Seeing the future?


It all happened because the magic lantern’s bulb exploded. Angry at the darkening screen, the father ordered his disappointed children to bed. There would be no pictures from the slide projector tonight.

Next day, he walked from his panelled office several blocks to a less prosperous part of town. There he mounted the bare stairs to enter a shop marked ‘Thomas Wills & Sons, Lantern and Cine Equipment’.  A man in a brown dust-coat appeared from behind the shelves: “Can I help you, Sir?”

The businessman rhymed off the make and model of his magic lantern.

“Of course, Sir, I won’t be a moment”, said the shopkeeper as bobbed once more behind cardboard boxes.

Shortly, he reappeared bearing two corrugated paper packets.

“Now would it be the standard bulb or the deluxe model?” The customer thought he should purchase the more expensive lamp.

“That will be ten shillings and six pence, please.” The trader wrote out a paper receipt to complete the transaction.

That night, once more the wood and brass lantern sat on its table and the slides assembled for viewing. However, to the father’s annoyance and his children’s delight, the projector didn’t show them. Instead, it persisted in showing moving images. At first, it showed journeys across the continents before plunging into the ocean and whizzing into outer space. The screen then filled with a full-scale orchestra. Next came actors in a Shakespearean play. The lantern culminated its performance with a football match.

‘This would not do, not do at all,’ thought the father. So, having indulged his family long enough, he switched the contraption off and removed the bulb.

Next day, he returns to Thomas Wills or his son and made plain his dissatisfaction to the salesman.

“Oh, I’m very sorry, Sir – most of our customers enjoy seeing the world with the deluxe bulb. I’ll exchange it immediately”

Handing over the standard lamp, the shopkeeper remarked “I am told that, one day, people will see a man walking on the moon with magic lanterns”

The businessman scuttled for the stair forgetting both his change and dignity. Since he was convinced that the man staring after him was mad – quite mad – quite, quite mad.



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