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Fortean Times - 2009 special issue - No. 250


Miracle at Silverstone

GUY LYON PLAYFAIR

From the 29 July 1998 issue of The Autocar :

'The Tyrrell mechanics reported a genuine miracle in their pit at Silverstone before the British Grand Prix when, before their very eyes, Uri Geller smoothed his fingers along an 18mm combination Snap-On spanner and it bent as though it was made of spaghetti.  They didn’t believe what they were seeing and naturally applied some muscle to the spanner, but couldn’t make an impression.'  They had put it in a vice and whacked it with a hammer, but 'in no way could they bend the Snap-On the way Geller had.'

I included a brief account of this incident in my book Mindforce (1999), having seen the spanner for myself, heard Uri’s very similar version and spoken by telephone to his Brazilian friend Ricardo Rosset, the Tyrrell driver who had invited him to the pit.  Formula 1 drivers depend on their powers of observation for their survival, so I thought he would make a convincing witness, if he could confirm this remarkable feat.

He could indeed. 'Uri came as my guest,' he told me from his home in São Paulo, 'and bent some spoons for us in the pit.  Then one of the mechanics handed him a spanner and asked if he could bend that as well.  Uri agreed to try, but he needed a lot of people around. There were about ten of us watching, and it took a while.  He held it by one end and rubbed it in the middle, then he took his other hand away and it just bent – upwards.'  Uri confirmed that all this took about ten minutes, far longer than his usual spoon and key jobs.

I set out to track down some more witnesses – the more you can get on a case of such extreme strangeness as this one, the better.  It wasn’t easy, and I had just about given up when the 16 November 2000 issue of Autosport included an item by gossip columnist 'Pit Bull', who had bought a copy of Mindforce.  After summarising my account of the Silverstone miracle, he added 'Most people in this office claim this was untrue.  If you were there to witness this supernatural act, let us know either by email, fax, letter or telepathy.'

Somebody who was there did just that, as Pit Bull reported in the 23 November Autosport :  'A reader has written in with the following: "It has just been pointed out to me that you’re after the members of the Tyrrell team that saw the famous Uri Geller spanner bending at Silverstone, 1998.  I was about one metre away from Uri when he bent the spanner.  The spanner came straight from one of the mechanics' cabinets and Uri had no way of having touched or even seen the spanner before he made it 'droop' over to one side".'

Both Uri and Rosset had said it bent upwards, as everything I have seen Uri bend has, yet this is acceptable supporting evidence that he did indeed distort the spanner by some kind of mind force, for want of a more precise term.  There was no suggestion in any of the three witnesses' accounts that Uri had used any normal kind of force.

According to conventional metallurgy, there are only two practicable ways of bending chrome vanadium spanners.  One is by heat, which would need a temperature of around 800 degrees C, at which the surface would oxidise, the chrome would turn black (which it hasn’t) and the bender would have some severely burned fingers.  The other, somewhat safer, is force, so I decided to see if I could bend a similar spanner by normal force which would serve as a control for any future testing of the Gellerised one.

More problems.  The make of spanner Tyrrell had used (King Dick) was no longer available, so I had to settle for a very similar Facom one.  Then I had to find the necessary technology. This was not at all easy, but to cut a long and frustrating story short I did eventually manage to bluff my way into the Mechanical Engineering department of a well known university where, as much needed luck would have it, the head of the materials testing lab was willing to help.

We started by giving both spanners the Vickers hardness test, which showed that the Tyrrell spanner was 12 percent harder than mine.  We then fixed mine to a huge strain gauge, and I held the other one behind it and asked the technician to keep turning up the force until the two bends looked roughly equal.  It wasn’t the most professional way of doing things, but it was good enough to show that my spanner only began to bend when the dial showed 460 newtons and had to reach 564 before the bends were similar.  Allowing for the difference in hardness, this meant, I was told, that Uri would have to have had the strength to lift something weighing 635 kilos, which is rather more than the world weight lifting record.

As I was told it would, my spanner has since straightened itself out to the point where its bend is about fifteen degrees less than its original one, whereas the Tyrrell-Geller one has stayed put.

The psi researcher’s Holy Grail has long been what we call the Permanent Paranormal Object (PPO) or Effect (PPE), that is, something that cannot be replicated by normal means and the existence of which cannot be denied.  Several possible examples of these, such as knots tied in pieces of string the ends of which were sealed to a board, were described by Johann Zöllner, professor of astronomy at the University of Leipzig.  The man who reportedly performed this feat and several others was the American Henry Slade who, like Geller, amassed both abundant testimonials to his abilities and vehement denunciations.

There are those who feel that Slade’s name may have been unjustifiably wiped from history (see Inglis, 1992, pp. 281-5). However, his PPOs, if that is what they were, have not survived and so have no evidential value today.  The Silverstone spanner is another matter altogether.  It has survived, and until somebody manages to bend a similar spanner under the same conditions as those of 1998 it can rightly be called at the very least a Temporary Paranormal Object.  If attempts to replicate it by physical force alone fail, it can rightly be awarded PPO status, perhaps the first of its kind.

References

Brian Inglis.   Natural and Supernatural.   Revised ed., Prism, 1992

Guy Lyon Playfair.   Mindforce.   Brilliant Books, 1999.

J.C.F.Zöllner.   Transcendental Physics.   Tr. C.C.Massey, Harrison, 1882

PHOTOS AVAILABLE

1 Uri holding the spanner when he gave it to me

2 Strain gauge test


© Guy Lyon Playfair - Reproduced with permission



Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage