Flying to Japan Ian Rowland

MY feet didn’t touch the ground in 2008. I’ve bounced back and forth across Europe, often in a private jet . . . and once in a stunt plane.

But the Siberian adventure has been cancelled in the wake of the global banking crisis, because so many businesses in the fledgling Russian economy relied on a high-flying stock market to stay aloft.

I’m convinced that the opportunity will come again. I have a powerful imaginary picture of me in a vintage bearskin coat and hat, on the shoreline of Lake Baikal, listening to the perfect silence and breathing the pristine air. If I believe firmly enough in that picture, I know it will come true.

Every setback brings its own advantage, of course, and so we’re off to Tokyo, thanks to an unexpected invitation to promote my range of jewellery in Japan.

It’s an 11-hour flight, and long-distance air-travel used to be torture to me. It wasn’t just the frustration of enforced inactivity, while the boredom built up as a physical force — long before the airline industry took notice of the dangers of deep-vein thrombosis and the other risks of sitting still too long, I was using my ingenuity to turn inter-continental aircraft into flying gyms.

On a Boeing 747, I march up and down the stairs in the first-class cabin, aiming to climb them at least 60 times. Most of the passengers are asleep or engrossed in movies or books, so they’re rarely even aware of my off-beat mountaineering.

And I’m never shy about stretching out on my back in the gangway to flex my muscles. Occasionally another passenger has to step over me, but that’s the risk you take with public transport. I’ve never tried doing my exercises on the top deck of a London bus, or on a crowded Tube train… I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to give it a try, though.

These days, aeroplanes are fitted with many luxuries, and I have a bed in my cabin on this flight. The plane is practically an airborne hotel.

In the old days, what I disliked even more than the cramped conditions was the stink of cigarette smoke. I was convinced that in the rarefied atmosphere of a pressurised cabin, the fumes were even more noxious and more toxic. I emerged from transAtlantic flights with my eyes inflamed, my throat raw and my temper in a blaze.

Some airlines herded the nicotine addicts on the back rows, like naughty schoolchildren, but it made little difference — the smoke drifted forward to make everything smell foul.

I was reminded of those grim journeys on a flight back from Europe earlier this year, when I caught the unmistakable waft of cigarettes. I nudged Shipi and gestured to the toilet cubicle: “Someone is going to pay a huge fine for the pleasure of lighting up in there,” I predicted. “They might even spend a night or two in prison. How pathetic to be so completely enslaved to an addiction.”

Shipi pointed out that the toilet was empty. So I prowled up and down the rows, trying to sniff out the culprit… until I realised that the smoke was coiling up from the cockpit door.

“Are the pilots smoking in there?” I demanded to one of the cabin crew. She stared straight ahead as though she hadn’t heard me, but I saw her give a tiny nod of the head. Clearly she disapproved but could do nothing about it.

Back on the ground I phoned a pilot friend, and learned it was common practice on at least one European airline for cigarettes to be smoked in the cockpit, even on quite short flights. “The most usual time to light up is just before the plane touches down,” he told me. “That’s when their nerves are most frayed.”

It seems insane to me that passengers cannot even take a bottle of baby milk onto a flight without undergoing stringent safety precautions, yet a blind eye is turned to naked flames and cancerous tobacco fumes in the cockpit.


The mentalist Ian Rowland has been a critic of mine in the past, but when I met him at the 37th International Magic Convention, where I was honoured to receive the Berglas Award, I discovered he was a charming and affable man.

It doesn’t bother me that some magicians are sceptical about my abilities — without their doubts, there would be no controversy, and with controversy I wouldn’t enjoy such a lively career. Ian can think what he likes about spoon-bending: the important thing is that his company is fun and entertaining.

In fact, I liked him so much that I invited him to my home for coffee on Sunday, and while we strolled by the river he kept me fascinated with a stream of insights into the flashpoint between magic and psychology.

Ian can read body language and facial signals so incisively that it seems to hs audience as though he is reading their minds. The pop philosopher Malcom Gladwell gave Ian’s fame a boost last year when he praised some of his techniques in an article in The New Yorker. “Suddenly Americans were queuing up to buy my book,” Ian told me. “It’s amazing how powerful one endorsement can be.”

So here’s a second endorsement: if you want to possess mental powers that appear supernatural, have a look at his website at — and if you find yourself hypnotised, send me a telepathic message!


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