MEMOIRS - 11 - Mishaps

It is nothing unusual for a large Departmental Store to give Conjuring Entertainments in their Toy Department during the Christmas Season, or on some special occasion. When in Johannesburg I was engaged for just such a show, it was on the Firm’s Birthday, and they were expecting a very large number of children. They had erected a temporary platform for me, at one end of the Department, and the show was timed to start at 11 a.m. I arrived in good time, about 10 a.m. with my assistant, who had looked after my two suitcases, and had carried them for me. We had traveled from the suburbs by tramcar, and as there was plenty of time, I told henry, my assistant, to place the two bags on the platform and go and have a stroll round for half an hour. So off he went and I stood chatting to the Departmental manager for some little time, and then I thought I would start getting my props ready for the show.

On opening one of the suitcases, I was flabbergasted to find that it contained, not my conjuring tricks, but ladies and children’s clothing. I looked at the contents in amazement, and for a moment or two, I though Henry must have brought the wrong case from the house; but then I knew that was impossible, as I had packed the bags myself and had put them at the front door ready to be picked up as we left the house. No! The bags had been changed, but how and where? The tramcar, of course, that was it; Henry must have picked up the wrong bag on leaving the tram. It was certainly not my suitcase.

What could I do? I could not see Henry anywhere and only forty-five minutes to go, before the show started. Where was my bag of tricks? What could I do in such a short space of time? I told the Departmental Manager what had happened, and that I was going to the tramway Lost Property Office to see if my bag had been left there by the tram Conductor or the person whose bag I had got. So I dashed out as fast as I could, and made my way to the tramway Office, only to be told that no bag had been left there by the conductor of the tram, and if my bag was still on the tram, I would have to wait for the tram to return to the terminus on its next trip; and that, in any case, if I met the tram when it arrived, the conductor would not hand it over to me, as it was the rule, that all property left on trams had to be delivered to the Lost Luggage Office by the conductor, personally.

I was in a desperate state of mind, but thank goodness, I was permitted to see the Traffic Inspector in charge of the Office, and, on explaining matters to him, he very kindly gave me written instructions to the conductor, and authority for me to collect my bag from the tram-car when it arrived. He checked up times, etc., and was able to give me the number of the tram and also the exact time it was due back at the terminus.

Just as I was leaving the Office, a woman came in a complained that some person had taken her bag from the tram in place of their own, and wanted to know if it had been left at the Lost Property Office. Of course I was able to ease her mind by telling her that her bag was safe at the Departmental store, and whenever I got my bag, we would go round to the store and get hers.

So we went to the Tram terminus and waited – and what a wait! I thought the tram would never come; but at last it arrived, and thank goodness, my bag was still there, and, on showing the note from the Traffic Inspector, he let me take it away. I dashed back to the store, with the woman following me as best she could, and when we arrived at the Toy Department, the place was just crowded with children, all of them getting very impatient at my non-appearance. My assistant, henry, was sitting on the platform looking very worried and unhappy.

The clock was just striking eleven a.m., when I gave the woman back her bag, and started to unpack my props. I was fifteen minutes late in starting my performance, but better late than never. What an hour of mental agony I had had, and I sincerely hope that nothing like that will ever happen to me again.

The suitcases were so very much alike, that I am not surprised at henry picking up the wrong one.

On one of my visits to Johannesburg, I was engaged by a well known manufacturing firm, to give a special Magical Entertainment at one of the large Reef towns. The firm supplied the transport in the way of a motor car, with a native driver. On arriving at the theatre where I was to give my performance I told the driver that I would not require him for about an hour and a half; but he was to be back at the theatre at 4.30 p.m. When my show was over, my assistant and I both got back into the car. I sat in front, with the driver and Henry sat in the back with all my props. Well, we started back to town at a good pace and very soon I noticed that the driver was getting a bit careless with his driving, and seemed to be taking unnecessary risks at corners, or when passing other cards; but when I noticed that the speedometer was touching seventy miles an hour, I thought it was time to slow him down a bit. When he answered me, I realised the man was drink. He had taken advantage of the long wait for me, to go off, and have a few glasses of his favourite beverage. Well, there was nothing for it, but for me to drive the car myself, so I told him to slow up, and I would take over the wheel. He didn’t like the idea of letting me drive, and as he promised to be more careful, I allowed him to carry on, when suddenly, without warning, he swerved to the side of the road and knocked an Indian flying, off his bicycle. The Indian landed with a nasty bump, rolled over, the lay still. My assistant and I both got a very bad fright, and calling to our drive to stop, we immediately jumped out of the car, before it had come to a standstill, and ran back to help the Indian. Instead of the driver stopping, and waiting for us, he lost his head completely, and, speeding up the car, he went tearing up the street with all my props in the back of the car, and as my assistant said, "Unless we can get that car stopped you will never see your props again, as the drive will abandon the car on the veldt, steal all the bags, and vanish into one of the Native Locations." But luck was with me, as a Motor Cyclist, who had seen what had happened, gave chase; he eventually made up on the car and, in trying to avoid capture, the driver bashed straight into a lorry that was just pulling out from the side of the road. My driver was taken to the Police station, the Indian luckily, was only stunned, and was able to proceed on his way; and my assistant and I returned to Johannesburg, with all my props, in a taxi, after leaving the firm’s car to be fixed up in a nearby garage. An unlucky day for the Insurance Company.