Well, it’s closing time at the Arkham Wetherspoon's, and we’ve had a lively evening in the company of Nick Redfern and his gang of strange buddies. We moved from our old meeting place, The Rampant Ram after the unfortunate incident of the rail replacement bus and the headless coachman. Now Nick’s mates - even if you don’t think they are necessarily retailing what are technically known as ‘facts' - are usually an interesting and entertaining crew, and tonight was no exception.
Did you know that the British Admiralty keeps records of sightings of unusual phenomena by the crews of Her Majesty’s ships? Well, actually, yes, I though they might. In fact I know someone who used to help edit an official government publication which recorded such sightings - our Editor Emeritus John Harney, when he worked as a sub-editor on the Meteorological Office’s Marine Observer. Of course that tended to be about odd meteorological phenomena rather than sea-monsters, but it does seem reasonable that someone official should keep a record of such reports.
It’s like with the British Big Cats. If someone starts claiming that what might be a large carnivorous animal is prowling round in a rural area full of sheep, cows, chickens, small children, etc., it’s not surprising that the local police or even the Department for Agriculture might show some interest. And such is the way of bureaucracy that reports on the matter are likely to end up in filing cabinets. But are those really “classified documents on bizarre creatures and extraordinary animals”?
Are the US and UK governments really promoting lake monster stories to hide secret submarine experiments? Did the FBI really investigate the so-called ‘Minnesota Iceman’ as a possible murder victim? Well, probably, if it was reported to them as such, it’s what’s know as “covering your arse” (or “ass” if you’re American). Governments have to go through the motions of taking reports and complaints from their voters seriously, and for security reasons at least to make a show of examining strange stories in wartime - like the Vietnamese flying lady reported here. But the degree to which these stories are already circulating suggests that the reports are hardly locked away in the bowels of the Pentagon next to the Ark of the Covenant.
Nick throws in a couple of very interesting items about cryptozoologists who may have been combined hunting for yetis or the Mongolian Death Worm with doing a bit of espionage for the CIA (or the KGB, or conceivably both) on the side. The coverage of the cloak and dagger exploits of the semi-legendary Tom Slick are a good read.
There’s the story of Princess Diana, James Hewett, the Devon Puma, and a member of the Royal Marines who is described rather alarmingly as Jonathan Downes’ ‘Deep Throat‘. It’s a second-hand anecdote, but has a ring of authenticity. Perhaps a little harder to accept is the story about the wartime werewolf haunting an rambling country estate who may - or may not - have been the scion of an aristocratic family; but we know that ancient aristocratic families are all a bit weird so you wouldn’t be too surprised if it was turned out to be true.
Good fun though it is, ultimately this book, like Nick’s other recent titles, is just anecdotes. The tales are intriguing and entertaining, and everyone at the Arkham Wetherspoon's was gripped by their telling. But I think it’s about time we got some more first-hand action from Mr Redfern, plunging through the jungles of Puerto Rico, risking life and limb in the deserts of the southern USA, or hunting vicious man-monkeys on the Shropshire Union Canal. Go for it, Nick! -- John Rimmer