Imagine a therapy that could treat you from a million miles away. A therapy that, by dowsing a piece of your excrement with a pendulum and plugging the results into an electronic box, can figure out your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, as well as your risk of getting Aids, diabetes and cancer. Imagine a therapy that could even reduce your risk of developing these diseases by twiddling the knobs on the electronic box. Imagine ... radionics.

In a sane world, radionics would stay safely consigned to the imagination but such is the ability of the human brain to abandon rational thought that it's up and thriving in Wincanton. Indeed, if you send a small piece of your bodily substance and a completed health questionnaire to The Maperton Trust your treatment can start immediately. A strand of hair is the preferred connecting link or "witness" between patient practitioner and machine, but a spot of blood, a piece of nose dirt or a chunk of you-know-what would do just as well. Once it's been analysed and treatment commenced, you can then fly to the moon, safe in the knowledge that the flow of energy in your body need never again be unbalanced. Sounds too good to miss, doesn't it?

Unsurprisingly, the Maperton Trust attracts a fair few seriously ill patients whom Western medicine has either failed to cure or otherwise abandoned. Rational thought is even harder to maintain when you're desperate, but to be fair, the Trust doesn't advertise and all its custom comes from the word of mouth of satisfied clients. We're back in placebo territory here - the power of belief, suggestion and expectation over the human mind - and certainly radionics is a clever way of maximising it. But equally certainly, it's nothing more than that. And I should know, I've had the treatment.

Admittedly, you have to question my motivation - I made the pilgrimage to Wincanton with a television crew rather than a serious illness but despite my cynicism, I try to give complementary therapies a fair go. Anything that involves therapeutic touch is fine by me, and if pushed I might even fork out on acupuncture. However, laughter therapy remains my favourite and I defy anyone to have radionics without giggling.

The first person to defy me was Imogen. She decided to plug her wrists into to the Automated Computer Treatment System which "conducts a two- way flow of bioenergetic information between the patient's body and a data base of over 260,000 different energy treatments". Imogen loved it.

"After two minutes, I was aware of large circular globe of energy from about my navel to about my forehead, which gradually contracted down and focused very strongly on my throat. After a while, the energy slid up to my third eye and circled round in an anti-clockwise direction ... I've never experienced anything like that; very impressive." I couldn't wait for my turn, but alas I felt nothing. My third eye refused to be energised. Gordon, my therapist was unsurprised. "It seems to have more of an effect in women," he observed. I suspect he hasn't tried it on Polly Toynbee.

The trust's computer programme is available in both DOS and Windows and will cost you pounds 2,884 over five years (including back-up). In return, you can get any energy treatment you need - acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, gem therapy - just by connecting yourself up to your computer. No pain, no side effects. You can even turn it on to "radionic mode" and be treated at a distance. It seems a far more humane way of having colonic irrigation, but unfortunately it hasn't been loaded into the programme. "It's too physical," said Gordon, For once I agreed with him.

So what do other complementary therapists make of it? It's rare for them to break ranks and criticise each other but both the acupuncturist and the homeopath I spoke to ridiculed radionics. This was grossly unprofessional - you'd never get a GP slagging off a surgeon - but very revealing. Gordon is nonplussed: "Radionics is easily explained in terms of quantum physics. All matter produces energy fields that can be manipulated - I can treat animals, plants, crops and soil." If only barley could talk.

Gordon has been practising radionics since it sorted out his racehorses 25 years ago, and his belief is unshakeable. Unfortunately, his black boxes aren't. Inside are a seemingly random collection of inductors and capacitors, some not connected up at all and some short circuiting each other. "I'm not exactly sure how they work," says Gordon. "but I don't really mind as long as they do. A bit like my car, really." Cars are big placebos too, but at least the man who sold me my Ferrari didn't claim that tooting the horn would reduce my risk of Aids. Rather the reverse, I suspect.

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