Monday, 22 January 2018

Retirement At Loch Ness?



There was a time when I had a monster hunter's dream and that was to one day retire to a house overlooking the shores of Loch Ness. The plan was simple enough. When my working days were over, I would downsize the three bedroom bungalow in Edinburgh for a cosier two bed affair on the southern shores of Loch Ness. But not any house would do, it had to have certain specifications. For one, it really did have to be beside Loch Ness and that excluded the main towns of Foyers and Dores. The little village of Inverfarigaig looked more promising, but a house that was that intimate with the loch is not so common.

Of course, it could not be that close to the loch else one bad stormy night could see the loch lapping at your back door. It some sense I felt like that old rascal, Aleister Crowley who scoured the same region with a specific tick list before he settled on Boleskine House! Once found and bought, I could settle into life servicing the various cameras and tests like some gardener tending his prize roses or some other utopian analogy.

So you see, I was formulating a plan until reality intruded. One of my older relatives would say how the "incomers" would come up for their first summer and be gone after their first winter. What that meant was the winters could be so bad that may wish you had never made the move in the first place. Allied to that was the very short days of sunlight just to make you that little bit more depressed as you tried to contemplate the beautiful snow laden scenes from your temporary prison.

I like to peruse the Loch Ness community facebook groups just to get the local news and views. If there is one subject that dominates such forums right now is the treacherous road conditions that prevail over a Highland winter. Such forums will have posts about this road being impassible and another being passable with care. People will also post for road reports before they attempt any travel.

Sure, the snow ploughs will (hopefully) come through after 9am and life is better if you can afford a 4x4 "chelsea tractor" and let's hope the snow isn't blown back onto the roads after the plough has done it work! Likewise, pray for an understanding boss in Inverness when you tell him you're blocked in again and won't be at work.

I guess those who made the effort to come up all the way from England will generally tough it out and think of those beautiful summers by way of compensation. As for me, I just wondered how folk who had retired cope with all this. Stuck in their houses and even more infirm on their feet on ice and snow. And if you have a sudden illness, how is that ambulance from Raigmore hospital going to get there? Do they have helicopters?




Oh well, perhaps it was best to retire to Loch Ness, but not that close. Perhaps Inverness, Nairn or Culloden? Only time will tell but for now I had a comical vision of Nessie gambolling on the snow choked roads, confident in the knowledge that no human can get near her by design or luck!


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Maurice Burton and Degrees of Scepticism

In the light of what I said in my previous article about sceptics, I refer you to the article below from the New Scientist, dated 22nd September 1960. It is by Maurice Burton and it depicts a man on a journey. Burton traced his involvement with the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster back to his young days at the Natural History Museum in the 1930s where we are told he considered the animal may be a giant eel. 

He says no more on that and reveals that after reading Constance Whyte's "More Than A Legend" in 1957, he became more inclined to the popular relict plesiosaur theory. During this time, Burton, as a zoologist, was often consulted and quoted on matters pertaining to the monster. Indeed, he offered advice to two people at that time - Tim Dinsdale and Peter O'Connor.

These two people proved to be instrumental in Burton taking the next step towards, not a new zoological identification of the creature, but a step away into the world of scepticism. Just a few months before two events happened in quick succession. Dinsdale's famous film was revealed to the world on the BBC Panorama TV programme and Peter O'Connor sensational photograph of a humped and long necked creature was published in the newspapers.

Burton had a choice, either continue is his role as the Loch Ness Monster Guru and analyse and confirm these images or step away from them. This was virtually decided when he made a week long trip to the loch to investigate the phenomenon in June 1960. Based on that trip, he decided Dinsdale's film was no more than a local boat and O'Connor's photo was a hoax.

The die was cast and Maurice Burton would soon become the hate figure for the growing Nessie movement in which Dinsdale would become the de facto leader through the 1960s and 1970s. Burton's article here promotes his favourite sceptical theories while the mention of large otters betrays a residual belief that disappear as he hardened himself against the opposition of the "believers".

Eventually that hardness gave way to indifference as he threw away all his research material and died in 1992. Doubtless, others have trod his path from belief to unbelief. I, for one, don't plan to tread that path.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Review of "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded" (Part I)




WHO IS THE KING OF THE NESSIE SCEPTICS? 
 
I mentioned last year that arch-sceptic, Ronald Binns, had published another book entitled "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded". I have begun to read my copy but began to realise that the number of statements that could be challenged on logical, historical and other grounds was accumulating so fast that a single review could amount to a huge plodding article or a short one that misses a lot of points. So, for the sake of focus and debate, I will deliver my thoughts on this book in instalments. How many depends on how the quality of the book progresses.

Naturally, one was interested to know what had changed since Binns co-authored the 1983 book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved". Another sceptic, Joe Nickell, had reviewed it and, not surprisingly, declared the mystery "even more solved". Whether one should consider Joe Nickell an expert in matters pertaining to Loch Ness and its famed monster is a matter of opinion. I personally view experts as those whose main focus is on the subject under discussion.

The problems began right at the beginning with the first page of the preface. That section tells us that Binns' 1983 book "exploded out of nowhere to shatter the culture of the monster faithful". I wondered to myself what "yes" man Binns had asked to write this fawning preface. As it turned out, it was Binns himself who wrote the preface describing his own book. One normally employs someone else to heap the praise on for ones work, evidently Binns has no problem doing it himself.

The preface indulges in more self-congratulation by leaving the reader in little doubt that Binns regards his 1983 book to be the first sceptical work on the monster when everyone else knows it was Maurice Burton's 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster". However, in his desire to make his book "numero uno", Binns dismisses this on the grounds that Burton held out the speculation that an outsized species of otter may be indigenous to the area.

Considering Maurice Burton spent most of the book panning and debunking classic sightings, films and photographs in true sceptical fashion; one may consider this a preposterous statement. But because Burton leaves the door ajar for the possibility of a large otter inhabiting the area, Binns decides that "The Elusive Monster" cannot be a "sceptical book".

I thought that over and it struck me that this is a bit like saying well known sceptics such as Adrian Shine and Tony Harmsworth must have never written any sceptical works because they mention the possibility that a huge sturgeon may have been present in the loch at some time to generate sightings. Does this mean these two gentlemen are actually "believers" or "non-sceptics"? It seems so, according to Ronald Binns.

Apparently, you are only a real sceptic if you declare nothing unusual was ever in the loch, even if some normal or large versions of a known species were in transit confounding the locals and tourists. The point is of course one for the sceptics to really sort out. Does a speculative nod to a giant sturgeon or otter turn a book into a cryptozoological item even if 90+% of it is clearly of a sceptical nature? That answer is surely no and Burton's book remains the first sceptical tome on the subject of the Loch Ness Monster.

I must say in the light of this bluster by Binns, it is ironic that he takes it upon himself to accuse Burton of sometimes adopting a "dogmatic, haughty manner"! As Binns progresses into the first chapter to further extol the glories of "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", I recalled how in various articles I covered the anomalies, misrepresentations, ad hominems, bad logic and hyperbolic narrative in that book.

So, it was with some amusement that Binns further rejoiced that the "book's analysis had stood the test of time". Does his new book suffer from the same problems? Does he even bother to address any of my analyses of his 1983 works? That will be revealed in time.

Just like his 1983 book, Binns here begins to put out statements which can shown to be false. For example, in his continued attempt to dethrone Maurice Burton, he tells us that Burton took Lachlan Stuart's 1951 photograph to be genuine when Burton himself said "the unusual behaviour and the absence of animal features makes it tolerably certain that we have to look elsewhere than among the prehistoric animals to account for it.". The problem is that Binns misinterprets Burton's statement which was meant to mean that this was a "genuine" photograph as opposed to a "fake" photograph.

However, the "absence of animal features" clearly shows Burton was looking for a more natural but non-zoological explanation. The Binns of old had not gone away with his mangling of texts. In that regard, the book is admitted as an appendix to the older book and this is very much in evidence in the first chapter where the eminently challengeable themes of "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved" are reprised while the book is praised to the hilt with such ego-laden phrases as "iconoclastic book" and "another of my great discoveries ...".

But back to the nub of the article as various Loch Ness personalities get criticised by Binns, but also current Nessie sceptics Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor and Tony Harmsworth whom Binns clearly insinuates were his implicit students on their final journey to scepticism - whether they like to admit it or not. Back in 1983, Binns alleges that these people were not real sceptics since they held onto something he regards as alien to the sceptical nature. Indeed, Binns avers that it was his book that helped them finally go over to the "dark side".

That Tony Harmsworth disagrees with this statement is clear from his own website where he calls Binns the "author of the rather prematurely titled "Loch Ness Mystery - SOLVED" book.". Clearly Tony did not regard Binns' book as iconoclastic! Adrian Shine and Dick Raynor are silent on what they think of Ronald Binns' regal claims. However, a hint is discovered in Binns' new book when he says that only North American sceptics warmly received his 1983 book - implying the reception from our other British sceptics was lukewarm at best.

So where does this leave us in the matter of who occupies the sceptical throne? That Ronald Binns has come out of hiding thirty four years later is a surprise by itself. Why did he do that? Was it to address matters he thought were not being addressed? Or perhaps in this sceptical age, he wants some recognition for what he did in the 1980s? Indeed, perhaps the over the top lauding of his previous book is tactical rather than egotistical? Only time will tell how this pans out. If Ronald Binns begins to overtake Adrian Shine in media soundbytes, somebody's crown may be slipping.

The next part of this review will follow in due course.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 11 January 2018

Some Nessie News Items

Firstly, I would draw your attention to an upcoming talk on the Loch Ness Monster which I shall be giving. The talk will be entitled "2017: A year in the Nessie Hunt" which shall give the lowdown on what happened at Loch Ness this year past from the general media perspective as well as my own research.

The talk will be given to the Scottish Society for Psychical Research on Thursday 15th February at 7:30pm at Theosophy House, 17 Queens Crescent, Glasgow, G4 9BL. Further information will be posted at their website.

It should also be highlighted that the well known researcher, Richard Freeman will also be giving a talk to the Edinburgh Fortean Society two days before on the 13th February on the subject of cryptozoology. Whether he will address lake cryptids or other strange beasts is not clear yet, so keep an eye on the EFS webpage for further details.

And, finally on the matter of cryptid talks, we have the British Cryptids Conference to be held on May 19th in Bolton, England. I am pretty sure the Loch Ness Monster will figure there! Further details can be obtained on their Facebook account.

I would like to think I would get to all these talks (especially the first one), but time will tell.

Secondly, I contacted Paul Harrison for an update on his Frank Searle book. Sadly, he does not anticipate publishing it this year due to demands brought about by the success of his main crime writing career. 

Well, I say sad, but good for Paul as it means his authoring career is doing well. Paul first mentioned publishing his book in 2012. Let's hope this is the final year of waiting. I would also mention Paul went to Africa on a Mokele-Mbembe expedition and that too may be written up for a book in the future.

Having said that, my latest book on the Loch Ness Monster is all but complete except for a couple of extra research tasks which may yet yield new information.The other question before me is whether I should include an index? I would not have thought so, but others may think differently.

Thirdly, I saw this cartoon from the Sunday Times and it raised a chuckle.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Saturday, 6 January 2018

Colin Wilson and a Long Neck Sighting




I contacted the late Colin Wilson some years back with two questions over a period of time. It was 2011 and he was not well after a spinal operation and so I was glad to get any answer from him. Colin had a friendship with Nessie hunter, F. W. Holiday that went back to at least the early 70s as the two men shared a common interest in both the Loch Ness Monster and the paranormal.

After Holiday died in 1979, Wilson posthumously published his work, "The Goblin Universe" which Holiday had withheld under the conviction that the recent 1975 underwater Nessie photographs had swung the nature of the beast from the ghost like back to the more familiar biological. As a result, Holiday sent a more anodyne manuscript to Wilson on the general subject of lake monsters. That document has never seen the light of day.

My two questions were simple enough. What happened to that unpublished manuscript and who inherited all of Holiday's archives and research? The first question was never answered and Colin said he had no idea what happened to Holiday's research (though he implied it may have been with Holiday's mother, who was also now deceased).

Oh well, perhaps one day. In the meantime, Colin published an excerpt of a letter from a Dennis Stacy of San Antonio, Texas regarding a sighting he had back in 1972. This was published in "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved" on page 487, which I reproduce below.

In 1972 I went to the Loch with the express purpose of looking for Nessie. The idea was to camp along the shoreline for about two weeks and see what was to be seen. I had a very distinct feeling of confidence that if I went to the Loch I would see Nessie. I met some students on vacation from Oxford and stayed with them just above Drumnadrochit.

Every day I would take my camera down to the shoreline and have a good look around. Except for the day it was cold and drizzly and all of us went for a walk in the pinewoods there. A girl student and myself soon wandered off on our own from the others and made it down to the lochside. While we had been under the pines, the sky cleared remarkably and the wind died down. By the time we reached the loch, it was completely still and mirror-like. About three quarters of a mile across the loch, nearly under Crowley/Page’s Boleskine, was Nessie, showing about six feet of neck and head above the water. We had jumped up on the little low rock wall skirting the road.

We both saw it at the same time and nearly caused each other to tumble over the side by grabbing the other’s shoulders and pointing and saying, Look! Do you see what I see? And my camera, a 35mm, was miles away. My companion, however, had a little small, cheap camera, and the presence of mind to take a shot. All that was visible in the picture was a white wake, about a hundred feet in length, left by Nessie (or whatever), and which showed up clearly against the dark reflection of the trees on the other side in the water. Nessie herself? The head was definitely angular, as described. Some say like a horse, with the very pronounced wedge-shape. In my own experience, I liken it to the shape of a rattlesnake’s head, a square snout running back in a flare to the jaws. The length of neck out of the water, including the head, was five or six feet.

The impression it gave, in the sense that spiders and snakes seem to exude their own peculiar aura, was one not so much of danger as power. I mean it was really cutting a wake through the water, raising a little wavelet on either side of the neck. At times the head was lowered down and forward, and would sweep a small angle from side to side, as if feeding, by lowering the bottom part of the jaw just into the water. But it was really too far away to be absolutely certain of this last manoeuvre; the head, however, could be very plainly seen swinging from side to side. It was swimming thusly when we first saw it and after no more than a minute, simply sank lower and lower in the water, much in the same way a person comes down from a round of water-skiing, or a submarine submerges. (Letter to the author, 20 Sept 1980.)

Colin Wilson had actually published this story to demonstrate the prevalent idea of the "Loch Ness Hoodoo" where the monster is more likely to appear before you if you had left your camera at home. Wilson likens this to Nessie's "Jungian game of Hide and Seek".

The lesson I would take is to treat your camera like an American Express card - don't leave home without it. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that we don't have the picture taken by the simpler camera for examination. However, at an estimated distance of 1200 metres, one should not expect any game changers.

Sceptics will naturally suggest the witnesses merely saw a bird like a cormorant swimming along. I don't think the witnesses were that naive and stupid, but neither would I resist unto blood over this one since it was so far away. However, the sighting was not on my database and so I bring it forward to add its own little thread to the online tapestry of Loch Ness lore.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com