Even magician Bob couldn't pull off a final trick
Perhaps we live in an age where we beaver away nicely or as expected, then something rudely awakens or just comes completely ‘out the blue’ to upset the day.
It’s perhaps worse when totally unexpected, as in the case of friend Bob, who I have recently learnt has passed away. Considering his age, it was well before his time, in theory, as he was younger than like what I am presently.
He was a versatile entertainer of assorted skills, not world famous but had a steady living from doing what he enjoyed most - amusing or amazing people with his close-up table-top magic at events, clubs and cruise ships.
He ‘got the bug’ when he was given a second-hand David Nixon magic set years ago - for those of a not too well informed age, David Nixon was a well known magician of his day, who appeared on television a lot and was the predecessor of Paul Daniels.
We met when we were appearing at the same event some years ago. I was watching him perform his tricks, liked his simple style that held us as a collective audience quite baffled and I said so after he finished his set as we had a conversation over a cup of tea.
I eventually turned my hand to making him assorted tricks for his act based on his ideas and our combined thoughts as to how it could be achieved - it was not a ‘cash-making’ thing but for the sheer fun of seeing if we could get the effect done, as money is not everything in life, although to some it is, of course.
Our paths crossed a number of times and one was quite amusing, as we were both staying at the same hotel in Birmingham and he related how on his first venture there years before he stayed in a private boarding house (‘the digs’ or the ‘House on Haunted Hill, Turn Left’) just outside the city, as he was there for a week performing at assorted events in and around the area.
His landlady had a mindset that he had never encountered before (or perhaps since) as just about everything seemed to have a price tag to it: breakfast was included but ‘extras’ such as sugar in his tea was a penny a lump (the tea was a basic, but sugar was ‘an extra as everybody didn’t take it, you know’) and as she sat at the same dining table, she counted how many lumps he had, wrote it down and added it up at the end of his stay, then charged him accordingly.
He pointed out that it was perhaps this action or the turning point that persuaded him to stop having sugar in his drinks thereafter, as in ‘Hey presto!’-like.
On the second day he was there, he was preparing to go out to a venue he was appearing at when she ambushed him by the front door as he was about to leave and asked if he would like to have ‘a heated bedroom to come back to’ that night and being slightly wary after the sugar charging, asked 'how much', to which the landlady said there were some ‘right-sized metal washers’ on the shelf in his bedroom, just above the room’s electric meter, so he could put them in as and when.
He said yes and thought no more, as she told him she would ‘switch it on about ten o’clock, so it would be snug for when he got back in’.
He got back to find the landlady waiting for him in the hall - he thinks she was the human equivalent of radar but without the revolving scanner - and informed him that she had ‘put it on’ just before ten o’clock.
He explained that as he entered the room, there was no discernable heat as such, although the bedside lamp was on, glowing away, but his first thought was the meter wanted feeding with washers and so he put a few in - still nothing, but the table lamp still glowed.
He gave up, went to bed and turned off the said table lamp.
In the morning, he inquired about the ‘heat’ and it seems the table lamp was it - he looked at me as he asked if I had any idea how the ‘heat’ from a 40 watt light bulb could ‘heat’ an eight by twelve foot room? He complained and was told he could take the lampshade off if he ‘was careful and didn’t break it’ to get better ‘heat coverage’.
The sting in the tail was at the end of the week he was asked for ten pence for each washer that was put in the meter - plus the penny a lump for the sugar, which was totalled up with bill produced but the ‘good news’ was she was not charging him VAT!
Bob prided himself on doing tricks with bank notes etc but he had to hand it to her - she was in a class of her very own.
He was so grateful his bowel movements were confined to being sorted at the venues, although he did not see a turnstile or coin slot on the bathroom door back at 'Mrs Despair’s' but that’s not to say they weren’t there, well disguised or camouflaged.
When not performing his magic act, he did a comedy routine but was slowly moving away from it, as he pointed out he was not much into swearing to ‘entertain’ an audience as seemed to be the coming thing at the time.
He said he felt he just wanted people to laugh without feeling uncomfortable, as he performed stuff that he felt his mother would not feel embarrassed by, plus ranting, raving, screaming and shouting was not his idea of being amusing, as it was more like desperation. He wanted to entertain family audiences - as he put it, it didn’t do the likes of Ken Dodd and co any harm over many decades.
One of his tricks consisted of counting out ten or 20 cards. Regardless of quantity, he scaled it to the size of his audience. He placed them in a person's hand and as they shuffled them, then counted them out, they always either had more cards over or less. This is a staple conjurer's stock in trade trick - but it's the way it's presented is the act itself and to see him perform it was quite, well, magic, as presentation is indeed all.
To see the look on someone’s face who has just counted out two dozen cards, one by one, then shuffled them and counted them out again to find they had 18 was something, as Bob blamed the people who swept up afterwards. Harmless fun, no swearing, ranting or raving, just amusement for any age in any language, hence his working on cruise ships or abroad in general, as his performance did not require words.
So now his cards have been shuffled, dealt for the last time; but the one with ‘cancer’ came out and even Bob, sadly, was unable to manipulate it.