Lyall Watson, Trinity College, Princess
If you think modern art is a load of rubbish, better stay away from Swiss sculptor Christoph Buchel’s new show. It’s a warehouse full of scrapped household appliances — fridges, microwaves, home computers and enough waste metal to keep a recycling centre in business for a month.
She knows me of old, and these days I have no chance of attacking the crested cutlery. All the best silverware is swept away before my arrival — I half expect to find the buffet is stictly finger food. The Princess has never forgotten the year when I worked my way through more than four dozen priceless pieces from antique place-settings — she must have thought that metal-bending was a trick, and that I would repair the damage before saying goodnight.
I talked of my recent experiences in Hungary and Germany, and discovered the Princess had already heard of my show’s successes, through friends in Berlin and Budapest. When the next round of The Successor screens in 2009, I hope the production team at Pro-Sieben might be able to persuade Princess Michael to be a guest on the programme.
But we won’t ask her to bring any heirlooms… many of my contestants have destroyed much more than forks and spoons. The German winner, Viktor, made blood drip from a Victorian table. I hate to think what the Princess would say if we let Viktor loose on her Queen Anne furniture.
When I opened an email headed “Invitation to Trinity College Dublin,” I suspected a student stunt. And when I read on, it seemed clear this was a Rag Week prank: “Dear Mr Geller, it is with great pleasure that I confirm your nomination as Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society. The award, which stretches back over five centuries, is made to a select number of individuals globally on an annual basis who have excelled in public life and made a worthy contribution to society.”
I’ve been called many things, but a philosopher is rarely one of them. Recent recipients of the award include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mohamed El Baradei, Bob Geldof, John McCain, Salman Rushdie, Al Pacino, Oliver Stone, Jacques Delors and Bertie Ahern. I’m flying to Budapest in an hour to meet the architects of the Excelsior luxury apartments which I’m helping design, but when I return I shall contact the university. And by then, either Rag Week will be over… or I’ll be preparing to accept an extraordinary honour.
The BBC is one of the most sceptical, analytical institutions in the world. It excels at religious broadcasting, and many of its senior executives have deep personal faith, but it takes a hard line on unproven phenomena. The only people, for instance, who ever investigated UFOs seriously on the BBC were Scully and Mulder of The X Files. It takes an exceptional mind to break through that invisible prejudice — and in 1973 the most exceptional mind on the planet belonged to Lyall Watson.
A botanist, zoologist, biologist and anthropologist, Lyall had surged to international fame as the author of a book called Supernature, a panoramic look an mankind’s invisible talents. My mentor, Dr Andrija Puharich, was one of the scientists whose research Lyall investigated, and when we met in America he was astonished by my demonstrations. The piece of metal-bending which impressed him most was on a tiny scale: I clenched my fist above the glass face of his watch, and the hands bent upwards. It ruined his expensive timepiece, and it blew his mind.
Lyall phoned David Dimbleby and insisted he had to have me on his show. That live appearance sealed my international success, and began the love affair with Britain which I’ve enjoyed for 35 years. If it hadn’t been for Supernature’s bestseller status, the BBC wouldn’t have taken Lyall, or me, seriously — he gave me the scientific kudos that enabled the executives’ closed minds to open a fraction.
We always remained friends, though we saw little of each other — Lyall was more likely to be exploring the Antarctic, which he adored, than strolling beside the Thames with me and Barney the greyhound. But his phone calls were always entertaining: he was a raconteur who could stun a room by dropping in a bizarre snippet from his life… how his best friends were Kung bushmen and Zulus during his South African childhood, or how he represented the Seychelles on the International Whaling Commission.
Lyall died this month aged just 69. I will always remember how earnestly he lectured me about plants: “Talk to them,” he urged me. “Think about them, and they can feel it. There are studies that appear to show plants respond to pain around them by emitting negative reactions, and there’s no doubt that the opposite is true: positive emotional energy helps them to grow. Be happy… your garden will love you for it.”
I conducted experiments with tulips, planting sixteen bulbs on either side of my weeping willow, beside the Japanese waterfall behind my home. Every day I directed lashings of positive energy at the shoots on the left, and ignored the ones on the right.
Lyall’s theories proved correct: the left-hand tulips shot up, bigger, brighter and longer-lasting than their neighbours. Next spring I’ll repeat the experiment in memory of my friend. Every time I sit by the willow tree, I’ll remember Lyall Watson. And if the tulips grow ten feet tall, I won’t be surprised.
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James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
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“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”