Looking for tricks on the Strand

October 19, 2009

It’s not what you think. Though, looking back on the evening I had, I almost wish it was.

No, I haven’t become a he-whore. On Saturday afternoon I went to the Coal Hole on the Strand, and there I met a bunch of magicians.

I’d been invited by The Beacon. Now of course he has a real name, but let’s not spoil things. For me, he is, and always will be, The Beacon. You can find out more about The Beacon, but not much more, here. He has a blog about strange belief and behaviour, and, having just finished The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene for this week’s book club, I can’t help but feel I was summoned by The Beacon, who may well become my very own Richard Smythe (a character oddly missing from the Neil Jordan film adaptation). Smythe is a rationalist, and so, I suspect, are all these magicians and mentalists who happily turned my brain into a pile of mush and confusion.

After what I saw that Saturday my life will never be the same again. Oh, and I drank a lot.

The invitation came through Twitter. I’d never met The Beacon before, nor spoken to him. Yes, I know it sounds like the set-up to a trick but it’s not. Our only communication had been through Twitter, and I have no idea why he invited me along. But let’s face it, if you got a invitation to meet a melee of mysterious magicians in a dingy old Victorian pub, well, you’d go, wouldn’t you. Wouldn’t you?

(Oh, and to the person who left the comment the other day stating that the world of Twitter is not real… well, after my Saturday experience I’m tempted to agree).

I got there at 4pm, planning to leave after a couple of pints and head off to the cinema. I left at 10pm (ish). I walked out of the Coal Hole and found myself in a London I had never seen before; urchins pulled at my trouser legs, flowers girls thrust baskets of poseys’ at me, toffs rolled by on penny farthings, and a peeler blew a whistle somewhere away in the fog. (Never leave a pub drunk when it’s throwing out time for the cast of Oliver).

And in the pub the magicians’ set about me. Rob Brown made me sign my name on the back of a card. He did this;  he did that, he… I can’t remember… too much to drink…  all I know is, a little later he pulled out his wallet and my card was in there. Signed. Now, I know it’s a trick, but-

I knew it was a trick when he got me to sign a 10p piece, and then, whilst it was safely wrapped up in my hand, proceeded to bend it out of shape. I’m sure he had a pair of pliers somewhere about him, but still, I have no clue what went on there. It’s magic, or it’s not magic. And I know it’s not magic, so… but… what happened? Am I that unobservant? Well, no. He’s just amazing. I know one thing, and that is the truth; it is a trick. But then I am being shown something else that makes no sense. And how did Jesus do that thing with the bread and the fishes?

Rob also tried to hypnotise me. It didn’t really work, but then we were in a crowded and noisy pub. I could feel where it was going. I could sense how I was being manipulated. And I can see how many people will go with it. I asked Rob if he had more success with females. I had a theory; Rob couldn’t hypnotise me but a sexy female magician could. It’s a kind of flirting, and you can choose to go there or not. I felt all Graham Greene again; if The End of the Affair is about faith (or the lack of it), in both love and God, then I’m afraid, Rob, I didn’t have faith in our love, but I do believe you are a god. I held a card at arms length. Rob told me it was the heaviest thing I had ever held. Well, of course, it seemed like it was getting heavier because it’s hard work holding your arm at length. Then he said it was getting lighter again. I knew it wasn’t, but it did, a little bit. You made me momentarily believe in something that I know cannot be; you evil devil.

All the tricks made me feel nauseous. I tried to explain to the magicians that they should take this as a compliment. I’m not sure I convinced them. Dammit! I KNOW they’re not doing magic. So what are they doing?

It’s sleight of hand, it’s misdirection, blah blah blah. But it’s so much more. I could find out, I could Google, I could maybe even learn… but there would be something missing. Magician’s are dangerous people. They know more than you or I, but they’ll claim not. They’ll say they did a trick wrong, to fool you, to empower you; and then somewhere down the line, maybe two or three months later, maybe years, decades even, they’ll go “a-ha!” And they’d have had you, got you, all that time back, without you realising.

Avoid them. They’ll mess you up forever. Go and learn a trick; fool yourself into thinking you’re like them. Look everything up on YouTube. you’ll entertain the kids at Christmas but someone’ll see the mechanics and you’ll come unstuck.

And they, the bastards, they make you shuffle the cards. You shuffle them. Like it matters. Like it’s having some effect. Like you’re in control of your own destiny. They’ll let you cut the deck. They’ll let you change your mind. And you fight this because you know it MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER. But you acquiesce. And you feel in some small part that you do matter, that you can affect the outcome. And then the demons’ screw you!

I’m feeling nauseous again.

Thank you so much Rob Brown, Neil Edwards, Iain Dunford, The Beacon, and all the other magicians I had the pleasure to meet but, mainly through drunkeness, the inability to remember your names.

A final thing. One of the magicians was called Jonathan. Just before he left he came up to me. He’s the cousin of Stephen, the son of my Godfather… complicated I know, and again not the set-up for a trick (or not quite). He remembered me, Stephen, and himself playing some kind of ghost game when we were teenagers. In 1978. 31 years ago. He remembered us meeting 31 years ago! I stood there a little open mouthed, a little drunk. I needed to know more.

And, like that, he was gone.

Bloody bloody infuriating brilliant evil magicians.

5 Responses to “Looking for tricks on the Strand”

  1. Trevor Neal said

    Jonathan or Keyser Sose? Sounds like you briefly entered the World of the Strange, friend. Remember how you too once amazed audiences with mind boggling magic? You were once transported from the stage to the balcony, in the blink of an eye, using our incredible Matter Transportation Booth…(and an identically dressed shop window dummy). Strange indeed.

  2. Rob said

    Simon, I think our day was just as great, I like to think we’re a good bunch to hang out with and you’d be always welcome back.

  3. Simon Hickson said

    Cheers Rob, I’d love to come back and maybe drink a little less so I can remember more clearly just how much you all amazed and confused me. I had a great time, and will keep on coming back until I get banned, made to disappear, or am sawn in half.

  4. pat said

    Jonathan is the son of one of Ellen’s sister (Laurel or Mytle or Erica).I think his dad was called Eric. I remember him as a nice little boy.

  5. Simon Hickson said

    That last comment is from my mum. And now he is a nice young (ish) man.

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