TV Review: Panthera Britannia – are there big cats in the British countryside?

It seems odd to us now but when I was a kid I lived through one of the coldest winters on record in the UK — December/January 1981 to 82, when blizzards swept across the country and heavy snow isolated us on the farm, cutting us off.  That winter is well remembered — but East Anglia was to see snow laying on the Breck again in December of ’82 and January ’83. Why do I remember this fairly insignificant snowfall? Hymn by Ultravox was in the charts – a track I liked as a young lad, and that became associated with the events in my mind, dating it for me.

It is also because of the West Stow panther.  My sister Ingrid lived at Flempton (a small village close to West Stow) with her husband Richard Middleton; he and his twin brother Robert used to walk down to West Stow for a drink when not having beers in The Greyhound; maybe it was while walking back Richard thought he glimpsed a panther! Ingrid had a magnificent German Shepherd dog called I believe Sheba, and it was while walking that Richard reported finding strange footprints – the brothers set out with a camera and photographed them. Not hard to believe that area could be home to a big cat – there are large numbers of deer there.

A few years later my parents were drinking outside The White Horse at Icklingham a few miles away when they and the others present saw what looked like a large black panther stalking prey on the opposite side of the field. The gait was feline; the tail very long. They were all quite certain what they saw. A few years later I recorded both incidents in my 1992 book Spectral Suffolk, and promptly lost interest.

Even when I became Chair of the Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena I did not pay much attention: we have our friends at the Centre for Fortean Zoology for such matters; I am no cryptozoologist, no feline ethologist and the only cats I contend with are on a smaller scale.

Definitely not panthers!

Besides I had developed a certain scepticism occasioned by the number of photographs I had seen of what looked like Labradors, slightly large moggies and even one apparent stuffed toy. 😉 As my own eyesight failed I began to realise that it’s not always easy to identify perfectly normal things in poor light. Furthermore the paucity of evidence struck me — where were the roadkill big cats? The CCTV footage? Police thermal cameras – it’s hard to hide from a helicopter? Where are the spoors, the cadavers, the mutilated and half eaten prey? To keep a population of hungry predators filled up is going to reduce livestock and prey? When an academic friend suggested I adopted a breeding pair of snow leopards I believe he mentioned needing a sheep every 4 or 5 days between them, or they might eat toddlers. They jump well as I recall too? Somehow this did not strike me as an ideal house pet given I lived in a flat on Great Norwood Street.

Also it is hard for humans to breed it seems even armed with Tinder and alcohol — how many big cats would have to have been released in 1976 to result in a stable breeding population?   It just seemed unlikely to me; I was not ruling it out, and I knew all belief and testimony was for big cats prowling the British countryside but I was not personally convinced. Which given I frequently believe six impossible things before breakfast…

And then lockdown happened, and the story a week or so turned into a daily rash of sightings. Now we know that real creatures ended up wandering far into towns — a couple of deer were filmed at the end of my street in the middle of Cheltenham. Wildlife quickly reasserted itself; humanities retreat showed us just how quickly our cities would be reclaimed if humanity dies out. So if these are real big cats, well this is precisely what we would expect. Less people about means the few out and about are more likely to witness a bashful big cat.

Daily Star images of alleged big cats. They look like, well cats!

However there is an alternative hypothesis – the Psychosocial Hypothesis. At times of societal tension these sightings might be expected to rise. With waves of people dying across the country, an uncertain future and government imposed house arrest and effective curfews we might expect there to be an explosion in paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. The late Robert Moore, David Sivier and myself all hold to variants of the Psychosocial Hypothesis and it equally explains the reported phenomena…

Except — I saw no equivalent increase  in UFO reports, ghost cases or even poltergeist occurrences. Not only at ASSAP, but in the other organisations I spoke to there seemed to be little hard evidence of an increase in people having weird experiences. Perversely there was a whole rash of news stories especially in the science journalism press saying that people were turning to psychics and seeing Ghosts and UFOs everywhere — I was asked to comment on a couple but they did not use my thoughts — but if anything the reverse was true. Its hard to tell – I can never tell you numbers for a given phenomenon, only *reports* of said phenomenon.

So why did big cat sightings increase? It makes sense if they are real animals, and I’m not convinced psychosocial explanations hold up. I asked ASSAP investigator Bobbi Allen to head up an initiative to record reports from the media and set up a database, and Project ABC began. After the pandemic cat sightings have declined again, but now they are all over the headlines once more.

A new documentary named Panthera Britannia has apparently resulted in evidence that when DNA tested showed that big cats roam through the UK. Oddly the press coverage was pretty consistently vague not telling us anything about the circumstances or the findings. I think this documentary was in last years awesome Fortean Film Festival but I could be wrong — I did not see it anyway.  It is easy to find online or available from your favourite streaming service. I bought a copy for the purpose of this review which cost me about six quid but you can find it free I believe with adverts?

Now I was ready to slam this, and in fact the titles were a bit full on and my natural suspicion that a bit of hair testing positive is not the same as real big cats roaming Britain made me expect it to be a scam. In fact its not- made by believers it is an intelligent, interesting and entertaining look at the big cat phenomenon that despite my scepticism convinced me yes its possibly true.

The documentary covers the history well being both educational and entertaining- who would have suspected Cobbett’s Rural Rides (1870) includes a big cat sighting? Not me and I’ve read chunks of it at uni. It cracks along at a fair old pace, and rapidly discards the notion of relict animals that have survived through history.

One thing the film doesn’t address is supernatural or psychosocial explanations — the CFZ is admirably Fortean but here the emphasis is on “are real physical big cats out there?”. There is discussion of the infamous aftermath of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act and one chap who admits on camera to releasing a couple of big cats. I’m sceptical about this producing a breeding population that would have lasted into this century because you’d have a big Founder Effect genetic flaws would be enhanced and you’d probably lack the numbers. Also you’d have to have the same species released, or at least ones capable of interbreeding.

The film argues this has happened and Britain may contain a tiny population of big cats, here identified as probably leopards, the Panthera pardus. These are it is suggested melanistic black panthers (not Huey Newton and the boys) and hybrids, closest to the leopards of Malaya and Indonesia.

The film is great at covering the many experts in the field and briefly shows the CFZ and Gloucestershire’s Frank Tuttle. Just like ghosthunters a lot of Big Cat researchers get into it after a clear sighting of their own. There is a classic description of how NOT to take a witness statement – I’m hoping just to make a point not the chap’s real methodology – and a number of people who like Bobbi, Jackie Tonks, Richard Freeman and others have spent years on the issue.

Some of the questions I raised earlier are answered, but essentially the case is made by not all the eyewitness statements but rather by the physical evidence – analysis of chewed sheep bones at the Royal Ag, some footage from trail cams (is that a badger or a bear?) and some inventive analysis of footage to scale it. (A big domestic cat is still a domestic cat guys; 10% variation not exceptional).

Yes there are moments when I want to shout at the TV but it is generally far less idiotic than most of the Paranormal TV nonsense and the community of researchers seem sincere and intelligent (I bet the politics is just as awful though :D).

The documentary builds nicely to some researchers with trail cams (surprisingly cheap) and thermal gear out in the field and then at the end almost as an afterthought we are given the DNA evidence. It’s a bit underwhelming — I was expecting something interesting from environmental DNA but its just “a hair that had already tested positive as leopard was submitted to a university and was a leopard hair.”

Todd Disotell bane of Bigfoot researchers for shooting down every supposed bit of DNA evidence in other documentaries appears and says “yes it’s leopard”. The only problem is of course we have to accept the hair was found on that barbed wire fence in Gloucestershire not planted there and is in fact from a native animal not taken from say a zoo. We all know cat hair gets everywhere! However it does seem that there are multiple sources for DNA of leopards in the UK. [ EDIT – I’m now learned that DNA was not analysed in time for this film and is covered in the sequel Panthera Britannia Declassified which I’m now looking forward to.]

Dr Todd Disotell

And that’s pretty much it. The documentary tries to make it a huge deal but unless you breed sheep on Dartmoor it probably isn’t. There are much scarier things in the Forest of Dean than panthers – I mean Zodiac Mindwarp, what’s left of EMF and wild boars and that’s before you get to Cinderford on a Friday night! 😀 Living with wild cats in the UK strikes me as much like living with wild tortoises — I know they are out there but they avoid me and I never see them. I suspect I’m more likely to die by an eagle dropping a tortoise on my head than be eaten by a wild panther, or maybe by tripping over one. I don’t worry about wild tortoises every time I head into the British countryside.

Still Panthera Britannia is a great documentary; and yes the illegal trade in exotic animals probably continues and some escape or are released in to the wild. It’s rather sweet (if you are not a deer or sheep) to think they might find their own kind their and live long and happy lives. I’m still a little hesitant to say I’m convinced but I will say it sounds better than my werewolf explanation! 😀

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Review: Heavy Metal (1981) film; music, sexism and gaming culture.

I’m notorious for never watching TV or movies but I’m currently reading Designers & Dragons Shannon Appelcline’s wonderful history of the rpg industry and immersed in 1970s and 1980s culture. While doing so I chanced upon the cover of White Dwarf issue 77 (I’m guessing 1985 or ’86) and the striking image…

White Dwarf 77 cover by Chris Achilléos

Now this is from a very different era: even when I first met Becky almost twenty years later she referred to my rpg books and mags as “soft porn”. Given the sexploitation imagery that was prevalent on them, I can see why – they are closer to the days of Benny Hill than modern sensibilities. More on this later…

It struck me that I recognised the image, and started me musing that I had seen the image elsewhere – and then I found it was the Chris Achilléos poster for a cult animated 1981 Canadian movie called Heavy Metal.

The famous movie poster

The story of how the film was made is an odd one; Heavy Metal magazine was the direct source and the soundtrack is filled with Cheap Trick, Grand Funk Railroad, Nazareth and er, Stevie Nicks! I have put the OST on as I type this and it’s pretty mellow music actually predating most thrash/speed/black metal – more Wishbone Ash than what was to come. It is very North American: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal isn’t much reflected. Devo is!

The movie is five short stories, an anthology linked by an evil space alien that takes the form of a glowing green sphere. They are incredibly uneven in quality, though there is a certain dry wit in some, and persistent adolescent humour throughout. It is fun cheesy sexploitation fantasy violence – adolescent male fantasies of big breasted naked women pining for fast sex and lots of broadswords and ludicrously named villains and green skinned minions who die in droves. It reminded me that Heavy Metal culture embraced Tolkein hard, and D&D culture embraced Heavy Metal. I think the links between the Metal scene and rpg culture with their mutual love of fantasy landscapes casual sexism and occult practices need proper investigation; adolescent landscapes of imagination and wish fulfillment.

So is the film any good? Objectively no: it’s pretty awful from a plot perspective. Is it enjoyable? Yes, maybe. This is going to be a cult film: I was never impressed by The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Withnail & I  so I probably have terrible taste.

Another thing I’ve noticed rewatching some movies like This is Spinal Tap, The Full Monty and Hot Fuzz is that I go from loving a film to watching it again and not liking it much to adoring it as my life changes.  So it’s really contextual if I like a film: it says nothing about the quality.

I watched this film in bits and finished it out of a sense of duty. The better segments are the first half — some have halfway decent plots — but by the end I was entertained and it is beautifully animated. Five separate studios and one non-animated explosion at the end, Ivan Reitman producing and a number of famous actors on voices — yeah if you were born in the 60s or 70s you should watch this. If you were born after 2000 you might be sickened and confused though.

The colours strongly suggest you should smoke weed drink cheap beer and watch this in your bedroom. It is a mind blowing artefact from another time and culture more alien in some ways to us now than the planet Den travels to in the most famous sequence.

So why watch it? Well one of the finest South Park episodes is an extended tribute to/parody of it — Series 12 episode 3 Major Boobage in which Gerald and Kenny take up cheesing, huffing cat urine to get high – and enter the world of the movie. The parody is spot on, and unfortunately the South Park episode is far cleverer and raises far more significant issues than the original film which is more akin to Beavis & Butthead see Boobies in its unrelenting adolescent glory. I found a sequence from the South Park episode on YouTube here: it is not as graphic as the original film, South Park displaying taste, decorum and censorship in comparison! Do watch it before you rent the 1981 movie.

Don’t huff cats, kids! Drugs are bad, O.K?

So yes you should watch the film just so you can appreciate the South Park episode better: but it’s not going to make it in to the Canon when you next attend a literary salon and need to impress the intelligentsia.

So overall it was quite the experience; you can rent or buy the download online, and you might enjoy it. It did make me think a bit about all that gratuitous display of female nudity. A few comments — there is a lot of nudity but all of the women who do appear have personalities, agendas and a definite stake in the stories. Sex is commonly depicted in a manner that was shocking and titillating in 1981 – but our culture celebrates sex, sex work and sexuality in a way that in 1981 would have been a lot more shocking. I saw a Benny Hill sequence the other day and wondered what was really sexist about a dirty old man being chased by a group of angry women? If we accept Internet porn and Only Fans and Naked Attraction as a society, it is hard to see why the childlike but strangely innocent sexism of 1981’s Heavy Metal is shocking at all?

Anyway I watched a film: it seemed worth mentioning that fact!

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Parcel delivery woes in UK changes

I’m getting old: just bought my first loud three point doorbell. No ring video cams for me (the police have surveillance cameras covering our street anyway) just old fashioned bell so I can hear when the postman comes. It was that or buy a dog!

Unfortunately changes at the Royal Mail make this necessary. As many people may not be aware here is a summary of what’s going on with UK parcels through the Royal Mail. Up till now the postman has brought them out and tried to deliver them: if you are not in they might leave them with a neighbour but the default is they put a red card through your door. Armed with some kind of ID you can then trek round to the sorting office and collect your parcel (convenient if like me you live by one but not for most people) or you can phone and ask for redelivery the next day.

As we have all been ninja’d – where a postman just fills out the card in advance rather than lug the parcel round, then sneaks up and slips the card through the door before running like hell — less common in this age of video doorbells — we have all probably collected a parcel from the sorting office.

So what’s changing? Last three weeks it has changed to “try to deliver your parcel each day two times then tell you to collect it or return to sender”. Which sounds great and might actually work except many people in the UK work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and others have cause to (gasp!) **leave their homes!!!***. And some like me are just getting too deaf to hear their door – the postman only knocks twice.

So Royal Mail are getting rid of a whole load of office staff, your delivery may get returned (or left on your doorstep as is getting common here – and stolen, ditto!) or cunningly put in a safe place like your dustbin – which of course may get emptied by the binmen before you get home. Don’t laugh it happened to neighbours of mine.

So what? You can still go to the sorting office collection point? Sort of. The whole point of this cost cutting exercise is to get rid of them — they are shifting to only opening two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon and for a short period on Saturday. You won’t be able to just go and collect your parcel tbough until after two attempted deliveries – even though it is sitting in the office, they are no longer allowed to hand it to you.

So even if you don’t care about postal workers losing their jobs, this is an issue to worry about as ultimately it will inconvenience you and if you are not at home most of the time make your life harder. The Royal Mail is privatised but still under contract to the government: Write to your MP

And this is why I am buying a doorbell!

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Boardgame review: Final Girl – The Haunting of Creech Manor

A quick post tonight: I did another play through of this solo boardgame based on 80’s horror flicks. This time it’s Poltergeist: you have moved in to Creech Manor and very quickly discover that it is horribly haunted. So you do what any self respecting tenant would, and call the Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena right?

Obviously not! Instead you plan to flee in terror but suddenly notice you are missing little sister Carolyn and her adorable cuddly toy Mr. Floppy. So you run back in, where a poltergeist is slaughtering your friends and family (should have called ASSAP) and having quickly checked there is nothing on the TV set about searching for Carolyn.

I do like the 1980s VHS cassette case style packaging!

The good news is she is hiding in either the attic, garage or closet. The bad news is the poltergeist tears through the house killing everyone and being a ghost you can’t hurt it. All you can do is run and search desperately and if you are superhuman save some of the innocent victims from the horror on the way.

It fits easily on a coffee table.

A quick reminder: you can’t play this “movie” expansion without the Final Girl core set. Expect to pay about £17 to £20 for that and the same for this supplement. Unlike pretty much any boardgame ever you can’t play Final Girl without an expansion (in most cases they are add ons to a core game). So is it worth it?

I rarely play solo games but I have got quite into Final Girl. It’s fun, frustratingly hard to win and delivers a tense atmospheric experience very much in genre. I do recommend reading the rules carefully and maybe watching a YouTube video on how to play but once you learn it is a lot of fun.

So did I defeat the poltergeist? Of course not! After the poltergeist came for me through the house leaving a trail of corpses I found Carolyn hiding in a closet; I was struck by lightning in a sudden storm, the house kept shaking and an unnatural wind blew up reducing my movement to a crawl but I made it downstairs and almost to an open window: only to realise I’d lost Carolyn. I ran back found her again, and the poltergeist finished me off as I fled back to that window and safety!

And the worst thing – three bloody ghosthunters turned up on a random event card and while they were faffing around with their EMF meters on the ground floor I was being slaughter by supernatural evil in the attic. Just like the Roman Road case in fact – but that’s another story!

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74, 75?

I was just lying here basking in the sun with Hansine cat, looking at the RuneQuest rpg rules. An illustration struck me suddenly, a line drawing by Luise Perrene or Lisa Free; as familiar as William Church art, something from the RQ2 rulebook.

Then it struck me: the hairstyles were not of some ancient mythical culture, not the beards. They were contemporary, the hip styles of the flower children of the Haight that had become mainstream 70s fashion.

I’m not remotely American: I’m Anglo-Danish, but I think the styles here were similar. I could imagine the people in the picture dancing at a discotheque getting down to some funk classics, or grooving to Southern Rock or maybe Jefferson Starship or Hendrix.

It tripped some nostalgic switch in my mind: I seem to have deep seated memories that make it almost as if I’d lived a previous life in 60s America. The psychedelic West Coast culture has always had a huge appeal for me; but I was born in 1969.

So why this weird affinity for things from the USA of that era? I was pondering this and then thought back to the farm; growing up in Suffolk, surrounded by USAF kids. Their parents worked on the airbase, they shopped, watched movies and went to school there, but a lot of them lived among us. My first proper friends outside of nursery school were Americans – a red haired tomboy called Didi, her brothers, and their huge Great Dane dog the size of a horse. I’m sad I can’t remember more of those first days at Lodge Farm; Belinda and Malcolm Brame and David and Diane Stennett’s family lived there much longer, and I went to school and we adventured across the Breckland.

Photo of a slightly younger me by Mrs Brame.

Still however short the time I shared at Lodge Farm with the Americans, I have not forgotten, and Kool Aid, Mountain Dew, awful American chocolate and jet fighters screaming over the chimney tops are forever part of me; climbing trees, riding bikes and the sudden sand blows across the fields, the squawk of geese and the trickle of cattle urine, huge blue skies and massive pines, the shady boughs of a copper beech.

I recently read that the disreputable Prince of Wales stayed at Lodge Farm in 1901; handy to see his mate Euston I guess, but the occasion was a shoot. I think the King was there as well; they shot pretty much everything in sight by the sound of it, a massacre of pheasant and grouse that horrified still. Maybe their ghosts squawk there still in the sun, and one day the ghost of a small Dane denuded of sea sailing leaf ships in puddles will join them…

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The Letters of M.R. James

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle this week in the Jamesian community after a savage TLS review by A.S.G.Edwards of Casting the Runes: The Letters of M.R.James by Jane Mainley-Piddock utterly trashed it. My problem with the book is that James letters are generally deeply dull which is clearly not the author’s fault; also despite the claim of being the first collection of his letters I’m pretty sure that that there was a volume of correspondence between him and the widow Gwendolyn of his friend and illustrator James McBryde

Now there may be matters in the correspondence of interest: Mark Gattiss tends to make a lot of noise about James being gay, and I’m not so certain we can say anything about the man’s sexuality, even if we should. There is one incident oncerning the death of a friend I wanted to see if he commented on and yet unfortunately this selection is of just under one hundred letters so is unlikely to help.

Edwards in the TLS all his academic gravitas to pour scorn upon the book from on high. It is clear that Mainley-Piddock could not read James handwriting; resulting in some terrific howlers. As a volume of letters this is therefore genuinely flawed : “guesses at what James may have written.” Unfortunately the real versions are no more interesting than the mistaken ones. Furthermore there is a hint of class tension in all this; people seem only too happy to dismiss Mainley-Piddocks work and pile insult upon insult.

Montague Rhodes James

It is a little unwarranted in my opinion. James handwriting was considered unreadable in his day – he even jokes about himself in his letters. A serious effort by hardcore Jamesians to produce transcripts of his letters failed for exactly this reason – large sections are largely unreadable. I have seen his handwriting, and I can make out most of it – but probably less than Mainley-Piddock. What helps for me is context — I know a great deal about Bury St. Edmund’s Abbey and his 1902 excavations there and so can by squinting recognise words like Lanfranc. Likewise Edwards as a noted scholar of Middle English can — but much remains unreadable to me. Let he who can read James text with confidence cast the first stone! I can’t. And even if I could, it doesn’t make the letters interesting.

John Linwood Grant marvellously parodied the whole business over on the M.R.James Facebook group but l’d already hit upon the fun to be had in *fake* M.R.James letters. Given my growing up as a neighbour, albeit separated by exactly a century I was able to provide a fairly reasonable spoof – I may continue it one daw with a few more fake letters.

So here is my attempt at a fake MRJ letter…

Whitsun, 1871

Dearest Ber

Hope you are quite well and weather interesting and so on? Your account of Fives matches so dull I would have rather read the apocrypha in that curious old Bible. Even Tobit better than Barrington Minors fall from the step which I doubt enthralled even those who saw it. A twisted ankle? Next time he might at least break his neck before a report reaches the Rectory! I saw a flight of rooks over the Barnham Road today and yet I do not take up your morning with that matter. Please write about something other than Virgil and Fives.

In contrast with your quite pedestrian epistle I have quite an extraordinary matter to report. Yesterday papa was visiting our neighbours at Ingham; the Rev. Norburn and Catty being trapped by an outbreak of mumps at the Rectory, and there being a number of parishioners who needed speaking to on various matters. Papa decided to take me, and we took the trap and drove over.

We called in to see the Squire and I was allowed to go to the kitchens where Jenny fed me raisins and boxed my ears and said I was a prig; and then Mrs Mothersole that old witch fed me lemon tart and it was so sharp I pulled a face; tart that tart was quite the worst dish I have ever tasted in a respectable house; and I pulled a face and the old witch banished me to the garden. I will have my revenge!

I was searching among the ash trees for a large hairy spider to put in her walking boots when I heard a curious rustle in the rhoderdendrons; assuming it was the kitchen cat, a remarkably docile ginger Tom I went after it. Instead imagine my surprise on finding a hole leading through to St. Bartholomews? Wriggling through the hedge I emerged in to the nettles and grass of the churchyard, and there made out the sinister sexton Hickling with a large clay jug and a spade making his way round to the north side.

I immediately sensed he was up to no good; so I followed him round, being careful of course to stay in the grass. There is only one grave on the north side, and imagine my horror on seeing —

Bother! Laura says I must catch the 3.05 as I need new boots from Bury. I shall write rest later.

Your dear brother

I’m sure you can all do much better though! 🙂 And if anyone wants to finish the fake letter? 😉

St. Bartholomew’s Church, Ingham.
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CJ Events at Games Expo 2023, Birmingham NEC. June 2nd to 4th.

Plenty of spaces in my events at Games Expo UK this year so if you enjoy role-playing games or have never tried them do come along. I will also be helping out at the Pelgrane Press stall. You can learn more about the huge event that is GAMES EXPO 2023 here.

Underneath are the games I’m running you can prebook spaces in if you so desire!


10am to 2pm Starship Down!
System: Traveller

Far beyond the borders of the Imperium the crew of the spaceship Rose Lady find themselves out of control and hurtling towards an unexplored planet. Can they escape and return home when all seems lost? Science fiction adventure in the far future, no knowledge needed, beginners welcome!

3pm to 7pm The Strange Affair of Georgina Blenkinsop.
System: Regency Cthulhu

1827; the Season is at its height and the six Blenkinsop daughters have left their remote Norfolk rectory to take the waters in fashionable Cheltenham Spa. With Papa in India, and mama indisposed it has all become Utterly Horrid. Sister Georgina has to begun to act very oddly, and the Blenkinsop girls must use all their gentle good breeding and find a way to avert a terrible scandal. Designed to be played straight faced, this is a (very) black comedy of manners inspired by Jane Austen and the Brontes.

8pm to Midnight Darkness on the Edge of Town
System: Fear Itself (Gumshoe)

So it’s a job: you serve the customers, fill up their cars and watch as they buy wilted flowers, cartons of milk or chocolate for the munchies. Long summer nights here outside town; at least your friends come over and keep you company. It can be a dark.and lonely shift – and who know what weirdoes lurk in the darkness beyond the forecourt lights?


10pm to 2pm Alfred C Dane’s Weird World’s
System: Call of Cthulhu

Play the cast and crew of a 1980s documentary series as they investigate mysteries and try to deal with their eccentric presenter, weird witnesses and strange events – and then it all suddenly gets a bit real. A fast paced investigative game suitable for total beginners or experienced Cthulhu players.

8pm to Midnight; Operation Dungeonmaster
System: Fall of Delta Green

After the withdrawal from Vietnam the US Government pulled the plug on the Top Secret operation known as Delta Green: but for the vets who’d seen so much, well there was no going back. They fight on, saving humanity.

Now a student has gone missing at a sleepy Midwestern University after getting involved with a weird cult who hold rituals in the basement tunnels. And this time it’s personal…Gygax meets the A Team in this action thriller game!


9am to 1pm: Hearts in Heortland
System: Runequest Glorantha

The break up of the Holy Country has led to interesting times in Heortland as many factions vie for power. Some win, some die, but you have simply found yourselves bandits, exiles living outside the law. And now your leader the Lady Æthelflæd has fallen in love with one of the knights sent to capture you…

Play a group of unlikely allies in a high magic setting. 🙂 While set in Greg Stafford’s Glorantha this is part of the world not much explored and no knowledge of the game or setting is required to play. A willingness to play in the spirit of Robin Hood is all that is required!

1.30pm to 5.30pm: The Golden Lily Affair
System: Swords of the Serpentine

When the city you live in slowly sinks in to a swamp rebuilding is constant; yet occasionally some buildings crumble and collapse, and only then are built upon. The once beautiful Pascaviici mansion is one such: the Noble family having fallen upon hard times.

When an enterprising agent rents out the Rose Window Tower however a group of young people move in, because it is all they can afford. Soon they find themselves in a mysterious mix of romance, sorcery and forgotten secrets. Can they rescue Lily Pascaviici and understand the doom that befell her family before it is too late?

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In Memoriam: Robert Moore, UFOlogist – 1967 – 2023.

Today is the funeral of my friend and ASSAP Vice Chair Robert Moore: UFOlogist, folklorist, and researcher. We are thinking of his friends and family and raising a glass to his memory. A number of ASSAP friends are travelling to Bridgwater, Somerset for the wake – health and a dodgy car keeps me here.

I wrote the following words for the forthcoming Seriously Strange magazine but it makes sense to share them here: please feel free to add your own memories on Robert.

Dear friends of ASSAP —

There can be only one subject for this issues editorial: the tragic death of our Vice Chairman Robert Moore. Robert was a well loved part of ASSAP and everything we did: he would contribute every day in the Exec chat, making jokes, pouring oil on troubled waters and keeping us all going in adversity with his wisdom and gentle humour. 

Robert was a good man: but he was also a first rate scholar. I believe his success in UFOlogy was partly due to the former — like all these areas there is plenty of ego and infighting in UFOlogy – probably far more than actual research; the same is true in what some term “Paranormal” interest circles. Robert’s modesty, good grace and self deprecating humour allowed him to thrive in a contentious field. Perhaps that has been his greatest contribution — he reminds us all that by avoiding bitterness and the endless politics of the field and making friends from many different perspectives you can promote genuine growth and findings. 

Robert also though was dedicated and hard working. If asked him to do something he did it: some of the things he put together for the new website are in the accompanying Journal, including his useful and detailed guide to US government initiatives on UFOs — and other things like Project FoxFire his magisterial study of British UFO reports (also in the journal) show his immense dedication to research. We worked together recently on some material converting ET entities from the sightings into game stats for Call of Cthulhu rpg for a project of mine, and it was abundantly clear to me how encyclopedic his knowledge of the literature was. 

Working with Robert was fun and interesting but not without frustration: mainly his infuriating and endless IT issues that made online meetings with him amusingly unpredictable! He was not a wealthy man, and ASSAP is not a wealthy organisation — yet happily in the last few months of his life we bought him a new laptop and we were finally able to hear him at meetings properly. 🙂

Robert was only 55 years old; too young to die so suddenly, and leave so much undone. We have lost one of the best minds in UFOlogy: and one of the best researchers in ASSAP and anomalies research. I’m thinking of his work on the ghostly highwayman of the A38 as well as his UFO cases; and his broad theoretical pieces like the presentation he did on historical ghosts. He will be an incalculable loss to the British UFO community.

Naturally shy and diffident Robert found presenting painful but he was determined to do his duty: he gave many papers for ASSAP. Deeply sensitive he was stung by criticism – and really, deeply hurt. Yet I have never seen anything but praise for his papers we have published – and now you have in your hands more, sadly his most extensive and final work, barring his book.

Robert was working in a book, a project that involved him and Jenny Randles over many years. We hadccome to an agreement to publish his UFO Handbook, inspired by the pioneering work of Jenny Randles – and this invaluable investigator’s guide will be made available as soon as ASSAP can make the arrangements. 

I think of Robert as one of the last of a certain generation of British UFOlogists in some of his attutudes: he had no interest in drones or balloons; and while he seemed committed to psycho-social models I think he was always hoping the ETH might prove true. Fascinated by space, it is fitting that one of his last projects was making a star map of near space: he always enjoyed illustrating and design. 

When I returned from Weird Weekend North I found a message in my inbox telling me that Robert had apparently died. I was shocked, and upset as you can imagine – we’d spoken a lot for fifteen years, and I wanted to establish the truth. The facts are simple – Robert had hypertension and heart disease and passed away quietly at home on Saturday, April 1st, 2023. 

He slipped quietly and without fuss from our lives, as if in the night he followed a light and finally meeting the beings he searched for chose to board their ship and head off to the final frontier. What adventures he has there we will not know, until it is our time to follow him into the Unknown. 

Farewell Robert; a fine man, a great scholar, and a dear friend. You did your duty and you shone a light in to the dark: and we salute you. 

CJ x 

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The Sisters Grene

I wandered in to Cheltenham today to buy some jeans as my trousers are falling apart; on the way I decided to pop in to a new shop at The Brewery, just five minutes gentle stroll from my home. I did not buy anything as they were taking cash only but I was excited by the fact the name was in Danish: Søstrene Grene (or ‘The Sisters Grinna”). 

I quite like Tiger, the other Danish shop in Cheltenham: partly for the fun of speaking Danish at the assistants in their “Spørg mig!” t-shirts and watching their confusion: well if you wear a t-shirt that’s says “ask me!” in another language you can’t really blame me if I do.

Mainly I like Tiger though because the labels are in Danish, and it is nostalgic, and I can practice my Danish and learn new words. I occasionally bought dad some Danish sweets or similar but nowadays there are much better places to get Danish imports on the Web and dad is dead. I miss the old boy.

Dad at 92, with his axe. He was probably healthier than I am now!

Now of course Danish shops are fashionable because what could be sexier than us Scandinavian men? And our lifestyle is known as healthy (look at me!), we are always happy (like me!) and our houses are noted for their aesthetic of simplicity, beauty and clean bold design (like mine!). My home is of course very much and always a la mode, if you want to see the latest fashions in elegant Scandinavian living *. 😉

* assuming the fashion is Dark Age peasant or troll lair after an explosion under a layer of books, boardgames, cat hair and miscellaneous squalor.

So I can see why the English would want to be fabulous like me. Now dad was very cynical about “hygge” something he said was entirely unknown in the Denmark of his youth – to be fair that Denmark featured a lot of invading  and occupying Nazis and I’m not sure bold floral designs and chunky knits went with the Gestapo?

Dad thinks hygge was mainly an old word that advertising people jumped on in the 1970s but he once described it as “wearing your grandparents cardigan sitting by candlelight with the family eating cabbage soup because you can’t afford to put the lights on or to go out get drunk.” This he said is hygelig – making do and being happy (presumably because you have not died of dysentry today).

And this is how I think of Danes: loving to argue, grouch, moan and be cantankerous. 😉 So I went to Sisters Grene in search of some authentic reasons to be indignant. The silhouette of the two old sisters adorns various displays with happy statements about their happy and virtuous days that I mentally revised for accuracy as I went.

So instead of “The sisters get up early and rush down to these exciting breakfast things; they dine on the patio listening to the gentle lapping of waves” my version involves them “squabbling over whose turn it is to make the coffee, debating if that fishing trawler on the strait has stirred up the Nazi WW2 poison gas the British dumped there; being rude about Grete’s fat arse as she cycles by because 70 years ago Arne took her to the dance not either sister and they still resent it, and nearly expiring of heart failure on opening the mail and reading their income tax bill. They then stuff their faces with a huge selection of cream cakes and go for a walk to cheerfully wave at the tourists who are unknowingly walking on the uncleared minefield down on the beach. ” Ah! Dear Denmark, how I miss thee!

The Sisters enjoying a stroll.

Oh yes the shop. It is actually cheaper than Tiger, with better stuff, and a good range of crafts, homewear and the odd bamser or pingvin. And here is its major failing: unlike Tiger almost everything is labelled in English, which makes it completely pointless when the whole reason for going in is to practice your Danish. I was puzzled by “orange marmelade” – that is like calling strawberry jam “red jam”; the Danish word for oranges the fruit is appelsiner. Maybe that was considered too confusing: but to me orange is a colour.

So as a shop it has some garish acrylic paints and paintbrushes, a fair amount of licorice and a selection of pots and plates in hideous earthtones that presumably are the contemporary equivalent of the blue and white china of my childhood. No trolls though — unless you count me. Give it a go, you might like it!

CJ x

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Boardgame Review: Final Girl

I don’t play a lot of solo boardgames: I’ve owned B17: Queen of the Skies for decades but rarely break it out, and many games I own can be played solo but I don’t bother. Boardgames for me are a social experience.

You need Final Girl AND an expansion to play!

It’s therefore taken me a while to get to Van Ryder Games Final Girl, a game which obviously takes its inspiration from Carol J Clover’s Final Girl model of horror movies. I’m not a fan of horror movies and definitely not the 70s/80s slasher genre this game emulates, but if you love Friday 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street/Halloween or even Scream this is a game for you. The Rev. Peter Laws should order it all now; this game was made for people like him.

Final Girl boxes are in the style of vhs video boxes of the 1980s

So what’s it like? Surprisingly complex, and a lot of fun! Age 14+ it says on the box and takes 20 minutes to an hour. The first thing to note is fairly uniquely the core Final Girl game is unplayable without an expansion. To be fair it does say this in the advertising, but it does mean you are going to have to shell out twice, £15 for the core box and around £18 for a “movie”.  I own Frightmare on Maple Lane a fairly obvious take on A Nightmare on Elm Street and it seems a good expansion to start with?

I found the rules fairly complex but as with any boardgame it is all pretty incomprehensible until you play. In this case some rules like when you refresh your Time marker to 6 appear printed on the board but I could not find it in the rulebook. I suggest watching a “how to play this game video” – there are quite a few out there. I’m too impatient but if you have time watch this or this one.

Adding to the complexity are special rules that differ by each expansion, different Final Girls (I played Nancy) and lots of cards which make the game massively repayable. Maple Lane seems a good one to start with – there are special rules about confronting Dr. Fright in the boiler room and being asleep or awake, and new Action cards to allow you to persuade the neighbours to let you in to their house (so you can ransack it and nick their stuff with a Search card).

You play a few cards from your hand, then buy more cards you hope will be handy next turn;  the Dr. Fright comes after you and kills people around you – he can’t attack you unless asleep – the survivors panic and flee in all directions and maybe an event occurs or something awful.

So in my first game the set up had 6 kids hanging out in the centre of Maple Lane; I zoomed over, picked up two and managed to get them off the map- and that made Nancy a bit better. Of course Dr. Fright had meanwhile arrived and killed one — the three survivors panicked and fled in different directions.

Next turn a victim was run over and killed by a car, and another murdered by Dr Fright. Another perished soon after at the hands of the malevolent doctor, and then he killed a house full. As the horror level rose I had less dice and time seemed to run out quickly. Almost everyone was dead before I managed to get one more potential victim away, but I ran out of time and falling asleep found myself confronting Dr Fright in the boiler room. I had a couple of crucifixes but nothing useful and Nancy died horribly so I lost.

Worse even than Freddy Fright: the terrifying Loki-Kratos Cat!!

Final Girl is based on my single playthrough a lot of fun and I’m keen to play again. It’s worth persevering with the rules until it clicks and then it is a fun and interesting solo boardgame. Recommended!

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