The Man with the Snake

My earliest influence as a performing magic was an elderly man with the slightly sinister name of Roy Cowl. He was a heavy set man, extremely bald and inevitably dressed entirely in black. He also kept a 10-foot python in a glass tank in his living room. I referred to the snake as Monty but Roy never got the joke.

Roy was the kind of person that when you first met him you said, “Wow, he’s one of a kind!”  However after spending many years among magicians I realize that people like Roy are in fact rather well represented in the magic world.

I first met Roy at a meeting of the Sussex Magic Circle where he was a member, although it was rumored that he had long since stopped paying any dues. Roy was something of a rogue member in our group and was therefore allowed the luxury of doing pretty much whatever he wanted. This seemed to suit Roy just fine.

I had won our magic club’s junior performer’s award three years running.  Which was not quite as impressive as it sounds since there were only two junior members in the club.  My parents kept those silver plated cups I won on display throughout their lives. No success I achieved in America seemed quite as real to them as those cups because they had been there to see me win them.

After my second win Roy decided to take me under his wing.  Nobody in the club ever actually said anything bad about Roy but there was a certainly an undercurrent of disapproval.  Being under Roy’s wing didn’t actually amount to much more than spending the occasional evening in his flat in Brighton; hoping to God the python hadn’t escaped from it’s glass tank.

Roy gave me advice, told me stories and sold me a few tricks he thought would improve my act. Even at my tender age I was aware that these tricks were probably ones that Roy wanted to unload from his own repertoire.  One of these props was a Lippencott box, which, according to Roy, was going to be the key to my success as a magician. This small wooden box allowed a magician to make predictions about future events by a combination of snappy carpentry and minimal sleight-of-hand. I decided to debut this trick at the Mid-Sussex Fair by predicting the headline of our local newspaper two weeks in advance.

The box was signed, sealed and placed on display in the window of ‘Beaumont’s Menswear’ on the High Street of the small village in which we lived. The box was to remain there for two weeks until the Fair’s opening ceremony. The anticipation of this feat left me feeling progressively sick with panic over the upcoming sleight of hand, which somehow seemed less and less minimal as the days progressed.

What followed proved two things to me. Timing means everything and that luck can be both good and bad simultaneously. My prediction created a (local) front-page sensation because the day before the prediction was to be revealed, the Beatles manager Brian Epstein was found dead. Suicide or natural causes, no one knew for sure and the media instantly went into overdrive at this unexpected event.

Rather cunningly I made my prediction slightly ambiguous and stated that one of the Beatles, or someone close to them, would die. In my opinion it is always more convincing to be a little vague rather than too accurate. I received a great deal of press for my stunt and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. If events work in your favor, then the sky is the limit and if they don’t, nothing much really amounts to anything.  If the headlines that day had read ‘New tax increases’ my moment in the sun would have been a lot less bright.

There you have the entire crux of the situation with headline predictions.

In retrospect the hidden lesson in this event was about time shifting.  By setting up my stunt two weeks in advance I was able to reap dubious rewards for my equally dubious ‘psychic powers’. Although I didn’t know it at the time I had chanced upon a practical application of the ‘One Ahead Principle’ in it’s most primitive form. To this day I firmly believe that the one ahead principle is much too powerful a concept to separate from daily life and reserve purely for mentalists and magicians. I like to refer to as Thinking Around Corners.

~ by Nick Lewin on December 16, 2009.

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