope to capture some Deathworms and bring them back alive to England.

Tim Mathews argued that King Arthur was far more than a myth. He was in fact the King of Glamorgan in Wales. To support his case he produced and impressive amount of archaeological evidence all roundly ignored or pooh-poohed by academics. Each “expert” with his pet theory and all the regional tourist boards wanting to claim Arthur as there own spewed vitriol at the Welsh theory and went so far as to tell book publishers not to print books on this subject. Even Cardiff University refuses to acknowledge Arthur’s existence. Why? God alone knows but I can tell you it’s the same in most subjects. “King of the who? The Britons? Never heard of you!”

Then it was my turn to talk about Chris Clark, Jon Hare and myself traipsing through the Sumatran jungles in search of mystery apes and antediluvian killer cats. I wont bore you with it here as I’m sure you have heard it all before. Anyway you can read about it on the website.

The talks were rounded off by Rachel speaking about cannibalism (including Wendigo psychosis) with Edgar Van Lustgarden style glee.

Repeat of last night’s excesses only more so.

Next day after a walk around some of the odder areas of Exeter we returned to the pub to hear Chris Moiser’s talk on West Country sea serpents. For some reason Devon is oddly lacking in sea monster reports post WW2. Cornwall has had all the excitement with Morgawr. We can only hope that will change.

Finally our keynote speaker the CFZ’s life president Colonel John Blashford-Snell delivered an awe inspiring lecture on his life of adventure. The rest of us are rank armatures in comparison to him. How best to describe him? Take Alan Quatermain, add a liberal sprinkling of Biggles, then stir in some Indiana Jones. In my introduction I said he made Sir Edmund Hillary look like Cliff Richard. I wasn’t joking. During his amazing life he has hunted giant killer lizards and giant man eating crocodiles in cannibal haunted New Guinea, tracked the Almas in Mongolia, investigated claims of living mammoths in Nepal, and looked for giant sloths, giant anacondas, and lost cities in South America. What a guy. Makes you proud to be British!

As the previous two nights but to the power of ten!

We raised over £600 for the CFZ funds and had a weekend to remember. The only trouble is how will we top this next year. Well we have some ideas… but that would be telling!

Cheers - Richard