Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email email@example.com.
Neil Arnold, 35
Neil is a full-time monster-hunter and author. He runs the Beasts of London blog, has just had published PARANORMAL LONDON and has recently written a book on monsters in London folklore.
LLO: What sort of beasts are lurking around London then?
NA: My research covers mythical beasts, as well as the more complex folkloric stuff, and very real creatures. The flrsh and blood beasts lurking around London are mainly ‘big cats’ – puma, black leopard and lynx. These have been observed from as far and wide as Shooters Hill (Surrey puma of the 1960s), Sydenham (the ‘beast’ of Sydenham – subject of a huge hoax in 2005 when a man claimed he was attacked by a ‘panther’, although a black leopard did chase a jogger through a wood in Dulwich last year and domestic cats have been found eaten in the area), Cricklewood (a lynx was caught in a back garden by London Zoo in 2001)…however, you’d be surprised the amount of other strange beasts reported. Alligator found dead in a Dollis Hill pond, Crocodile in a Peckham bath tub, eagles, vultures escaping…London is a concrete jungle quite literally!
LLO: How long have you been interested in beasts and what sparked the interest?
NA: I became interested in monsters around the age of nine when I was given a book on mythological monsters, but also a film called ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’ was very influential as a child.
LLO: How did you develop your reputation as an authority on the subject?
NA: I simply realised that no-one else was doing it. I took a risk, gave up my day job, and decided i wanted to follow my dreams and become a monster-hunter. With over two decades of experience, it’s been an amazing journey, and quite a weird one!
LLO: As a full time “monster hunter”, what’s your most interesting find?
NA: It does get a bit weird sometimes, and that’s just the people I’ve met over the years! However, it’s just a huge buzz researching cases throughout the world. Some are more sinister than others, and others quite down to earth, but also it involves a lot of documentation and it’s great unearthing very old newspaper reports of escaped beasts or monster sightings. I’ve seen ‘big cats’ in the wilds of Kent, been to Loch Ness, but London has reports of vampires, dragons, giant rats and killer foxes….
LLO: Best place to go for a taste of paranormal London?
NA: Certainly one of the strangest places is Highgate Cemetery which in the 1960s and early ’70s was the setting for a vampire panic, after many witnesses described seeing a seven-foot tall, red-eyed spextre behind the North Gate of the Western cemetery. It’s a tremendously gothic place.
LLO: Tell us a bit about your latest book.
NA: Paranormal London is my third book and it’s something very different. I’ve read so many regurgitative books on London folklore, ghosts ,etc, and I wanted to write something different. The book is full of short tales regarding monsters, strange beasts, the occasional UFO/ghost report, but most concerns very obscure mysteries and sheds light on more known mysteries such as the Brentford Griffin, the Highgate Vampire, Spring-Heeled Jack, etc.
LLO: What’s a typical day of “monster hunting” like, anyway?
NA: It depends…most of my time concerns writing, but at any point I could get an interesting call from a witness, or film something with a news crew. Not many people are out there ‘in the field’ as such, and I’ve had some odd experiences from being shot at, to being threatened by Satanists. It’s a colourful life!
LLO: You wrote The Saturday Strangeness on Londonist for a long time. Since this is being posted on a Saturday, want to give it one more go today?
NA: The Saturday Strangeness was Londonist’s longest running feature, but they suddenly ended it. I’d love to write something similar again…London has so many unknown stories just waiting to bewilder audiences!
LLO: Touching on a few other interests, where’s your favourite place to catch a gig in London?
NA: I used to go to gigs all the time in London, particularly The Marquee when it was on Charing Cross Road, and also the Astoria. I like the Appollo, and Forum, and also Camden Underworld is cool for smaller bands.
LLO: And the best place to deck yourself out in 60’s fashion?
NA: I think as a monster-hunter people expect me to look like some bearded, wizard-type in a safari jacket, ha! I love ’60s culture and tend to pick stuff up in markets really because then you tend to find an item noone else has, rather than the more commercial stores which are destroying the boutiques.
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