HAVE you been to see a spiritualist or medium show?

Did it work for you? Did you find some comfort? Were you convinced that you were communing with those who had crossed over?

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, I am genuinely happy for you and I have no desire to trample on your beliefs.

But generally speaking I have a problem with spiritualists and mediums. You know the ones I mean – the sort who put on a show while they make contact with the dearly departed of those in the audience.

And my problem is? I am not in the slightest bit convinced.

And I am also uncomfortable they make money from the vulnerable, from those who are absolutely desperate to speak just one more time with a loved one.

I raise this point after reading the excellent review of a medium show written by new columnist Gareth Roberts in last week’s Guardian.

Once upon a time I did have some lingering doubts. There are many strange and inexplicable things so maybe, there are some people who can commune with the dead.

(And anyone who had the ‘benefit’ of a Catholic upbringing must have picked up some notion of the spiritual world.) But it was the television magician/hypnotist Derren Brown who finally convinced me otherwise.

Back in 2005, Brown travelled to the US to try to convince five leading figures he had powers in their particular field of expertise.

Using a false name each time, he succeeded in convincing all five.

The show aimed to highlight the power of suggestion with beliefs and the failure to question them.

In one episode, Brown performed seemingly instant religious conversions on a group of people almost all of whom had said beforehand they were atheists and non-believers.

But it was his ‘clairvoyant’ experiment that struck a chord with me.

During the séance Brown convinced three women he was in contact with deceased loved ones – and if I hadn’t known it was a sham, it would have convinced me as well.

It was later explained it was all a trick, based on the established technique of ‘cold reading’.

Brown, a skilled performer, can pick up on those little psychological cues, body language, clothing, ethnicity, facial expressions with somewhat frightening expertise.

Practitioners such as Brown quickly ascertain whether their guesses are in the right direction. They emphasise and reinforce the successful chance connections and rapidly dismiss and move on from missed guesses. And it works because the audience wants it to work.

If those who attend these shows take some comfort then maybe that’s a good thing. But don’t ask me to go to one.

  •  I NOTICE it was World Book Day last week. Just a couple of things wrong with that.

It wasn’t World Book Day at all – it was British Book Day.

The rest of the world marks the day on April 23.

There’s a good reason for that. The connection between April 23 and books was first made in 1923 by booksellers in Catalonia, as a way to honour the author Miguel de Cervantes who died on April 23.

UNESCO then decided that World Book Day would be on that date as it’s also the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and a raft of other authors.

And April 23 is also the date the people of Catalonia celebrate their saint’s day the feast of Sant Jordi (St George to you and me).

Tradition dictates that on that day couples exchange gifts, a book for the men and a rose for the women so it all fits together beautifully for April 23.

But not in the UK. I wonder why, given the chance to celebrate the most famous author in the English-speaking world.

I said there are a couple of things wrong with World Book Day. What is the second, you may ask.

I despair at the number of children sent to school purporting to be dressed as a character from a book when in fact they are dressed as a character from a film.

There is a difference, you know.