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The Hypnotist

February 28, 2014

[Sorry for the long break .]

I suppose society manipulates us all in one way or another. This is how it happened to me.

In 1978 I was a student at Bulmershe College of Higher Education, in Reading, half way through a BA course – Combined Studies: English Literature Major, Cinema and Theatre Studies Minor. The Film and Drama Majors seemed more energetic and fun, as you might expect, but I stuck doggedly to Literature, the first of a lifetime’s worth of errors in judgement.

A couple of details might give you an idea of Reading in 1978, where denim was the dominant textile in use – extravagantly flared jeans, maxi skirts, faded baggy denim jackets held together by patches of things like Snoopy or the love logo or popular slogans of the day such as “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac the top selling album of all time.

In such a culture perhaps it’s not surprising that the students were devoid of any political sense, or much sense of any kind, which may explain how the Students Union came to select a classic TV variety style hypnotist to entertain them, as a change from murky lager smelling discos or currently popular music acts that my little college could afford.

Those of us with nowhere better to go turned up at the main hall, holding drinks from the college bar, in plastic mugs or beakers, too cultured to relish an entire evening in the bar, which was dominated by the Rugby Club, with their songs and drinking games.

To introductory music blaring over the PA Paul Globe, the star of this one man show, strode confidently onto the stage, in an off the peg suit that might befit a salesman of some kind, garishly patterned tie, microphone in hand.

“Good evening Reading!” he said, cheery and confident and quickly changing this greeting to “Good evening Bulmershe!”

The applause was polite but restrained, as it was quite a chilly evening.

“Tonight we are going to conduct an experiment in what you might know as hypnotism or mesmerism, or incorrectly consider to be a form of mind control, but which I like to call the attempt to unlock the potential of the human subconscious.”

With this and similarly persuasive phrases, Paul Globe managed to entice about twenty people onto the stage, myself included.

I had chosen literature over the stage, but still nursed ambitions so, though I had a shrewd idea of what sort of act Mr Globe’s would be, I was prepared to submit myself to indignity, hoping to learn something.

With practised smoothness, Globe got us to stand in an audience facing semi-circle, asked some individuals a few anodyne questions and then, after sending an insolent looking lad and a particularly sullen looking girl back to their seats – “Not everyone has the capacity” – leaving me to wonder why I, who took some pride in my capacity to be critical and not easily spellbound, had not been similarly dismissed, until the hypnotist took me be surprise for the first and only time by coming up to me and asking me to stand in a corner at the downstage rear.

Then, when I was properly placed facing the performance space’s unlovely rear, he asked me to start counting from one.

“One, two, three, four…”

It wasn’t difficult and so, always an obliging fellow and not wanting to spoil the fun, I kept on counting, even when Globe got his first laugh by directing his mic at me so the audience could hear what an obedient student I was,

“Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…”

“Every scientific experiment requires a control”

Globe told the audience, as their chuckles died down.

I don’t think I missed much, though I couldn’t see the action from where I was standing; it all seemed such predictable stuff.

Globe got a boy to bark like a dog, convinced a girl she was eating a delicious ice lolly, reverted people to an earlier age – a boy who became a Manchester United loving ten year old, a girl who told us she wanted to be a nurse “When she grew up”.

Then a whole group were transported back to a Primary school playground, girls skipping together, boys having a game of footie.

One shy boy confessed to Globe that he “Loves Miss Brown ever so much!”

Now and then he would show the audience that I was still under his spell by directing the mic at me again:

“One hundred and eleven, one hundred and twelve, one hundred and thirteen, one hundred and fourteen…”

“Nine hundred and ninety-nine, one thousand, one thousand and one, one thousand and two…”

I was sure I could’ve walked off the stage at any time, but who cares what you do at that age?

I wasn’t actually humiliated, like the girl who was convinced that her clothes had disappeared and that she was standing in front of everyone stark naked.

She began sobbing to herself and, mercifully, Globe did release her from the spell and send her back to the anonymity of the audience, who gave her a generous hand.

It all seemed pretty banal – nobody was levitated or returned to a past life. The dead were not invoked and if this was a true “demonstration of the capacity of the human subconscious” I was rather disappointed but still, this was Reading, so what could you expect?

I don’t like to fail at a task, and counting has a certain charm, so I kept it up throughout:

“One thousand seven hundred and two, one thousand seven hundred and three, one thousand seven hundred and four…”

“Two thousand three hundred and three, two thousand three hundred and four…”

And on and on, until Globe appeared to run out of ideas, or get a little bored himself, and the act came to an abrupt end.

“There is no shame in having the capacity to unlock your present state of consciousness. There is no shame in being without that capacity. This was merely a demonstration, as I told you.”

Globe completed his act with some such mumbo jumbo and then, in a manner that sounded like pure ham to me, he added,

“Oh, I almost forgot!”

He waved the microphone in my direction one last time:

“Seven thousand one hundred and fifty-two, seven thousand one hundred and fifty-three…”

and gently brought me back to the ‘real’ world. He thanked me politely for my participation and for being a good sport and sent me on my way, inviting the audience to “give me a hand”.

The applause wasn’t brilliant, certainly not life changing, but it’s always good to hear and I soon forgot the whole evening. I didn’t feel damaged by it, only mildly bored.

Globe has not subsequently phoned me with a coded message to go and assassinate somebody, as far as I know.

Life has gone on in its dull way. Since then I have performed a few equally forgettable stage roles occasionally, but have yet to be ‘discovered’. I am aware of the power of suggestion but remain an obliging fellow who is willing to listen, not uncritically, to what others call reason.

However, tonight, years later, in 2014, it seems that I may have remained under Globe’s spell all this time.

My ability to manipulate numbers has not advanced very far, but I do keep counting, as we all must – the time, the temperature, the bank balance, the latest economic and political statistics, the expected earnings for the next week, or month, or years.

With computers and the present box ticking culture, it seems that all one can do is try to keep up with the numbers that keep mounting, so there is little room in one’s life for anything else. And I wonder if Globe could have been an agent of those who keep control of the figures, placed at that college to plant an idea, a way of seeing the world, a minor but abiding obsession that can’t be escaped.

I’ve got by and just survived the economic crises and recessions imposed on us since then – with the power of those all important statistics – by putting my personal ambitions on hold and doing whatever work is available to someone with a 2:2 degree from a minor college – counting stock in various shops or warehouses, occasional bouts of cover teaching, counting kids, keeping to my Job Seeking Agreements when unemployed by making sure I meet those targets – speak to the required number of employers and apply for so many jobs each and every week.

I have to count everything, from the number of words in an essay to the number of pounds and pennies left to last till the next payment, calculating the hours and minutes left in the day, how long I have before I have to get up, adding the number of years gone by and opportunities lost, watching or being told the details as time goes by. It all makes me so tired but it’s all I know, the only satisfaction I ever get calculating the sum of what I’ve done, noting how many years I’ve put in, and though I do envy those who don’t think that way I can’t help thinking that sooner or later they will have to count the cost.

Perhaps the boy who barked like a dog is still doing so in some way, the young woman who was shamed by her sense of nakedness still unable to bare it. Or am I the only one who is so easy to dupe?

If I could only believe that it was just me, that other people can think of something other than their own statistical data, then perhaps I could release myself from this oppressive sense of obligation to keep counting, to keep abreast of the latest figures, to keep hoping that I myself might in some way be counted, to count.


From → Writer

  1. jacpye permalink

    I’ve successfully used self-hypnosis to cure myself of anxiety when flying. Also to get to sleep at night! And self-induced trances are great fun for everyone else – we’ll keep an eye on you.


  2. jacpye permalink

    Nice one, John. You’re not alone in counting, counting, counting (=3). And I recall seeing a ‘hypnotist’ at work in a theatre when one chap was given a peeled raw onion and told it was an apple, and he ate and ‘enjoyed’ it. Another was told his ‘belly button’ (obnoxious expression) had been stolen and he went round the audience asking if they had it (but clearly trying not to laugh). The only type I trust is self-hypnosis. Anyway, good to see you back.


    • Thanks, Jacqueline. However, self hypnosis has its dangers too. Too often I seem to go about in a self induced trance!


  3. John Bruce permalink

    You’ve made your first stand against the conditioning – by not including the word count 🙂


    • Yes that does look sloppy! But rather than counting the words my dream is to make the words count!


  4. mofoster88 permalink

    I enjoyed this story very much it is funny & poignant!


    • Thanks for your kind words, Mo. And I hope readers here will also enjoy your writing on !


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