June 20 2005

The disappearing coin got me every time. When you reached for the sixpence it vapourised and you were left clutching thin air.
The patter, delivered in a gentle West Country burr, never varied.
“What have you done with it?”
“Well, I gave it to you and now you’ve lost it.”
Chuckles all round, then the routine would be repeated several times before the sixpence was eventually handed over.
Mr Thompson was the best conjuror ever.
He was also a chemist and a visit to his shop at the top end of Sidney Avenue was almost always a learning experience.
I went there often; usually to get him to do his trick, sometimes for advice.
The chemistry set I got one Christmas came with a booklet of experiments, one of which explained how to grow crystals by dangling a piece of cotton into a solution of copper sulphate. The set was short on chemicals, particularly copper sulphate.
Mr Thompson saved the day and threw in several sheets of litmus paper and a couple of test-tubes for good measure.
Sometimes I’d take along a volume of my Arthur Mee Encyclopaedia opened at the Things To Make And Do section. He’d measure out three drams of methyl-violet aniline, a couple of ounces of barium sulphate and a shot or two of glycerine and I’d go home to make something or other. Our greatest collaboration was the hectograph.
I thought you’d never ask. It’s a primitive sort of duplicator made from bits of the above mixed with gelatine and poured into a biscuit tin lid to set. Then you write on a sheet of paper using the methyl-violet wotsit as ink. Press the paper on to the hectograph and leave for a few minutes. The impression it leaves on the rubbery surface is powerful enough to make 40 or 50 copies, simply by pressing on and peeling off clean sheets of paper.
I became reporter, editor and publisher of the Daily Trumpet, which ran to three editions and carried the serialisation of Jules Verne’s life story, copied paintstakingly from the Great Authors Of Our Time Section of Arthur Mee.
Mr Thompson took out a subscription.
Once I showed him how to step through a postcard (no prizes for guessing where I learned how to do it) and he was so impressed he rewarded me by revealing the secret of the vanishing coin.
I’ve been baffling people with the trick ever since. I have a variation using winegums, which always went down well with my daughters.
It backfired once in Greengate Street when my eldest, two at the time, insisted on me producing a sweet from her ear (another variation). I was out of winegums and she threw a fit, the sort of Cecil B DeMille number that has passersby shaking their heads and whispering to each other what they’d do to her if she was theirs.
The only time she improved on that one was the day she discovered her shadow and screamed for me to take it off.
I couldn’t, of course. Mr Thompson never explained how to do that.



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