Secret of the black magic box
The Skeptic, 8.1
You may have noticed that The Skeptic doesn't appear to have a real address. Instead, your editors lurk behind a mysteriously vague Post Office Box number. Until we began using the Box four years ago, I had always regarded the idea of the `Post Office Box number' somewhat suspiciously - as a cloak of anonymity for people up to no good, from fly-by night dodgy companies to international spies dropping off secrets for each other. The PO Box may well be used for nefarious purposes, but the majority of people use it for convenience. It must be said, however, that many of our fellow customers at the Manchester Box do seem rather anxious to receive their brown paper parcels, and shuffle away before you can say hello.
For The Skeptic, the Box provides us with a first line of defence against, well, shall we say people you would not wish to be stuck on a desert island with. Let me give you an idea of some of the material we receive. Obviously, we get letters - lots of them. Some are articles and reviews for publication, or requests for information. And there is that special category of letter: the rant. You know you have a rant when the letter extends to at least five pages, with excessive use of CAPITALS and strange; punctuation. They are unpublishable.
We get rants from people who feel we are evil debunkers of beautiful New Age truths - how can the Age of Aquarius ever dawn properly if we skeptics continue to project our inhibiting rays of negative rational energy? Other people have complaints which are harder to fathom, such as a religious gentleman who accuses us of increasing the level of psychic activity in the country by, erm... actually talking about it. Far better to treat it as taboo, he says, therefore gradually driving it out of our culture. Hmm.
We have been sent psychically-inspired pictures of the shapes and colours of atoms and elementary particles, similar to the `thought forms' of Annie Besant and C W Ledbetter. Not long ago we received a spate of broken watches. This rather threw me. Was it assumed that we could repair these, a la Uri Geller, by our paranormal powers? Alas, there was a more mundane explanation. The Post Office re-uses Box numbers, and many years ago our Box was used by a company selling watches. The mystery remains as to why they all appeared to fail at the same time.
Self-published pamphlets and books fall with amazing regularity through The Skeptic's rented letterbox. Recently we have had an extraordinary contribution: Gog, the Forces of Magog, the Land of America, by a New Zealand writer, Michael Callagher. Mr Callagher's thesis is that the biblical visions of Daniel foretold the Gulf War, the accession of President Clinton, and also predict the death of Clinton by the end of 1993 (oops!), to be replaced by Al Gore, who will lead the United Nations military forces to defeat Iran. The author is confident in his claims, which is reasonable, because he is himself referred to by name in Daniel 12:1, `At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people'. Of course, The Bible holds many truths cryptically concealed from us. One need only refer to Nehemiah 6:14 to read: `Remember Tobiah and Sanbalat, O my God, according to these things that they did' - an unequivocal reference, it is clear, to Toby and Steve, and their editorship of The Skeptic.
Another favourite topic for self-publishers is the Shakespearean mystery, and the relentless search for clues to his real identity, that galvanises a certain cabal of individuals who pursue the theory that William Shakespeare was, in reality, Francis Bacon. How to Crack the Secret of Westminster Abbey is one publication which claims to find confirmation of the Baconian theory in words engraved on a scroll on a statue at Westminster Abbey. I will omit the details of the tortuous cryptographic method required to produce such a result, save to say that it probably has about as much cosmic significance as the fact that `can ruin a selected victim' is an anagram of `circumstantial evidence'.
The PO Box is an administrative help, and a safety mechanism. I really do not want a 700-page single-spaced typewritten self-published manuscript on the Cumbrian activities of the Knights Templar delivered to my house at 7.30 on a Monday morning (I'm not joking). And I like to see those other people with their anonymous brown paper packages, and wonder - what mysteries do their Post Offices Boxes conceal?
©Toby Howard 1995
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