On my return to England, I find a mass of new crop circle books in the shops, testament to the fact that the 'exposing' of the phenomenon has done nothing at all to stem the flood of public interest in it, and only succeeded in increasing the zeal of the legion of 'believers'. Among these, one - Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado's Crop Circles: The Latest Evidence - features our crop circle on the cover.
My initial reaction is that I must be wrong. Surely this is some other circle? Ours was made so long ago, and I never saw it in its finished state. Besides, it was invisible from the road, and surely a pretty amateur first-time attempt if anyone bothered to look at it closely?
But it is indeed our circle. It was discovered during Operation Blackbird. One and a half miles from Devizes. Reached by a dirt track off the main road. The spurs across the circle flattened outwards. Identical in every detail: apart from anything else, the massive divot plainly visible in the centre of the smaller circle. And now, it even has an official name: The Etchilhampton Formation.
Disbelief turns to glee as I flip through the account of its discovery and validation. Apparently it was spotted by an army helicopter, then photographed by a BBC surveillance unit. It was tested thoroughly, and showed "an electrostatic variation in one part of the flattened crop"(1). One of the scientists, while bending into a soil recess in the central ring, heard a sudden loud noise. "He later told us that from his technical experience he recognised how powerful the energy must have been that was responsible. 'You just know', he said."(2)
Well, I join the legions of cerealogists by buying a copy of the book; then I tell a few friends about it, have a laugh, get on with my life and forget about it.
A few months later, I mention it to a friend whose father turns out to be a retired farmer who's now a passionate cerealogist. He begs me to be allowed to pass the information on. I tell him, why not, as long as he can guarantee confidentiality. He gets back to me a week later, saying that his father is dying to meet up with me and discuss it. I stress confidentiality once again, and he gives me his word.
Mr.Egar* comes round to my flat, where he outlines for me his involvement in soil radioactivity tests and various other attempts to provide empirical proof of the circle phenomenon. He can't understand why 'hoaxers' would want to 'muddy the waters' and go so far out of their way to make everyone's lives more difficult. I explain that I'm not a 'hoaxer'. 'Hoaxers' do things with the specific intention of fooling other people. Our interest was in proving to ourselves that, contrary to 'expert' opinion, a man-made circle was easily achievable. To call man-made circles 'hoaxes' is to assume that everyone else's objectives revolve round the scientists' own. Suitably chastened, he has the good grace to adopt my preferred terminology.
Nevertheless, he is very keen to make my information public. I don't see the point. After all, he and I have something very valuable: certainty, in an area where everyone else is guessing. Why not hold onto our privileged information (which is probably more valuable to him than to me), and use it as a yardstick to judge the various theories and work-in-progress? He leaves, reluctantly agreeing to keep my disclosure to himself.
Over the next weeks, I receive a series of letters asking me to authorise him to tell the story. I repeat my original objection; and besides, Siegfried is AWOL somewhere in Mozambique and I wouldn't make any such disclosure without consulting him. Also, how could I prove my story? And what guarantee is there that any of the committed cerealogists would have the slightest interest in believing me?
I also receive a few mystery phone calls at this stage, notably one from a gentleman with an East European accent calling himself Dr.Victorian. He claims to be a freedom of information campaigner investigating the rumoured meeting between the MOD, Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Ministry to discuss military involvement in crop circle disinformation. When I'm not forthcoming about any such conspiracy, he mentions that his phone is tapped and hangs up. I get odd clicking noises on my phone for a few days after this.
Finally, I receive a letter from Mr.Egar telling me that, while honouring our agreement about concealing my identity, he has nevertheless told my story, unattributed, to the leading lights of the cerealogy movement. The result has been disastrous. He tells me of:
"...the unanimity with which those who inspected the Etchilhampton pictogram have insisted that it's genuine. All have mentioned how precise and unruffled it was - contrary to your own assessment. [Expert #1]...could scarcely credit my story (no identification, needless to say), while [Expert #2] flatly rejected the claim and insisted that he knew it was genuine. [Expert #3] was another who remains unconvinced that it was or could have been man-made. Put another way, he and the others are persuaded that it is I who have been hoaxed."
Mr.Egar is an honest and sincere man, but I am obviously unable restore his standing in the cerealogy community. Our humble circle has now been harvested and re-planted four times since we made it. I didn't even consider documenting our authorship of it. I have no agenda to push in the debate, no interest in yet another debunking story, and no desire to take sides.
Four years on, my abiding feeling is one of wonder that such a casual and amateurish experiment could have generated such a long-running controversy - and one which is now so far beyond my control that my own story is scarcely relevant. Perhaps there really was something inexplicable going on in the Wiltshire countryside in that summer of 1990: a genuine phenomenon which succeeded in turning a molehill of mystery into a mountain of complexity.
* names changed to protect the guilty
(1) Crop Circles: The Latest Evidence: Andrews/Delgado
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