Crichton, Stone, school, Nikas
Another victory for my BlackBerry. After using it to outwit bag thieves in a Moscow restaurant, I’ve made my first foray into print via mobile email.
I don’t believe these things for very long of course — I just suspend my disbelief for long enough to enjoy the rollercoaster plot of movies like Jurassic Park, West World, Coma, The Andromeda Strain and Congo.
The author Michael Crichton, who died this month from cancer, aged 66, was the creative genius behind all those movies. He was also a ferocious sceptic, who took pride in his refusal to believe anything that could not be proved.
“I have a lot of trouble with things that don’t seem true to me,” he said in 2004. “I’m very uncomfortable just accepting. There’s something in me that wants to pound the table and say, ‘That’s not true!’”
He was talking about climate change and global warming, because despite the rising tide of scientific evidence that manmade pollution is destroying our environment, Crichton was a confirmed sceptic.
I’ve learned that when people refuse to believe, there is no point in arguing with them. Real sceptics aren’t rational: they’re obsessive.
So when I discovered that Crichton was also an enthusiastic spoonbender, I was speechless with amazement. It’s common for successful people to believe they have superhuman abilities — and
Crichton was phenomenally successful, earning $100m a year from his books. But it takes an open mind to believe in spoonbending.
Crichton, like many people, could bend spoons by rubbing them gently — what made him exceptional was not just that he believed the evidence of his own eyes, but that he wasn’t afraid of ridicule when he talked openly of his power.
He wasn’t impressed by his own ability either. In his autobiography, Travels, he wrote: “Spoonbending obviously must have some ordinary explanation… It was hard to feel any sort of mystery: you just rub
the spoon for a while and pretty soon it gets soft, and it bends. And that’s that.”
I never met Michael Crichton. We probably would have had nothing in common… just a dangerous effect on metal. He clearly channelled his mental energy into his stories, and had little curiosity about the paranormal.
But if a hard-bitten sceptic like him was convinced that spoonbending was a natural human power, I have renewed hope that one day even the most blinkered doubters will start to believe in the power of the human mind.
Though I’m writing this column in Istanbul, Turkey, where I am about to deliver a motivational lecture to a group of businesspeople, this has been a week of home comforts for Hanna, Shipi and me. We’ve been walking with Barney, our greyhound, beside the Thames, and catching up with neighbours in the village.
When the headmaster of the primary school invited me to drop by and chat to the children, I accepted without a second thought. Daniel and Natalie both started their education there, and they loved it. It was strange to survey the playground of noisy, shining faces and reflect that my own two 20-somethings were as small as that, just a blink of the eye ago.
After the spoonbending and the telepathy, I delivered the message I have impressed on millions of young fans all over the world: “I want you all to become positive thinkers. Believe in yourself. Focus on
school. Create a target goal to go to unit. Never smoke or touch drugs. Engage in sport and think of success.”
And to ram the point home, I added, “Never smoke, because smoking is for losers.” I believe fervently that every time I say those words I am potentially saving lives. Nothing those children learn at school could ever be more important.
Regular readers will remember a stomach-turning column I wrote earlier this year — one that also had the power to save lives. Lord Andrew Stone certainly remembered it, and when we met at a party in Manchester, the Labour peer for Blackheath asked eagerly about my colonoscopy.
“Everyone should have the examination,” I said. “It’s a bit undignified, but it’s still a whole lot easier to endure than colon cancer.”
Lord Stone, who chairs the health charity DIPEX, invited me to write on the subject for his website, HealthTalkOnline.com. We compared our early years — he was a barrow boy in Cardiff, who joined Marks and Spencer as a trainee and rose to become joint managing director.
He promised to be in touch again soon… but I wasn’t expecting to see him the very next week!
We were dining with Daniel at Ev, a Turkish restaurant in Isabella St, London, when Lord Stone walked in. It was as though the Higher Intelligence which guides our lives had decided that Andrew and I needed to recognise the importance of our new friendship — clearly we are destined to work together for a reason.
In the face of something so improbable, it is futile to call it coincidence. This was synchronicity.
The painter Nikas Safronov is Moscow’s most feted portrait artist, famed for his picture of Vladimir Putin as a Renaissance king.
He poses the city’s celebrities in elaborate costumes, painting them in photographic detail — and reveals secret layers to their personalities.
“There is a touch of the surreal about your pictures too,” I told him, and was delighted when he agreed that every painting pays tribute to my great teacher, Salvador Dali.
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