On 5th March, Jonathan and Corinna Downes, the Director and Administrator of the Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] the world's largest mystery animal research organisation, fly to Texas. Together with their friends and colleagues Richie and Naomi West who very generously financed the expedition, they will spend two weeks continuing the research into the Texas blue dogs, first carried out by Jonathan Downes in November 2004..

Saturday, 6 March 2010


As Corinna has already noted, if one was to chronicle everything that happened since we embarked on our momentous journey, leaving Woolsery at about 1 o'clock on Thursday the 4th, it would fill the pages of a sizeable volume. Well, that is exactly what it is going to do: Corinna and I will be issuing a book-length account of our journeys, and of the ongoing search for the truth behind the Texas blue dog.

However, I promised you daily blogs, and daily blogs you are bloody well going to have!

We had what seemed like a nightmare series of train journeys - although to be totally honest (and I always do my best to be totally honest) the only really nightmarish aspect of Thursday was our sojourn at Hayes in Middlesex. The station was in fact Hayes & Harlington, as my wonderful wife, Girl Friday, and amanuensis points out. I was under the illusion that all places of public transport in the United Kingdom have to be made 'friendly' to those of us who are 'differently challenged.' To put it into less politically correct but more understandable terms, I thought that every place of public transport in the United Kingdom should be made accessible to an old spakker like me, and that the afore-mentioned old spakker should never have to hump suitcases, camera bags and all the general tat of an expedition up and down flights of stairs that look as if they were designed for the torment of Sisyphus. Not so. Nice one New Labour council.

But enough of politics. The only thing I knew of Hayes prior to discovering that their station had been designed by a renegade bunch of sadistic torturers out of the pages of a Clark Ashton Smith novella was that:

a. my ex-wife was born there

b. we did a gig there with Steve Harley in 1990 at which a riotously good time was had by all

c. my late father-in-law designed the Beck Theatre in Hayes, where - coincidentally, although we all know there ain't no such thing as a coincidence, but I digress - the afore-mentioned riotously good time that was had by all took place. He seemed highly amused when I told him (leaving out the more licentious aspects of the affair) what fun was had in the dressing room complex he had so lovingly designed

d. back in the days when records were records (i.e. 7" slices of vinyl with a cardboard centre and a hole through the middle) I, like so many of my generation, fetishised them to a degree that, with 40 years hindsight, seems a little excessive. However, EMI who (under various guises) produced the records of most of my favourite artists were based in Hayes, and their address was emblazoned upon each of the delicious cultural artefacts it produced.

So, if only for the hours of innocent fun that I spent gazing at the Emitex on the back of the designer brown and orange paper sleeves in which singles by my favourite artists of the time reposed, I can forgive Hayes anything.

We spent a short but satisfying night's sleep at a Holiday Inn near Heathrow, and made our way at the ungodly hour of 6.15 am on Friday to Terminal 3 where we were to check in for American Airlines flight 51.

We were in the queue for check-in when the first of the day's mishaps occurred. We had to collect our electronic airline tickets and boarding passes, and so, after presenting our credit cards and an alarming amount of personal information, I was a little perturbed when the ATM-sized machine before me started making alarming beeping noises, and a severe-looking young woman, looking a little bit like Ilsa Koch, in a paramilitary air stewardess outfit, came striding up to me. "Did you do Esther?" she demanded.

I immediately blushed, and I don't blush easily. "Um... it was nearly 30 years ago at the hospital Christmas party," I stammered, mildly embarrassed that I should be reminded of a very temporary inamorata from my long distant, and mildly disreputable, past.

She totally ignored me and with Aerian piercing blue eyes that would not have been out of place on a Third Reich advertising poster (Hi, I'm the she-wolf of Buchenwald; fly me.) she demanded again:

"Have you done Esther?"

It was as if she was asking me whether I had seen the Yiddish equivalent of one of the regrettable 1970s sex comedies, most of which featured our late prime minister's father-in-law dropping his trousers and saying, "Oo-er it's the vicar."

I gathered up as much of my patrician reserves as was left after having been unfortunately reminded of a drunken incident involving an Israeli exchange student back in 1983. "I am sorry madam," I replied archly, "I don't think I know the lady to whom you refer."

She looked at me contemptuously, and brandished a piece of paper headed E.S.T.A. "Have you done ESTA?" she asked me in a tone of voice which suggested that should I mess her about any further, I would be taken out and summarily shot, and my still-twitching cadaver dumped into a mass, shallow grave together with the freshly slaughtered bodies of a plethora of other hapless travellers who were ignorant of this particularly stupid acronym.

It turned out that ESTA was an online American visa application that (allegedly) was to replace the green entry visa cards I had filled in on all my previous visits to the United States as, half a day later, on our arrival at Dallas we had to fill in the green cards anyway, it is hard to see the point. But we were sent upstairs to a cyber cafe where we had to fill in our ESTA forms.

Next cock-up:

We had forgotten one vital piece of information so had to telephone the hapless Oll Lewis back at CFZ HQ, rousting the poor fellow out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7.30 am and sending him downstairs to retrieve the afore-said information from my computer. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, travelled to me to America on one occasion, and on being confronted with the question HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONVICTED OF A CRIME OF MORAL TURPITUDE? decided that he didn't know what 'moral turpitude' meant, and therefore that he didn't have to declare his two convictions for possession of Class A substances.

I decided to treat the question ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM A MENTAL DISORDER? with similar latitude. Both Corinna and I are as mad as a bagful of cheese on occasions, and I have been diagnosed as being the more psychotic end of bi-polar for about 15 years. However, neither of us have ever become even close of being sectioned, and as we had no run-ins with the 1983 Mental Health Amendment Act, nor were we ever likely to, I felt perfectly justified in ticking 'NO' to the question. Corinna did the same and a friendly information box popped up on the screen before us. We were now (it said) perfectly free to enter America.

The game was now well and truly afoot.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, WHAT writing! It's fabulous. I hope you make this journey into a published book.