A good few years back I was privileged to spend 23 hours straight on a ferry trip across The North Sea, I think it was Ben Hur that suffered a similar fate on a slave galley but I will admit we had some padding on our seats and didn’t have to make the effort to row. It wasn’t an experience of positives with our cabin/cell being very small for six people to occupy and the only entertainment available was a foreign language talk radio station.
The ship was soon awash with vomit, which literally slapped up against bulkheads like breakwater, and places to get fed and watered shut their roll down grill mesh barriers to customers for hours on end. One positive was that I did witness a child vomiting into a bowl when his sibling also took ill and also vomited into the bowl caring less that his sibling’s head was in the way. Poor kid looked like he’d been dunked in a thin vegetable stew, think punk Mohawk with extra carrots.
For the return trip I formulated a plan and so as soon as I was on-board I headed to the bar and began to drink myself into a state of blissful oblivion. The thinking being if I staggered around in sync with the ship I wouldn’t get seasick nor care that other passengers were. During the execution of my foolproof scheme, I got talking to some other unfortunate long-haul mariners, one of whom turned out to be a conjuror. A prestidigitator, an illusionist. An amiable chap, dead easy to get on with, he entertained the small gathering around our table with ease. He showed us how the ‘levitation’ trick (made famous by David Blaine on the streets of America, I think) is done by making sure the people viewing do so only from a particular angle and although dead simple is still pretty impressive to witness when done properly. Loads of card tricks, one of which he explained to me in great detail and really slowly and I still didn’t get how he did it or how to perform it myself. Also, to prove how far into my ale-fuelled oblivion plan I was, he couldn’t believe I hadn’t sussed out his false thumb/blue light trick which was a wow with all the kids present. This Great Mafisto of the Sea also showed me a trick he had invented using nothing more than a tenner and a page ripped out of the cruise line’s literature; that one was very clever but he kept the secret to that one as he was in the process of selling it to other magicians to use…probably on the dark web.
The thing was this guy was very good at the old sleight-of-hand and distraction techniques, easily making some of the 1,380 minutes of nautical Hell pass in the blink of an eye…and if you did blink your eyes, your watch would be missing. That kind of up-close trickery is what appeals to me, an obvious skill honed during countless hours of practice with all parties involved knowing a dupe has taken place but because of that very fact it has an honesty to it. I wish I could remember the guy’s name to give him a well-deserved shout out but things are a little blurry because of my beer based plan…but on the positive side, so was the rest of the tortuous voyage, which was well worse than any of Sinbad’s.
Which brings me back to the recent past and why I remembered that sailing when one of the superstar magicians of our day, Dynamo, was on the telly. Poor bloke was on talking about having Crohn’s disease and how it had affected his career and his ability to perform certain tricks. I really felt for the guy, looked like another case of the gods taking a running kick into the groin area of a victim just because it amuses them. That sad fact aside the presenters mentioned one of his bigger tricks, walking across the river Thames…on top of the water that is, not the river bed in a diver’s suit. I couldn’t help but cock my head. ‘Really?’ I thought. ‘You want me to buy into that?’
This brought back memories of other such magi-buggery. Making the Statue of Liberty disappear; making a Boeing 747 disappear; making an elephant disappear all of which had the effect of making my interest disappear. Bollocks! None of them disappeared…except my interest that really did disappear and hasn’t been seen since.
Camera trickery, green screen, moving of audience perspective, wires, smoke and/or mirrors; whatever was employed to whatever degree, I know it was done by one or a combination of the above things and…I’m not impressed. Where is the skill in hitting the chroma-key switch and merging backgrounds? Tempting an elephant to walk off to the right behind a curtain while fireworks mask the scene is something Johnny Morris could have done back in the dark ages of the 1970s. None of that is magic to my mind, it’s merely Industrial Light & Magic; it’s Smaug licking Marmite off your hand in a YouTube video you knocked together one Sunday afternoon with Photoshop. (I’ve mentioned so many companies here that I expect a kickback off at least one of them.)
People can’t walk on water or walk through walls or fly, stop trying to convince us that you can. No one is buying into the trick or even left wondering how it was done because we all know it’s down to budget and staging and stooges. In short, there’s no wonder being evoked in us, all we’re thinking is, ‘That must have taken some setting up.’ Compared to the trickster who can pick our card, upon which we had put our signature and was then set on fire to reduce to ash, from behind our lughole, the ‘big boys’ are nothing more than corporate events; flashy, loud, colossal but ultimately shallow and uninspiring.
What I propose is a schism in the world of illusion. Among the real people, we keep the close-up magicians, those who can perform tricks under our noses and still leave us clueless and envious of their skills (even if my envy only goes as far as being able to become a successful pick-pocket). They shall be allowed to walk amongst us plying their wares for cash or pleasure. The mega-illusion purveyors will be rounded up and shipped out to Las Vegas and Hollywood where they can daffy about with all their colossal, tech-heavy uber-tricks to their hearts’ content, fooling those who are willing to pay top dollar for something they could do themselves if only they had kept their top dollar in their pocket…until I get skilled enough sticky fingers to liberate it for myself. It is wise I mention here that this demarcation includes any tricks involving tigers or women dressed like Barbie caught in the blast zone of a glue, glitter and feather factory explosion.
The people who can pull bananas out of people’s arses…are proctologists and have no place in this rant. However, those skilled hand-wizards that haunt playing cards, conjure spirits into floating/bending coins, possess flaming notes of cash and generally feck with your head will always have my wonder and admiration. Those other Johnnies making China vanish…not so much. On the other hand, what if the water-walkers are magicians? I mean real magicians, circles of salt and pacts with heavenly or demonic entities type dudes. What if they are truly in league with dark forces and have otherworldly powers at their command; a legion of twisted imps doing their necromantic bidding? Have I just concentrated all this magickal power into one global point; will this be the rise of the wizards foretold of for so long in the ‘Necronomicon’? Ah, what the feck, who cares if they make all the massive statues and plans disappear, I don’t like sculptures and I can’t afford a holiday. Besides we’ve got the proper prestidigitators on our side and they can confuse the shit out of the TV sorcerers with the old blue light thumb trick…if we get them pissed enough and shove them on a ferry.