In which The Author’s magical career continues to develop
In The Incredible Magic Wallet
I told you about a conjuring trick I was able to pull off with some train tickets. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that the magic didn’t end there.
After I posted Saturday’s blog, I went into the city centre to meet Shanara the Dippy Bint. Our rendezvous was going to be outside Waterstone’s at 2.30. We’d both forgotten that the rugby was on, so the city centre was packed with people killing time before the kick-off. Some were obviously going to make their way to the stadium, while the rest were planning to watch it on TV in a pub.
Even so, the area outside Waterstone’s is a pretty convenient spot: you’ve got St David’s Hall on one side, the Old Library on another, Waterstone’s and House of Fraser on the third side, and the pedestrianised street on the fourth. If somebody passes through that area, you’re not going to miss each other.
I was early (and Shanara is always fashionably late) so I called into Waterstone’s for a quick browse before she arrived. Once again, I needn’t have bothered. They had only two novels by Peter Ackroyd in stock, both of which I’ve read; there were two Kurt Vonnegut Jr novels (both of which I’ve read) and a collection of his essays (I’m not keen on his non-fiction, personally); there was a display of the usual pre-Xmas ‘celebrity’ biographies near the entrance, and a selection of hugely overpriced jigsaws near the counter.
I noticed one table of ‘Waterstone’s favourites’ – predictable titles like A Clockwork Orange and other cult classics. The weird thing is that half of them were Penguin titles and the other half were Random House titles. Penguin and Random House are now one vast publishing house. Things haven’t changed since I finished, with monolithic publishers paying to get their titles into the promotions and the independents squeezed out as a result. I don’t think I’ll be spending any money in there any time soon.
When I was in Cardiff for the demo against the Bedroom Tax, I’d called in and was pleased to see Jeff standing behind the counter. I asked him how things were in the shop, and he told me he’s only stuck it out because (like me) his age is against him in the jobs market.
He told me that the central ordering system is even more of a joke than it was when I was working there. Sir Alex Ferguson’s biography was the massive title of the moment, and the Cardiff shop had received fifty copies. If you think that’s crazy, bear in mind that Manchester’s Deansgate branch had had a single solitary copy. I know it’s often said that nobody in Manchester supports Manchester United, but come on…
Anyway, there was still no sign of Shanara when I emerged back onto the Hayes, so I propped up a lamp-post for several minutes before texting her to see where she was. She rang me almost immediately to say that she was ‘passing O’Neill’s.’
I thought she meant the fake Oirish pub next to Cardiff Market, less than a minute away. When she still hadn’t shown up a good ten minutes later, I remembered that there’s another O’Neill’s on the corner of St Mary Street. If Shanara was making her way from her home in Riverside, that would make sense. However, she still should have arrived by that time. Even if she’d been swept along by the tide of rugby fans, it wouldn’t have taken her ten minutes to reach Waterstone’s.
Then my phone beeped. It was a text from Shanara – the single word ‘downstairs.’ Somehow, she’d managed to walk into Waterstone’s under my nose, and without my seeing her. Considering that she had a pushchair with her, that made her feat of invisibility even more remarkable. If I ever decide to pursue a career as a stage magician, she’s first in line to be my assistant.
Oddly enough, at least one stage magician also features in Christopher Priest’s latest novel The Adjacent, which I’ve referred to a few times already. (You’ll have to read the book yourself to understand that rather odd sentence.) Probably his best-known novel, The Prestige (filmed by Christopher Nolan a few years ago) is about two rival illusionists in late Victorian London. In the introduction to the Pan Books edition of his short stories An Infinite Summer, Mr Priest explained that the inspiration for the title story came about when he was researching the life of H.G. Wells for his novel The Space Machine. H.G Wells also features in The Adjacent. I’d love to be able to write like that, coming up with one idea almost as a by-product of another, and pursuing them both to their logical conclusions.
There’s one last piece of magic to tell you about. I was on my way to the Sherman Theatre to see Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s 1984
(see How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?
) I’d just come from the Pen and Wig, a pub I’ve passed literally a couple of thousand times on the train, but have never been able to find on previous attempts. On Saturday, I followed my nose down a dark lane and finally struck lucky. I think I’ve found a new pub to frequent on my occasional visits to Cardiff, with fairly cheap beer, a good crowd and a friendly atmosphere – not to mention a very attractive redhaired barmaid who’s (of course) young enough to be my daughter.
Anyway, as I emerged from Museum Place into Park Place, three young girls were walking ahead of me. They could have stepped straight out of the year 1984. They were proper old-school Goths, the sort of girls I really used to fancy when I was in my early twenties and a bit older. One had spiky black hair, big boots, and a black leather jacket with ‘bauhaus’ [sic] and ‘The Batcave’ painted on the back. There’s no way that she can remember Bauhaus as a functioning band, and The Batcave closed at least two decades before she was even conceived.
If was as if they’d stepped straight out of the Torchwood Rift and into my immediate timeline. They heard me come up behind them and parted to let me pass between them. I thanked them and looked back as I walked on. One of them was even wearing a dog collar, an item of female fashion which is the Holy Grail for me, but which seems to have vanished everywhere else. They made their way towards the Students’ Union and I lost sight of them by the phone box. Very strange…