Magonia 58, January 1997.
After Albert Budden’s dramatic storming out of a Magonia Readers’ Group Meeting a few months ago, your Editor was anxious to hear him speak at November’s BUFORA meeting, at which we were promised exclusive video footage of concrete blocks being set on fire by a hotch-potch of electromagnetic equipment in the laboratory of Canadian ‘self-made’ physicist John Hutchison.
As it was challenging this and other wild claims that provoked the dramatic Sunday night storm-out, Magonians were on tenterhooks as we took our seats in the University of Marylebone Road’s lecture theatre. Although the video which Albert was about to show us would, if genuine, revolutionise our entire understanding of physics, it was apparently not so important that he felt it necessary to edit it beforehand. Consequently a large part of the evening (for which we paid the non-members’ price of £3) was spent gazing at a blank flickering screen as Albert announced from the projection booth “There’s another important demonstration somewhere here”, and fast-forwarded randomly through the tape.
When at last we got to the relevant bits we first saw a room filled to bursting with what appeared to be random pieces of electrical and electronic equipment, and noted that those which made dramatic arcing effects were very much to the fore. We sat back, ready to be amazed.
The first of the ‘poltergeist’ effects we were treated to was a metal rod breaking in two before the camera. Well, we certainly saw a bar break in two but the effect was rather marred by the fact that both ends of the rod disappeared out of the frame of the video. For all we could tell two circus strongmen were busily bending the metal out of shot – if indeed it was metal. Next we saw a piece of metal rocking backwards and forwards on a plywood board. Fairly easy to arrange, you might think, if someone was moving a magnet backwards and forwards underneath the board.
But then we saw a small plastic dish moving across the plywood. Albert carefully reminded us that, in normal circumstances, plastic is not magnetic. Hmmm… perhaps a strip of metal was stuck underneath the dish and the magnet was again being manipulated under the board? As if to answer this sceptical thought the dish suddenly shot upwards out of the picture. For some reason the shaky, hand-held camera did not at this moment pan upwards to show us the plate stuck to the ceiling, or wherever it had gone. It remained tightly focused on a cardboard milk carton standing on the table.
This anomalous cardboard carton featured in all the subsequent shots, but remained resolutely unmoved. Perhaps the experimenters had just put it down there after having their coffee break. However, a number of other small items started moving around the table then suddenly shooting off upwards, to cries of amazement from Albert Budden. At no time, however, were we shown where these various items ended up. In fact we saw nothing other than the wooden sheet apparently resting on a milk-crate, and the inside of a small plywood booth. None of the laboratory equipment that was supposedly causing these dramatic manifestations was visible at all.
It slowly began to dawn upon the sceptical Magonians that much the same effects could be produced if a series of small objects, with metal strips attached to them, were held to the underside of a plywood sheet by a magnet manipulated on top of the plywood. If the magnet was then suddenly removed the objects would fall down, rather than be levitated. If the camera recording these events was itself held upside-down we might well end up with a sequence of images looking remarkably what we were then viewing.
“They got a bit bored with this,” Albert remarked, “and started messing around with yoghurt!”. I thought for a moment we were in for a different kind of video, but no, this was levitating yoghurt. There was a small carton of a white substance on the by now familiar plywood board. Gradually, from the surface of the yoghurt, we saw a spike start growing ‘upward’, getting longer and longer until a large blob shot up the screen and disappeared out of the picture, No subsequent shot showed us where this viscous blob ended up. Of course, if a pot of yoghurt was held upside down, an effect such as this might well be observed – but don’t try this at home!
There was, as always when dealing with weird scientific claims, an excerpt from a Japanese television documentary. I suppose they have to have something to put between their curious torture-based game shows
It would not be true to say that this sequence of marvels was watched in owed silence by the audience. I certainly heard disrespectful titters from time to time. Some of the video sequences seemed to be segments from Canadian TV news programmes. And, of course, there was, as there always is when dealing with weird scientific claims, an excerpt from a Japanese television documentary. I suppose they have to have something to put in between their curious torture-based game shows.
At question time I risked a comment: “What a shame that with all this complex equipment in his laboratory, Mr Hutchison couldn’t afford a wider angled lens and perhaps a camera tripod to give us clearer pictures, and let us see a bit of the surroundings to the experiments?”
“I know, I know,” cried Albert, “I’ve told him, but he’s such an eccentric character he does things his own way and takes no notice of anyone!” What a guy, hey.
No walk-out so far, so I risked a second question: “Have any of these experiments been reported in refereed scientific journals?”
“They’ve been investigated by MacDonald Douglas and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.”
“Really, in which journals can of read accounts of these investigations?”
“Well they’ve not actually been published but I can give you the names and addresses of the people who did the research.”
I’ve not had the names yet, but be assured that when I do I’ll keep you informed, and will let you know exactly what relationships the individuals concerned have to these prestigious organisations.
Besides we don’t have to rely on other people’s accounts. We could try it for ourselves. Budden flourished a sheaf of papers. These were the plans for making a ‘poltergeist machine’, which is what the cellar-full of old electrical equipment was apparently called. For just £10 we could buy a set of plans and build our own, As I have enough problems connecting a VCR to a television, I declined the offer. I’m quite certain that any high energy electrical equipment that I wired up would certainly produce levitation: of me through the ceiling the moment I plugged it in. But the offer is there for any Magonia readers who feel up to it. I don’t know where you would actually get a Tesla Coil or a Van der Graff generator, which seem to be pretty essential, but I suppose you could probably pick them up on a Sunday morning down Brick Lane Market, next to the dodgy computer equipment.
Budden was winding down his talk, and murmurs were going round the audience about a demonstration we were about to have of a machine which could automatically produce out-of-body experiences. A curious looking character climbed on to the stage, and Budden introduced him. This was Tony Bassett, with his little device.
Bassett was dressed in baggy corduroy trousers, red braces and a check lumberjack shirt with a pocket stuffed with an array of different coloured pens. So obviously here was another self-made engineer.
He produced a black box, about the size of a toolbox, with a lead attached, which he plugged into a socket at the back of the stage.
“With this machine, I can produce a force field which will fill this room, and about 80% of the people here will have an out of the body experience – guaranteed.” He went on to explain that whilst floating around without bodily constraints, not only could we fly away across the rooftops of London like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but also transport ourselves back in time. People have done this, he assured us, and transported themselves to the times and places of important UFO landings. Here they have been able to actually go inside the UFOs. Many of them, they have discovered, have been unmanned craft.
Also, it is possible to travel into the future and wait for UFOs to land When you start making claims like this there’s always one troublemaker in the audience (no, not a Magonian, honest) who asks: “could I travel a week into the future and find next week’s National Lottery numbers?”
Oh, dear me no, quite impossible. You can’t do irresponsible, selfish things like that! (I’d give half my ten million pounds to charity, honestly!) Anyway, he warned, so many people are trying to divine those numbers by occult means that you might suffer terrible psychic damage if you even attempted to find out whilst in an out-of-body state.
All the while Tony Bassett was talking his plugged in little machine lay silently on the floor: “It’s made from all sorts of electrical parts, I’ve got a bit of an American Lightning fighter aircraft in there”, he assured us.
“Unfortunately, as BUFORA does not have suitable insurance, for legal reasons Tony will not be able to demonstrate his machine. We may be liable to legal action for anything that happens.”
The audience was growing restive – When is he going to turn it on? Are we all going to have an OOB experience? Maybe we could just have a peek at the Lottery numbers – when a BUFORA apparatchik stepped forward: “Unfortunately, as BUFORA does not have suitable insurance, for legal reasons Tony will not be able to demonstrate his machine. We may be liable to legal action for anything that happens.”
Oh dear, m’learned friends strike again; BUFORA’s cold feet were visibly shivering. Tony did turn the device on, but we were treated to just a few moments of an admittedly quite impressive buzzing noise, before ‘for legal reasons’, he turned it off again. Not only did this box of tricks slip you to and fro in time, we learned, but it would also cure most illnesses.
“If I signed a waiver that I wouldn’t take any legal action, could I try it to cure my rheumatism?”, asked one optimistic member of the audience. Sorry, but not even then. Legal reasons, One or two of the BUFORA officials were not looking terribly happy at this point, and the meeting was brought fairly rapidly to a close.
Afterwards Tony was handing around his business cards to an eager throng. Curiously, he appears not to operate from a university engineering department, or a high-tech industrial research institute, but from Railway Arch Number 7, in Camden Lock Market. This is a North London tourist trap which caters less for research at the cutting edge of science and technology than it does for crystal therapy, vegetarian tofuburgers and bootleg music cassettes. Funny that.
I’ve got one of Tony’s ‘Space Trip Passports’ in front of me as I write, and I notice the small print at the bottom: “The makers and distributors of Space Trip Passport will not be responsible for any mis-use of the product or for failure to treat properly any disease, as the circumstances of use are outside of their control”. Sounds like the legal eagles have been busy again.
I walked out into the traffic-clogged Marylebone Rood, feeling, as I always do after a BUFORA meeting, that yet another Saturday evening has been spent instructively in the company of some of our more endearing, if rather unconventional, fellow citizens. It certainly beats staying in and watching Jeremy Beadle. But we never got to see the concrete block catching fire. Pity.