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  • Giant Spiders in Bristol July 25, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    tricks of the mind

    Derren Brown is a gifted English mentalist and an ultra sceptic (atheist, materialist…) in the mould of the great Houdini and the sometimes great Randi. You can usually get to the bottom of DB’s tricks, which makes them all the more interesting. This is Beach’s favourite. He simultaneously plays seven chess professionals, simultaneously wins four, loses three and draws two. How does Brown do it? It is obvious, or at least it is when he tells you. The man has wit. Here is an early trick in Beachcombing’s historical practical joke series. This is from his book: Tricks of the Mind and refers to the time when he was still at university. The book is well worth buying.

    Sat up late one with my flatmate in Bristol, we thought it would be mature and responsible to start a local tarantula scare. I had long since gradated and had little to do other than the occasional magic gig and pay in my housing benefit cheques, and Simon, a philosophy student, understandably didn’t have very much to do at all. So a couple of nights later we walked casually through the dark and deserted streets of Clifton Village, giggling and smirking, pinning our posters on trees and posts. Warning they screamed in large black print above a photocopied picture of an orange-kneed tarantula. The poster explained that several of these spiders had been lost in transit to the zoo and were believed to have settled (sic) in the Clifton area. They would be mainly active at night, and would seek warm places during the day. They ‘should nto be dangerous to adult humans if left undisturbed’, but any found should be reported as many of them were ‘believed to be carrying eggs’. At the bottom of the poster was the Tarantalert number to call if you were to find one. The number had been picked from the Yellow Pages and was in fact an insurance company in Cardiff.

    The next days Clifton could speak of little else. The local paper ran a condemnation and blamed an insurance company in Cardiff. But, of course, the magician wannabe and philosopher were only just beginning. They fabricated the most ridiculous looking spider possible from pipe-cleaners, as a simple fake spider brought from a toy-shop ‘wouldn’t be funny enough’. They, then, took Boris (as he was christened) and attached him to an important Clifton arch before covering him with cobweb spray.

    The next morning we went to start a crowd. We waited for a group of people to walk under the arch, then we ourselves contrived to walk past them beneath it; only as we did so, one of us looked up and noticed the dodgy arachnid. After a while and a few false starts, we managed to get a crowd gathered in the archway, looking at our ridiculous pipe-cleaner assembly crouching in the corner. People stayed and move on, which meant that after a few regenerations of the crowd we were no longer known to have started the interest. Some people knew that the story had been reported as a hoax, but others weren’t so sure. Of course we helpfully interjected our own stories of having known people who had actually seen the spiders. It also took only a few suggestions from us for the crowd to create the story, and believe it, that Boris had actually crawled across the wall at some point during the morning’s events. That was particularly rewarding. Someone suggested calling the local news, and of course we encouraged them.

    TV crew turned up, the crowd regenerated itself, then…

    After several hours of standing about and re-telling and exaggerating the story to each fresh crowd member, one guy suggested that the spider looked fake. We reminded him that it had crawled across the wall earlier on, but he was having none of it. Unable to protest, we had to watch as he climbed up the same wall we had used and poked at it with a rolled-up magazine. Its predicatable lack of response brought relief from the crowd, and eventually he removed it from the wall with his stupid hands.

    How many people passed before someone trusted his eyes rather than what he saw? Beach should also note that if this had been done a little differently it would have received state funding and its ‘findings’ would have appeared in an international psychology review.

    Other great practical jokes: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com