In 1987, in a field beneath White Horse Hill between Bratton and Westbury in Wiltshire, UK, one of the first ever crop circles appeared, a simple circle of flattened wheat in a spiral pattern. This plain shape was succeeded the Autumn after next by one with a groundbreaking second ring around it. Crop circle fever had arrived, and it must have been the first time in a millennium that the area had attracted so much attention.
In August 1990 the BBC and the Japanese national TV network, with aid from the UK military who have firing ranges nearby, set up Operation Blackbird on the summit of the hill, right on the edge of Bronze age hill fort known as Bratton Castle. The plan was to monitor the surrounding fields with all the tools technology had to offer at the time. The portacabin on the hill was filled with monitors, speakers and miscellaneous equipment connected to microphones and infrared cameras in the fields below, as well as radios and portable low intensity light scopes. A staff was on 24 hour alert in case one of these phenomena should manifest for the cameras.
The project got into deep water from day one. On the first night it was operational the BBC ran a story that it had captured a pictogram (one of the new kind of "circles" that was more like some kind of symbolic diagram made up of lines and geometric shapes) in its formative stages. It reported to have footage of a glowing object in one of the fields before (surprise surprise) the camera ran into problems and cut out. When a team got there they found a fully formed pictogram which was promptly declared genuine, by some mysterious criteria, by the "experts" gathering around the site, and all this which was swallowed whole by a mystery hungry public and British Broadcasting Corporation.
It was re-classified a "fake" a couple of days later after someone overheard a soldier bragging about having helped make it. The bit about the soldier was kept quiet, preferring an explanation involving wheat that was broken at the stem instead of bent, as it is in "genuine" occurrences.
After that there were a few more simple circles, always out of camera shot; the best of the action that years happened in Alton Barnes, miles away to the east. Some of the little Bratton ones were declared real, though I personally remember bumping into a drunk friend of mine, carrying a grass roller at three in the morning on the outskirts of the village. I asked him what he was doing and he replied with a laugh, "What the fuck do you think mate?"
The next morning another "genuine" case of this phenomena had happened, in the field Eddy was making his way from.
The site itself became a magnet for all kinds of charlatan and gullible fool. It festered with self declared psychics and a deputation from BUFORA (the British UFO Research Association, a gaggle of pre-X files conspiracy theorists with telescopes). The whole circus was presided over by an ambitious young BBC producer who shall remain nameless, and a group of increasingly nervous looking Japanese cameramen who disappeared mysteriously at the end of the first week.
The whole thing dissolved into a shambles, with equipment going down every day and a growing population of mystery men and sightseers undermining what little credibility the project had left. Local youngsters who had volunteered their time to act as security for the site ran riot around Bratton with the equipment in the small hours. By the end of the second week they were packing up the site, ready to leave.
It was a fun time. I smoked my first can pipe of "red seal" black hashish on the burial mound a few meters behind the site with some of my fellow "security" details. I got to run around with my newly stoned mates with half a million candlepower torches, night vision goggles and radios. We got to recover from that night in a newly discovered crop circle we were standing guard over, on a roasting hot August day, and appeared in a segment on the Richard and Judy show the next morning, shirts off, backs to the camera, stoned to the bone in the sun.