Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Ricky Phillips Replies

(I had been in contact with Ricky regarding his picture and after a discussion, he offered to post a reply to the reaction and so on. So here it is and I will leave my comments to the comments section --- Ed.)

Why nothing prepares you for the Loch Ness Monsters…

(Ricky D Phillips)

Did I say “Monsters”? – I did – and not the long-necked variety either, but the bipedal kind with a phone in their hand or a laptop and a ready wit. Don’t get me wrong, since “that photo” some of the comments I have seen from people have been hilarious, complete with Gifs and memes, and I have even joined in on the joke with quite a few people, but there have been two or three really, really nasty comments too. Now, I’m no stranger to the press and to the odd moron chiming in, but as a historian, I have to prove every word I write, and I can back them all up: not so with “Nessie”.

If many comments be believed, of course, I am supposed to have a full film crew on standby and a concrete and referencable back-story to the whole thing, and that’s just not how it works. It isn’t like I actually tried to take a picture of it! However, a lot of these comments have been driven by the press and have been misunderstood from there, so I thought I’d set the record straight on “that photo” in my own words, and Roland has been kind enough to let me guest-blog on his site, since he seems to actually be the most decent, well-informed and impartial person I have met in this whole curious event.

What I have done is to write down the common questions or points so that I can answer them bit by bit. I’ll try to keep it humorous, because what else is the whole Nessie myth but fun? It strikes me that a lot of commenters on news sites must be lousy parents… every Christmas they must be debunking Santa to their bewildered children! So here are the answers in my own words, which if nothing else, will teach you not to believe what the press write about you!

So what actually happened? – I was in Fort Augustus, most of my tour group had gone on a boat cruise around the Loch and I went to grab a chippy then strolled along the Oich to take a look at the old wooden bridge there. Fort Augustus is a tiny place but pretty and it was one of few things I hadn’t seen up close. I went to take a shot across the river, heard a noise (the “Darth Vader noise” I will explain below) looked over and saw something with a long neck and head dive back under the water. I got my phone ready to take a picture, but I didn’t see it again. Then I realised I had snapped it by chance. That’s pretty much it…

Do I think it was Nessie? – Despite words such as ‘claimed’ and the Daily Mail’s addition of ‘insists’ I NEVER actually said the words “Loch Ness Monster”. In fact, when a journalist asked, I said that all I would say was “I saw this, it was on my phone, this is what it looked like” – which was as much as I could actually say. “But do you think it was Nessie?” was the reply and again, I answered that I simply couldn’t say what it was. I might as well have said “Absolutely guvnor, no doubt about it at all!” - because that’s effectively what they wrote anyway!

Is it a fake photo? – No, and of course there are so many ways to fake a photo, but I’m certainly no photographer (a few may have pointed that out in comments!) and no I don’t own Photoshop either. That is the original, as I saw it and as my camera phone captured it.

Is it a sock puppet? – I had to put this one down! Let me ask you something: could you please put a sock on your arm, wade into a freezing river in December and lay there whilst I take a photo of it? – If someone asked you that, you’d probably say no, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not even conceivable. Ah, say some, but could it be my arm instead? – So bear in mind I’m driving and guiding and won’t reach Edinburgh until about 8pm – about five hours later – and everyone in the group could see me dripping wet, I’m going to climb into a river, magically dry myself, change my clothes in front of loads of people and appear to my tour group 15 minutes after the incident, looking dry as a bone… and quite who this mystery accomplice is supposed to be, I have no idea. So, no… it isn’t a sock puppet!

Is it a log? – You know, it’s a funny thing about logs… they tend to look like logs! Forty years on this earth and I know what a log looks like, and a branch too, come to think of it! No it wasn’t… a wee bit of credit here for knowing the difference!

Why is the photo so grey and grainy? – An obvious question, this… it’s grey because it’s always grey! The Oich is grey, the Loch is grey, the sky is grey, the creature is grey and temperature fluctuations in the Loch and with the river meeting it, mean there’s usually a grey haze there. It’s grey, not black and white, it’s literally grey there. It’s grainy because that’s a zoom about three times in. It’s a phone camera, not a sniper scope.

What did you take the picture on? – A potato. There, I said it. Everybody else did! No, it was my Huawei mobile, and yes, it is old! I’ve got so many photos stored on it – I write military history and so I screenshot quotes from veterans or save photos for a few upcoming projects and I have THOUSANDS of pictures on it (not to mention thousands more of my dogs!) and last time I had an upgrade, I lost all of them, so I have deliberately ignored the upgrade… but it’s not that old!! Oh and apparently, tour guides are supposed to have great cameras? I’m not sure why. When you see the same stuff every few days, you don’t take pictures. Plus, you take your eye off the tour group for half a minute and someone will wander or do something usually suicidal, like try to take a selfie in the middle of the road.

Where’s the original photo? – Here’s your “Hmmm…” moment, doubters. That phone is so full of stuff that it doesn’t store any more photos. Occasionally, one gets through, for no reason that I can understand. So when I take a photo, if I like it, I have to immediately share to my social media in real time or send it to myself. I’m only lucky I remembered after I had zoomed in and screenshotted it, otherwise there’s a 99% chance it would have vanished. I can hear you all going “Hmmm…” from here… you’re lucky it’s all I got! But seriously, that’s it. If I had forgotten, we wouldn’t even be this far along!

But you run a tourism / guiding business, right? – No! I’m not sure where this comes from. I’m a military historian and author and yes, I also do guiding. When Mrs Ricky got made redundant, right as we were moving house, we needed more income. I’m a trained battlefield guide, I love history and I can make it relevant and interesting, so what else was I going to do? I genuinely love the Highlands, ever since I got to swing a sword around in the film Mary Queen of Scots, so it’s a pleasure to do something I love, in a place I love. It isn’t quite what I planned, but hey, we’ve all had to step up to earn the money. But Nessie or no Nessie, nobody gets paid more or gets more tours, so there was no advantage to the photo, it was just what was there.

Did you get paid for this? – Absolutely not. I didn’t ask, and nobody offered. It didn’t even occur to me. Despite the Sun advertising that they pay for stories, I was actually contacted by a freelance journalist, who obviously did get paid. It was what it was.

Some people have suggested you have a book to sell? – On the Loch Ness Monster? Multi-time #1 Best Selling Military Historian, famed for his work on the Falklands War… can you fit Nessie into that? Maybe it went down with the task force or popped up at Goose Green? No, I have no book on Nessie nor any plans to write one. A military historian actually doesn’t need Nessie in his life! Again, what can I say? It was what it was.

So why did you send the picture in? – I actually thought about not doing it. I joked with a mate about “career suicide” before I did, and I think it took five or six days to decide it couldn’t do any harm. I sent it in to Gary at the Nessie sightings register and asked if it was anything he’d seen before. He contacted the journalists and I was happy to help. I actually didn’t think many people would be so interested. That bit, I got wrong! That said, it was there, I have nothing to gain, nothing to hide, but there are also big Nessie fans out there, and small towns like Fort Augustus need Nessie. Without it, they might as well pack up and move away. So somewhere along the chain, it feeds families and I’m nobody to take that away. I thought about it and my conscience said yes, do it. That conscience is clear and the only gain I have is that my nieces and nephews think it’s just a bit cool to have an uncle who did it.

And the Darth Vader bit? – Let’s get it straight, I said it sounded like something blowing air, like a whale or dolphin does, but it sounded metallic, a bit like Darth Vader sneezing (not breathing!) and I made it clear. My guess is that some papers decided the distinctive Darth Vader breathing noise would sound more sinister, so put it in, but it wasn’t my doing. Like ‘claims’, ‘insists’ or other terms, it’s nothing to do with me…. But then I’ve been in a lot of newspapers and have even read “Exclusive Interviews” I have supposedly given to newspapers, who have absolutely never spoken to me! I’m used to it.

What do I think of the press reaction? – I went to bed on December 18th with it in the Scottish Sun and the Daily Record, and I was quite surprised at that. The first thing I had the next morning was a mate messaging me from Australia to say it had made the papers over there and I thought… “Oh God, they haven’t made this a huge deal, have they?” – They had. The Sun, Express, Mirror and then the Daily Mail. If you want anything to go viral online, it’s the DM. They have more online reach than anyone. The second I saw that, I knew we’d gone from snowball to avalanche. I’ve now read it in German too, in French, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese and even in India where (apparently) I am “a world-famous scientist”! I got a C for science at school, by the way! Famous historian? – Yes. Famous scientist? – Erm…….

And the public’s reaction? – It’s funny. In the history world, they always say never to read your reviews. Bernard Cornwell always says “A good review goes to your head and a bad review straight to your heart” but I always do. I always made it a thing to go back and answer people when discussing my history books, so I did it with this. The reaction is good, and I’m not asking anyone to “believe” but I’m joining in with the joke, because as I said, it is ultimately fun. One guy got verbally abusive, and there’s no reason for that. Another threatened to come over from Motherwell and give me a flying kick in the face! I just said I’d like to see him try and he didn’t answer back. It’s always painful when you read something about yourself which you know isn’t true. I should be used to it by now, but I’m just another normal person who does a job, and there’s no reason to abuse people or make stuff up about them or their families. On balance though, people have been great, but you’ll always find idiots. They get very brave online but the difference between me and other historians is that I’ll always answer you back. We’re all accountable for our words, just as I am for “that photo”.

Am I glad I took the picture? – I suppose yes, on balance. Nessie isn’t something a military historian needs in his life, and I do a lot of controversial stuff, so it could have impacted me adversely. Literally only one person has used it as a vague dig at me and my professional work, and it really wasn’t a big deal. On the whole, professional damage was minimal and I must say this: we military historians are nerds… everyone has an inner nerd and mine is history. But for those whose inner nerd is Nessie, it’s a great thing. Yes, I guess I’m glad I did it and took the plunge to send in the photo. It could have been anyone taking that photo, it just happened to be me. Before I sent it in, I did have a few words with myself about whether or not I really needed this in my life, but the argument which won, was “What right have I to censor this?” – Whatever it is, it’s there and that’s what it looks like. To some people, this is like Christmas day. I just happened to take the photo, and I considered that I really didn’t have a right to sit on it and just keep it for myself. Nessie belongs to everybody.

Do I believe in Nessie? – An obvious one for me to finish on. Nessie has been a story since St Columba. Now and then, we hear of a species believed extinct for thousands of years suddenly found alive and well, so I guess anything is possible. The sea is more unexplored than space for us humans, and Loch Ness goes down at its deepest over 800 metres. That’s beyond crush depth for some submarines still to this day. Certainly, a lot of money is being pumped into it, the Scottish government has a Nessie action plan should it be found, and you can find on the net pictures or videos of unknown creatures partially decomposed on beaches and things. Ultimately, I’d say you’ve got to have an open mind. As a historian, I’ve found things which the history books called “myths” and then I go looking and one day, I’m stood there looking at it right in front of me, so I’ve had to change my perceptions. If you ask me, “Is there a Loch Ness Monster?” I’m going to tell you yes, but it would be a fool to think there’s been only one for all of these years. A small colony of something we don’t know about, seems feasible. The Coelacanth survived sixty-six million years after it was supposed to have been extinct, so can we honestly say we know everything?

And Finally - In closing, I’d just like to add that this simply is whatever it is: a creature of some sorts, and that’s what it looks like. I’ve got nothing to gain, no reason to lie and actually it isn’t the best thing for a historian of all people to find: if anything, it’s probably the worst thing. There are a few times I wish I hadn’t, for all of the hassle involved, but then I don’t want other people to be put off doing it if they genuinely see something either… all I’d say is don’t fake it. People hunt for Nessie like I hunt for lost artefacts or battlefields or whatever… and a fake is not what people need. It just makes the whole thing ridiculous. In fact, if you take out all of the hundreds of fakes which have been debunked, Nessie as a concept looks plausible, so don’t become a fraud. There is something there and I’ve seen it. I’m not going to say what it is, because I don’t know, but there’s something there and I’m glad and perhaps even a bit privileged to have been a part of it. The only monsters I have found along the way, have been the human kind, and I have a clear enough conscience to bear them anyway. So don’t fake a Nessie sighting, but if one day, you should see her, you let people know, and don’t ever be ashamed… Nessie is more than a happy legend or a fun hobby, it is families and livelihoods in the Highlands and you’re never doing the wrong thing if you know you’re telling the truth.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Loch Ness Monster Jigsaw Puzzle and Others

I know there are Nessie fans out there who collect commercial items to do with the monster, be it postcards, toys, mugs or other items. I myself collect any book going on Nessie, so long as it not fiction or kids stuff. Yes, I know, sceptics will say it is all fiction, but you know what I mean. Bid away and the link is here. I also collect coins as a hobby, so any coins of a Nessie nature will attract my attention. In fact, by some strange coincidence, there is also a new set of cryptozoological coins struck in pure silver by the Intaglio Mint and you can see the full set for sale here

Some are pure tourist tat, but even tat becomes valuable over the decades as this 1976 jigsaw puzzle may prove to be. I also noted this children's book entitled "Fida and the Loch Ness Monster" published in the 1960s, not something I would normally look at, but then I noted the author was a Pan Harmsworth which made me wonder whether this person was related to the Nessie believer turned sceptic, Tony Harmsworth? I also wondered if it is one of the first ever kids books on Nessie, though I am sure I saw one years ago dating to the 1930s.

And finally there was this Triang clockwork Nessie I saw on eBay. It has absolutely no resemblance to the monster, but I doubt the kids were caring. Anyone have an idea when it was made? Well, these things do turn up and may never be seen again, so if you want them, you know what to do. Meantime, I continue to look out for some items with by bid finger at the ready, wondering if they will ever see the light of day.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Podcast on the Loch Ness Monster

I was invited some weeks back to speak to Jon Mallard on his show, "The Odd to Newfoundland Paranormal Podcast" and had a good half hour chat on Nessie matters with a few words to say on land sightings. The podcast can be found here and my slot begins about 48:30 minutes in. Let me know what you think and if you have any supplementary questions prompted by that discussion, leave a comment.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Nessie Review of 2018

Let us begin the review of the year past by going straight to the list of Loch Ness Monster reports as found at Gary Campbell's sightings register.

26th March 1500-1530: Dakota Frandsen sees a 40 foot dark shape moving about near the Castle jetty. The shape seemed to avoid boat traffic in the area but as a black speedboat came by it seemed to attract the shape's attention which lead it to briefly surface. The "skin" of the object was grey in colour, almost like that of a hippopotamus. The shape started swimming towards the opposite shore and disappeared. Other, similar shapes seemed to also appear but quickly vanished.

30th April 1207: Eoin O'Faodhagain from County Donegal took a ten minute video from the Loch Ness webcam. This was covered here.

28th May 1100-1130: Morag Connor and her friend were driving north out of Drumnadrochit. They saw a creature with a long neck with some humps behind it sticking about 7-8 feet out of the water and about 50m from the shore. The creature had an all dark body but with no discernible head. They were unable to stop as they were driving and there was no place to pull over.

1st June 2230: Natalie Hodgson and her family, on holiday from Yorkshire, took this picture of the head of an unknown creature in the water from the Highland Lodges holiday park where they were staying. The creature, photographed by her daughter, remained for a few minutes caught in the moonlight before disappearing.

5th August 0938: Marylin and her family, regular visitors to the area, were on holiday from Leeds travelling from Drumnadrochit to Fort Augustus when they looked out at the loch and spotted a strange looking lump on the surface of the water, which was very still and quiet at the time. It looked dark brown in colour and 'sort of like an upturned boat'. They revisited the area by boat in the afternoon and there was nothing like that in that area. Unfortunately because they were driving and couldn’t pull in, they didn’t manage to get any pictures.

8th August 1039: Ten year old Isla Ross was with travelling in the back of a car when she took this picture on her iphone of something unexplained near Urquhart Castle. Her family has confirmed that there was no boat traffic nearby.

16th August 1400: A resident local to Loch Ness reported a possible sighting.  The location was the woodlands walk behind the Dores beach and although the witness reckons the creature was forty feet from the shore, they were no less than 100 metres from the beach. I covered this event here.

17th August: Charlotte Robinson, 12, from Leeds was staying at the Loch Ness Highland Lodges at Invermoriston with her parents when she spotted something unexplained just 50ft away on the first day of her holiday. She took some pictures on her iphone and the full report here.

17th August 0940: The Locke family from Ontario, saw a "solid dark shape" appear about 50 yards offshore close to the Castle. The sighting lasted about one minute and this is what they captured on camera.

5th September 1735: Dipak Ram and Tom Smith on vacation from England saw a dark shadow in the water near Dores beach. Initially they thought was just a wave but the shadow remained persistent for about 30-35 seconds with water moving around it. When they zoomed in using their camera phone, it became much more apparent that it was a stationary object. After 30-35 seconds, it disappeared downwards into the water.

22nd November: A visitor from the United States saw a dark green (almost appeared black) object protruding from the water, at about 4.5 feet in height, slowly moving farther from shore. There was no boat traffic and the sighting lasted about 30 seconds.

13th December 1440: Ricky D Phillips, a well known military historian, heard a curious noise while taking pictures where the River Oich flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. He looked up from his phone and saw a long, straight neck, a head maybe the size of a rugby ball, all completely grey, and a narrow face, which was only about 20ft away - it then turned and disappeared. This was covered by me here.

19th December 1020: Caroline Barnett from the south west of England was watching the Loch Ness Webcam when she saw something move slowly up the loch. Initially she thought it was a boat or similar but the object appeared animate and then disappeared into the water before reappearing. It was dark in colour and nearer the east shore of the loch.

So the roster comes out at thirteen reports with five hump reports, five neck reports with three I would consider unclassified with six of them being captured as mobile phone camera images and two as webcam videos, but none of them are mobile camera video clips. What does one make of this year's collection of images?

The first thing to say is that the much vaunted role of the ubiquitous mobile phone camera has fallen short again. The reason is quite simple as these devices are not made for the kind of detailed images we need of long distance objects which pop up in the loch. Proper DSLR or SLR cameras with telephoto lens are what is needed but their use seems to be on the wane.

There is one caveat to this and that is the zoom feature which allowed the images taken by Dipak Ram and Ricky Philips to show more details though the resolution may suffer depending on whether optical zoom or digital zoom is being used. I suspect the inferior digital zoom may often be the one in use. But, of course, in the eyes of readers, there will be a spectrum of opinion of as to which of these reports actually involve the Loch Ness Monster.

The most striking image is the close up of an apparent head and neck of the creature taken by Ricky Phillips just over two weeks ago. I covered that with an initial article, but hope to say more later. Certainly, if it passes the tests, it is one of the best images taken since the Johnston and Gray photographs. We shall see.

Other images of interest that turned up this year, but were taken in previous years starting with that curious object seen in the loch by an anonymous American couple in 2006. Was it the real deal or just a piece of bird shit on a window? I plump for the first option and continue to wonder why the best images are often the most rejected. Yes I know, high level of scrutiny and all that, but it guarantees nothing ever get past these over applied filters.

There was also the strange image noticed by Lisa Stout when she was looking for Nessie on Google Earth back in 2015. Explanations as to what that might be have varied as bird, bat, log, wave, photoshop, lens debris, divers and sycamore seed. Once again, with Loch Ness Monster pictures, you are guaranteed a list of possible explanations, the vast majority of which are always going to be completely wrong!

Meantime, out in the investigative field, the main item of news was the eDNA sampling experiment performed by Professor Neil Gemmell (below) and his team in June of this year as they descended on the loch with the equipment necessary to go back with a large number of water samples taken from a multitude of points across the loch's extent and depth.

Doubtless, this endeavour will form part of the major highlights of 2019 as well as the results of the DNA extraction and matching are published soon. Will they find no significant DNA, giving a boost to those who hold to a no Nessie, paranormal Nessie or visitor Nessie position? Or will they find something not matchable against the known inhabitants of the loch? And there yet may be a surprise as they also took samples from that other cryptid lake, Loch Morar.

Back at base here, the usual trips to Loch Ness with equipment in tow were made and new items of equipment were employed as a DJI drone and a Flir thermal camera were bought. There were trips in April and September amongst others including my new venture of Nessie guided tours. The drone has been operated over the Foyers beach area and also opposite Urquhart Castle where Lachlan Stuart took his famous three humped photograph. There is still some teething issues such as dexterity in use of the drone in flight and when recording over the waters, getting the right height for optimal coverage for an animal over 30 feet long and getting the speed right so that the recorded video is not blurred.

Back in February, I published my second book on the Loch Ness Monster, entitled "When Monsters Come Ashore" which concentrated on the few dozen sightings of the monster out of the loch on land. A curious and hotly contested part of the mystery which even believers in the monster do not accept as possible and we can add Frank Searle to the ranks of Nessie on land sceptics! On this theme, I note that the famous Arthur Grant land sighting finally got a plaque erected at the location, much to the chagrin of the sceptics!

Old and new stories were also reprised in 2018 as we recounted the tale of Sandy and his close encounter with a strange object near his canoe in 2010. There was also the story of a large object passing under a boat in the 1980s and a diver's encounter with Nessie as reprised by a current Nessie fan who knew the person.

Looking ahead, I aim to publish my third book on the Loch Ness Monster in a month or so which will concentrate on the good, the bad and the ugly of photographs of the creature. But what will 2019 hold in general for the mystery of Loch Ness? I have no idea, but I wish everyone a prosperous 2019!

The author can be comtacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 28 December 2018

Peter O'Connor the Taxidermist

The controversial photograph of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Peter O'Connor (pictured above) has been the subject of a number of articles on this blog and yet again, the picture comes to the fore for another round of debate. The catalyst for this one was a recent, but not unexpected comment by a long-time critic of this picture. He was recently on Facebook echoing a remark quoted in a previous work which tried to convince readers that O'Connor stuffed his canoe skin:

It should not come as a surprise that in later years he wrote a 'standard work' on taxidermy.

The implication being that taxidermy skills were used in crafting O'Connor's so called fake monster. It should come as no further surprise that anything that smacks of modelling or crafting may be used as "evidence" against Peter O'Connor. In my case, instead of sniping from the proverbial armchair, I decided to buy the taxidermy books he wrote and peruse them for anything that would suggest foul play. His first work was written in 1975 entitled "Fish Taxidermy" whose cover is shown below.

The second more comprehensive work was published in 1983 by the name of "Advanced Taxidermy" which is further shown below. This book handily had a good picture of Peter O'Connor which was shown at the top of this article and also has the following short biopic on Peter from a taxidermy point of view.

THE AUTHOR Peter Andrew O'Connor was born in London in 1933. He was introduced to taxidermy as a boy scout at Jarrow-upon-Tyne, later becoming a commercial taxidermist at Luton, Bedfordshire, in 1964, and then expanding into European taxidermy. In 1970 he moved into research taxidermy on the freeze drying techniques created by Reg Harris. He was the first successful taxidermist to do so, and developed these freeze drying techniques to a commercial level. Eventually he developed a new field to taxidermy called Combined Taxidermy.

He has been the Chairman of the Taxidermists Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, since its inception in 1973. His work appears in over seventy museums in the British Isles alone, besides appearing as far afield as Japan, Australia and the West Coast of the USA, and covers all forms of taxidermy work. Mr. O'Connor is a teacher and lecturer of taxidermy, and has written many papers on the subject, including a book called Fish Taxidermy. He has been a keen naturalist since boyhood, and is a European Wildlife Conservationist.

Coincidentally, O'Connor was born in the year that the modern Nessie story was also born and it is clear that his taxidermy interest started at a young age, though it seems his first jobs were in the Army and Fire Service. But back in 1960, this sceptic is implying taxidermy skills played a part in his alleged hoax; so let us parse that one a bit further. This is what the aforementioned critic stated in his opinion on the O'Connor picture:

A short time after the photograph was taken Dr. Maurice Burton visited the site and reported polythene bags, string and stones which could have been pressed into service as filling, buoyancy and ballast material.

A look at O'Connor's book suggests that his preferred packing material for taxidermy were items such as tow, plumber's hemp, modelling clay, silver sand, cotton wool and even rubber carpet underlay. This is on top of the wiring and cork used in the internal support. It came as no surprise to even a novice like me that rocks and stones were not mentioned as part of the packing methodology on Peter O'Connor's taxidermy. The obvious reasons are collapse of the specimen due to weight and ease of transportation.

But this means nothing to those intent on blackening O'Connor's name. In fact, stuffing rocks into a canoe as opposed to performing delicate taxidermy is a bit like saying sledgehammering and needlework are similar skills. Going back to the quote above, it is a bit disingenuous to say the materials found by Burton could be pressed into stuffing service.

The truth is Burton found little in the way of polythene ("charred fragments") or string. Mentioning stones is an irrelevancy as the entire beach is covered in stones for miles! So Burton found stones on the beach? That is quite a revelation, but overall and as explained in a previous article, it is quite improbable that the taut rubberised canvas of the presumed canoe could stretch to the dimensions of the O'Connor object's geometry. Indeed, the proposed one-man canoe was unlikely to be the one used by O'Connor as a letter (below) to Tim Dinsdale two months later suggests a two-man canoe, thus rendering the entire analysis invalid.

This letter recounts a low grade wake sighting about six weeks later when O'Connor went back to the loch (a natural thing to do if you had seen the creature weeks before). Remember, when O'Connor took his photograph, he had his friend Fred Fulcher with him, hence the need for a two man canoe to get to this inaccessible beach. Forget about any analysis about stuffed canoes, rudder points and markings, it is all irrelevant to what was actually employed in 1960.

But leaving the final say to Maurice Burton, one wonders why he didn't use O'Connor's taxidermy skills as a stick to beat him with? After all, he personally knew the man having offered his advice to O'Connor on monster matters, was closest to the investigation but was afterwards quite scathing of him. Despite all this, he stuck to his air inflated monster bag theory into the 1980s. You may suggest he didn't know about these taxidermy skills and I would reply that once Peter O'Connor published from 1975, Burton had a good chance of being aware of this especially since he was a renowned zoologist with connections to museums with taxidermy displays. So, in conclusion, it is best to say "get stuffed" to the taxidermy insinuations!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

A New Photograph of Nessie?

Today the Sun newspaper published what is undoubtedly at face value a fascinating photograph allegedly of the Loch Ness Monster taken by a Ricky Phillips on the 13th December. The account runs as follows: 

IT'S one of the UK's greatest unexplained mysteries, with tales of the mythical beast spanning centuries. And now another reported sighting of the Loch Ness monster has been officially recorded after a creature with a "4ft neck" was spotted in the murky waters.

Ricky Phillips, who works as a guide, says he was waiting for his group of tourists to finish their cruise when he noticed the strange sight last Thursday. The 39-year-old says he was sitting at the River Oich as it flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus eating some chips when he heard a weird noise. Mr Phillips, who writes history books, said: "It was a grey creature - almost bird like - in a grey stretch of water."

"It's neck was three to four feet long, a head the size of a rugby ball and a ridge across its eyes. I was baffled. The previous Wednesday I had heard a strange noise as I was stood by a cafe at the edge of the loch in Fort Augustus. The noise sounded almost metallic, but like something was blowing air - like Darth Vader. I have swum and sailed with whales and dolphins, seen hundreds of seals, and it sounded like nothing I have ever heard. I spun around and saw something grey, just a side of a body and a flipper.

"Then last Thursday after my tour party went on their cruise I decided to take a walk along the river Oich, mainly to see the old bridge, and was taking a few pictures of the loch and the scenery when I again heard that curious noise. I looked up from my phone and saw a long, straight neck, all completely grey, and a narrow face, which was only about 20ft away and then it turned and disappeared all in a few seconds. I looked down and realised that it was in my picture, so zoomed in and there it was. It actually looks like a giant bird or a peacock in the face, with high ridges above its eyes and what almost looks like a beak.

"I know dinosaurs came from birds and that many had hard lips, almost like a beak - but this is simply what I saw. It seems to have almost a frill on its neck. It is very odd. All I will say is that, if I was going to fake a Nessie, I would certainly have made it look less like a bird and more like... well, more like what we think Nessie looks like!"

The image was today accepted by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register. The previous sightin was recorded by an American tourist who saw a dark green object protruding 4.5 feet above the water on November 22. According to Google there are 200,000 searches each month for the Loch Ness Monster, which is estimated to be worth £41million to the region.

This is indeed a curious tale where the witness speaks of two sightings less than a week apart accompanied by a strange metallic sound. I must admit I have not heard of such a noise but the picture is consistent enough with the eyewitness database. Sceptics will of course question his good fortune in seeing something twice so quickly and may well tell us that there is no proof from the picture that it was taken at Loch Ness. I am hopeful that Ricky will allow any uncropped picture to be published and clear that up as well as provide reference points to make further estimates.

It may also be said that it is simply a bird like a cormorant, but I do not think those birds have such a thick neck. I am also wondering what the dark patch is to the right? Perhaps just debris, which again will be suggested as the explanation for the object - a tree branch. Anyway, it is best to get the sceptical interpretations out there in the open for discussion and dismissal of all, save perhaps one.

However, the fibre like projections from the "head" are strange as one could interpret them as small branches. I am not committing to such an explanation yet. Meantime, I await that uncropped picture for further deliberation.

UPDATE: I got in contact with Ricky via Facebook and asked him a few questions. The first point is that the Sun article got a few things wrong.  Ricky said "It looks like a bloody Peacock doing the breast stroke!" and he never said it sounded like Darth Vader breathing but jokingly said "it made a noise which sounded like a blowing of air, but metallic, kind of like Darth Vader sneezing!". I am trying to imagine what that sounds like myself.

Ricky asserted that the object was not a bird or a branch but unlike the Sun claiming that he had said he had proof, he is downplaying it more and saying this is what I snapped. As to the larger uncropped image I requested, Ricky said: "My phone is on its last legs and jam-packed with thousands of photos, mostly all Falklands War related, so nothing new seems to be storing. When I zoomed in and saw that as big as I could, I posted it straight to Instagram from the picture itself, so I could keep it.".

This will be a gift to the sceptics as they search for any reason to debunk this picture, but it goes with the territory and it was no surprise when Ricky said "I almost didn't say anything, because in my line of work, you need sincerity and integrity", confirming again that the presence of sceptics is actually a powerful demotivator against going public. I also believe that pictures can be taken with a mobile phone camera even if the memory is full but can be shared onto socila media websites.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com