Monday, May 08, 2006

Dowsing the Fires of Optimism


Good with spoons, but what about the hair?


The last few days I've been in Northumberland, checking out Hadrian's Wall, striding across Holy Island, and clocking my book's position on amazon every six to seven minutes.

And you know what? I'm number eight right now in the amazon hot one hundred. Yes! Number EIGHT! Out of several million! So: eat crow, David 'knobhead' Mitchell (number twelve); bog off, weirdy authors of so-called Freakonomics (number nine); tough titty to you, Londonstani ethno-novelist Gautam Malkani with your £800,000 advance (number fortynine). Bwahahahahahahaha!

Of course I shall probably have sunk to my normal position at number 567,935 on the amazon rankings by tomorrow. And that'll learn me.

Anyway, here's a post on dowsing. It seems kinda fitting, when talking about wild and foolish optimism.




How To Find Water With A Twig


Come again?
The art of dowsing, a technique for locating hidden corpses, secret tunnels, cancerous tumours, as well as water and minerals, using just the human hand and the odd twig, is technically known as ‘biolocation’ or ‘radioesthesia’. Whether it works by electromagnetic vibes, or simple human intuition, dowsing’s got a pedigree: ancient Chinese kings used dowsers, the Egyptians swore by the technique, and in the Middle Ages dowsing was used to source coal deposits. In 1528 Martin Luther denounced dowsing as ‘the work of the devil’.

Oo-er...
To dowse for water you will need, unsurprisingly, dowsers. Traditionally these were forked twigs of hazel, beech, or alder - ‘wishing rods’ - which were held in the hands as the dowser traipsed across a patch of land: the twig would twitch down when the dowser was walking over an underground stream, lake, treasure chest, or long-buried aunt. You can also use a pendulum. These days, though, ‘L-rods’ are said to be the thing: basically these are two bits of bent coat hanger.

Coat hangers?
Yep. To make your very own L-rods, just snip the long bottom bit from two wire coat hangers. Bend the resultant rods four inches from the end, by ninety degrees. Sheath the short bent bits in drinking straws. Now gently clasp these short bits of the wires in each hand, and point the long swinging bits outwards. Walk across your chosen piece of ground, and wait for the two long bits of wire to swing inwards. When the two rods cross, you’ve dowsed: start digging and eventually you should find a viable source of drinking water. Or a BT cable.

Load of old bollocks, right?
Maybe not. As dowsing has become increasingly fashionable, scientific tests have been conducted to see whether it’s pants. A rigorous test in 1971 by physicists Chandwick and Jensen reported results that were ‘sufficiently significant to warrant further investigations’. What’s more, dowsers were used by the US army in 1967 to locate Vietcong tunnels, and ‘Dowsing’ has been an entry in Russian Army training manuals since 1930. And ‘map dowsers’ - dowsers who work by poring over geophysical surveys looking for gold, oil, or uranium - are nowadays lucratively employed by multinational companies. Uri ‘oh God, not the spoons again’ Geller makes pots of cash doing precisely this.

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