Archive for the ‘Magic’ category

Life on the Royal Road

October 2, 2007

card1.jpgDo you remember that I expressed a recent determination to take up magic? My relative silence on the topic of late might have conveyed the impression that it had fallen, predictably and with an audible clang, by the wayside. Not so, my little chickadees. In fact, such has been my determination of late that the blog has been left behind, rather.

Things are definitely improving. I find myself nicely immersed in an amusing little world at the moment. TalkMagic is one of my favourite websites just now – a place (if we believe what we’re told) for magicians to chat. And chat we do. Or rather, they do, and I listen, piping up only occasionally.

The reason I have not been able to contribute much is that it isn’t always clear what’s being talked about. Magicians have a way of obscuring any reference to their techniques in order that they are impenetrable to the layman (that’s you lot). It makes the discourse look a bit unsalubrious, all this talk about c****** p*** not to mention frequent references to ‘bottom dealing’. But still we persist.

The other day, I was preparing for my viva. That has been and gone, by the way, and I have just received a conveniently itemised list of all the changes I need to make in order that it might one day pass muster. But to return to day of preparation, there was just time (in between frenzied searching for academic references) to perfect the ‘Oil and Water’ routine, a classic of close-up magic re-interpreted by Mr Derren Brown.

When Mrs H came home, I was eager to perform it, and duly arranged the set-up, and performed the first phase. To spare you the detail, the cards were made to rearrange themselves under her hands. Now, we all know Mrs H as a woman of the world, but would she have the emotional resilience to withstand my foolhardy disregard for the physical laws that comprise the very fabric of our reality? I imagined she would probably need a glass of water and a sit down before the performance continued.

I have been chastised in the past for describing Mrs H in terms that incorporate bovine comparisons. Let me be clear: there is nothing derogatory in my use of the term ‘cow-like’ to describe Mrs H’s calm, somewhat bemused demeanour in response to my magical efforts. There would be no need for the smelling salts after all. She had the look of one who thinks they ought to be surprised, but cannot quite fathom why.

‘But you’ve not done anything’, said she.

I explained what I’d done.

‘But I saw you do it’.

She is a sweet thing, really. She’d caught me in a certain sleight of hand, and had presumed that I had deliberately made it detectable as part of the trick. This little foible of Mrs H is, of course, rather endearing, but it makes her a rather unsuitable audient for whom to practise the dark arts.

My struggles continue elsewhere. I’ve been practising a nice card relocation to a couple of my colleagues, and they appeared moderately baffled (although both admitted to seeing the c****** p*** as I did it). A further demonstration involved memorising an entire pack of cards, the response to which was ‘yes, my maths teacher could do that, only quicker’. Curses. Still, I followed it up with a Double Thought Projection (great use of the D/L) with a nifty Do As I Do (which depends on a mere b***** g*****) bringing up the rear.

I won’t bore you with anything more, largely because that’s the lot, to date. I’m delighted to be ambling happily down the Royal Road to thaumaturgy, and will keep you updated as best I can.


It’s Vanished!

July 27, 2007

Wednesday was a momentous day for me. ‘Twas the day, against all odds, that I submitted my thesis. So, those of you who have always wondered ‘just what is the role of self-efficacy, locus of control and intellectual ability in guided self-help for depression, anxiety and stress’ need only make your way to this 96-page tome.

The final print took place on Tuesday. Inevitably, having printed the required three copies, I found a mistake on page 6 which, when rectified, threw the entire document out of kilter. But we got there in the end, at the sad expense of a few good-sized trees.

Wednesday took me, stumbling and deranged, into the bindery of the Edinburgh University library. The route to the bindery takes one through the basement, where every piece of electrical equipment that has ever been under the auspices of the university is discarded at the end of its tenure. There are mountains of monitors, computers, and all sorts of gubbins lying about. There are probably one or two moldering academics in there as well, somewhere. When you get a few layers down.

Those who have been following my hapless course into the world of magic would be most impressed, in that I managed to pull off an impressive trick without being aware of it. Let me tell you about it in the style of a instructional magic book:

The effect: the performer prints three copies of a 96 page thesis, and places each in an A4 envelope. These he places in his bag and takes home. The following day, he selects a spectator from the university bindery. The envelopes are then removed from the bag, and the three copies of the thesis placed on a flat surface in full view of the spectator. The front page of one of the copies is seen to be missing. The bag is shown to be empty. The performer should direct the spectator to make an extra photocopy of the missing page through the use of some finely judged-patter. The performer then leaves to submit two copies of the thesis, which are chosen at random by a further spectator in the clinical psychology administration office. The performer later discovers the missing front page at the back of the copy he has retained in his possession.
The method: I have absolutely no idea.

Anyway, despite a few hiccups, it’s in. I have decided not to look at it again until the deadline in a week’s time. I don’t want to notice some mistake I could have changed if I’d had the time.

Let the good times commence.


Going Blind

July 23, 2007

Hello, cherubs.

Not much to report today. I’m approaching crunch time re. the thesis, but then you know all about that. Let’s move past that, if we can.

I was having a very industrious day yesterday. Some of this industry was directed at four key texts in the art of magic, all of which are now within my sweaty grasp. Things are not progressing at the frenetic pace we were all expecting, but they are progressing nonetheless. The past week has been spent trying out a few bits and bobs, but also trying to plan a trajectory. I have even downloaded (I kid ye not) some study guides. Whenever did play appear so much like work?

Anyway, when I wasn’t fumbling around with that, I was putting up a blind in the one-time-study-now-room-designated-for-baby. I’m told that babies don’t confine their sleep/wake patterns into two conveniently compartmentalised segments like the rest of us, so steps had to be taken in order that they might be fooled into a nocturnal mood simply by the lowering of a blind, when the occasion called for it. 


Anyway, it was all installed after some assorted hacking and banging. Afterwards, I thought I’d unfurl the instructions to see how well I’d done. Quite well, as it turned out. But not so well that a bright child might utterly mistake day for night. There’s still a bit of light coming in the sides, you see. Not to worry, though.

To finish on a light note, I was tickled by the instructions for this blind. They were written with an ebullience you don’t often associate with rather mundane window coverings. It’s opening words were:

‘Congratulations! You have purchased a fine window covering.’

I was momentarily regretful that we do not have a household policy of keeping a bottle of champagne on ice at all times, in the event of an unforeseen cause of celebration such as this. But I did feel rather proud of my noteworthy purchasing achievement.

The follow-up remark was almost as good:

‘It should provide years of enjoyment’.

Now, enjoyment is something I never expected to get from a window-blind. Pure, unexceptional, light-occluding functionality, perhaps, but not enjoyment. How does one enjoy a blind? Am I using it in entirely the wrong way? Is is really the manufacturer’s expectation that I should wake up every morning for the foreseeable future and wonder what blind-related delights might be in store for me? There I was expecting to more-or-less forget about it once it was up. Wrongly, it turns out.

I’d better dash for now, but I’ll keep you updated. Particularly with regard to my enjoyable adventures with a blackout blind.

Hallows Be Its Name

July 20, 2007

Greetings, brethren.

For a nigh-unimaginable number of people, it’s a very special day today. This day, the 20th of July 2007 AD has been dubbed ‘the last golden day of ignorance’. Everyone get ready. We are about to turn a page.

The page in question, of course, is the front cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh instalment in J. K. Rowling’s record-breaking series. I assume it’s a record-breaking series, although I am at a loss to cite the latest Guiness tome chapter and verse. Let’s take it as a given.


You’ll have noticed that a degree of fuss has been made over these books. None of it by me, I might add. I’ve not read any of them myself. Which, some might argue, makes me a trifle underqualified to hold forth about them. I did see films one and two, though, which is something. The first one I loathed. But I thought I’d give the second one a go. The second one I loathed.

I found it difficult to get excited about the world’s favourite boy wizard. I am all but alone, it seems. In Britain, one in every forty households has pre-ordered a copy of Hallows. In Morningside, home of J. K. Rowling and veritable hotbed of Pottermania, it is one in every nineteen. Remember, of course, that these figures represent only those would-be readers who have chosen to receive their book in the post. It tells us nothing of the scores who will this evening be crowding into Waterstones to get their greedy little hands on a copy, nor of those more sensible folk who intend to pick up a copy over the next couple of weeks, just whenever they get the chance.

Everyone’s waxing lyrical about Harry Potter at the moment. Our new PM thinks that J. K. Rowling has ‘done more for literacy around the world than any single human being’. Even those responsible for medical audit at the John Radcliffe have entered into the spirit of things. They’ve published the finding that, on average, accidents involving children are far fewer on Harry Potter release dates than on other weekend dates. So they’re all for it, obviously.

I’ve been having a little sniff around all the conspiratorial Potter waffle on the internet. I’ve been particularly enjoying all the leak-anxiety that seems to be floating about. You see, when you’ve got all these books lying about waiting to be delivered, it’s all too tempting for people to take a quick peak. There are all sorts of stories about plot secrets from previous books being leaked prior to the release dates. But the message from the true fans is clear: ‘seriously, we’re almost there guys’. At least Potter fans have got each other to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Anyway, enough of this tosh. Suffice it to say I won’t be attending any Potter launch parties tonight. Largely because I’ll be enjoying the Transformers premiere down at the Ocean Terminal (which, coincidently, starts at the exact moment Hallows is officially released). Stick that in your cauldron and boil it.

Don’t worry. There’ll be a spoiler-laden review to follow shortly.

The Key

July 18, 2007

xray.jpgDid I mention that I wanted to become a magician? Apologies if I over-egged it a little bit. I think it would be closer to the truth to say that I wish to learn a few tricks with which I might amuse people when I run out of conversation. And to that end, it’s going quite well, thank you. None of my ‘key texts’ have arrived yet. Although, it gives me a thrill to buy things from Amazon for which they charge you a sourcing fee. They probably need to travel to far-away places to obtain them from ancient men in little shops down dark alleys. Or maybe they’re just tucked away at the very back of the store-room.

Either way, even without the literature, I’m cracking on apace. Wee Gorbals was kind enough to equip me with my first trick, which is a good start. I’ve also been trying a bit of coin magic, which I’ve been testing on Mrs H. She is a very obliging audience, and is never too shy to cry out ‘I can see it in your other hand’.

I’ve been thinking about where all this enthusiasm came from, and have concluded that it probably goes back much earlier than the last couple of years. Several incidents have come to mind, only one of which I’ll talk about today, if you don’t mind. I’ve got a thesis to submit in a couple of weeks, and should probably be getting on with it.

But let me tell you about the first magic trick I was ever witness to. My family were entertaining (?) another family with whom they were quite friendly, and their son said he wanted to show me something. I was probably about six, he was probably about 16, but to my eye might as well have been as ancient as Yoda. He produced a front door key, which he placed in his palm and pressed against my chest. Then he took his hand away, and it was gone.

Put yourself in my shoes, if you’d be so gracious. The possibility (now obvious) that he had surreptitiously transferred the key into his other hand did not occur to me. I was left with the perception (not to mention a slowly-dawning horror) that the key was inside my chest. I asked if this was indeed so, and he confirmed it (perhaps underestimating the extent of my aforementioned horror). And then, to cap it all, he said ‘here, feel it’.

And I touched the place where it had seemingly gone in. There are ribs there, I know, but I was certain that I could feel the key as well. There was no question (in my mind) that it was well and truly there.

Perhaps sensing my alarm, he executed an additional bit of flim-flam and appeared to produce the key from my back. It had gone right through.

I was still horrified, but my mind was reeling for another reason. As I’d grown up, I’d been working hard to put together some coherent opinions about how the world works. One of the maxims I had hitherto settled on was that a physical object (e.g. a key) could not pass through another physical object (e.g. me). At least, not without leaving some trace of its passage. And yet, it had happened. Although my thoughts were not articulated as such (c’mon, I was only six), I had the distinct feeling that I was going to have to rethink things.

And then there were the possibilities. Was this something I could learn to do as well? Imagine what you could do with a power like that. You could, well, pass things through other things till you were blue in the face. This was going to turn the world upside down.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when I found out how it was done. I think my mother coerced him into revealing the secret, perhaps so that I would go back to sleeping at night. But I’ll probably never forget that feeling that this was something incredibly out of the ordinary, and that I was somehow witness to something that would make me re-evaluate everything that’d gone before.

And now and again, I’ve wondered what it might be like to be able to treat others to a similar experience. I might even try to perfect ‘key through the body’ for old time’s sake.