It must have been about thirty years ago – I was old enough for a strong memory to have formed, but not over eight years old, as the Paul Daniel’s Magic Show went off the air in 1994.
I was sat there, less than nine years old, and Paul Daniels was telling a story about King Arthur and his sword Excalibur. He told (and forgive me if I have some details of this story wrong – I have never been able to find this episode since) of the power of the sword, and that anyone holding it couldn’t be harmed. He told an audience member that the sword itself had been melted down, and segments of it were sold as small model swords in souvenir shops. He had one of these souvenir swords, looking a lot like a paper knife, which he handed to a spectator.
Paul Daniels then pulled out a small guillotine, just big enough for a finger. He showed the blade of the guillotine, he had the audience member put their finger through the hole in the guillotine while holding the small model of Excalibur, and then brought the blade down on their finger. The blade magically passed clean through the finger, and somehow the person’s finger survived unscathed!
I think about that trick often. My parents tell me I had a ‘Paul Daniel’s Magic Set’ when I was young, but I don’t remember it (by the way, anyone with an overwhelming desire to send me a gift, there are lots of second hand Paul Daniels magic sets on eBay…). I don’t remember the magic set I had, or the tricks I apparently learned, but I remember Paul Daniels performing that trick, and years later I understand why.
Performance. Magic is not about a trick, it is about how you perform the trick. The story Paul Daniels built around that relatively simple trick (yes, I have a version of the trick these days, but I rarely perform it) captured my imagination so strongly that I remember both the performance and the feelings it created to this day.
Fast forward to February 2019. I was now a professional entertainer, and a large part of that entertainment was the performance of magic. I now had five ‘idols’ in my profession – Penn Jillette, Teller, Derren Brown, Mr Alexander… and Paul Daniels. I got to go out and perform magic for people, and I was a committed ‘live’ performer.
I worried about videos of my act getting online, I wanted everyone to experience it ‘live’ and only live. I watched magic on television, and, with a few exceptions (Penn and Teller’s Fool Us and Derren Brown’s tapings of his live shows spring to mind), there were fast cuts, camera tricks, editing tricks, and they left me feeling cold. This modern form of television magic was popular, but not for me, not to my taste.
Then the pandemic struck, and I started to perform shows on ‘Facebook Live’, and it remained important to me that any magic I performed was performed ‘live’ on the show, but I started trying to find a lot of new tricks so that I could perform new tricks every fortnight and not burn through all my live material.
Over time I realised I didn’t actually need to perform the magic live for the camera. By using fixed camera angles and no cuts I could record the magic and people could still see that it wasn’t being done with camera tricks and clever editing. I could pre-record the shows without destroying the magic. I also came to realise that I really enjoyed working on the new magic, and that if the performance is right, that people wouldn’t mind if they saw the trick in real life after seeing it on video.
Then I listened to an interview with Paul Daniels on a podcast called ‘The Magician’s Podcast’. Of course he’d figured all of this out well over thirty years ago, long before I first saw him perform on television, before I was even born!
He talked about the importance of prioritising the performance over the trick, about the joy he had creating new effects to fill 150 episodes of his series, and he talked about the importance of knowing the point in a magic trick after which you can’t change camera angles, where you have to stay with a fixed shot to prove there are no camera tricks.
Then, in March 2021, I got an email from the Waterworks Museum, Hereford. For the second year running they wouldn’t be able to host the ‘Hereford Steampunk Weekend’ due to Covid restrictions. Last year they had run a ‘virtual festival’ and I had filmed a short clip for them, but this year they had a new idea. Could I create and film some magic show videos specially for them?
Of course I could.
We were constrained by space – we were still in lockdown and so filming would have to be done in the confines of the Mercave Studio, our studio and rehearsal space within our workshop in the back garden.
We were constrained by time – I would only have about three weeks to write the show, learn the tricks, film and edit the three twenty-minute shows.
We were constrained by budget – live shows and a return (hopefully) to performing regularly won’t be until at least June, so we couldn’t spend a fortune on new set pieces or tricks.
Despite all of these constraints, however, I realised something important. I really enjoy creating magic shows in a format which works on camera. I like looking through old magic books, searching online magic stores and auction sites, finding new magic (and very old magic) and creating my own performance around it. I like looking into how I can theme tricks, to make them varied, in this case to fit in with the Waterworks Museum.
After years of shunning the idea of my performances being on video, because I hadn’t enjoyed most recent TV magic shows, I have found that by looking to my childhood for inspiration, by looking at the Paul Daniels Magic Show and a style of television magic which some may consider ‘dated’, I had found a great deal of joy.
By the time this blog comes out, you will be able to watch my virtual shows, ‘Greg Chapman’s Magic at the Waterworks Museum’ parts one, two and three on YouTube by clicking on the images below:
This feels like a new beginning, a new step in my magical career. Of course I will still be performing live – in fact I will be performing a live follow up to the virtual shows at the Waterworks Museum Hereford on Saturday 7th August this year (for details and tickets visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/gregchapman).
Before the pandemic, as regular readers of this blog know, Felicity and I had already begun a move to producing more video content with our travel documentaries, which started out on YouTube, but have now started to appear on streaming services like Prime Video, Tubi and Plex. Of course, therefore, I want to combine these two elements of our work, and so I have decided that one of our filming projects for 2021 will be an eight part magic show series to be released through streaming sites and on DVD, which, although it will be done in my own unique style, will take stylistic inspiration not from modern magic specials, but from the magic performed in theatres around the end of the Nineteenth Century, and the Paul Daniels Magic Show. I am already pouring over some very old magic books to discover hidden gems of tricks which I can use as the basis for new pieces of theatrical and entertaining magic.
Greg Chapman’s Magic Show has now been released and can be ordered on DVD at: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08
More information about Greg Chapman’s Magic Show can be found on IMDB at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14659472
Hopefully before reading this blog post you will have watched our little video, ‘The Tale of Ivy Preen’ (above).
As you can see in the video, we briefly mention the fact that long before we rescued Ivy, the sparrow, my family had some prior experience with rescue animals – but for the interest of pacing in this particular video, we kept it brief. This blog post will shed a bit more light onto that previous experience and it goes back a long time. . .
My family have always been ‘animal people’. Long before I was born my Mum reared twelve orphaned feral kittens (from three different litters) and I always enjoyed hearing her talk of them – they were so young their eyes hadn’t yet opened and she had to syringe feed them and tickle them afterwards to make them go to the loo. She had to do this every two hours. As they grew older they would lay under her chin and one would suckle on her bottom lip.
When I was born there were only five of these twelve cats remaining as well as an additional rescue cat from a sanctuary. The cats were well into their late teens when I came along. We also had an elderly dog called Dusty Bin.
Dusty Bin was also one of Mums rescues – She happened upon him ten years before I was born, when she was walking her two Red Setters to visit her friend. When Mum arrived at her friend’s house, she witnessed the neighbour kicking his dog who was tied up in the garden. Upon confronting this man, an unpleasant conversation followed where he told her ‘’If you’re that bothered about it Mrs, you have him!’’… long story short she rescued another ill- treated, unwanted dog and returned home with three dogs that day. The Setters passed away from old age before I came along and so only our elderly Labrador cross Dusty remained.
One of the Setters was also a rescue brought to her by the police. The poor Red Setter was wandering along on the motorway and they knew she had a Red Setter and thought it might be hers. It turned out he had been abused by his owners and remained unclaimed so Mum adopted him too.
Whenever my family went on holiday, we always seemed to attract the animals there too – my Dad would often joke (?!) that he went on holiday to escape the animals and somehow always ended up surrounded by stray ones there too!
It is something that was always ingrained in me and my sister – a respect for animals, wild or domestic and a willingness to help any in need.
My husband, Greg, is well used to me stealing his hoodie to scoop up any poorly animals we come across. He doesn’t bat an eyelid when I ask him to turn the car around whenever I see something near the side of the road and want to check if it is an injured animal. He still jokes how he was mightily relieved on the one occasion where the pony we saw lying beside the road in the New Forest was in fact just relaxing and not in trouble, as he said he didn’t know how we would get it into the van if it needed help! Greg is also used to my longing to help any and all strays we see as we travel around the world.
Back in my childhood, once the elderly cats and Dusty had passed away, Mum and Dad said they didn’t want any more animals as it hurts too much when they pass away. This resolve lasted only a couple of years. My sister and me had heard so many stories of Mum’s dogs and cats, her rabbit, her tortoise, her gerbils and hamsters, her budgies and of Dad’s little white mouse, his dog and his budgies and chickens… It wasn’t long before our requests for animal companions resulted in us each getting a hamster. Later I got dwarf rabbits (supposedly two girls but then we ended up with more bunnies!) and we ended up hearing of many unwanted pets which we usually took in. (My sister was an Assistant Manager in Pets at Home during her twenties and we heard of a lot of them through her job)
My sister also discovered that there was nobody in the whole of Birmingham doing hedgehog rescue so she signed our family up with the Hedgehog Preservation Society and we ended up traveling all over the area collecting and caring for injured/ poorly/ orphaned Hedgehogs. I remember at one point we had over thirty Hogs in our care. Our garage no longer contained just gardening equipment but was transformed into an animal rescue building. Our garden was alive with rustling bushes and snuffling, slurping critters.
We had had trouble finding a vet who we had confidence in. Believe it or not, rabbits are classed as an ‘exotic’ pet (due to their complicated digestive system) and as we were taking in sick, unwanted and badly treated animals, we needed a good vet and they were sadly, not easy to find. Even fewer knew what they were doing with wildlife. When we eventually did find a good one, we had a good relationship with them. In return for medical help with our Hedgehogs, we were willing to take in any injured wildlife needing nurturing that had been brought in to the vets.
During our years in Birmingham, we took in numerous rabbits, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, Gerbils, Rats, Mice, Chinchillas, Hedgehogs, various bird species and when I was thirteen, we took in two more rescue cats.
All of the animals were precious, even the ones with a bad attitude. My sister even seems to prefer these, her mentally challenged ‘psycho’ gerbil John springs to mind!
Some shine particularly brightly for me too. One such case was one of our Rats who had cystic fibrosis. The vet said he wouldn’t live more than six months and we had him for years. We found that stroking him would help to clear his lungs and he could often be found on mine or my sister’s shoulder, hiding beneath our hair. Many of our friends were squeamish about rats yet all of them loved ‘Howie the Hamster’ as they didn’t believe something so gorgeous was a rat!
One of our rabbits was a house rabbit who just wanted cuddles all day long and would nip at your ankles if he felt you weren’t giving him enough attention.
Our first Hedgehog, a baby when we had him, climbed inside my sleeve and went to sleep at the base of my back. I was stuck there for ages as whenever I tried to move, he would start to prickle! He was a lovely Hog and didn’t stay small for long! (At the time I didn’t realise how many prickles hedgehogs regularly shed but we all learned quickly as we would regularly find prickles in our clothing and particularly painful when it was somehow in our underwear!) I still have photos of our ginger rescue cat nose to nose with this hog. He was a particularly sweet tempered hog.
The aforementioned Ginger cat was one of the most precious of all. My sister spotted an advert in the newspaper showing a particularly unattractive cat with one ear missing and the article stated that nobody had been found to give him a good home. My Mum said that if nobody gave him a home over the weekend, then we would have him. She in fact left it a whole week, not wanting the upset of one day losing another cat, sure that he would have had multiple offers of a home by then. In actuality, not a single person enquired after him. Upon going to collect him from the rescue centre, we were told he had feline aids and could not be allowed to mix with other cats. As we have always tried to keep animals in pairs for company, we also adopted another FIV positive cat who was a confident, handsome tuxedo cat. Our ginger cat was a nervous boy, unused to living in a house or around people. For some reason he instantly formed an attachment to me, the loudest person in the house by a mile! For whatever reason he decided I meant safety and he would come out from his hiding place for a cuddle whenever I was around till the day he finally realised that our home was his home and our family was his family and he never had to hide again. (The other rescue cat was a spoilt house cat but we loved him, his cuddles and his cat nip antics dearly too!)
Another precious one we had from the vets – a baby Magpie. While some of the rescues came with a back story (the baby pigeon being dropped by a bird of prey onto a topless sunbather is a favourite of mine!) this bird didn’t. All we knew was that he was too young and needed rearing.
Birds can be difficult. The larger species like pigeons and pheasants aren’t so bad but the smaller birds such as Robins often suffer with shock and if a cat got to them, infection is a big killer too. This was our first Corvine bird. He was such a character. Even though we all played a part in raising him, he too decided I was his and would mimic my voice, follow me around and was regularly antisocial with everyone else. It quickly transpired that my Mum would never get any peace as if it wasn’t me making noise, it was our Magpie sounding just like me! Clever bird!
When the time came to move to the Isle of Wight we intended to stop doing the animal rescue. We no longer had a vet we knew and had confidence in and as there were other places doing Hedgehog and wildlife rescue on the Island and our new garden had Badger sets (Badgers eat Hedgehogs) we decided we were not needed for this in our new home. The domestic animals already in our care moved with us and the wild ones we were able to release or rehome we did so before leaving Birmingham.
Once on the Island, however, old habits can be hard to break. We have rescued one or two animals since being here but a lot of them we entrust to other organisations better equipped to care for them properly.
On one memorable occasion I was leading one of my fossil trips on the beach when my group happened across a young Gannet. The Island had just come to the end of a patch of stormy weather and this bird had washed in young and exhausted. It was also being set upon by a dog. Knowing that a lot of dog walkers frequent this beach and that had the bird been well, the dog would have been unable to get near it, I knew I couldn’t just leave it there. Someone on my trip lent me their kid’s spare waterproof trousers to wrap around the bird and back along the beach we went. I finished my trip with this bird in my arms and when I reached the car park and my Dad who was waiting to give me a lift, he didn’t even look surprised!
My Dad later told me that he wasn’t surprised that I had rescued something because that’s just me. He was however surprised by what I had rescued – as I approached his car the Gannet’s feet were touching my knees, its body on my hip and its head by my shoulder, beak clasped firmly in my hand. (It took me a moment and cost me some blood but once I had discovered that Gannets, even young ones, have serrated beaks I quickly discovered how to hold the beak without allowing it to hurt me or cause harm to the bird!)
Some of the lovely people on that fossil trip brought me baby wipes and plasters and, where we often get emails thanking us for the fossil trips, the ones that day were also largely about the bird and wanting to know how it fared. Sometimes people are at a loss as to how to best help wildlife (the people watching on the day we tried to save a dolphin are a good example of that – to learn more on that story click HERE) but I always find it so reassuring and heart warming when you are reminded that it isn’t because they don’t care but just don’t know how best to help. For every person that mistreats an animal, there are hundreds who would rather help.
On this occasion we took the bird to a place with better facilities where it was cared for till rested and recovered and a week or so later it was ready for release.
This is always the aim with wild animals. Give them help when they need it but always remember they belong back in the wild. Our Fox Cub, Brook was a hard one. My sister found him limping along in the road with another car beside him. The other car drove off and we were never sure if they had hit him or if they were trying to release him. Brook seemed very tame to us. He never bit any of us and seemed too comfortable around humans. (Although the vet we took him to wasn’t as comfortable around him as he was around us! She actually asked us if he was a fox, as though she had never seen one before!) After about a month in our care, once his limp was gone, we took him to a sanctuary on the mainland where he was kept with two young female rescue foxes till they were all old enough and wild enough to go free.
I love wildlife and I love watching the creatures in our garden. Greg got a trail camera for me for Christmas and every morning I love seeing who was about in the night. To see some of what we see, watch our video below.
Since moving to the Isle of Wight, after our old cats passed away, we added to our family again with a rescue dog (A Saluki cross) and two rescue kittens.
Our Saluki cross was found along with her siblings and mother in a box, dumped in the middle of the road. The mother was too thin and weak to stand. The puppies were all bow-legged from lack of nutrients and all suffered mental issues as a result. The mother was adopted and had some happy years with her new family but all of the puppies bar ours were readopted multiple times due to their mental difficulties despite all going to experienced owners.
When our girl was young we also called in a dog trainer and behaviour specialist as we were at a loss as to what we were doing wrong. Once her mental issues were diagnosed and explained to us, we were better able to anticipate and cope with her. She improved over the years and we can now see when she is having one of her ‘episodes’ and can compensate for them accordingly. Unfortunately for our dog, while one of our rescue kittens grew into a loving, licky, ginger cat, the other grew into a naughty- tortie who regularly winds our dog up at every opportunity! (She regularly winds us up too!)
Since moving here we have also had many rescue chickens and a few rescue ducks. How I loved watching them frolicking in the garden and how I panicked each time they would create a ruckus – just in case one of our local foxes decided day time was a good time to hunt!
Our most recent rescue, however, was a different kind of bird. A bird we called Ivy Preen.
During the summer of 2018 we got a call detailing how a friend of my sisters was working in his garden, cutting down the Ivy growing on his house and into the gutters. When removing the Ivy he dislodged a nest from the gutter. Inside the nest was a lone hatchling sparrow. The nest was put into an open ice cream tub and placed as close to the gutter as possible and left for many hours. The mother bird did not return.
The video shows her story and does it so much better than I can put into words. All I can say is that it was an honour to be her foster Mum. That goes for every animal we have had in our care.
There is a lot of controversy about taking in and caring for wild animals. I remember the occasions when we would get a call about a hedgehog, after days of it being spotted during daylight in someone’s garden and, worst of all, after they tried to help it by giving it a ‘nice bowl of milk’. The horror and despair we would feel every time something like this happened – people trying to be kind but killing the creature by accident. Hogs are actually lactose intolerant and milk makes them very ill and often kills them. Plus any Hedgehog spotted in daylight for any length of time is often very ill and beyond help if left longer.
On the plus side, I also remember how quickly word spread, as soon as people knew where the ‘crazy animal family’ lived, we would get injured and unwanted animals handed into us quite regularly. One such instance was so bemusing it stays with me all these years later – I heard our porch door slam during a bank holiday weekend and upon going to investigate, discovered a large paper sack, the sort you buy dog food in…. and it was moving! When I opened it up and peered inside there was a small bag of corn and a lame pigeon! Attached to the sack was a note reading ‘please look after this’. Luckily we had not gone away for the bank holiday weekend!
Anyway, I digress… the point I am trying to make is that although well meaning people sometimes make mistakes it doesn’t mean they should do nothing. The most important thing is to follow your instinct if you think a creature is in need but to know when you are out of your depth and to contact someone who knows what to do if you are unsure. An animal sanctuary or rescue, the local vet… as long as the correct person is reached in time a lot of these animals can be saved.
I hope you enjoy the Ivy Preen video and our Wildlife in an English Garden video as much as me and my family do. If you too want some wildlife in your garden, I personally recommend googling Jacobi Jayne for wild bird food, Hedgehog food and accessories. That is a good way to get started.