This Side of the Pond – May 3

By Sarah Pridgeon

It was Alien Day last week, in case you didn’t notice. I didn’t find out myself until it was too late, cursing the lost opportunity of donning a gray bodysuit and ray gun to frighten the neighbors.

I then found myself disappointed to discover that Alien Day is all about celebrating the movie franchise that showed us Sigourney Weaver is both the heroine we need and the one we deserve. I now live in the land of Area 51 and Roswell, so I’ve been patiently waiting my turn for an intergalactic encounter.

It has yet to happen, but I live in hope. It’s not that I think there’s a chance it’s going to happen, just that I’d have lots of pertinent questions to ask if it did.

There’s as much interest in alien conspiracy theories in my homeland as there is here in the States. Unfortunately, as usual, most of our stories are wholly lacking in glamour and I’m not sure anyone will be calling in Mulder and Scully to investigate.

In Wiltshire, for example, there have been a number of claims from locals that UFOS are going about killing flocks of pigeons. That’s a very specific pattern of behavior, which implies either a phobia on the part of the aliens or that they know more about those sky rats than we do.

Our own UFO capital is the town of Warminster in Somerset, the county alongside my own. Clearly not thinking ahead to the merchandising opportunities, locals began reporting sightings in the 1960s of what became known as the Warminster Thing.

I suppose, if you don’t know what something is, it’s appropriate to call it a “thing”, but couldn’t they have come up with something cooler? After all, the Thing allegedly caused thundering noises, lights in the sky and cars to malfunction, which would look great on a t-shirt. It’s been spotted again recently, but it seems nobody thought to offer it a cup of tea and ask where it came from and what it wants.

Britain is also the home of the crop circle, the bizarre and “unexplained” phenomenon of giant shapes appearing in fields in the middle of the night. My overwhelming reaction is that I’d be murderous about it if I was a farmer – all that hard work going to waste.

Two pranksters, Bower and Chorley, claimed they had made all the crop circles in the country before 1987 and most of them until 1991 – they even made one in front of a group of journalists that a cereologist (which you have to admit is a brilliant name for a career path) later declared was authentic.

He wasn’t wrong – it was authentic, in that it had been made by the same people who made all the rest. A researcher then noted that most of the circles in fields have appeared near easy access from roads and towns (and are presumably close to the gate). My favorite additional piece of “proof” they are fake is that most of them appear in areas with a “historical tendency” for making really big things like Stonehenge, pictures in chalk hills and burial mounds. The theory appears to be that our ancestors were keen on scratching drawings on the hillside, so the current population must be looking for its own artistic preferences.

It also turns out that we’ve been making crop circles for centuries – well before anyone had thought up the idea of UFOs. The first crop circle appeared in a pamphlet in 1678 called “The Mowing Devil”, which tells of a farmer who refused to pay a laborer’s high rates to mow his field and said he’d rather have the Devil do it instead.

Clearly in a more obliging mood than usual, the Devil did just that – the field appeared to be on fire during the night and, in the morning, was more perfectly mowed than a human could achieve. I assume a cereologist then arrived with a magnifying glass and declared it was definitely authentic.

We even have our own Roswell – or, at least, we call it that – in the Rendlesham Forest incident. Just outside an RAF base, at that time used by the U.S. Air Force, personnel apparently saw unexplained lights and sent a group of hapless individuals into the forest to investigate.

They claimed to have seen a glowing metallic object with colored lights, moving through the trees and mightily upsetting the chickens on a nearby farm. The next day, a triangular impression was found on the ground.

Astronomers have since decided it was a piece of “natural debris” burning up as a fireball, which is alarming in itself. I should also note that the event took place the day after Christmas, so I’m curious if there might have been some brandy involved.

We’ve even had encounters of the third kind, one of them spawning perhaps my favorite headline of all time in a respectable British newspaper: “Lemon-headed alien attempted to abduct boys”. The pair were stopped in a field at about midnight (and I’m sure had at no point imbibed any beer during the preceding evening) when they saw the UFO.

They told police that the lemon-shaped head had a voice, which told them, “We want you, come with us”. Sensibly, they declined the offer and ran away instead.

The UFO can’t have wanted them all that much, because the boys told police it shot off into the air and disappeared. The farmer to whom the field belonged said he’d seen nothing strange at all.

I wish I was more convinced by some of these stories – you have to admit, it would be a fascinating experience to meet a little green man. It’s a little sad to know that I’ll always be the most alien being I know, at least according to U.S. Immigration Office records.