Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Fortean Times UnConvention 2010

The line-up for this years Fortean Times UnConvention has been confirmed. This semi-regular gathering of Fortean Times readers and friends is taking place Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th October at University of Westminster - 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS‎. Tickets are £50 / £30 for day tickets.


Sweet, fluffy little bobtails? Not a bit of it! See the hidden side of rabbits and hares as folklore, art and popular culture reveal some surprising beliefs. From Mary Toft (who gave birth to quite a few) to the Venerable Bede, Boudicca, James Stewart and the Easter Bunny, this talk explores humanity’s weird relationship with the Lagomorph. Fertility, witchcraft, divination, pagan symbolism, a non-existent goddess and the world’s largest knitted art-work, not to mention the mysterious Vampire Rabbit of Newcastle, an inexplicable sculpture that has spawned its own mythology; down the rabbit-hole, it’s stranger than you think.

Dr Gail-Nina Anderson is an elderly Goth who has spent a lifetime nurturing her natural streak of morbidity. Trained as an art historian, she works in Newcastle as a freelance arts journalist and lecturer, specialising in the imagery and folklore of vampires. She lectures academically on Pre-Raphaelite art, and is currently organizing an exhibition for Japan. She has had several short stories published plus the occasional exhibition catalogue. A contributor to FT, assorted UnConventions and Weird Weekends, her worldly delights are mourning jewellery and red wine.


Which Fortean has not heard of the old stories of animals ¬ like snakes, lizards, frogs and toads ¬living as parasites in the human stomach? As the ‘bosom serpents’ nourish themselves from the steady supply of ready-chewed food, their human host becomes increasingly emaciated. One day, when he or she lies down snoring, jaws gaping wide, the head of a snake emerges from the mouth to take its bearings, like the periscope of a submarine. Since the 18th century, the bosom serpent has been largely relegated to the realm of folklore, but it is still with us, incorporated into the modern newspaper myths, like that of the 25-year-old Syrian woman taken into hospital, complaining of severe stomach pains and found to have a six-foot snake lodged in her intestines!


After her coronation in 1838, Queen Victoria was relentlessly pursued by a weird teenager, Edward ‘the Boy’ Jones, who had an uncanny ability to sneak into Buckingham Palace without being detected. Once, he broke into her bedroom and stole her underwear, and at least twice he sat on the throne. As a result of his multiple intrusions into Buckingham Palace, the Boy Jones became a media celebrity and a major headache for Lord Melbourne¹s government, who went to extraordinary lengths to get rid of him. In this talk, the Boy Jones will be compared with other palace intruders and celebrity stalkers, and the moral question of what lengths the authorities should be allowed to go to ‘remove’ a royal stalker, potential assassin or terrorist will be discussed. After all, the Boy Jones was held captive in breach of habeas corpus for longer than any wartime saboteur or fascist, IRA member or Muslim terrorist.

Jan Bondeson is a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University. His first book, published in 1996, was The Prolific Countess, a historical study of multiple births. He has since written many other books, including Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, The Feejee Mermaid, The Two-headed Boy and other Medical Marvels, The Great Pretenders, The Cat Orchestra and the Elephant Butler and the best-selling Buried Alive, a study of the history of the signs of death and the risk of being buried prematurely.


Thirty years have passed since the Rendlesham forest UFO sightings, often described as ‘Britain’s Roswell’. This presentation seeks to find an alternative to the belief/disbelief debate, one that is more satisfying from the fortean perspective. I will argue that once such events are interpreted as contemporary legends the boundaries between fact and fiction, truth and falsity become less polarised. I will suggest that Rendlesham and other reports of ‘anomalous lights’ are best seen as real, extraordinary experiences, transformed by the wider myths and legends of Western society.

Dr David Clarke is head of the Journalism department at Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of 10 books and is a frequent contributor to FT and TV and radio productions on UFOs and other fortean phenomena. He has a PhD in Folklore and is the consultant for The National Archives (TNA) for the ongoing release of the UFO files collected by Britain’s Ministry of Defence. His book, The UFO Files, was published by TNA in September 2009.


For such a long running SF TV show, Doctor Who has touched upon truly Fortean themes surprisingly infrequently. But what¹s there is very interesting, from the Ancient Astronaut theories of the Jon Pertwee era to three different sinkings of Atlantis and two different Loch Ness Monsters.

Paul Cornell is a writer of SF and fantasy in television, books and comics. His Doctor Who episodes are ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Human Nature’ / ‘The Family of Blood’. He’s currently writing Action Comics for DC Comics, and his medical horror pilot Pulse was screened on BBC3 earlier this year.


A very visual presentation on the ways peoples down the ages have invested meaning in their native landscapes (unlike our own culture). From the Nazca lines to Buddhist soundscapes, from earthen effigies built by American Indians to ancient acoustic Chinese gardens, from the music of Stonehenge¹s stones to the secret topographical imagery of pre-dynastic Egypt. And more! Uncon coincides with the publication of Paul's major new book, Sacred Geography (Gaia Books).

Paul Devereux is a veteran researcher, occasional broadcaster, and author on things mysterious and strange, with well over 20 books and countless articles to his credit, plus a range of peer-reviewed papers. He focuses especially on the anthropology and archaeology of consciousness, exotic geophysical phenomena, and altered mind states. He lectures around the world to all kinds of audiences and conducts field research. He's Managing Editor and a co-founder of the academic publication, Time & Mind - the Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, a research affiliate with the Royal College of Art, and archaeology columnist for Fortean Times.

THE BLUE DOGS OF TEXAS - Jon and Corinna Downes

In the early winter of 2004 Jon Downes went to Texas to make an abortive TV show. Whilst he was there he examined the skeleton of a blue, dog-like creature. Despite all the claims that these animals are nothing more than mangy coyotes, Jon became intrigued, and five and a half years later, together with his new (and eminently sensible) wife Corinna, he went back to Texas to try and clear the mystery up. Needless to say, they found even more questions than answers.

Jonathan Downes is the Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, an organisation which he founded in 1992. He has spent the last 20 years wandering around the world in search of

hitherto unknown species of animals. Five years ago, after years of confirmed bachelorhood, he met administrator and novelist Corinna and a couple of years later found himself with a new wife, and two lovely step-daughters. The CFZ has changed immeasurably since Jon got his foot caught in the tender trap and this is no bad thing.

WIRED FOR GOD? - Charles Foster

Siberian shamans, whirling sufis, entranced Bushmen; hypnotism and magic mushrooms; hymn-singing in the suburbs and ecstatic drumming in the African night; speaking in tongues and UFOs, near-death experiences and epileptics nuns; Neolithic tomb architecture and tantric sex; God-helmets, God-spots and God-genes. We all have ‘spiritual experiences’. Do they tell us anything about what it means to be human, and if so, what? Do they suggest that there's anything out there that is trying to relate to us?

Charles Foster is a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford. He has written, edited or contributed to well over 30 books, including Tracking the Ark of the Covenant, The Jesus Inquest, The Selfless Gene, and Wired for God: The biology of spiritual experience. All his books are fumbling attempts to work out what on Earth we¹re doing on this most extraordinary of all conceivable planets. He lives in Oxford and spends a lot of time in the Middle East and Africa.


In September 2009 Adam Davies, Dr Chris Clark, Dave Archer and Richard Freeman visited the jungles of Western Sumatra on their latest expedition in search of the unknown species of upright walking ape known as the orang-pendek. Deep in the cloud forests around the volcanic lake of Gunung Tujuh, they finally found it.

Richard Freeman is a cryptozoologist who has hunted for the orang-pendek in Sumatra, the African dragon Ninki-Nanka, the giant crested serpent know as the naga in Indo-China, and the infamous Deathworm of Mongolia’s Gobi desert. He is a former zookeeper who has worked with over 400 species of animals, and zoological director of The Centre for Fortean Zoology. He has written a number of books, including Dragons: More Than a Myth and Explore Dragons. His latest is The Great Yokai Encyclopedia: An A-Z of Japanese Monsters.


Mike will be talking about the South Shields Poltergeist case, and the book of the same name which he wrote with fellow researcher Darren W Ritson. He will also explain how the authors were abused, threatened, vilified and terrorised afterwards none of which, intriguingly, he blames upon the poltergeist. During his talk Mike will detail some of the absurd (and frankly hilarious) criticisms that were levelled at the authors by sceptics and rationalists across the globe. He will also recount how the authors were largely vindicated. Mike and Darren have magnanimously forgiven their idiotic detractors, but just want them to remember that they know where they live.

Mike is a full-time freelancer with twelve books and over 1,000 features and columns under his belt. He specialises in Geordie Forteana, which he describes as, ‘weirdness marinated in brown ale’. Mike has written his weekly newspaper column WraithScape for well over a decade, and possesses one of the largest private archives of clippings relating to Geordie strangeness. He currently pens the Backlight column for UFO Matrix and the Geordie Monsters blog for the Centre for Fortean Zoology¹s website. Known as the Wizard of Weird by his friends and enemies alike, he confesses to being weird, but not a wizard. Although he is. Sort of.


Comedian Helen Keen’s award-winning space-based show is soon to become a Radio 4 series. But you can see it now with a cosmos of costumes, a meteor shower of jokes, and approximately 99 feet of tinfoil... Featuring Space Nazis! Satanists! And Actual Aeronautical Engineers! It Is Rocket Science! will take you on a whistle stop tour around the Great Brains who put monkeys, ladies, dogs and gentlemen into orbit.

Helen Keen is a comedian and writer. In 2005 she won the first Channel 4 New Comedy Writing Award. Since then she has written for, among others, Channel 4’s Friday Night Project and BBC Radio 4¹s The Now Show. Her own live shows mix stand-up with science, storytelling and dodgy props to spin comedy out of such arcane and unlikely subjects as 19th-century Arctic exploration, or the development of the space rocket.

‘This sophisticated rising star is one to watch’ The Guardian


It¹s one of our greatest wildlife mysteries: are there really big black cats running around Australia and New Zealand? The big cat mystery has been the subject of much debate and fascination for more than a century in the Antipodes, where it has been blamed for significant stock losses, pet deaths and terrorising people living in rural areas. Rebecca will discuss some of the best cases that have come to light in the past 30 years, which appear to support the existence of Alien Big Cats in Oz, and delve into the rich vein of wartime big cat sightings that could be the source for the Kiwi cat conundrum.

Rebecca Lang is an Australian journalist and editor who has written about a number of fortean subjects during her 20-year career including table-tilting, yowies, big cats and min-min lights. Along with Michael Williams, she is the co-author of the recently-published Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers and is affiliated with the Centre for Fortean Zoology. She also owns the Australian fortean website Strange Nation and is affiliated with the Centre for Fortean Zoology.


Poltergeists are among the best-attested paranormal phenomena. Many theories have been put forward to explain such manifestations, but their origin and the force behind them still remain a mystery. Since the 1930s a number of researchers have theorised that there is a sexual component in outbreaks of poltergeist activity. In this lecture Alan Murdie reviews these ideas, and considers what part sex may have played in a number of classic poltergeist cases, and whether there is an underlying sexual element behind poltergeist manifestations.

Alan Murdie is a lawyer specialising in intellectual property law, civil liberties and the protection of vulnerable people from excessive debt enforcement. He also has a long-standing interest in fortean subjects, was chairman of the Ghost Club between 1998 and 2005 and chairs the Spontaneous Cases Committee of the Society for Psychical Research. He has investigated numerous hauntings and anomalous phenomena both in Britain and abroad. He has written and broadcast extensively on the topic of ghosts and poltergeists and is the co-author of the Cambridge Ghost Book (2000), author of Haunted Brighton (2006) and Haunted Edinburgh (2007), and writes the regular Ghostwatch column for FT.


In this audio-visual presentation Mark shows how military and intelligence operators have shaped and exploited beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, monsters, vampires, and elements from folklore and conspiracy theory to create an armoury of supernatural weapons of mass deception. The inspiration for these toys, tools and techniques has come from a range of sources including fiction, cinema, stage magic, advertising and occultism.

Mark Pilkington has written for Fortean Times, the Guardian, Sight & Sound, The Wire, Frieze, The Anomalist and a host of other magazines and journals. His book Mirage Men: An Adventure into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs was published in July 2010. Mark also runs Strange Attractor Press, editing and publishing its occasional Journal, organising events and exhibitions and broadcasting on Resonance FM. When not squinting at words, Mark can be found playing synthesisers and electronic gizmos with musical outfits including Disinformation, The Asterism, Raagnagrok and Urthona


In the past quarter of a century, the Rendlesham Forest incident has become one of the top ten UFO cases in the world as voted by UFO believers, and is now often described as the ‘British Roswell’. Here, skeptical investigator Ian Ridpath looks at the main points of the case and provides explanations for each in turn, correcting various misunderstandings and pointing out how various unsubstantiated claims have passed uncontested into a body of unreliable knowledge that has already taken on the status of a modern myth. For further information on the results of Ian¹s investigations.

Ian Ridpath is a writer and broadcaster on astronomy and space with a particular interest in the way astronomical phenomena are misidentified as UFOs. He produced the first full explanation of the Rendlesham Forest UFO case back in 1984 and marvels at the way the myth has grown ever since.


The Verve tried to tell us  wrongly  that ‘The drugs don’t work’, Oasis queried our location when they were getting high, while Donovan exhorted us to partake of the e-lect-rical banana (bound to be the very next craze, apparently). Whatever your stance, drugs have underpinned popular culture for the past 50 years and some pretty strange rumours and urban legends have sprung up about them. Hippy pipe talk and government propaganda have both conspired to create a miasma of fortean drug tales weirder than you can possibly imagine. In ‘Amazing Dope Tales!’ Andy Roberts ¬ backed up by some entertaining audiovisual material takes a cynical look at drug rumour and belief, from reefer madness to blotter tattoos, via acid in the water supply and all points in between.


On 23 January 1974, people living in and around the Berwyn Mountains of North Wales were startled by an enormous explosion accompanied by lights in the sky. Other lights were seen on the mountainside and police switchboards were jammed with calls from terrified witnesses. Fearing a plane had crashed a local nurse drove on to the mountain road where she saw a huge glowing light on the remote hillside. Rumour had it she was ordered off the mountain by the military and over the next few days, the area was flooded with police and others searching the mountains. Over the years various sources have come forward to suggest a UFO had crashed or landed and was retrieved by the military, earning the case the title of the Welsh Roswell. UFOs, cover ups, MIBs, lights in the sky ¬ the Berwyn Mountain UFO case has every UFO motif going! Andy Roberts has spent 12 years investigating the events and new evidence has recently come to light that has shaken his scepticism about some aspects of this complex UFO case.

Andy Roberts is a veteran fortean researcher, author and a frequent contributor to Fortean Times. His interests centre on the point where the human instrument interacts with aspects of the external environment, and how these perceptions create experiences and beliefs which suggest the universe is really a multiverse; specific areas include UFOs and ufology, urban legends, cryptozoology, psychedelic drugs, mountain legends, ritual landscapes and much more. In the real world Andy is a senior manager for a Housing Association.


We all know about EVP and ouija boards but what came before? From the earliest records of talking to the dead to the modern day, this is an attempt to answer one of the most important questions of all - whether we have an existence after death. Attempts to talk to the dead have encompassed a range of techniques from low to high tech, but which is most succesful and on what evidence? The oldest known book, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and the creator of Sherlock Holmes all put in appearances.

Gordon is a veteran Fortean and frequent contributor to FT and other magazines. For the last 10 years he has organised the Edinburgh Fortean Society (so, if you live in Edinburgh he¹d be more than happy to see you there). Gordon is the author of Paranormal Newcastle and Paranormal Edinburgh, and of the forthcoming Ghosts on Film 3. Lifelong interests in mushrooms and photography have also helped Gordon in his fortean pursuits, and his day job is as a Biology teacher. To date, he has never witnessed a ghost, Nessie or Bigfoot, but he lives in hope.


Conspiracy theories usually get judged on the basis of the claims that they are making, be they about UFO evidence, 9/11, Princess Diana or, most recently, climate change. However, can the form and structure of a conspiracy theory tell us anything about its viability? How does the idea that climate change is a conspiracy foisted on us by self-interested environmentalists compare to the idea that world governments are concealing the truth about UFOs, and other classic theories? Do the way the theories developed and the people who developed them show commonalities, and what does this mean for the likelihood of them being true?

Ian has been writing and sorting clippings for FT since the early 1990s, covering all sorts of topics from fairies to creationism, skinwalkers to animal cyborgs. He recently edited volume 14 of The Anomalist: Electricity of the Mind. He lives in Newcastle Upon Tyne, where he works in science communication.


Comical, political, scandalous or just plain lewd, broadside ballads acted as both the pop songs and the tabloid press of their day. Printed in their thousands and sold in the streets, taverns and theatres, they served up a mix of gossip, remedies, strange happenings, political comment and sex, revealing a world remarkably similar to our own. With songs and projected images, and accompanied by lute and cittern, Lucie explores the content of the ballads, their language, historical context and tunes - and invites the audience to join in a chorus or two. This presentation is based on Lucie's book Broadside Ballads (Faber Music) winner Music Industry Award for Best Classical Music Publication.

Singer, writer and broadcaster Lucie Skeaping trained at the Royal College of Music and has been researching and performing broadside ballads since the 1970s, giving concerts throughout the world with her ensemble The City Waites. She presents BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, and writes a regular column for BBC Music Magazine. Collaborations include Shakespeare's Globe, National Theatre and RSC and she can be heard on numerous soundtracks, including Simon Schama’s History of Britain, Peter Ackroyd’s London, and Polanski’s The Pianist. Her many recordings include The Musitians of Grope Lane (ŒHighly Recommended’ Penguin CD Guide).

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