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Comic Lettering
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UFOs
DMA Design

UFOs

UFOs and Scotland

I’ve written a UFO book! And if you’re into UFOs I guarantee you’ll not have heard of me. I haven’t really said anything about UFOs before, and not recently. Writing the Scottish UFO Casebook came as much as a surprise to me as it did to anyone else. (I can thank the pandemic for that.)

So what are my bona fides?

I’ve been interested all my life. I’ve been watching the skies all this time, naturally. But before that I pitched a UFO computer game. And I ran a UFO website for a few years. I’ve even had a few sightings, but most of them were explicable.

Barrybudden Flares

(This is a frame from a video I shot out the window in November 97. Technically UFOs, of course, but I think they were flares over the army range at Barrybudden.)

ASUFORA

ASUFORA Banner

For a few years around the turn of the millennium I found myself asked to run the website for Lee Close’s ASUFORA. There’s some versions of that rescued at archive.org like this snapshot asufora.com where you can admire my 2004-era lax attitude to typos as well as some delightful “classic“ site design. I made the site using NetObjects Fusion. I did all the graphics, reproduced here, including the over-the-top logo, which I can thank Cinema4D’s lighting effects for. ASUFORA Aliens Logo

This was the online presence of the Anglo-Scottish UFO Research Agency, or perhaps it was Association. I can never remember. Most of the research and investigation took place on the forum, of which I don’t think anything still exists on the internet.

Lee came up with the idea for Project Tracker — and remember this was early 2000s — in which sky-watchers would scan the skies, with eyeballs and binoculars, for anything anomalous. The idea was that volunteers would phone each other and the progress of the object could thereby be tracked. I did a rough calculation, involving the distance to the horizon and line of sight, the number of volunteers we would need and… well, let’s just say its an idea whose time hadn’t arrived yet.

(Things might be different these days, with automatic networks of meteorite cameras.)

In 2004 or so, when it looked like the group was over with, I was up until 2am saving as many forum pages – and printed them out – as I could. I now have a folder with those printouts, which as far as I know contain details of some Scottish cases which don’t appear anywhere else. Writing the casebook was, in part, a way to preserve the best of them.

It was the only time in my life when I was even slightly hands on with UFOs. I interviewed a witness whose account had appeared in the newspaper (awkwardly proving to myself that I was probably not a people person, let alone an investigator). I analysed a few sightings, one of which was clearly a laser light show, another the Moon. Low-level stuff, really.

The closest I got to “real” Scottish UFOlogy was going to Edinburgh, with another ASUFORA member, to hear a talk given by Malcolm Robinson and others. (He, along with Ron Halliday and Steuart Campbell, are probably the most well-known of Scottish UFOlogists.) There we got to see a practical demonstration of the Beifeld-Brown Effect whereby flying saucers may be levitated. Biefeld-Brown Lifter Or in this case a contraption made from tin-foil, powered by an old-fashioned CRT monitor to provide the necessary charge.

And then one night, perhaps 2004, after a message asking if it was okay to pass my phone number onto a witness, I got a call. This was a woman who believed she had been abducted by aliens, and instantly I was way, way out of my depth. So I listened carefully, trying to be reassuring. What had happened was a freely-recollected dream which she was worried about. That part’s important, it’s not my interpretation, she said it was dream. Nevertheless, it was a vivid and disturbing one and it was bothering her.

We kept talking, and then it came out that she’d watched a film in the previous few days (I can’t remember the title) about alien abductions. I said that it was nothing to worry about, that the subject has a habit of getting under your skin1. It didn’t mean it was real. I didn’t want to say flat out that it was a product of the mind, because in my clumsy way I dreaded that it might sound like an accusation. But I tried to be reassuring. You’re not crazy, you’re just human.

In the end I passed her the phone number of the aforementioned Malcolm Robinson because, as I told her, he had more experience. Shaken, I wanted nothing more to do with the subject.

That didn’t last.

Lights in Fog

(This image was on the ASUFORA site for years, and in all that time no-one thought to query it. Had they done so, I would admit that it was simply building lights on a foggy morning, where I used to work. Looks pretty good, though…)

Modems and Bulletin Boards

Prior to ASUFORA, when I finally got my hands on USENET thanks to university2 in 1987 and, later, my very own modem I read and sometimes wrote messages in alt.paranet.ufo and others like it. I was decidedly sceptical. This was finally access to the internet (not the web, mind, which is built on top of the internet). With my Commodore Amiga 500 hooked up to the Citizen 120D dot matrix printer, and with a nifty bit of software, I printed out tons of the stuff into little booklets.

Booklet

One of the delights in having a modem was connecting to Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). These were standalone computers, also hooked up to a modem, in which you could dial in and browse the contents. Perhaps leave or collect messages. Generally they’d be centred around a theme, kind of like websites, but with a single user at a time. (Or, in fact as many users as the BBS had telephone lines.) The first system I ever connected to was an astronomy one. My phone bill rocketed.

BBSs could be networked via FIDONet, which involved a 2am automated cheap-rate phone call between systems. Messages were uploaded and downloaded in bulk.

The Dark Side Hypothesis3 was gaining currency on USENET in which the Greys were settling into their malevolent groove and… well the X-Files and USENET seemed to be feeding on each other. This specific formulation of the lore originated with John Lear.

A DMA Connection

There’s a DMA Design connection, too. (Quick refresher if you arrived here for the UFOs, not the retro games: DMA was the computer games company which brought you Lemmings and GTA.) Before 1996 when the X-Files was at the height of its popularity, I discovered that Brian Baglow also had an interest in UFOs. We were both in the Design Department, and a typical Friday would see us emailing each other from all across the room. No internet at that time, at least none which we were hooked up to, and so we’d test each other’s knowledge of the subject.

“Who was Billy Meier’s space girlfriend,” he would write.
“Semjase,” I would reply.
“Smartarse,” he would write back.

I had a deep interest in this subject. Billy Meier was Contactee from Switzerland. So during frequent tea breaks Brian and I would chew the fat over saucer-related stuff.

I had the idea of turning all of this lore into a game.

At DMA anyone could pitch in ideas, which went into the Design Department’s red box. A cash prize was awarded on a (I think) monthly basis for the best ideas. But it wasn’t my motivation. In a document which was heavy on lore and light on gameplay, I described Cold Light (April 1994) with the tagline “The warning was unambiguous. It was just seventy years too late.” Yes, there were aliens. But that’s not what the sightings were. Those were symptoms of a psychic malaise through which all technological civilizations must pass. Not all make it. A SETI signal had warned us. But not in time4.

I think I was attempting my own version of “cosmic horror”. Perhaps with recollections of the 1979 version of Quatermass, which had also featured a radio telescope.

A bit too deep for a mid-90s computer game, perhaps. But it showed the way my UFO thinking was going. This was the era of Bob Lazar and Element 115, of the Alien Autopsy video. Of Roswell (of course), and the Linda Napolitano abduction and the Gulf Breeze sightings. I was suspicious of a goodly chunk of it. At one point I managed to find and read the novel Miracle Visitors (1978) by Ian Watson a rare fictional work about UFOs5 and was struck by how authentic it felt, and how different that feel was to the UFOlogy of the present (i.e. 90s) day. Were 70s extraterrestrials really that divergent? It seemed so. In retrospect the metaphysical nature of the story had informed a lot of my subsequent stance.

It turned out that Brian had also been working up a game pitch. His was called The Dark Hypothesis and again was rich in the same real-world lore.

At some point we decided to combine the two, and in July 1996 we had (version 0.3!) a combined project called EBE/GRUDGE after which we failed to get anyone interested in it. I persuaded one of the artists to contribute a 3D rendering, but that’s about as far as it got. EBE — Extraterrestrials Biological Entity — is a term popularised by the X-Files. Grudge is a reference to Project Grudge which was a real 1950s UFO study.

Interestingly, we had both independently touched on the idea of presenting the game lore as based on fact, and knowing more than we were allowed to let on. We shared the same dark and sarcastic sense of humour too.

In hindsight, I think we should have written a novel together.

The Scottish UFO Casebook

The casebook started off in a rather low-key fashion, around 2000, when I thought I had enough cases to make a tourist guide! It would have been quite a small volume, and I knew nothing about tourism. It was also clear that I’d need to take my own photos, write up places to eat, and… I’d actually have to travel. Which I couldn’t afford and didn’t have time for. So I gave that up, settling on trying to get all the Scottish cases I knew about at least in a single place.

That was harder than it seemed, and still looked pretty slim. There was going to be a ton of writing to put each sighting into my own words. And even with that, it would have been sightings of Dundee only book. It didn’t seem worth it. Only with the National Archives and the Archives for the Unexplained — the pandemic keeping me at home — did it finally feel like the moment had arrived.

Sightings were found, written up, references added. It was a joy to find a different account of something which proved to be the same event, and that kind of thing kept me going. Flipping through tens of thousands of pages can get wearying, especially when weeks went by with nothing more than “a light was seen” kind of cases. Sometimes the different categories of UFO became boringly obvious, and that was a drag, and on those days I started thinking there was nothing to this.

But some stand out. There’s little threads which connect the interesting events. Non-obvious details, which suggest another category which doesn’t have a ready explanation. I tried not to come down on any particular side for the book, it’s a reference work more than anything. Yet it kept me thinking.

As to what I believe, that’s changed over the years.

I don’t think I ever quite believed in the ETH, though still strongly enough to unsettle me from time to time. TV shows such as those wide-eyed, uh, enthusiastic ones you get on cable, have done more to damp down my belief in the ETH than anything else.

But in any case there’s only once thing to do…

Keep watching the skies!

Tracker Witness

(Yes, I used myself as model for Project Tracker!)


  1. Here I know what I’m talking about. I had weeks of disturbed sleep after reading Whitley Strieber’s Communion when it came out. 

  2. Well, it’s a university now

  3. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression on Google Search. I’ll have to get some sources. 

  4. Having re-read my WIP document, it’s clear that I was A) pretentious, and B) needed to do more research. 

  5. For a modern UFO novel, check out the excellent Descent by Ken MacLeod

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