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Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK


Weird weekend

Fortean Times "Un-convention" will feature live seances

X-files agents Mulder and Scully may have hung up their holsters and switched off their huge mobile phones - but interest in the unexplained is as rampant as ever.

While fads in phenomena have swung through crop circles, monster cats, aliens and conspiracy theories, one publication has prided itself on recording "weird news" from around the world.

Founded in 1973, to continue the work of American Charles Fort, The Fortean Times brings together testimony on everything from miracle vegetables to monster hunting.

Back in the early 1920s, Mr Fort refused to believe the contemporary scientific explanations for various phenomena.

He published several books arguing that, if the truth was out there, then the "experts" were not necessarily getting hold of it.

[ image: Aliens encounter enthusiasts]
Aliens encounter enthusiasts
The Fortean Times has gone from strength to strength, selling 36,000 copies a month as interest in the unexplained continues to gather pace.

Its managing editor Jane Watkins says: "People are very strange, so as long as there are people, there will be material for the FT.

"We definitely reached a peak with the X-Files, and UFOs were the thing then.

"There are trends in the unexplained. UFOs were popular, but since the death of Diana, conspiracy theories are far more popular.

"Maybe it's because of the millennium, but spiritual things are getting far more attention at the moment as well."

[ image: Conspiracy theories have become more popular since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales]
Conspiracy theories have become more popular since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales
Ms Watkins says that the publication is currently receiving increased reports of religious imagery in vegetables, plants and even freezers.

"Another thing that tends to change," says Jane, "is the way people interpret the strange thing that they see.

"There's no doubt that people do see strange things - but the flashing lights in the sky that might once have been thought to have been dragons were then viewed as fairies, then angels and now UFOs."

And she says that often, the "normal" explanation for some phenomena can be stranger than anything paranormal.

She cites a case of a "haunted" beachside car park in California where vehicle alarms would inexplicably activate, and doors and windows would open.

[ image: Thousands want to believe]
Thousands want to believe
The scientific explanation turned out to be that whale sound from the nearby sea was at exactly the same frequency as that needed to set off some car security systems.

Over the weekend of 24 and 25 April, the publication is hosting its sixth annual "Un-convention" in London, entitled Monster Hunting, Millennium Catastrophes and Alien Abduction.

Australian Tom Healy is to monsters what his compatriot Steve Irwin is to snakes and crocodiles.

The fearless cryptozoologist is set to give talks at the convention on the art of stalking fabled beasts - includie the Yowie, Australia's answer to the Yeti.

He also plans to describe an outbreak of poltergeist activity in the Australian town of Humpty Doo - where ghosts hurled rocks at him.

Spokeswoman Margie Foskin said: "The Yowie looks more like a gorilla than the normal images of the Yeti, but basically it's the same big hairy creature.

"Tom Healy will give a general overview of the Yowie phenomenon, recount some 'normal' Yowie sightings, then focus on some 'high strangeness' cases."

[ image: Monster hunting - or cryptozoology to those in the know]
Monster hunting - or cryptozoology to those in the know
Closer to home, perhaps, will be discussions on beliefs surrounding the turn of the millennium.

Ms Watkins said apocolyptic beliefs about the end of the millennium worry a lot of people, but are only based on the Christian calander, which had no year 0.

She said: "That means that the millennium is not actually on 31 December, 1999.

"There was an advert encouraging people to visit Egypt recently, which said visit Egypt in its 5th millennium - I think that puts the issue into context.

"A more real concern about the millennium could be the year 2000 bug. But again, things will start going wrong with that from September, not December.

"We are already aware of computer people who have headed to the hills because they know what chaos could happen. I certainly won't be flying around that time."

Another feature of the convention will be live seances, hosted by magician and doctor of psychology, Richard Wiseman.

Up to 30 people will be invited to sit in a circle, hold hands and wish for luminous objects to levitate and move.

[ image: Crop circles: What are they all about then?]
Crop circles: What are they all about then?
Dr Wiseman said: "The purpose of the seances is two-fold. Firstly we want to see if anything does happen - if there's any movement of objects.

"We will be filming in infra-red throughout the day to record anything that happens, and we will also be speaking to the people who took part to see what they think happened.

"We will also be showing people how trickery and suggestion are used to make them believe they are seeing something that they are not."

Other talks include exposés on Egyptian mythology, science and magic, and psychic ability experiments.

The Un-convention takes place at the Commonwealth Institute, High Street Kensington, London on April 24 and 25. Doors open at 10.30am. For further information call 01795 414925.

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