Review: UnCon 2008

By Londonist Last edited 114 months ago
Review: UnCon 2008

Whether we're flicking through the latest issue of One Eye Grey, rushing off to an event at the South East London Folklore Society or wandering round a cemetery in a mask at night, should talk stray into the area of unexplained occurrences, our ears prick up quicker than a black cat's on coven night. So, when we heard that the Fortean Times Uncovention was in town, we had to attend.

"A weekend of the weird and wonderful" proclaimed the event's organisers and it sure was. Not many conferences offer up talks on such topics as Britain's declassified UFO files and historical cases of monstrous births (as well as a burlesque performance inspired by Victorian seances), but hey, this is the strange world of Forteana.

For over 30 years this publication has been reporting on a world where scientific certainties smack up against anomalous happenings and last weekend's two day conference - held in the historic confines of the University of Westminster - was an opportunity for Forteans from across the world to meet up and compare notes (usually of odd sightings).

Readers of the Saturday Strangeness won't be surprised to learn that some of the talks ran into our city’s rich and odd past. Prof Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive talked about the parachuting pigs and boxing kangaroos which starred in the variety shows of London's yesteryear (and also aired one of the oddest silent films we'd ever seen); whereas author Mike Dash presented on the case of Spring Heeled Jack, offering up new research and an international perspective on this infamous 19th century character.

We left Unconvention in a daze about the wonders we’d been introduced to (and we’re not just talking about the burlesque here). Roll on the next Unconvention and we'll keep scanning the weird horizon for news of likeminded events.

By Ross MacFarlane

Last Updated 04 November 2008

Neil Arnold

With all due respect, Uncon 2008 was a repetitive, dull and anorak-filled flat-line. It's okay having long talks of new research but when presented by lifeless people it becomes a bit of a slog. Whilst pony-tailed, bespectacled Trekkies may salivate at the thought of aliens buzzing our planet, the traders stalls resembled a funeral wake, and only monster hunters Jonathan Downes and Richard Freeman saved the event from becoming as as empty as the magazine.


I enjoyed it a lot. Theo's talk on "The Woman in Black" was a bit flat in its presentation but had a lot of interesting stuff in it that a lot of people didn't know about: Spring-heeled Janes and supernatural harbingers. I didn't enjoy Paul Skreeton's ramble or the Brooke-Smith / Dickinson 'conversation' but I wouldn't write off the whole event because of them.

Mike Dash and Dave Clarke (certainly not a "pony-tailed, bespectacled Trekkies may salivate at the thought of aliens buzzing our planet") are both thorough and sober researchers who add intelligence to subjects like Spring Heeled Jack and the giddy world of UFOs.

I can't imagine anyone describing Gordon Rutter's spirit photography presentation, the side-show video show or anything by Jan Bondeson or Gail-Nina Anderson as "lifeless".

You’re entitled to your own opinion, of course, but it doesn’t match what a lot of people thought so I’m chucking my tuppence in. If you think the Fortean Times magazine is “empty” then I’m surprised you went to it’s convention expecting anything other than to not enjoy it.