Forgotten Forteana – “Would you like a mince pie?”

00

I apologise to any who happen to be reading, but aliens are boring. That is, the modern alien. Whitley Strieber’s 1987 book, Communion, whose cover of the classic almond-shaped, black-eyed grey, inspired a cultural flattening of what had previously been a fantastical galactic menagerie. Grey is an apt label for these critters, smearing the previously colourful reports of human-grabbing space weirdos into one generic brand of workman-like medical students. Back in the day, you didn’t know if you were going to be snatched up by sexy Nordic hippies, weird little gremlins, or some one-off, random chap that looked like one of the background extras in $5 werewolf masks in the Star Wars Cantina. The fun got sucked out of the experience, and where previous abductees might’ve been taken for a spin in a UFO and shown videos of dinosaurs, or seduced by a heavily-breasted alien temptress, now they treat us like biology class frogs.

Once The X-Files hit, there was no going back, with aliens forever marked as sinister and conspiratorial, working either with, or against our governments, to creep around at night and grab us from our beds in terrifying home invasions. Arse invasions, more like. For the modern grey, it’s all about the anus. Prodding them, measuring them; cutting one out of a cow and taking it home like a paperweight from a safari park gift-shop. There’s not been such a fixation on arses outside of my bookmarks on Pornhub. That’s why we’re taking a look back at the classic days of aliens, with this tale from 1979, as described by a British housewife, in an interview given later that same year.

01

On the snowy morning of Jan 4th 1979, in Rowley Regis near Birmingham, Jean Hingley looked out of the window of her council house and saw a strange orange light hovering over the garden. Opening the back door for a better look, three glowing “beings” with “wonderful wings” floated past, into the kitchen. They made a noise like “Zee zee zee,” and scared Jean so badly, she armed herself with a metal sink. Hobo, the family Alsatian, began to sway, with his fur sticking out like that picture of Donald Trump and the balloon, before promptly fainting. Jean, too, found herself unable to move or speak, before an elated, spiritual feeling washed over her, “as though I was in heaven, although I was still at home.” She floated into the lounge — literally, her feet didn’t touch the floor — where she was blinded by a bright light that she felt was telepathically penetrating her mind, and could hear the sound of the Christmas tree in the corner shaking.

As the glowing beings turned down the light, she got a proper look at them. Each were yanking on the Christmas tree, before floating around the room, curiously touching everything; furniture, cigarettes, a mantle of Christmas cards. Hingley describes them as slim, about 3 ½ – 4 feet tall, with black eyes, thin mouths, and no noses, ears, or eyebrows. They wore “ silvery-green tunics and silver waistcoats with silver buttons,” with similar material on their hands and feet. They each had pointed caps, with a lamp-like object on the top, completely covered by fish-bowl space helmets. She describes their wings as large, covered in Braille-like dots, and rainbow-coloured, but in a way that made our normal, Earthly colours seem bland in comparison.

02

Finally finding her voice, she asked what they wanted — “Three of you and one of me. What are you going to do? What do you want with me?” They communicated by pushing the buttons on their chests, which she assumed was a translator. After a beeping sound — though they didn’t move their mouths — they spoke, always in unison, telling her they meant no harm, and that “We come from the sky.” It’s here that things get super weird. Jean tells the beings off for bouncing up and down on the sofa, and they retaliate by turning up the light again, at points shooting it from their helmets in a beam which paralyses her. Afraid of their power, she engages them in small talk, where they reveal their familiarity with the Queen, Christmas — “We know all about Jesus” — and the entertainer Tommy Steele. They were particularly taken with Jesus, telling Jean “There is only one Lord,” after she showed them the New Year Honour list in the Sunday papers. At one point, they bantered with the catchphrase of Bruce Forsyth. “I started to say, ‘Nice to see you! Nice.’ They replied: ‘Nice.’

So’s not to appear a bad host, she offered them a drink, to which they requested water, and brought four glasses, with one for herself, so they wouldn’t think she was trying to poison them. At the moment they were about to remove their helmets to drink, they blinded her once again. She brought in some leftover mince pies, but they were too big for their tiny mouths, and the beings became distracted by a packet of cigarettes on the side. As Jean lit a match to demonstrate how the ciggies worked, they became terrified, and made their escape through the back door, still holding the mince pies.

Jean, still floating, took after them, yelling “Come back! Come back!” but reached the garden to see her new chums entering a ten-feet-long, egg-shaped space ship, with round portals, a tail, and a wheel-like object at the top. The ship flashed its lights twice, like your dad’s mate honking the horn when he drives home, and took off towards Oldbury, never to be seen again. The entire incident lasted around an hour, and left Jean with a feeling of warmth and happiness, “as though I had been blessed.” She was straight on the phone to the police, who couldn’t do much, and was soon repeating her tale to numerous outlets in the local media. Signed off work for two weeks by her doctor, Jean took to wearing dark glasses, with her eyes sore from the bright light, and complained of jaw ache, brought about by her literal open-mouthed shock throughout. Her TV, radio and clock had also ceased to function, and cassette tapes touched by the creatures had been wiped.

03

Clearly, there’s a lot to unpack here. Though the above is based on an early interview given by Hingley, as is always the case, extra details get added in over the years, sticking to the original like gum to a boot. Some versions of this story add an epilogue, two days later, when the Christmas tree mysteriously vanishes from the living room, eventually reappearing in the garden, stripped of its decorations. There are also mentions of “prints,” of some sort, left by the creatures on the kitchen door, and a circular scratch etched into the glass. Hingley’s wedding ring was also alleged to have turned white, and she later added in a vision of a tall figure in a white robe appearing in the living room as she lay on the sofa recuperating. Though even the earliest reports note the confirmation by investigators of an impression in the snow where the little space ship had been parked, no amount of physical evidence can take away how patently absurd it all is.

Though this is a singular incident, certain elements tie in with previous close encounters. The strange look of the aliens/fairies is consistent with a lot of first wave alien sightings, pre-Communion, which wore the influence of the lurid pulp sci-fi covers of the time. That whole ‘goblins in romper-suits’ aesthetic most notably comes to mind in the Cennina, Italy incident of 1954, where the creatures didn’t have wings, but were child-sized, clad in jumpsuits and functional helmets, and bothered a forty-year-old peasant woman before making their escape in a small ship.

04

Likewise, the button-pushing communication was a common trope of those early stories, with the buttons either on the outfits themselves, or attached to boxes the creatures were carrying, I guess before they upgraded to outright telepathy. The puckish nature of Hingley’s visitors also bring to mind the Wollaton Park gnome incident, occurring later that same year, only 50 miles away in Nottingham. There, seven children reported thirty miniature bubble cars tearing around the park, each carrying a pair of gnomes in bobble hats. The religious aspect of these ‘Mince Pie Aliens’ is something of a throwback to the Space Brother aliens from the heyday of the counter-culture, preaching love and warning us of straying from the light. But perhaps the closest link with Jean Hingley to another reported experience is that of Cynthia Appleton, also a housewife from Birmingham, also suffering a strange home invasion by a being in a domed helmet and silver jumpsuit, throughout the late 50s. Appleton’s experience extended over multiple visits, culminating in the announcement in a national tabloid that “I’m going to have a baby from Venus,” and the eventual birth of her alleged space-baby. As the Venusian father eventually stopped dropping in, it seems like a rather elaborate catfishing escapade. The core of Hingley’s story has more in common with fairy reports than aliens, though both are essentially retellings of the same experience, dependant of the culture of the time.

So what happened here? In the least, Hingley herself clearly believed what she was saying, and there’s a wonderful level of specific detail, like the previous day’s Sunday papers containing the Queen’s honour list, or intergalactic fairies being aware of the work of Tommy Steele. It’s remarkable how readily the human brain, especially a human brain from the British Isles, will accept and adjust to a weird occurrence. Look at that episode of Beadle’s About where they plant a crashed meteor in a lady’s back garden. The alien is one of those pound shop inflatables you see getting bummed at a stag do, but within a couple of minutes, it’s being offered a cup of tea. Regardless of the truth of this incident, whether it’s a genuine home invasion by fairies, a psychotic episode, or just some local kids pissing about, almost immediately, it becomes an incredibly British scene of chit-chat and refreshments, with everyone’s anus left completely untouched.

05

And on that notion of a psychotic episode; I’m sure I’m not the first one to throw the suggestion of a hallucinatory seizure into the mix. Though the above piece quotes Hingley as having a euphoric feeling as the creatures departed, other interviews describe the exit being heralded by deafening noises, and her suffering a terrible pain in the limbs as they flew away. The pains were so severe, she crawled to the sofa where she lay for a long time, until finally feeling well enough to put her husband’s tea in the oven. Could those muscles have been sore from contracting and thrashing during some kind of seizure? My own experience with somebody suffering a seizure is of their jaw being very sore in the days that followed, as a result of it having clamped so tightly shut during the event. An aching jaw was part of Hingley’s after-effects, attributed by her to its hanging agape during the visitation. Much of the incident revolves around bright light, sent in paralysing beams, or as narrative gaps, where blinding light acted as a ‘cut point’ between scenes, for instance between them lifting the cup to their mouths, and the water being ‘drunk’. Are these the intermissions of misfiring neurons? To perhaps further grasp at straws, the likelihood of seizures can be increased by fatigue, stress, and lack of sleep. What more stressful time than the Christmas period? And what kind of lights were on the tree? Flashing, like those episodes of Pokemon that triggered fits in its viewers? Three years after the event, Jean Hingley was dead, aged 46. Now, we don’t know the cause, and I’m not a doctor — a fact I’m legally required to disclose, after the closure of my free prostate exam business — but may I float the possibility of a brain tumour?

While I’m here discrediting the words of a dead woman, other sources specifically note the cause of being signed off work by a doctor as a nervous breakdown. And, before calling the police, she’d first called her husband, “shaking and crying.” Rather than coming home from his job at the cement factory, he told her to “go and have your hair done and tell the girls about it.” Not to get crucified in the age of #metoo, but is this suggestive of a previous history of dramatics, or just of the dismissive sexual politics of the time? Clearly on her mind, the role of woman in the then-modern world even came up in conversation with her visitors. “I was stuttering with nervousness. I was talking about politics and women going to work and said, “It’s a man’s world.” They seemed interested and excited as though they were listening and understanding.” Could this be a manifestation of buried frustrations, coming to the surface at the start of a new year?

06

Though Hingley was quick to establish herself as a normal woman, not prone to flights of fancy — “I have never read books about UFOs. I don’t look at a lot of television, but like the Crossroads programmes and Coronation Street.” — she was deeply religious, with the experience merely confirming her beliefs, which is no surprise considering how devout the aliens seemed to be. Conversation repeatedly turned back to Jesus, with them telling her that “Everybody will go to Heaven. There are beautiful colours there,” and explaining to her what a synagogue was; “no need to worship in them,” they’d said. The entire story is replete with spiritual aspects, in a story filled with blinding white light and euphoric floating, and beginning with a feeling like being in Heaven. Following the experience, Hingley claimed to have psychic abilities, and in the weeks leading up to it, she’d been embroiled in a theological feud with members of her fundamentalist church.

Perhaps a combination of her pious nature, stress over Christmas and its increasingly commercial nature, and the inter-feuding at church, caused her to visualise a group of beings, not unlike those found on top of a Christmas tree, violently shaking, and eventually stealing one, returning it free of ornaments; and all the while talking up the galaxy-spanning power of their Lord Jesus? The whole story strikes more as a religious vision than a UFO encounter, although I don’t know the shrine at Lourdes would be such a popular ticket of faith-tourism if the Blessed Virgin Mary had materialised with a Brucie ‘thinker’ pose, and a “Didn’t they do well?” In truth, there’s no one answer for the Mince Pie Martians, which is likely down to a jumble of various factors, though it’s possible there’s a space museum out there somewhere, with a ‘do not touch’ sign by a glass dome on a plinth, displaying three mince pies, and a photograph of Tommy Steele. But we’ll never know for sure. Even Hingley herself didn’t know where to file it.

Some people have written to say that they think the visitors were elves or beings from the Fairy Kingdom, or even robots, but I don’t know what to think. I know I shall never forget them if I live to be a hundred.”

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help me provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, the Fortean, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on April 19, 2018.

One Response to “Forgotten Forteana – “Would you like a mince pie?””

  1. As an actual Rowley Regian who lives there and everything, I can confirm that this sort of thing happens more-or-less all the time.

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