Twinkle, twinkle, like a star. Does love flourish from afar? was the rhyme that appeared on the labels attached to a series of mysterious carved stone heads that suddenly appeared at a number of locations in Yorkshire during the months of August and September 2007.
The phenomenon seems to have begun on the 23rd August 2007 when three stone heads were left outside a post office in Braithwell near Rotherham in the early hours of the morning, where they were discovered by Valerie and Mike Hoyes when they woke up later that same morning. Being a post office, there was closed-circuit television installed and they were therfore able to view a rather fuzzy recording of an individual described as a "big man with longish hair" arriving in a "smallish car" and lifting three heavy stones out of the back of his car around 4am.
Each of the foot-high carved stones featured a label bearing the rhyme, whilst the reverse side label featured the Chi Rho symbol and an arrangement of letters that appeared to spell the word 'paradox'. Indeed on the very same day a similar carved stone head was deposited on the doorstep of the home of a seventy-seven year old artist named George Griffiths at Arthington near Leeds. He then received another one some two weeks later, at the same time as one of his neighbours received a couple.
Then on the 18th September six more stone heads suddenly appeared early one morning at various locations in the village of Kilburn, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. One was deposited at the Forresters Arms Hotel, whilst others were discovered outside a gift shop, inside the local phone box, near a furniture workshop and in a local garden, all of which were apparently "wrapped in paper advertising a brand of German cigarettes". There were further reports of six others which had appeared in Goathland and still more at Collingham and Selby, and it seems that as many as fifty-seven stone heads were deposited across various locations in Yorkshire.
It appears that it was the arrival of the stone carving at the Forresters Arms Hotel on the 18th that first excited the interest of the media, at least in the form of the Yorkshire Post which reported on the story on the 27th September 2007. Given the prominence given to the remarks of one Fiona Gould, the manager of the Forresters Arms, it would appear that she had taken the opportunity to generate some much needed publicity for her hotel, no doubt hoping to attract the curious eager to view the carving which had been set up on the bar. From there the story appears to have made its way in to the Mail on Sunday of the 1st October under the headline 'Yorkshire villagers baffled by the 'Da Vinci Code' mystery of the invading stone heads' which claimed that "So far, the link between the sculptures, the rhyme, the cross and the word paradox has defied explanation". (In truth the only thing that 'defied explanation' was the Mail's reference to the 'Da Vinci Code'.) From there the story percolated to hit the national dailies on the 2nd October.
The online version of Yorkshire Post had attracted a comment from one Luke Harmer of Leicester on the 1st October who recorded his suspicion that the culprit was a certain Billy Johnson, whose profile was featured on the website Arthouse.org. There, the aforesaid Billy Johnson briefly described himself as "an hypnagogic fruit picker" who took "hypnogogic concepts, such as the Paradox virus and set them in stone and other media". (Hypnogogic, in case you are wondering means sleep-inducing.) This further directed the curious to Billy Johnson's own website at www.paradox-carving.co.uk which featured a number of examples of Mr Johnson's stone carvings for sale, many of which bore a stylistic similarity to the stone carvings which had been mysteriously appearing in Yorkshire, whilst there was the obvious co-incidence of the word 'paradox' being a feature of both the labels and Mr Johnson's web address.
Confirmation of these suspicions arrived in The Guardian of the 3rd October, which proudly proclaimed 'Yorkshire stone heads artist unmasked' and credited the aforementioned George Griffiths with the discovery, since he had used the word "paradox" as a trace that led him to Mr Johnson's website. The Guardian was not however able to speak to Billy Johnson, although the paper did manage to contact Judy Alston, his friend who maintains his website, who explained that he possesed neither a telephone nor a television, had no interest in the internet, and in any case could not be contacted since he was out camping.
However according to Ms Alston, her friend had previously been employed at his family's garden centre before he began carving stone some ten years ago, lived alone in the Wakefield area and spent his time rummaging around waste tips for suitable blocks of stone for his carving, although to what extent he actually made a living out of this activity appeared uncertain as she admitted that "He's not really good at selling anything". She further informed readers that Billy Johnson had begun a "marathon carving session" on the 24th August and was sure that he "would have been following a form of logic in his drop-offs", although she was not forthcoming as to what form of logic had been adopted, but remained "fairly sure that this is about him having fun and seeing what people actually did with the heads".
Note that whilst the word is normally spelt as foresters, it just so happens that the Forresters Arms Hotel calls itself just that.
- Julie Hemmings, Villagers ponder mystery set in stone, 27 September 2007
- Chris Brooke, Yorkshire villagers baffled by the 'Da Vinci Code' mystery of the invading stone heads, 1 October 2007
- Paul Stokes, Mystery man leaves trail of stone heads, 02/10/2007
- Martin Wainwright, Mysterious stone heads puzzle villages, The Guardian October 2, 2007
- Martin Wainwright, Yorkshire stone heads artist unmasked, The Guardian October 3, 2007
- Billy Johnson Artist
- Billy Johnson At