The Incredible Magic Wallet

In which The Author performs a conjuring trick

I’m in Cardiff at the moment, using a remarkably slow wifi, even by Wetherspoon standards. I needed to get online as I had an email from Andy Tillison via Facebook yesterday (see Our Friends in the North.) By way of thanks for my support from (almost) the beginning of Gold, Frankincense and Disk Drive’s career, he’d sent me the entire CD of Where Do We Draw The Line? and the accompanying booklet as a zip file. I didn’t fancy using up all my bandwidth trying to download it using Myfi, so I decided to wait until I got to the pub instead.
How’s this for an odd thing? Immediately after I’d posted yesterday’s entry, Shanara the Dippy Bint phoned me to see what time I anticipated being in town. We must have some sort of weird psychic link, as we always seem to know when one of us is thinking about the other. We’re going to have coffee in the restaurant of House of Fraser (which was formerly Howell’s, and also played the part of Henrik’s Department Store in a few episodes of Doctor Who), as we can take the baby in there. After that we’ll have a look in Waterstone’s before I head to the Museum.
I figure that if I visit the Wallace exhibition after meeting Shanara, I’ll be in the right part of town for the Sherman Theatre. I might wander into Cathays and have a pint first. It’s a good thing that my seat is near the back of the auditorium, and on the end of the row. It’ll be handy when I need the inevitable comfort break during the performance.
I’ve had a quick walk around town, as the rain has cleared overnight and it’s a bright afternoon. Cardiff seems to have changed again since my last proper visit back in the summer. Lakeland Plastics has closed and turned into a shop selling outdoors gear. The area around the stadium has changed as well – the Model Inn has been turned into a restaurant, the pub where we met Martin Shipton from Media Wales has changed its name (see Capital Depreciation), and there are two relatively new rock clubs in Womanby Street, more or less where the Horse and Groom used to be. Some thrash metal was blasting out of one of them as I walked past. However, as I already had a headache after the train journey, which featured hordes of screaming kids, I decided to give it a miss. Just along the lane is CFQ, Cardiff Fashion Quarter, a collection of stalls selling vintage and custom-made clothes. I didn’t go in there either. I had visions of a sub-Camden Market scene, and I haven’t got enough cash to spare on new clothes, never mind second-hand ones.
I called into W.H. Smith to buy a paper. One set of double doors was under siege from a couple of hundred teenage girls, together with some lost-looking lads and a couple of embarrassed fathers. A pop group called Union J (whoever they are) are signing their book there today. I suppose it’s the 21st Century take on the classic record company scenario that became popular in the 1970s – if you’ve missed on signing one huge act, manufacture another to go in its place. EMI famously did it twice. Having missed out on David Bowie (who’d signed to RCA) they came up with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel; when Led Zeppelin (an Atlantic signing) stopped touring, along came Queen to fill the overblown supergroup vacuum. In the 21st Century, they do it with Boy Bands instead of rock groups. The record company which didn’t get One Direction had to come up with another bunch of unfeasibly good-looking but talentless youngsters for the girls to scream at. Plus ça change…
The pubs were all full of rugby fans gathered for this afternoon’s opening game in the Autumn Tests, and the streets were full of people in South African colours killing time before the kick-off. I decided to head to Central Bar, which (in spite of the name) is tucked away off Queen Street, and which has an upstairs seating area, which is where I am now. On the next table there is a group of students from West Wales, and, against my expectations, they’re all speaking English. So much for the revival of Yr Iaith Cymraeg.
Anyway – back to the the train journey, and my little magic act on the train. I paid my fare at the booth at Aberdare Station and tucked my tickets and my change into my wallet. My new wallet. Mother bought it for me as a souvenir from a holiday she took about a month ago.
I should explain that Mother, in common with a lot of my friends, loves to play guessing games with me, as though I’m still in junior school. She phoned me out of the blue a few weeks ago and said, ‘Guess where I’ve been.’
Straight away I said, ‘Greenland.’
She said, ‘Don’t be daft!’
‘Well, you started it,’ I replied.
After a few more deliberately stupid answers, she decided she didn’t want to play any more. It turned out that she’d been to North Wales on a short touring holiday with Hirwaun Coaches, taking in the hotspots such as Llandudno, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Betws-y-Coed, Portmeirion (by the way, that screaming you can hear in the background is the Firefox spellchecker howling for mercy) and Mount Snowdon itself.
Then we started the next round of the guessing game – ‘How much do you think it cost to get into such-and-such?’ I was somewhat prepared for this nonsense, having shied away from several Forest of Dean tourist traps when I saw the admission prices. The Snowdon Mountain Railway had cost twenty quid, and gave the visitors a full forty minutes at the little café at the far end before returning to ground level. (That brought us neatly to Round Three: ‘Guess how much a Welsh cake cost.’ If you ever get trapped into playing the same game, the correct answer, as of September 2013, is a staggering £1.40!)
I was very jealous of Mother’s visit to Portmeirion. It has a special place in every TV science fiction fan’s itinerary as the location for The Prisoner. (Note for younger readers: I’m talking about the 1967 series starring the late Patrick McGoohan as Number 6, not the 2009 ‘re-imagining’ starring Jim Caviezel.) I’ve wanted to go there for about thirty years. To compensate me for missing out, she’d bought me a box of fudge and a new wallet. I didn’t really need a new wallet, but when she posted it through the letterbox a couple of days later, I realized that it would probably come in quite useful. It had more space for plastic cards than my old one, a handy pocket where I could keep a stack of business cards, a little mesh pocket for train/bus tickets, and a place where I could keep my provisional driving licence and blood donor card. I transferred the contents of my old wallet and tucked it in a drawer in case I ever needed it again.
So, having purchased my two-part ticket (one part for the outward leg, the other for the return) I boarded the train and found a seat near the window. When I went to put my ticket in a safe place, I found the two halves of the ticket from my last trip into Cardiff, two weeks ago. I don’t know why they were still there, but it doesn’t matter. I took them out and put them behind the little drop-down tray of the seat in front.
Once we were on our way, the conductor made his way along the aisle checking everyone’s tickets. I opened my wallet, took out the ‘outward’ part – and realized to my horror that the ‘return’ part wasn’t there. I searched through the other sections of my wallet, but there was no sign of it. I checked the discarded tickets, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally pulled it out along with them. Still nothing. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have put it in any of my pockets, I checked them anyway. The return ticket had already cost me £7.40 – I didn’t relish the prospect of paying another fiver or so to get home again.
When the conductor came to my seat, I showed him the ‘outward’ portion and explained that I must have dropped its companion on the platform at Aberdare. He advised me to go to the ticket office when I got to Cardiff; he thought they’d probably be able to link into the network and issue me with a duplicate ‘return’ ticket without my having to pay again. I thanked him and he went on his way.
Once we got to Pontypridd, last night’s bout of insomnia got the better of me. I had a flashback to the old days when I did that same journey five times a week, and five times a week in the opposite direction. The warmth of the coach and the gentle rocking motion sent me into a much-needed nap, as it usually had when I was commuting. Shanara and I first met when I had to wake her up in Aberdare Station, after she’d fallen fast asleep on the journey home. Even though she swore that she was checking her eyelids for holes, I didn’t believe her. (As for serious train-related insomnia, I refer you to the adventures of my friend Gaz, as related in The Power of Suggestion.)
I woke up as usual when the train was approaching Cathays, and disembarked at Queen Street. There were two guys issuing tickets in the corridor leading to the outside world, and another guy collecting tickets from passengers as they left the station. I took the half-ticket from my wallet and approached him with a smile.
‘Hi there,’ I said, ‘I bought a return, but I must have dropped the one part.’
He looked at the little piece of card I’d given him.
‘Ah, don’t worry,’ he smiled, ‘at least you’ll be able to get home tonight.’
He handed the ticket back to me. It was the ‘return’ part. I got out into the street and put it back in my wallet, where the ‘outward’ portion was sitting exactly where I’d put it an hour before.
Don’t ask me how I managed to pull off this fantastic piece of prestidigitation. I’m none the wiser. I’m just wondering what other extraordinary tricks this magic wallet is capable of performing. Mind you, there’s one routine which is guaranteed to take place every time I produce it in a public place.
You see, Mother wasn’t wearing her glasses when she bought it for me, and accidentally picked it out of the rack displaying Welsh-language souvenirs. It means that all the predictable pub comedians and associated bores will say, ‘I didn’t know you spoke Welsh!’
There you go, not content with telepathic communication and causing inanimate objects to disappear and reappear without any logical explanation, I can predict the future as well. Not bad going for a beginner, is it?