Mrs E and me are away for the weekend. Staying in a hotel, no less. No dogs, no work, no responsibilities. Bliss.
We have a fabulous Saturday, filled with all the things we like, spending time with a couple of the kids, a very wet run and some light retail therapy. About the only downer of the day was at 16:09 – four of us were having a meal and Mrs E started describing something very serious and emotional. I know it was 16:09 as that’s the point at which my phone beeped, I made the mistake of loudly celebrating Todd Cantwell’s goal against Everton (A), and quite rightly was told that I wasn’t really concentrating on the conversation in hand.
With that almost forgiven, we had a level of entertainment in the evening that was more fun than space permits to tell, and fairly skipped back to the hotel just after what used to be called closing time.
The great thing about hotels in the UK used to be that they could keep serving to residents for as long as either party was interested in buying or selling. The licensing laws have gone a bit skewed on us now, so there isn’t quite such a distinction, but there’s still something splendid about walking into a hotel bar after hours and feeling that you can have the run of the optics.
So I was particularly impressed when Mrs E, not one known these days for late nights or drinking, suggested we have a quick pint before bed. I was even more impressed when I saw that the main event in the hotel’s ballroom was the annual Magic Circle Dinner Dance.
We agreed that there might be some people-watching to be done here – we both have a passing interest in quirky societies and the people that inhabit them, and magicians are about as quirky as you can get. And the idea of them perhaps the worse for a light ale or two, maybe settling old scores or generally getting a bit ‘office party’ in front of us, was too good an opportunity to miss. We grabbed our drinks and made our way to the quietest corner of the bar, and prepared to be entertained.
Well, we weren’t disappointed.
First up, a couple leaving the ballroom and sidling up to the bar to drink gin. He’s in a rather relaxed outfit which, contrary to most of the other guests doesn’t even involve a waistcoat. She is wearing a slinky green number, which they both seem quite keen on. He’s got a stubbly beard and carries himself with the air of someone who really ought to lose a couple of stone, but hasn’t yet noticed it. She has a face that has the eyebrows a little too high; and if they’ve been lifted, they’ve forgotten to leave the lower eyelids behind. We conclude that he must be one of the new generation of magic circle members, and that she may well be his new magician’s assistant. They certainly seem to be using the annual dinner dance getting to know each other’s patter.
They come and sit a few yards away from us, eyelids are fluttered on both sides, and they provide a slightly seedy romantic backdrop to the rest of the evening’s events.
There’s a sound of shouting over a PA in the ballroom, sounding like the post dinner entertainment winding up. Tough gig, that, to entertain a room full of magicians and their confidants, and it sounds a bit like bingo calling, which it may well be. This soon gives way to the sound of a band playing disco hits from the 70’s and we guess that the transition from dinner to dance is complete.
Cue the succession of people leaving the ballroom, either to avoid dancing or to stock up on drink. First a portly man in an immaculate dinner suit, with a woman on each arm. One, who looks of a similar vintage, also looks bored out of her mind – probably the wife. The other looking slightly bemused, and needing his arm to support her balance on 3 inch heels, is about twenty years younger, and we reckon she’s his assistant. This is very much the stuff of short stories.
Next up, a man and a woman looking a little off kilter – she topples over when she hits the red carpet, and manages to pull over the elaborate metal stands holding the velvet ropes. In other venues this might have resulted in a cheer or a concerned silence, but everyone in this hotel just continues as normal – other than the man, who makes a point of kicking the rope stand before trying gallantly to help her up.
Then the balloon models start to appear. It’s well past midnight now, and although the event is due to finish at 1am, people are beginning to leave with the spoils of the evening, and those spoils seem to consist entirely of balloon models. Another tough gig, I would expect – how do you show off your balloon modelling skills to someone who may well be a master balloon modeller? Anyway, out come the guests who need taxis – first woman is clutching a very fetching Daffy Duck – the colours are spot on – and if she owns a nightstand, then that will be sat there before she hops into bed later. Then a rather odd looking model which may well be a palm tree without the palms. Possibly the modeller had had a run on green balloons. Then my absolute favourite – a balloon gun, about two feet long and looking like the sort of ray-gun that Dan Dare might have used. On the end of the gun was a slightly glazed man in what had probably started the evening as a very smart tuxedo, but was now, like him, showing signs of tiredness. Mrs Glazed Man was looking very much the definition of long-suffering. They made their way outside of the hotel. Fortunately Mrs E’s position near the window allowed her to keep up a hushed commentary on their progress on the taxi situation.
‘He’s getting a bit upset now…he’s pointing at her with the ray-gun…he’s walked down to the road…he’s trying to hail a taxi with the ray-gun…he’s back now cos it’s raining…he’s still pointing…he’s coming back inside…’
Which he did, to go to the gents, using the ray-gun as a weird latex divining rod, completely oblivious to the world around him.
Also oblivious were the couple from earlier. By now, their bar stools had mysteriously moved much closer together , to a point where you might expect her knee to be causing a little discomfort to his crotch. He didn’t seem to be too concerned though, just kept chatting away as if having someone massage his genitals with their knee was just something that happened every Saturday night. And then they kissed. For quite a long time. I tried not to look but I did. She looked as if she had her eyes closed, but frankly she’d looked like that all night. But I hoped it was the start of something…magical.
Another entry into the bar from the ballroom, this time from a man, on his own, who was the living embodiment of Don Revie, circa 1974. With one exception – he was about two foot shorter, so maybe the living embodiment in 5/8th scale. Other than that, the hair, the sideburns, the firm jaw line, even the suit were dead ringers for everyone’s least favourite Leeds and England manager.
Witnessing some light porn and seeing a miniaturised Don Revie made me remember that I’d been drinking, so I decided that I needed to wash my face. The man with the ray-gun had emerged from the gents by then,. so I knew the way, and pretty soon I found myself at a urinal, standing next to a man who appeared to be wearing a mayoral chain of office over his dinner suit.
‘That’s a nice medal’ I said, foolishly thinking I was being clever. ‘Did you win it this evening?’
‘That’s more than just a medal, my lad’, he replied, thereby in just eight words, managing to get information, charm and condescension into a single short sentence. I suppose in many ways, that’s very much the art of the magician at work.
I followed him into the ballroom.
‘There’s not much to see now the dancing has started. But it was a grand night’
It was indeed.
Next morning, we stuffed ourselves with as much breakfast as would last the long trip home. As we were leaving, I saw a familiar face arriving at the restaurant. It was the casual magician from the night before, this time on his own, and wearing exactly the same clothes. With one exception – he was wearing shoes but no socks. They’d disappeared. As if by magic.