I receive a tip-off that at Southbank – amongst the human statues, shirtless parkour boys, atheists trundling off to the Global Atheist Convention and God botherers chalking retaliations on the pavement – a couple of plucky Scientologists have gathered with some stress monitors.
These ‘E-Meters’ claim to read your stress levels as you focus on different areas of your life. Once you’re diagnosed as a neurotic ball of angst, you’re referred to a counsellor for a lifelong personality audit.
This stand at Southbank doesn’t mention the word ‘Scientology’ anywhere, although the Dianetics DVDs and books for sale would alarm and alert any but the most sheltered passer-by. I take a seat opposite Gavin, who immediately looks a bit alarmed himself. He regains his composure. I place him at somewhere between 16 and 20 years old.
Gavin gives me some copper tubes to hold, through which a minimal electrical current is said to pass. It passes through me and then onto the E-Meter, which has the pseudoscientificfantastic word ‘Quantum’ on it.
“Think about people that are stressing you out,” Gavin instructs vaguely.
“What, all of them?”
“Just one at a time. What’s coming up for you?”
I focus on stroking Mr Thumpy, my relaxed, furry rabbit. The stress-o-meter goes through the roof.
“What were you thinking of?” Gavin says in excitement.
“My mother,” I say obediently.
“Ah,” he says, and asks me a host of probing questions that I sidestep. He gives the meter a flick and it moves.
“What’s that?” he says. “Something came up there.”
“I was just thinking the sun felt nice,” I admit. We’re on a lovely spot by the river.
“What about work?” he says. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a journalist,” I say, and he leans back off his arms and shifts in his chair. When will I learn to lie?
“Oh right,” he says, stalling. “Yes, I can imagine that would be a stressful job.” Suddenly the dial swings again, apropos of nothing, and he points it out in great triumph.
“Does the dial tend to swing whatever subject somebody focuses on?” I ask.
“It depends on the person,” he says. “We just had a man come through who – every single question; family, work, health – the dial stayed completely dead. So he was obviously completely stress free.”
“Well,” I say. “I’m not going to buy anything here, but what would the next step be?”
“That’s absolutely fine,” he says, and hands me a DVD. “You can read the back of this. That basically explains everything.”
“All it explains is that there’s something called an ‘audit’.”
“Yes,” he says, and hands me a book. “If you read that it tells you all about that.”
I flick through the contents page, with pseudo-gump words littered throughout it, as well as a chapter on ‘prenatal’.
“So Scientologists believe stress goes back to being an embryo?”
“Or before that?”
“No, just to being an embryo.”
Well, that’s something.
I think Gavin’s patter needs work, but they’ve got him while he’s young (taking pops seems cheap, but it’s certainly true…), so I’m sure that will improve.