Dark and Lonely Work

Peter Brookesmith
Magonia 52, May 1995.

It is difficult to know where to start in answering Jenny Randles: 'This ain't poyssanul; this is business', maybe? Or 'When is a whinge not a whinge?' It's not relevant to the article in Magonia 50, but I'll gratuitously let slip that I do think it discourteous to answer a criticism made in one illustrious organ in the pages of another, especially when that other is your very own, and a gander at the subscription list will not reveal my name, and you don't recognise facetiousness when you fall over it.

Oh well. There you go again. Obviously Fortean Times needs an ironicals typeface as well, and it's certainly ironic that this issue should suddenly start being thrashed out in the pages of a third, no less esteemed, publication.

But while we're at it, let's not publish misinformation: FT didn't print a retraction of any kind (look in a dictionary), but a classic beside-the-point letter from Randles whingeing, I would call it, solely about my passing lampoon of her fanzine. And how's this for a ribtickler: it's intriguing that Randles doesn't let on what her mag's circulation actually is, although she is keen (and why not?) to advertise its venerable age and global readership. Which is missing the point at least twice over, a talent that, I am beginning to think, is Randles's peculiar forte. Perhaps it has something to do with her idiosyncratic use of near-English.
The second paragraph of her letter contains an interesting example of an absent point, and of her passion for the non sequitur: "... what Brookesmith fails to tell your readers is that my book The Paranormal Year was a general review of 1993 as is clearly implied by the title: True. I stand condemned. I did so fail, abjectly. Oh God, lost face, ah-so, fall on Biro. But hold! What is this? Does not that title appear twice in my article? Enough, perhaps, for a clear implication to penetrate the dank recesses of even the most troglodytic Magonian's notoriously easily-befuddled mind?

Repetitive strain

I do wonder, scanning her letter, if Randles read the article that I wrote. Are the editors of Magonia party to a separate Randles-Wind-Up conspiracy that not even Paul 'Ajax' Fuller has tumbled to? Are they sending out specially-constructed spoof copies of the magazine to her? Or wait, no, be reasonable of course, why didn't I think of it - my copy is the only one with my original article in it, and everyone else's has these terrible libels under my name that Rimmer and his cronies dreamt up as a result of swilling down that Wetherspoon character's body fluids and reciting the Maastricht Treaty backwards! How else can one explain the fact that 'Randles' is an anagram of 'slander'?

So: er, what are all these allegations and items of misinformation I am supposed to have tossed out? In the version in my (wow! maybe valuable) copy of Magonia 50, I allege, in rhetorical fashion, that no one asked whether the plane's and the ATC radars both showed a return from the UFO. Randles's rehash of the case is only slightly more detailed (illuminating) than the account in her book (which is quoted in my article: readers may compare and contrast at no extra expense). Both her accounts of the investigation give leave to think that indeed no one did ask. Nor do I infer (she means 'imply') that she or Good were in error. I say - I say again, wearisome as it is to do so - that either the investigators didn't ask the right questions, or they didn't get helpful answers, that nobody knows either way, and that the case isn't worth talking about until one knows a lot more about it. I offer some suggestions as to what that 'more' might be. Where is the misinformation? Where is the factual inaccuracy? Why does John Rimmer have to reply to Randles by return of post?

I didn't infer - Randles may again mean 'imply', - but I didn't do that either, that a full-length or dozen page account was required, of her or of Timothy Good - but I should have appreciated one that was unambiguous and showed that some critical intelligence had been applied to the whole of the claim made particularly indeed as these works were popularisations, not the presumably nittier-grittier accounts in the fanzines, vast as their readership no doubt is.

Why does one have to repeat everything? Hypothesis: Randles was too annoyed anyway, she failed to notice that the 'points' of the article as a whole were: that her and Good's accounts were inconsistent with each other, were anyway both obscure because ill written, didn't bear much common-sense scrutiny (a lapse I attempted in my feeble way to demonstrate], and as the text-breaker shouted that. if ufologists can't focus some wherewithal on piddling cases like this, there is all the more reason to distrust their accounts of the more elaborate ones. In short, one had hoped for something a little higher on the intellectual food chain. Did anyone else not understand that?

Meditation and introspection

Do these central issues have anything to do with my mischievous remarks about somebody's UFO fanzine? No. Did I ever call the said fanzine 'useless'? No, nor do I think it is. I didn't call it a fledgling news-sheet, either. Are toy balloons capable of travelling at 1368 km/h or even 640 km/h? No. So do they have much bearing on the essential matter? No. And if you consult Randles's book, will you find the toy-balloon hypothesis offered specifically as an explanation of the Zaghetti sighting? No. In her letter, does Randles answer, or even address, the seven numbered questions I posed about the sighting? No, on six counts. Only just on a seventh. Does she address my questions about the radar tapes and images thereon? No. Does she dispute or improve on my calculations? No. Does my article suggest that Randles had changed, or erred in, her versions of this tedious case? No. Do I retract, recant, take back, renounce and regret any mention of 'idle minds'? Yes: I now think these minds are perhaps a trifle too busy. Does the word 'avoid' mean the same as 'obviate'? No, but I see someone here may think so. Does Paul Fuller know the meaning of the word debacle? I doubt it. Have I singled out Jenny Randles in particular for public ridicule? No.

Given the opportunity, and some fresh ones have lately arisen, I'll send up anyone who mangles the English language (ah - is that Mr Mantle and his amanuensis standing in the shadows?), who seems never to have heard of William of Occam, and who leans toward taking themselves a mite more seriously than their circumstances demand. I would expect the compliment to be returned, and perhaps one day it will be; and I hope I learn something from it. It strikes me as faintly pertinent too that editors keep printing what I send them; presumably some harmonics are resonating somewhere. And elsewhere ...

The mouths of flying horses

John Rimmer forwarded me another letter and a printed report on the case (in AFU Newsletter 37) from Clas Svahn, chairman of UFO-Sweden, who actually interviewed Capt. Zaghetti. I am very grateful to Mr Svahn. He says: "I want to stress you are perfectly right about the sloppy research done so far [on this case]. Nevertheless I think you went too far by suggesting that [Sr] Zaghetti has 'put someone on'". Reading the report of his interview, I think I probably did. But 1 thought this a risk worth taking. And I am still not sure how to reconcile Zaghetti's claim in the interview that "First, I didn't even want to make a report because it is always difficult [sic] that someone will believe you", and his appearance (at whose instigation?) on RAI television in Italy. And Svahn's interview reveals another rather crucial fact. Zaghetti says: "I saw something circular, very similar to a missile. I used the word 'missile' because of the shape, not because I saw a missile. It was like a missile. It was round, about ten feet long..." Later in the interview be stresses that it was 'just a flash'. The thing is beginning to dissolve almost before the eyes.

Key issues in this (in any) sighting are weather conditions and visibility. No one has been very specific about them: Zaghetti says only that "the day was coming down but we had light because of the height" and, when asked about the weather, refers again to it being "light up because of the sun". As is well known, I have spies everywhere; one, Capt. Mike Jay, pilots 747s for British Airways; so I picked his brains. First, he said that at the altitude of the sighting, sunset is about 25 minutes later than on the ground. On a perfectly clear late April day at that hour, he went on, visibility is good. But the amount and kind of any cloud, the phase and visibility of the Moon, and whether or not you are facing the remaining daylight (Zaghetti was half-facing the sunset), create so many variables in that kind of twilight that unless the witness is absolutely specific about them it's impossible to judge what and how much he could or couldn't see. As Capt. Jay put it: "Everything looks grey or brown in those conditions". All of which leads me to a place not unlike my starting point. I'd say that, far from spending more space on this sighting. Randles and Good could have spent none on it without greatly affecting the usefulness of their respective books.

Whose closet now

As for the lane of unscrupulous innuendo on which the house (or home) of Mr Fuller rattles in the wind I suppose if you perceive mildly over-stated criticism of the nation's most visible ufologist's lapses of thought, logic and language as a species of ad feminam vendetta or slur on her integrity, then you probably can't quite work out. either, why John Major's caricature appears so often on Spitting Image, Oh, hang on, wait a minute am I missing the joke here? Is this geezer taking the piss? So maybe I should be grateful, already. With white knights like Fuller coming out of the woodwork to defend Randles, I can take a few days off. Persons of breeding might say it's Jenny Randles's business, not his, to speak in public about her private life. Actually, Jenny Randles already knows, because I told her, that I don't give a toss one way or the other about her personal history. But she can hardly be I surprised if the bulk of humanity finds it intriguing.

Even the half-honest among us admit they find it that. The breathless nature of many of the Fidonet exchanges I [thanks to John Rimmer for letting me see them] demonstrate this, if often at a surprisingly puerile level. They also demonstrate that English was scarcely alone in making 'public' what almost everyone else had known all the time but had had the good taste to treat as interesting but idle gossip, so he should not get all the stick. However, English (whose memory seems to resemble a vast gallery of self-generating Chinese whispers) ferociously misquoted me, right down to the context of our exchange, and capped that by inventing the more colourful parts of my side of it; thus I am not exactly pleased with him myself. But I think his whimsical little ways are at least slightly more innocent, because he seems unable to help them, than Fuller's tacky descantings.

So my private agenda? Doh. dunno, shady character, hard to say. Dodgy one that. Name's an anagram of HE POKES MIB ROTTER, ever think of that, guv? Got engaged to another bloke once, he did, no, no, straight up, 1980 this was, only at the end of the party they both went off with girls, so that was the end of that. Draft agenda maybe: do better next time; try to suffer fools with greater gladness; try to reconcile myself to the fact that I won't die with a clear conscience.

The common pursuit

So, quite apart from the merry badinage, I wonder what some people think a thoughtful skeptic is supposed to do when confronted by the vast majority of ufological effusions. Perhaps they'd rather one did as so many reviewers do politely, but dishonestly, ignored the malapropisms, the shambolic logic, the multiplication of entities, the remorseless intellectual perfidy and poltroonery, the sheer wilful ignorance and all the rest of the slovenly imbroglio that infests so much ufological commentary.

I dislike arguments of any kind.
They are always vulgar, and often convincing

When one does expose these unfortunate qualities, one suddenly discovers that a threatening tribe of devout disciples of Lady Bracknell is in our midst: "I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing". Reporting what you really find, apparently, is just not on, as my riding mistress would say. Well. tough tittie, girls. In this context I can probably survive without the supreme unction of English hypocrisy. Articulating skepticism with some modicum of trenchancy is like goat-herding or cunnilingus dark and lonely work, but someone has to do it. Not least for these reasons. Not to point the finger, ultimately, does a disservice to those who promulgate vacancies; one would like to encourage self-criticism.

And people who do dreadful mischief to their native tongue deserve chastisement and correction. Those who issue words without first grasping their meanings and the rudiments of syntax are preventing themselves from thinking properly, let alone lucidly, as well as making it difficult for everyone else to follow what they might have been struggling to say. One can point to cases in which the jabberwocky is so painfully advanced that only a fool could pretend that the writers know or have had the courage to decide what they want to say. And anyway, for God's sake. There's surely no reason why criticism, while also striving for clarity, shouldn't try, at least, to be as entertainingly off-the-wall as its object. Ufology must be one of the most exquisite forms of comedy known to mankind, yet you rarely saw such a miserable po-faced pompous lot as a congregation of the ufological class. Oscar Wilde again: 'On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak ones mind. It becomes a pleasure: And does not the Talmudist declare: 'Man will be called to account for all the pleasures he has failed to enjoy.'?

Oh, go on, crack yer faces. Skeptics needn't have all the fun. You've got to have a laugh occasionally, or you'll get ill, that's what my Mum said.

This piece was a response to earlier Magonia articles. See HERE