There are a couple of people I’ve got to know over the years for whom I have always reserved a special fantasy. We’d be somewhere comfortable and trust-inspiring, maybe having shared chemicals that further heighten a sense of camaraderie and truth-telling. I’d have given certain confidences. They’d have given certain confidences. And then I’d pop the question.

“Did you really believe all that guff, or was it just something that you took up because you could see the potential?”

Or sometimes, they’d just answer it, without my ever having asked it.

“You know, I never really believed any of that stuff. I had to pretend to believe it, obviously, or nobody would have taken me seriously. But I only did it to have a good time.”

And between us, we’d both experience an enormous relief. Me because I had known all along that they'd been faking it. And they would finally have been able to admit to that soul-crushing deception. A load would been lifted.

Alas, for at least one such, it's never going to happen.

Lyall Watson died on 25 June, in Australia.

Watson is the man who made the paranormal normal. He introduced Uri Geller to a dumbstruck world via an even more dumbstruck David Dimbleby. He wrote Supernature, which reprinted 10 times in 10 weeks, sold 750,000 copies and caused Watson to take to the road for more than a year to establish his lack of a residence where he could be taxed on the proceeds.

There are plenty of obituaries out there, for example in the Telegraph, and they all make much of his polymath abilities, his youthful genius, his adventuring and derring do and his belief in sumo wrestling. Some gently question the value of a mind so open that you could toss anything into it. But by and large they buy it, just as the public of the early 1970s bought it.

I got to know Lyall at the meetings of the International Whaling Commission, where the stories swirling around him, the delegation of the Seychelles and the Aga Khan enlivened the longeurs. He was a great source, always good for an unattributable and unpublishable tidbit, always semi-whispering like a true conspirator. And I like to think we understood one another, sharing as we did certain elements of our histories.

I remember him one time telling me how he had witnessed a tennis ball turn inside out. He was absolutely sincere. The way he told it, one moment the ball had been sitting on someone’s hand (it never was clear whose) all fuzzy and fluorescent green, and the next it was smooth and rubbery and when he cut it open with his penknife the fuzz was on the inside.

Did he? Did he really?

My final hope is that there’s an envelope, or better yet an entire manuscript, to be opened in the event of his Lifetide ebbing, that tells the whole truth.

I’ll believe it, of course.

Two ways to respond: webmentions and comments


Webmentions allow conversations across the web, based on a web standard. They are a powerful building block for the decentralized social web.

“Ordinary” comments

These are not webmentions, but ordinary old-fashioned comments left by using the form below.

Reactions from around the web