Friday, 13 November 2009

Fortean Traveller, the Heksenwaag, Ouderwater, Holland

This article first appeared in Fortean Times issue 255, November 2009

Matt Salusbury is weighed in the balance and found not witching


THE HISTORIC market town of Oudewater lies in the official ‘Green Heart’ of the crowded Netherlands, a green buffer zone that prevents the cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam reaching out to form one huge Tokyo-style conurbation. Oudewater is a 50-minute bus ride from local provincial capital Utrecht, past the occasional windmill and car showroom and along neat and tidy maize fields and well-kept pastures grazed by enormous cows. Dutch agriculture is a very orderly affair indeed.

You can walk through charming little Oudewater, with the narrow river Ijssel running through the middle of it, in a few minutes. It has waterfront brick houses dating from Holland’s 17th century ‘Golden Age,’ with gables and staring ornamental heads above the door. Subsidence over the years has made some of the houses lean forward at eccentric angles. Like many Medieval Dutch market towns, Oudewater still has its old waag, its weighing house, where weights and measures were officially set. In an agricultural economy based on commodities sold by weight, the weighing house would have been one of the town’s most important institutions. Oudewater’s weighing house is an unassuming little two-storey stone building on the waterfront, on the corner of Leeuwingen Street. But Oudewater’s weighing house is world famous as the Heksenwaag, the ‘Witch Weigher,’ the place where desperate people accused of witchcraft came to from as far away as Germany and even Hungary to be officially weighed to determine whether or not they were witches.

The Heksenwaag still weighs people to check whether they are witches, on an industrial scale. When I visited, the salaried Weighing Master (in fact a weighing mistress) was taking a well-earned day off, and volunteer Maaike den Boer was interrogating and weighing day-tripping families at the rate of about one every three minutes. Her volunteer colleague, Jaap van der Laan – also the Heksenwaag’s Spanish interpreter – somehow found time between weigh-ins and signing visitors’ certificates to tell me the Witch Weigher has around 70 punters a day stepping onto its scales in the summer high season, and Jaap estimated that their all-time record is close to 2000 in a week, including all the school trips, parties and weddings.

They still use the 500-year old wooden scales, all original except for the ropes. August sunlight poured in through the high windows at the top of the weighing chamber, which is a large room with a high ceiling, with an old iron balance from which thick ropes suspend two plain, square wooden platforms big enough to comfortably accommodate one person. The platforms hang just above the floor – I somehow managed to get my size 11 boot wedged fast between the floor and the scale.

The Heksenwaag's witch-weighing scales, all original apart from the ropes

The witch weighing procedure is as follows: you stand on one of the scales, while the volunteer interrogates you about your personal habits – cooking with herbs, a love of walking in the woods, and a preference for mushrooms are all suspicious signs. Then there’s the question about whether you’ve ever eaten an egg that’s been brooded on by a snake. Tip: answer ‘no’ to this one, a ‘yes; answer is apparently a dead giveaway. The interrogation complete, the inquisitor then loads some big old cast iron weights on the other scale. You need to weigh a minimum of 100 pounds to clear the witch-test (the weights have actually gone metric), but there are complicated adjustments for your height, build and age. They’re vague about this formula, but when I was there, everyone was declared of ‘normal body weight for a human’– even the girl who I though had rather blown her chances by putting on the tall fancy dress witch’s hat and clutching the broomstick she’d found lying on a nearby bench.

Volunteer Maaike interrogates witchcraft suspects

On payment of an extra €I, I walked away with a certificate in Dutch with 16th century spelling. While the certificate didn’t explicitly state that I wasn’t a witch, it did confirm that I had a normal weight for a human of my ‘bodily proportions’, and it bore the stamp of the Town Council of Oudewater. (English versions are available too.) The current Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was weighed back in April 1952, and monarchists will be glad to hear that a constitutional crisis was no doubt averted by the confirmation that she was not a witch either.

We can all laugh today at this Monty Python and the Holy Grail-type tourist attraction – the film features a distinctly dodgy-looking witch weighing in which the accused was declared a witch after she was found to s weigh exactly the same as a duck – but witch weighing once a deadly serious business. Witches were thought to be supernaturally lightweight, which is why they had the power of flight. Desperate witchcraft suspects – often accused because of family feuds, land disputes or anonymous letters in the local mayor’s letterbox, came from far and wide to get a certificaat from Oudewater’s Heksenwaag. Its reputation was enough to prove beyond doubt they were too heavy to be a witch, thereby saving them from the stake. Holland’s last mass witch trial was in the southern town of Roermond in 1613, in which at least 40 condemned were burnt at the stake, in a witch panic that may have been a manifestation of the contemporary Catholic counter-reformation. An unusually high proportion of convicted Dutch witches in the 16th century were children – often alleged to have caused the milk of nursing mothers or cows to dry up.

The Seven Provinces of the Netherlands (the union of the majority Protestant provinces to the north) banned the death penalty for witchcraft in 1614, but other sanctions such as exile remained, and witch trials continued in the Catholic south. Dutch Protestant spiritual leaders continued to rail against witches long after the Reformation, and curiously, ultra-Protestant Holland continued to force feed Holy Water mixed with the wax of Easter candles to suspect witches, which was supposed to make them to reveal their true form. Two Dutch sceptics were significant in undermining belief in witchcraft, Dr Johann Weyer dismissed most witchcraft accusations as female hysteria, but believed there were some male witches. His work influenced the Scottish King James VI (later James I of England) and his witchcraft-sceptic book Daemonologie (1597). The Dutch Protestant minister Balthasar Bekker’s bestselling four-volume De Betoverde Weereld (The Betwitched World, 1693) concluded that the world had no demons or witches, and that these were the products of ‘heathen’ pre-Christian superstition. He didn’t completely rule out the existence of the Devil, but the Church authorities concluded that doubting the existence of the Devil would lead inevitably to questioning whether there was a God either, and he was declared a heretic and fled into exile in Sweden.

Did the town fathers of Oudewater believe in witches? Jaap told me that original certificates issued by Oudewater witch weighers are in the Province of Utrecht archives, and they’re accompanied by long and chilling dispositions of the trials and the circumstances of the witch weigh-ins. Some of the defendants who were recorded as non-witches in Oudewater were strikingly lightweight and thin, according to these records. It may be that Oudewater’s Weighing Masters, having earned a reputation for integrity in weights and measures, quietly used their power to save the lives of hundreds of people charged with a crime whose very existence they doubted.

Any why Oudewater? The apocryphal story goes that the 14th century Hapsburg Emperor Charles V, when the region was part of the Spanish Netherlands, was travelling in the area and sat in on a witch trail in the nearby town of Polsbroek. The local court recorded a supernaturally low weight for the accused woman, which the Emperor found hard to believe. Oudewater had a reputation locally for ‘correct’ weights and measures, so the accused was taken to Oudewater to be weighed, where the Weighing Master ruled that she weighed comfortably over 100 pounds, and she was freed. (Could Charles V have been quietly witchcraft sceptic too?) Oudewater’s Weighing Master also refused the ‘gold ducats’ the emperor offered for his services. Impressed by his integrity, the Emperor granted Oudewater’s Weighing Master an exclusive permit to weigh suspected witches. But all the surviving Heksenwaag certificates date from much later, the earliest extant ones are from the early 17th century, while what appears to be the last serious certificate declaring the bearer to have a non-paranormal human body weight dates from 1733, many years after the European witch panics are supposed to have subsided. Current Weighing Master Dr Jeanette Blake said she couldn’t be certain about the date of the last genuine Oudewater certificate, because ‘they were hectic times.’

There’s an extensive bilingual Dutch and English display on the history of Dutch witchcraft in the Heksenwaag’s attic, along with audiovisual presentations, an early edition of De Betoverde Wereld, and some reconstructed ‘witch rings’ – clumps of feathers that were supposed to have magically formed into rings, found inside the pillows of witches. Witch rings provided enough evidence to get you burnt at the stake following a 15th century witch trial, typically of ten minutes’ duration.

The Heksenwaag is open every day from March to the end of September, 10am-5.30, admission is €4.50, excluding certificate of weighing. The Connexxion bus service 180 to Oudewater runs hourly from outside Utrecht Central Station, and more frequently from Gouda Central Station. Dutch Railways have discount advance deals on the Eurostar from London to any station in Holland.

© Matt Salusbury 2009

Monday, 26 October 2009

Freelance journalist uses Data Protection Act to uncover police dossier on himself

My article on using the Data Protection Act to get my police criminal intelligence report appeared in today's Guardian, with a companion piece on my case by Rob Evans. See today's Press Gazette blog, which has already picked it up. Follow their links to the original Guardian story, and see my comments on this on the Press Gazette blog.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Get that book published, work in non-traditional media

The November 2009 Freelance is now going up online. My articles include:

Get that book published!

Fiction publishing may be “flatlining,” but more and more journalists are getting non-fiction books published, and having a book out gets you more work. Former Virago editor Rebecca Swift, of The Literary Consultants, and former Bloomsbury editor Matthew Hamilton, currently with literary agent Aitken Alexander, tell you how.

Find non-traditional markets for editorial services

Leeds-based freelance Adam Christie (above, centre, in dark blue shirt,) says his regular work with both the Yorkshire Post and the local BBC "disappeared in an evening". He tells how he found work using his journalism skills "outside the media industry".

Which website?

Web designer and “new media” expert Gary Herman says most of the famous computer catastrophes were down to insufficient attention to the "spec", the specification of what a website or software tool is for. If you're considering paying someone to set up a website, or setting one up yourself, think very carefully about the "spec": what is the purpose of the site and how may it change in future? Read his advice here.

And I’m currently helping to organise this conference on “new ways to make the media pay” for Saturday 16 January 2010.

Radical Times - a short history of International Times

They declared "punk is dead" as early as February 6th, 1977, before most people were even aware that it had been born

My article on the launch of the complete web archive of radical periodical International Times is now on the History Today website.(From the September 2009 issue.)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Pgymy Pachyderms footnotes


Back to Pygmy pachyderms Fortean Times article.

(1) Hidden Giants – Forest Elephants of the Congo Basin, Stephen Blake, Wildlife Conservation Society, Rapac, Projet Especes Phares, AG Partners, Gabon, West Africa, no date given but circa 2006, ISBN 0-9792418-0-4. I would like to praise the impressive conservation projects carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the habitats of the forest elephant and other endangered animals, and to thank them for their help on this article.

(2) ‘Pigmy Elephants,’ Guy Dollman, Natural History Magazine, Natural History Museum, London, vol 4, no 31, 1934.

(3) ‘A propos des Formes Naines d’Elephant D’Afrique’, (on dwarf forms of the African elephant,) Mammalia Tome 26, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifque, Paris (no date given for Cameroon specimen).

(4) ‘A Dwarf form of the African Elephant,’ Prof. Theodore Noack, Annals and Magazine of Natural History, London, vol 7, no 17 1906, This is a summary translation from German from Zoologischer Anzeiger vol 29, no 20 January 1906.
‘Pygmy elephants of Africa,’ Zoological Society Bulletin, R. L. Garner 1923 vol 26, New York Zoological Society, New York.
‘Our second pygmy elephant’, W. T. Hornaday, Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, Vol 26, no. 1 1923. New York Zoological Society, New York.
William Bridges, A Gathering Of Animals, an Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society, Harper and Row, NY, no date given. The New York Zoological Society became the Wildlife Conservation Society.

(5)‘L’elephant nain du lac Leopold II (Congo),’(Dwarf elephant of Lake Leopold II,) Dr. H, Schoutenden (Museé de Congo, Tenveuren), Revue zoologique africaine, Vol 3 1914, Hayez, Brussels. This based on a report from the Cahiers section of La Nature – Revue Des Sciences, vol 39, 1910-1911, Lahure, Paris. “We have learned from Mr. Le Petit, an explorer of the Natural History Museum in Paris in Temba-Mayi river, which feeds into the north bank of the lake… (this) is where M. Le Petit saw a group of five individuals.” (Author’s translation)

(6) ‘Evolution Status of the so-called African pygmy elephant (Loxodonta pumilio, NOACK 1906)’ Régis Debruyne, Arnaud Van Holt, Véronique Barriel, Pascal Tassy, Compte Rendu Biologies 326 (2003) 687–697 Natural History Museum/ Elsevier, Paris.

(7) On The Track of Unknown Animals, Bernard Heuvelmans 1959, Richard Garner trans.
Kegan Paul, London, 1955 first edition (French) and 1995 3rd edition. (Text on pygmy elephants is identical for both editions.)

(8) The mitochondrial DNA survey is described in Hidden Giants – Forest Elephants of the Congo Basin Stephen Blake, Wildlife Conservation Society.
Dr Colin Groves’ comment on on herds of forest elephants that often don’t have bulls are on the ABC News website.
Garner’s comments on Congo are from ‘Pygmy elephants of Africa,’ New York Zoological Society Bulletin, R. L. Garner 1923 vol 26.
The controversy around hybrids prompted the African Elephant Specialist Group to put out a “position paper” stating their official view on hybrids. “Recent genetic evidence” would suggest that the savannah elephant Loxodonta africana africana and the forest elephant Loxodonta africana cyclotis “may in fact constitute two separate species… In addition, the existence of a third species, a West African elephant inhabiting both forests and savannahs in the region has been suggested… The (African Elephant Specialist) Group believes that the premature allocation of African elephants into separate specific taxa (species) would leave hybrids in an uncertain taxonomic and conservation status, and that more research is needed before such an allocation can be made.” Position Paper, African Elephant Status Report 2002.

Thanks to Dr Victoria Herridge, who is researching elephant locomotion at University College London and the Natural History Museum, for her help on this article. Dr Herridge had a visit from the production team of the film 10,000 BC shortly before she showed me round the museum’s Bate Collection of pygmy elephant fossils. And yes, Victoria did advise them that mammoths couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids, and that mammoths and elephants don’t run – running being defined as when all the animal’s legs leave the ground at some point.

(9) ‘Zur weiteren Dokumentation des Zwergelefanten,’ Wolfgang Böhme and Martin Eisentraut, Zeitschrift des Kolner Zoo (Journal of the Cologne Zoo,) 1990. The article also describes how Dr Claus Muller, who was the vet at the presidential Tatoma Zoo in Freetown, Liberia in the 1970s, said he regularly tended to two five-foot (1m 50cm) adult elephants. There are two photos of these elephants in the article, which are not of very good quality – in one of them Dr Muller and a woman are standing right in front of the elephants, so you can’t see much. An English summary is in ISC Newsletter (International Society of Cryptozoology) Vol. 11, No 1, 1991.
State-controlled legal elephant hunting still exists in Congo Brazaville, with a 15000 Central African francs fee for exporting ‘ivory under trophy’, according to the Congo Brazaville government website Nestroy may have been on a ‘diplomatic hunt.’
Harald Nestroy is donating his fee for his photographs to his philanthropic projects in Bhutan.

(10) The Dzanga Clearing study is in Hidden Giants – Forest Elephants of the Congo Basin, Stephen Blake.

(11) Speculation on elephant populations during civil wars from Africa’s elephant – a biography, Martin Meredith, Hodder, London, 2001. Discovery of Sudan and Eritrea elephant herds from BBC News. The baboons acted as treetop look-outs, in return for which the elephants dug wells and grubbed up tubers for them to eat. Elephants are apparently able to smell water underground.

(12) ‘Origins of the Elephants Elephas Maximus L. of Borneo,’ Sarawak Museum Journal 2008.

(13) Numerous elephant population surveys for India and for all Asia give noticeably different statistics. See also ‘Asian elephant survey’ The Hindu, (Chennai, India,) 8 November 2007,

(14) “Malayali wildlife expert P S Easa” reported earlier kallaana sightings by the Kani in ‘Elephantine Paradox - Pygmy Jumbos Sighted,’ R Gopakumar, Deccan Herald, (Mysore, India,) 20 January 2005,
Paul Sondaar and Gert van den Bergh’s 1997 study of Indonesian stegadons led them to conclude that their legs shortened to allow “low gear locomotion” on steep slopes – possibly giving them access to upland pastures. Cited in La Terra degli Elefanti, (in English and Italian,) Alti del 10 Congresso Internazionale, C Cavaretta, P Gioia, M Mussi, M R Palombo, Consiglio Nazionale della Richerhe, Rome, 2001. See the display in the mammal hall of the Natural History Museum, London on how full-size elephants negotiate big ditches. (At ). African elephants in the desert of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast crawl up dunes on all fours, and belly-surf down dunes on their bottoms. Dr Herridge told me we will have to wait until 2011 for the publication of her definitive study on elephant locomotion, including the locomotion of fossil pygmy elephants. (Update - 14/04/2013 - Dr Herridge still cannot say when this will be published.)

(15) ‘A group of four,’ Deccan Herald, 6 June 2005.
In Search of India’s Pygmy Elephants, Sali Palode, Mallan Kani, Sanctuary Magazine,
‘A pygmy among the jumbos?’ Telhelka, the people’s paper, Thekkady, India, 19 February 2005,
Author’s email correspondence with Prof. R. Sukumar, 12-04-2009

(16) Elephant Days and Nights, R. Sukumar, Oxford, Delhi 1994.
18 January 2008, untitled article by Manoj K.Das, The Hindu, 25 August 2005

(17) ‘Move to track pygmy elephants abandoned,’ K.S. Sudhi, Telhelka, January 18 2005.
A group of four, Deccan Herald, 6 January 2005
‘Elephantine Paradox - Pygmy Jumbos Sighted,’ R Gopakumar, Deccan Herald, 20 January 2005
‘In search of pygmy elephants’, The Hindu, 23 August 2005
‘Pygmy elephants’, Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates, 30 May 2005
‘21 elephants found in Western Ghats at Kanyakumari,’ The Hindu, 6 January 2008.
Emails, faxes and letters sent to Peppara Reserve Wildlife Wardens, to the office of Kerala Forests and Wildlife’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and to various named people at Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) enquiring about possible results from the DNA test on the alleged kallaana carcass elicited no reply. No one picked up the phone on the several occasions I rang all the numbers listed for KFRI. As my mum said, they were probably out in the forest.

(18) Author’s email correspondence with Prof. R. Sukumar, 12-04-2009

Back to Pygmy pachyderms Fortean Times article

Pygmy Pachyderms? On the track of pygmy elephants, from Fortean Times

This is a slightly longer version of my article, which appeared in Fortean Times 251, with an update (14/04/13, in bold in the text) after having talked to Dr Victoria Herridge again in 2013.

A life-size model of extinct elephant Elephas tilensis, last of the known fossil pygmy elephants of the Mediterranean, being manhandled into the Museum of Geology in Athens. Although "only" 5ft (1m 55cm) at the shoulder, E. telensis was one of the bigger Mediterranean dwarf elephants, and was about the same size as the putative present-day kallaana and Elephas pumilio are said to be. Photo by kind permission of George Lyras

ELEPHANTS are the world’s largest land animals, but some claim there are pygmy elephants out there too. The fossil record has a rich variety of extinct pygmy elephants from around the world. But there are also reports of living pygmy elephants – India’s kallaana, Thailand’s Chang Khom, and West Africa’s “wakawaka” and Loxodonta pumillio. Following good Fortean practice, I present below some evidence for and against pygmy elephants, and leave readers to make their own minds up.

The known prehistoric pygmy elephants of the fossil record were as small as 3 foot (just under one metre) at the shoulder, with babies as small as a large cat. Some may have still been around when the first humans arrived on their island habitats, as recently as 6000 years ago. By comparison, “pygmy elephant” is a misleading description of modern cryptid pachyderms. Alleged present day pygmy elephants aren’t supposed to be that small. Witnesses describe them as around five foot (150cm) high at the shoulder, so they’d still be powerful beasts by anybody’s reckoning.

22 different living species of African elephant were described in early 20th century, and it was fashionable for hunters to develop new taxonomic names for their kills, often naming them after themselves. German zoologist Paul Matschie then whittled these dubious African elephants down to four species based on the shapes of their skulls, and by the 1940s zoologists had consolidated African elephants into the two types we recognize today – the smaller Loxodonta africana cyclotis (the forest elephant) and Loxodonta africana africana (the savannah elephant, also called the Sudan elephant or “bush” elephant, the type we’re likely to see in zoos.)

Controversy rages about whether these are species or sub-species. Zoologist factions of “lumpers” and “splitters” either categorise them together as a single species, with L. cyclotis as a sub-species of L. africana africana, or insist the savannah elephant and the forest elephant are two separate species. (1)

The savannah elephant, the biggest of all elephants, lives in East Africa, and also shares space with the forest elephant L. africana cyclotis in Central and West Africa. Forest elephants are found in rainforests, and compared to savannah elephants they’re stockier and rounder, with straighter, thinner tusks and with a smaller adult size range – from 6.6ft-9.8ft (2-3m). Hannibal’s elephants that crossed the Alps were probably all forest elephants.

The forest elephant has only been widely known since 1924, which led to many bog-standard forest elephants being misidentified as “pygmy elephants” by big game hunters unaware of a smaller sub-species already known to science. As late as 1934, Guy Dollman of London’s Natural History Museum complained that the then Governor of Sierra Leone kept presenting him with trophies of the “sumbi dwarf species of elephant from Gola Province,” easily identifiable as “beyond any question of doubt the skulls of young elephants” of the known forest elephant sub-species. (2)

Big game hunters of the early 20th century referred to 1911-vintage “growth tables” based on observations of captive South Aftican savannah elephants. By comparison, specimens like the 2m10cm at the shoulder (6ft 8in) specimens shot by W.D. Bell in Cameroon were defined as “small or dwarf elephants”, while they were of a respectable height for that sub-species. (3)

The best known “pygmy elephant” was a male named “Congo”, sold to the New York Zoological Society for Bronx Zoo by animal dealer Carl Hagenbeck in 1905 as a specimen of mesalla, a dwarf species of elephant from Cameroon “never before seen in captivity… many of the natives say that it never becomes taller than a man.” Zoologist Theodore Noack looked Congo over while he was at Hagenbeck’s zoo in Hamburg en route to America, and pronounced him the type specimen of a hitherto unknown species of pygmy elephant, Loxodonta pumilio, which doubled Congo’s asking price to $2,500. (4)

Bronx Zoo proudly displayed Congo as their pygmy elephant. But, alas, it seems they had been conned. Congo was shot by his keeper after succumbing to a chronic leg infection at the still juvenile estimated age of 11, and was 6ft 8 in (2m 10cm) on his death – a respectable height for a forest elephant. Congo’s remains are at the New York’s Natural History Museum, and are now described as those of a “forest elephant.”

Other often-cited evidence for “pygmy elephants” comes from around 1911, during the exploration of Lake Leopold II in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Lake Mai-Ndombe, or its tributaries, reports are vague). A Lieutenant Franssen (presumably in the Belgian army) heard stories from the local Bongo tribe of an unusual elephant dwelling on the shores of the lake, and was determined to bag a specimen. Following its tracks, which were “very different to that of an elephant,” he eventually did shoot a specimen of what is certainly a strange-looking elephant, and estimated from its corpse that it would have stood 1.66m (5ft 4in) tall. Franssen named it Loxodonta africana fransseni, and died of a tropical fever soon afterwards. There was another unusual elephant sighting around the lake at around that time, of a “troupe of six individuals”, all with short trunks, short ears, and a longer than usual neck. The size of these elephants “did not pass two metres in height” – well within the range of an adult forest elephant. Locals called it wakawaka, the elephant that “comes with the rains”.

A closer look at these stories shows they are second- or third-hand cobblings together of different reports, with unsourced additions. The original French source for the Lake Leopold water elephants seems to be a 300-word entry in La Nature from 1910-1911, describing the “troupe of six individuals” snorkeling across the lake with trunks raised. This report didn’t once use the word “dwarf” (nain in French) or dwell on their size, and described only elephants with unusual behaviour and habitat, with no mention of a Lieutenant Franssen or wakawaka. The information that the observers only saw “water elephants” for “a few moments” (quelques instantes) was omitted from later versions. (5)

DNA analysis has not been kind to the legend of the pygmy elephant. A 2003 DNA survey examined nine “dwarf” elephant specimens from museums in Terneuven and Paris (including Lieutenant Franssen’s “L. africana fransseni”). Skull morphology suggested these were all “extremely small individuals, at least four of them are adults,” but that all L. pumilio and L. fransseni specimens were bog-standard forest elephants. The investigators team declared, “pygmy elephants are the results of individual cases of nanism (dwarfism) or pathological growth… We conclude that the specific taxon Loxodonta pumilio (or Loxodonta fransseni) should be abandoned.” (6)

DNA evidence has thrown up another possible explanation for elephants misidentified as “pygmies.” We now know that forest elephants move in and out the forests and into the savannah, and that there are whole populations of savannah elephant-forest elephant hybrids. “Father of cryptozoology” Bernard Heuvelmans mentioned local traditions reported from the Belgian Congo of “a third type of elephant” or “red elephant” living alongside forest and savannah elephants. While Western explorers took this to be a pygmy elephant, could they have misunderstood the locals describing a forest elephant-savannah elephant hybrid? (7)

A late 1990s mitochondrial DNA survey of live forest elephants in Congo DR’s Gararamba National Park by Dr Al Roca showed that half the specimens examined had the mitochondrial DNA of a forest elephant mother and the nuclear DNA of a savannah elephant father. Some now argue that entire elephant populations are now so hybridized that there’s a separate third species evolved from hybrids. And Dr Colin Groves of the Australian National University says some herds of forest elephants “often don’t have bulls.” Could the fathers of this herd be from a different herd of occasionally encountered savannah elephants? Dr Victoria Herridge, a researcher at London’s Natural History Museum, also concluded some of the specimens of long-dead zoo, museum and circus elephants she has looked at seemed to be hybrids. (Update, 16/04/13: I talked to Dr Herridge again, and she said I had misunderstood her when I interviewed her back in 2007. She had never looked at these specimens, nor concluded they were hybrids, she was only reporting comments made to her by Regis Debruyne in a previous conversation they'd had, in which Debruyne had suggested that he felt that some of the museum specimens he'd seen had signs of being "morphologically intermediate" between savannah elephants and forest elephants, see footnote 6.) R.L. Garner, director of Bronx Zoo while “Congo” was there, admitted Congo might have been not a pygmy but an “an intermediate type” – a hybrid? (8)

You can’t get a more distinguished eyewitness than Harald Nestroy, who briefly served in West German Chancellor Billy Brandt’s federal cabinet. In 1982, as German ambassador to what’s now Congo Brazaville, he was on a legal elephant hunt in the remote Likouala region. This is in the national park which includes Lake Tele, rumoured haunt of alleged dinosaur survivor mokele mbembe (FT ??,?? ) Likouala is also home to the world’s only pygmy crocodile, Osteolaemus tetraspis, and it’s where the wakawaka water elephants were spotted and Lieutenant Franssen shot his Loxodonta africana fransseni. If you wanted to hide a pygmy elephant, Likouala would be the place to do it. (9)

Nestroy photographed what he claimed was a herd of pygmy elephants, and soon afterwards he photographed a group of conventional-sized forest elephants and buffalo in the same clearing, which helped give an idea of scale. One of his two pygmy elephant herd photos shows a large bird, a while cattle egret, standing behind one of the adults, from which it is estimated the adults in the group are 1.50m (5ft) tall, at least a foot shorter than forest elephants should be.

In recent years we’ve learnt much about forest elephant society and behaviour, as a result of an ongoing 16-year study at Dzanga Clearing in the Central African Republic. When the mothers of savannah elephants are shot by poachers, her calves rarely survive. But orphaned forest elephant calves do often survive, as younger females of 14 years and up apparently compete with each other to adopt them. Given that Nestroy’s sighting was at the height of a wave of elephant slaughter, he could have come across a group of younger female survivors and their adopted calves, the larger members of the herd having been shot for their ivory. (10)

Heuvelmans conceded that Africa’s pygmy elephants “may merely be the freak offspring of normal elephants. It is often difficult to distinguish between true pygmies and pathological dwarves.” It is of course possible that there were races of African dwarf elephants, but they’ve been wiped out in three waves of mass elephant slaughter – in the early twentieth century, for ivory billiard balls, until World War One caused the ivory market to crash, in the 1970s and 1980s Asian consumer ivory boom, and in the current desperate civil wars of Africa, which have introduced a lot of cheap automatic rifles into the continent and displaced many people deep into the jungle with no livelihoods.

A 1994 US Fish and Wildlife Survey reconnaissance flight found an undiscovered lake in the remote Odzala National Park, in Congo Brazaville, littered with 200 elephant carcasses shot within the previous three years. Another elephant kill site, with over 100 slaughtered elephants shot within the preceeding two years, was found in Chad in 2007. A dwarf elephant population could have been eradicated by poachers – or displaced from its habitat and bred out by mating with other elephants – and we’d never know it. The determination of Lieutenant Franssen, the Governor of Sierra Leone and others to shoot and bring back a definitive “type specimen” to prove the existence of pygmy elephants seemed guaranteed to drive them to extinction if they ever existed.

Hunters may even have made up pygmy elephant to legitimise their activities. According to Heuvelmans, British big game hunter W R Foran claimed in the 1950s that pygmy elephants were invented by ivory traders, as it was then forbidden (under Congo Free State “special permits”) to kill elephants that weren’t fully grown, so when poachers shot a young one they pretended it was a pygmy.

P.T.Barnum’s five-foot stuffed ‘pygmy elephant,’ once exhibited alive, still exists and was auctioned to a private collector in 2006. But it was such a botched taxidermy job that it’s hard to draw any conclusions about its size when alive.

Forest elephants like to stay hidden in the forest, and often the only indication they are ten feet (3.5m) away from you is that you can hear them breathing. We can still only estimate elephant numbers using a number-crunching formula based on piles of dung. Conservationists admit that because of wars going on in Angola, Congo, Sudan and Somalia, “no one has any clear idea of the fate of the elephant populations” there and that it’s “still impossible to gauge the numbers present with any degree of precision” in forests.” Africa’s elephants have surprised us with their feats of unexpected survival. Everyone anticipated that war in Eritrea would have killed off the few remaining elephants there, but in 2001 a herd was suddenly discovered in the Gash River on the Ethiopian border, living in symbiosis with baboons. And in southern Sudan, despite the war, a herd of elephants was found living on a treeless island as recently as 2007. In several countries, forest elephants were thought to have disappeared, until suddenly reports came in of crops being destroyed out of the blue by big herds that then vanish. (11)

The evidence for living Asian pygmy elephants in India seems stronger. The Asian elephant Elephas maximus (often called “Indian elephant” outside Asia) shows great variation in size and physique across the continent, with some populations given dubious sub-species designations, and one variety already unofficially known as “pygmy elephants.” The Indian mainland elephant, Elephas maximus indicus weighs 2.5-4.5 metric tonnes and stands up to 3m (almost 10ft) at the shoulder. There’s such a range of elephant physiques within India that there’s even a “caste” system for describing different builds of elephant – the koomeeriah (“thoroughbred”) is the stocky, barrel-shaped, well-proportioned variety and mriga (Sanskrit for “deer”) is a slimmer and more delicate elephant type. Female Asian elephants usually lack tusks, and some of India’s bigger males are makhnas – without tusks.

As you go east of India, Asian elephants get smaller and lighter in colour. Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Burmese elephants, and the handful of elephants still living in Bangladesh and China, are smaller than India’s, as are Sumatra’s elephants, which live in 44 completely isolated populations, and which some designate as a separate sub-species, Elephas maximus sumatrensis.

The elephants of Borneo are described by the World Wildlife Fund and others as “pygmy elephants,” but they are still massive beasts. With a height of around 6ft (1.8m) at the shoulder, they’re only six inches (15cm) shorter than their distant cousins on the mainland. Borneo “pygmy elephants” have proportionally bigger heads compared to their body, their faces have a rather comically sad expression, and their tails reach almost to the ground. Proportionally bigger heads were a characteristic of the much smaller extinct island dwarf elephants of the fossil record. Research into Borneo elephant DNA in 2003 showed that their ancestors separated from the mainland population about 300,000 years ago. Confined to the northern tip of the island, Sabah, in Malaysian territory, and on the endangered list, Borneo’ “pygmy elephtants” are down to about 1000 living individuals.

Research last year (2008) on Borneo “pygmy elephants” suggests even weirder origins. The Sarawak Museum Journal could find no archaeological evidence for elephants on Borneo before 1700, and reports by the first Western explorers to arrive don’t mention any. It seems Borneo’s elephants were shipped form South Sulah, the southernmost tip of the Philippines archipelago, to nearby Borneo, which was then part of Sultanate of Sulah and North Borneo, but was subsequently leased to Western adventurers by the Sultanate. After the dust of occupation of the Philippines by Spain and then America had settled, Sabah had become Malaysian. (12)

Elephants on Sulah were hunted to extinction some time around 1800. The inhabitants of Sabah have long regarded the island’s wild elephants as having a domestic origin, and the island’s elephants have a reputation for being less aggressive than their Asian cousins. The designation Elephas maximus borneensis is still unofficial.

Back in India, recent estimates put India’s wild elephant population at as little as 20,000, with perhaps 15,000 in captivity. There are believed to be between 59 and 100 distinct populations of wild elephants in India’s isolated forests, “with little or no possibility of genetic interchange.” (13)

Starting in the early 1990s, an increasing number of reports emerged of kallaana – living pygmy elephants from the forested Agastyar mountain range in Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern state of Kerala. Kallaana was said to be “under 5ft” (1.5m) at the shoulder when fully-grown, or even as small as “half the size” of a normal elephant. But kallaana is a longstanding tradition in the culture of Kerala. The name – in the Malayalam language spoken by about 30 million people in southern India – means “stone elephant,” because the little elephants are said to scramble over rocky slopes which conventionally-sized elephants can’t negotiate. The Malayali community say that they in turn got their kallaana traditions from the Kani tribal people that live in and around the Peppara Sanctuary in 12 settlements. Another Kani name for the kallaana is “thumbiaana,” meaning “as light as a butterfly”, a reference to the great speed with which if flits through the forests when pursued. It’s interesting to note how some paleontologists have speculated that the fossil pygmy stegadons (an extinct close relative of elephants) in prehistoric Indonesia may have developed “low-gear locomotion” as their legs shortened, a possible adaptation allowing them to scramble up steep slopes to get access to upland pastures. But Dr Herridge points out that full-size elephants can handle slopes surprisingly well. (14)

According to the Kani tribals, kallaana are shyer and less aggressive than conventional Asian elephants, and avoid contact with them. Sali Palode, an art teacher from the village of Palode, Kerala, and a professional photographer who won India’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in 2007, photographed what he claimed were several kallaana on 8 January 2005. Palode had been on the trail of kallaana for five years, a quest that was based on the sound Fortean principle of asking the locals – he had been alerted by Mallan Kani, a local “tribal” guide, who brought him to the banks of the Karmana river.

Sali put the height of kallaana at “just over 150 cm” (just under 5ft) and said it had “a different look, particularly in terms of the shape of the skull”. He added, “the shrunk (sic) forehead and ear folds are proof that this was an adult.” He photographed another live kallaana three days later, and came across the body of a recently dead female kallaana, which he also photographed. He said of this second sighting that “we were just 10 metres (about 30ft) away and I am sure it was 10-15 years old… Notice the wrinkles on the trunks. A baby elephant will be hairy and have soft skin.” He cited the “grown-up nipples” on the corpse, which was taken away by Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) officials and cremated, but not before they took a DNA sample. There’s no word yet on any tests on this sample. If the intention was to send a sample for analysis by the KFRI’s better-resourced partners on its elephant surveys, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, it doesn’t appear to have arrived there. Ecologist Professor Raman Sukumar, chair of the IISc’s Asian Elephant Special Group, who participated in local KFI elephant surveys, said that “no tissue or DNA samples have been sent to me” from Kerala, nor to his colleagues at Bangalore’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research.(15)

Asian elephant families stay together in tight-knit groups to protect calves well into their early teens, and calves up to two years old have bristly hair like a mammoth. These characteristics would help prevent misidentification of an Asian elephant calf as an adult dwarf. But the IISc’s Prof. Sukumar, the expert on Asian elephant ecology, suggests that kallaana “could be the result of an morphological variation, not a new species." He adds that witnesses could “mistake a sub-adult male in a herd as a dwarf elephant. Sometimes, tuskers in their teens get together and play with a herd… I think somebody has mistook one such for the mythical kallaana.” While pygmy elephants of the fossil record evolved on islands free of predators, Prof Sukumar notes that the Peppara Sanctuary is not an island forest where animals could evolve in isolation – the forest is connected to surrounding areas, and it has tigers. (16)

Other critics note that Palode’s photos don’t contain anything with which we could compare the elephants to give us an idea of scale, and that his kallaana photos look a lot like a young Borneo pygmy elephants, and could actually be these.

In 1995, KFRI conducted a search for kallaana after reports by “tribals.” January 2005 saw a KFRI survey supported by ecologists from the Bangalore-based IISc to look for kallaana, and for kallaana dung from which they could take DNA samples. But unexpectedly early “heavy rain… forced the officials to abandon the programme… The dung of the animals would get washed away in the heavy rain.” Dr. Easwaran of the KFRI said at the time that the Kani had misidentified “young and short elephants leaving the group and venturing out in search of water during summer months.” An unnamed forest official referred to the body found by Sali Palode and taken away for cremation, confirming that the body of a small elephant had recently been found (presumably the one found by Mani and Palode and removed for cremation). “At first we thought it was a calf,” commented Kerala’s Chief Conservator of Forests, a Mr Varghese.

Forestry officials again went looking for kallaana dung in March 2005, and interviewed the Kani “tribals.” The survey leader, Neyyar-Peppara Sanctuary Wildlife Warden L. Krishnaprasad, reported that "our officials, along with members of the tribe, perambulated the area where the animal was reportedly sighted but to no avail.” B.S. Corrie, former Chief Wildlife Warden, said at the time that the absence of evidence for kallaana "does not mean that the animal is not present in Kerala forest.”

In May of the same year, it was reported that another “search for the pygmy elephant in the forests of Kerala has drawn a blank.” The census team, again supported by IISc, found “no traces in the Agasthyavanam forests - The teams have concluded that the pygmy elephant is non-existent at least in the Kerala forests.” A search for kallaana was also part of an elephant survey of the district in 2008 by 60 forestry officials. While the survey identified 21 conventionally-sized local elephants from footprints and eyewitness reports, it found no evidence for kallaana. (17)

Pygmy Asian elephants may also have lived as recently as 1920 in southern Thailand. A pygmy or “humpbacked” elephant, called Chang Khom or Chang Pru was said by villagers to be water buffalo-sized. Thai naturalist Dr Boonsong Lekhakul recorded in an article that “some 30-50 years ago” (no date given) how people claimed that Chang Khom could be seen in the Pru Forest along the Songkhla Beach. Some older locals maintained that the Chang Khom were just young elephants. The Elephant Institute of Thailand states that “no definitive conclusion has been reached as to whether dwarf elephants ever existed in Thailand.”

Surprising Asian elephant populations occasionally turn up, such as Sir John Bashford Snell’s 1993 encounter with a previously unknown group of six huge male elephants with high-domed heads, over 11ft (3.3 m), in the Royal Bardia National Park on the Indian-Nepali border (FT 70, 31). The pygmy hippo was written off as a “native legend” until the naturalist Robert Hermann Schomburgk brought one to Europe from Liberia in 1913. Pygmy hippos were until recently believed to have become extinct in the wild, another casualty of one of Africa’s many civil wars, until a pygmy hippo was photographed by a camera trap in the Liberian rainforest early last year (2008). Living deep in a forest, and with a need to run from leopard predators, the pygmy hippo would have a very similar ecological niche to the to putative kallaana.

India’s scientific establishment are certainly prepared to entertain the idea that kallaana could be out there, and to keep an open mind. Says Prof. Sukumar of the search for kallaana, “While I will not rule out anything (scientists should be open to unexpected surprises), I have not seen anything convincing so far… This is still a worthwhile venture.” (18)

More photos here and a link to a 2008 talk on pygmy elephants here...

For details of the book Pygmy Elephants (Matt Salusbury, CFZ Press 2013) see here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sub-editors ask for more, photographer detained in cop van - the July/August Freelance

Sub-editor Martin Cloake looks at the future of subbing. Photo: © Matt Salusbury. (It was a meeting on subbing, so none of the proper photographers showed up with their cameras.)
The July/August online-only edition of the Freelance is out.

My articles include:

Sub-editors ask for more - Christy Lawrance on how to up your rate for shifts, Martin Cloake on the future of subbing. Read more here...

Freelance photographer briefly held in police van at Parliament Square protest - colleagues de-arrest him. Read more here...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Get yourself a record - New Statesman article on police databases

These officers from the Metropolitan Police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) apparently either didn't spot me or didn't bother to record my presence at the demo I was covering at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre near Heathrow on 8 April 2004. Or so the Met's Crimint database would suggest. (Follow link to article below.)

Photo: copyright Matt Salusbury

"Get Yourself A Record" - my article in the New Statesman ab data gathered about me by the Metropolitan Police Forward Intelligence Team and held on the Met's Crimint database is now online here

Since then I've got a reply from the Met's Subject Access Office (partly) "rectifying" an incorrect record of a non-existent arrest following my "legal challenge." Watch this space for details.

There's a related Panorama documentary on police surveillance planned for broadcast on Monday July 6.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Freelance - avoid legal trouble, Finnish freelances fight, harrasment charges for photography on Underground

The June 2009 edition of the freelance journalists' magazine the Freelance is out. My articles include:

How to stay out of legal trouble, with media law lecturer Timothy Crooke.

Finnish freelances fight new rights-grab contract.

Tourist who took photographs on Underground up in court on 'harassment' charge, case dropped.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Fatwa on Christian paper in History Today magazine

My article on 'a fatwah on Christian paper' is in the June 2009 issue of History Today. The page takes a while to load, please be patient.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Renaissance man - Giordano Bruno

This review first appeared in Fortean Times 427, April 2009

You couldn’t find a better example of paradigm-shifting iconoclasm in the fortean tradition than in the Neapolitan philosopher examined in Ingrid D. Rowland's new biography, Giordano Bruno - Philsopher, Heretic. Bruno and his ideas were “damned” – his books were banned by the Vatican - but his extraordinary ideas about an infinite and constantly expanding universe are now mainstream. While his more diplomatic contemporaries like Gallileo recanted in the knowledge that the cosmological cat was out of the bag, Bruno was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600, as part of a great Papal ‘jubilee’ year of mass executions.

Gallileo and Bruno shared the same inquisitor, and the experience of dealing with Bruno may have softened the Vatican’s stance by the time Gallileo’s case came up. Kepler admitted that when he read Bruno’s newly published ideas, they sent him into a “cosmological panic.”

Bruno was ordained as a Dominican friar twice, and was excommunicated three times by various denominations. He appeared to recant to the Inquisition, and then changed his mind and told them they had no authority to try him. Despite three orders of friars working round the clock in confessional shifts, they failed to get Bruno to retract. Bruno’s greatest flaw was that he was so extremely awkward squad. Constantly belligerent, he got up everyone’s noses throughout the intellectual centres of Europe – from Prague to Geneva to Oxford, where the dons mocked his extravagant Neapolitan gestures and his peculiar Latin pronunciation.

We know of at least four books by Bruno on his amazing and mysterious memorization techniques, in which orators are taught to remember speeches by visualising pageants of Classical gods and heroes parading on sea monsters inside giant wheels arranged within other wheels, The Dominicans sent the young Bruno to show off his memory by reciting Psalm SSS in front of the Pope in Hebrew from memory, and then doing it backwards. He was briefly a mnemonics tutor to King Henri II of France.

Bruno’s cosmology was based on philosophical extrapolation rather than mathematical calculation or observation. He believed that the universe was infinite, teeming with inhabited worlds, to which God constantly added new ones. He admitted that there weren’t yet the mathematical tools available to comprehend the vastness of universe, or the smallness of the sub-atomic world he also began to visualize. The gods of Classical antiquity and ancient Egyptian were just guardian angels of his Christian god. He insisted there was no such thing as sin, and that one day God would inevitably forgive “even the devils of hell.”

When the secular Kingdom of Italy booted the Vatican out of power in Rome and erected a statue of Bruno pointedly turning its back on the Holy See. The Vatican’s most recent pronouncement on Bruno in 2005 stopped short of exonerating him. Even today, he continues to put peoples’ backs up.

The maddening, extraordinary Bruno left a strange and baffling body of literature. His more mature works have an outlandish beauty – On the Vastness of the Universe and Beuno’s other epic verse cosmologies resemble Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. Then there is his bawdy play The Candlemaker, a Canterbury Tales-style romp among the chancers of Naples. In a class of its own is Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast and On the Infinite and the Miniscule, Bruno’s study of the miniscule, including the the fate of all members of a batch of dung beetles hatched on one particular day in his home village. The film Amelie or or even Charles Fort’s more dizzying flourishes come close in their style.

So utterly “damned” has Bruno’s data become that this is the first complete biography in English, and Ingrid Rowland makes a thorough and captivating job of it. If you enjoyed the fantasy of a flawed geniuses fighting the Church while revealing portals to infinite universes from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, you may also enjoy this all too true story in which it all goes horribly wrong.

Rowland skates over Bruno’s difficult concepts of “magic”, and I would have liked some more detail on these. A new English translation of Bruno’s collected works is due out soon, which should address this. Sadly absent from Philospher, Heretic are Bruno’s cryptic woodcuts with which he illustrated his cosmological works. But any flaws with Rowland’s biography are inherited from its subject. I was tempted to skip the long extracts of Bruno’s more belligerent works from his long phase predominantly involving slagging off the Church’s “pedant asses”, where he comes across as rather conceited. Bruno’s works are possibly not helped by losing a lot in translation from Neopolitan, which makes many of these extracts hard going. But all in all, this biography shines as brilliantly as Bruno did.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

City Hall grills Met police over G20 policing

Left to right (front): MPA members Jenny Jones, Valerie Brasse, Graham Speed. In the hot seat opposite, left to right: deputy police commissioner Chris Allison, deputy police commissioner Tim Godwin, MPA vice-chair Kit Malthouse, MPA chair, London Mayor and Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson. On his right: Catherine Crawford, MPA chief executive, Jane Harwood, MPA chief executive.

The policing of the G20 protests came under scrutiny today (Thursday 30 April 2009) at a public meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the London Assembly body that watches over the Met. Assembly Member Jenny Jones in particular gave the police a run for their money, asking why the police had refused to let her into the Bank of England kettle, and why “very aggressive tactics” were used to remove the Bishopsgate Climate Camp. Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin -– standing in for Commissioner Stephenson, who was recovering from appendicitis – and Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison – were there for a grilling.

London Mayor Boris Johnson – who chaired the meeting – opened by saying of the G20 that “everybody in London and in the country (was) horrified by some of the images of what happened particularly to Ian Tomlinson, his family need answers and need them urgently.” Boris said he approved of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary inquiries, but reminded everyone that the police “do a fantastic job.” This was met by shouts of “Rubbish!” from the public gallery, the first of many lively interjections from the public, particularly from Class War people, and particularly on the subject of tasers. Boris later threatened to have the meeting “suspended” (closed to the public) if they didn’t shut up. One woman in the gallery was masked up as if for a demo.

Tim Godwin for the Met said that while it was “probably unlawful for us to comment” on incidents of police conduct that are now under criminal investigation, but “we will not tolerate any MPS officers to make inappropriate comments via the internet” and that one officer had been resigned over this already. He admitted of the G20 policing that “we have a number of serious issues” that need to be addressed, and added, to laughter from the gallery, that the Met “can and want to learn better.” As Jenny Jones said, “I can hear the waves of doubt behind us” coming from the gallery.

Evidence from protest groups
The Authority invited Andrew May of the group Defend Peaceful Protests to come and put questions to the police at the meeting. All the G20 inquiries are going to take evidence from protest groups. Tim Goodwin said the HMIC enquiry had already taken a lot of evidence from the Climate Camp legal team. One new bit of terminology that kept popping up was concern for the rights of the “vulnerable protester” – examples given were Ian Tomlinson and a pregnant lady who was only eventually allowed to leave the kettle to go to the toilet. One MPA member, herself disabled, said she had wanted to go to the protests but had been “too frightened.”

Police identification numbers
There was also laughter at Tim Godwin’s suggestion that some officers had no identification numbers on G20 duty because “some come off by accident.” He said, “anyone not doing that (displaying their number while on duty) will be in deliberate disobedience of a direct order.” The Met’s Clothing Board are on the case to make sure that reflective tabards will carry shoulder numbers, and coloured shoulder flashes identifying heads of “serials” that obscure shoulder numbers will be changed. Chris Allison said he’d been out on the Tamil protests enforcing police regulations on the wearing of identifying numbers.

It was news to the MPA that the Met had very recently forked out £85,000 in compensation to those who “shouldn’t have been arrested” at an October 2008 Mexican Embassy protest. Why hadn’t they been told earlier? Boris agreed that there were “communications problems” between the Met and the MPA here.

Much of the meeting was, in Boris’ words, a “discussion about what I would call kettling” and police cordons, and on what MPA member Toby Harris called “the degree of permeability of the cordon.” Neil Johnson of the MPA, asked, “how can protesters extract themselves?”

Chris Boothman, who has a lot of experience of the Notting Hill Carnival, asked if police had asked behavioural experts about the effects of containment in the kettle, and whether “containment can exacerbate the situation.” Dee Doocey said she’d heard reports of people as they left the “kettling area” being forced by police to delete mobile phone images under the Terrorism Act. Clive Lawton says that the Met had in its mind-set divided up protesters into “those who were full of villainy before they started” and a group of people “who get stirred up an excited,” and how being in a crowd affects the individual “being contained in a space, getting angrier” and said more attention and research needs to be paid to this.”

Forcible deletion of photos
Chris Allision said that “there is no tactic that says as we release people we make them delete their photos. We fully accept that people are going to film us and have a right to film us.” Forcing people to delete film is “not a tactic and not a policy.” Boris said any cases the MPA hears of this will be brought before the Authority.

Clearing the climate camp
John Biggs said he didn’t like the “innocent protester thing”, the casual distinction made by the police between “innocent protesters” and others who are somehow inherently wicked. Several MPA members pointed out that a policing tactics affect all Londoners, whether they were at the protests or not, and that many Londoners who were nothing to do with G20 may at some point, quite legitimately, want to go on protests in London in the future. “I’m sure 99 per cent of Londoners don’t have the faintest idea or what Section 4 or Section 14 (Public Order Act 1988) is. For ordinary Londoners in that (climate) camp, there’s a potential for a lot of confusion, a need to communicate more the reasons for clearing the camp, how it (blocking the highway with the camp) affects London.” He asked “whether people in the camp had it made clear to them that it needed to be cleared,” and that it was made clear to them by police that it was legitimate as well as strictly legal to do so.

Jennette Arnold was concerned about how the police service appeared to be unaware on the level of “disturbing actions by officers”, with all the CCTV and “eye in the sky,” why was this not picked up, and if it was not picked up, what is the point of all these CCTV? “CCTV should be two way, for policing, and for taking action against police misconduct on behalf of the “vulnerable protester.” To applause, Jennette said that “if you’d seen an attack on a police officer, we would have found the CCTV of it.”

Tactical Support Group
There was also a lot of scrutiny about the “culture of the TSG (Tactical Support Group).” Chris Boothman asked, “is there something about the make-up of the team, the values that they hold, that actually produce some of the incidents?” Reshard Auladin said, “ever since this authority has existed, there have been issues with a few officers of the TSG.” The suggestion of dispersing the TSG to boroughs was mooted. Boris admitted, “ I do think there are specific concerns about the TSG.”

Boris Johnson’s role in G20 policing – and media hype
It wasn’t just police that were in the hot seat. John Biggs said “the public will always see politicians as hiding behind police,” and asked Boris, “what role did you have in this?”

Boris said his role in the G20 policing was an “entirely operational matter” and that it would be “inappropriate to comment” and “quite wrong for me to micromanage the operation”. He said only that he had a meeting with Gold Commander and regular briefings in City Hall. Pressed on the “guidance” he had given to the police at G20, Boris said “my view was and remains, the overwhelming majority who came to London had to right to do so… those bent on violence should be impeded” and police should do so as effectively as possible. But the G20 policing had produced what Boris called “disturbing images… which is why we are here.”

The MPA also criticized London Mayor and MPA Chair Boris Johnson in his “third role as a columnist.” Having (as Mayor) urged the media not to hype up the protests ahead of the G20, Boris in his 24th March Telegraph column predicted protesters would “surge like the orcs of Mordor” and described cider-fuelled protesters as “rioters”. While he admitted that his predictions had “not been vindicated by events” he said his words had turned out to be “an accurate description of some of the people there” and stopped short of promising not to do it again.

Old Tactics
I couldn’t help noticing that the examples the Met cited of protests on which they based their G20 tactics were a long time ago – N30 (November 30 1999) and Mayday 2001 – tactics that were widely condemned at the time and, eight years later, now seem rather old.

A transcript of the meeting and a webcast will be on shortly, if it isn’t already.

Under scrutiny - Deputy Met police commissioner Tom Godwin

Deputy Met police commissioner Chris Allison

MPA member Jenny Jones about to get tough with the police, as usual

An uncomfortable moment for Boris Johnson as he is reminded of his "swarming like the orcs of Mordor" description of protesters in his Telegraph column

"No more cover up" T-shirt protest in the gallery

Words and pictures © Copyright Matt Salusbury

Monday, 27 April 2009

May 09 Freelance - shame of G20 plod, Facebook thought we were stupid

What's my photo of a Babylonian cunieform tablet doing here? Find out here.

Print media industry magazine Press Gazette suddenly announced it will cease publication after the May issue, going the way of much of the media it reported on, but the Freelance, for freelance journalists everywhere, is still going strong, and the May 2009 online edition is now out.

My articles in the May Freelance include:

Shame of G20 plod - journalists at the sharp end of G20 protest policing

Facebook thought we were stupid - another reason not to bother with Facebook. They changed the terms of use without notice to grab everyone's copyright, then they were forced to climb down.

Keeping ethics alive (book review). An inspiring new book on the ethics of journalism deserves a wider readership than the obscurity of an internal union pdf publication that it will probably languish in.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Dark Nights is out

The 2009 Dark Nights - official journal of the Vampyre ConneXion is now out - mostly written, illustrated and designed (on Word!) by myself. Features include the Camden Town fire, 'vampyrates' (vampire pirates), Japaneze vampaparazzi (photographers and reporters from Japanese lifestyle magazine Kara Maniax who doorstep attendees at vampire-themed fancy dress parties) and many more.

There's a very limited number of copies available for £3.50 including UK postage, details from Franco Carta (aka Dionisus) via

This is likely to be the last Dark Nights for a while. Harmless fancy dress vampire enthusiast societies, like banks, are feeling the pinch at the moment and merging, and what's left of the Vampyre ConneXion seems to be doing events jointly with former rivals the London Vampyre Group.

Clapperboard image copyright Wibbell Productions 2008, all other images copyright Matt Salusbury

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Fake pound coins that I've found in my change

Fake pound coins that have turned up in my change over the past 12 years

Today BBC News warned today that coin testing companies are telling them that as many as one in twenty pound coins could be fakes. This is after the Royal Mint raised its estimate of the proportion of pound coins in circulation that are fakes to one in forty last September.

I first noticed fake pound coins turning up in my change in 1997, when a newsagent in
Oxford Street drew one to my attention and refused to accept it. Since then, I've kept them, and I've got well over thirty. The giveaways are the rubbish lettering round the edge, the shallow relief on both sides, and the uneven circle of dots round the sides of each face. Some of them are really rubbish. There was a period a couple of years back when I would get several in my change at once, but now I'm actually finding less fake pound coins in my change.

I'm parking these images below while I find the time to master Photoshop, after which I will re-post them with annotations pointing out those telltale signs of fakery.

All images copyright Matt Salusbury

Look at the letter 'A' on the coin at the top, and the letter 'N' on the coin at the bottom. They're rubbish.

Messed up 'D's and crosses

Seriously rubbish lettering

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Cream of the crop

Arguably the best deals for summer school teachers in the UK are at universities

From EL Gazette, February 2009

UK University EAP programmes are generally regarded as a much better deal for suitably-qualified teachers than the traditional private summer school EFL market, and EFL teachers who want to aim higher should look into teaching on a higher education English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programme. EAP providers, especially in the public sector, where the workforce is unionised and the contracts are regulated, are much clearer than the traditional ‘straight’ English language summer schools onthe actual number of hours you will end up working for your money. This reputation for clarity in stating the deal up-front is confirmed below.

Jonathan White, deputy head of campaigns at the University and College Union (UCU), which represents higher education lecturers, told the Gazette that ‘salaries are obviously important, but we would advise anyone looking to work in the university sector to also consider the full range of terms and conditions, including… the place of EAP courses within the overall academic programme of an institution… Our view would be that once all this is considered, there is no question that you would be far better off working as an employee of a university rather than of a private company.’

Although our questions were specific to summer course employment, most respondents’ replies didn’t restrict themselves to summer courses, and told us about year-round EAP programmes or teaching Applied Linguistics. The lecturer’s trade union sent comments that were aimed more at comparing permanent posts in the public sector with the private sector. While all universities that replied still have EAP summer school vacancies every year, this pre-occupation with year-round, permanent posts may mean that there’s more reliance on permanent staff and less call for temporary teachers for the summer. (We noticed a flurry of activity on job sites for permanent UK EAP lecturing jobs in December, at the time of writing.)

The Gazette emailed 19 full BALEAP members as well as a random selection of our existing EAP contacts, and contacted the press offices of the big private sector EAP providers. At the time of writing, only six providers had responded, all in the public sector. Several others, including Kaplan, had promised to get back to us, but no reply was with us come the deadline. To be fair, several universities excused themselves for being too busy preparing for marketing visits in the run-up to Christmas.

Two universities, both in the Russell Group, agreed to respond on the basis that replies were not attributed to them. Such coyness about salaries, terms and conditions seems a little odd, given that that the details mostly don’t vary too much from those already published for last years’ summer schools, providers are mostly planning to put comprehensive details of their vacancies up on job sites and on their own websites within the next couple of months.

One university asked for an ‘internationally recognised TELF diploma,’ we think they meant to type ‘Tefl diploma.’ There are some universities that offer a way into EAP for the newly qualified.

Several universities asked for a Delta and an MA, which given the global shortage of Dip (DELTA)-qualified teachers and the expense of getting either qualification, never mind both, is pushing their luck. More than one university mentioned a disparity in what qualifications they wanted by way of qualifications, and what they actually got.

Teachers abroad who are returning to the UK to teach EAP in the summer should note that only two out of six respondents did offer subsidised on-campus accommodation at half the normal rent, with one other saying accommodation was available, but at market rents. One anonymous campus university said ‘accommodation is provided if teachers live beyond commuting distance,’ rent was not mentioned.

All universities say that responding to ads on their own website’s vacancies page, as well as and the Education Guardian newspaper (out every Tuesday) is the way to apply for EAP summer jobs. Some of these, of course, will also be advertised on the jobs listing on the EL Gazette website. One respondent told us they ‘wouldn't necessarily discourage well-qualified applicants from sending in their CV at any time of the year, though: we sometimes need extra staff in January.’ Prospective summer EAP teachers should keep an eye out, as vacancies are announced from January all the way through to April.

Tim Marr and Janet Enever, senior lecturers in Applied Linguistics London Metropolitan University said their minimum qualifications were an MA Tesol or similar plus Delta, although they ‘believe that currently a university is able to 'carry' a small percentage of Celta qualified staff.’ Hours are 35 hours a week full-time, of which 15-18 are contact teaching hours. Short term, long term or permanent contracts are available.

Some London Met part-time posts are paid hourly-rate, full-time ones are as per their annual contract. The lecturers we contacted were ‘not aware of current rates’ of pay, and forwarded our enquiry on this to English Language Services. London Met did say that holiday pay a legal requirement.

A Russell Group university that preferred not to be named, said they advertise summer vacancies ‘if they need to in March and April.’. The university’s minimum qualifications were a Degree (‘foreign languages preferred’)and Delta or equivalent – Celta plus a relevant MA being regarded as Delta equivalent. They also need three years’ experience, preferably with some of this in EAP. Hours for their summer courses are ‘up to 18 a week,’ (presumably this means 18 contact teaching hours), with contracts of seven or 11 weeks to cover six-week and 10-week pre-sessional courses. Accommodation is not part of the deal, but university halls of residence are available at around £80 a week. Rates are ‘expected to be £650 a week in 2009,’ including holiday pay.

Liz Austin, pre-sessional programme leader at Essex University, says her programme requires a Delta or equivalent, with an MA ‘desirable’. Essex requires ‘extensive Tefl experience’ and prefers EAP teaching experience in ‘a British HE setting.’ Contracts are 10-11 weeks from mid-July to mid-September. There 24 contact hours a week, including
‘class, tutorials, attendance at lectures, long assignment marking.’ They expect teachers to do ‘class preparation and homework marking’ on top of that.

Essex’s 2008 salary was £5,350 (presumably for the 10-11 weeks) plus 8 per cent holiday pay and a bonus paid to tutors who’ve taught there before. The package includes several days’ induction and workshops during the course as part of salaried hours, and teachers can on free course trips and attend course social events if they want to. Liz describes the Essex pre-sessional as a ‘good starting point for experienced TEFL tutors looking to move across to EAP teaching.. Tutors with less experience in EAP are well-supported by senior staff.’

Another Russell Group university that didn’t want to be named said their minimum requirement is a Celta, though they’ve only ever taken on teachers with a Dip or an MA in ELT and at least three years’ experience in EAP. ‘We pay for 20 hours per week but in fact teachers have 15-17 hours of classroom contact.’ Rates are £3032 per five week phase (including holiday pay).

Ros Richards, Director of the the school of languages and European studies at the University of Reading said advertising starts in February, and advised that ‘quite a few institutions use the jobs section of the BALEAP website.’ Reading needs at least a Dip Tefl or equivalent, ‘but we seek to appoint with relevant MA plus EAP teaching experience.’ Reading’s contracted teaching hours ‘average 19 per week.’ Depending on the nature of the pre-sessional block they’re engaged to teach on, Reading have 11-week, 8-week and five-week courses. They offer 50 per cent off specified University hall accommodation. Their rates for 2008 were £542.55 to new teachers and £558.81 to returning teachers, and these will go up by 5 per cent next summer. An extra 9.21 per cent is paid out in holiday pay.