I always liked sitting at that small, round, corner table in the restaurant, with greasy salt and vinegar pots, sugar bowl, white serviettes, and a small blue glass ashtray.
The transistor radio buzzed away quietly on a shelf fixed next to an old barber shop mirror, left untouched since the early days, now a permanent fixture on the fish and chip shop wall.
Still it was a cosy nook, and gave the impression of there being a secret door just around the corner. In fact there was a narrow mahogany-finished door, but it led to the very unimpressive toilet!
In the late 80s, I remember sitting at that table, attempting to sketch something, while listening to the Top 20 music charts, and suddenly having a ‘eureka’ moment. I decided to go to the library to research UFOs. Can’t really explain why… back-masking, subliminal messaging, who knows!
When I was younger, I use to read the girls comic ‘Misty’, which sometimes came with a free gift. The female equivalent of Marvel’s ‘Silver Surfer’, except it was all about the occult, primarily witches. Kind of odd marketing to 9-year-olds don’t you think?
Anyway, now in my teens and seeking more sophisticated entertainment, off I went to the library to discover the anomalous phenomena that seemed very exciting to me at that age. Music and movies was just not enough.
Before the explosion of the Internet, when people use to write letters to each other, and sometimes use a Wang Word-Perfect-Processor machine at college, because it was hi-tech, there were books in libraries! My local had a small section right at the back, at the bottom shelves, below the obsolete geography texts.
I loved discovering all the strange, and down-right freaky stories, of aliens among us, cigar-shaped ufos, men in black, angel-hair, abductions, and hybrid-babies. As well as premonitions, poltergeists, near-death-experiences, lay-lines, ball-lightening, cryptozoology, cattle mutilations, visions of the Virgin Mary, time-travellers, the hollow-earth, the Bermuda Triangle, and Atlantis!
The library books were my first-class ticket to a world of the fantastic. Trusty comic ‘Misty’ was nothing compared to the writings of Erich von Daniken and Billy Meier! I bought cheap, old, and obscure books, and later I would consume the words of Timothy Good, Jacques Vallee, and Stanton Friedman.
While my friends watched Madonna videos, I couldn’t wait to see ‘Aliens’ and ‘Predator’. Buying a monthly magazine at times, which helped locate clubs and associations, and how to subscribe to fringe publications, or attend wacky conferences, I had more extreme culture at my finger tips.
One fringe publication was a small booklet, sometimes handwritten, from a Warrington and Fleetwood ufo researcher named Jenny Randles, a member of ‘BUFORA’ (British UFO Research Association). It would document sightings and report on research and news. I was a fan because I couldn’t afford magazines of the likes of ‘Flying Saucer Review’.
One Friday morning our local newspaper, ‘The Mercury’, ran a tiny article on a ufo sighting. This was a rare occasion when something strange made the news in our area. Remember, we lived over half an hour away from the regional capital Bristol, and Filton, the home of ‘British Aerospace Systems’, and now ‘Advanced Technology Centre’.
The newspaper reported that a flying-triangle was seen over the area, and most probably was the (still secret) Aurora Hypersonic Spy-plane. Jenny Randles encouraged people to write to her publication about stories, so I did just that. I cut out the piece and sent it to her. She acknowledged me in the next issue, much to my delight!
Then a strange thing happened. Precisely a month after I mailed the clipping the phone began to ring. Each time someone in the house would answer the phone, all they would hear from the other end was a couple of clicks, then silence. After about a month of weekly hang-ups, my mother, not a person to be messed with, decided to find out what was going on.
She waited for the call, it came. As soon as the line went dead she called the BT (British Telecom) operator. A young man answered and she asked about the call she’d just received. ‘Could you please check what happened?’ she asked the young man. ‘I think they could be in trouble, they’ve been trying to call me today, and just now the line went dead!’
So the operator asked her to hold while he checked the line, something that they don’t do anymore. After about thirty seconds he came back to her. ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you should know, I’ve checked the number.’ ‘Who was it?’ asked my mother. The young man replied quickly, ‘It’s an M.O.D. number, that’s all I can tell you.’ and he promptly hung up.
Our phone continued to ring, and the ‘Ministry of Defence’ continued to hang up. My mother didn’t understand why they would be calling our fish and chip shop, soon to be a café-restaurant, and not speak, just make clicking sounds.
I never mentioned my letter to Jenny Randles and the Aurora Project, but I had a sneaky suspicion that my enthusiasm for Ufology had put our family on a black-list somewhere. Could we buy our way out with a free hair-cut, some fish and chips, and a cup of Earl Grey tea?
to be continued…