Hypnotism - a dark and mysterious art. It's a subject that never fails to fill people with curiosity. As a medical man, I'm asked about hypnotism rather a lot.
Does it hurt? Should I wear special protective clothing? Can I get it on the NHS?
However, the question I'm asked more than any other is this: is it possible to make someone act like a monkey?
Well, obviously, it is. My surgery is frequently packed to the rafters with patients swinging from door frames, picking fleas out of each other's fur and flinging their own excrement. Of course, this has nothing to do with hypnotism, but it does illustrate the kind of people I have to deal with on a day to day basis.
Hello, my name is Doctor Adolphous Bongo, and I'm sure many of you may have seen me quite recently on your TV screens. I just want to take this opportunity to point out that I'm not the pug-nosed thug that those photofit pictures make me out to be, and the artists' impressions that have appeared in many national newspapers have done me no favours either.
As for the fuzzy, dimly-lit security video footage that has been doing the rounds, well it's quite deliberately been taken out of context to make it appear as though I was doing something shady and criminal.
I admit, it looks as though I can be seen climbing through the window of one of the country's leading medical research laboratories. And, to the untrained eye, those strange, stubby objects poking out of that sack could have been amputated limbs - but there are any number of perfectly reasonable explanations.
I could have just been walking past with a bag full pork chops and been blown through the window by a freak gust of wind. Or I might have been on a goodwill mission, delivering French sticks to hungry medical students.
Anyway, it wasn't even me. I was in Tooting at the time, treating a man with aggressive haemorrhoids, and I've got the pictures to prove it.
Hypnotism is a virus
But never mind that now - we were discussing hypnotism. What exactly is hypnotism? Well, to put it simply, hypnotism is a virus - much like the common cold, but with less snot and more chicken impressions.
The symptoms of hypnotism are many and various, and the chances are you won't know you've got it until someone clicks their fingers and you suddenly leap onto a chair and start belting out a succession of Elvis Presley tunes.
Other typical symptoms include believing yourself to be Napoleon, eating onions as if they were apples and repeating the word 'kumquat' at random, and for no apparent reason.
You will notice that these are almost exactly the same symptoms exhibited by lunatics, which is what makes the diagnosis of hypnotism so difficult. Just because someone suddenly starts jumping up and down on the furniture, curling their lips and singing You Ain't Nothing But A Kumquat, it doesn't necessarily mean that they've been hypnotised. They might just be mental.
A tawdry cabaret performance
So, how does one catch hypnotism? Well, the patient is most likely to contract it by participating in a tawdry cabaret performance in a dingy working men's club or run-down seaside theatre.
Time and time again I warn people about these sorts of places, but it seems that these cretins are unwilling to observe even the most basic precautions. There are simple steps you can take to avoid becoming hypnotised, and it's worth reiterating them here now.
Firstly, if you know that you're going to be at one of these performances, try to drink plenty of coffee in advance. The hypnotist will attempt to induce a sense of fatigue, persuading you that you are very sleepy, and if you're so wired that your brain is visibly fizzing out of your ears it will make his job all the more difficult.
Secondly, never look into the hypnotist's eyes. Hypnotism is unique in that it is the only virus that can be communicated optically. If you must look at him, try not to do it directly. Use a reflective surface such as a hand mirror, a spoon or a shield. Even this is dangerous.
The safest option is to invest in a pair of those googly-eyed glasses, where the eyeballs come out on springs. Not only will they protect you from the harmful hypnotic waves, but they're also a bit of a giggle and the kids love 'em.
Finally, remember the old maxim that the best form of defence is attack. This is a bit tricky, and I wouldn't attempt it unless you know what you're doing, but if you're feeling confident you should try and get in first and hypnotise the hypnotist before he can hypnotise you.
This, however, can be very dangerous. I know of one case in which both the hypnotist and the subject fell under the influence at exactly the same time and found themselves locked in a self-perpetuating feedback loop. That was back in 1972, and they've been fixed in a deadly stalemate for the last 34 years.
The variety theatre where the performance was taking place has since been pulled down to make way for a new shopping centre, but the mutual hypnotists remain, forming the centrepiece of a novel water feature outside Boots.
Some of you may be quite worried about the possibility of becoming hypnotised, and will naturally be wondering if there is a cure. Well, you'll be pleased to learn that there are a number of reassuringly expensive therapies available, from simple counter-suggestive techniques to full blown brain surgery.
Personally I favour 'high impact cranial percussion', a method which is chiefly characterised by an intensive programme of vicious beatings to the patient's head, administered personally by myself with the aid of a cricket bat and all the enthusiasm I can muster. I'll admit that there has been some opposition to this method from some of my learned colleagues, to which I respond by explaining that medical beatings can, in effect, 'reset' the delicate mechanism of the brain and enable the patient to once more lead a normal life.
I don't know whether there's any truth in this, but it sounds reasonably plausible, and I do so enjoy conducting the treatment.
A positive side
We have looked, thus far, at the negative side of hypnosis. But doesn't it have a positive side? Isn't hypnotherapy enabling people to live richer, happier lives.
Well yes - it has made many hypnotherapists very rich and happy indeed. But I won't deny that there are positive medical benefits to hypnotism. I made a brief reference to chicken impressions earlier, and it's certainly true that persuading a chap to pretend he's a chicken and strut around the surgery laying eggs can be quite beneficial.
It certainly livens my day up and gives the nurses a treat, which makes for a happy atmosphere all around.
Of course, the cleaner doesn't like it one bit when she has to spend three hours scrubbing at the carpets to get all the bird shit out. She believes that making people act like a chicken is a shameful and unprofessional way to behave, and is a terrible abuse of the whole doctor-patient relationship. However, since we pay the cow-faced old trollop for the deft application of mop and bucket, rather than her pig-brained notions on the subject of professional ethics, I hardly think her opinions are worth further consideration.
Shunned by society
The simple fact is that, despite our apparently enlightened attitude, hypnotism is still misunderstood by most people and its victims are shunned by society.
If we see someone bouncing around, nibbling on a carrot and pretending to be a rabbit, we will cross the street to avoid them. If we witness someone breaking out into involuntary Rod Stewart impressions in response to certain keywords, we will simply laugh and point.
And if a professional man of good standing - say a doctor, for example - was to be mesmerised into breaking into a nearby research hospital, stuffing a load of amputated legs into a sack and then making off with them into the night, well then his reputation would be smashed, his picture would be plastered all over the TV and newspapers and he would be forced to flee to South America.
Travesty of justice
It's a travesty of justice, I tell you. So you might not hear from me for a while. It's a pity, but I've got no option other than to lay low until the heat's off - or, at least, until people start to develop a more relaxed attitude towards the illegal acquisition of body parts.
This is goodbye, then. Still, it's not too bad - I hear there's a roaring trade in illegal liver transplants in Bolivia. A smart chap with the appropriate connections and a suitable medical background might quite easily score himself a piece of that action.
And fortunately for me - and I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before - but I know people.
Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2006