Twenty Years of the Edinburgh Fortean Society (as told by Gordon Rutter)
On the night of Friday the 9th of April, 1999 a small group of people sat around a table in The Claremont Bar, Edinburgh. That night as we drank I read from Bob Rickard’s introduction to Book of the Damned. Just bits of it. Enough to give those who didn’t know an idea of who Charles Fort was and a little about his world view and what he did, and why we feel he’s important. We chatted afterwards and agreed it was fun and that, as planned, we should meet every month and have a talk about something in the vast world of Forteana.
And that was the first meeting of the Edinburgh Fortean Society.
But it wasn’t coincidence that we were all sat there (although that would have been impressively Fortean in itself) it was of course planned and everyone around the table was already a friend of mine. We already met in the Claremont on a weekly basis as part of the long running Edinburgh Doctor Who group. One night at one of the Dr Who chats I asked if anyone would be interested in a group where we talked about Forteana, I already knew Stewart Smith would say yes, we met through the Forteana email list and we had attended several UnConventions together. Fortunately enough of the others said yes to make it seem like a viable proposition. I had a quick chat with the pub owners to see if we could book some space for our new group and yes there would be no problem, but as it was a group booking what was the name of the group? Hadn’t thought that far ahead to be honest! So I reckoned that as we were meeting in Edinburgh and we were a bunch of Forteans we should be the Edinburgh Fortean… and quite frankly Society just seemed to flow better than Bunch or Group at the end so I said it was the Edinburgh Fortean Society and so we booked our table. The choice of the day of meeting on the second Friday of the month was deliberate – every so often we would have a meeting which would fall on Friday the 13th which seemed kind of cool. So I popped up a few posters in the pub and on the appointed date and time we met. The posters hadn’t gained any people so the only ones there were those from the Doctor Who group. No worries. For our second meeting we had the whole top floor of the pub and we had a slide show from myself and Scott Russell on Rosslyn Chapel and the mysteries associated with it, long before Dan Brown got involved! So a bit more ambitious than sitting round a single table chatting. Eventually after only four meetings our first Friday the 13th came – specifically Friday the 13th of August, 1999. Only one possible topic for that meeting. So we had a talk on luck and superstition. But we hadn’t thought this through. Edinburgh in August, it’s the Fringe and Festival so despite having a booking for the upstairs we got there to find it full of festival goers. A bit of bad luck that! However we were still able to have our talk in a beer garden in a local pop up venue but after that we have not held a talk in August. Fridays we soon found were a problem as well. Fridays are of course a popular day with people wanting to hold parties and such forth. On one occasion we were kicked out of our booked room and banished to an area under the stairs, with the speaker battling against a drunken party. So we eventually moved days and now we have finally settled on a pub quiet night of Tuesday. We still keep it to the second Tuesday of the month, tradition as much as anything. Another early tradition was no December talk but instead we would hold a Christmas meal, a chance to be sociable. Normal meetings were great but there wasn’t much opportunity to sit down and chat with other people. So ten talks a year, one social event and one break.
So the group had started. Members were volunteering talks. We got mentioned in the local press, we were in Fortean email lists and details of our talks were on the Fortean Times Message Board. And then one day it happened. Someone turned up to one of our meetings who I had never met before. A stranger prompted by their interest in all things Fort. That was when I really knew the group had taken off.
Since the start we have had over 200 talks but we’ve also had 14 venues. Most places welcome us with open arms and then after a maximum of a couple of years they seem to lose interest even though we’re bringing in money on a quiet night. So we move on.
But we haven’t just had talks. No, we’ve done day events as well. The first one, in 2007, was the imaginatively titled Edinburgh Fortean Society Day Event! And as well as the talks we’ve had outings and trips to, mostly, local places with some Fortean connection.
And we’ve hopefully inspired others over the years. There was a brief group in Newcastle which didn’t last very long and a slightly longer lasting Dublin group, both of which I gave the organisers a few pointers from the experience I had had, and I was even able to pop along to the Dublin group. But there is one group still going strongly. It was formed after various conversations at UnCon. The London Fortean Society started ten years ago now, so happy tenth to them and well done to Scott Wood for a wide and varied programme.
Initially the EdFort meetings were free but the decision was eventually taken to start charging. One whole pound. For the attendees it’s nothing but it pays the speakers expenses and keeps them in drinks for the evening. Any surplus money is stored and once a year we have speakers from a bit further afield such as the CFZ’s Richard Freeman, Steve Parsons and FT’s Ian Simmons. We’ve even had FT founder Bob Rickard and at some point in the future a certain David Sutton has agreed for a talk / interview, in principle!
Over the years we have repeated some topics and some talks have actually taken two meetings to present the whole argument (on one memorable occasion each of a two part talk took three hours rather than our normal one hour talk, break and Q and A for up to 45 minutes scenario). We’ve had a range of subjects but there are still plenty we have not touched on. The website gives a list of all of the talks we have held. Some talks have been mainstream and general for example a talk on what cryptozoology is and some have been more niche. A niche example would be we had one talk entitled God’s Snowflake which was a sort of personal Bible Code thing for the speaker, based on a book that had fallen off his shelves when he was walking past. And, some have been a bit more interactive including demonstrations of how the skin of the Hindenburg could have formed thermite (yes we had a thermite fire in a pub).
Recently though we have been a bit self indulgent with our 20th anniversary – we have had a look back at literally everything we have done over twenty years and we’ve held a party. The party was always going to be in April but I was quite pleasantly surprised when I sat down to plan out the programme and noticed the party itself would be on Tuesday the 9th of April. Exactly 20 years to the day since our first meeting. A nice coincidence of which I am sure Fort would have approved. The final event for our celebrations is a one day conference on Saturday the 13th of July, six speakers for £12.50 in the centre of Edinburgh followed by drinking in haunted vaults! Can’t be bad.
Are we currently the oldest extant Fortean group? There are older groups but they don’t seem to be doing anything at the moment. If you know otherwise please write in and stake your claim! And if you don’t have a Fortean group in your area why not start one? I’ve enjoyed the past twenty years and the group even led directly to my meeting my now wife. Three people at the first meeting are still regular attendees and there are many regulars who have joined and continue to help move the group forward. We have over 400 members on our Facebook account, nearly 100 on Twitter and our biggest talks have attracted over 80 particpants. A big thanks to all of our followers, attendees and speakers.
So what’s next for the Edinburgh Fortean Society? Well more talks. And no doubt more venues. Day events and outings are popular so more of those as well. I’ve toyed with a podcast and a publication of some type but they’ve not happened yet. We’ve got a joint event (a trip to Loch Ness) coming up with the Belgian Cryptozoology Club so we’re going a bit international and there’s interest in a tour of Rennes le Château and associated area. So things look healthy. We’ve got our website, and Facebook and Twitter presence, and if you’re ever in Edinburgh on the second Tuesday of the month, well, we’ve got a warm, Fortean welcome for you.
Wherever we happen to be meeting!
Facebook: Edinburgh Fortean Society
Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX8Ez-brarHABUMKRQsT-lA/
Email : cosmicjoker at edinburghforteansociety.org.uk
gordonrutter at gmail dot com