I've longed to set up as an alternative healer ever since – in a tiny shop in Snowdonia that no longer exists – I acquired my pride and joy, a 1933-vintage Ediswan High-Voltage Healing Box. This antique marvel enables you to commit wanton acts of electrical healing in the privacy of your own home.
Its imitation-leather-covered case opens on a nostalgic vista of bakelite, with exciting knobs (one indicating cosmopolitan ambitions, since it switches between '100-125' and '200-250' volt supplies), a socketed handle that pulls out on a lead, and strange glass electrodes held by clips in the velvet-lined lid.
All you do, as Ediswan's battered instructions indicate, is to slot your favourite electrode into the handle's socket, switch on, and press the thing relentlessly against the afflicted part of your body. I've offered this opportunity to friends and family, who all dived under tables and out of windows in a undiplomatic way. The lonely experimenter thus had to test the device on himself.
Switching on brings a hellish racket from what must be an internal high-voltage induction coil, and twiddling the Intensity knob then produces an eerie violet glow in the glass electrode and a prickle of tiny sparks where it touches the Afflicted Part. This fizzy sensation, accompanied by a reek of ozone, must have persuaded users that jolly beneficial things were happening. My wife was less convinced: 'Stop! Stop! It's going to do something awful!'
Clearly 1930s punters were not so timorous, and the Edison Swan Electric Co Ltd (Ediswan House, 23/25 Constitution Hill, Birmingham) did good business in those days. The Box comes with a whole catalogue full of tempting offers – thirty-one specialist electrodes to cover all medical contingencies. My basic kit has only the bare essentials, alas. These begin with the puny four-shilling Surface Electrode, ending in a flattened glass bulb 'for use on any part of the face, body or limbs'. The appropriately-shaped Rake promises to be 'effective for Falling Hair, Dandruff, restoring natural colour and invigorating the hair growing system generally'. The Metal Saturator is a plain chromed tube that bypasses the usual route through gas-filled glass to zap patients directly with 'a very strong current which gives powerful tonic effects'. Most fearsome of all, we have the Fulguration Electrode.
This is just the sort of thing that enterprising British exporters sell to torturers in developing countries. It uses the principle of electrical discharge from a sharp point to generate showers of vicious little sparks 'of strength sufficient to deal with corns, warts and similar growths'. Having tested this very briefly on a handy wart and uttered a few loud opinions, I've come to suspect that 'similar growths' may include fingers, or legs.
Luxury extras, the kind of technofantasy dream one looks for in the Innovations catalogue, begin with the Roller Electrode that revolves on its own cute little axle – ideal for use when the Surface Electrode sticks and jerks in its passage over terrifiedly sweating or carbonized flesh. The Double Eye Electrode has twin cups allowing both one's eyes to be simultaneously convulsed with 'excellent tonic effects on the eyeball and optic nerves'. Particularly elaborate is the Ediswan Ozone Inhaler at a hefty thirty-five shillings. 'A mixture of pure Ozone and Pine Vapour is driven right to the back of the nose and down into the lungs', which sounds fairly, um, breathtaking.
Some of the specialist glass electrodes I'd rather not go into, or indeed vice-versa. It is left as an exercise for the reader to imagine the Nasal, Urethral, Vaginal, Rectal, Prostatic and Dental Cavity models plying their trade. Excitingly and uniquely, the Rectal model comes in four different sizes to suit individual tastes. Not for nothing did I keep remembering a long-ago New Scientist headline competition entry: ALTERNATIVE HEALER USED BARBED ELECTRIC ENDOSCOPE – SHOCK HORROR PROBE.
A four-page Chart of Instructions explains how the tingle of Ediswan electrodes will cure everything from Abscess to Warts, including Alcohol and Drug Habits ('apply over liver, solar plexus and to the spine. For Cocaine users a mild current applied to arms, legs and soles of feet, until the skin is reddened') and continuing through Brain Fag, Deafness, Dropsy, Female Troubles, Hardening of the Arteries, Obesity and Stiff Neck. Only horrid cynics like Richard Dawkins would venture to speculate why the magic current, so good at making boils, goitre, piles and warts shrink quietly away, has an entirely opposite effect when applied to Breast Development or Impotence.
Funny you don't seem to see this on sale any more. Funny too that my friends are so closed-minded and unFortean, and refuse to let me practise healing them. These are the people who laughed at Galileo.