STRANGE days. Strange enough that many otherwise pleasant and peaceable members of the public would dance to the screams of mainstream media hacks being buried alive in pits of bubbling tar.

Still, perhaps it's what we deserve for feeding at the charred teats of our lying, propagandistic, state-influenced masters to fill the minds of the weak with fluff and lies. But you're not fooled. You're smart. You see though it all and enjoy the sport of picking it all apart, exposing our dark filthmongering to the purifying light of social media through the righteous filter of your own personal perception of truth. Good for you. 

Yet, even now, some global media stalwarts remain untouchable, some undefinable moxie elevating them above even the most polarised and paranoid of the hate-fuelled rabble - and within this ever-contracting circle, Sir Trevor McDonald remains a journalist everyone trusts. It's always been his unique selling point – natural authority crystallised by a rich vocal timbre oozing gravitas and empathy. Then there’s that fine moustache – a symbol of old-school chivalry, curled snugly around his tunnel of truth like a greying cat warmed by the hot breath of righteousness.

If Trevor ever approached you in the city centre, perhaps clad in urine-stained jogging bottoms and uttering a torrent of words uncomfortable in its over-familiarity with internalised chaos, maybe asking for change towards his train fare home, then you still wouldn’t hesitate to dig deep – even handing over your smart phone so he could check the station timetable online. Trust is everything. 

That’s why I believed this establishment-approved Knight of the Realm when he said something so outre that if it came from anyone else  it would have signalled the end of their telly career - UFOs were real. The year was 1994 – the fag end of true reality, a few years before the mass fractionalisation, isolationism and grotesque self-glorification bequeathed to us by the digital dawn. No phones, no internet, your gran could whistle the Top Ten and 30 million folk watched Coronation Street. Before the internet, Ken Barlow’s bed-hopping was all teenagers had to learn about sex.

This vacuum of yawning nothingness allowed for mass pop culture crazes that infected entire continents with short-lived delirium – and in 1994, the brow of the globe’s collective consciousness was hot and sweaty with X-Files fever.

In fact, so seismic was the show’s influence that ITV saw fit to dedicate an entire evening’s scheduling to UFOs – showcased somewhat predictably in the familiar format of a panel debate. Nothing that would scare the horses, then – or elderly folk too jiggered to get up and change the channel after Corrie.

Saucers full of secrets

IT was as a prelude to this peculiar pow-wow that host Sir Trevor greeted viewers with an unforgettable soliloquy. “We’re here tonight not to decide if UFOs are real – unidentified flying objects clearly are real,” he announced, steely-jawed, unblinking. “Something is in our skies. We’re here to discuss what they could be and from where they might originate.”

It didn’t matter that Trevor was likely reading some faceless producer’s hyperbolic spiel from an autocue. The significance lay in the fact someone who didn’t cut his own hair or eat roadkill just told the nation UFOs were real.

Even unbound by its ubiquitous acronym, 'unidentified flying objects' being legitimised on ITV should have been a cultural watershed – a moment where even the most earthbound of cynics recalibrated their stance.

Yet, nearly a quarter of a century later, the credibility of UFOs has lost much of its worth in terms of cultural currency. Even reputable sightings like the odd darting lights witnessed by several commercial airline pilots over Ireland recently barely registered a raised eyebrow.

Perhaps, then, UFOs really are just a fading hangover from less informed times, when our species was far more susceptible to vague notions of the supernatural – before smartphone addiction stopped our minds from wandering, killing imagination, wonder and creativity stone dead.

Perhaps Sir Trevor’s new gig chatting to folk with morals lower than snake testicles – not celebs, the monsters he salaciously affords the oxygen of publicity on his abhorrent Inside Death Row show – is also indicative of today’s anaesthetised indifference to anything that’s not taking place within our own culture silos.

Perhaps the dying scream of a world quickly spiralling into an uninhabitable dystopia is being deafened by the static of digital isolation. In such a dystopian, self-obsessed reality, it might actually take something as seismic as the sight of a UFO hovering over a major city to dig us out our deep burrows and unite us again as a species.

Escape the net

THE smoking gun often held up by cynics dismissing the UFO phenomenon is the distinct lack of any clear photos in this smartphone-dominated era.

Certainly, two major online sites for reporting sightings – the National UFO Reporting Center and the Mutual UFO Network – have both experienced numerical declines parallel to Gary Glitter’s royalty cheques.

The internet itself can certainly shoulder some of the blame for UFOs' fading fame too. Despite the initial promise that free access to information and instant communication could birth a more enlightened, empowered and equal world, a grotesque funfair mirror reflection of reality has instead haemorrhaged.

Without gatekeepers, lies are now afforded an equal platform to truth, and the ensuing static serves only to discombobulate focus and perception. In the era of spin, reality distortion, Photoshop and Deepfakes, good luck finding credible evidence of your own existence never mind UFOs. The internet is rather like communism – wonderful in theory, but the cradle of horror when human nature is added to the formulae.

At times, however, some notable events do cut through the noise. Commercial pilots are certainly credible witnesses and that recent  incident over the Irish sea proved that very strange things continue to happen in our skies – even odder than folk willingly paying £10 for a coffee and biscuit.

Some of the individuals now coming forward to tell their stories are actually more plausible witnesses than those we trust to steer us through the clouds in a sky-dart – high ranking government employees and military personnel with nothing to gain and everything to lose. Yet, despite waving all manner of prestigious credentials, it’s likely they will be taken as seriously as folk who claim to have skinny-dipped with Nessie.

Full Disclosure

OVER the past few decades, there have been several “official” movements attempting to find some sort of objective truth on UFOs.

The most high profile is ‘Disclosure’, where ufologist Steven Greer herded 20 whistle-blowers – including astronaut Gordon Cooper and a brigadier general – for a fascinating press conference held in Washington DC in 2001. The aim? To “establish the reality of extraterrestrial vehicles, life forms and exotic technologies".

Yet, groups like Disclosure are finding it tough to gain publicity in the mainstream media, where editors have licked a finger and held it to the wind, deeming the public has lost its appetite for such frivolity in an age filled with real clear and present otherworldly dangers.

But who needs the media as a conduit when the lying, conspiring governments themselves are now releasing the most intriguing and credible UFO evidence for public consumption?

Perhaps most jaw-dropping of all the recently declassified military footage released by the US Defence Department is an encounter between Navy F-18 fighters and several unidentified aircraft. The recording captures several pilots discussing a hovering egg-shaped craft, apparently one of a “fleet”. Another film trumps that however – showing an F-18’s close encounter with what is clearly, well, an unidentified flying object.

More sober mindsets will speculate if this was simply space junk catching the sun’s light or even an advanced craft piloted by tiny Russians. Yet, such speculation itself suggests something even more terrifying than the existence of UFOs – that we might actually be completely alone in the universe. 

The Pentagon comes clean

IF it’s a credible UFO whistleblower you’re after, perhaps someone with a lot to lose from being subject to ridicule from his peers, then Christopher Mellon is your man – a former deputy assistant Secretary of Defence for Intelligence for the Clinton and George W Bush administrations.

Bemoaning the lack of transparent government investigations into valid sightings, Mellon recently told the Washington Post: “I know from numerous discussions with Pentagon officials over the past two years that military departments and agencies treat such incidents as isolated events rather than as part of a pattern requiring serious attention and investigation.”

He also makes reference to his colleague Luis Elizondo - who used to run a Pentagon intelligence program examining evidence of “anomalous” aircraft - resigning in protest at the US government’s seeming indifference to a “growing body of empirical data”.

“Nobody wants to be ‘the alien guy’ in the national security bureaucracy,” Mellon soberly concluded. “Nobody wants to be ridiculed or sidelined for drawing attention to the issue. Yet, the current attitude is a serious and recurring impediment to progress.”

Other declassified documents reveal that the US Air Force recently launched several F-15 fighters in a failed attempt to intercept an unidentified high-speed aircraft darting over the Pacific. Defence Department officials also confirmed more than a dozen similar incidents taking place off the US East Coast since 2015.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that these stories emerged not long after the Pentagon itself publicly acknowledged the existence of a program dedicated to studying unidentified flying objects. The soberly-monikered Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ran from 2007 to 2012, but many officials claim its efforts have simply resumed under another name. Either way, admission of its existence has marked one of the most significant disclosures about UFO government research since the infamous Project Blue Book, a lengthy US Air Force study into thousands of sightings that was shut down in 1969.

Officially, Project Blue Book failed to find “any technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge”, yet a small number of its investigations remain unexplained. And that’s the thing – if even one of the millions of UFO sightings is true, then the phenomenon is conclusively proven. Just one.

Wha’s like US?

FAR from being a spectacle confined to the toothless whispers of banjo prodigies, Scotland is no stranger to wee visits from aliens, interdimentional structures, highly evolved sky dragons and time travellers from the future. Perhaps all four if you're in Port Glasgow.

Just last year, an Airbus A320 with 220 people on board which was making its final approach into Glasgow airport, came within 300 feet of colliding with a “blue, yellow and silver” object, which pilots witnessed flying underneath it. The disturbed crew immediately contacted air traffic control, stating: “Not quite sure what it was but it’s definitely quite large and it’s blue and yellow.” Prestwick airport backed up the sighting, with radar detecting an “unidentified track history” 1.3 miles east of the plane's position 28 seconds earlier.

However Scotland’s most infamous UFO tale, unique in British history as the only example of a close encounter becoming the subject of a criminal investigation, is known as The Livingston Incident. Forestry worker Robert Taylor claims he saw "a huge flying dome" in woodland near Dechmont Law on November 9, 1979, describing it as seven metres in diameter, and made of a dark metallic material with a rough texture like sandpaper.

Taylor claimed to have experienced an acrid smell "like burning brakes" and the sensation of being dragged. When police visited the site, they found marks in the soil where the craft was said to have hovered, and further tracks following the path of two “mine-like objects”. Taylor, who died in 2007, never sought publicity or financial gain – and always stood by his account.

Perhaps he would have found a more sympathetic audience in Bonnybridge, home of the infamous 'Falkirk Triangle’. This well-kent – and henceforth thoroughly monetised – phenomenon was first reported in 1992 and the area still continues to register around 300 sightings a year, more than any other place on Earth – even more than the notorious Area 51 in Nevada. The fact it attracts a lot of UFO tourists who are perhaps inclined to believe in the phenomenon – and also want their money's worth – is neither here nor there, of course.

Scots UFO expert Ron Halliday says: "One theory is that there could be a window into another dimension, other worlds, the past or the future.” Even Nessie probably thinks that's a bit outlandish. Although where else would you visit but Scotland if this planet is simply some sort of space zoo for holidaying Zeta Reticulians?

And finally …

Temporal lobe epilepsy is an unenviable yet fascinating condition that many doctors deem entirely responsible for all occurances of inexplicable supernatural phenomena, from UFOs to religious communion to the indeterminate forces holding Donald Trump’s barnet together.

Those afflicted may not be aware of their condition, unwittingly suffering brief seizures, paralysis, vivid hallucinations and – notably – an overwhelming feeling of something other in their vicinity.

If UFOs are indeed a purely internally projected phenomenon, we can then safely assume such stories would likely reflect current sociological, technological and cultural fears and aspirations.

Certainly during the Cold War, the beings described in these close encounters were often characterised as benign saviours who wanted to help humans overcome the prospect of nuclear annihilation.

And after events such as Watergate and the Vietnam war fuelled mass distrust in government, witnesses came to describe UFOs as a threat to humanity – their sinister and all-powerful occupants often rendering abductees powerless and repeatedly probing them against their will. An analogy most conspiracy theorists who believe the actions of the mainstream media are orchestrated by a puppet master elite will be familiar. 

A version of this article was published previously in The Herald