After surviving an evening of subconsciously premeditated alcoholic beverage consumption at what has become known as the UnDrinking, the morning of Saturday 25th of April saw some ragged Blatherskites staggering through the foyer of the University of London Union, en route to the Fortean Times UnConvention 98. This report was compiled with this week’s Blather guests, Barry Kavanagh and Mark Pilkington…
DEATH IN 101
[1100 ROOM 101]
The Dublin contingent headed straight for Room 101, where FT’s Bob Rickard initiated the proceedings. He introduced *Strange Magazine’s* Mark Chorvinsky, who imbued us with stories of Grim Reaper visitations [also see Strange No.18].
This topic — which some readers may find to be a rather odd topic, even for forteans — seems to have had quite an effect on attendees. Chorvinsky identified several cases where dying people were seen to interact with an invisible, personified ‘death’, witnesses *close* to death meeting the Reaper (either driving it away or talking it out of taking them, thus surviving), and doctors or nurses witnessing the Reaper waiting beside the dying. Also mentioned was Sidney Reilly, the ‘Ace of Spies’, who allegedly had a grim reaper experience before his death in 1925, according to his wife of the time, Pepita Bobadilla.
Chorvinsky succeeded in bringing home the reality of a previously ignored fortean phenomenon — as yet unexploited by the mainstream media — yet quite different to the stereotyped portrayal of the Grim Reaper as a visitor with murderous intent. Some of the fictional examples he used included scenes from *The Meaning of Life*, *The Seventh Seal*, *The Frighteners* and *The Adventures of Baron Munchausen*. Surprisingly the extremely popular female *Death* character from Neil Gaiman’s *The Sandman* wasn’t mentioned. [DW]
[Meanwhile, Mark Pilkington was upstairs…]
[1100 UPPER HALL]
Kicking things off on Saturday morning was Ted Harrison’s hilarious exploration of Elvis as a religious phenomena. A message written on the crooning wall of Graceland says it all: “Coming home from Lubbock I thought I saw Elvis on the plane, but it might have been Jesus, they kind of look the same.” Amongst other things, the talk covered post-mortem visions and miraculous healings performed by the king, Elvis as an alien soul trapped in human form, how Elvis modelled his rhinestone eagle jumpsuit on the gown of Aaron (Elvis’ middle name)in the Bible, and the role of antichrist – in the guise of Michael Jackson – in the eternal battle on earth. Harrison raised important points about the process of secular beautification and wondered how long it would be before we saw the first church of Diana. [MP]
Quite deliberately bowing out of Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe’s performance to attend Jean la Fontaine’s *Chasing Satanists*, Blatherboy was disappointed to find that incredibly, only an hour into the UnCon, the Upper Hall was crammed full, so a trip to the Press/Media room was in order, before bunking off, thanks to Alison Clayton, around the corner to see the mummified Jeremy Bentham, founder of the University of London. [DW]
[1300 Upper Hall]
Robin Ramsay, editor of the political conspiracy journal *Lobster*, gave a talk entitled *How Competent Are Conspirators?* At first he seemed bewildered that he was actually giving the talk, then he glided into an entertaining demolition of the myth of the government conspiracy uncovered by ‘the ordinary Joe.’ He explained how conspiracies go on discreetly in the public view (like the British American Project) but are ignored by the media. As for competency, he pointed out how every government in the world has a paid intelligence agency and we rarely get to find out what they do, especially at the time they’re doing it. [BK]
[1400 ROOM 101]
I’m sorry to report that I was incredibly bored by the droning of Sean Tudor talking about the Blue Bell Hill Ghost. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a fascinating case, but Tudor’s delivery left a lot to be desired — as did the sound quality. It was only due to my being familiar with the case from his intriguing *Fortean Times* article that I could attempt to make some sense of the monotonic high-speed lecture, and after half an hour during which I learned nothing new, I departed. Lisa Coffey [one of the Dublin contingent] later told me that Tudor had looped back to ‘set the the scene’ some three-quarters of the way through his talk. Appalling. [DW]
(Read more about the Blue Bell Hill Ghost)
DEAD? MAYBE NOT
[1500 UPPER HALL]
Surely one of Saturday’s highlights was the wonderful Doug Skinner’s talk on the *Count(s) of St. Germain*. To be brief (see URLs below), the count, a.k.a. the Wundermann and the Immortal One, was a character reportedly to have been around for several centuries — in fact, it was claimed that he was immortal. At the time, there seems to have been surprisingly scant information put forward to contradict these claims, as reports of the Comte have surfaced from Venice in 1710 (when he was reported to look about fifty years old) through various royal courts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and he was apparently encountered strolling down Rome’s Corso in 1925. A certain Richard Chanfray turned lead into gold for French TV cameras in 1972, claiming that *he* was the Comte.
St. Germain’s background(s) were said to be hazy, his tastes eclectic, and his skills verging on that of a polymath. He was reportedly an accomplished violinist, an inventor, traveller and Freemason and died – or faked death several times. One of his incarnations claimed to have also been Francis Bacon and Christian Rosencreuz, and to have met Jesus. To make matters worse, it’s thought that St. Germain went under pseudonyms, such as ‘General Welldone’ whilst serving under Catherine the Great of Russia.
Skinner made a great fist of exploring the fascinating possibilities of who the Count — or Counts really were – Casanova and Cagliostro were named, along with a host of other men by the name of St. Germain, and a few wannabe copyists too. There was talk of St. Germain being none other than the son of Franz-Leopold, Prince Ragoczy of Transylvania.
Skinner’s finale was a two-song rendition of St. Germain’s alleged musical works, with cello accompaniment… Skinner is right, the tale of St. Germain is a character so compellingly attractive as to instil desire towards *being* the Count. Who knows, perhaps Doug Skinner may be the current St. Germain…[DW]
[See also Douglas Chapman’s piece in Strange 19]
[1600 ROOM 101]
After Skinner, a race downstairs to Room 101 was in order, to catch Jon Downes and Graham Inglis of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, to hear their tales of drunken rampages across Miami, Puerto Rico and Mexico in search of the Chupacabras, described by a CFZ member as ‘a cross between a kangaroo and Sonic the Hedgehog on acid’. We didn’t learn much more about the alleged beastie, but were entertained anyway. A full account of their adventures can be found at the CFZ website, in an essay titled *Only Fools and Goatsuckers*, and they can be seen on Channel 4 TV here in Britain and Ireland on Monday 4th May at 1900. [DW]
[1700 ROOM 101]
Next up, this Blathergoon managed to get himself drafted in as rhythm guitarist for the impromptu air guitar act *Alien Spawn*, to accompany the enigmatic Peter Brookesmith’s blatherings *Of Martian Cats & Purple Hieroglyphics*.
Before crawling on to the stage of Room 101, Joe McNally of *Fortean Times* compared the consequences of *not* going through with this craziness — i.e., the not knowing — with the reality of never being able to live it down if we did. Needless to say, five minutes later he was up there, playing an invisible bass, whilst John Rimmer (Magonia) and Rob Irving (International Man of Mystery) doubled up on drums. Mad-axeman Mark Pilkington went hell-for-leather on a virtual guitar, whilst this writer threw sanity to the four winds, St. Vitus dancing in front of several hundred bemused delegates to various blues and jazz tunes. When Peregrine Mendoza started rooting in a couple of carrier bags, I prayed that he didn’t have eggs for the throwing. Later on, I discovered that the bag contained goose eggs…
Unfortunately, I don’t think the remainder of ‘Martian Cats & Purple Hieroglyphics’ went down too well, in fact,I saw few folks tearing out, unable to handle the relatively academic content of the lecture. It definitely wasn’t what the UFO fans wanted (Apparently, a certain Nick Pope was looking a bit queasy).
[1700 Upper Hall]
David V Barrett, author of two excellent books – *Sects ‘Cults’ and Alternative Religions – A Worldwide Survey and Sourcebook * (ISBN: 0713725672) and *Secret Societies, from the Ancient and Arcane to the Modern and Clandestine* (ISBN: 0713726474), and currently researching the influence of science fiction on fringe religions, gave his talk on *Myths and Lies and the Need to Believe*. Much of it was rehash of points made in the above books but Barrett did cover some new ground here. Unfortunately, that was the most uninteresting ground of all: the death of the Princess of Wales. He was worried by the way her myth was created by the media – but personally I shrug: myths and lies about Diana are not as serious as, say, myths and lies about Jewish people. On this general point, read Barrett’s books which show how the Family (ex-Children of God), Freemasons and others have been and still are wrongly portrayed. [BK]
Tune in next week for coverage of the second day of UnCon 98 — if any readers have comments to pass Saturday’s talks by Fanthorpe, la Fontaine, Randles, Nixon, Picknett & Prince, and Cockell, feel free to share them with us.
Here’s hoping you survived Walpurgis Night…
How to Survive the UnConvention II
Dave (daev) Walsh
May 1st 1998