On contemplating what I have told you and what I will tell you, I felt that I had to, at some point, reveal something which is quite fantastical but nevertheless true, and of which I do not even understand myself and never will.
When I was at school aged eleven or twelve, a teacher was off work ill and the class was sent to the library to read books. A teacher, who I imagine picked the short straw in the staff room, was allocated to monitoring us and probably busied himself marking papers or picking out the winner of the 2:20 at the Chepstow Races. I was sat with Richard Jones. I didn’t have a watch and repeatedly kept asking RJ what the time was like a nagging child on a car journey “Are we there yet?”. Of course children are less patient with other children and Richard Jones asked me what time I thought it was and to the minute – these were the days of digital watches. It wasn’t difficult to guess with a good chance of getting it right. I guess correctly and Richard Jones added a little sheepishly “and how many seconds?”. I paused, picked a number and was correct. We had invented a game to play amid the boredom of the moment. “Do it again!?” I asked excitedly. I got it correct again. Richard Jones, who must have now thought it was easy had a go and got it wrong so it was my turn again. I got it right again. Richard Jones tried again and failed. “You’re counting!” he said, recognising that I could be using some kind of trick. He was now out to ‘get me’. We went on and on and I never got one wrong. We were both astonished at what was happening. The class finished and it was lunchtime. A gang of us would go to a local chip van that was parked outside the school, buy some chips and hang out aside a nearby Social Club that would occasionally sell hot pasties and where I was once felt up by a gang of girls who were a few years older than me. Richard Jones couldn’t wait to tell everyone. As you can imagine the claim was met with disdain, disbelief and exclamations of “Bullcrap!”. Seeing is believing so after we had finished out chips it was to be put to the test. What at first was fun was now a trial. I had to edge my bets and organise this in my favour. The answer came quickly – one in sixty was hard but one in twenty was easier. The group would decide on a number between on and twenty and I was to read their collective minds; we had formulated and negotiated a method of testing the hypothesis. The guys huddled together and decided on a number. When they had decided they would tell me they were ready, concentrate on that number and I would read their minds and guess the number. I guessed correctly. There were shouts of cheating taking place and that somebody in the group was flashing me the number secretly, so we did it again but everyone had to put their hands in the middle of the huddled group to show that no-one was cheating. They concentrated, I concentrated. I got it right again. This continued several more times and each time I guessed correctly…until the last time…this time I could not think of the number. I could up until this point hone in on a number but this time the numbers were fading in and out and I couldn’t get a lock on one. Eric and Ernie and Bigbird kept popping into my head and I couldn’t shake them. I was taking much longer than usual in coming forward with an answer and the taunts were already appearing “C’mon, were waiting”, “Shammer!” [A ‘Shammer’ is someone who shams, tricks, lies]. I told them that all I could think of was Sesame Street. I said this to hoots of laughter and ridicule. It was strange how quickly they were to dismiss the events that led up until that point as luck, a trick, and that I was now a phony. Over the next few days the rumour spread, not in a big way but there was talk of the incident and kids who weren’t there would come up to me and ask me to guess the number they were thinking of to which I would reply “I don’t do that anymore”. It had become a little tiresome and not continuing would ensure that I would avoid failing again.
In my early twenties I was approached in a pub by an old school friend who I hadn’t seen for years and maybe not since leaving school at fifteen. He reminded me of this story which I had forgotten all about. As he told the story I slowly remembered it. He asked me if I remembered guessing Sesame Street at the end. I said yes and he told me that he had been concentrating on The Muppets just to mess with me. He revealed that he did not admit this for fear that the ridicule would pass from me to him so he kept quiet about it. He told me that he had always wanted to tell me about it but hadn’t for one reason or another. I didn’t hold this against him. At the end of the conversation we both just looked at each other and just said “Weird”.
Many years later there was a programme on television which involved mutants with superpowers. I was chatting with my then wife about which superpowers we would like. She chose mind reading. I once again remembered the story which you have just heard and I retold the story to her to repeated exclamations of “Really!?”. At the end she knitted her eyebrows together and asked “What number am I thinking of?”, “Eighteen” I answered even before she had finished the sentence. She almost fell off her seat. I have done it since with varying success – they weren’t concentrating hard enough or were thinking about The Muppets no doubt – and I once mind read a girl counting “one, two, three” as she searched for a number; she was on four when I interrupted her.
You may be suspicious and cynical unless you are of the disposition of one who believes in such things and are now possibly searching for a rational explanation which would reveal how this could occur. I would doubt the credulity of this story too if it did not happen to me. I cannot explain it….unless.