Friday, 5 February 2010

An Evening of Clairvoyance in Peckham

Another article found on a floppy disk, dating from 1990. This would have been sent to the Skeptic but was rejected, possibly because my account of a dull evening in the tacky surroundings of the North Peckham Civic Centre was uninteresting, or because it was too bitchy and might cause problems for the magazine even though I did not identify the guilty. So much for fearless crusading journalism. A note for younger readers: this was the point at which the 01dialling code for the whole of London was being replaced by 071 and 081, and British Telecom had mounted a hugely expensive campaign to remind us which places would be in which dialling code areas. The reference to Doris is a nice pun as "the other side" is actually referring to the 071 area as well as to the medium Doris Stokes. Despite the comment about my rubbish phone service at home, I worked for British Telecom at the time. For some reason I did not include a title when I sent this off and have added one now. Otherwise it appears as written twenty years ago.

An Evening of Clairvoyance in Peckham

One evening in April 1990 I went along to the North Peckham Civic Centre in the Old Kent Road, South London, to witness a demonstration of "clairvoyance" and hypnotic regression. Only about thirty people turned up, although the hall we were in had a capacity of several hundred. The organisers were clearly disappointed at the meagre turnout, but at £4.50 each, the citizens of South London obviously decided that they had better things to spend their money on. There were only three men present, excluding the organisers, and very few people over about thirty-five.

First of all we had an evening-suited hypnotist complete with booming microphone who looked as if he was about to break into "My Way", and who took us all back to past lives. I thought he was a hero, battling with New Age tapes which refused to function (he was reduced to Pink Floyd) and trying to get results relaxing the audience in the most uncomfortable chairs in the history of regression.

He began the session by asking who believed in reincarnation, and these people he moved to the front of the hall. After attempting to induce a trance in the entire audience, he asked a number of these believers which periods they had gone back to and what they had seen. The second part of his act consisted in taking several of them, apparently chosen according to their level of suggestibility, on to the stage. There he hypnotised them again and they continued their stories. These were very dull, except for one which had a distinct Mills and Boon air about it.

There was a long interval, during which time we were able to peruse a stall selling paraphernalia (Tarot decks, books, New Age music, crystals, earrings...). Trade was modest. After more adventures with the tapes, we were introduced to two famous clairvoyants, although famous where we were not told.

The man spoke so quickly and obscurely that it was difficult to work out what he was saying, and his victims would have found it difficult to express anything other than yes or puzzlement, the sole responses displayed. His speed allowed any cues which fell on stony ground – we never did find out who Arthur was – to be skated over and forgotten in the rush. He also displayed a certain interest in ladies' underclothing.

His companion was at least comprehensible, although more blatant in her fishing. This was not the only technique in her armoury, however. It was a fair bet that the black woman would have friends or relatives overseas, and that the woman in her sixties would have her grandparents in Spirit. Other techniques were: If it did not apply to you it applied to your next door neighbour in the audience; if it did not apply to either of you it applied to somebody in your family, or friends, or friends' families; if it had not happened already, "hold on to it" because it will happen in the future.

I found it illuminating to see how many of the statements made about the subject under scrutiny applied to me. For example, who had a heart problem and who had diabetes (my mother). Who had a back problem (me, and about half the population). Who had a problem with their 'phone service (ditto, but more than half the population). Who was having a problem with the buttons on their video (yes, me, but an interesting one because at first glance it would not seem a common complaint. Perhaps the ability of a stage medium lies in being able to spot social trends). Most of the names also had relevance to me, if you included every person I had ever known reasonably well in my life. Anniversaries? Counting family, there is one every month, and most people are in the same position.

After a closing prayer we were released back to reality. Outside, it was amusing to see a hoarding directly across the road advertising the new British Telecom London code changes. "081 for Doris in Stoke Newington" it proclaims, "if you're calling from the other side". That was about as close to the Other Side as I managed to get that evening.

Tom Ruffles

Tom Ruffles is a Market Analyst living in London