I went to see Derren Brown perform on Monday and actually really enjoyed the show. He’s gay, an ex-evangelical Christian and demonstrates the cunning tricks that phoney mystics, faith healers and psychics perform to part the gullible from their money. What’s not to like? I’ve never found him especially attractive before but when he ran down our row of seats to speak to someone with the microphone, I have to admit that I had a mild stirring. Maybe he’d beguiled me into that one with his trickery. I’m pretty sure he didn’t interfere with me as I’d arranged my body in a very specific pattern and checked it was all still in place after the show.
He performed a trick where he mind read and spoke to the dead which was pretty convincing. This set me thinking about gullibility, my dislike for all things mystical and psychic and about my own stupidity in the past.
I once got chatting to a man on a gay dating website who claimed to be a psychic medium. This was a shame as he seemed quite nice and I would maybe have liked him otherwise but the revelation of his chosen career lead me to two conclusions: either a) he was insane b) he was a heartless conman. Either way, that’s not for me. I avoided him from there on in.
In 1997 I was working on a general medical ward and we had an old man admitted who was a Romany gypsy. He was a bit befuddled and bewildered and appeared permanently dazed which I suspect was due to his alcohol history. He claimed he could read palms which enticed all the staff to consult him one by one and hold out their palms for a reading. I stupidly succumbed. He sat and stared blankly at my hand, puzzling over the small scar where my dog once accidentally bit me. He gave a mystical look and finally came up with the following gem:
“You’re going to start a haulage company.”
Very puzzling. I don’t drive, hate lorries, don’t even like Yorkie Bars and am a trained nurse. I can’t see that one happening. His second pearl of wisdom was even better.
“You were a troubled youth, weren’t you? However, you found redemption in some kind of sport. It’s a sport or a physical activity. One that you participate in with other men and found joy in doing.”
My goodness. He was spot in. There have been moments in my life where I’ve especially enjoyed participating in physical activities with other men. It wasn’t something I would term as a sport though. It’s certainly not in the Olympics.
A few years later my best friend and I decided that we’d visit a psychic medium whose name we found in the local paper. What can I say as an excuse? We were both mildly troubled at the time and ripe for the picking. I admit we were stupid.
My friend went in first and I sat in the car waiting, smoking nervously. My hypochondria came to the fore. What if she told me I was terminally ill? What if she could sense a tumour or an aneurism? Did i want to know how or when I’d die?
When it was my turn I entered her small parlour and was bemused to see a picture of her spirit guide. He was a Native American in a head dress of course. She was a wizened looking middle aged woman who looked like she’d had one too many cheap ciggies and had the croaky voice to match. I gave her my hard earned cash and she took my watch off me and began to fondle it in an absent minded way. Then the shower of crap began to spew from her mouth. I’ll give you some idea of the conversation:
“You’re very close to your sister.” (Good guess. I’m a gay man. We often love our sisters)
“I don’t have a sister”
“Sister in law?”
“Divorced my brother. Never see her.”
“We’re not exactly close.”
She looked a little exasperated and began a new tack.
“Your car is going to get broken into in the next year.” (Good guess, most men drive)
“I don’t have one”
“Your partner’s car?”
“He doesn’t have one.”
New tack again:
“Your mum has had some ‘women’s trouble’?” (Good guess, I was 30 at the time meaning I probably had a middle aged mum with a dodgy womb)
“No!” (My mum’s womb was fine)
“Your dad has a bad chest?”
“Well, he’s going to get a bad chest!” (My dad’s chest was fine. Oddly she didn’t mention the cancer which was to ravage his bowels and bones and ultimately kill him in a few years time. I think that one might have been more prominent in the spirit world)
“You have a bad knee!”
“No!” (Unlike most men, who often do have bad knees, I’ve never been active enough to mess mine up)
The rubbish spewed on and on and I was getting irritable. She became vaguer and more general in her assertions, making ones I couldn’t dispute. She struck gold once by saying I had my late grandfather’s watch but who doesn’t? Loads of men have their grandfather’s watches. My friend did a survey the following week and most of the men in her office had had watches given to them after a death in the family.
The final straw was the dead baby. I’m not so keen on dead babies. They aren’t nice to have around.
“I know you’re gay love but is there any chance you might have ever impregnated a girl?”
“Erm...NO!” (I retain my virginity for heterosexual sex to this day and I never share baths)
“Oh, OK. It’s just that there’s a dead baby hovering over your shoulder.”
“Really? Can I give it a message?”
“Of course, dear”
“Tell it to piss off.”
I left not long after. I was a little bit cross. Some of what she said could have been damaging had I believed her. Had I been stupid enough, I could have taken on board what she said and worried endlessly about my mother’s womb, my car and my knee. If I had slept with a woman then I may have entered an uncomfortable search to find out if she really had given birth to my baby and then it had died. Nasty stuff. I genuinely believe that grief is healthy when someone dies and the thought of some sick individual making things up makes to part vulnerable people from their cash me fume. It prolongs the grief and is unhealthy and cynical.
A few years later I was gratified to see the medium’s name in the local paper. Amusingly, she’d been caught not paying tax and received a hefty fine. Shame she didn’t see that one coming.