When snappers flocked to find trace of ‘the Cannock Croc’
I stood, transfixed, at the barren fringes of a pool, the chocolate brown of its still, muddy waters punctuated by the slime green of algae, and waited, with an ever-growing throng, for the shallows to bubble and churn.
A group of unkempt youngsters, whose arrival at the scene had been heralded by the rusty screech of BMX brakes, dismounted their machines and began flinging the remnants of Happy Meals into the lifeless pool.
“Not the toy, Carl!” one shouted.
A portly angler seated on an unsteady folding chair – a man I’d watched, half-an-hour earlier, skewer a breaded KFC chicken leg on his hook – cast a dagger’s glance at the noisy group and scowled.
This was a truly surreal moment in time, a scene that for downright “out there” weirdness has not been matched in a journalistic career nudging a near half-century.
Steadily the crowd grew, bolstered by journalists and photographers with long lenses, until a thin ribbon of humanity gathered around modest Roman Way Pool, a place that only marginally gravitated from the label of pond. The tabloid press romantically dubbed it a lake. One paper described it as a reservoir.
They came in search of the Cannock Crocodile, a beast repeatedly spotted in the dank waters during the summer months of 2003. Those waters were actually in Churchbridge, a small community nudging the former Staffordshire pit town, but national papers had played fast-and-lose with geography from this bizarre story’s infancy.
One red-top headlined its article “Crocodile Dudley”. The BBC, no less, referred to the incident as “Cannock’s own Loch Ness”.
Exactly 20 years ago this week, the tale truly caught fire, trotted out in tabloids, on TV and radio.
We all jettisoned logic. The media, en masse, snubbed the spoilers presented by such crucial questions as: How has a full grown crocodile survived our winters? Why wasn’t it spotted before? Why has it not been seen and photographed basking on the pond/pool/lake/reservoir? What does it eat?
Unthinking pet owners liberate turtles and terrapins into natural watercourse, but what kind of householder ditches a near seven foot crocodile? I did ponder that, but decided not to let such problems stifle a bloody good yarn.
For me, the excitement and anticipation drained some two hours into my five hour “croc watch” vigil, syphoned, to a large extent, by an excitable, shrieking blonde at water’s edge called Mandy.
“Something’s poked it’s head above the water!” Mandy squealed. As a boy threw a handful of fries at the object, she pleaded: “Don’t hurt it.”