A few weeks ago, I went to see a psychic.
The atheist in me wants to immediately follow that
statement up with an assurance that I don’t actually believe in spiritualism, of course, I was just researching for a script.
On the one hand, there are so many stories from
over the years that it’s hard to dismiss it outright. On the other
hand, it’s obviously a load of old bollocks, isn’t it?
Spiritualism (or fortune
telling/clairvoyance/mediumism, whatever you want to call it) is so ingrained
in British culture that it’s hard for us to shrug it off entirely. It’s in our
collective conscience. When people say something is ‘on the cards’, they ain’t
talking about blackjack. Brits believe in ghosts and psychics in the same way
that Americans believe in aliens and Jedis (not that I’m saying that I don’t
believe in Jedis – I’ve seen my brother play Call of Duty, that boy’s
midichlorians are through the roof).
I headed off to see the psychic with as open a
mind as possible – ready to be impressed by either some sort of magic or some
impressive Sherlock-style cold reading. I was also determined to play the whole
thing with a poker face in place – I wasn’t going to make things easy for her.
We started 45 minutes late (what sort of psychic
can’t foretell bad traffic? You get those sort of ‘vibes’ just by watching BBC
Breakfast, for Christ’s sake) and my poker face met its first challenge: not
giggling at the repeated use of the phrase ‘third eye’. Apparently my Third Eye
is blocked. If I learn to unblock it (some sort of PH-balancing wipe, perhaps?)
I could be just as psychic as her. I’m a natural ‘sensitive’. No matter how
sceptical you are, everyone secretly wants to hear that they have vast psychic
potential. I refuse to be taken in by this blatant flattery.
The next challenge was to not look at her with
utter disdain as she attempted to call forth spirits of my departed loved-ones
(“I’m seeing someone very stern, with their hair pulled back. Very stern. Stern
but loving. Really quite loving, actually...?”) After a minute or so of furtive
guessing, I put her out of her misery as kindly as I could. I didn’t want to
psych the poor woman out too early on in the reading.
Things lumbered on in a relatively disappointing
fashion and I began to realise that, secretly, I really wanted to believe and she was spoiling it for me. She dealt Tarot
cards for my past, looked at them blankly and eventually remarked “there’s
really not much here” (she had a point there – I had the happiest and most
uneventful childhood known to man). My future cards just told me what she
expects all young women want to hear from a psychic: I’ll meet a handsome man,
everyone will fancy him but he only has eyes for me, blah blah offensive-cliche
With every ounce of my supposed psychic ability I
projected “I AM A WRITER” at her. That’s all I wanted, some show of real
psychic skill by identifying what I consider to be my defining feature. “AT
LEAST PICK UP ON SOME CREATIVE ENERGIES!” I projected furiously. “I MADE IT
EASY FOR YOU, I’M WEARING A BRIGHT RED COAT! I AM CREATIVE!” But sadly, that
one passed her by. Perhaps the message got caught up in that blockage round my
I was going to come out of this session with even
less belief that I’d gone in with. But then, just before I left, something
happened. “There’s something wrong with your throat,” she said, looking at me
quizzically. This was the last straw. Assuming someone has a sore throat just
because they’re wearing a scarf indoors is the easiest type of cold reading
there is – and also wrong. I was just chilly. Nowt wrong with my throat. I was
about to spoil my poker face altogether with an expression Maggie Smith would
be proud of, when she continued. “You feel things very strongly, down here (she
grabbed her gut), but when you try to say them they get stuck in your throat
and you can’t make them come out.”
That shut me the fuck up. That is, word for word,
how I have described my inability to have emotionally honest conversations. I
have said those exact words, complete with the same hand gestures, in
conversations with people. How did she know that? How?!
I’m sure, if you analyse it, there could be an
excuse. Perhaps my expert poker face tipped her off to my emotional coldness.
Perhaps it’s something she says to all her clients – after all, we Brits aren’t
known for our effusive emotions. Or maybe she really can see people’s chakras
(whatever they are).
But it means that I got to leave with some sort of
tentative belief, or the hope of a belief, that there’s something else going
on. Hell, I’m a writer. It’s far more interesting to semi-believe in impossible
things than to live in the real world. And that’s why there’ll always be a
business for psychics.