So to International Magic, a shop that sits with absolutely no fanfare in central London, to learn a magic trick. It looks like a tiny sweet shop but magically – ta da – it’s much bigger on the inside than the outside. It’s packed with stuff piled high, with no apparent order to it, and I get a distinct feeling that a woman hasn’t set foot in here for years. Or ever.
There is one man behind the counter and one propping up the counter on my side who offers me tea and leaves for the tea-run right away. I’d like to learn a magic trick I say, beaming. No response. I explain that I’m doing 45 new tasks in the course of the year blah blah. The man, Barry, behind the counter says, ‘Well, I’m not going to teach you’ and goes back to tidying the counter. Oh. I say, not moving.
Finally he says, ‘Maybe Marco will’. Marco is upstairs, making something. He is called and finally arrives. He also doesn’t look remotely pleased to see me, and I try my 45 at 45 chat on him. He’s not even slightly interested but unwillingly agrees to show me some tricks. He asks me what kind of trick I’d like to learn and I say Oh anything, though not cards. Strictly between you and me, I sometimes get clubs and spades confused. It’s why I’m not a hopeless gambling addict.
He begins by pulling boxes out of an empty bag, and then some brightly coloured scarves out of a tube, which went in individually and came out knotted together. I’m not really feeling it. I’d imagined I’d come away with something a bit more Blaine. A few more optical illusions and I can see Marco is tiring. He puts a single red spongey ball in my hand, and one in his, blows on his hand, and opens it. No ball. I open mine. Two! Brilliant! That’s more like it. I can see I’m trying his patience but then he shows me a simple trick, with a disappearing column of ten pence pieces. I’m 6 inches away from it and I can’t see how he did it.
Ooooh I love it I say, I want this one. He won’t show me how it’s done until I’ve bought it. He explains that if you don’t pay, you won’t keep the secret. I’m insanely indiscreet and can’t keep anything to myself, but I pay and hope for the best.
He shows me how to do the trick, it’s so simple! He tells me to practice and work on my presentation skills, and then he’s out. He can’t wait to get back upstairs to finish his work, which is by this point quite literally just watching glue dry. Barry shows me some of his card tricks.
I leave, with my trick, having really enjoyed the afternoon. Clearly to be a magician is to be part of a club, and there was an unspoken but very clear non-invitation to me to join. I liked the way they didn’t make much attempt to make me feel welcome, they knew I wasn’t a serious would-be magician and they didn’t want to waste time on me. They take their magic – whether it’s a hobby, or passion, or job, or all three – seriously and I admire and envy that.
Oh, I haven’t told anyone the secret to my trick, but that could be because I’m still working on my presentation skills and haven’t actually shown my sleight of hand to anyone yet.