For far too long, Professor Neil Ferguson’s legendary crystal ball has languished unused and unloved – hidden away in a filing cabinet in the bowels of Imperial College. With the UK and the world facing innumerable challenges, TCWDF asked the professor if we could borrow his priceless artefact to see if it could tell what the future holds. We report our extraordinary findings below.
The first thing to note is that this object is much smaller than one would imagine – it can comfortably be held in the palm of the hand – yet there is a surprising weight to it. Close inspection reveals it to be flawless, with no bubbles or scratches to be seen. It is housed in a handsome mahogany cradle with silver feet.
Professor Ferguson has thoughtfully provided some handwritten notes and accompanying items to help an ingenue such as myself best extract maximum value from this relic. Firstly, he suggests that curtains are drawn, and that radios or other sources of extraneous noise are turned off.
Secondly, he recommends that I wear a headscarf to enhance the power of divination. Luckily the enclosed one-size-fits-all, black headband, augmented with hanging faux-gold coins, is perfect.
I look in the mirror and smile. I look quite the part and could comfortably work in a fairground – something Professor Ferguson apparently did before joining the staff at Imperial.
I settle myself into a comfortable chair and deliberately slow my breathing. I place my hands around the globe but importantly do not touch it – direct contact, I am informed, makes for a bad connection. Initially nothing happens and I begin to wonder if it is all mumbo jumbo but suddenly, as I peer into the orb’s interior, I see clouds and as I gaze intently, they begin to clear.
I see a sign spelling out Manston – an airport in Kent that I know well. There are queues of foreign-looking individuals being escorted by people in uniform.
At first I cannot see where they are going, but then I see an aeroplane. In the cockpit there is a small sign with some writing on it. Initially I can’t read what it says, but once more my glass sphere delivers the goods. The sign reads Rwanda or Bust; on the plane’s tailfin, picked out in great detail, I can make out the Prime Minister’s visage. He is smiling broadly – not unlike Richard Branson, and he is giving a big thumbs-up gesture.
Just as it seems the queue is making its way to the aircraft’s steps, the clouds in my ball return. Before the vision totally occludes, I can faintly make out the faces of Gary Lineker and Cherie Blair, it all goes dark and there is nothing more to see. One can only ponder the significance of this vision and draw one’s own conclusions.
Professor Ferguson had warned me of the unpredictable nature of this instrument and insisted that I persevere if I wanted what he called ‘enlightenment’. I once more roost in my chair and peer into the globe’s middle.
Minutes pass uneventfully but then the swirling clouds once more begin to disperse. I stare intently at the unfolding sight, and I can discern a beach but not of the Mediterranean type. This one is cold and largely covered in shingle.
Abruptly there is activity. Boats, possibly RNLI but impossible to be sure, are arriving in a never-ending phalanx. An amorphous figure makes its way to the boats and once again there is a sign that draws my attention. Initially indistinct, I can see what looks like a heart logo, then the wording comes into focus: Refugees Welcome.
The indistinguishable shape I observed earlier has morphed into a strange Cerberus-like creature – three heads mounted on a single frightening body. Startlingly the crystal ball has suddenly transformed its presentation from hazy to ultra-high definition, unveiling three familiar faces. Once more there is the grinning Rishi Sunak, this time joined seamlessly either side by Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey – both smirking and laughing uncontrollably.
As quickly as the apparition revealed itself it is gone, replaced by what looks like a man wearing a Barbour coat and propping up a pub bar. He blows cigarette smoke upwards and I can just glimpse the name Nigel picked out in the air. Abruptly the clouds return, signifying that this mystical sphere will unveil nothing more during this session.
I sit back exhausted. Looking into the future is unquestionably a disturbing and, it must be said, faintly frightening pursuit. I carefully place the illustrious sphere into its velvet carrying bag, ready to return it to its admired owner.
My conclusion, from this experience, is that fortune telling is something best left to the professionals.