the ordinary blog
I love reading. Stating the obvious I know but just like music I just like the music. I don’t have a curiosity about the author’s or musicians life unless I see a book about them. Then everything changes. It’s readable.
I say this as a precursor as book signings and book events have never really interested me. The closest I have got is The Hay Festival Website. This changed on the the last day of Reading Festival in August. My mate Andy and I were going through the schedule whilst eating a full English in preparation when I saw that first on the comedy tent was Owen Jones, author of The Establishment being interviewed by Andy Parsons, the bald funny panelist from Mock the Week. We missed the first 15 minutes but found a spot to sit in the front left corner of the tent and enjoyed Owen’s passion talking about the political climate, the establishment and Brexit in particular. His message that day was understandably for the festival audience and not a couple of fourty somethings but it was engaging Owens uncertain reaction to Parsons self fellatio joke was very human as was the news that he had come out and walked out of a TV interview about a related subject recently . It gave his book another dimension in how I continue to remember it. Little details.
Fast forward a few weeks and a what’s on in Reading email inviting me to No Tricks - An Evening with Derren Brown. I watched the quick trailer. A small tour to talk about his new book “Happy” with a QA session and he is in Basingstoke too. “Helen” I called, come and have a look at this. A talk by Derren Brown about the subject that has consumed me more than any other over the last few years and on our doorstep = no brainer. The £27 ticket price seemed a little on the high side especially when you throw in the likely book purchase too but tickets seemed to be selling fast especially considering the short notice of the mini tour.
In his Miracle tour earlier in the year Derren asked for people to write down medical issues during the interlude so with this in mind once the tickets were booked I wrote and rewrote my questions for Derren. I prepped big style and came up with three I was happy with and put them on A5 cards. They were .
Walking into the Anvil I wondered how the book sales would be handled. I couldn’t see him doing a signing session before hand as it would be chaos and unless he wanted to be in Basingstoke until midnight, after the show was out too. The answer was pre-signed books sold by a couple of Waterstones staff at full RRP which disappointed a few people but I thought it a clever solution and according to my mate Richard standard practice. I am usually a paperback guy so £20 is top end and I almost didn’t bother but then I remembered Anne Frank’s House and how having bought the book there resonated when I read the book at home. Location matters as any coffee seller will tell you. An extra fiver for a more unique experience I figured was worth the money so grabbed one before they sold out.
Just before we got to our seats among the sea of people I saw a face I recognised. A friend of Helen’s not seen since just after her wedding almost 3 years ago Jo who was here for a wedding anniversary present and before I could say “are you going to buy Derren’s book too?” Jo said it was a surprise by her husband Andrew and she didn’t know who she was there to see. We agreed to meet up at half time and possibly after the show. All in all a really cool start to the evening.
On stage was a small circular table with 2 bottles of water, nothing more until a couple of minutes later Derren appeared in a trademark three piece suite, waistcoat fully buttoned a professional greyish brown colour looking thin almost chiselled with his hair shaved very fine. After the applause subsided he thanked so many for us for coming as he expected about 50 when he announced this mini tour and said he hoped we all knew that it wasn’t a normal show and that he tried to be as clear as possible with the name – No Tricks means no tricks. I felt everyone in the room knew including Derren that there were now a few people who didn’t realise this and were going to be disappointed. He then explained that he loved reading self help books and he had spent the last three years writing his book Happy after realising that the Stoic ideas were not well known and it had helped him define his own views, work out what he didn’t understand. I think I am using this website as something similar at times so could relate to this. An hour and ten minutes of Derren talking, a break and 45 minutes of taking questions. I just hoped I wouldn’t cramp further sitting still for 70 minutes.
The auditorium was hushed quiet, when Derren paused there seemed to be no sound, everyone hanging on his every word. “If you take nothing else from tonight then I hope you remember these two things” Derren said with his perfected stage presence
What wasn’t making me happy at that moment was the twinges in my legs. There’s nothing like concentrating on sitting still to make that very act ever more difficult . Derren then asked if anyone had read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I said Yes loudly and it seemed uncomfortably too enthusiastically than the rest of the audience. It didn’t help. I seriously didn’t think I could stand to ask a question after the break. Derren explained the premise of the secret is a good example of how healers work. If it doesn’t it’s your fault, and you didn’t believe enough. The other trick of the healers as he demonstrated in his show Miracle was to give the “healed” a shot of adrenalin by working them into a frenzy.
I was surviving, just. The hour continued with the main theme, a brief history of the Stoics. A western version of Budism with Roman Marcus Aurelius being the most famous and their action orientated beliefs of acceptance before Christianity and the promise of future eternal happiness for sacrifice replaced it, with modern day consumerism using the same model as Christianity.
The best way to get us to listen and buy is fear and anxiety and modern life exploits this all the time Derren explained which compounds the problem. We nodded in agreement. I enjoyed hearing his views on Facebook which he compared reading someone else’s diary. You know you shouldn’t with a diary but Facebook fools you into thinking it is ok. On Twitter and reviews. One bad review can feel worse than 100 good ones. His feeling that he enjoys be liked but has to be careful not to be controlled by it reminded me very strongly of Ruby Wax.
To finish death, what else and two personal stories. A friend ‘s struggles with cancer who was happier and had a better relationship once it was terminal, certain. The second a man whose daughter had died and came to Derren’s stage door to see whether he thought she could be contacted. His empathy for the man was clear to see as he told us he mumbled that he did not believe that she could be contacted and didn’t know what else to say but thinks, a couple of years on he does now. When you remember the good things about her, copy her mannerisms she is still alive. It reminded me at the time of the scene in The Lion King when Simba is told that his father is alive in him. Derren went on to explain that in Mexican tradition a person is not truly dead until the last person who remembers them Is dead which is an idea I really like. Ancient knowledge I could almost hear Nasim Nicholas Taleb saying.
On this cheerful note I stood up very relieved and headed for the bar for a soft drink. I didn’t dare drink a pint. After a quick life catch up with Jo and Andrew we headed back and as my legs felt better so did I. A black leather armchair had been added to the stage and when Derren came back he explained that there were two assistants with microphones and like being back in school if you wanted to ask a question simply put your hand up and when picked two people would ask their question. I guess this gave him time to think while asking easier questions straight away.
Derren then took some time to stress that while we could ask him anything as he is not a qualified medical practitioner so please don’t ask him questions on “I have this problem, What should I do?” as he could only suggest seeking further help. Somehow I couldn’t see this stopping some people and so it proved. It was easy to be annoyed but especially in the case of a depressed lady in her early twenties with ginger hair who had no motivation – she needed to ask a question a lot more than me and once I thought that then it was OK. The questions were varied – the word stoic came up A LOT which was fine in the first half but in the q&a I guess I wanted a bit more ‘off script’ so to speak. But then again maybe I should just take Derren’s advice and ‘lower my expectations’!
There was a lot of people who wanted to ask a question and both Helen’s friend Jo and I went away a little disappointed that we were not able to ask one but by almost 9.50pm it was time for the last question, Make it a really good one Derren said. I put my hand down as I guessed few people would of heard of Nasim Nichholas Taleb and Anti-fragility. The person he picked, a late teens girl chose to ask him about whether he still had a mask from a show, she laughed as she asked while the rest of us, Derren included audibly groaned and proving once more how frustrating having to work with the general public must be sometimes. To be honest I don’t remember the last sensible question but I remember that Derren was able to bring the evening nicely to the end of the show with it.
Our evening was about to conclude really well too. Jo, Andrew, Helen and I left together and sharing a drink in the pub we all agreed that it had been a good night, something very different and comparing questions, that ours were much better than a lot that were asked, but I guess that’s what everyone probably went away thinking.. Apart from a few funny lines and quips it had a feel of a philosophic investigation but then again Happiness is a serious business! We drank up agreed it was getting late and made a promise to set a date to see their new house and their puppy before Christmas.
It would have been great if I could of asked a question, especially if it would of really added to the evening but on reflection I would of rather had the chance meeting of Jo and Andrew than the question. This is what made the evening complete, made it more real . We are a social species, connecting with others face to face is in our dna. Reading is a lovely mainly solitary persuit, especially a lot of the books on happiness that I love so the chances like Gratitude Night in Authentic Happpiness and No Tricks – An Evening wiith Derren Brown where I can share these ideas with people I love and enjoy spending time with is what I believe make them so worthwhile. They make me happy. I hope reading Derren Brown's book does too :)
I am 43 and lucky to have a fantastic wife and 3 kids who give my life purpose and make it fun too. To pay the bills I am a Software Consultant and have been for the past (mostly enjoyable) 18 years.