gbsteve (gbsteve) wrote,

Beyond our Ken

8:30 is too early for a Sunday morning to start but once again we were at UnCon 2008 for the second day of lectures. We spent the morning in Fyvie Hall, a sober wood panelled place and the afternoon on the balcony of the Old Cinema which had also once hosted entertainments 150 years ago.

The morning started with a very entertaining whisk through the history of spirit photography from the second ever photograph through to last week (a not very good Annakin Skywalker figure lurking in a fake) with an excellent presenter. He knew his stuff, kept the energy going throughout and wasn't afraid to cock a snook at anything he thought was dodgy. And, let's face it, that was pretty much everything concerning spirit photographs. And don't get him started on orbs ...

The second speaker was slightly less powerful. Ex head of the Ghost Society, he was more open to the existence of otherworldly presences. His topic was Ghosts that Kill, could one be scared to death by a spook. He managed to find a couple of cases, one that included a friend who was almost persuaded by a genus loci to jump off a tower. The other was Columbian and some kind of spirit warning thingy, a bit like a black dog.

The third speaker had a very interesting point and started off very well. Unfortunately he soon started mumbling to himself, made some rather desperate asides and generally lost the plot. This was a shame because his thesis was interesting. He was looking at the difference between forteans (those who study anomalous phenomena) and folklorists (who study myths and legends). His point was that whilst forteans took widespread evidence as proof (such as abductions or ghosts), folklorists largely took this as negation, or perhaps more exactly as conferring mythological rather than objective status. This ties in nicely with the notion of ostension which in folklore means acting out a myth, or in other terms, just because it's a myth doesn't mean to say it hasn't happened. The extent to which the myth or the action comes first might be a fruiful area of research. The example he gave was that of Jodie Marsh and the DJ which is the urban myth of the ex-wife selling off her husband's Ferrari and giving him the proceeds, £1.

We then had some lunch.

The afternoon started off with another whirlwind tour, this time through many examples of Victorian entertainments, those which became musical hall and variety and sideshows. So we had Baldwin's Cat which parachuted from the ceiling, fasting men, fat ladies (which I now understand to be strip shows, although there was a warning that 'pinch her and she will bite'), acrobats, jugglers and all manner of bizarre acts.

We were also shown a few period films including a dancing pig and a contortionist which the presenter explained gave her something of a sexual frisson. Gave me the willies too, although that's not quite the same.

The middle act, I mean lecture, was from the Centre for Fortean Zoology which is basically this bloke who every so often launches and expedition to somewhere to look for some unclassified animal of dubious existence, such as the Mongolian Death worm and that one that, once they showed the locals a few pictures, turned out to be a hippo.

This time he and his mates were in the Caucuses on the trail of the Almasty, some kind of proto-simian. As usual there were none. There were a lot of vodka swilling Russians with unlikely stories of almasty platting a horse's mane and throwing stones at windows, 7m snakes and lots more vodka. Seems there's nothing much else to do in Karbadino Balkaria. It is a gorgeous place to spend a week though. The most interesting thing was probably their first camp site which was in the middle of a load of possibly Scythian tombs. Bones were just littered around the place and it seem that the CFZ's presence was deterring the local archaeologist from what was probably much more fruitful work on these tombs.

Next was a warm and well received tribute to Ken Campbell who was intimately linked to UnCon. We'll never forget his demonstration of gastromancy at the same event six years ago in which a young woman produced copies quantities of soapy water from about her (naked) person, covering much of the front row.

The final act of the day was Kitty Kat and her Victorian Séance, a burlesque presentation featuring Lord Dashwood, Cleopatra, Katy King, Arthur Conan Doyle, a fairy and Beelzebub. A very entertaining end to a fun weekend.

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