The Three Best Things

 ‘A Pound of Paper’ by John Baxter is one of my favourite books. It charts John’s life, from being a clerk with NSW Railways in a little town in Australia, to being an international bibliophile, author, critic and book dealer.

He tells one particularly interesting story. When he was living in Los Angeles in 1989 he took part in an experiment which was trying to discover somebody who had known Jesus. The methodology employed was to hypnotise people and try and recover memories of any past lives.

The experiment failed, but, as a reward for the time John had contributed, the psychologist conducting the experiment gave John a post-hypnotic gift. Whilst John was hypnotised the psychologist asked him to visualise the three things which had given him the greatest pleasure during his life. As he described each pleasure the psychologist squeezed his left wrist. The idea was that, whenever John squeezed that wrist in future, he would re-experience the same pleasure.

When I read this I wondered what I would recall in the same circumstances. Certainly, I thought, one really great day on the Great Ocean Road in Australia would be one of the things, but what else? Would I include something from my childhood, something connected with my own children, or some adventure. Well, probably none of these because what John remembered surprised him. Remember that he was recalling his three greatest pleasures whilst under hypnosis.

The first pleasure was simply the satisfaction of sitting down each morning to write [John has written eight other books]. The second pleasure was a song: ‘Finishing the Hat’ from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park with George’. John describes how amazed he was that his second choice should be a song.

The third pleasure turned out to be the really important one. The memory was from ten years earlier, of being in the flea market in Clignancourt, outside Paris, with a woman called Marie-Dominique. It was cold and they were eating frites with mustard out of a paper cone. John describes how, under hypnosis, he could taste the salt and fat, feel the cold and see the wind ruffling the fur collar of Marie-Dominique’s coat.

He had, had hardly any contact with Marie-Dominique since then but, after some thought, he rang her and invited her to LA. A little later they moved to live in her flat in Paris. They are now married with children.

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