My wife Val and I were sat next to my Uncle Bill, dapper in his blazer and old school tie, on one side of a vast mahogany desk. On the other, some distance away, sat the bank manager, who, but for the affordable mortgages framed poster could have been mistaken for an undertaker, good at his trade. Mr Montrose was listening intently as I related Uncle Bill’s woeful tale, an exposé of fraud, deceit and pillage by one of my aunt’s family. As I struggled to set out the extraordinary goings-on to the doleful banker, Uncle Bill suddenly interrupted.
“I’ve a very simple way to make your bank a lot of money!” He said, loudly, as he leant his thin angular body across the desk.
“Pardon?” Said the startled manager leaning sharply back, knocking the mortgage poster askew.
“Look!” said Uncle Bill as he flourished a handful of lottery tickets under Mr Melrose’s reluctant nose.
Mr Melrose looked. He looked as though something disagreeable was being wafted under his nose.
“Look, you just need some of these, and,” my uncle said, as he theatrically flicked his wrist,”Gilly-Gilly, you can make money!”
We all stared as the lottery tickers transformed into a wad of crisp Fivers. Mr Montrose stared in astonishment. Me, well, l stared in frustrated annoyance at the distraction.
Uncle Bill, you see, was a magician. A magician with dementia.
From being a very small, impressionable child, I can remember Uncle Bill’s visits to our home. He would produce coins from my ears, perform card tricks and make objects disappear in angry puffs of white smoke. Gilly-Gilly was one of his catchphrases. Another was, ‘I’m mad you know’, which of course, prophetically, all these years later, he was.
Later, as we sat in a nearby café taking stock, recovering, I looked across at Uncle Bill. This frail old gentleman, who thought I was my late father, who imagined his wife, Madge, was still alive, abducted by the nurses in his care home, and yet could perform, faultlessly, complex illusions. I thought how indiscriminate dementia is. How cruel.
Uncle Bill had been on the periphery of the world of magic, knew David Nixon and Paul Daniels, had been the Vice President of the Magic Circle. But, above all he was my father’s brother, the younger brother that he had looked out for.
It was down to me now.