20 July 2012

[Guest post] A magical childhood memory of summer

The following is a guest post from an author who wishes to be known as The Magic Demon.

A Magical Childhood Memory of Summer
by "The Magic Demon"

Whenever I drop by The Browser's Den of Magic in Toronto these days I always spend a few minutes looking through their well-stocked collection of joke or gag items before moving on to the more serious magic in the rest of the shop. Joke buyers usually tend to be a very different breed of customer than magic fans, Jeff Pinsky (the shop's owner) once told me, although some of us started buying gags when we were very young and eventually moved into more serious magic.

Perhaps the most famous, classic gag item is the old "snake in a jar" or "snake in a can". It has been around forever and never fails to get a laugh. I haven't bought one in decades, however, since I was a kid. But in my home, high atop a bookshelf I rarely visit, lies a dusty unused mini-jar of what appears to be Colman's French mustard. Whenever I look at it I always feel a combination of great affection and nostalgia.

I should explain, although most of you have already figured it out, that this is not just any jar of Colman's French mustard. It is, in fact, a jar from Davenports Magic in London, England bought during a childhood-era visit overseas. Whenever you open it, a coiled yellow and orange snake will still jump up and obligingly scream out "SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK!"

Like I said. Classic.

And still inexplicably funny (provided the target - I mean subject - doesn't suffer from a weak heart.)

But this is not just any snake in a jar - it is an exact duplicate of a snake in a jar over in England that is memorably bound up in my family's personal history over there. Let me explain.

Imagine it is summer - perhaps very much like this one but many, many years ago. I am visiting my then equally young cousins in the UK. We have just come home from London to one of its sprawling suburbs and have placed a seemingly innocent jar casually near the dinner table. A special jar we had longingly coveted, extensively planned around and eventually bought with the remains of our hard-earned allowances. My aunt, my mother, my sister and of course my cousins and I are all painfully aware of its contents. My uncle, the chosen target - I mean subject - of this evening's scheduled entertainment, is not.

We (who know) are already bursting with anticipation. But we are doing everything young kids can do to contain themselves and appear normal - assuming kids can ever do that in the eyes of any adult. My uncle continues to be blissfully unaware of our emotional straight-jacketedness. (Or was he?)

My uncle was always very keen on his mustard. And so the jar was eventually set down centre-stage on the dining room table. But during the subsequent dinner he made not a single motion towards it. Had he gone off mustard? Was it somehow invisible to his eyes? Would our elaborate gag never be sprung? It was then my ever-resourceful aunt had the brilliant idea to ask him to pass her the mustard. Feigning inability to open it worthy of an Academy Award, she passed it back to him with the casual request to loosen it.

The rest of us held our collective breaths ready to explode, our little bodies literally quivering with barely concealed excitement...

My uncle calmly took the jar, twisted the top a little more open and... immediately returned it to the table.

... It had completely failed to open!

... ... The snake was still nestled inside the jar!!

... ... ... We were all ready to bust a gut!!!

Whether my uncle knew something was up and was merely playing with us by now - no fool, he - or whether his actions were entirely genuine - we shall never know.

All we do know for sure is that agonizing decades and decades seemed to pass until at long last he absent-mindedly picked up the mustard and - SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK! - the snake satisfyingly jumped out of its jar and we all screamed appreciatively.

No audience for any professional performance has ever laughed so much nor felt such intense relief. My uncle happily laughed along too but with what was a possibly mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Today that original jar sits undisturbed in a glass cabinet in my aunt's kitchen, largely untouched since that special family dinner. Like my duplicate of it back here in Canada, it is a poignant reminder of the innocent pleasures of childhood. That long ago and far away dinner remains one of the most joyous of my childhood memories of summer - thanks to a classic gag - and a very magical uncle.


There's nothing quite like the combination of a young soul and a snake in a can!  I know I've gotten good value from the one in my home.  (It helps to have an obliging audience.)

Thank you The Magic Demon for guest posting at Canada's Magic!

What are your childhood memories of magic?

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