Friday, 12 July 2019

Ted Holiday Interviews Loch Ness Monster Eyewitnesses (audio)




Here's a treat for all Nessie fans as famous monster researcher, Ted Holiday, conducts audio interviews with various eyewitnesses to the Loch Ness Monster. How this came about was thanks to Will Matthews, a Fortean researcher from the USA, who had been helping with the processing and archiving of material by the late great Ivan T. Sanderson and his organisation, the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained.

During this unpacking, his friend indicated he had found an old audio reel tape of Ted Holiday conducting interviews with five monster witnesses lasting about 30 minutes. These were played back on an old tape player and he recorded them on his phone. He sent me a copy and I have listened to these interviews and was excited to hear the actual people talk about what they saw back in their day many years ago. In particular, I was very glad to hear the voice of John McLean recount his close up encounter from 1938.

In sequential order, the eyewitnesses interviewed with the years of their sightings are Hugh Ayton (1963), Peter Hodge (1965), Tom Skinner (1952), John MacLean (1938) and Alistair Grant (twice in 1963). The link to the audio is at the end of this article, but I would like to make three points regarding these and eyewitness recordings in general. Firstly, you may ask where can you find other recordings of eyewitnesses? During the 1960s and 1970s, Loch Ness was a hive of monster hunting activity as researchers pursued not only the creature but witnesses to it. Many were recorded onto audio media by the likes of Ted Holiday and Tim Dinsdale and I have no doubt there were others. But today you will struggle to find any of this even on the vast sprawling Internet.

The reasons are two fold. The cassettes and tape reels still exist, but those who hold them are doing nothing about digitising and putting these online. That is partly down to time, resources and trust. They personally do not have the time, money or know-how to do the conversion but at the same time, they do not want to hand over the items to relative strangers to do it for them. That is understandable to a certain extent but leaves us all in limbo.

The second reason is that there are those who hold these legacy items from past researchers and organisations but are not inclined to do anything public with them because they do not believe in the Loch Ness Monster, so why go to the trouble over something that was likely a log or a wave? Indeed, why encourage belief in these annoying monsters at all? It is better to stay quiet and do nothing. Well, there is one overriding reason for them to go that trouble and that is profit, but I will say no more.

But focusing on Holiday specifically, he not only recorded these interviews but transcribed them for his book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" in 1968. In Holiday's book, we have the transcripts of nine eyewitness interviews. Of the six eyewitness accounts on the audio, all but Hugh Ayton appear in the book. The four eyewitness transcripts that are in the book but not the audio are those of William John Holme, David Wathen, Simon Cameron and John Cameron. This certainly suggests a possible cache of other audio tapes created by Ted Holiday which are currently beyond public reach.

The second point is how accurate was the transcription process from tape to book? On listening to the John Mclean audio interview while following its text version in the book, there had been editing by the publishers as unnecessary phrases such as "you know" and vocal pauses such as "errr" and "umm" were omitted.  Some sentences had been removed for the sake of summary which had no material effect on the account itself and personal details were removed. In other words, there is no conflict between the written and spoken word.

The third point is that, as you might expect, the hand of the pseudo-sceptic is in here as they try to discredit and debunk anything that elevates the Loch Ness Monster story and these audio interviews would be no different in that respect. In this case, they have accused Holiday of asking leading questions to influence the witnesses' answers. A leading question is one that prompts or encourages the answer wanted, either consciously or subconsciously. But can Holiday be accused of this? If one asks a witness "How big was the Monster?" as opposed to "What was the length of the object?" you would be correct in saying the last question is more neutral than the first one. However, is such a line of questioning going to turn everyday objects into thirty foot monsters? Even deciding what is a leading question and what, if any, effect it has on the interviewee may be in the eye of the beholder and their own confirmation bias (whatever side of the monster debate you are on).

But Holiday does sometimes ask non-neutral questions, suggesting answers such as "round" when asking about the shape of the creature to John MacLean. Given that Mclean's sighting had been publicly available in the press and in books such as those by Whyte and Dinsdale, it hardly seems relevant to talk about leading questions. All the information was already out there whereas the idea behind leading questions is to produce new but false information.

This would also apply to the Skinner report of the prior decade and the Ayton/Grant interviews were done one year after the event. However, the Peter Hodge interview was done on the same day as the event and Holiday may well have been their first interviewer. Listening to that and the parallel text, I saw no leading questions apart from one when Holiday asked what may have caused the creature to turn from shore and suggesting a car in the same breath. Obviously, this had no bearing on the actual description of what was seen.

So, in my opinion, the attack regarding leading questions can be put aside as I invite you now to listen to these 34 minutes of the best type of monster talk - eyewitness talk. The audio can be accessed at this link and the transcripts of each sighting can be found at these pages in the first edition of the Great Orm book:

Peter Hodge pp.74
Alastair Grant pp.78 (twice)
John McLean pp.82
Simon Cameron pp.100
Tom Skinner pp.151
William John Holme pp.157
David Wathen pp.165
John Cameron pp.167


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







39 comments:

  1. Great work again . Crystal clear audio.Fascinating to hear the witnesses. Holiday was a good interviewer in fairness.
    The similarities are amazing....the three to four feet out of the water;the vertical sinking;flat calm surface; response to noise;time of the year; no head appendages or eyes (apart from Skinner who saw them).
    The colour described as black contrasts of course with "elephant gray" but brings to mind the Johnston photos of more recent times.
    Credible , ordinary people whose testimonies must surely advance the case for unknown species in Loch Ness.

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  2. Fascinating and invaluable. The witnesses certainly sound like they are recounting the truth. As you say it's a whole different ball game when you hear someone speak.

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  3. Fascinating to hear these eyewitness voices from the past. It's one thing to read about them in the literature, but when you actually hear them, it adds a whole new dimension. These sightings have it all: head, neck, humps, tail, skin color and texture and indications of possible propelling flippers. The head descriptions are the most interesting to me. With the exception of John MacLean, no other witnesses saw eyes , mouth or any other details. This could be attributed to the different distances and viewing conditions at the time of the sightings. I would say MacLean had the closest and clearest view of the head.

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  4. Yeah, I agree. Ted Holiday does seem to ask a lot of leading questions. Whether that was just his style and unintentional, or an attempt to “massage” more information from the eyewitness? Only he knows. And I don't think he was necessarily “goading” any details from the witnesses that as the article states wasn't “already out there”

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    1. In fairness to Ted Holiday, he was a little guilty of offering some direction to the questions regarding physical form, so I suppose it's not completely impartial. But the mass of information coming from the witnesses suggests they were not making up what they saw. Ted seemed to be trying to get the best out of them, so that's fair enough as far as I'm concerned. The worst he could be accused of being is a little enthusiastic, but then he was a fellow believer and not a cynical journalist. These are fascinating recordings, bringing to life an era that sadly seems long gone.

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    2. At least the monster is still bring seen every year.

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    3. Something is being seen every year. I'm not sure there have been any classic type sightings in recent years, although there will be people who will disagree with me.

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    4. A simple review of this years reported sightings should tell how many resembled Biologist Professor Tucker's Elasmosaurus and how many resembled planbecks giant salamander.
      Of course I'm not mentioning the horse eels,which,if grown to giant,would make a good lochness monster.

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  5. A fantastic find, Roland. Thanks so much for sharing. Eyewitness accounts like these are truly invaluable- I've often wondered what became of Ted Holiday's audio recordings. Great to hear the likes of Tom Skinner, Alastair Grant, Hugh Ayton and John Maclean in person. Very absorbing listening.

    A couple of comments though:

    - it's strange to hear Ayton say that there was no sign of any eyes as in other accounts of this sighting, he drew explicit attention to an oval shaped eye. If memory serves, he was quite emphatic on that point and said he would always remember the eye looking at him
    - the Tom Skinner account has always fascinated me because the behaviour of his Nessie clashes with just about every other sighting account. Usually Nessies submerge when they hear loud noises- car doors slamming etc- but on this occasion, stones were thrown and it didn't seem to bother it. This has never sat right with me. As Tom Skinner reported other sightings going back to the 1930s, I think he'd be worthy of a blog posting all to himself. What do you think?

    As a final thought, listening to these accounts made me wonder if you could get a firsthand recording from Harry Finlay? That would be another historical addition.

    Anyway, keep up the good work in unearthing and finding this archive material.

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    1. I checked the Ayton account in Witchell's book and there are discrepancies with his original audio account. The Witchell account states he saw an eye, the original says he saw no eyes. Likewise three humps (Witchell) and four (audio) and submerged with a disturbance (Witchell) vs no disturbance (audio). However as Holiday says the Grant and Ayton accounts taken a year after the event were practically the same. Obviously the most original account should be the primary source unless circumstances dictate otherwise. My suspicions about the Witchell account raises my suspicion for other reasons - I suggest people read my account of how the Margaret Cameron land sighting got mangled in the very same Witchell book.

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  6. Fantastic! Cheers for sharing it!! When I was adding books to my collection I asked Mr raynor if ted's book was worth buying and he said 'for the price of a pint get it... glad I took his advice as his book is my favourite in my collection which includes goulds..whyte and dinsdales! Great to hear his voice!, I know Ted went down the paranormal Road but he was closer the first time round in my humble...his tullimunstrem prooves that there are things out there.. Or at least was that can resemble the eye witness account and not just a plesiosaur...lots of unknown aquatic creatures out there!! Good old Ted....cheers ROY

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    1. Maybe Dick Raynor is buying pints in the wrong place! All of my Ted Holiday books were over £10 each, I think The Goblin Universe was £20. All out of print of course. For me Ted was at his best when describing events he was involved in. He puts you in the scene. For me the books were well worth the money, they are unique.

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    2. The great orm cost me just over 4 quid off ebay..its in great nick too!

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    3. I tell a lie. I got the first 2 for a bargain, but it was The Goblin Universe that cost over £20. And I'm reading The Dyfed Enigma for the bargain price of £10. Fascinating. I certainly don't begrudge the cost for these fantastic books. They are frozen moments in time, and Ted Holiday was a very good writer. It's such a shame there were no more books.

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    4. I'll have to take a look at that book Martin.( The Dyfed Enigma ) Co-authored by Ted Holiday no less. I just Googled it and read a brief synopsis. Fascinating is an understatement. Unbelievable or incredible would be more appropriate. Super intelligent beings in their fancy spaceships traveling who knows how many light years from who knows where, only to astound and confound humankind with ridiculous and absurd behavior. LOL

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  7. As a follow up to my earlier comment re the Ayton sighting, I did some checking this morning and sure enough, in the classical accounts, Ayton mentions a large oval eye. This feature is present in the report on Tony Harmsworth's website and also in the archives of the Loch Ness Project. Interestingly, this latter source also includes a colour sketch... but this shows 4 humps and a head and neck, not the 3 humps plus head and neck that Ayton gave in his account. I'm not saying that this necessarily means it was all porkies, but these discrepancies do make me wonder. The mention and then non mention of the eye aspect is particularly troubling. As Alastair Grant is still alive and well in Dores, perhaps he could shed some light on why we're getting these conflicting versions of what they all supposedly saw..?

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  8. Re witness statements, if nessiedom is to be taken seriously we must apply the same rigorous criteria re discrepancies that police would apply to the statements of witnesses and suspects.

    If a witness in one interview says the says the attacker was over sis feet and blond then says in another interview the attacker was short and dark-haired we must, not unsurprisingly, conclude the witness is unreliable.

    Same with Nessie, if such monstrous encounters are seared into the memory as many witnesses have said, one would think the details would still be fresh after a decade or two, did you see a big oval eye, or no eye at all, which is it ?

    Sorry to be harsh, but we must weed out the statements of liars, fantasists and time-wasters, of which there are many in the long history of the LNM.

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    1. Yep, fully agree with you John. And we're not talking minor discrepancies here. There's a big gap between 'I'll never forget that oval eye looking at us' and 'No, I saw no sign of any eyes or a mouth'.

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  9. Very interesting. Excellent piece of evidence. Some, to me at least, were more convincing than others. The first dude was talking about a 20 minute sighting which seems extremely unlikely. The guy who kept saying "you know?" constantly seemed a bit unreliable. Appeals for belief like that are a classic tic of someone who's lying. Also Nessie not reacting to stones being thrown at it is pretty funny. Not sure really what to make of it all - I'll defo listen to it again at some point as I do love hearing first hand eye witness accounts.

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    1. I think the 'you know?' confirmation you refer to is not always an admission of guilt. I use the phrase a lot to make sure I'm putting a complicated point across to someone, which I may be failing at.

      I haven't actually heard it all yet, but not reacting to stones is pretty weird.

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    2. I know Martin, I know ;) It is probably just a coloquilism. I had just watched a bunch of videos on YouTube about body language and vocal tics before I listened to this so I'm probably completely wrong and a bit biased. I believed 3 out the 5 and I thought Ted wasn't particularly leading at all. Sometimes I actually thought he shut them down a bit too much - there's a bit where the guy was explaining the trajectory and he cuts him off. But overall this is a great resource.

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    3. John MacLean's (I think it was him) constant use of 'ye know' gets a bit tiresome on the ear but I don't myself think it's anything more than some of the locals' manner of speaking. I watched an interview with another Nessie witness a few years back, Donald Mackinnon, and his way of speaking was eerily similar, even down to the pronunciation of water as 'wahter' :-) I think we also have to keep in mind that at the time of the interview, MacLean was pushing 80. His way of speaking was very very different to the evidently much younger (at that time) Alastair Grant. It's a great resource though, as Kyle says. If you haven't already, have a listen to the Alex Harvey band recordings of eye witnesses. This is also compelling material.

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  10. I would not say that Holiday was asking leading questions. As has been pointed out, only one of the interviews was directly after the sighting. Holiday already knew the answers to his questions in the other interviews from contemporaneus news reports; he was not so much leading as coaching the witness in recalling a brief event from years ago. It would have been interesting if Holiday was bit more willing to test their recollections by asking the wrong question; witness reported at the time the object in question was grey, about 15 feet long. I'd ask, if I suspected anything, "so tell me about the 30 foot long, black thing you saw in the Loch" and see if they go with it or correct me...

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  11. Ayton repeats what he said to Witchell in the Disney documentary as well. Ten years had passed since his experience and Witchell/Disney. Did he wittingly or unwittingly introduce a false memory? One sceptic once said he could tell Ayton was lying by the look on his face. I see critical thinking is not dead ...

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    1. I know I have false recollections of events. Either that or my partner does. I imagine the crux of the memory for anyone who saw a Nessie would be intact though.

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    2. I don't think Ayton was lying- not in the straightforward blatant sense of the word anyway- because his sighting experience was shared with others, at least one of whom (Alastair Grant) was also interviewed in some depth by Holiday. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, given that Alastair Grant still lives in Dores, it should be possible to get in touch with him directly and get his take on the oval eye issue. If his response was something like, "yes, Hugh originally thought he could make out an eye but the rest of us thought this was just a dark patch", it might explain why the eye detail appears in some versions but not others. Ayton might have just decided to leave that detail out in future tellings. The key to this is the timeline though and what came first. In the early edition of Witchell's book, the eye is mentioned; in revised, later editions it isn't. My guess is that the Holiday recording came first and predates even the earliest Witchell version, in which case the sequence is no eye, then eye, then no eye again, which doesn't add up to much reliability.

      This revisionism is a recurring issue in the LNM saga though. Look at some of the other accounts which have morphed over time: George Spicer; Alex Campbell; Torquil Macleod. In changing the details, Ayton is in good company...

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    3. I worry deeply about the revisionism by certain witnesses. If eye witness testimonies are scientifically classed as the least valuable kind of evidence that exists, then revisionist eye witness testimonies must be classed as practically useless. Any trial lawyers on this blog would be licking their lips at the thought of coming up against that kind of witness.

      "What did you see?"
      "A 30 foot dinosaur."
      "Are you sure?"
      "Actually it was a two foot cormorant... but I've seen it loads of other times, honest!"

      Ach, sorry to dig out the much maligned Alex Campbell again. Sometimes I completely believe him. Sometimes I don't. And this dichotomy is entirely the fault of his revisionism.

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    4. Alex Campbell is a bit of an extreme example as we know he lied either to 1. save his job (my position) or 2. Advance his Nessie kudos (sceptics position). In other cases, it is *expected* that accounts will begin to degrade over time, sometimes dramatically if old age conditions set in. That is why accounts are best recorded as close to the time as possible.

      Fortunately seeing large unknown creatures imprints on the memory more deeply than trivial day to day events and so they have a better chance of surviving the years, but even there the slow degradation from the outer edges to eventually the core event will occur.

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  12. I agree with Kyle that the revisionism is worrying. Thankfully not all of the Nessie witnesses do it/have done it- Inspector Cameron is a good example of someone who stuck to his guns and the account he was giving 20 years later was pretty much the same as he gave shortly after the event- but enough of the 'classic' cases certainly fall prey to this. Spicer's creature went from 6-8 feet to over 30 feet; MacLeod's weather conditions went from drizzle to sunshine; Campbell's plesiosaur went from dinosaur to cormorant to dinosaur again. As Kyle aptly says, none of this would go down well with a lawyer. To echo John Rutherford's earlier comment, we also have to be strict in weeding all of this out. As I've stated before on this blog, I still feel there is a case to be answered at Loch Ness, but I do worry about the gap between what is reported to have happened and what actually did happen.

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  13. BR, IIRC Spicer's 6-8' estimate was in reference to just the body section of the thing. He later revised the estimate based upon finding out the actual width of the road was 12'. The 25' 30' dimension factors in the neck length and the presumed but unseen tail length (which Spicer thought may have been wrapped around the opposite side of the body).

    Regarding Alex Campbell, see GB's comment about Campbell wanting to save his job.

    As for Mcleoud, he was consistent in his written testimony to Constance Whyte and Tim Dinsdale regarding the details of his sighting. The alleged discrepancies stem from David James mistakenly putting details from the Margaret Munro sighting into Mcleoud's account in his 1968 Loch Ness Monster booklet.

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  14. Cheers, Paddy, some interesting comments. The main distinction I was making though is that some witnesses make a report and the details don't change, whereas others make a report but then the details do keep changing. Making hypotheses (post hoc) about why the details might have changed doesn't, in itself, add to the witnesses' reliability, I feel. In the case of both Spicer and Campbell, the stories morphed so dramatically in later re-tellings that for me personally anyway, their credibility now has a big question mark hanging over it. Ditto Hugh Ayton, which is where my musings on all of this revisionism began.

    I'm interested in your comment about Torquil Macleod though- do you have any sources to support what you say about David James?

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  15. BR, as I've said, Macleod was consistent in his written testimonies to Whyte and Dinsdale. Macleod died in 1961. The researchers who claim that Macleod changed some of the details of his sighting are basing these claims on David James 1968 booklet. That is the only written source I'm aware of that relates the conflicting details. But to any long time student of this mystery the details James quotes in the Macleod sighting should have a familiar ring as they match the details of the Margaret Munro sighting. James simply made a mistake and relayed the details of the Munro sighting land sighting into that of Macleods. I came to this realization several years ago. GB has also come to the same conclusion independently from me and wrote of it in his When Monsters Come Ashore book. Frankly, I'm surprised that other researchers/authors didn't come to this realization years earlier. It seems to be a case of overlooking the obvious.

    Regarding Campbell, while there is good reason to take at least some of his Nessie stories with a grain of salt, the idea that he was forced to walk back his head-neck/hump sighting due to pressure from his employers is at least credible.

    As for Hugh Ayton, whether or not he saw an eye is a side issue. One of the other eyewitnesses, Alistair Grant is still alive and still claims that they saw the LNM.

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    1. Yes indeed, paddy. David James conflated two accounts into one by mistake. Arch-sceptic Binns saw this and publicised it to his great error.

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    2. Well that sounds logical. Details are minutia if you got multiple witnesses seeing some strange creature and probably doesn't matter much. But I can understand everyone here questioning the “eye” as a test of Ayton's veracity.

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  16. @Paddy, I've looked back at the accounts of the Munro sighting and the Macleod sighting and you're right, there are elements that have a familiar ring- the absurdly small head; arching its back before quietly entering the water. You (and Roland) may well be right in your hypothesis that David James mixed up the two sightings. I don't have a copy of his report to do any firsthand comparison, but what you are both proposing certainly sounds plausible.

    As for Campbell, it's credible that he walked back the details of his sighting for the reasons you've given, but why then resurrect that sighting with so many variations later? I'm heartened to see you say that there is good reason to take some of his stories with a grain of salt though. That suggests you and I are not on wildly different pages in our analysis of all of this.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on the Hugh Ayton thing being a side issue though. And as for Alastair Grant also being a witness, yes indeedy- have you not read my last few posts? As I keep suggesting, Alastair Grant should be able to shine a light on much of the Ayton story and this would bring some closure to the eye/no eye issue.

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    1. You wish.
      Alastair grant visited me this afternoon on his quad bike,(our doctor took his car licence away), for a cup of coffee and a blether, sat outside my van,both of us enjoying the flat calm loch.
      He spent about an hour with me,he has stopped by at completely random times,for many years now.
      Having read here the recent intrigue about the finer points of his sighting, I took the opportunity to once again get him onto the subject of that day.
      In the past he has described to me his clear recollections, his emotions and his memories of thst event.
      As I said before on one such visit couple of years ago I asked if he minded at all if I just ran my video recorder and capture our conversation,
      He didn't mind at all,and mostly due to him being at least in his eighties now he relayed the story at least three times, which seems to be a characteristic of his nowadays.
      He had impressive clarity about something that happened a long time ago, and had no doubt about what he saw that day.
      Today,unfortunately when I raised the subject in the hope of bringing you some clarity regarding the eye,he could barely recall any details at all, 'it was a hundred yards away, I can't remember '.
      He's getting very old now, sometimes he remembers one story in minute detail, then has no apparent recollection of something he told me last week.
      Since I recorded his story a couple of years ago I have never watched that tape.i know what he said, I know that's on the video,I dont need to replay it.i will do one day.
      Anyway, we chatted on about various things, he drank his sugary coffee, then he hauled himself back onto his quad, and went along his merry way.
      Not much hope of getting any more finer details about any eye any time soon I suspect, but if his clarity happens to fall upon that particular memory, you lot will be the first...second to know.

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  17. Cheers, Steve- it's good of you to bring in this update. That's a pity about Alastair Grant's fading memory, but all to be expected I guess, given his age now. As you haven't mentioned it explicitly here, I'm assuming that when you very first discussed the sighting with him, there also wasn't any mention of Ayton's eye- is that correct?

    Anyway, I think there's no question that they all saw something odd that day in 1963, it's just a shame about the wildly differing accounts from Hugh Ayton. When I first read his account of the big oval eye in the early 1970s, I remember it standing out from anything else I'd heard up to that poInt; this is why I've been so hooked on this detail when it doesn't appear anywhere in his audio recording. Ho hum.....

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  18. Hi Border, I dont remember any specific mention of the eye.you never know Alastair might have a particularly lucid recall on his next visit, I will certainly raise the subject again, he wont remember that I quizzed him yesterday about the same thing , I might get some details yet.

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