ASSAP History: 'Paranormal Olympics'
by Val Hope
In the Paranormal Olympics we presented a very public research project. For a number of years we had conducted a range of fun tests of psychic abilities as one of the side events at the Fortean Times UnConvention. Over the years the tests included psychokinesis, map dowsing, water dowsing, metal bending, dice throwing, psychometry and more. In 1995 the Observer published a photo of a table-tilting session run by Alan Cleaver as part of our contribution. The 1998 sessions are memorable for some as the time when a shriek rent the air in the stuffy room on Gower Street: a participant seemed to make the scales move in the psychokinesis exercise. And she had only dropped by because she hadn't been able to get into one of the popular talks.
Fuelled by our successes and the inventiveness of Chairman Phil Walton, we decided to scale things up. Some of the tests toured the country as the heats of the Paranormal Pre-Olympics, whenever members were able to take them out on the road. Others, such as tests to predict the order of zener cards, were run on the website. April 2002 saw a heat at the UnConvention. While helping to pack up at the end of the event, Wendy Milner sat by the scales to have a go at PK and the pan tipped so far that the dish fell off. Catherine Crayford confessed to having knocked the table accidentally at the same time but, try as we might, we could not replicate the process by any sort of jolting, nudging or knocking. Had Wendy used PK to move the scales, or had we failed to identify the nature of that vital jolt that caused our hearts to flutter once more?
Another apparent Olympian success was the metal-bending trial run at the Belgrave Hall heats in Leicester in autumn 2002. No fewer than four out of 65 participants managed to bend the stainless steel spoons. The relatively uncontrolled tests showed curving of around 15 to 20 degrees compared with fresh spoons. Hugh Pincott reported the same phenomenon that he had seen in the early 1970s at the peak of the Uri Geller metal-bending mania: three of the four Leicester spoons behaved like elastic materials and returned to their original form, while one spoon kept a bend of 15 degrees. Hugh explained that metals possessed elastic properties to some extent, but permanent distortion or even fracture would occur if forces were applied beyond the ‘elastic limit’. Hugh recommended graduated tests with a range of metal items as a research theme.
By 2003 we were ready for the Olympics themselves, a slightly more formal knock-out competition run over two days at the UnConvention. A huge amount of work, spearheaded by Phil Walton, went into devising the tests, building the equipment, writing the computer programmes and transporting the equipment to and from the event. Participants went round the 20 tests and marked up their results. These were totted up by computer, then a group of finalists slugged it out on Sunday. There followed more frantic calculations, and the award generously donated by the UnConvention organizers went to the best performer, Joanne McRae.
We had hoped to run the Olympics again the following year, as media and public interest was high. However, Phil had stood down as Chairman by then and the impetus was lost, along with the huge amount of storage space needed for the ping-pong stand. As chance would have it, the space available in the Friends Meeting House, the UnCon’s new venue, was also much reduced, so we entertained people with our mobile photo studio, where passers-by could have themselves photographed with their choice of flour orb or water orb. People were queuing up to be snapped, and we emailed the photos for them to use as they pleased.
© Valerie Hope 2007