In Woolsery the effects of global climate change are beginning to make themselves obvious. It’s midsummer and the garden should be a riot of colour basking in glorious sunshine, but it’s not. The sky is a steely grey, and though not exactly a gale, gusty winds are buffeting the tall trees around the CFZ grounds. Half past ten in the morning, and Graham, Corinna and I are desperately wondering how – in just three days – we can transform the garden into something slightly presentable in time for our Open Day on Saturday. At the moment, it looks like a Shakespearian blasted heath that has been tended by a family of alcoholic badgers hell-bent on building some kind of mustelid theme park.
The telephone rings. I answer it, mildly bad temperedly, and am greeted with a burst of exotic music and an excited female voice jabbering in an unfamiliar language. These days as we tend to become the target for various global telemarketing campaigns, this is not as unlikely an event as it might sound, but I recognise the word “Nalchik” and I realise – that for better or for worse – this telephone call is going to be important. It is less than 24 hours since – after a week of dithering – Channel 4 finally pulled out of the expedition, and I have to admit that my first paranoid thought is that this is a phone call from the Russian authorities telling me that my judgement had been completely wrong and that something horrible had happened to one or more of the CFZ expeditionary team. As Steve Ignorant once told me, just because they say you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that you’re not stored on their computers. However, my paranoia, was – thankfully – unjustified as I realised when the cheerful voice of Adam Davies calling me on a ridiculously primitive Russian payphone crackled into my ear.
The first thing that he assured me is that all members of the team are safe, healthy and well. The only injury so far has been Adam himself who, whilst climbing some treacherous rocks, slipped and fell 10 feet, tearing his trousers. Even Richard is unusually chipper as despite a day of gruelling climbing thousands of feet up mountainous rock faces to a cave where almasty have reportedly been seen, and – as far as I can gather – from whence Grigory Panchenko obtained both skull fragments and samples of scat, and in Adam’s words “Richard for once does not have the wooden spoon for being the least healthy member of the expedition – apparently on this occasion the booby prize goes to Keith who had most difficulty negotiating the unforgiving terrain”.
They explored the caves yesterday, which are at a place called White Rock, near Tyrnyauz and have set up camera traps in the caves. At the moment we have no information as to how recent the scat samples are, but presumably local people believe that the caves are inhabited by the almasty. Grigory has given the bone and scat samples to the boys and he believes that they are genuine, although he has asked Adam to stress to me that he is not prepared to accept them as firm evidence until they have been analysed.
Today, as far as I can gather, (and you have to remember that this report is gleaned from two very brief crackly telephone conversations, each lasting well under 3 minutes, so I don’t have all the answers), half the team have climbed back up to the caves to check the camera traps, whilst Adam, presumably having repaired his trousers, and Dave have been filming an interview with an eyewitness who claimed to have found an almasty body in 1996. There wasn’t time for me to get a full description, but Adam told me of his surprise at hearing that the female corpse reportedly had a ‘conical’ head like that of a yeti. The team will be staying in and about Tyrnyauz for a few more days before embarking into the mountainous regions near Mount Elbrus hopefully to exhume the cadaver.
Adam tells us that the countryside in Karbadino Balkaria is absolutely gorgeous. They are encountering a lot of the local wildlife. It was whilst chasing a wild cat that Adam sustained such serious damage to his nether garments. Each night they can hear the cries of the wild jackals, and each day they are privileged to see eagles soaring high above them in the clear blue sky.
Because of the problems that our erstwhile film crew had getting a visa and because of the worrying postings on the Foreign Office website, I had to ask Adam whether he and the team had seen any signs of the Nalchik area being a hotbed of terrorism and a potentially lethal war zone. Adam laughed. Yes, there are armed police roadblocks which is a bit concerting when you come from England, but you see those all over the world. “In my opinion, and you can quote me on this, I think we have more chance of seeing the almasty performing in a Las Vegas cabaret than we have of being seriously affected by any kind of terrorist activity here in Russian”.
More news when we get it.